Piano Sonata in E flat, Hob.XVI:52
Piano Sonata No.2 in A, Op.2/2
Piano Sonata in D, K311
Rafał Blechacz (piano)
Recorded July 2008 in Beethovensaal, Congress Centrum, Hanover
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: November 2008
CD No: DG 477 7453
Duration: 61 minutes
Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz won the 2005 Chopin International Competition and duly made his first recording for Deutsche Grammophon – appropriately it was all of Chopin’s Preludes (477 6592). For his second release, he turns to a holy trinity of composers and offers a sonata by each of them – played in the order of Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart.
There is much to admire in Blechacz’s playing: clarity seems to be his watchword and his interpretations eschew egocentricity. Maybe there is too much brilliance, for the Haydn, despite all the pianist’s attractive glitter and considerate dynamic contrasts, becomes slightly wearing. Blechacz is wonderfully poised with the notes – and his performances are first and foremost musical – but he seems content to play what he reads; that said he has a fine instinct for Haydn’s rapier-like writing and certainly doesn’t lack heart in the slow movement. He is though not as probing as this music can take – Alfred Brendel has spoilt us! – and although the finale’s roulade of notes are taken at breakneck speed and with absolute security (and without suggesting the tempo is calculated towards showmanship), there remains room for more expression.
Similarly the Beethoven lacks the sort of depth that other pianists have found in it. It’s not that Blechacz is superficial –anything but – it is rather that shapely phrasing and crisp runs do not a Beethoven sonata sustain. The Largo appassionato second movement is rather heavy in the left hand, and there is little mystery; for all that Blechacz is impeccable and respectful, one craves greater characterisation and a little more wit in the scherzo.
There is though much to admire in the elegant finale – Beethoven at his most Mozartean – and it’s with the final work on the disc that Blechacz comes into his own. Having impressed with his poise and unexaggerated phrasing in Beethoven’s finale, Blechacz seems to relish Mozart in particular, finding an underlying expression in the vivacious first movement and bringing this fully out in the middle one, which really is the quintessence of simple means offering something profound. (A few more repeats would have been welcome.) The finale is a fine balance between sparkle and meaningful asides.
The recording is good if a little lightweight, the piano caught with presence in slightly too reverberant an acoustic. One would now like to hear Blechacz in a selection of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti: his brilliance and uncluttered approach suggests that he could do something ‘at one’ with those timeless gems.