history of pianists
playing Chopin is rich with names such as Horowitz, Askenazy, Pollini,
Ohlsson, Rubenstein, Rachmaninoff, Argerich, Pogorelich, Zimmerman,
Cortot, and Arrau. And yet one name, usually neglected or forgotten
by the classical listener, is Adam Harasiewicz (b.1932). The pianist,
legendary in his native country of Poland and across Europe, won
the prestigious and lofty First Prize in the 1955 International
Chopin Competition, beating both Vladimir Askenazy and Fou Ts'ong
- highly regarded pianists themselves. From his victory to the present,
Harasiewicz has dedicated his professional career to playing the
music of Chopin, even playing before the UN in 1960 to inaugurate
the Year of Chopin (the 150th anniversary of the composer's birthday).
first listening to a set of pieces such as the Preludes, or Nocturnes,
or even Polonaises, a listener is usually subjected to even tempi,
mild individuality, and moderate technique: in short, average performances.
Standard renditions of this repertoire deluge the classical market
every year, by performers both celebrated and recondite. Harasiewicz
far departs from the "usual" recordings, bringing to the music a
vision unparalleled in originality, virtuosity, imagination, and
playing is difficult to describe: he achieves an effective synthesis
of every style I have heard so far. He has the balance of Arrau
- both left and right hands are always discernable, every note,
every harmony is well displayed. He has the intelligent sensibilities
of Askenazy - every note sounds like hours of thought went into
it. Musical notions are mature, and well-developed. But he is sonically
dangerous like Kissin - his bass ROARS, his treble *~*sparkles*~*,
and the whole range in between is well-defined.
is dramatic like Horowitz - he shows a wide field of emotions, from
full rage to lugubrious tragedy, from buoyant happiness and unutterable
joy, to oppressive melancholy and delicate passion - he displays
all and many more. He is the most complete pianist in this sense,
for many pianists fall into the trap of applying Chopin's music
to their own vision - Argerich is lustful and wildly frantic in
each piece, even Nocturnes; but humanity, as Harasiewicz
demonstrates, is more than one emotion- it is an entire wealth of
them, and he applies his own peerless and flawless technique to
the pieces, not the other way around.
piano tone itself is gorgeous - and versatile. He can play softly,
with a warm and swirling sound. He can play sharply, with a piercing
sound. He can play with bell-like tones that glimmer and glisten
like raindrops. Every sound conceivable is possible in his artistic
start with his Preludes. Each one is given a unique personality: no
two replicate any mood. The 1st reminds me of a Parisian cafe, with
the climactic crashes like champagne glasses ringing in cheers. The
2nd, in stark contrast, in like an ominous announcement of war: the
raw and cutting undermelody punctuated with gunshot-like declarative
statements by the right hand.
(including Op.45 and Op.posthumous)
(including both op.posthumous)
3rd is, to me, the Song of the River: the left hand is the fastest
I have heard, yet smooth and flowing, with the right hand melody
like sprays of water flying atop the rippling water. And the 4th
is like a view of a mountain tomb in the cold rain, with the right-hand
lyrically telling a tragic story, reaching a pinnacle, then descending
into 3 funereal chords closing the piece.
5th is like a Tree of Songs, with two revolving textures like the
light and shadows among the swaying leaves. The 6th, like a cello-player,
alone and mourning, playing out his bitter anger and sadness on
his instrument while rain falls. The 7th is like a simple Polish
dance, as danced by a young girl just beginning to learn to dance.
Prelude follows suit, expressive and imaginative without being too
risky to be unbalanced. The towering 24th is absolutely breathtaking
- a shattering, thunderous bass ostinati becomes the foundation
for a defiant and raging melody, with monstrously difficult glissando
scalar passages seemingly carelessly tossed off, yet clear dramatic,
and precise. The death knell of the ending, with the three canon
blasts, is the best I've heard. More sonorous than Pogorelich, more
final than Argerich, more furiously intensive than anyone else,
Harasiewicz truly masters the music.
Concerti, too, are undeniably penetrating works of art, punishing
and powerful in the way that Harasiewicz combines sheer unadulterated
might with concerned lyricism, spinning rubato, and gorgeous piano
sound coupled with quick and furious orchestration.
Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2.
Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Heinrich Hollreiser.
Recorded Oct 1958.
Philips 422 272-2
begin with his First Concerto: the orchestra begins as if the piece
were a symphony, treating the dual themes with equal impact. Harasiewicz
enters at 4'04", with the famous crushing raging chordal passage,
so noble and so defiant. His arpeggiations climb thoughtfully and
deftly into the highest registers, and then the lightening harmonic
scalar passages comes rippling down the keyboard. Very few pianists
give this sort of treatment; with a staple of the Romantic repertoire
as this, usually most concerti are played thunderously throughout,
with a few token quiet sections, as Maurizio Pollini, or with extreme
poetic insight usually not coupled with overwhelming power, like
the very few can reconcile both elements into the work. Harasiewicz
plays the bass notes resoundingly, and the treble is clear and bell-like.
