A Rather Disappointing Recital from Rafal Blechacz

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin. Rafal Blechacz (piano) Wigmore Hall, London, 8.1.2015 (CC)

Mozart: Piano Sonata in D, K311
Beethoven: Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 “Pathétique”
Chopin:Three Mazurkas, Op. 56.
Three Waltzes, Op. 64.
Polonaise in F sharp minor, Op. 44

I wonder if the original idea of this programme was to have some Bach instead of the Mozart? The Deutsche Grammophon website lists the composers as being “Bach, Beethoven and Chopin” – at least for the his next concert of his tour, in Southampton. Tantalising, perhaps, as Blechacz’s Mozart, as heard here, could best be described as all present and correct. Technically impeccable, Blechacz’s playing had much to commend it, his brightness of tone on his Steinway suiting well the sonata’s D-major key. Yet two things conspired against satisfaction: the dreaded Wigmore “over-projection” in the first movement – it was simply too loud, and my seat was right at the very back – and a sense of over-familiarity. The central Andante con espressivo was perhaps Andante but the rest of the composer’s instruction was largely absent. The finale, a Rondeau, was certainly busy, but only hinted as the opera buffa it surely holds at its core.

The “Pathétique” found Blechacz using the full dynamic range of the piano, the first movement’s opening Grave section coming across as most effective. Yet in the Allegro di molto e con brio there were sudden spurts of speed that acted directly against the sense of the music, weakening the structure of the movement. It was very much a young man’s performance in that respect; impetuous, shallow excitement was generated from manipulating the basic pulse rather that working with it. The slow movement was essentially an echo of the Mozart’s central panel in that it flowed well but lost any sense of profundity. The finale might have demonstrated some felicities of touch, but it, too, left this listener cold.

Blechacz is of course most associated with Chopin – he won the 15th Chopin Competition – yet even here we had to wait until the final piece for him to awaken fully. There was, it is true, much to enjoy in the Op. 56 Mazurkas (in particular the fragility of the first, the B major, and the peasant element of the second in C major). The Waltzes, Op. 64 begin with the “Minute” Waltz but all three should surely be familiar to most listeners. The C sharp minor included some nice pearly touches and Blechacz managed to ensure that the final A flat Waltz was unhackneyed, but still the impression was of a talented pianist at work but certainly not a great one.

The recital’s saving grace was the Op. 44 F sharp-minor Polonaise. Finally, there was a clue as to what the fuss is all about with this young man. Grand gestures, burnished sonorities, echt-Chopin storminess and, more than anything else, a sense of ongoing drama all infused this performance. Blechacz gave us a rousing tone poem for piano. It was impressive, and in fairness he could have left it at that. True, it would have been a short recital – even with the one encore it was a 9.15pm finish – but it would have ended on a high. Instead we got Brahms’s Op. 118/2 Intermezzo in A major; this was more of a run-through than great Brahms. End on a high might be the advice here, especially when the jewel of the recital is the last piece – and, sadly, the last piece alone.

Colin Clarke

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