Pour le Piano (1901) [11.56] (Prelude [3.48]; Sarabande [4.11]; Toccata [3.57])
Estampes (1903) [12.48] (Pagodes [5.00]; La Soirée dans Grenade [4.12]; Jardins sous la pluie [3.36])
L’isle joyeuse (1904) [5.36]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor (1909) [6.42]
Sonata in C minor Op 8 (1904) [25.20] (Allegro moderato [6.39]; Adagio [5.04]; Tempo di Minuetto [3.43]; Finale [2.26]; Fuga [7.28])
Rafal Blechacz (piano)
rec. Hamburg-Harburg, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, January 2011. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 9548 [62.22]

Rafal Blechacz is a former winner of the prestigious Chopin competition in Warsaw. He is still a relatively young pianist - he won the Chopin competition in 2005 when still only 20 - but he already exhibits extraordinary musical maturity and a prodigious technique. Interestingly, all of the works on this disc date from the first decade of the 20th century.
The programme notes talk about Blechacz having been influenced by Michelangeli’s performances of Debussy although I am not aware of the great Italian maestro having recorded the works on this disc - he is more noted for his interpretations of Debussy’s preludes and images as well as the Children’s Corner suite. Blechacz begins his recital with Pour le piano where Debussy combines Classical forms, brilliant pianistic figurations, modern harmonies and Javanese influences.
The opening prelude is played with a wide range of texture and colour and the motoric elements are dispatched with stylish élan. In the sarabande Blechacz continues to display extraordinary tonal control while the dynamics are beautifully shaded and the phrasing perfectly shaped and crafted. The figurations in the toccata are dispatched with flair and brilliance although Blechacz deploys a velvet touch to avoid making the sound too percussive, no doubt mindful of Debussy’s edict that the piano should sound like “an instrument without hammers”.
In Pagodes (the opening piece of Estampes), Blechacz conjures a wash of impressionistic colour from the piano while maintaining a wonderful clarity of line and a richness of texture and sonority. The layering and textural control in La soirée dans Grenade is exquisite and Blechacz is highly responsive to the rhythmic subtlety of the piece and expressive changes in tone colour. The toccata figurations in Jardins sous la pluie are dispatched with rhythmic vitality and Blechacz uses his aural imagination to elicit an iridescent range of colours and sound effects in a wonderful piece of piano playing. L’isle joyeuse is played with real polish and clarity with the virtuoso piano writing used not as an end in itself but as a means to bring out musical effects, colours and textures. I am also a huge fan of Michelangeli’s Debussy but I doubt if even he could play these pieces any better than this.
I was not familiar with Szymanowski’s first piano sonata before listening to this disc but I can well and truly say that I am now a convert to the work. This performance could very well put the piece on the musical map. The opening Allegro moderato is a powerful piece and, with its dark brooding piano writing and chromatic harmonies, it sounds like a mix between Rachmaninov and Scriabin. Blechacz plays the movement with real power and authority and is well on top of the considerable technical demands. There is a wonderfully crafted melodic line in the outer sections of the Adagio while the central section is full of brooding passion and dark poetry. The music-box minuet is played with immense tonal and textural control and the phrasing is highly nuanced. The finale is an odd piece consisting of a grand introduction followed by a three part fugue sprinkled with virtuoso piano writing. Blechacz manages to make this disparate movement sound convincing and compelling and the voicing of the fugue is very clear and precise.
This is an altogether brilliant recital from an outstanding young pianist.
Robert Beattie

An altogether brilliant recital from an outstanding young pianist.