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Blechacz Incandescent in Chopin

Rafał Blechacz:
available at Amazon
Chopin Preludes

DG 477 6592

available at Amazon
Chopin Piano Concertos

DG 477 8088

available at Amazon
Haydn / Mozart / Beethoven

DG 477 7453

Online scores:
Chopin's First Editions Online
Rafał Blechacz, the impossibly young Polish pianist who scored a triumph at the 2005 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, made his long-awaited Washington recital debut on Saturday afternoon, hosted by WPAS in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. A sold-out house including the Polish Ambassador and his wife was certainly not disappointed by the level of playing, virtuosity that was often (if not always) stunning and musicality that, while not fully formed in some pieces, was well developed for a player at this point in his career and likely to mature in ways that will make Blechacz a pianist to watch for years to come. As stated in my preview article, there is no doubt that Blechacz can play Chopin. He is not likely to supplant my favorite living players of Chopin, with Evgeny Kissin and Maurizio Pollini (who will play an all-Chopin recital here on April 15) at the top, but his rhythmically unbending and alternately driven and tender interpretation of Chopin matches my own feelings about the composer's music quite closely.

The second half, devoted to Chopin (who maintained that his birthday was yesterday, March 1), began with a somewhat unremarkable performance of the third ballade (A♭ major, op. 47). Blechacz applied rubato to this music, of course, but by using it sparingly he made those passages that were treated with some rhythmic freedom stand out more. Refreshingly he was often unyielding in terms of tempo, no matter the technical demands, even in the outer sections of the B minor scherzo (op. 20), which were ruthlessly driven and sounded almost manic. The middle section, fragile and melancholy, was matched in poetic intensity by the final piece, a dreaming wandering rendition of the A♭ major polonaise-fantaisie, marked by a few savage passages (and an awkwardly self-conscious concluding touchdown gesture). A single encore, the A minor mazurka (op. 17/4), completed the picture of what set Blechacz so far above his competition in Warsaw -- not solely the brutal technical accomplishment and more the native familiarity with Polish folk music and dance forms and an unpredictable sense of melodic fancy.

Other Reviews:

Philip Kennicott, Pianist Rafal Blechacz's impressive local debut at the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, March 1)
The rest of the program was not always as convincing, no less technically accomplished but without the same ease of interpretation from movement to movement. A Bach partita (B♭ major, BWV 825) was the best on the first half, with an easy-paced prelude, an overly fast Allemande (which undermined the impact of the following Courante), and a head-spinning Gigue with flawless hand-crossings. Blechacz brought out some charming contrapuntal voicings between the hands in the first minuet, although it was odd that he chose not to repeat it after the second minuet (or most of the B sections of any of the dances). Blechacz gave a fortepiano-like sound with a light touch in the Mozart sonata (B♭ major, K. 570), a little scattered by an Allegro too close to Presto in the first movement, but with a delicate, not too slow second movement and, best of all, a clownish, Haydnesque approach to the brief third movement. Debussy's Pour le piano was the least satisfying, revealing the greatest number of cracks in Blechacz's technical armor, mostly in the first movement. The second movement was the most colorful, infused with the same graceful sense of Baroque dance as in the Bach sarabande. Unlike the best of the Chopin selections, it was very good but not excellent.

The next piano recital hosted by WPAS will feature Russian pianist Vladimir Feltsman, playing a program centered on Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (March 26, 8 pm) in the Music Center at Strathmore.

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