Saturday, June 27, 2020

An Online Musical Experience

Pianist Tomasz Ritter, winner of the 1st International Chopin Competition for Period Instrument, gave an online all-Chopin recital under the auspices of The Vancouver Chopin Society and Early Music Vancouver. 


Even in an age where there are so many excellent, outstanding pianists, true Chopin interpreters are relatively rare. 


Tomasz Ritter is a true Chopin player.


Playing on an 1847 Broadwood piano – the same manufacturer of piano Chopin used for his final concert tour of England and Scotland – Ritter draws a rich sound and a diverse palette of colours from this instrument. Unlike modern instruments, period pianos call for an artist who knows how to work with the instrument.


Ritter’s playing captured my attention right from the first chords of the Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. Posth. I love his pacing of this intimate work, transitioning from the lyrical opening, to the more animated middle section, and returning to the opening theme. 


His playing of the opening of the Etude in E minor, Op. 25, No. 5 is a little more pedaled than I am used to hearing, thereby giving the music a slightly different, less scherzando-like character. The gorgeous middle section is played with a warm sound as well as an attention to details to the musical texture.


The pianist gives a deeply felt performance of the justly famous Etude in E major, Op. 10, No. 3. I have always found it interesting that Chopin originally indicated vivace (fast, lively) as a tempo marking for the work. Whether or not the composer was thinking of a very different character for the piece, or whether it was an error, we would never know. Perhaps the composer is warning future pianists not to “drag” the music, or to milk the beautiful melody for all that it is worth. I appreciate Ritter’s tempo choice in his performance. He brings out all the otherworldly beauty of the music, but keeps the horizontal flow of the musical line. 


Ritter’s keen sense of the musical line is again apparent in his performance of the Waltz in A minor, Op. 34, No. 2. Under the wrong hands, this music can end up sounding lugubrious. Not so under this young artist’s hands. He strikes a perfect balance between the melancholy colours of the music, but at the same time making the music float in air.


The Etude in C minor, Op. 10, No. 12 is given a highly dramatic reading. At the same time, no matter how heightened the drama may be, there is always an indelible sense of musicality in his sound.


His playing of the composer’s Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2 captures my attention not only in the richness and beauty of sound, but with a palpable sense of flow and in maintaining the forward motion of the music. 


In the three larger scale works that follow, Ritter really makes full use of the power and projection of the instrument. He plays the opening of the relatively rarely played Polonaise in E-flat minor, Op. 26, No. 2, with tremendous energy and sweep, and also captures perfectly the unique rhythmic character of the dance form, especially in the somewhat quirky middle section. 


Tomasz Ritter plays the Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 47 with a sense of buoyancy to the music, as well as with a sense of totality, not merely one episode after another of beautiful moments. He has an absolutely clear sense of the voice leading as well as the intricate counterpoint within the music. In the coda, he conveys the sense of an overflowing and overwhelming sense of joy.


In the Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20, Ritter captures both the demonic as well as angelic qualities that Chopin set as stark contrasts against each other. In the dramatic opening section, he conveys the frightful, phantasmagoric quality of the piano writing. I was deeply moved by his playing of the beautiful middle section, based on the Polish Christmas carol, “Sleep, Little Jesus”, and completely drawn into this incredibly intimate moment, where the composer appears to be baring his soul. From the first notes, to the cataclysmic coda that ends the work, Ritter is in complete control of both the pianistic and musical elements of this complex work. 


Even though I am hearing the music with the limited fidelity of my computer speakers, Ritter’s obvious pianistic talents, as well as the maturity of his musical thoughts, come through loud and clear. He captures every facet of Chopin’s creative genius, the organic unity of each work rather than a series of beautiful but unrelated moments. He captures the sentiments of the music, but without sentimentality.


At this point, we do not yet know when live musical performances will return. But we can avail ourselves, through technology, of the seemingly limitless musical offerings that we can find in cyberspace. 


Tomasz Ritter is obviously a young musician to watch. I look forward to the day when he will be able to come over to these shores and share his talent with us in person.