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Hyperion Records

CDH55180 - Chopin: Piano Concertos
In the park (c1832) by Mikhael Lebedev (1811-1837)
(Originally issued on CDA66647)
Recording details: April 1993
Blackheath Concert Halls, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Ates Orga
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: April 2004
Total duration: 72 minutes 6 seconds

'In a class of their own. This is great Chopin playing' (CDReview)

'Demidenko nos propone los dos conciertos … en unas versiones de exquisito lirismo, de ideal trazo orquestal' (CD Compact, Spain)

Piano Concertos
Maestoso  [14'07]
Larghetto  [9'01]
Allegro vivace  [8'14]
Allegro maestoso  [20'30]
Romance: Larghetto  [10'20]
Rondo: Vivace  [9'54]
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Chopin completed his F minor Concerto between the autumn of 1829 and early 1830, and the E minor between April and 21 August 1830. The E minor (published first, by Schlesinger of Paris in July 1833) he dedicated to Friedrich Kalkbrenner, the German pianist/composer; the F minor (published second, by Breitkopf of Leipzig in April 1836) to the Countess Delphine Potocka. According to a letter to his friend Titus Woyciechowski (3 October 1829), the slow movement of the F minor was the fruit of his secret feelings for a young soprano, Konstancja Gladkowska, whom he had first met at the Warsaw Conservatoire in 1826: ‘Perhaps unfortunately, I already have my ideal, whom I have served faithfully, though silently, for half a year, of whom I dream, to thoughts of whom the adagio of my concerto belongs, and who this morning inspired the little waltz [Op 70/3] I am sending you … I often tell my pianoforte what I want to tell you.’ The Larghetto of the E minor is also haunted by her image: ‘It is not meant to be loud – it’s more of a romance, quiet, melancholic; it should give the impression of gazing tenderly at a place which brings to mind a thousand dear memories. It’s a sort of meditation in beautiful spring weather but by moonlight’ (letter to Titus, 15 May 1830). Sadly, the girl herself, despite exchanging rings, never seems to have taken seriously Chopin’s love for her. After his death all she could find to say was that ‘he was temperamental, full of fantasies, and unreliable’.

Under the direction of the composer/violinist Karol Kurpínski, the F minor was introduced privately by Chopin in the drawing-room of his father’s house on 3 March 1830, and then publicly at the Warsaw National Theatre on the 17th … sold out three days in advance. ‘The first Allegro is accessible to only the few’, he told Titus (27 March); ‘there were some bravos, but I think only because they were puzzled – ‘what is this?’ – and had to pose as connoisseurs! The adagio and Rondo had more effect; one heard some spontaneous shouts.’ However, he added, ‘the pit complained that I played too softly’. ‘I have just returned [at 11 pm] from the concert given by Chopin,’ noted a contemporary, ‘that artist whom I heard playing when he was seven, when he was still only a hope for the future. How beautifully he plays today! What fluency! what evenness – impossible that there should exist a more perfect concord between two hands … His music is full of expressive feeling and song, and puts the listener into a state of subtle rapture, bringing back to his memory all the happy moments he has known.’

Together with Konstancja singing a Rossini cavatina – wearing ‘a white dress and roses in her hair’ and looking ‘charmingly beautiful’ – the E minor was heard at a concert in the Town Hall on 11 October 1830, less than a month before Chopin left Warsaw for good. ‘I was not a bit, not a bit nervous and played the way I play when I’m alone, and it went well … I understood myself, the orchestra understood me, and the audience understood us’ (letter to Titus, 12 October).

Following the custom of the period, both concertos were originally played with their first and second movements separated/relieved by other (more diversionary) music – in the F minor a Görner divertissement for horn; in the E minor, a Soliva aria with chorus.

Sectionalized, with a marked tendency for thematic and tonal closure at the expense of ongoing momentum, the opening allegros are structurally a combination of Mozart concerto first-movement form and Beethoven/Hummel double exposition technique, minus cadenza. The conceptual, rhythmic and melodic model of Field (the A flat Concerto) and Kalkbrenner (the D minor) lies behind the F minor. And Hummel (the A minor, Op 85) is a critical motivic influence on the E minor (as Gerald Abraham and David Branson, in 1939 and 1972 respectively, have shown).

Lyricism embodied, the slow movements belong to a world of rarefied cantabile pianism. In them we meet with Chopin translating the ordinary words of others – Hummel (the B minor Concerto), Moscheles (the G minor, source of the F minor’s operatic recitative and string tremolo anguish) – into a language, poetically supple, at once delicately his own.

Quasi-rondos of virtuosity and elegance in the Field/Hummel manner provide a starting point for the finales. That of the F minor is mazurka-inflected. In spirit and source, its A flat col legno (‘with the wood of the bow’) episode and the celebrated cor de signal before the maggiore coda can be traced back directly to Hummel’s A minor Concerto and the Weber E flat. The E minor’s is in the style of a krakowiak, a stamping 2/4 dance from southern Poland. ‘Chopin knows what sounds are heard in our fields and woods’, remembered a Warsaw contemporary; ‘he has listened to the song of the Polish villager, he has made it his own, and has united the tunes of his native soil in skilful composition and elegant execution.’

Chopin calls for standard Classical forces of double woodwind, horns and trumpets in pairs, a single trombone (Warsaw, it seems, possessed only one good player), kettledrums and strings. According to Berlioz (and others) he was not a natural orchestrater: ‘His … concerto accompaniments are cold and practically useless’ (Mémoirs). Among alternative instrumentations, those of the F minor by Charles Klindworth (dedicated to Liszt, with an amplified piano part, published Moscow 1878) and Richard Burmeister (incorporating a first movement cadenza that used to be programmed by Paderewski), and of the E minor by Tausig (Berlin 1866) and Balakirev (who also made a solo concert version of the Romance), were once widely favoured. The present recording, uncut, uses the Sikorski Urtext (Instytut Fryderyka Chopina, Warsaw), derived from the 1880 Breitkopf Gesamtausgabe.

Ates Orga © 1993

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