About this Recording
8.550123 - CHOPIN: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2

Fryderyk Chopin (1810 - 1849)

Piano Concerto No.1 in E Minor, Opus 11
Piano Concerto No.2 in F Minor, Opus 21

Relatively early in his career Chopin realised that he excelled in performance of more intimate delicacy than was generally possible in the concert hall. Nevertheless in a world that still made little distinction between composer and performer, he provided himself with compositions for piano and orchestra with which he might make his name. It was only once he had established himself in Paris in the 1830s that he turned rather to the kind of playing that he made so much his own, performances that demanded great technical proficiency, but made no attempt to impress by histrionic displays of sound and fury.

Fryderyk Chopin was born in Warsaw in 1810, the son of a respected teacher of French, Nicolas Chopin, who had made his home in Poland, after leaving his native France in 1787. Whatever his paternal ancestry, Fryderyk Chopin was thoroughly Polish, although he was to make his career in Paris.

As a child Chopin showed considerable ability in music, taking private lessons from the director of the Warsaw Conservatory Jozef Eisner while he was still at school, and later studying at the Conservatory under the same teacher. He won some local fame in his native city, which offered relatively little opportunity for further development. After some experience of foreign travel, he accompanied a group of friends to Vienna, where his unpaid public performances were greeted with approval, and in 1830 he finally took the decision to leave Poland and seek his fortune elsewhere. The second visit to Vienna, which coincided with the Polish rising against Russian domination, brought no appreciable result and in the early autumn of 1831 he moved to Paris, where he was to make his home.

In France Chopin was able to establish social contact with families of wealth and influence, as well as with humbler musicians. At first he seems to have looked askance at the Bohemian contempt for convention displayed by Liszt and his friends, but by 1837 he had established a liaison with the writer Aurore Dudevant, better known under her pen-name of George Sand. The relationship was to last for some ten years, coming to an end in 1847 largely through difficulties that arose with George Sand's two children, now grown up.

The revolution of 1848 in Paris brought to an end, for the moment, Chopin's successful career as a piano teacher, an occupation which he enjoyed, and took him to England. He returned to Paris in November. 1848, his health progressively weakened by the tuberculosis from which he had long suffered. He died on 17 October, 1849.

Chopin's compositions for piano and orchestra were all written at the outset of his career, when it must have seemed the obvious road to fame. In 1827, during his first year at the Warsaw Conservatory, he had written a set of variations for piano and orchestra on an aria from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, La ci darern la mano. He played the work during his first visit to Vienna, when it was published by Haslinger, and it was the chance find of a copy of it that led Schumann, Chopin's near contemporary, to hail him as a genius in the pages of the Neue Zeitschrift. A second work, a Polish Krakowiak, pleased the audience in Vienna, once Chopin had overcome the misgivings of orchestral players, appalled by the badly written copies that he gave them before his first concert at the Kaerntnerthor Theatre.

The first of the two concertos, which is numbered second, was started in 1829 and completed the following year. Chopin tried it out in a private performance at home in Warsaw, the small orchestra conducted by Karol Kurpinski, Royal Kapellmeister and Conductor of the Warsaw Opera. This private performance was reviewed enthusiastically with references to Chopin as a Paganini of the piano. Two weeks later, on 17 March, 1830, the concerto was played in public before an audience of 800 and repeated five days later with a louder piano, to overcome problems of inaudibility. Both occasions gave cause for the greatest public acclaim, which he found at first exciting and then intolerable in its consequences, as a quarrel arose between supporters of Elsner and German music and Kurpinski and Italian music, a conflict in which it seemed he might be embroiled.

Work followed on the E Minor Piano Concerto, which was tried out in private once again and was played in the final public concert that Chopin gave in Warsaw, on 11 October, 1830. On 2 November he left Poland. travelling to Breslau, to Dresden and then to Vienna. The new concerto was offered to the composer's friend Tytus Woyciechowski and while it expresses his love for his closest friend, it summarises in its slow movement his feelings for the young singer Konstancja Gladkowska. He described the Adagio as "like dreaming in beautiful spring-time by moonlight".

Both concertos are thoroughly characteristic of Chopin in their musical language and both lent themselves to possible performance without the orchestra. The E Minor Concerto has been subject to editing by various hands, since some have found fault with the orchestration, while others have taken exception to the length at which the orchestra states the first subject of the opening movement. The second movement is a romantic reminiscence of "a beloved landscape, reviving in one's soul beautiful memories", and the final Rondo provides a formal structure into which Chopin's genius seems to fit uneasily.

The F Minor Concerto follows its orchestral exposition with an exciting piano entry, the whole movement conceived in idiomatic pianistic terms. The slow movement is in the manner of a Nocturne, while the last movement has about it the vigour of a Polish mazurka, proceeding to novel effects, as the violins accompany an episode with the wood of the bow. The final section of the movement is heralded by a signal horn, followed by music of increasing fervour as the concerto comes to an end.

István Székély
István Székély, born at Dunaujvaros in 1960, is an outstanding representative of the newly emerging younger generation of Hungarian pianists. After early study of the piano from the age of five, he entered the Bela Bartók Music School in Budapest, and, after winning first prize in the First Liszt International Youth Piano Competition in 1977, embarked on a course of study at the Ferenc Liszt Academy. There his teachers included Dezsö Ranki and Zoltan Kocsis.

Relatively early in his career István Székély won a number of prizes, including an award in the 1981 Liszt-Bartók Competition in Budapest and first prize in the 1983 Salamanca International Piano Competition. He performs frequently in Hungary and has given concerts in Eastern and Western Europe, as well as in Japan.

Budapest Symphony Orchestra
The Budapest Symphony Orchestra, part of the Hungarian Television and Broadcasting Organisation, was established after the Second World War and under its Principal Conductor Gyorgy Lehel has won some distinction. Through its frequent broadcasts and its recordings it has become widely known, and its tours have taken it to the countries of Eastern and Western Europe as well as to the United States of America and Canada. The orchestra has worked with some of the most distinguished conductors and soloists of our time.

Gyula Németh
The distinguished Hungarian conductor Gyula Németh was born in Budapest in 1930. He studied at the Leningrad Academy of Music and worked for several years as first assistant to Evgeny Mravinsky, chief conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, before taking up a scholarship at the Accademia Santa Cecilia in Rome. He has since enjoyed an active career at home and abroad, with appearances throughout Europe and in South America. He has recorded a number of works for Hungaroton, including a prize-winning Liszt recording, and has been awarded the Liszt Prize for his services to Hungarian music.

Close the window