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:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafał_Blechacz

http://preludia.blechacz.info/interview.html

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16051607

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

7 Comments »

  1. Like Akiko, I find that I cannot get Belchacz’s Chopin Concertos out of my mind. HIs playing is beautiful and profound, and I’ve listened to the album at least a few times a week since getting it about a month ago (late to the party, I know).

    Comment by Aquaria — February 6, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

  2. Hi Jake
    This is the YouTube posting of Blechacz’s playing Bach Italian Concerto (1st &2nd movements) at 2008 Verbier Festival (July 31, 2008).

    The recorded sound quality is not ideal, though.
    Blechacz played Bach Partita nr.1 in his NY and DC recitals late Feb. this year. It was superb.
    For Blechacz, Bach is one of the most favorite composers.

    Akiko

    Comment by Akiko Ichikura — March 3, 2010 @ 1:58 am

    • Hi Akiko,
      Thank you, thank you.
      I didn’t know about his Bach. (I also found the third movement of the Italian Concerto on YouTube.)
      I love the Italian Concerto and the Partita No. 1 — which I also play, though not as well as he does,
      He plays Bach very well indeed, so my hope to hear him on a Bach CD might be right on target. It would fun to hear him do a Bach-Chopin recital mix, similar to the program Richard Goode did at Carnegie Hall.
      Both composers used a lot of dance music in their works. Chopin revered The Well Tempered Clavier and knew it by heart, and Chopin also studied Bach’s counterpoint for his whole life.
      Thanks again for you comments and help.
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 3, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

  3. Dear Jake,
    Your blog is “to provide something for everyone, but not everything for anyone”.
    What I do on my website is to provide as much as possible for the specific audience and therefore I didn’t write here for two months. But I really respect what you do here and want to learn a lot from you. Among other things, I’m quite happy that Rafal Blechacz’s music touched your heart.
    Akiko

    Comment by Akiko Ichikura — March 2, 2010 @ 2:57 am

    • Hi Akiko,
      Thank you for the kind words about my blog. I’m please to be of any help.
      And I am very happy that nothing bad had happened to you, that your silence meant only that you write your own blog intermittently.
      I also can’t wait for yet another release from Blechachz. You were right about his concertos. Now I’d like to hear him to some solo Bach, whom Chopin worshipped and turned to especially later in his life.
      Be well.
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 2, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

  4. Dear Jake,
    I would like to thank you for strongly recommending Rafal Blechacz’s CD “Chopin The Piano Concertos” and posting the link to the website that I operate. I don’t know why but Blechacz’s playing lingers deep in mind and prompts a listener to return and listen again and again. I’m addicted. Please be careful!!
    Akiko

    Comment by Akiko Ichikura — March 1, 2010 @ 10:37 am

    • Dear Akiko,
      I am so pleased to hear form you again.
      I thought I had lost you after I posted a tardy, though positive and reassuring, response to the idea of your offering to the blog reviews of piano recitals in Japan.
      So welcome, it is good to have you back.
      I’m so glad that we agree about Rafal Blechacz. There will be a lot of new Chopin CDs during this 200th anniversary year. But not many, if any, will rise to the level of the concertos.
      Thanks for reading and writing. Spread the word — every hits counts and it is much easier to subscribe now to The Well-Tempered Ear –and stay in touch.
      Yours,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 1, 2010 @ 1:30 pm


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