Rafał Blechacz gives sparkling performance in Rome

Polish concert pianist Rafał Blechacz made a welcome return to Rome on Friday evening with a splendid performance in the Santa Cecilia Hall at the Auditorium Parco della Musica. The recession is clearly beginning to bite in Italy and the hall was less full than in previous years, but nevertheless he was given a loud and warm welcome, and the audience was rewarded with a wonderful evening, full of sparkling displays of virtuosity and flair, elegantly employed in the service of the music.

Rafał Blechacz is still very young – he turns 28 this June - and when he appears on stage one is initially struck by how his boyish looks make him appear even younger than his years, only to be surprised by the maturity of his playing once his hands touch the keyboard. This maturity was perfectly illustrated by his opening piece - Bach’s Partita No. 3 in A Minor – which he performed with playful grace and clarity, firmly underpinned with intellectual rigour.

Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 7 in D Major, Op. 10, No. 3 completed the first half of the concert. It was a mesmerising interpretation - the opening Presto and closing Rondò were played with enthralling verve and audacity, whilst the Largo and mesto was more lyrical than gloomy – and was met with an enormous roar of approval from the audience at the end, with cheers of bravo! and several curtain calls before the public would let him leave the stage.

The second half of the evening was entirely dedicated to the composer with whom Rafał Blechacz is most frequently associated – Chopin. Back in 2005 he impressed the judges at the Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw so much that he was awarded first prize in every category. Hearing Rafał Blechacz play Chopin is always a joy...and what a stunning second half it turned out to be, as he held the audience rapt with a rich and varied set of seven pieces, with two more played as encores. I'm a sucker for the perennial “Military” Polonaise in A Major and I enjoyed the majesty he brought to this piece enormously, but the show stopping high point of the entire evening for me was the Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39 – the extraordinary runs and delicate waterfall sounds of those cascading octaves were utterly magical. With the closing notes still hanging in the air, the first cheers of bravo! broke the spell, followed by thunderous applause.

Rafal was coaxed back to the Steinway for an achingly lovely encore of Chopin's Waltz No. 3 in A minor, Op. 34, No. 2, which brought yet more applause, and many of us to our feet. Looking visibly exhausted during the final curtain calls, yet generous to a fault, he graciously gave us one final fleeting, and tantalisingly brief second encore in the form of Chopin's Prelude in A major, Op. 28 no. 7, which elicited an audible sigh of appreciation from the audience. Wonderful!

Full programme:
Partita No. 3 in A Minor
Piano Sonata No. 7 in D Major, Op. 10, No. 3
Nocturne in A-flat Major, Op. 32, No. 2
“Military” Polonaise in A Major, Op.40 no.1
Polonaise in C Minor, Op. 40, No. 2
Three Mazurkas, Op. 63
Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39
Waltz No. 3 in A minor, Op. 34, No. 2
Prelude in A major, Op. 28 no. 7