Tomasz Ritter, winner of the 1st International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments (Warsaw, September 2018), has produced one of the finest ever period piano CDs

NIFCCD 146 - Lessel, Haydn, Voříšek, Beethoven, Chopin (2023)

I feel I have nothing left to say about this magnificent, electrifying recording apart from the fact it is without doubt the finest period piano recording I have ever heard. 

In my adopted role as music critic I have experienced many! 

First of all, here is an extract of my criticism of the Ritter performance in Stage II of the competition when he won the 1st International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments in September 2018 :

Tomasz Ritter has had a distinguished career associated with both the harpsichord and the historical piano with his outstanding teachers. He has won prestigious prizes and performed with fine orchestras under well-known conductors. I expected his recital to be remarkable and so it was.

He began unexpectedly with a stylish rendition of the Kurpiński polonaise on the Buchholtz with most attractive phrasing which added greatly to the period feel. The Chopin polonaise was possessed of the same charm, elegance and nobility. From the tone and touch he was clearly experienced playing  earlier historical instruments. The phrasing again revealed great sensibility and expressiveness using the evocative colour spectrum of the instrument to great effect. He has fine control of touch, tone, dynamics and articulation – a nuanced performance.

The Chopin Etude on the 1842 Pleyel was highly expressive and indicated the presence of an authentic individual voice. He brilliantly modulated from this study into the Ballade seamlessly at pianissimo (E minor to F minor was it?). This was a magnificent performance of this masterpiece with finely drawn internal cantabile lines, the bel canto radiant.  The musical narrative was musically coherent and unfolded like the wings of a moth at dusk. So much detail and nuance were organically revealed here, growing from within not merely applied to the surface. He wound up the drama like a tight watch spring to the passionate coda and then the relaxation and final triumphant statement chord of faith suffused with resignation which concludes the work.

But in an inspired decision of brilliant creative design in his programme, he performed the Bach Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor BMV 853 from Book I of the WTC on the 1842 Pleyel. The Bach cantilenas within the lyrical, eloquent and ardent Prelude sang with fine cantabile followed by the profoundly introspective, philosophically monumental Fugue with its own glorious voices. Such a blessed commemorative offering to Chopin who loved Bach to distraction. Such a summation of the music passed before us. 

A truly great recital in or out of competition, on an historical instrument or not.

CD Review

From the explosive, arpeggiated opening chord of the Franciszek Lessel Fantasy we are taken by Tomasz Ritter on a opulent musical journey of extraordinary richness, colour, timbre, dynamic contrasts, articulation, moving poetic expressiveness in the divine, Aeolian harp Chopin, yet with breathtaking energy, passion and stylish panache. The recording engineering and sheer sound is devastating, heard on excellent equipment. Paul McNulty tuned and regulated his copy of the 1819 Graf with the taste and perfection only such a talented builder can assemble in his mind's ear. This is decidedly not a recording on 'Aunty's old piano'.

Tomasz Ritter, an outstanding Polish pianist of the young generation, specializing in performing on period instruments, while recording his debut studio album for the Fryderyk Chopin National Institute, sat down at a copy of the Graf piano to present a very interesting and thoughtfully composed repertoire, which includes Chopin's works, Franz Lessel, Joseph Haydn, Jan Václav Hugo Vorísek and Ludwig van Beethoven.

'One of the most fascinating elements of working with historical instruments is their unpredictability. You may be surprised by the possibilities of the instrument, its sound, the physical feeling of the keyboard, but also by your own interpretation, which, under the influence of so many factors, can go in an unexpected direction'. – writes Tomasz Ritter in the commentary to the album.

The album itself is an invitation to look at selected pieces from the music of the late 18th and first decades of the 19th century; the guide is an artist who is exceptionally sensitive to the sound aura evoking that time.

Franciszek Lessel [ca./c.1780–1838]

A lesser known, brilliant Polish composer who was a friend and pupil of Haydn. A 'discovered' composer of the Polish musical renaissance now taking place...

Fantasy in C major,  op. 8 (c./c.1810)

Joseph Haydn [1732–1809]

Fantasy in C major 'Capriccio' Hob. XVII/4 (1789)

Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek [1791–1825]

An outstanding, spectacularly virtuosic Czech composer of the Viennese school who was a friend of Beethoven

Introduction to the Sonata,  Op. 20 (Adagio)

Sonata quasi una fantasia in B flat minor,  Op. 20 (1824)

Allegro con brio

Scherzo. Allegro

Finale. Allegro con brio

Ludwig van Beethoven [1770–1827]

32 variations in C minor on an own theme  WoO 80 (ca./c.1806)

Fryderyk Chopin [1810–1849]

Nocturne in C sharp minor 'Lento con gran espressione'  op. posth. [WN 37] (1830)

Nocturne in B flat minor,  Op. 9 No. 1 (before/before 1832)

Scherzo in B minor, Op. 20  (1831–1834)

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Purchase please ! 

A revelation compared to such works performed on a Steinway, Yamaha or Fazioli ! 

This recording will change your attitude to period pianos completely !

Graf, Vienna c.1819 (2007)

A copy of the Viennese Conrad Graf’s instrument from c.1819, made in Paul McNulty’s workshop in 2007 to a commission from the Fryderyk Chopin Institute. This type of piano was very popular in the early Romantic era. Chopin probably composed some of his youthful pieces on a similar one. This instrument has the Viennese action with the so-called single repetition. Unlike modern pianos, its hammers are covered with leather. Most of the strings (single-, double- and triple-strung) are made of iron wire, except the bass strings, made from brass. The instrument does not have an iron frame. It has four pedals – moderator, double moderator, sustaining and una corda – allowing for a wide range of both dynamics and tone colours. The compass of the keyboard is 6½ octaves (C1f4).


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