Partita in B flat, BWV825
Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor
Pour le piano
Ballade in F, Op.38; Waltzes, Op.34; Polonaises, Op.26; Scherzo in B minor, Op.20
Rafał Blechacz (piano)
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 7 December, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
At the end of Chopin’s bicentenary year, the Southbank Centre’s International Piano Series hosted its fifth winner this year of the five-yearly Warsaw Chopin Piano Competition. Following Krystian Zimerman (1975), Maurizio Pollini (1960) – who gave memorable recitals on the two most pertinant dates attached to Chopin’s birth, 22 February and 1 March – Yundi Li ( (2000) on 16 March and this year’s winner, Yulianna Avdeeva on 3 November, 2005’s winner, Rafal Blechaz, made his IPS debut. Of these only Blechaz opted for non-exclusively Chopin repertoire, prefacing music by his fellow Pole with music by Bach, Debussy and compatriot Szymanowski. He opened with brisk and brittle Bach, nimble-fingered and literal, only relaxing slightly in the central ‘Sarabande’.
The choice of Szymanowski was inspired, its dark harmonies an invigorating palate-cleanser between the more rhythmically exacting Bach and Debussy. Again, in the latter, it was only really the central ‘Sarabande’ that displayed Blechaz’s potential for relaxation, while the more sprightly opening ‘Prélude’ and fiendish closing ‘Toccata’ were a touch unremitting.
Blechaz’s Chopin is much admired and one can see why, although – like his first half – I found a certain amount of rigour over rubato that hopefully will balance out in future years. Fidelity to the notes but perhaps not the spirit characterised both Ballade and Scherzo and, to a certain extent, the two Polonaises. Best of all was the first of the Opus 34 Waltzes and, especially, the single encore, the so-called opus posthumous ‘nocturne’, although not called that by Chopin, who left it with only a tempo marking, Lento con gran espressione, which Blechaz got exactly right, expression and all.