, February 2011
A thrilling pianist whose celebrity wasn’t as great as it should have been
In 1955 Adam Harasiewicz won first prize in the Warsaw International Chopin Competition. Ashkenazy came second. The decision puzzled those who saw Harasiewicz as a cool, temperate, monochrome pianist who kept emotion at arm’s length. And so this two-disc reissue of recordings dating from the late 1950s and 1960s revives interest in a pianist whose career languished while Ashkenazy’s advanced to international stardom. Certainly these performances are not for those who warm to Chopin plastered with self-serving idiosyncrasy, for here is an entirely serious Chopin, musicianly, formidably commanding, without frills or distractions. True, there are occasional suggestions of a pianist more inclined to prose than poetry (the opening of the Second Ballade and the absence of any sense of dialogue or question-and-answer at the start of the Fantaisie). And clearly those looking for an iridescent range of colour, nuance and whispered confidences will look elsewhere.
Yet beneath the poised and aristocratic surface you sense the truest poetic and musical commitment. The First Sonata, where Chopin dourly doffs his hat to academe, could hardly be played in grander style, with a Larghetto (a flash of inspiration in striking 5/4 time) given with a rapt sense of its quality. Harasiewicz’s mastery of the more demanding pages of the Ballades will arouse the envy of even the most superbly equipped pianists. And if the Fourth Scherzo is more chilly than affectionate, it is difficult to imagine a more dazzling performance. The transfers are excellent and hopefully there will be more issues—not just in Chopin—by this magisterial and unduly neglected pianist.