A little while ago
I worked my way through a fifteen-CD
set documenting the 2005
Warsaw Chopin Competition, which
Blechacz won. I was a little puzzled
at some of those who made it to the
finals, but I was left in no doubt that
Blechacz’s first prize was fully deserved.
Looking around at the various commentaries
on the competition, I see there was
complete unanimity over this, with many
stressing the abyss between Blechacz
and all the others. This was the first
time since Krystian Zimerman’s victory
in 1975 that a Polish pianist had won
the competition, and for quite a while
no first prize had been awarded at all.
Now he is becoming a household name
and has a contract with Deutsche Grammophon,
of which this is the first fruit.
My impression was that
Blechacz’s way with the dance-based
pieces has a touch of genius to it.
His Polonaise, Mazurkas and Concerto-finale
were quite wonderful. His op.62/1 Nocturne
was very beautiful but I wasn’t quite
so immediately taken by his group of
Preludes. For better or for worse, it
is with the Preludes that he has chosen
to make his bow on the international
These tiny pieces are
really incredibly difficult to get right.
In the first I was impressed that he
shows us more than most when the theme
in the middle voice is syncopated and
when it is on the beat. His literal
observance of Chopin’s instruction to
remove the pedal at the half-bar in
the four measures before the closing
arpeggiated chord, instead of at the
end of each bar, is a minor revelation.
On the other hand, his reversal of some
of the dynamics risks restructuring
the piece. In number 2, also, some of
his dynamics go the opposite way compared
with what is written, at least in the
Henle edition. His virtually unpedalled
number 3 is a neat demonstration that
it can be done, but a little dry. Though
you might find more pedalled versions
messy once you’ve got this into your
If all this sounds
like fussing over small points – but
small points are proportionately big
in tiny pieces – he shows in the fourth
that he can create a brooding atmosphere
and a sense of total absorption in what
he is playing. After a notably withdrawn
number 6, his seventh is surprisingly
full-toned and sunlit. It is also very
slow for an Andantino. The next piece
is more majestic than "Molto agitato"
and the twelfth lacks sheer demonic
force, as does number 16. This quality
is provided for number 22, however,
and the last is imperiously passionate.
In the thirteenth his
interplay between melody and countermelody
is exquisitely done. I have never heard
this piece played better. It is my candidate
for the most beautiful of all the Preludes
and few pianists get to the end without
incurring my wrath somewhere along the
line. I thought this just perfection.
The same may be said of the ubiquitous
number 15 and the beautifully sung number
21, with 17 and 19 not far behind. Number
23 is magical, not least in its placing
of Chopin’s eerie E flats towards the
With a fair number
of Preludes at the highest possible
level and no actual failures – take
my earlier points as queries more than
reservations – this is bound to enter
the select group of top contenders,
especially for those who put poetry
first. Blechacz is also pretty successful
at presenting the Preludes as a unity,
something on which Cortot very much
insisted and at which he remains unsurpassed,
whatever you think of details along
For the record, Blechacz’s
performances of 7-12 in the competition
were not particularly different from
the present ones, with the mellower
DG recording a bonus.
The tiny A flat Prelude
is beautifully turned. The larger op.
45 and the two Nocturnes bring something
more. Op. 62/2 is sometimes considered
a less than worthy conclusion to Chopin’s
work in this oeuvre. Blechacz definitively
proves this is not so, bringing patriotic
ardour as well as magic. But indeed,
I would hold up these three last pieces
as touchstones of Blechacz’s current
achievement. With their complete mastery
of rubato, voicing and structure combined
with expressive freedom, it is impossible
to hear them without feeling that the
tiny group of living great pianists
is now a little larger.
This is a career to
follow, so don’t miss out.
Blechacz - Piano Recital
Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 22 (1833-38)
Three Concert Studies: Waldesrauchen,
S145 (1859) [4'08]; La Leggierezza,
S144 (1844) [4'48]; Gnomenreigen,
S145 (1844) [3'02].
Suite bergamasque (1905) [17'24].
Variations in B flat minor, Op.
3 (1901-3) [12'01].
Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53 (1843)
Rafal Blechacz (piano)
Rec. Pomeranian Philharmonic Concert
Hall, Bydgoszcz, 2-5 April 2005. DDD
CD ACCORD ACD136-2 [66'04]
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