Friday, October 4, 2013

Blechacz opens Portland Piano International season with impressive recital

Rafał Blechacz
Portland Piano International opened its 36th season with dynamic performance from Rafał Blechacz, at Lincoln Hall on Monday (September 30). Although he is only 28 years old, Blechacz has been a mainstay primarily on the European circuit ever since he won the Frederick Chopin International Piano Competition in 2005. The following year, he signed a recording deal with Deutsche Grammophon, and has released six CDs under the DG label, all of which have received favorable notice. Now Blechacz is touring the United States (he appears with the Alabama Symphony on October 5th), and PPI’s new Artistic Director Arnaldo Cohen made sure to snag him for back-to-back recitals in Portland. Both performances featured the same works by Chopin on the second half of the program. But Sunday afternoon’s performances offered works by Mozart and Beethoven during the first half while the Monday evening’s concert served pieces by Debussy and Szymanowski. Several years have flown by since PPI sponsored two concerts by one artist in its series. Judging from the very full concert hall on Monday night, that was an excellent gamble.

Blechacz began his recital with an inspired performance of Debussy’s “Suite bergamasque.” His playing showed lots of tonal color and lyricism. He dallied with a light, delicate tone but shifted deftly to more powerful passages, including some terrific sforzandos in the second movement. The final movement was playful, but he kept it reigned in.

Following the Debussy, Blechacz unleashed his Romantic soul and gave a tour-de-force interpretation of Szymanowski’s Sonata No 1. His playing was explosive, engrossing, and breath taking. It was as if an artillery of emotion was being volleyed from the keyboard. Tempestuous sections were followed by calm ones, and often there were passages that imitated the fluidity of Chopin. The fourth movement seemed to start out to of the depths of Poland, alternated between grand and intimate statements, and wound up in a wild, ecstatic finale. The audience responded with great enthusiasm, calling him back to center stage three times.

After intermission, Blechacz delved into the all-Chopin part of his program. His playing of the Nocturne in A-flat major (Op. 32 No. 2) had a beautiful, singing tone and full-bodied momentum. He held nothing back in his interpretations of the “Two Polonaises,” (Op. 40), which meant the very familiar and beloved No. 1 in A Major, “Military” and the lesser known No. 2 in C minor. Blechacz has a real passion for Chopin’s music. He seemed to explore the extremes of dynamics, including playing the “Military Polonaises” at a very loud volume, and creating the sense of tragedy in the Polonaise No. 2

This was followed by impeccable playing of the “Three Mazurkas” (Op. 63) and an outstanding performance of the Scherzo No 3 in C-sharp minor (Op. 39) with its powerful statements and contrasting crystalline falling arpeggios. An immediate standing ovation by the audience brought Blechacz back for four bows. He is a young pianist whose career is on the upswing, and it will be interesting to see which path it takes.

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