Richard A. Bielicki 2013 Concert Series: The Sacred and the Profane
Saturday 16th February 2013 - Upper Chapel, Surrey Street, Sheffield S1
Concert Review by Philip Spires
In terms of celebrity, the name Richard Bielicki in competition with that of Frederick Chopin would offer no apparent contest. But why would we seek contest when complementarity is so clearly in evidence? Such was clearly the conclusion of the audience at Richard Bielicki’s recent piano recital in Sheffield, where the music flowed seamlessly from these apparently very different but also audibly very similar sources.
Richard Bielicki’s recital in the Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, featured a substantial programme of works by Chopin interspersed with others by the pianist, himself. Chopin, of course, was a Polish émigré pianist-composer, a famed improviser, who made serious music out of the waltz, then a popular form. Richard Bielicki, British-born of Polish parentage, is also a pianist-composer who likes to improvise and who also writes serious music inspired by another, once-popular form, jazz. So at least there are some differences to record between the two characters. An intervening two hundred years would be somewhere to start.
The Chopin programme represented a challenge to any pianist. Richard Bielicki offered his audience the Fantasy Op. 49, Scherzos Nos. 2 and 3, Ballade No. 1, the Berceuse Op. 57, a Prelude Op. 28 No. 15 and an Etude Op. 25 No. 7. And this was just half of the programme. The pianist’s understanding of Chopin’s music was evident from the very first phrases and his mastery of the idiom only grew as the performance progressed. Not only were the pieces played with breathtaking virtuosity, they were also interpreted via a sensibility of someone who truly understands the music. Every phrase was shaped, every element communicated. But this was not mere sculpture into a static monument: this was cold-forming and reforming of a still-wet clay before the audience’s eyes into something utterly recognisable and utterly convincing, but also into something dynamic and ever-changing, still vulnerable and temporal, monumental but able to change almost at will. This was playing of brilliance, power, precision and, above all, supreme musicality. Chopin, here, was almost speaking through the medium of his own work, his emotional journey relived in all its subtlety and complexity, not to mention pain. Here, in this chapel setting, we were almost in the composer’s presence.
But then of course, we were. Richard Bielicki, Polish-origin virtuoso pianist-composer also presented some of his own works, all featured on his Usonix disc, The Sacred and The Profane. There was the Canon he wrote to commemorate the beatification of Pope John Paul II. The Mantra that followed Chopin’s Berceuse proved to be nothing less than a two century update to the same musical idea. The left hand repeated an almost ground bass to render the arpeggios and trilling comments of the right hand almost into jazz riff – all apparently based on an Indian feel. There was surely a passing visit here by Messiaen to the evening’s proceedings.
In his second piano sonata, Richard Bielicki starts with Bach and seems to pass through Prokofiev and Bartok to a percussive conclusion. But it would be wrong to imply that the pianist-composer’s works rely on pastiche or inhabit any other world than their creator’s own. Richard Bielicki’s musical voice is certainly rooted in the modern, but there is a core of lyrical Romanticism in his communication. The landscape is that of human emotion, involvement and inclusion, but unlike the internalised centrality of Chopin’s early nineteenth century struggles, the twenty-first century composer seems more aware of doubt, more conscious of the human being’s miniscule presence in the universe, at least partially convinced that uncertainty is now an essential element in the fullness of life. And so the harmonies are often ambiguous, the progressions often unresolved. The music is very much a journey, but its origin and destination are less clear than the glimpsed route along which it travels.
Richard Bielicki’s 20 Variations and Coda on a theme of Paganini visited the familiar territory of the violinist’s 24th caprice. But Richard Bielicki’s exploration of the theme’s possibilities visit the previously undiscovered. Jazz invades the musical ideas and, while the theme remains recognisably visible throughout, the embroidery takes us to some remarkable and surprising places. One variation in particular appears to pay homage to Rachmaninov’s lyrical take, as slow chords help us meander through the theme. It was in this piece that the virtuosity of the writing and playing were only matched by the perfection of the interpretation. The music created and inhabited its own universe, leading its audience into and through its landscapes that remained unfamiliar, but became completely and immediately accessible.
The programme was rounded off by four of Richard Bielicki’s Ten Jazz Preludes. These pieces began as improvisations and, now fully notated, they retain a freshness of invention alongside the polish of design. They are short, elegant and witty, as well as virtuosic.
The audience almost demanded three encores. A fifth jazz prelude was followed by Chopin’s posthumous C sharp minor Nocturne and then the B flat Mazurka. It was in the end a concert where Chopin and Bielicki the composers met Bielicki the pianist and found the perfect match. It was almost a dialogue across the centuries, between the then and now, a conversation in a language that was immediately accessible and understood by all, not to mention appreciated.
CHOPIN - Fantasie in F minor, op. 49
BIELICKI - Canon in C (2011) London Premiere
Mantra for the Mythical Phoenix (1994-5, revised and completed 2012) London Premiere
CHOPIN - Berceuse in D flat, op. 57
Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, op. 31
BIELICKI - Sonata No. 2 'August' (1980-1, revised 2010)
CHOPIN - Prelude in D flat, op. 28, No. 15
Scherzo No. 3 in C sharp minor, op. 39
BIELICKI - 20 Variations and Coda on a theme of Paganini (1991-2, revised 2011) London Premiere
CHOPIN - Etude in C sharp minor, op. 25, No. 7
Ballade No. 1 in G minor, op. 23
BIELICKI - Ten Jazz Preludes (2009) London Premiere
No. 1 - Jazzing Around
No. 5 - Reflections of Summer
No. 7 - Roving Mists
No. 10 - Boogie Fun
|Please note Programme may be revised