Magazine article The Spectator

National Treasure

Magazine article The Spectator

National Treasure

Article excerpt

Chopin is a difficult composer to celebrate, at least in the festivals of larger format. Countless piano recitals don't really fit the bill and the music which includes orchestra is not the best of him.

He surely was a miniaturist - perhaps the most compelling there has ever been. Which other composer can set a mood so securely in the very first bar, and then sustain it as a single shaft of thought to the end? He is like a painter who with three strokes of the brush has told you all you need to know about what is to follow, so that what does follow already seems like a familiar and longed-for friend.

Of course this kind of writing doesn't work very well in a building the size of the Albert Hall. The Proms could have staged a mini-Chopin festival in their second venue, Cadogan Hall, but in fact only two of their concerts have featured his music, both of them in the Albert Hall and one of them featuring the inevitable Second Piano Concerto. This piano concerto has shown itself to be a convenient halfway house for festivals which want both Chopin and an orchestral concert, and I imagine this single, unrepresentative work will be the most performed of all. It cropped up again at the Edinburgh Festival on 17 August in a rarely heard chamber music version, played by Melvyn Tan and Skampa. Otherwise this festival also relegated Chopin to one or two items in more general programmes. The person who seems to have done the most for Chopin this summer is the pianist Joanna MacGregor, both in her planning for the Bath Festival last May ('Chopin, Poet of the Piano') and in her own recitals. An example of the latter will take place on 14 September at Brunel University, when she will explore the Mazurkas.

Such half-heartedness and general barrel scraping is not the way the Poles are going about their hero's anniversary. The 'Chopin and his Europe' festival in Warsaw has been running for the whole of the month of August, presenting 55 concerts, every one of which containing music by the master. Well, almost. Beethoven's Missa Solemnis was performed by Philippe Herreweghe in an orchestration which Chopin would have recognised (as Eddie Izzard once said of Gerry Dorsey when he hit on the name Engelbert Humperdinck, I would love to have been a fly on the wall when that one was worked through); and Chopin's experience of opera apparently ran to Meyerbeer and Rossini. …

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