Walking into a concert hall has always brought me a level of anticipation that can’t be matched elsewhere, particularly for a classical concert. The sight of so many musicians on stage, preparing to join forces to create a gorgeous and never-to-be-repeated experience, always provides a thrill.
With this in mind, we traveled down recently to Baltimore to hear Québecois pianist Louis Lortie solo in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11, accompanied by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (conducted this weekend by Mario Venzago). The timing was especially fortuitous since we’d only just featured Lortie in one of our year-end articles (for his duet album of Debussy with Hélène Mercier).
After a rousing rendition of Rossini’s Overture to “William Tell,” Lortie took the stage – a calm presence, sitting virtually motionless during the lengthy orchestral introduction that opens the concerto. Once he began playing what is not only a technically challenging but also a deeply emotive work, though, that calmness transformed into masterful control of the keys before him.
If the first movement allowed Lortie’s technical skills to shine, the second movement brought his musicality and delicacy of touch to the forefront. Chopin called the movement “a sort of reverie in the moonlight on a beautiful spring evening,” and the comparison is completely apt. Delicacy, however, does not imply a lack of difficulty; reading the score for this movement, I’m struck not only by the sheer quantity of notes (always a characteristic of Chopin) but also the range he requires of the human hand. Hearing this movement was a nearly transcendent experience, and the stillness of the audience was testament that others felt likewise.
The third movement, based on a Polish folk dance called the Krakowiak, places the orchestra in a supporting role while the piano part gets an even bigger moment in the spotlight. Lortie was very much up to the challenge, dazzling throughout the movement (and indeed the entire work). He was rewarded for his efforts with an extended ovation and a chance to return for a short encore, which he obligingly gave.
Lortie has recorded ten discs thus far of Chopin’s solo works for Chandos Records, part of an extensive and diverse discography that spans a goodly range of composers and musical eras. I definitely encourage you to explore his recordings, especially those of Chopin’s music, and to hear him live if he comes to a concert hall near you.
Gioachino Rossini, Overture to “William Tell”
Frédéric Chopin, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, op. 11
Robert Schumann, Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, op. 97, “Rhenish”
Enjoy one of Louis Lortie’s recordings of Chopin’s music below.
Exposed to the wonders of CBC and Montréal Canadiens hockey as a teenager thanks to a satellite dish in rural Kansas, I have been an unabashed lover of all things Canadian ever since. I am a lifelong collector of esoteric and varied music, a teacher of piano, an avid reader, and a stamp/coin collector. In real life, I work in the field of technology.
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