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CONCERT REVIEW | Rafał Blechacz: Gold, but not burnished

By Neil Crory on October 20, 2014

Rafał Blechacz
Rafał Blechacz. Photo: Marco Borggreve

The much-anticipated Toronto debut of the $300,000.00 pianist – Rafał Blechacz – took place on Sunday afternoon at Koerner Hall. The near capacity audience was treated to a somewhat old-fashioned programme which included Bach’s Italian Concerto, Beethoven’s Pathétique” Sonata and, after intermission, a collection of diverse works by Frédéric Chopin.

As winner of all five top prizes at the 15th International Frédéric Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2005, Blechacz’s career was firmly launched. But it was his recent win, in 2014, of the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award – with its $300,000.00 prize – that added even greater lustre to his stature as a major international artist.

Based solely upon what was heard on Sunday, however, one wonders what the fuss is all about. The handsome, boyish, 29 year-old Polish pianist is short, of slight build and sports a mop of hair reminiscent of an Anton Rubenstein. He holds himself erect at the keyboard when he plays and looks every inch the youthful, romantic pianist.

But the afternoon was what one might call a ‘tidy’ performance. Nothing was out-of-place. But neither was it transfiguring. There were things to admire, to be sure. An assured technique, a sensitivity of touch, but interpretively, little was out of the ordinary. In fact one can think of countless pianists who could have handled this programme with greater insight and decidedly more personality.

A few moments stand out in one’s memory: an exquisite slow movement in Bach’s Concerto, the arresting opening section of Beethoven’s Sonata (another Beethovenian portrait of Orpheus soothing the wild beasts as in the slow movement of his Fourth Piano Concerto). As for the Chopin – works which are central to Blechacz’s repertoire – they varied from a meandering E Major Nocturne to a largely satisfying F-Sharp Minor Polonaise.

Oddly enough, it was his single encore – the playful scherzo from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Opus 2, No. 2 – that made the greatest impression. Played with Mendelssohnian sprightliness and wit, Blechacz charmed one to the core.

But while the case of the Gilmore Artist Award may be closed, based upon the evidence presented on Sunday, the jury is still out.

This recital was the first in Koerner Hall’s Invesco five-concert piano series. The next recital – on November 9th – will feature pianist Jeremy Denk. Others in this series include Richard Goode (November 16), and Marc-André Hamelin (March 1), and Hélène Grimaud (April 19).

Neil Crory

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