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Chopin: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 / Jan Lisiecki, Howard Shelley

Chopin / Lisiecki / Sinfonia Varsovia / Shelley
Release Date: 05/11/2010 
Label:  Fryderyk Chopin Society   Catalog #: 200   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Jan Lisiecki
Conductor:  Howard Shelley
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CHOPIN Piano Concertos: No. 2 in f 1. No. 1 in e 2 Jan Lisiecki (pn); Howard Shelley, cond; Sinfonia Varsovia NARODOWY INSTYTUT 200 (72:24) Live: 1 8/21/2008; 2 8/20/2008

At first glance, the reader may think I’ve gotten the headnote exactly backwards, but I haven’t. No indeed, Howard Shelley, the Read more distinguished pianist who has contributed so many wonderful recordings to the Chandos and Hyperion catalogs, here picks up the baton on behalf of the now 15-year-old pianist Jan Lisiecki. And as for listing Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 ahead of the Concerto No. 1, which is the order in which they’re presented on the disc, the situation regarding their numbering closely parallels that of Beethoven’s first two piano concertos. Chopin’s F-Minor Concerto (No. 2) was composed in 1829, but the E-Minor Concerto (No. 1), composed a year later in 1830, was published first, which is why it received the lower number. Thus, the CD programs the two works in the correct chronological order.

Born in Calgary, Canada, in 1995 to Polish parents, Jan Mi?osz Lisiecki has been on the fast track since age five when he began studies at the Mount Royal University Conservatory. By nine he’d made his orchestral debut, and since then has performed nearly three-dozen concerts in Canada and the U.S., sharing the stage with such luminaries as Pinchas Zukerman, Yo-Yo Ma, James Ehnes, and Emanuel Ax. Further biographical and career information may be found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Lisiecki. The performances documented here were recorded live during the Chopin Festival in Warsaw when the pianist was just 13.

Lisiecki calls to mind another child prodigy, Yevgeny Kissin, who was exactly the same age in 1984 when he, too, recorded the Chopin concertos. That recording received a glowing review from Michael Ullman in Fanfare 22:1; yet more recent reviews of the pianist’s work have been mixed, suggesting that critical opinion of the not-so-cute-anymore, adult Kissin is divided. A similar fate of critical disenchantment seems to have befallen another wunderkind pianist, Lang Lang, raising the hardly original question of whether child prodigies ought to be pushed out onto the public stage at such a young age.

For the record, let me just say that being cute, as Lisiecki’s photos picture him to be, helps, but this mop-headed, smooth-faced kid plays the piano like macho man. Perhaps my reaction to this performance of Chopin’s E-Minor Concerto had something to do with my just having finished auditioning a disappointing recording of the piece with Tatiana Shebanova, reviewed elsewhere. But Lisiecki stunned me with his sheer strength, drawing from his instrument a tone of such depth that it seemed to be welling up from somewhere beneath the keyboard.

Yet there is more to Lisiecki’s playing than raging adolescent testosterone and teenage angst. His readings of both concertos are laced with lovely lyricism, delicacy, and sensitive response to the music’s magical moments. Still, I doubt that anyone can have the full measure of Chopin without having experienced romantic love and loss. There’s a certain emotional vulnerability in the music that Lisiecki is still too young to know, or at least he was at the time these recordings were made. So, his performances strike a rather more virile, masculine pose than is sometimes the case in these works. This is not a bad thing, for Chopin, like Mozart, can be overly feminized and made to sound prissy.

Although I’m not aware that Howard Shelley has sat at the keyboard for a recording of the Chopin concertos, as I listened to these renderings, I kept thinking to myself that if he had he would have done well as the pianist to have himself as the conductor. One rarely hears the orchestral parts in these concertos led with such authority and absolute conviction in their vigor. In Shelley’s hands, Chopin’s orchestral writing, far from being drab and gray, as it is often reported to be, is revealed to be exceptionally strong and vivid. Shelley’s robust readings show us what Chopin’s orchestral scoring is made of, and it’s no mere ancillary accompaniment. This complements and meshes perfectly with Lisiecki’s take on these works.

No one can say for sure where Lisiecki will be in 10 or 15 years from now, but for the moments frozen in time by these recordings, his talent and artistry are undisputed. These performances, without question, are among the very best of the best I’ve heard in the Chopin concertos, which would include in the E Minor, Cliburn/Ormandy, Argerich/Abbado, and Rubinstein/ Skrowaczewski; and in the F Minor, Pires/Previn, Ashkenazy/Zinman, and Pogorelich/Abbado. Not everyone will agree of course with my “best of the best” choices, but whichever are your own favorites in such a crowded field of contestants, I’m confident that you will add this new Lisiecki/Shelley to your personal list; it’s that good.

The Sinfonia Varsovia responds alertly and lovingly to Shelley’s direction, and the recordings are outstanding. Enthusiastic applause at the end of each concerto is the only giveaway of a live audience. A must-buy recommendation.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 2 in F minor, B 43/Op. 21 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Jan Lisiecki (Piano)
Conductor:  Howard Shelley
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829-1830; Poland 
Date of Recording: 08/21/2008 
Venue:  Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, Poland 
Length: 32 Minutes 27 Secs. 
Concerto for Piano no 1 in E minor, B 53/Op. 11 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Jan Lisiecki (Piano)
Conductor:  Howard Shelley
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1830; Poland 
Date of Recording: 08/20/2009 
Venue:  Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, Poland 
Length: 39 Minutes 12 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Sparkling Chopin August 1, 2012 By D. Stewart (Flagstaff, AZ) See All My Reviews "It is quite astonishing to realize that the pianist was in his early teens when this recording was made in 2008. When I reviewed the absolutely wonderful Dobryzinski and Lissel Concertoes I commented that I hoped the vault of the annual Chop;in Festival in Warsaw would yield some more of Howard Shelleys' annual appearances. Here he is as Conductor of the Sinfonia Varsovia providing fine support to pianist Jan Lisiecki. The Orchestra and piano are recorded very well albeit the piano a bit more forward." Report Abuse
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