The soloists and the volatile orchestra [REVIEW]

The first instalment of the Competition finals in the piano category has drawn to a close. The soloists were accompanied by the Artur Malawski Podkarpacka Philharmonic in Rzeszów under the batons of Massimiliano Caldi and Tomasz Chmiel. Performing on the piano were Ivan Shemchuk, Michał Karol Szymanowski, Adam Mikołaj Goździewski, and Mikołaj Sikała.

The first pianist to take to the stage was Ivan Shemchuk, who performed Ludomir Różycki’s Piano Concerto no. 1 op. 43. The concert gives away the composer’s fondness of symphonic music, manifested through a competent conduct of a large ensemble, along with colorful orchestration. In spite of this challenging setup, the pianist held his own, operating with powerful, self-assured sound, never yielding to the orchestra. The solo part abounded with sweeping virtuoso parts played with force and bravura. It was only at times that Shemchuk dialed down the volume of his sound, which served him well, given that in the subsequent performances of the night, the orchestral tutti repeatedly overshadowed the other soloists.

Michał Karol Szymanowski opted for Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s Piano Concerto in A minor op. 17. He displayed a high degree of proficiency and technical ability, playing with confident, firm sound, much like in the previous stages of the Competition. Handling Paderewski’s popular piece is a challenge that comes with great expectations and curiosity as to the pianist’s ability to “add” to the musical interpretations of his antecedents. Szymanowski rendered the concerto’s character, its virtuosity, vigor, and folk-like tongue-in-cheek touches in the opening and closing movements, along with the melancholy that pervades its second part of the piece. At times, however, one craved for the slightest touch of frivolity that would ease the pianist towards greater liberty and the simple joy of music-making.

The second finalist who performed Różycki’s Piano Concerto no. 1 was Adam Mikołaj Goździewski. From the opening phrases of the piece all the way through the third movement, he strove to convey its expressive qualities through agogic changes, of which the orchestra remained oblivious, as if ignorant of Massimiliano Caldi’s baton. This was rather shameful, given that it was precisely the narrative layer of Goździewski’s rendition of Karol Szymanowskis Fantasy in C major that left the audience astonished in the second stage of the Competition. Although distorted, the soloist’s vision and interpretation were nonetheless legible enough, along with the vast array of timbres in his repertoire. The two performances of Różycki’s Concerto no doubt invite comparisons between Shemchuk, who appeared to make a stronger connection with the orchestra, and Goździewski, whose rendition was more diverse expression-wise. Both are exquisite pianists, and in picking the same piece each showcased his respective forte: the former has recently recorded a CD with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s pieces, while the latter has released several albums of Fryderyk Chopin’s music.

The night concluded with the performance of Mikołaj Sikała, which overlapped with substitutions in the orchestra’s line-up and at the conductor’s pulpit, now manned by Tomasz Chmiel. Luckily for the philharmonics, the finalists chose only four from among eleven available concertos, but even with the second line-up available, the repertoire posed a significant challenge for the orchestra, especially given the fact that Grażyna Bacewicz’s Piano Concerto played by Sikała is a significantly demanding piece ensemble-wise. In the previous stage of the Competition, Sikała displayed considerable sensitivity to melodics, in particular with respect to reflective, nostalgic timbres; on the other hand, in choosing Bacewicz’s Concerto he gave himself a chance to showcase his pianistic versatility. Bacewicz’s piece is soaked with stylizations of familiar folk melodies, and requires a high dose of expressiveness and pertness, along with the ability to structure long passages with culminations accompanied by rich orchestral textures. The soloists rose to the challenge, switching between musical registers through an adept use of contrasts, which attested to the outstanding technical preparation of the young pianists.

 Author: Paulina Szurgacz