I have been enjoying many of the recitals from Żelazowa Wola, Chopin’s idyllic birthplace outside Warsaw, which comes to us on Sunday afternoons. Today’s artist was the distinguished Polish pianist and pedagogue, Zbigniew Raubo.
The opening work, the Mazurka in A-flat major, Op. 50, No. 2 was played with a dignity, an elegance, richness of tone and depth of sound, as well as a complete identification with the style of this music. The rubato was natural and never sounding affected. In the Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 50, No. 3, Chopin’s supreme masterpiece amongst all the mazurkas, Raubo effectively contrasted the range of moods laid out by the composer, taking us all through a panoramic sonic and emotional journey.
The artist continued his performance with the Ballade in F minor, Op. 52, playing the opening theme with simplicity, but a panoply of sound colours and tones. Raubo was in complete control of every element of this large work, clearly threading his way through the work’s complex polyphony, and imbuing the work with absolute organic unity, rather than merely a disparate series of beautiful moments. His playing here highlighted the otherworldly beauty of Chopin’s melodic invention, especially in the late works. The treacherously difficult coda was played with a resounding virtuosity and absolute confidence. I found his playing of this great late work of the composer supremely moving.
Raubo continued his recital with the Waltz in A-flat major, Op. 34, No. 1, playing this light-hearted work with an easy elegance and effectively conveying the high-spirits and overwhelming joyousness of this music.
In the Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1, Raubo’s playing brought across the gravity, high tragedy and utter seriousness of the music. The depth of sound and full tone in his playing served this work particularly well. In the middle chorale-like section, he voiced the chords beautifully, and effectively paced the build-up to the cataclysmic climax before the return of the opening theme, painting a picture of an utterly and completely desolate landscape.
The sadness of the nocturne is immediately dispelled by the beautiful opening passage of the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise, Op. 22, for me one of Chopin’s most technically and musically demanding works. Raubo understood the bel canto nature of the Andante section completely, playing the Bellini-like melody with a beguiling beauty of sound. The transitional section was played with a complete identification with the rhythmic intricacies of the music, and transitioning into the brilliance of the Polonaise with complete logic. The Grande Polonaise was played with supreme elegance, as well as utter brilliance and resounding virtuosity.
How fortunate we are that even in this time of isolation and uncertainty, we can still enjoy the musical offerings from faraway places, thanks to the wonders of technology. I was thankful for Raubo for his memorable performance. This wonderful series of recitals has brought us performances by many highly gifted young performers. But Raubo’s playing demonstrated an artistry of a higher order, as well as an understanding of the composer’s aesthetics and musical invention that comes from a lifetime of study, practice and maturation. For me, this was and is an artist and musician that shows a complete identification with the music of Chopin.
I had been saddened by news of the postponement of the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, as I was looking forward to my first visit to Poland. I hope that medicine and science will give us the solution to overcome the Corona virus, so that I will have an opportunity to visit the fabled land of Chopin, Arthur Rubinstein and Saint John-Paul II.