Music review: Pianist Rafal Blechacz at the Kennedy Center

April 28, 2013

Last week was a feast for piano aficionados at the Kennedy Center, with Evgeny Kissin on Wednesday and Polish virtuoso Rafal Blechacz on Saturday (in the Terrace Theater, presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society). Blechacz, still in his 20s, is the lesser name but of nearly comparable talent. In a program of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Szymanowski, he showed range, imagination and a winsome cheerfulness.

The concert order was a head-scratcher, as Blechacz closed with the large, overripe and overblown Szymanowski Sonata No. 1. To start a concert with three of the greatest composers of all time and then cap it off with a distinctly minor 20th-century figure was an unfortunate miscalculation. After the thrilling Chopin C-sharp Minor Scherzo, the formerly spellbound audience began reading programs and quietly fidgeting.

That said, it was otherwise a superb recital. Blechacz conveys no sense of struggle at the instrument and delivers fastidious musical ideas. He has a reputation as a Chopin specialist, but the high point Saturday was the Beethoven Sonata Op. 10, No. 3. The opening movement burst with energy, barely pausing to breathe, but the grand “Large e mesto” opened out into an opera scena: whispered secrets, raging thunderbolts and welling grief. The Menuetto and Rondo were dispatched with puckish humor.

The opening Bach Partita in A Minor was clean and bracing, though I suspect Blechacz will find something more personal to say in this music later on. His Chopin selections — the two Op. 40 Polonaises and the Scherzo — were full of passion, though for me the tempo contrasts in the latter were more than was necessary. Most impressive was the clarity of sound; voicing the music properly gets harder with each decibel. Blechacz listens to himself at all times and creates sharp, powerful musical images.

Battey is a freelance writer.

Rafal Blechacz (Felix Broede)
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