Chopin: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Rafal Blechacz (piano); Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam/Jerzy Semkow
CATALOGUE NO: 477 8088

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To a degree Rafal Blechacz’s approach to Chopin’s Concertos is beyond criticism – poised, elegant, with broad paragraphs and expressive details impeccably shaped. Yet for all his natural style and sincerity, these readings ultimately lack a strongly etched personality and intensity. There is much to admire, but little that is memorable. He hasn’t been helped by DG’s engineering, which lacks its usual richness and bloom.

It is interesting to compare this recording of the First Concerto with Blechacz’s account from the 2005 Chopin Competition (available on Dux), a watershed in his career. Although the current version is more polished, the live Warsaw performance has greater rhythmic bite and adrenalin, more character and youthful exuberance.

There is spontaneity and élan – a feeling of live music-making that largely eludes the more considered DG account. The same limitations are evident in the Second Concerto, where, for example, the slow movement’s recitative-like section really needs a more vivid and concentrated expression, although the finale has more immediacy and flair.

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Blechacz’s selfless playing is at the opposite pole to the glitzy Lang Lang (to take another recent DG account), but most compelling of all, for me, remains the romantically luxuriant and ever-youthful Martha Argerich. Tim Parry