Chopin Birthday Recital by Aleksandra Świgut on the 211th Anniversary at his birthplace of Żelazowa Wola, 50 kms from Warsaw
The hopefully not irreversible blight that torments us at present was forgotten yesterday as we were immersed in the consoling nature of the music of Fryderyk Chopin. I had attended the birthday concert at this hamlet for many years but this was the first time I have been so cruelly denied by a merciless and indiscriminate pandemic.
In an access of nostalgia brought on by this denial, I would like to quote my first impressions of this deeply poetic place in 1992 from my book about Poland entitled A Country in the Moon.
The sensitive and poetic young pianist Aleksandra Świgut performed a demanding programme at a deserted Żelazowa Wola. For this recital she played an Erard from 1838 from the NIFC collection. She was awarded a distinguished 2nd prize ex aequo at the 1st International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments in Warsaw 2–14 September 2018.
Berceuse Op.57 in D-flat major
Mazurkas, Op.30 [1835-1837]
No.1 in C minor
No.2 in B minor
No.3 in D-flat major
No.4 in C-sharp minor
Sonata Op.35 in B-flat minor 
I. Grave - Doppio movimento
III. Marche funèbre
IV. Finale. Presto
Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante Op.22 in E-flat major
The difficulties concealed in this work are easy to underestimate. Chopin often performed the Andante spianato (smoothly without anxious tension) as a separate piece in his rare recitals. It has both the character of a nocturne and a lullaby and as such the tender expressiveness. She accomplished this with a similar grace to her opening Berceuse.
The Grande polonaise brillante with its opening 'Call to the Floor' as if on horns and its super glittering style brillante is such a dramatic gesture. Hardly anyone playing Chopin waltzes has an idea of ballroom dancing in the nineteenth century. Chopin in his youth was mad about dancing, a fine dancer and also an excellent dance pianist playing into the small hours, hence his need for 'rehab' at Bad Reinherz – now Dusznki Zdrój. Certainly Chopin waltzes are not meant to be danced but the sublimated idiom remains. Chopin waltzes nearly always open, except say the Valse triste, with an energetic and declamatory fanfare or 'call to the floor' for the dancers. A slight pause and then the scandalous Waltz begins.
The essential nature of the style brilliant, of which the Grand Polonaise Brillante Op.22 is an essential and outstanding representative of Chopin’s early Varsovian style, seems rather a mystery to modern pianists who are not Polish. Young pianists should learn to dance the waltz, the polonaise and the mazurka to absorb the rhythm into their autonomic motor system. Jan Kleczyński writes of this work: ‘There is no composition stamped with greater elegance, freedom and freshness’, it is ‘a real firework of wondrous passages and bold phrases’. For Zdzislaw Jachimecki the work is ‘a wondrously shimmering play of lights and colours’, and for Tadeusz Zielinski ‘a wealth and magnificence of patterns in sound’.
The principal theme of the polonaise combines an eagle's soaring flight with spirit and verve, bravura with elegance – all of those features that characterize a dance in the styl brillant. The opening (and principal) theme is at once developed by a complementary theme that is suffused with harmoniousness and given over to play. Played with the utmost fluency, subtlety and sensitivity to the beauty of the sound, it confirms all the descriptions. (Tomaszewski). The polonaise is a traditional expression of distinct Polishness that contains within the original dance the martial qualities of nobility, grace, resistance, élan, the glitter of the sabre, the proud stroking of the Sarmartian moustache valiantly facing the enemy.
The style involves a bright, light touch and glistening tone, varied shimmering colours, supreme clarity of articulation, in fact much like what was referred to in French as the renowned jeu perlé. Quite apart from the extreme digital difficulty of the work, this effect is difficult to achieve on a period instrument that is not in fact new but restored. One tends to forget that pianos are mechanical devices and subject to ageing in a manner that say a Stradivarius violin is not. Although Sébastien Érard invented the double escapement mechanism, even when restored, it does not react as accurately and instantly as the new mechanism.
She gave the work all the expressive elements it needed of charm, grace, taste, affectation and elegance. The work is a fascinating piece of theatre which perhaps is how this work should be considered in many respects. It is not deeply philosophical but an utterly enjoyable brilliant confection written by a high-spirited young Pole named Fryderyk Chopin, a lover of dancing and acting. One must not forget that Chopin astonished Vienna by his pianism but perhaps even more by the elegance of his princely appearance.
Encore: Chopin song: 'Życzenie' ("The Maiden's Wish") Op.74.No.1 [1829?]
A fine choice of encore, the earliest of his songs, composed when preoccupied with his idealized love of the soprano Konstancja Gładkowska. A sensitive performance romantically concluded this uplifting birthday recital at Chopin's poetic birthplace.
A MAIDEN’S WISH
Stefan Witwicki (1801–1847)
If I were the sun in the sky,
I wouldn’t shine, except for you —
Not over waters or woods,
But for all time
Beneath your dear window and only for you,
If I could change myself into the sun.
If I were a little bird from that grove,
I wouldn’t sing in any alien land —
Not over waters or woods,
But for all time
Beneath your dear window and only for you.
Oh, why can’t I change myself into a little bird?