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Chopiniade at the Terrace Theater

On January 15, Krzysztof Jablonski played an all-Chopin program at the Terrace Theater as part of the Washington Performing Arts Society's Hayes Piano Series. The last time I heard all the Préludes was when Menahem Pressler was in town for his 80th birthday (see ionarts review), and I was looking forward to this acclaimed, Polish, burly, friendly-looking Chopin International Piano Competition alumnus playing what is clearly his composer. He brought out the twists and shifts in Prélude #2, taken at about the slowest tempo I have heard. Gear changes were audible, but I thought it enhanced the experience rather than being a distraction. Things were fairly mild mannered until the tempestuous eighth prelude. The low notes in no. 9 were chortled out in a bear-like fashion that I quite liked. (Those chortling bears, you know... the ones that like mixed metaphors.)

No. 12 was done less threatening or bombastic than I know it, but it was not a flaw at all: it was more than being made up by the burst of energy in the following prelude. The New York Steinway's pedal, though, was making a bit too much noise, tantamount to someone tapping along the rhythm in tap dancing shoes. The last three notes rang out with more gentleness than brute force and the audience—mostly subscription, though some tickets are always available last minute—was perfectly charmed.

In the Polonaise in F-sharp minor, op. 44, the pedal clicking was a tad distracting, but the performance was first-rate, though perhaps lacking a bit of just that spark that sets it apart. And either my ears had grown more sensitive over the course of the afternoon or the tapping-clicking noise got worse. But in the wonderful Sonata in B minor (no. 3, op. 88) I found it annoying and disturbing. All I could do was sit back and try to actively ignore it, enjoying the work—which, for Mr. Jablonski's contribution, was not difficult at all and was made easier by the fact that they were absent from the Largo. The finale, for all its clicking, left the artist red in his face and the audience enthralled and immediately on their feet. Jablonski obliged with more Chopin for two encores (a waltz and something more substantial in B major, methinks... but I forgot.)

The afternoon provided earthy Chopin and splendid craftsmanship and succeeded on the account of good music well played. Enjoyable by all means, extraordinary probably not. But then, you could try to find that certain je ne sais quoi by seeing a wacky chamber ensemble. And, as it happens so, unlike the Hayes Piano Series, the "On the Edge" series is far from sold out, and tickets to the upcoming performance of the Ethel String Quartet (who made a big splash last year at the Library of Congress; Ed: ionarts review here) are readily available (and have, in fact, been lowered from $25 to $20). Tickets can be had here.