Fryderyk Chopin's 200th Birthday

The birthday of Chopin is contested between February 22nd and March 1st.

In a singularly pragmatic manner the Poles have been celebrating his birthday with an entire week of concerts for the pianists and the Third International Chopin Congress for the scholars. This climaxed with the opening of the new Italian-designed, state-of-the-art, interactive, multi-media Chopin Museum in Warsaw.

Rafal Blechacz, winner of the 2005 Chopin Competition, began the performance series with a fine account of the F minor concerto. He has matured but the increased forcefulness and decrease in subtlety of his playing gave me pause for thought. I pass over in silence Antoni Wit's conducting of the patchy under-rehearsed Warsaw Filharmonia through this entire series. Ivor Pogorelic followed the next evening but gave a willfully perverse rendering of the same work. His sense of musical form and architecture has been shattered into meaningless unconnected fragments. His story is one of tragic misdirection from the brilliant boy we all loved and whom Marta Argerich called a genius. Murray Perahia is superior in Bach to Chopin to my mind and Piotr Anderszewski refused to play Chopin at all in a very fine recital of Bach, Schumann and Beethoven. Garrick Ohlsson performed an all Chopin programme but really needs to retire for a period and do some solid practice and reassess some of the Chopin works before returning to the concert stage . He has played them in the same way for far too long. Rubinstein and Horowitz emerged as far better artists from voluntary periods out of the limelight working at technique and interpretation.

The finest concert in the series was on historical instruments with Franz Bruggen and the Orchestra of the XVIII Century. Kevin Kenner was elegant and refined in the E Minor concerto on the 1849 Erard (he would have preferred to play the 1848 Pleyel also owned by the Chopin Institute but was overruled by the other pianists that night - this Erard is not a distinguished instrument of its type despite all the hype). Nelson Goerner was as brilliant as ever in Chopin although his virtuosity is displayed sometimes at the expense of 'musicality'. Janusz Olejniczak was wonderfully on form and gave a luminous and heartfelt rendering of the the F Minor concerto. When firing on all cylinders he is the best of the contemporary Polish interpreters of Chopin.

The following evening Nikolai Demidenko and Evgeny Kissin demonstrated once again a brilliant but curiously soulless Chopin lacking in emotional depth. What is the source of this mystery? Leif Ove Andsnes played some wonderful Schumann and Chopin but Daniel Barenboim was somewhat disappointing for me. All that opera conducting has made his Chopin cantabile and bel canto limpid and heartfelt - superb tone and touch in the Nocturne in D major Op.27 No:2 but too much influence of Wagner in the A flat major Polonaise! Crude and far too much of the 'Hollywood' Chopin cliche, the 'Heroic Pole' pounding it out - ridiculous for this magisterial work of contained aristocratic anger.

The final Gala Night of March 1st (the generally accepted birth date of Chopin) was in the cavernous Warsaw Opera House. Yundi (he has dropped the 'Li' part of his name) played a Steinway in glittering style with counterfeit Chopinesque heart in the manner of the showman Lang Lang. The refined elegance of the Vietnamese Dang Thai Son's superbly nuanced Chopin was lost on this Erard. Garrick Ohlsson made far too many slips in the E minor concerto for an artist of his stature and potential.

An extraordinary week really for which the National Chopin Institute is to be heartily congratulated. However I came away more convinced than ever that we are certainly not living in an age of great pianists. To think that Richter, Gilels, Rubinstein, Rachmaninov, Michelangeli, Horowitz, Lipatti, Solomon, Francois, Curzon, Cziffra, Hess were all living at the same time.....

The Third International Congress CHOPIN 1810-2010 : Ideas-Interpretation-Influence presented academic papers, concerts, seminars, films at the Warsaw University Old Library and I renewed my acquaintance with the Gods of Chopin academe - John Rink, Jim Samson, Irena Poniatowska, Jean-Jaques Eigeldinger, Mieczslaw Tomaszewski, Halina Goldberg, Jeffrey Kallberg - a wonderful array of luminaries and Chopin papers of superlative interest. Marvellous for those of us who believe like Vladimir Nabokov that profound meaning lies hidden in the details of a work of art.


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