Sunday, November 14, 2021

Sala Koncertowa Fryderyk, Podwale 15, 00-252 Warsaw, Poland

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Chopin, the Paris years, 1835-41. C-sharp minor Nocturne Opus 27/1; Fantasy in F-minor Opus 49; B-flat minor Sonata Opus 35 Fresh from the high-octane Finals of the recent International Chopin Competition, freed of its associated pressures, Eva Gevorgyan is an artist who brings old-world deportment and grace to the platform, a calm demeanour. Composing herself beforehand, nothing is hurried. She surrounds the music with air and space. With a style that’s classy and expensive, honour before vanity, pride without compromise, playing to the gallery doesn’t come into the equation. Her emotional maturity speaks volumes.

To the Romantics the fantasy was a multi-faceted genre – accommodating anything from illustrative operatic potpourri (alla Liszt/Thalberg), through cyclic structure (the Beethoven-Schubert-Schumann model), to the metrically fluid single-movement abstract, sectionally planned and temporally contrasted (the Emanuel Bach/Mozart tradition). A transcendental mix of form and flourish, Chopin’s Fantaisie, completed in Nohant one late October day a hundred-and-eighty years ago, derives from this last. A funereal dotted-rhythm marcia introduction leads to a long agitato chapter, which, curtailed, returns after a central lento sostenuto. Spurning rhapsody for reason, Chopin argues his tonally dovetailed ground-plan in such a way that the essential scheme and inner workings of the first half (F-minor/E-flat) are reprised a fifth lower (B-flat minor/A-flat), while the middle episode is in B-major – in key note at least, if not key centre, a remote tritone away from F. “A design of fantasy,” Alan Rawsthorne admired, “but also … a design of inevitability.” Gevorgyan, making the work very much her ‘own’ (she played it twice during the Competition), has a strikingly sure grasp of its complexities. Pianistically commanding, distinguishing precisely between Chopin’s dotted and triplet rhythms, she presented a spaciously imposing scenario (at 14:20 a minute longer than her Competition performances), driving the drama onwards, the structural engine focussed and organically tight, the great octaved puissance fences soaring rather than stumbling. Reaching deep, seeking sonority and colour, cherishing the melody and contours of the printed page, she fashioned a rare kind of symphonic poem – rekindling within me a passion for its incident I’ve not had since I was a student hearing Małcużyński play it in London.

Gevorgyan’s B-flat minor flowered best lyrically, soprano and baritone voices in lingeringly moulded right- and left-hand wonderment. The flanking paragraphs of the Scherzo were less pantherish than during the Competition, but the progressively roaring fire of the first movement made for a convincingly debated development section and coda (transposed low register B-flat octave at the end going with the adrenalin). Plenty of surreptitious wraiths in the Finale. As yet Gevorgyan doesn’t do the opening exposition repeat, never mind the possibility of going back to the very start rather than merely (conventionally) the doppio movimento – something Dinara Klinton proposed radically at the 2015 Competition, as well as on her subsequent Chopin Institute studio recording (NIFCCD 218). She should.

Mixing nineteenth-century originality and reproduction, the Fryderyk Concert Hall, a boutique salon in Warsaw’s touristic Old Town surrounded by places Chopin frequented in the 1820s, offers atmosphere and room for imagination. Gevorgyan’s small Steinway grand responded modestly to her demands but could have done with clearer voicing and improved, better-held tuning. A quality model D, with power in reserve, would have served her better. The 1080p audio-visuals, however, couldn’t be faulted, with detailed close-ups of hands and facial concentration. Biggest bonus here was the recitative twelve bars from the end of the Fantasy, unpedalled (as Chopin marks) yet magically, mistily resonant, a silently depressed left-hand opening up the lower dampers to eerily vibrate the harmonics of the instrument. Twilight farewell.

Chopin Competition.