Tomasz Ritter at the birthplace of Chopin at Żelazowa Wola - 210th Birthday of Fryderyk Chopin, 1st March 2020 - 'Wszystkiego najlepszego Frycek!' (Happy Birthday Frycek!)



Fryderyk Chopin [1 March 1810 Żelzowa Wola, Poland - 17 October 1849, Paris]
For a fascinating detailed examination in English of the originally disputed date of his birth 

The Dworek where Chopin was born at Żelzowa Wola
Tomasz Ritter
Throughout this recital he played an Erard from 1838 from the NIFC collection.. He ambitiously opened with the Ballade No.4 in F minor. His opening of the narrative was convincing and confident with much transparent polyphony and colour of sound.  He showed affecting, passionate lyricim and the overtones of the period instrument gave a warm watercolour diffuseness to the soundscape in pianissimo performance. His rubato was emotional yet I still felt a certain diminishment of poetry and sensibility. There were inspiring elements of chiaroscuro sound, colour and a fine balance of the 'registers' of period pianos was preserved.

The Etude in E minor Op.25/5 had an affecting and loving cantabile with a fine singing left hand. A sensitive balance was achieved here. The Etude in E-major Op.10/3  was a spectacularly driven interpretation of superb virtuosity and then the eloquent 'song' rose over us. 

The Waltz in A-minor Op. 34/2 suffered from the inability of so many young pianists, who live in such an utterly different technological world, to imagine the source of this music, replete as it is with the yearning nostalgia of recalled memories of the dance. The Etude in C minor Op.10/12 had a most tempestuous and turbulent declamatory opening. Fine articulation here with minimal pedal. I found the execution absolutely brilliant. 

This was followed by the Nocturne in C minor Op.48/1 which had a moving rather slow opening tempo which was most effective in creating a mood of the night. Poetry lay here too but the rhapsodic transports of recalled love and passion were not sufficiently incandescent for this soul. there was utterly convincing impetuousness to the coda.

The Etude in C minor  Op.25/12 was one of the truly great performances of this work to my mind. Spectacular, viscerally exciting in its urgent virtuosic sound palette and wild, stormy Salvator Rosa soundscape. Magnificent waves of oceanic emotionalism breaking irresistibly upon the shore. The Etude in C-sharp minor  Op.25/7 is a desperately moving work that touches the heart, mind and soul in a profound manner. I felt he could have brought more expressiveness and philosophical despair to the work and a more passionate yearning. In the Etude Op.10/4  which completed this trilogy, thoughtfully embedded in the minor key, we were again launched into an almost frightening display of virtuosity from the very explosive opening. To produce such sound from an Erard period instrument was magical and unsettling at once, like contemplating an apple on the moon. The Nocturne in D-flat major Op.27/2  was ardent and full of expressive self-confidence, a rare emotion in Chopin surely. The conclusion was notably sensitive but overall I was hoping for more subtlety of expression in his performance. I do wish young pianists would breathe the phrases more and give us listeners time to follow the polyphonic intricacies of the composition. The brain of the pianist encodes but the brain of the listener must decode -two utterly different electrochemical, synaptical pathways (to adopt the cloak of Huxley for a moment).

The Scherzo No.1 in B minor Op.20 had completely appropriate wild, ungoverned opening. I felt at times he was carried away by his own virtuosity at times  however this may have been the small room in which this powerful Erard was placed. Again if only he took a little more time and breathed the phrase....music is a language like any other and must make sense as an utterance without feeling such breathlessness. The eloquent Christmas carol Lulajże Jezuniu [Hush little Jesus] at the center of this work, the calm simplicity of Christmas Eve,  could have had more heartfelt expression and nostalgia for childhood happiness, uncluttered by the ravenous tigers of experience. The return of the chaos of reality was far too dramatic for me. 

The Tomaszewski description of this Scherzo from the NIFC website cannot possibly be bettered in my opinion, so I humbly quote it rather than venturing forth myself.
In the B minor Scherzo, that hostile framework is filled by music which Chopin defined – rather euphemistically – with the words presto con fuoco: fast and fiery. It is wild and strange. It runs the length and breadth of the keyboard, unconstrained, as if at odds with itself. Discontinuous, full of sharp, unexpected accents. Interpreters are put in mind of a ‘furious storm of motives’ (Jan Kleczynski), ‘tongues of flame bursting upwards’ (Hugo Leichtentritt), ‘a nerve-fraying mood’ (Zadislaw Jachimecki), presaged by those two chords of the preface, ‘two shattering cries at the top and the bottom of the keyboard’, as one monographer put it (bars 1–24). Then all at once, the frenzied dash is halted. Just for a moment, different music takes over. A rubato of chords and octaves which first struggle with one another and then fall quiet in anticipation (bars 44–64). And the next phase of wild hurtling begins (the development of motives exposed earlier): the agitation (agitato), articulated in a voice that at times is softened (sotto voce), thereby becomes all the more remarkable (bars 69–76).
Again the music is becalmed in expectation, and we are engulfed in the unrepeatable and unforgettable aura of a Christmas carol – like a voice from another world. The lullaby carol ‘Lulajże Jezuniu’ [Hush little Jesus] is summoned forth, by the strength of recollection, from deep silence and sung with the utmost simplicity, in a luminous B major, accompanied by a discreet ostinato, which reinforces the peace and calm of a Christmas Eve night. And immediately afterwards a reaction. An original song, in response to the carol. A melody bursting with lyricism swells in an almost beseeching gesture and then falls (bars 320–328 (329)). The carol subsequently returns several times, entwined in that original song. The sixth time around, it is brutally broken off by a return to reality (bars 381–392).
The reprise ensues: a return to music that is fraught, wild, incredible, demonic (it has been variously termed), leading to an unforgettable finale, an explosion of raging passion and revolt, to the ninefold striking of a chord, the unprecedented dissonance of which is hard to define, and which was presaged – in a gesture of opening – by the B minor Scherzo’s first two chords.
Tomasz Ritter
[My review of the magnificent evening Philharmonia chamber concert (Kholodenko and Baeva) will follow soon but I am flying to London tomorrow morning so must calm my coronovirus panic attacks and pack some masks...... only joking!]

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