Rafal Blechacz swept the board at the 2005 Warsaw Chopin piano competition, and though he has released a recital of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven sonatas, his subsequent discs for Deutsche Grammophon have generally focused on that composer. But this pairing of Debussy and Szymanowski confirms Blechacz is much more than a one-trick pianist; he's an artist of imagination and perception, with a fabulous range of keyboard touch and colour.
There's nothing obvious or ostentatious about his playing, either. The predictable pairing of works by these two composers would probably juxtapose a selection of Debussy's Preludes with Szymanowski's cycle Métopes and Masques, works in which the Polish composer's modernist debts to Debussy and Ravel are most obvious. Instead, Blechacz opts for earlier works by both. His performances of Pour le Piano and Estampes are brilliantly characterised, with wit and a clarity of articulation that brings to mind Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli's legendary Debussy playing; it's no surprise to find Michelangeli's name mentioned in the accompanying notes as one of the pianists Blechacz admires most.
The Syzmanowski works are equally revelatory. The C sharp minor Prelude and Fugue acts as an upbeat to the weighty C minor Sonata Op 8, over which Beethoven's late piano sonatas cast an enormous shadow. The sonata can seem unwieldy, yet Blechacz manages to channel its great extremes of dynamic and texture into a single entity whose logical culmination is the final three-part fugue; again the clarity of the playing is exceptional, but so, too, is the intelligence shaping it. It's a remarkable disc.
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