CHOPIN: Fantasia on Polish Airs / Andante spianato / Krakowiak (Idil Biret) (Naxos: 8.554541)
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Complete Piano MusicVol. 15
Fantasia on PolishAirs
Andante spianato andGrande Polonaise
Variations on 'La cidarem la mano' from Mozart's Don Giovanni Krakowiak
Chopin throughout his life remained a Polish patriot. Paradoxically hewas the son of a French father, who had settled in Poland to avoid conscriptioninto the French army and had become a respected teacher of French in Warsaw. Toadd to the paradox, Chopin spent almost his entire professional career inParis, where he moved in 1831, quickly winning acceptance as a fashionablepiano-teacher and as a performer in the elegant salons of the French capital.
As a pianist Chopin lacked power but commanded a delicate and variedidiom and technique of his own. The greater part of the music he wrote is forsolo piano, but at the outset of what seemed likely to be a career as avirtuoso he wrote works for piano and orchestra, the kind of music that anyperformer-composer might have as part of his stock-in-trade.
The Fantasia on Polish Airs Opus 13, was written in 1828 andpublished in Paris in 1834, with a dedication to the Mannheim virtuoso pianistJohann Peter Pixis. It came at a time when Chopin, still a pupil of JozefElsner at the Warsaw Conservatory, was beginning to experiment more widely withforms beyond those of any prescribed syllabus and was first performed in Warsawon 17th March, 1830, at a National Theatre concert that included the F minorPiano Concerto. The Fantasia opens with an orchestralintroduction, before the entry of the piano with figuration that bears theunmistakable mark of Chopin's own musical language, to which the orchestra haslittle to add. The first theme, the air Juz Miesiac Zaszedi, isannounced by the soloist and repeated by the orchestra, with elaborate pianoembellishment, testimony to Chopin's own technical proficiency on theinstrument. The second theme chosen is by Karol Kurpinski, principal conductorat the Warsaw Opera and conductor of Chopin's first public concerts, and isthoroughly Polish in form and inspiration. The theme is introduced by theclarinet, leading to a dramaticintervention from the soloist, and a slower, gently lyrical version of thetheme, which is later taken up by the orchestra once more, with bravuraembellishment from the piano. It is the latter that ushers in the final Kujawiak,a theme typical of the Kujawy region, to the north-west of Warsaw, and onceagain a framework for characteristic solo display.
The more familiar Andantespianato and Grande Polonaise is a composite work. The Polonaise itselfwas completed in 1831 and the introductory Andante spianato in 1834.
Both were published together in Paris in 1836. Chopin wrote the Polonasie duringhis unsatisfactory stay in Vienna in the winter of 1830-183 land it representshis last attempt at writing for the orchestra. In Paris he performed thecomplete work on 26th April, 1835, at a benefit concert at the Conservatoirefor the conductor Habeneck. The introductory G major Andante, for pianosolo, is entirely typical of the poetic idiom that informed Chopin's musicallanguage. The orchestra embarks on the Polonaise, and after a pause, thesoloist enters with his own dashing version of the native Polish dance, nowtransformed into an art-form and a vehicle for lyrical pianistic panache.
Chopin's Variations onLa ci darem la mano, from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, bearwitness to his admiration for Mozart, instilled by his earliest teacher, theBohemian, Wojciech Zywny, an exact contemporary of Mozart. In the summer of1829 Chopin visited Vienna, in the company of friends from the University. Herehe hoped to arrange for the publication of the Variations and of hisfirst Piano Sonata. The Variations formed the substance of aconcert urged by his prospective publisher, Haslinger, and given at theKarntnerthor Theatre. Here he further dazzled the audience by hisimprovisation, particularly pleasing them by his treatment of a Polish theme.
On this occasion the orchestra refused to play his Krakowiak, since theparts provided were illegible, but matters were put to rights by the Warsawstudent Nidecki, in Vienna on a government scholarship, and the Krakowiak wasperformed at a second concert, a week later, with the Mozart Variations asan unexpectedly generous encore.
The Introduction tothe Mozart Variations toys with fragments of the well known theme,allowing the soloist an opportunity for brilliantly decorative chromaticism,before tackling the theme itself. The first variation is characterized by itstriplet rhythm running accompaniment and is followed by a version that allowsthe soloist a dramatic development of the theme in demi- semi-quavers, aquadruple division of the beat. The rhythm is continued in the left-handaccompaniment to the third variation, to which the orchestra only adds its ownconclusion. The original version of the fourth variation gives the pianistrapid arpeggios in the accompaniment of the theme, played by the orchestra,while a later version provides the soloist with an even more ambitious figurationof leaping chords. The fifth variation opens with a dramatic B flat minorcadenza, this Adagio leading to the final Polish transformation ofMozart's duet in a brilliant conclusion.
The Grand Rondeaude Concert, the Krakowiak, again susceptible to performance withoutthe assistance of an orchestra, an eventuality for which the composer providedin an adjusted solo version, opens with an idyllic introductory Andantino, linkedto the Rondo itself by a passage of sudden brilliance. The orchestraannounces the rhythm of the Krakowiak, the dance of Krakov, the first Fmajor theme alternating with a second theme in D minor, to which it is linkedby an extended bravura passage in which Poland is for the moment brieflyforgotten.
Interpreting Chopin byIdil Biret
Although the romanticera in its music and its performances is not so far from our own time, forvarious reasons we seem to have distanced ourselves from it. As a consequence,often composers very different from one another like Chopin, Liszt, Schumannand Wagner are brought under the same title of Romantic Composers. In thiscontext it is quite normal to find Chopin and Liszt mentioned together ascomposers of similar style, while there are no two sound worlds as differentfrom one another as those of Chopin and Liszt. The conception of the pianosound that Chopin created is based on the model of the voice. Liszt, on theother hand, fascinated by the development of the modern piano during hisperiod, challenges the orchestra in an attempt to reproduce on the piano therichness of the orchestral palette.
It must be among thefondest wishes of any pianist to be able to have heard Chopin perform his ownmusic. Fortunately there are some recordings providing indirectly some evidenceof this way of approaching the piano. One may in particular mention therecordings of Raoul von Koczalski who studied with Chopin's pupil Karol Mikuli.
It is also enlightening to listen to the recordings of Cortot, a pupil ofDecombes who received precious counsel from Chopin. Further, Friedman, dePachmann and Paderewski who were not direct descendants of Chopin were stillclose enough to his aesthetic conceptions to be able to convey the spontaneityChopin is said to have brought to his playing as well as the polyphonic and rhythmicrichness which are so apparent in Chopin's con