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First Listen: Rafal Blechacz Plays Chopin

During the 2005 Chopin Competition, the quiet 20-year-old pianist Rafal Blechacz promised himself that he wouldn't listen to the playing of a single other competitor. This way, he decided, he would preserve his "independence, freshness and peace of mind." It worked.

Blechacz swept the competition; there wasn't even a runner-up awarded. The young Pole — from a small northern town, he began playing piano at age 5 — outclassed them all by wide margin.

Now, with a victory that thrust him into a global spotlight as the first Pole to win the coveted Chopin Prize since Krystian Zimerman in 1975, Rafal Blechacz has recorded Chopin's two Piano Concertos with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and conductor Jerzy Semkow.

Chopin was equally young, around 20, when he wrote these pieces. The F minor Concerto was premiered at Warsaw's National Theater in 1830. The first movement didn't seem to capture the audience, but the second and third won them over completely.

"The bravos," Chopin wrote to a friend, "seemed really to come from the heart."

In this recording, Blechacz understands Chopin's love for Poland, and feels his romantic longing. He doesn't sound like he's imitating anyone else's take on Chopin's sentiments. It requires both integrity and intelligence to work on this repertoire without "bending" to the often eccentric interpretations that other pianists have branded on the music.

Free of those, Blechacz plays with an unfettered fluency. It gives his Chopin sincerity and directness, without any of the fussiness that comes from overworking the nuances or overindulging the intimacy. And you can be sure that the beauty of the hushed heartache that Blechacz achieves in the second concerto's slow movement will, over time, become even more magical in its tenderness.

And in time, a freer imagination will spill even more excitement into the joyous cascades of notes that push their way through Chopin's melancholy. Then, like his hero Krystian Zimerman, he'll record the concertos again.

Copyright 2010 GBH

Cathy Fuller
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