Pianist Rafal Blechacz displays grace, versatility in thrilling Gilmore recital

Because many in the audience at each Gilmore International Keyboard Festival have played the piano, few Festival programs give as much pleasure as solo piano recitals performed by exceptionally gifted players. Sunday afternoon's Gilmore concert by 22-year old Rafal Blechacz, born and raised in Poland, provided precisely such an occasion. In a program of works demanding radically differing musical styles, Blechacz dazzled a large audience at Western Michigan University's Dalton Center Recital Hall with consummate artistry.

Every note struck radiated musical understanding, expressed through flawless keyboard technique. Starting with Mozart's engaging Sonata in D Major, K. 311 (1777), Blechacz used swift tempos, but also displayed articulate crispness and, as a bonus, playfulness. Quick runs were unbelievably even, and trills and ornaments crystalline. Repeats sounded fresh, never stale. Notes pranced gracefully under Blechacz's touch.

Debussy's "Estampes" (Stamps) had Blechacz shifting gears entirely. In "Pagodes" (Pagodas) blunted, plush sounds conveyed Debussy's aura of "orientalism," as did oriental scales and harmonies. The pianist's lithe hands let the notes flow easily in a far cry from the classical designs of Mozart's score.
In "Soiree dans Granade" (Evening in Granada) Blechacz's keen replication of Hispanic rhythms captured the composer's intentions well. Brisk staccatos in upward scurrying phrases mimicked the third impression, "Jardins sous la pluie" (Gardens in the rain).

Still another approach was called for in Karol Szymanowski's magical Variations in B-Flat Minor, Op. 3 (1901-1903). For those not familiar with Szymanowski's work, Blechacz's decision to program this piece was a boon, because Szymanowski offers extraordinary romantic writing containing dashes of Rachmaninoff (Variations 3 and 11 especially), the Russian Romantics generally (in Variation 8) and Chopin, of course (in the terrific last, exciting variation, No. 12).

But a Polish pianist is expected most to have natural affinity with Chopin's music. This proved true with Blechacz performing all 24 of Chopin's Preludes, Op. 28 (1836-1839) Everyone in the audience had his favorites, and mine included the utterly charming No. 9 in E Major, featuring the pianist's stunning left hand trills, a glorious No. 15 in D-Flat Major and a highly dramatic, affecting last prelude in D Minor, with blistering left-hand playing and dramatic chromatic runs in the right hand.

A genuine surge of approval came afterwards from the audience, leading to a brilliant rendition of a Moszkowski showcase jewel. Clearly, Blechacz had won the hearts of his discerning Gilmore audience.

C.J. Gianakaris, Kalamazoo Gazette, 28.04.2008