The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music preview: Chopin’s piano concertos as piano quintets clarify the music, says Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino

November 5, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the more unusual and intriguing celebrations of the Chopin Year – 2010 is the 200th birthday of the composer – will take place this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6533 Seybold Road, on Madison‘s far west side, near West Towne.

That’s when Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino (below) will join the Iberia String Quartet to play both Chopin piano concertos in chamber music transcriptions or arrangements.

Such versions have been resurrected and revived in recent years. The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has featured pianist Robert Levin in Mozart and Beethoven concertos in such arrangements.

The Chopin arrangements are particularly interesting because many critics and musicologists think Chopin’s original orchestrations leave much to be desired.

Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for seniors and students with ID.  A reception follows the concert. You can reserve tickets with a credit card by calling 271-2626.  You can also purchase tickets at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, Madison or Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street.

For more information, visit:

Del Pino recently took time out from touring to answer some questions that The Ear asked about the upcoming concert:

You will be playing both Chopin concertos, which come early in his short career (below is a portrait of the young Chopin in a painting by the famous Romantic  artist Eugene Delacroix), back-to-back on the same night. What would you like listeners to hear in terms of the development or evolution from the F minor (No. 2, but composed first) to the E minor (No. 1 but published second)? What do you see as the strong and weak points of each and of the set of two?

Even though both concertos are in a minor key, the E minor one seems a much more dramatic concerto. The F minor is a more lyrical one with its writing closer somehow to the one of Weber with its mixture of light and fast passages with extremely lyrical passages).

One of the main differences is also the length of the concertos, the E-minor concerto has a very long first movement with a long introductory tutti and very clearly differentiated A and B section, it adds also a virtuoso coda to the end. In the F minor one can feel that it was not Chopin’s wish to develop so much the orchestral textures and the tuttis, but instead to just give a nice entrance to the piano. He seemed to have considered a major construction for the E-minor, stretching as much as possible the sonata form of the first movement.

The slow movement of the F minor concerto is almost like an improvisation with the declamatory central section with a harmony sustained by the orchestra tremolos. In the slow movement of the E-minor, however, the orchestra takes a much more present role, at least melodically.

The last movements are somehow similar in their display of virtuosity but the F minor stays in the more “galant” type of playing, more of a salon virtuosity. The E minor goes for a more monumental display of virtuosity.

How would you compare this chamber music arrangement for piano plus string quartet (piano quintet) with the usual orchestral versions, which many view as inferior? Who made these arrangements and why? What aspects of the works do they help or hurt? Does the piano part stay the same in each version?

As with any arrangement, there are good and bad aspects.

With the arrangement for piano and string quartet, one loses the power of an orchestra, especially in the tuttis. On the other hand one gets bigger clarity of all the lines.

Often times when one hears a Chopin concerto with orchestra, one only hears the piano with a soft harmony underneath. With the string quartet version, you suddenly hear all the four voices. Also the interaction between the orchestra part and the piano is more direct, there is no conductor and less people to coordinate.

Chopin (below, in a photo from 1849, the year he died) used to play those sort of arrangements in some private events at houses of the aristocracy. Chopin’s playing was more suited for the smaller halls (salon type), instead of the big halls. That’s why also he probably preferred this type of version.

There is no arrangement made by Chopin himself for these concerto versions. As sources, we used an arrangement by Kominek and added material from the Kalkbrenner version for piano and string quintet (the first concerto is dedicated to Kalbrenner) that was probably the version Chopin would be using), and the original orchestral score.

In order to compensate for some of the lack of grandiosity of the string quartet in comparison to the orchestra version, I’m reinforcing at the piano some of the bass passages and chords of the forte passages in the orchestra, in the style of baroque continuo. Otherwise, the piano part is exactly the same as in the original piano and orchestra.

All those reasons are why it’s so great to be able to hear the concertos in a small hall like the one at Farley’s House of Pianos. Those were probably the type of size halls that Chopin performed most of the time, and for sure the ones that he liked best.

Sometimes Mr. Farley tunes the piano with the original tuning that was used at that time, making it very interesting for the listener (and the performer) because one realizes how much the different types of tuning can affect the music and in a way be much closer to what Chopin was probably hearing when playing it on his pianos.

This is you third performance in Madison. Do you have general impressions of the audiences in Madison and of the city?

Every time I played in Madison, it was at the Farley’s House of Pianos (below) where they have a great audience. Every time I play there, I feel that people are extremely appreciative. The type of concert also makes it extremely important for the participation of the audience. The audience is very close to the performers and then the concert becomes a real interaction.

When you play in a really big hall the audience is very far away and you feel it distant from you. In this type of salon setting the audience can reach you very easily. You feel everything from them, and probably they feel everything from you. It’s therefore very important to have a great public.

I’m also always pleased of how many people afterwards (below) come to me and remember a piece that I played a year ago. That is always very pleasant to hear. It’s really a great audience.

Posted in Classical music

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