These CDs of recitals from Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester arrived on my doorstep and present three ‘celebrity recitals’ given by Alicja Fiderkiewicz in 2004, 2005 and 2007. I know the venue well, having been first shown around in 1973. I have long appreciated its outstanding contribution to music-making in Manchester and far beyond. I confess that I have not until now heard of Fiderkiewicz.
Alicja Fiderkiewicz was born in Warsaw, Poland. Aged seven she began piano lessons which were later continued at the Central School of Music in the Moscow Conservatoire. Further time at the Warsaw School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester completed her studies. She has been giving recitals and concert performances since she was fifteen. Her online biography enumerates the awards she has gained, including the Dudley International Piano Competition and the Premio Dino Ciani International Piano Competition in La Scala, Milan. She was awarded the Calouste Gulbenkian Music Fellowship. She has played throughout Europe and Japan. Apart from her solo career she teaches music and regularly presents master-classes as well as being a frequent recitalist and tutor at the International Piano Summer School at Chetham’s. Her repertoire covers the whole range of piano music from baroque to the present day.
These three recitals present a good cross-section from the romantic and modern era. The earliest disc (2004) includes works by Franck, Chopin and Hindemith. I have never got my head around Franck. Yet I do understand that the Prélude, Choral et Fugue (1884) is an important work. Its almost symphonic nature is given a powerful performance here. It is a work that I shall listen to again in this recording: perhaps I will come to a late appreciation of Franck’s music? Hindemith is another composer who has largely passed me by. Often regarded as writing music that is cerebral, pedantic and dry as dust, the present four-movement Sonata seems to disprove the rule. There are some lovely moments in these pages. Her Chopin Impromptus, Nocturne and Barcarolle are well played and reinforce the critical assessment of her as an accomplished Chopin interpreter.
The 2005 recital disc is devoted to Chopin and Szymanowski. This latter composer has been relegated to an ‘also-ran’ as far as the majority of piano music enthusiasts are concerned. He is not a composer that I have approached in any depth. Szymanowski is usually regarded as being the ‘most celebrated Polish composer of the early 20 th century’; not, as the liner-notes suggest, the most important Polish composer since Chopin. One has to leave room for Lutoslawski, Gorecki and Penderecki. Szymanowski’s music is often categorized in three periods. Firstly, the influence of the romantic German composers and early Scriabin. Then there was a period where he explored impressionism and a very personal take on atonalism. Finally, he rediscovered a more traditional harmonic language which was fused with an understanding of native Polish folk music. The Preludes belong to the first period. They also quite naturally echo Chopin. From the middle period come the beautiful Masques . Alicja Fiderkiewicz presents both facets of Szymanowski’s musical personality here with skill and engagement.
The final disc of music is from the summer school of 2007. It is an exploration of Schumann’s music including the ‘passionate and inspired’ Sonata No.1 in B which was dedicated to Clara. Included in this recital is the Humoreske. For me, the title implies a ‘trifle’ or a ‘whim’. Yet Schumann’s example is a major work by any account. This piece has been described as ‘infinity of contrast’ and as such is hugely demanding to play. It is a moot point as to whether it is ‘humorous’ in the manner of having an easy-going cheerfulness — as opposed to being funny: I guess that it is really more contemplative. The composer felt that it was his ‘most melancholy composition’. Fiderkiewicz gives an excellent performance of this work, which, because of its fragmentary and cyclic nature, means it can become a bit difficult for the listener to follow. Her playing tends to the wistful rather than cheery.
The listener is reminded in the liner-notes that although the ‘latest digital technology has been used’ some compromises have been made with the sound quality resulting from placement of microphones and some ambient noise. For me, this does not detract from the recitals to any great extent however this could be a distraction for some listeners. The liner-notes are a wee bit unbalanced. Five pages are typically devoted to a profile of the pianist and reviews of her recitals: only two pages are allotted to the works and composers presented.
It has been a pleasure to review these three beautifully performed recitals. They have allowed me to engage with some music that would normally pass me by. A good investment for all piano music enthusiasts.
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