The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: Rafal Blechacz’s Chopin piano concertos offer outstanding playing with superior sonics.

March 1, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Ever since Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz , (below) won the 2005 International Chopin Competition at the age of 20, capturing all five prizes for individual genres and eliminating any runner-up, expectations of the young keyboard artist have been high.

And he has not disappointed.

Here he is during his winner’s recital, playing a lot of Chopin:

Blechacz started his recording career for Deutsche Grammophon with a début album of Chopin preludes and nocturnes. He then turned in a fine recital of related sonatas by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Now comes his performances of Chopin Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2. (The second was composed first, but published second.) It was just released in the US last Tuesday.

He is tightly accompanied by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam under the conductor Jerzy Semkow, who proves an outstanding partner with a fine sense of balance and dynamics.

I find this CD an exceptional offering at the beginning of this Chopin year, when we mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of “the poet of the piano.”

Does this new release replace such great and even historic recordings as Arthur Rubinstein’s or Maurizio Pollini or Martha Argerich or Emanuel Ax or Krystian Zimerman?

No. But that is hardly a criterion.

These are such popular works and such great works that there are many other versions that this recording does indeed surpass.

I find two things remarkable about this new recording:

In the playing I particularly like the clarity of the playing and Blechacz’ clear left hand. This is Chopin at his strongest and most structural, not just a dreamy Romantic composer but a hard-headed classicist who is expressing strong emotions in a restrained way. (It makes me think of Emily Dickinson’s line: “After great pain, a formal feeling comes.”) There is much beauty here, but it is natural and direct – not mannered.

And I find the engineering outstanding. You hear the various parts clearly and convincingly as they dialogue back and forth. Bach and Mozart represented Chopin;s ideals. Chopin knew and loved voice-like lyricism combined with counterpoint, right from the beginning.

This CD does not have to replace anything to find a prominent place on my stack of recordings I will listen to a lot in the future.

In fact, that is exactly what it has done after just a few listenings. And I only expect that impression to grow and deepen.

So I highly recommend it. Moreover, it makes me all the more anxious to hear more from Blechaz – particularly in such a native Polish art form as the mazurka, of which Chopin wrote so many great ones.

Here are some links to follow if you want to now more about Blechacz:ł_Blechacz

And he has a lot of outstanding videos on YouTube you might want to check out.

Here is a teaser sample of the Chopin concertos:

Posted in Classical music

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