Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonata No. 2.
Piano Sonata No. 62.
Piano Sonata in D,
Rafal Blechacz (pn)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 001195202 (61:01)
With still precious few concert performances on this side of the Atlantic, piano connoisseurs must rely on a small handful of discs to take the measure of Rafal Blechacz (pronounced
-kuhsh), the 23-year-old Polish pianist who took home all five top honors at the 2005 Chopin Competition. His clean sweep was underlined by the jury’s decision to not award a second prize to any of the other presumably impressive 11 finalists. A Deutsche Grammophon contract quickly followed, and his debut with that label featured a polished, lithe account of the Chopin preludes.
There are many who have since anointed him the finest young Chopin interpreter on the world stage, a verdict I wouldn’t quibble with. But a knack for these preludes isn’t necessarily a predictor of success in the Viennese classics, where the long view is such an intrinsic component. Yet his follow-up disc of sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven is a genuine find, and should settle any doubts about his interpretive versatility.
The competition for Beethoven sonatas is fearsome, and while Blechacz’s reading of the A Major Sonata isn’t likely to supplant any collector’s favorite, it is nevertheless compelling and remarkably mature. The pace is quick, the pedaling is judicious, and his use of rubato is subtle, tasteful, and employed only at harmonically or formally critical junctures.
The juxtaposition of Beethoven with the Haydn Sonata in E? is arguably the most intriguing aspect of the disc: the still experimental musings of a 62-year-old master are placed against the bold exploits a scant two years later of the 26-year-old Beethoven. His emphasis on formal clarity and crisp passagework in Haydn call to mind Brendel, but the opening pages of the Sonata suggest a more dynamically contained and intimate reading. Further listening reveals a tendency to reserve a measure of intensity for moments of higher drama in minor keys, a pattern he repeats in subsequent movements.
The pianist’s own written comments provide insight to his approach to the composer, including a mental exercise aimed at “orchestrating” the sonatas for string quartet or orchestra. Since Haydn was an accomplished pianist who arguably composed more idiomatically for the keyboard than for any other genre (Charles Rosen’s writings provide valuable insight into his compositional processes), this approach might seem unnecessarily convoluted. Happily, the results justify the means, and Blechacz wisely harnesses his knack for color distinctions to highlight structural points and to underline dynamic and textural contrasts. Considerably brisker and less pliant than John McCabe’s complete sonatas on London and even a shade quicker than Brendel, Blechacz’s tempos nevertheless seem unforced and organic, and certainly not indicative of overt exhibitionism.
Compared to the eccentricities of the two other works, Mozart’s Sonata in D, K 311, seems almost conventional. The aria-like setting of the second movement is spun with one lovely lyrical phrase after another, and with a light caress and unerring legato. The opening section of the finale is crisply rendered with high spirits. Perhaps his tender years serve to his advantage here. Even when the movement shifts briefly to minor keys, the mood remains aerated and effervescent.
FANFARE: Michael Cameron
Works on This Recording
Piano Sonata in E flat, H.XVI No.52: 1. Allegro
Piano Sonata in E flat, H.XVI No.52: 2. Adagio
Piano Sonata in E flat, H.XVI No.52: 3. Finale (Presto)
Piano Sonata No.2 in A, Op.2 No.2: 1. Allegro vivace
Piano Sonata No.2 in A, Op.2 No.2: 2. Largo appassionato
Piano Sonata No.2 in A, Op.2 No.2: 3. Scherzo (Allegretto)
Piano Sonata No.2 in A, Op.2 No.2: 4. Rondo (Grazioso)
Piano Sonata No.9 in D, K.311: 1. Allegro con spirito
Piano Sonata No.9 in D, K.311: 2. Andantino con espressione
Piano Sonata No.9 in D, K.311: 3. Rondeau (Allegro)
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