I often admire the forward-looking aspects of Chopin's work, how
ahead it was of its time, so I am glad when pianists, such as Harasiewicz,
accent the chromatic aspects of the piece, the dissonant as well
as the assonant.
He plays very tragically, often bypassing possibly sticky saccharine-lined
moments for the deeper drama at work in the piece. In the end of
the first movement, the left hand is given some violent trill-like
figurations that complement a wide, scalar theme that the right
hand plays. Harasiewicz is the first performer I have ever
heard to accent these left-hand figurations, which are loud and
drilling, underpinning the sweeping right hand with a turbulent
and ferocious authority.
the second movement he allows the sweet and melodic bass line to
ring loud in complement to the sad and fluent line of the right
hand, so fluid and vocal. He is at all times emotionally expressive,
never letting a chance at developing an emotion go untouched. The
piano solo section near the end of the movement reminds me very
much of dreaming by midnight moonlight, as Chopin himself intended.
third movement opens quickly, with exotic figurations by strings
and woodwinds, the piano stating a dance-like declarative theme
which is advanced rapidly by Harasiewicz, who plays flawlessly,
with technical wonder yet strong and vital imagination. The piece
ends with satisfaction, an epic.
are two versions of Harasiewicz playing the 2nd Concerto, one on Laserlight,
his winning performance in the 1955 Competition, and on three years
later with the Vienna Philharmonic. I found his early performance
and later performance (there are more in the Philips vaults) quite
different, yet unified. The early one is stunningly fresh and elephantine
in scope - he plays hugely, with absolutely mind-bogglingly fast runs
and volume in parts. His later recording, more mature in interpretation,
is colossal in piano tone, where he overpowers even a loud orchestra
in several key areas. In fact, I thought that this Concerto, as played
by Harasiewicz, was given the same treatment as a Rachmaninov Concerto!
Chopin: Piano Concerto No.2. With the National Philharmonic
Orchestra of Warsaw under Kazimierz Kord.
Includes performance by Martha Agerich of Piano Concerto
Laserlight 14-061 "Live" recordings.
yet many of his masterpiece recordings lay in the vaults, collecting
dust, not to be released soon. After contacting Philips, and learning
that indeed only about half of his repeater is available in any
format currently, I can only hope that world-wide attention will
bring those vaunted recordings to the public eye, which will surely
savor the rich playing and lilting tone he brings to the music he
loves so well.
from my myriad Chopin recordings, I believe I know a superior pianist
when I hear one, and Harasiewicz is it. He embodies everything the
composer would have wanted: crystal sadness, brutal fury, mechanical
precision, blinding virtuostic, and a very large expressive tonal
vocabulary. Imaginative and of the highest artistic integrity, Harasiewicz
is all I could ask for in a Chopinist, and more.
of Recommended Harasiewicz Discography:
Preludes and Complete Nocturnes (including posthumously published
works). Philips 442-266-2
Miscellaneous works for piano: Barcarolle, Berceuse, Waltz No.1,
Op.18, Impromtu No.4, Mazurka No.37, Op.59-2, Nocturne No.5 in
F#, Op.15-2, Mazurka No.5 in B-flat, Op.7-1, Etude No.3, Op.10,
Scherzo No.2, Op.31, Scherzo No.3, Op.39, Polonaise No.3, Op.40,
Polonaise No.6, Op.53, Nocturne No.13, Op.48-1, Waltz No.6, Op.
64-1. Philips 422-282-2
Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2. Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Hollreiser.
Recorded Oct 1958. Philips 422 272-2 (Out of print).
Complete Etudes, Op. 10 and 25. Philips 420-062-4 (Out
Miscellaneous piano works: Sonata No.2, Op.35, Nocturne Op.62-1,
Ballade Op.47-3, Polonaise Op.53, Mazurkas Op.63-2 and 63-3, and
Scherzo No.4, Op.54. Discover DICD 920180.
14-064 is a compilation of performances by winning Chopin
Competition pianists. Harasiewicz here plays the 3rd Impromptu,
Op. 51. and the Prelude in C# minor, Op. 45.
Laserlight 14-061 is two live winning Concerto performances
- Argerich playing a heavily cut First Concerto, and Harasiewicz,
under the National Philharmonic Orcestra of Warsaw with conducter
Kazimierz Kord, playing an uncut 2nd Concerto.
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