Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Chopin Year in Israel: Polish pianist Karol Radziwonowicz in a solo recital of Polish music at the Einav Center

Polish pianist Karol Radziwonowicz performed an evening of Polish music at the Einav Center (Tel Aviv) June 26th 2010. Under the auspices of the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv, this unique recital was one of the events of the Chopin Year in Israel program. Maestro Radziwonowicz (b. 1958,Warsaw) began his piano studies with his father, and, on graduating from the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music (Warsaw), won a Fulbright scholarship to study under George Sebok at the School of Music of Indiana University, Bloomington (USA). Maestro Radziwonowicz performs widely. He is the first pianist to have recorded all the piano works of Paderewski.

Karol Radziwonowicz’s program presented works not only of Chopin but of other Polish composers whose music had been influenced in various ways and degrees by that of Chopin. 2010 marks the 150th anniversary of Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s (1860-1941) birth. A strongly patriotic Pole and talented orator known for his charisma, Paderewski divided his professional life between virtuoso piano performances far and wide and philanthropic and diplomatic functions. (He served as Poland’s prime minister and foreign minister.) His compositional oeuvre includes many piano pieces. Radziwonowicz performed a number of pieces by Paderewski, from the descriptive “narrative” of Legend no.2, opus 16 no.5, to the delicate, haunting inner sadness of Nocturne in B flat major, opus 16 no.4, to traditional Polish dances - the joyful, virtuosic and lively Cracovienne Fantastique, opus 14 no.6 and the proud, positive and festive Polonaise in B major, opus 9 no.6, taking us into the sparkle and excitement of the ballroom. Radziwonowicz played Paderewski’s much loved Menuet celebre, opus 14 no.1 with entertaining lightness and a wink of an eye, peppering his reading of it with whimsical fermatas.

Karol Szymanowski’s (1882-1937) Etude in B flat minor, opus 4 no.3, composed when the composer was 20 years old, was written for Paderewski whose playing of the work brought much fame to Szymanowski. Radziwonowicz’s treatment of it was sensitive, addressing its expressive sadness and intensity in depth. Szymanowski’s Variations in B flat minor opus 3, dating from 1901-1903, were dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein. Radziwonowicz presented the variation subject in carefully paced seriousness, this to be followed by variations delightfully contrasting with each other in mood and texture. Radziwonowicz brings out the richly varied, pianistic canvas of this virtuosic concert piece.

Of the works he composed later in his short life, we heard Polish pianist and composer Juliusz Zarebski’s (1854-1885) Polish Fantasy, opus 9 , imaginative in its pianistic orchestration and Two Waltzes from opus 30.

Works of Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) were woven into the program between works of the other Polish composers. In an interview with Radziwonowicz, the pianist talked of Chopin’s music being more emotionally accessible to people of Polish origin due to its “zal” (Polish:sadness). Radziwonowicz’s performance of Nocturne in B major, opus 9 no.3 and of Nocturne in B flat minor opus 9 no.1 were created of this very underlying sadness. Fragile and unrushed, the pianist’s melodiousness defying the limitations of a hammer instrument, his gossamer passagework sketched in pastel, weightless shapes, Radziwonowicz gives melodic lines profile, his use of the sustaining pedal clean. He thus takes his listeners into the inner world of Chopin’s burdened soul. In strong contrast, the Mazurkas on the program were exhilarating, proud and noble, full-textured and energetic, the artist using rubato freely, expressing the joy of dance with a sense of well-being to be punctuated only temporarily by a hint of “zal”. Not so the Grande Valse Brillante in A minor, opus 34 no.2, its gloomy message stated in melancholic simplicity. Following a fine rendition of the Impromptu-Fantasie in C sharp minor, the recital ended with the rousing and lustrous Polonaise in A major, opus 40 no.1, sometimes referred to as the Military Polonaise. (Anton Rubinstein spoke of the latter as “the symbol of Polish glory”.)

As an encore, the pianist performed Chopin’s Nocturne no 20 in C sharp minor, opus posthumous. This was the first Chopin piece Radziwonowicz had learned from his father and the pianist dedicated his transparently delicate and poignant performance of it to his father’s memory.

The audience included many people of Polish extraction, interested to make a connection with their own culture and tradition. It was an emotional journey for them. For those of us not from a Polish background, it was thought-provoking, enriching and indeed moving. Maestro Radziwonowicz’s recital presented works not often heard in the Israeli concert hall alongside those of the great genius of Chopin. His program offered a rich picture of Polish Romantic music – its delicacy, its sadness, its wealth of folk influences and dances, its pride, joy and nobility. His virtuosic technique, his palette of colors and timbres, his rhythmic spontaneity and nuancing are matched with his profoundly sensitive reading into each phrase. Karol Radziwonowicz’s recital was surely a highlight of the concert season and the Chopin Year in Israel.

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