Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lazar Berman – Chopin – Polonaises

   Long before Lazar Berman became the legendary master of romantic piano he was an infant prodigy and then one of many musicians active mainly in Russian concert halls. He started piano lessons at the age of three and his first teacher was his mother. He was picking popular melodies and improvising before he was able to read. Remembering his childhood he said “My first impressions are bound up with the keyboard. I feel I have never parted with it… I believe I began to emit sounds from the piano before I learned to speak”. After the audition in conservatory the jury and its chairman Leonid Nikolayev recognized him as “an exceptional case of a child’s extraordinary musical and pianistic gifts”. The result was in the age of four he became lessons with Samary Savshinsky. As a seven-year he recorded Mazurka he composed himself. When he was nine, his family moved to Moscow giving him a chance to continue his piano education with such a great personalities as Alexandr Goldenweiser, Sviatoslav Richter, Maria Yudina and Vladimir Sofronitsky. Only one year later in 1940 he made his debut with Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25.
   War and later cold war and iron curtain closed many chances for international careers. For years Lazar Berman was active almost exclusively in Russia. One of the ways to play abroad was international piano competitions. He took 5th Prize in Brussels and tried to take his chances in Warsaw Chopin Piano Competitions but he had not qualified. Pianist recalled this fact saying “it was a tremendous blow to my pride, and I vowed that I would never play him again”. In next years Lazar Berman not only played Chopin’s music but he did it achieving great results. In program of his debut Melodia LP in 1956 he recorded Etude B Minor Op. 25 No. 10. He played Chopin in many concert programs and radio recordings before this rejection, these early recordings were published by Brilliant Classics as 7CD set. 

Lazar Berman – Chopin – Polonaises (1982) 

   Lazar Berman got back to recording of Frederic Chopin repertoire when he became internationally recognized after his American debut in 1975. His perfect performance of Liszt Transcendental Etudes became a legendary in many countries and made him overnight a star and the master of romantic piano. With such reputation he had to play also Chopin’s greatest works. In 1977 he recorded for Deutsche Gremmophon set of first six Chopin’s Polonaises released in 1979 (2531 094) and republished in 1982 by Melodia (C10-17141-2). Two of Chopin’s compositions: Sonata B-flat Minor No. 2 Op. 35 and Nocturne E Minor Op. 72 No. 1 Berman played in 1979 Carnegie Hall Concert published as double LP by CBS, also republished by Melodia in 1982. The 1980 was dramatic year in Berman’s career. And when everything looked perfect, KGB found in his luggage banned literature. His concerts have to be cancelled and his career for the whole decade has been stopped by the communist government. After collapse of Soviet Union he settled in Florence, where he lived until his death in 2005.
   The six Polonaises are forming complete set published during Chopin’s lifetime. It is impossible to say too much about beauty of this works. Even though all are stylizations of the same national dance, every one is different. First pair is Op. 26 composed in 1836 – the No. 1 noble C-sharp Minor and narrative, dark in mood No. 2 in E-flat Minor. Second pair Op. 40 is two years older – the triumphant No. 1 A Major “Military” and pessimistic No. 2 C Minor. Last two has been published alone and these are complex and alone standing. Polonaise F-sharp Minor Op. 44 with its heavy emotionalism in tragic main theme has been composed in full ternary form with dreamy mazurka in central section. This huge, composite work became cumulative part of the cycle, giving ambiguous space for conflicting feelings and interpretative freedom. Polonaise A-flat Minor Op. 53 closes this cycle with vigor and impetus standing for hope. Lazar Berman shows the whole cycle of Chopin’s Polonaises in very personal, excellent rendition.

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