Co-presentation with Early Music Vancouver
Thursday, June 25, 2020 | 7:00PM

In September 2018, 23-year-old Tomasz Ritter won the 1st Chopin Competition on Period Instruments in Warsaw. With the introduction of this new branch of the famed competition, the Chopin Institute have sent a clear message about the importance of reviving and understanding the 19th century instruments for which Chopin wrote.

Of the thirty pianists from nine countries in the competition, Ritter’s talent unanimously captured the jury’s imagination. A graduate of Moscow’s Pyotr Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Ritter has studied with period pianist luminaries Johannes Sonnleitner, Alexei Lubimov, Malcolm Bilson, Andreas Staier and Tobias Koch. Join EMV and the Vancouver Chopin Society for this riveting online concert by one of the piano world’s most prominent rising stars.

Tomasz Ritter

Artist’s website

In September of 2018, the 23 year-old Tomasz Ritter won first prize at the 1st Chopin Competition on Period Instruments in Warsaw. He studied at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory under Mikhail Voskresensky (piano), Marya Uspenskaya (harpsichord), and Alexei Lubimov (period piano).

Of his playing of Chopin’s first piano concerto, critic Michael Moran wrote, “So many levels of expression were present here, some bordering on the divine. I was deeply moved by the sheer glowing sound he achieved on this glorious piano.” Moran also raved about his performance of Chopin’s Op. 33 Mazurkas: “His pauses were eloquent and emotionally charged. There were heartbreaking moments at the conclusion of this (B minor) mazurka.”

This young artist is already a veteran of the concert stage, having performed extensively in Europe, Russia and Japan. In 2014, he released his first album featuring works by Bach, Beethoven, Szymanowski and Ginastera for the Polskie Nagrania label.

Lento con gran espressione in C sharp minor (Op. Posth.)
Etude in E minor, Op. 25 No. 5
Etude in E Major, Op. 10 No. 3
Waltz in A minor, Op. 34 No. 2
Etude in C minor, Op. 10 No 12
Nocturne in D-flat major, Op 27 No. 2
Polonaise in E flat minor, Op. 26 No. 2
Ballade No. 3 in A flat major, Op. 47
Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20

Sounds of Heaven on Earth – the music of Frédéric François Chopin

Whether or not we acknowledge it, the music of Chopin has been firmly embedded in public and popular consciousness. How often would even a casual music lover, in hearing one of the countless melodies written by the composer, have the feeling that they had heard it somewhere before – in a film, a commercial, or even a mobile phone ring tone. The ultimate compliment, or not – depending on your perspective – that one has really “arrived” is when one captures the attention of Hollywood. Chopin’s life has been captured on film several times, in efforts ranging from ridiculous to tolerable. And perhaps nowhere is Hollywood’s ignorance with serious music more glaring than in these infamous lines from a thankfully anonymous screenwriter, delivered by none other than Joan Crawford, “I like all symphonies, some concertos, and Chopin before George Sand made him soft.”

Indeed, such popularity inevitably leads to more than a little misunderstanding about the man and his music. An in-depth look into all of Chopin’s works is of course beyond the scope of these brief notes. Suffice it to say that the range of works represented in this recital should tell us that Chopin’s music is so much more than can be described in a few sentences. One thing we can say for certain is that Chopin’s music goes far beyond the “perfumed poetry” that many associate with it.

Chopin’s Lento con gran espressione in C-sharp minor, more popularly known as the Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. posth., contains everything we consider “Chopinesque” – a beautiful melody set against the backdrop of broken chords. The melody is elaborated with every return, with the pearly runs of the right hand we associate with Chopin. The contrasting lively middle section of the work even contains a quote from the first movement of the composer’s second piano concerto.

The Etude in E minor (Op. 25, No. 5) begins with a scherzo-like character, with broken rhythm and quasi-guitar arpeggios. This gives way to a theme of great beauty in the middle section, where the melody is played by alternating thumbs, producing a unique “three-handed” effect. Perhaps nothing needs to be said about the celebrated Etude in E major (Op. 10, No. 3), a work that arguably opens with the most meltingly beautiful melody ever conceived by the human mind.

The Waltz in A minor (Op. 34, No. 2) betrays the composer’s most autumnal moods, but a great surprise comes at the middle of the work, where we hear a melody of great songfulness. However, the same melody changes before long, and the music falls back into the dejected and darkened key of A minor.

Chopin was in Stuttgart when he received news of the catastrophe of the Warsaw Uprising of 1830. According to legend, his fury over Russian retribution overflowed into his “Revolutionary Etude”, Op. 10, No. 12. We should, however, know that Chopin himself never refers to the work as such, and the title is not his. Moritz Karasowski evokes the image of Zeus hurling thunderbolts at mankind. According to Alan Walker, author of the magisterial biography of the composer, “For younger pianists with nothing more than thunderbolts to hurl it is a dangerous one, for in callow hands the work itself is turned into the battlefield, instead of depicting one.” After the tumult of the middle section, Chopin brings back the opening impassioned theme whose, quoting Walker again, “muffled eruptions finally come to rest in C major.”

According to Moritz Karasowski, the Nocturne in D-flat major (Op. 27, No. 2) contains “a profusion of delicate fioriture.” The work really contains only one theme, and has no shortage of the “ravishing harmonies” and “melodic whispers” people ascribed to Chopin’s own playing.

The Polonaise in E-flat minor (Op. 26, No. 2) has been known by names such as the Siberian, or the Revolt Polonaise. Such fanciful titles may have been inspired by the work’s sinister opening, with its suppressed and threatening rumblings. Respite comes by way of an almost jaunty episode in B major; James Huneker finds a hint of Meyerbeer in this brief section. The same writer goes on to describe the return of the Polonaise proper, with its “smothered explosions”, and the music “ends in gloom and the impotent clanking of chains.”

In his review of Chopin’s Ballade in A-flat major (Op. 47), Robert Schumann refers to the work as being one of the composer’s most original creations. Schumann goes on to describe the work with flowery prose, recognizing in the music, “the refined and intellectual Pole, accustomed to moving in the most distinguished circles of the French capital.” In spite of its gentle opening, the work does contain dark, sinister as well as powerful moments. A second theme brings to the work a more dance-like, coquettish, rhythmically willful, and constantly syncopating character. Throughout the work, we hear the interplay between these two themes – the songful and the sparkling. In the words of Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski, “they grow and bloom in a fullness of sound, elude one another and intertwine, join together and separate. In moments of ecstasy, they are transformed beyond recognition.”

Like the “Revolutionary Etude”, whether Chopin was inspired to write his Scherzo in B minor (Op. 20) following news of the Warsaw Uprising in 1830 is another matter for conjecture. Certainly the opening chords, once suggested as a “a shriek of despair”, betrays a despondency beyond words. The music is agitated, even angry, and calmness only ensues with the arrival of the Trio, an angelic melody that is a paraphrase of the Polish Christmas carol “Lulajże Jezuniu” (“Sleep, Little Jesus”) – this was the first Christmas Chopin had spent outside of Poland. The calmness of this lullaby is shattered by the return of the opening chords, and the violence and rage of the music continues until its cataclysmic conclusion.

We hope that this video concert by Tomasz Ritter will give you a glimpse into the sound world of one of the most unique and original geniuses in the history of music. Arthur Rubinstein says that when one hears the music of Chopin, it is like coming home. In these troubling and confusing times we live in, perhaps this feeling of “coming home” is indeed the Balm of Gilead we need for our heart and soul.

– Notes by Patrick May

Supported by:

2020-2021 SEASON


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2-23 October 2021 – The Eighteenth International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw