The Chopin Piano Competition
It feels like these days there are so many competitions out there for young musicians. One one hand, that is a good thing, increasing their exposure, on the other hand it is hard for the outside to judge the quality of the different competitions.
Well, there is one competition that clearly has proven its relevance over time, the Chopin Piano competition in Warsaw. First of all it is only held every five years. Furthermore, it’s been around for nearly a century. Several times, the jury was critical enough not go give a first price.
And then, most importantly, are the winners. What is the common ground between Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman, and Yundi Li, beyond the fact that they are all recognized world-class artists today? Well you’ve guessed it.
In 2005, after Krystian Zimerman, another Pole won this competition (you probably know that Chopin, in spite of his French name, was Polish by origin), Rafal Blechacz.
I have added below a link to a Youtube video from Polish television of the recital of the winner. I suggest you ignore the poor image and sound quality and skip the introduction, and go directly to the music. Amazing isn’t it?
(Update Jan 31, 2016: see also my blog post on the winner of the 2015 competition, Song-Jin Cho here)
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Blechacz live two years ago, he still looks rather shy and is not your flashy Lang Lang-style virtuoso at first sight. But then he sits down at the piano and you cannot be but amazed but how beautiful he plays.
Chopin’s préludes, especially op. 28, are among his most famous works. And in my opinion, they are among the most beautiful pieces for piano ever written. Don’t get me wrong, Beethoven sonatas are amazing, Schubert’s late works are very beautiful, etc. But there is a certain intensity in the Preludes that makes them very special to me.
Obviously, they’ve been recorded many times, both Argerich and Pollini, Blechacz predecessors in Warsaw, have done excellent versions. You also wouldn’t go wrong with Rubinstein (obviously) or
But my favorite these days is Rafal Blechacz recording on Deutsche Grammophon. Particularly beautiful are no. 13 in F sharp minor, and the Raindrops no. 15 is so delicately played it really reminds you of a light summer drizzle.
My rating: 5 stars
You can find it here (Prestoclassical), both physically and as download.
And as promised above, the Polish TV show on the winning recital at the 2005 Warsaw competition.
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