Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.35
Harmonies poétiques et religieuses Funerailles
Petrushka Three Movements
Ewa Kupiec (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 8 February, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Ewa Kupiec made an immediate impression with an introduction to the Chopin sonata that was bold in dynamic range and pregnant with anticipation. If the (repeated) exposition then seemed though too hectic and somewhat gabbled the first movement certainly confronted the listener with a tempest of emotional challenges. Tension sagged before the second movement through too long a pause – exacerbated by numerous latecomers being allowed in – before Kupiec delivering a punchy account of the outer sections and a becalmed one of the ‘trio’: a genuine retreat. This was dramatic playing, Chopin the psychological explorer rather than a mere Romantic. Kupiec’s implacable and stark reading of the third movement funeral march displayed this further, the central section magically sustained at a genuine pianissimo that seemed to come from a far-away world. The extraordinary forward-looking concentrated finale, here made ghostly and expression-less, seemed to suggest the future of music being challenged.
Funerailles, too, was off contrasts and extremes, and seemed a much ‘bigger’ piece than the norm; not achieved through slower tempos but from investing a sense of meaning to the notes and an address that ranged from susceptible to vehement. Not gratuitous, though, for Kupiec’s possession of the music comes from within.
Having been to death’s door (and, in Chopin, seemingly walked through it), the return to childhood, courtesy of Debussy’s sophisticated palette, was welcome and also extended Kupiec’s armoury – she is a musician who responds to the individuality of composers, not someone who makes them fit a one-for-all approach. Children’s Corner was a model of spontaneity and precision, dappled colour and touching refrain tantalising elusive, yet human, and part of the whole. That Kupiec is no automaton was made clear by this account of Children’s Corner being rather different to her Solaris Records.
This was a recital by an enquiring musician not by an emissary for technique; throughout it was Kupiec’s creative contact with the pieces played that was notable, her means of execution not really an issue, not even in the notoriously difficult composer-made transcriptions of three sections of Petrushka. Kupiec took on the challenge and won! More importantly she retained the ballet scenario’s surreal aspects, its interior quality; while relishing the clamour and glitter there was also a sense of danger and a theatrical imagination at work that was never mere display.
For encores, Kupiec offered ‘Träumerei’ from Schumann’s Kinderszenen – special in its flowing tenderness and with just a little volubility under the surface (Kupiec appears to be at-one with Schumann the restless poet and dreamer) – and, then, an exuberant account of Paderewski’s ‘Menuet célèbre’ from his Humoresques de concert. A memorable recital.