Release Date: 1983
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Other artists: Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Claudio Abbado
Producers: Hanno Rinke / Rainer Brock
Recording place: Orchestra Hall, Chicago
Total playing time: CD [41:25]
Copyright: © 1983 Deutsche Grammophon
— CHOPIN · PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2
Chopin completed both his piano concertos in 1830, when he was still only 20. During his travels across Europe the following year, en route for Paris, the orchestral parts of the F minor concerto got lost, delaying its appearance in print until after the publication of the E minor concerto. But though now always known as no. 2, the F minor was in fact written first. He himself introduced it at a concert ranking as his official, adult Polish debut in Warsaw’s National Theatre on 17 March 1830 – an occasion successful enough to necessitate a repeat (with minor changes of programme) five days later. His compatriots’ enthusiasm was no mere chauvinism: for though Chopin was a child of his time, adopting the fashionable note-spinning style of composer-virtuosi like Hummel, Moscheles and Field, which was all that life in Warsaw had allowed him to hear, miraculously he instilled it with a poetry all his own.
Basically adhering to classical sonata form, the Maestoso opens with an orchestral statement of the main thematic material – an imposing first subject in F minor and a more suavely lyrical second subject in the relative major key of A flat, The piano takes up both in turn in lavishly but delicately ornamented keyboard terms, and from this point onwards holds most of the limelight. The central development section brings increasing elaboration and bravura display, rather than true organic growth, before the free recapitulation.
The Larghetto in A flat was inspired by Chopin’s first great love, a young singing student called Konstancia Gladkowska. As he confessed to a friend: “It is perhaps my misfortune that I have already found my ideal, whom I have served faith-fully, though without saying a word to her, for six months; whom I dream of, to whose memory the adagio of my concerto is dedicated.” In style the music is like a nocturne, with an idyllic, sensitively embellished melody sung over a simple, rocking accompaniment. The dream is nevertheless dramatically disturbed in the movement’s agitated central section.
The Allegro vivace finale sets out with a graziosamente waltz-like theme in F minor. But the second subject in A flat (reached after a demonstratively brilliant extension of the first) is more akin to a mazurka: strongly rhythmic, it is introduced over a col legno accompaniment from the strings in a way betokening a livelier ear for orchestral colour than Chopin is often given credit for. In both the ensuing free development and recapitulation this second theme elicits particularly fanciful imaginative strokes, not least the romantic “cor de signal” for solo horn.
Though Russian domination of Poland kept Chopin in France from 1831 until his death, his love for his homeland remained constant. From early childhood he had always been drawn to the two most characteristic Polish dances, the aristocratic polonaise and the humbler mazurka. and had realized that by borrowing their distinctive rhythmic and melodic features he could create a national music of his own. As time went on. his polonaises, in particular, far outgrew their simple dance origins. becoming powerful tone-poems that embodied all the turbulence of his own nationalist sympathies. The F sharp minor Polonaise was completed in 1841, when he was 31. Its predominant mood is one of stormy, revolutionary defiance. But in the middle section Chopin takes refuge in a dream-world evoked through the simpler lilt of a mazurka.
© Joan Chissell / Deutsche Grammophon