Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chopin Overdose: Artur Pizarro

Chopin is a competition/audition staple.  That's because he ticks all the boxes:  want something moody and pensive?  Check (Nocturnes).  Or perhaps you need to impress a girl (or a judge) and want something a bit more triumphant and technically challenging?  Check (Polonaises).  Or maybe you don't have that much time, but you want to get your point across pretty quickly about what a talented pianist you are.  Check (Etudes).  How about something romantic but good for background music?  Check (Waltzes).  And finally, maybe ... something playful, not serious, for after-dinner drawing room entertainment (and yes, I said "drawing room")?  Check (Mazurkas). 

So very rarely do I have the pleasure of hearing Chopin not being grievously mangled by someone's piano students (not naming any names here) or played with robotic intent at a piano competition.  Last week I had the privilege of seeing Emmanuel Ax in recital and he performed Chopin beautifully, with ease yet humility and with a gentle, almost grandfatherly (maybe it's because I secretly wished he was my grandfather, like the David Attenborough effect) approach. 

Artur Pizarro's Chopin-dedicated concert last night was entirely different from Ax's: unbridled, unrefined, and yes, even cocky.  Not arrogant, not confident, but cocky and even - dare I say - sexy?  (Ew, I did.)  Pizarro finished each piece with a flourish or his head bowed accordingly, but never passed up the opportunity to take two deep and longer-than-neccessary bows.  But I loved it.  His interpretation of Nocturne in C# minor (made famous by Roman Polanski's The Pianist), intentionally sandwiched in the middle of the programme, was enough to make the skin prickle - in a good way.  It made me want to weep.  His secret seemed to be taking great license with the tempo (just below what's acceptable for that piece) and his extraordinary ability to make even notes marked pp ring.  The same tenderness was found in his rendition of the "Farewell" Etude (Op. 10) and yet he was able to attack the "Revolutionary" with such ferocity that you feared a string might snap.  It was truly an outstanding performance on all counts and it seemed the audience (full house) agreed, as they gave him three rounds of applause (followed by his encore of Earl Wild's transcription of the Larghetto from the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21, which I wasn't too keen on, especially since we were all dead tired by then and Larghetto = Lullaby in my book!).

What I haven't told you, however, is that this is the third of NINE concerts Pizarro is playing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth - yes, you read that correctly, he is playing the complete solo works of Chopin.  Have mercy.  Tickets are still available at St John's Smith Square and the last concert is on December 7, 2010, so if you get a chance to go, I'd highly recommend it.

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