Sunday, March 7, 2010

Frederic Chopin

Recently John Allison wrote - Huge images of a hip-looking Frederic Chopin that were plastered around Warsaw this spring reflect Poland’s latest attitude towards its greatest composer. His music may have always registered deep within the psyche of the Poles, but for their political masters he has been a multifunctional face since he first rallied revolutionary spirits in the 1830s. Banned by Nazi occupiers only to return as a socialist hero, in his bicentenary year Chopin is now being identified with the trendy rebranding of modern Warsaw.
Allocating an impressive 100 million zloty (£23 million) to the bicentennial celebrations – hard to imagine any government spending even one tenth of that on a composer – the Polish state is wearing Chopin with pride. The bulk of that money has gone towards building projects at the composer’s Zelazowa Wola birthplace and on a new, state-of-the-art Chopin Museum in Warsaw (which opened this month and promises to be the world’s most advanced musical museum); yet most importantly, the music itself is being well served by this year’s rich and extensive programming, which is celebrating Chopin’s universality rather than claiming him for Poland.
There was certainly nothing chauvinistic about the parade of pianists – both Polish and international – that passed through the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall last weekend. Indeed, the soloists in the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra’s big concert on Saturday were both Russians, and they offered contrasting views of the composer.
In the Concerto in E minor, Nikolai Demidenko gave an expansive performance that livened up in a crisp finale and under its chief, Antoni Wit, this richly cultivated orchestra caught the music’s hard-to-define melancholy spirit.
Playing with greater depth than I have heard from him before, Evgeny Kissin followed this with a brilliant account of the Concerto in F minor. His music-making was fresh and even innocent, with sparkling poise and attack well suited to the work. Kissin found all the yearning of the slow movement and framed it with barnstorming outer movements that sounded old-fashioned in the best sense, matching the drama coming from Wit and his orchestra.
In the first of his four encores, the Revolutionary Étude, Kissin showed off his noisy former self but built an excitement that fitted the occasion.
This 'official’ celebration had been preceded the night before with something much more revelatory: a marathon, triple-decker programme of Chopin’s complete works for piano and orchestra, played on instruments of the composer’s day.
The brainchild of the Chopin Institute’s Stanislaw Leszczynski, who has devised a 'Real Chopin’ series of period recordings, it rather movingly featured an Erard piano from 1849, the year of Chopin’s death, in addition to the Orchestra of the 18th Century under Frans Brüggen. Together they summoned Chopin’s sound world and evoked the delicacy for which his performances were renowned.
My friend Ada sent this lovely FDC with a mini sheet of Chopin’s stamp to me.

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