Rafał Blechacz's piano recital was a powerful prayer for the victims of the war.

 We had the honour of welcoming Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz to Prague recently. However, while on his previous visit he performed with an orchestra, this time he prepared a solo recital for the Prague audience. Blechacz himself dedicated this performance to the victims of the war in Ukraine. One can only hope that something of what Blechacz conveyed to the audience this evening reached from the Vltava River to the Dnieper.

If the first half of the concert had anything in common, it was the key of C minor. The Polish pianist's performance of Bach's Partita No. 2 was the first to be heard, and it was clear that Bach is a composer who suits him. The opening of the whole piece, in which many performers allow themselves a minor rubato, was played rhythmically almost regularly by Rafał Blechacz. Although this lost the effect of making the opening seem a little like the narrator was speaking to the audience, it did not detract from the impact of the beginning.

The next twenty minutes or so were spent in the spirit of masterful work with multiple voices. The pianist managed to give each voice an original colour, so that if the listener wanted to, he could follow his line quite easily. Blechacz's love of organ music was very much in evidence here. At times the listener could feel that he was really listening to an organ on which the player was switching registers. Here and there there was a lip pipe, here and there a reed pipe. If the whole concert was meant to be a prayer for the victims of suffering in Ukraine, Blechacz spoke to God here, albeit with awe, but at the same time with a great deal of urgency.

Blechacz began Beethoven's piano sonata with very sharpened phrasing, but he compensated for this with less emphasis on the beginning of the notes, making up for the sharpness. The lyrical second movement was a beautiful experience. You could hear that this was a character the pianist was comfortable in. Some might find his soft tone a little 'Beethovenian', but I think it was this that added a certain spiritual overlay to the slow movement.

The third movement then brought the audience from the spiritual realms back down to earth, so that they could enjoy the virtuosically played runs and beautiful regular tremolos. Not surprisingly, this sonata was followed by thunderous applause.

Blechacz then treated Beethoven's 32 Variations as a respite piece, which was less about content and more about technique. In another context this would of course have been a pity, but after the two previous challenging pieces and given the programme that followed, it was good that he offered the audience a piece that was not such a great intellectual challenge.

Franck's Prelude, Fugue and Variations again offered time for contemplation. One seemed to find oneself in the temple of the Lord, but unlike Bach, where one had the feeling of witnessing the whole mass, here one was alone with God in the church, undisturbed by the noise of the outside world.

In the last piece on the programme, Chopin's Sonata in B minor, Blechacz proved that he is rightly ranked among the best living interpreters of the composer's works. The second two movements in particular had qualities that made the end of the concert unforgettable.

Blechacz's concerto was not only a prayer for the victims of war. It was also a clear message to the aggressor that when a nation unites, the greatest material superiority will not ensure an easy victory. But as is the case with any masterful performance, this stark message was transformed by beauty.

/Praha, Opera 13.03.2022 Adam Blažek/