The 2015 Chopin Competition – I Don’t Get It

Subjectivity

As you know if you’ve read this blog, before, I have absolutely no problem with subjectivity (see also how do I rate?) even if it may be controversial, and so I don’t hesitate putting my opinion out there, even if I may be a minority (e.g. with Staier’s Bach concertos that the whole world but me seems to love).

The 2015 Chopin Competition

However, things were slightly different with the 2015 Chopin competition. I mean we’re talking about one of the most important, if not the most important piano competition in the world, only held every 5 years! Former winners include legends like Martha Argerich and Maurizio Pollini, and in more recent years Yundi and Rafal Blechacz. Martha, Yundi, and Chopin specialist Nelson Goerner were part of the Jury this year!

So I felt rather belittled compared to those giants, and when the recording of the winner, South-Jorea’s Seong-Jin Cho came out on Deutsche Grammophon, and I didn’t really like the recording, I felt it must be me. Maybe these geniuses saw or heard something I don’t.

So I didn’t write about it yet on my blog and decided to give the album some more spins before I formally make up my mind. And then I must admit I forgot about it.

Seong-Jin Cho At the 2015 Warsaw Chopin Competition (Deutsche Grammophon 2015)

Song-Jin Cho Winner of the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition Warsaw 2015

Just recently, the two classical journals I subscribe to, Gramophone and Classica, came out with their latest issue, and both reviewed it. And guess what, in both cases, the reviewers were significantly underwhelmed (3 out of 5 stars for Classica, and rather negative comments from Gramophone).

So at least it wasn’t just me. Don’t get me wrong, this is fine Chopin playing, but compare his preludes to Blechacz, and sorry but we’re talking night and day in my personal opinion. And then you get Sonata No. 2. Compare this to Argerich herself, or Pogorelich, or Rubinstein, again, this is absolutely no match.

Not sure what happened, maybe Deutsche Grammophon just released the wrong takes, maybe Cho will develop over time, but so far I really don’t get it.

But even if you take the pressure of a competition and live performance into account, just compare Cho to Blechacz’ final performance in Warsaw 11 years ago, and really, there is so much more presence:

 

Obviously, you can’t have a new Argerich every year, but still my expectations were higher.

So what do YOU think?

My rating: 3 stars

In any case, you can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prestoclassical)

 

Rafal Blechacz’ Magnificent Chopin Préludes

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)

Rafal Blechacz

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

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 Chopin Complete The Preludes Rafal Blechacz Deutsche Grammophon

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.