AN 2 9146 Chopin Concertos

Chopin: Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Release date February 22, 2019
Album code AN 2 9146
Periods Romantic

They spoke about it

Album information

In their very first recording together, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin render Frédéric Chopin’s concertos for piano and orchestra, two vibrant and poetic works that the composer wrote in his early 20s.

Piano Concerto no. 2 in F minor, op. 21 and Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor, op. 11

Having come to the end of his musical studies in 1829, and faced with the necessity of supporting himself, Chopin made preliminary plans to leave Warsaw in April of that year with the aim of displaying his accomplishments across Europe. His Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 2 in F minor, begun in 1829 and finished in 1830, as well as his Concerto no. 1 in E minor1, also completed in 1830, were undoubtedly composed with this project in mind.

Their form, arrangement, and the overwhelming precedence of the piano part over the orchestra are the distinguishing characteristics of a brilliant style of playing specific to the concertante works of celebrated pianist-composers in Chopin’s time. The popularity of this style must be understood in correlation with the developing “cult of the virtuoso.” Indeed, starting in 1820, the concerto genre grew to become the medium par excellence for impressive displays of technical prowess. According to Robert Schumann, such a cultivation of virtuoso elements in these works was a detriment to their artistic quality, and in the 1830s he denounced their anti-Beethovenian tendency of eschewing balance and skillful control of the dialogue between soloist and orchestra. But while Schumann described the concerto in his time as a succession of meaningless technical acrobatics that relegated the orchestra to a merely subservient role, he did approve of Chopin’s concertos, appraising their technical complexity as a feature deployed in the service of genuine poetic inspiration.

Very similar in their construction, the first movements of both concertos open with an extensive orchestral introduction in the spirit of their Classical counterparts. While less adventurous in this respect than Beethoven, whose opening movements – notably in the piano concertos nos. 4 and 5 – begin with the soloist boldly stating the first theme, Chopin breaks with Mozart’s approach the moment the piano makes its entry. Instead of maintaining the pulse established by the orchestra, the pianist is free to express him or herself with great rhythmic freedom, right from the first note. Meanwhile, the orchestra retires into a somewhat inconspicuous role up until it takes over from the soloist at the end of the exposition, which calls for a grand culminating crescendo and, in both concertos, a tremolo played fortissimo in the right hand. This in turn signals the tutti to usher in the development section, which consists of two contrasting parts. The piano’s discourse is, at first, highly intimate, delicately embellished, and almost completely detached from the meter. It then becomes remarkably steady, deploying an almost uninterrupted series of sixteenth notes up until the recapitulation.

Chopin had the reputation of being cautiously guarded about his works, but in two letters to his childhood friend Titus Woyciechowski, he leaves his habitual reserve behind when describing the concertos’ second movements. Writing on October 3, 1829, he waxes about the Larghetto of his Concerto no. 2 in F minor: “I, perhaps unfortunately, already have my own ideal, which I have served faithfully, though silently, for half a year; of which I dream, to thoughts of which the Adagio [Larghetto] to my concerto belongs, and which this morning inspired the little waltz I am sending you.” The “ideal” in question was a young singer and fellow student of Chopin’s, Konstancja Gładkowska, whom he had met while attending the Warsaw School of Music. The substance of this three-part movement is operatic: heavily ornamented outer sections suggesting bel canto, and a middle section producing the distinct effect of a recitative. Chopin explains the Romance – Larghetto of his Concerto in E minor to his friend with even greater effusiveness: “The Adagio of the new concerto is in E major. It is not meant to be loud, it’s more of a romance, quiet, melancholy; it should give the impression of gazing tenderly at a place which brings to mind a thousand dear memories. It is a sort of meditation in beautiful spring weather, but by moonlight.”

The third movements of both concertos are lively rondos whose duple and triple meters act as a canvas for the stylization of traditional Polish dances. The last movement of the Concerto in F minor is inspired by the mazurka, a dance in triple meter whose character is derived from the accentuation of the second or third beats. This same movement displays a decisively rustic palette of sounds: the violins play col legno battuto – striking the strings with the wooden stick of the bow – while the piano’s melodies are often heard in octaves, in both hands. The playful and humorous third movement of the Concerto in E minor is based on another traditional dance, the krakowiak.

The Concerto in E minor was premiered in public on October 11, 1830, at the National Theatre in Warsaw. The concert was crowned with success, but it proved to be the last public appearance for Chopin in his native country: on November 2, he left Poland, never to return.

© Florence Brassard
© Translation: Le Trait juste

1 While this second work is known today as the Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor, op.11, its publication in 1833 actually preceded by three years that of the Piano Concerto no. 2 in F minor, op. 21, which bears the later opus number.

Read more


Charles Richard-Hamelin
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM)
AN 2 9146 Chopin Concertos

Start typing and press Enter to search

AN 2 9522 | Immortal and BelovedAN | 2 9262 | Guided by Voices: New Music for Baroque Cello / Nouvelle musique pour violoncelle baroque