Classical Music Guide - Friday, July 22, 2016 - Written by Donald Isler

Magdalena Baczewska

Magdalena Baczewska - IKIF
18th International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Hunter College
July 20th, 2016

Chopin: Prelude, Op. 45
Chopin: Mazurkas, Op. 59
Szymanowski: Mazurkas, Op. 50, Nos. 15 and 16
Szymanowski: Etude in B-Flat Minor, Op. 4, No. 3
Chopin: Ballade No. 3 in A-Flat Major, Op. 47
Mozart: Sonata in A Major, K. 331
Brahms: Klavierstücke, Op. 119


Magdalena Baczewska’s recital came on the fourth evening of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival, at Hunter College. One of New York’s major cultural summer happenings, now in its 18th year, it begins with a recital by Festival Founder Jerome Rose, which is followed by two weeks of recitals by artists at all different stages of their careers, plus lectures and master classes. It has something for everyone who loves the classical piano repertoire, and I try to attend as many events as time allows.

Magdalena Baczewska is a magnificent Chopin player! She does not play this music in the manner of Rubinstein, Friedman, Horowitz or anyone else. She has her own unique voice, and stylistically never falters. Her rubato is always natural, and she brings out wonderful changes of color during modulations. She never has the need to “shout,” or bang, yet always brings off high points successfully.

The Prelude with which she opened her program was elegant, and demonstrated her wonderful control of soft dynamics. The first Mazurka was playful and gracious, the second had charm and lightness, and the third was earthy, yet ended with an eloquently played coda. Equally impressive was the Third Ballade, with which the first half ended.

Of the three Szymanowski works Ms. Baczewska played, only the B-Flat Minor Etude, one of his most famous pieces, was familiar to me. It began with passion, but sounded emotionally spent by the end. Yet, as she plays this music as well as she does Chopin, I felt I knew the two Mazurkas, the first exotic and fantastic, the second very agitated with somewhat bizarre rhythms, very well after hearing her play them. This pianist’s technique is always there, her sound always beautiful and unforced, and her idiomatic understanding of this music is complete.

There was much to admire about Ms. Baczewska’s performance of the Mozart Sonata; original ideas and shaping of phrases, fine finger work and emotional engagement. But some people might prefer rhythms, especially in the first movement, to be a little straighter, and more “classical.”

One had the same feeling about the first Brahms Piece. Yes, it’s spiritual and ethereal, but perhaps does not need quite so much tempo fluctuation. The other three Pieces were very fine, the second with its lovely middle section in E Major, the third with its warmth and charm, and the fourth, displaying power, and drama.

Ms. Baczewska’s encore, the Chopin Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2, confirmed all my previous impressions of the pianist as a wonderful Chopin player, all the way to the exquisitely played coda.


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