Polish pianist Blechacz makes dazzling Miami debut

By Lawrence Budmen

Pianist Rafal Blechacz performed a wide-ranging recital Tuesday night at Wertheim Performing Arts Center.

The formidable Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz excelled in a recital that spanned from the Baroque to late romantic era Tuesday night at Florida International University’s Wertheim Auditorium. The event was jointly presented by Friends of Chamber Music and the Chopin Foundation of the United States.

Blechacz was top prize winner at the 2005 Chopin International Competition in Warsaw. A musician with bold artistic instincts and dazzling technique, Blechacz was at his finest Tuesday in scores by his compatriots Frederic Chopin and Karol Szymanowski.

Throughout his recital, Blechacz played with accuracy and musicality, even at the most accelerated tempos. For all his power and seemingly easy dexterity, Blechacz commands a wealth of tonal coloring, his dynamics beautifully varied.

He seems to be a born Chopin player. Three Mazurkas, Op. 63 impressively demonstrated Blechacz’s range. The B Major Mazurka was big-boned and brisk, the kind of playing that would light up any ballroom. He imbued the Mazurka in F minor with aristocratic nobility and aching sadness, capturing the idiomatic pauses and hesitations of phrase in a deft manner. The great C-sharp minor Mazurka mixed elegance and passion in distinctively romantic tones.

Blechacz’s winning readings of the mazurkas were merely a warm-up for his powerhouse traversal of the Scherzo No. 3. From the opening low rumblings, his incisive approach encompassed impassioned phrasing and fearless virtuosity. The chorale-like melody was nobly shaped and the rapid figurations assayed with airy lightness. Building the score’s drama to a crescendo, Blechacz’s viscerally powerful coda was thrilling down to the final chords.

The music of Karol Szymanowski is too rarely heard. Spanning the twilight of romanticism and the initial strains of twentieth century modernity, Szymanowski’s early works were strongly influenced by Chopin, his later scores becoming increasingly chromatic and harmonically adventurous.

The Sonata No. 1 in C minor, Op. 8 is in the romantic tradition, the shadows of Chopin and Liszt strongly felt. Blechacz brought rhapsodic sweep to the opening movement, shaping the expansive second theme with lyricism and delicacy. He superbly executed the knuckle-busting octaves at rapid speed in a sizzling coda.

The Chopinesque slow movement was finely articulated, the lightness of the repeated trills breezily dispatched. Blechacz persuasively captured the bell-like verve of the third movement Polish dance, the lithe rhythms and pastel coloration a total delight. Following the somber opening of the finale, Blechacz launched into the complex Bachian fugue, voices clean and transparent even with extremes of tempo and volume and the almost manic intensity of Blechacz’s playing.

In the program’s first half, Blechacz offered a crisp performance of Bach’s Partita No. 3 in A minor, the exquisitely shaded Sarabande finely balancing grace and soulfulness. Only the Courante was too fast, lacking elegance and flexibility.

His account of Beethoven’s early Sonata in D Major, Op. 3, No. 10 was wonderfully nuanced, capturing the fleet, sly humor of the final rondo and the tragic aura of the Largo in pearly tones.

Blechacz is a strong and distinctive interpreter who brings a highly personal approach to a wide ranging repertoire and should be invited back for a repeat engagement.

Friends of Chamber Music concludes its season 8 p.m. May 15 at Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables with baritone Alexey Lavrov and pianist Ken Noda in a program of songs and arias by Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Schubert, Sviridov, Verdi, Donizetti, Mozart and Leoncavallo. 305-372-2975; miamichambermusic.org.

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Wed May 8, 2013
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