CHOPIN: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Budapest Symphony Orchestra/ Gyula Nemeth/ Istvan Szekely/ Monika Feszler) (Naxos: 8.550123)
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Fryderyk Chopin (1810 - 1849)
Piano Concerto No.1 in E Minor, Opus 11
Piano Concerto No.2 in F Minor, Opus 21
Relatively early in his career Chopin realised that he excelled inperformance of more intimate delicacy than was generally possible in the concerthall. Nevertheless in a world that still made little distinction betweencomposer and performer, he provided himself with compositions for piano andorchestra with which he might make his name. It was only once he hadestablished himself in Paris in the 1830s that he turned rather to the kind ofplaying that he made so much his own, performances that demanded greattechnical proficiency, but made no attempt to impress by histrionic displays ofsound and fury.
Fryderyk Chopin was born in Warsaw in 1810, the son of a respectedteacher of French, Nicolas Chopin, who had made his home in Poland, afterleaving his native France in 1787. Whatever his paternal ancestry, FryderykChopin was thoroughly Polish, although he was to make his career in Paris.
As a child Chopin showed considerable ability in music, taking privatelessons from the director of the Warsaw Conservatory Jozef Eisner while he wasstill at school, and later studying at the Conservatory under the same teacher.
He won some local fame in his native city, which offered relatively littleopportunity for further development. After some experience of foreign travel,he accompanied a group of friends to Vienna, where his unpaid publicperformances were greeted with approval, and in 1830 he finally took thedecision to leave Poland and seek his fortune elsewhere. The second visit toVienna, which coincided with the Polish rising against Russian domination,brought no appreciable result and in the early autumn of 1831 he moved toParis, where he was to make his home.
In France Chopin was able to establish social contact with families ofwealth and influence, as well as with humbler musicians. At first he seems tohave looked askance at the Bohemian contempt for convention displayed by Lisztand his friends, but by 1837 he had established a liaison with the writerAurore Dudevant, better known under her pen-name of George Sand. Therelationship was to last for some ten years, coming to an end in1847 largely through difficulties that arose with George Sand's two children, nowgrown up.
The revolution of 1848 in Paris brought to an end, for the moment,Chopin's successful career as a piano teacher, an occupation which he enjoyed,and took him to England. He returned to Paris in November. 1848, his healthprogressively weakened by the tuberculosis from which he had long suffered. Hedied on 17 October, 1849.
Chopin's compositions for piano and orchestra were all written at theoutset of his career, when it must have seemed the obvious road to fame. In 1827,during his first year at the Warsaw Conservatory, he had written a set ofvariations for piano and orchestra on an aria from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, La ci darern la mano. He played the work during his firstvisit to Vienna, when it was published by Haslinger, and it was the chance findof a copy of it that led Schumann, Chopin's near contemporary, to hail him as agenius in the pages of the Neue Zeitschrift.
A second work, a Polish Krakowiak,pleased the audience in Vienna, once Chopin had overcome the misgivings oforchestral players, appalled by the badly written copies that he gave thembefore his first concert at the Kaerntnerthor Theatre.
The first of the two concertos, which is numbered second, was startedin 1829 and completed the following year. Chopin tried it out in a privateperformance at home in Warsaw, the small orchestra conducted by KarolKurpinski, Royal Kapellmeister and Conductor of the Warsaw Opera. This privateperformance was reviewed enthusiastically with references to Chopin as aPaganini of the piano. Two weeks later, on 17 March, 1830, the concerto wasplayed in public before an audience of 800 and repeated five days later with alouder piano, to overcome problems of inaudibility. Both occasions gave causefor the greatest public acclaim, which he found at first exciting and thenintolerable in its consequences, as a quarrel arose between supporters ofElsner and German music and Kurpinski and Italian music, a conflict in which itseemed he might be embroiled.
Work followed on the E Minor PianoConcerto, which was tried out in private once again and was playedin the final public concert that Chopin gave in Warsaw, on 11 October, 1830. On2 November he left Poland. travelling to Breslau, to Dresden and then toVienna. The new concerto was offered to the composer's friend TytusWoyciechowski and while it expresses his love for his closest friend, itsummarises in its slow movement his feelings for the young singer KonstancjaGladkowska. He described the Adagio as "like dreaming in beautifulspring-time by moonlight".
Both concertos are thoroughly characteristic of Chopin in their musicallanguage and both lent themselves to possible performance without theorchestra. The E Minor Concerto has been subject to editing by various hands,since some have found fault with the orchestration, while others have takenexception to the length at which the orchestra states the first subject of theopening movement. The second movement is a romantic reminiscence of "abeloved landscape, reviving in one's soul beautiful memories", and thefinal Rondo provides a formal structure into which Chopin's genius seems to fituneasily.
The F Minor Concerto follows its orchestral exposition with an excitingpiano entry, the whole movement conceived in idiomatic pianistic terms. Theslow movement is in the manner of a Nocturne, while the last movement has aboutit the vigour of a Polish mazurka, proceeding to novel effects, as the violinsaccompany an episode with the wood of the bow. The final section of themovement is heralded by a signal horn, followed by music of increasing fervouras the concerto comes to an end.
Istvan Szekely, born at Dunaujvaros in 1960, is an outstandingrepresentative of the newly emerging younger generation of Hungarian pianists.
After early study of the piano from the age of five, he entered the Bela BartokMusic School in Budapest, and, after winning first prize in the First LisztInternational Youth Piano Competition in 1977, embarked on a course of study atthe Ferenc Liszt Academy. There his teachers included Dezso Ranki and ZoltanKocsis.
Relatively early in his career Istvan Szekely won a number of prizes,including an award in the 1981 Liszt-Bartok Competition in Budapest and firstprize in the 1983 Salamanca International Piano Competition. He performsfrequently in Hungary and has given concerts in Eastern and Western Europe, aswell as in Japan.
Budapest Symphony Orchestra
The Budapest Symphony Orchestra, part of the Hungarian Television andBroadcasting Organisation, was established after the Second World War and underits Principal Conductor Gyorgy Lehel has won some distinction. Through itsfrequent broadcasts and its recordings it has become widely known, and itstours have taken it to the countries of Eastern and Western Europe as well asto the United States of America and Canada. The orchestra has worked with someof the most distinguished conductors and soloists of our time.
The distinguished Hungarian conductor Gyula Nemeth was born in Budapestin 1930. He studied at the Leningrad Academy of Music and worked for severalyear