Argerich and Freire, but no Chopin – yet...


A competition such as this deserves two opening concerts – and on Saturday night at the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall we were treated to a recital that featured the Chopin Competition’s 1965 winner, Martha Argerich, and her long-time friend and musical “brother”, Nelson Freire. They played Mozart for four hands (K381), Schubert’s Rondo in A major, sneaking complicit looks at each other like mischievous schoolchildren as they sat side by side at the piano, then Brahms’s Haydn Variations for two pianos (Argerich does not care much for Brahms but, according to Freire, he was able to persuade her). Their pièce de résistance was Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion – an ebullient, energetic performance that brought out the lyrical aspects of the work as much as the dramatic. Percussionists Stanisław Skoczyński and Pavel Giunter were a joy to watch as well as listen to, revelling in the theatrical aspects of the work, reminding us that this piece can be as visually exciting as it is aurally. But no Chopin? According to Freire, who spoke to the Chopin Express, the Competition’s dedicated daily paper, the reasons were simple: “Remember Chopin composed only one piece for two pianos. And we have nearly a month of his music ahead of us...”

And on Sunday, the competition itself started in earnest with five days of first-stage auditions at the Philharmonic Hall – that’s a total of 78, half-hour, all-Chopin recitals, from 10am to 9pm. It must be an exciting but daunting task for each member of the jury – to listen, evaluate and judge each candidate fairly. This year, Freire was invited to be one of the judges and, he says, he accepted that invitation without hesitation. “This is without a doubt one of the most important competitions in the world,” he explained. “And thanks to the broadcasts of the rounds, it’s almost like the football World Cup!”

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