Dear La Folia 6.

Russell Lichter

[May 2002.]

Dear La Folia,

As you may remember, I expressed my admiration for a recording of Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony with Pawel Przytocki conducting the Philharmonie de Gdansk. This CD came to me in a pretty roundabout fashion, through the generosity of a Seattle audiophile whose sister had committed two errors of judgment. One being her belief that he liked classical music. The other, that an audiophile would be interested in one of those World’s Greatest Classical Music multi-CD sets on sale at the local Wiggley Piggley for $19.95 (with coupon). Anyhow, buried in the dross was this treasure. And I am happy to inform you that this performance is, after all, actually in print on both the Onyx label (66572), for 167 rupees, and on Point Classics (265098-2), for 3.99 American dollars. You know how the classical music market is these days, tapes dying slow deaths in dusty vaults, superb performances disappearing like drachmas tossed into the Aegean by an indifferent tourist. I urge you to run out and purchase this one while you can. I think this symphony is a terrific piece of work.

Anyhow, the presence of Przytocki’s name in La Folia caught the eye of a friend of his, Pawel Skrzypek, a concert pianist as well as music instructor at both the Chopin Academy in Warsaw (www.ps.art.pl) and the Gold Country Piano Institute in Nevada City (www.gcpiano.org). Mr Skrzypek emailed me care of La Folia that he’d shown my comments to Maestro Przytocki. Need I say how gratified it made me feel to have my appreciation conveyed to the conductor? Mr Skrzypek also generously offered to send a CD of the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2, with him as soloist and Przytocki conducting. Let me try to tell you something about this performance.

I should note that the CD also contains a chamber arrangement of the Chopin Concerto in f minor, which has thus far failed to grab me. Not that I’ve given it a fair chance. When I do play this CD, I always seem to play the Prokofiev and skip the Chopin. This is a very different performance from Kun Woo Paik’s on Naxos, which is one I know pretty well. I have struggled to find the language with which to compare these two, for they both have their virtues, and a literary metaphor finally occurred to me just this afternoon. (Probably a bit nonsensical but here goes.) If we could liken Paik’s performance to a short story, brilliant, fast-paced and virtuosic, Skrzypek’s is more like a novel by Dostoevsky, full of deliberation and detail, moving forward with pensive inexorability. After the former I might say, What terrific playing; after the latter, What a profound experience. Unlike the Paik version, this is a live concert recording (a rarity), and the attentive listener is rewarded not just with the special spontaneity of that event, but with a clear sense of the hard work and love of music-making that went into it. This CD has become one of my favorites.

Another CD, actually a set of two, I’d like to mention is Richter Rediscovered on the RCA label (00926-63844-2). It contains Richter’s live Carnegie Hall recital of 26 December 1960, as well as different encores from a repeat performance two days later at the Mosque Theatre, Newark. I like everything about this set. For those of us too young or too foolhardy to have heard Richter in person, it is an opportunity to attend what was probably one of the great live performances of the twentieth century. One critic suggested Richter’s playing of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 6 is the greatest on disc. To be sure, it and the Haydn Sonata No. 60 are the two pillars of this recording. But there is also music by Chopin, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Debussy, all played with tremendous virtuosity and originality. I’ve never heard Chopin played this way, wouldn’t have imagined it played this way. I love it when wholly new vistas are opened up by a performer with such an original mind and such terrifying technical prowess.

I’ve got some more musical chestnuts in the fire that I promise to tell you about, but for now I’ll let you get back to your lobsters and town meetings. Looking forward to pictures of your new hometown. Regards from Black Point.