WEDNESDAY, February 12, 2020
1829: Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 (#1), age 19
Frédéric Chopin (1 March 1810 – 17 October 1849)…
You can find excellent biographies of Chopin anywhere, so I won’t bother with that here. But because he was Polish, there is something a bit special when Polish pianists or East Europeans play his music.
This is the first piano concerto written by Chopin, not the 2nd, but it is known as the 2nd today because it was published later. Wiki said he wrote it at around age 20, and this is flat out wrong. He performed it on March 17th, 1830, in Warsaw, Poland, and since he was born in March of 2011, quite obviously it was written earlier. It was written while he was still a student, no older than age 19. I find that frightening, because you can already here that the world heard nothing like this before, and frankly still has not.
This video is not the best sound, but it is good enough to hear what he was doing, His performance and his performance of Chopin was incredibly controversial and resulted in a scandal. He competed in one of the piano contests that I loathe, the ones that usually produce very accurate and well-trained young pianists who don’t have even one original idea of their own and sound like hundreds of other clones. To me it is all horribly depressing, but now and then someone special makes his or her way through the corruption, stupidity and butt-kissing that goes on the world of competitive piano.
Martha Argerich, without any doubt one of the exceptions (because she was so good that all these crooks and idiots could not derail her) was on the jury at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. I hope this grand lady learned her lesson once and for and never went near this absolutely disgusting, inbred bunch of musical morons in another piano jury – I’ll have to read up on this – but when young Ivo was eliminated in early rounds she stormed out of the competition in protest, and the rest is history.
Pogorelich was catapulted to lucrative recording contracts and international fame. Unfortunately, he was also extremely unstable mentally and has almost completely self-destructed since then. But for a few years he was a gigantic breath of fresh air in what is so often an international, stuffy museum controlled by people who mostly have the imagination of a pet rock.
Here is the live performance…
And the studio recording…
For me it is amusing to think that my dad did not like this because he loved Rubinstein’s recording, much more conventional. He thought this was too angry, too extreme and generally exaggerated. I of course totally disagreed, and since that puts me on the side of Argerich, I’ll stick with my original opinion, but I understand why he felt that way.
Krystian Zimerman 5 December 1956)…
In 1975, he won the IX International Chopin Piano Competition, and I remember one of my adult students bringing in his recording of this same concerto. My impression was that he was unusually talented for a competition winner, but my opinion of competition winners then was the same as it is now. Mostly they are over-trained, almost piano athletes, hyped to Mars and eventually nothing special, and young Zimerman simply bored me.
But this time I was wrong, and I fully knew how much when a few years back I heard his later recording of the same concerto, this time conducting and an orchestra that he picked carefully and molded to exactly what he wanted. To me it was obvious that he had listened to everyone else out there and was influenced by others – always a good thing – and I could clearly hear some of Pogorelich’s ideas. I’m not sure he would admit that, or even be aware of it, but this is what great minds do. They absorb everything, filter it, then it all evolves into something new and unique. I own this recording. I may still be a bit more partial to the Pogorelich vision, but the whole package is better than any other – to me – because of the integration of the piano and orchestra, which is amazing. So this recording is my pick of all of them out there, and easily one of the best performances I’ve ever heard, by anyone. And I’ve heard a lot!
I now listen to everything Zimerman does.
It’s also important to mention that the evolution of his own interpretations, as they really matured, happened after age 50, and that is still happening. The greatest pianists seem to hit their peak at around age 60 or even later.