Mateusz Borowiak Third Recital in Review

Mateusz Borowiak Third Recital in Review

Mateusz Borowiak, piano
Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center, New York, NY
Sunday, November 12, 2017, 8PM

Mateusz Borowiak’s series of three recitals came to a close on Sunday, with perhaps his most magisterial display of pianistic grandeur. It also gave me, now having heard all six of Louis Pelosi’s piano sonatas, a clear favorite. This is terrible to decide, a sort of musical “Sophie’s choice,” but his Sonata No. 3 in B-flat gets my vote. The crystalline piano sonorities juxtaposed with the characteristically dense ones, the overall playfulness of some of the material, and a certain resemblance (spiritual only, not imitative) to Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (slow movement) in Pelosi’s slow movement, all endeared it to me.

Over the course of the three recitals, I heard numerous audience members grumbling that they couldn’t “follow” the structure, but make no mistake about it, Pelosi is a firm structuralist. It does take a certain fierce concentration, for it is more about densities, textures, and motives, things that the average listener has lost touch with identifying (a fault of society’s lack of music education, and the decline of home music making). I think someone clever could fashion two sonatas for every one of Pelosi’s, simply by removing about half the material and placing it on another manuscript page, but that is not for me to decide.

The Sonata No. 2 in A, a much fiercer, grimmer work, opened the recital, and it was presented perfectly by Mr. Borowiak, certainly Pelosi’s most capable advocate. Its principle of continuous evolving variation was clear, and there was even a Brahms-like consoling moment in the slow section.

After intermission, Mr. Borowiak presented the second set (Op. 39) of Rachmaninoff’s Études-Tableaux, which are programmatic, though the composer was often secretive about revealing specific images. They were composed near the end of 1916 to the beginning of 1917, just before the composer was driven from his native land, sorrowfully, by the turmoil of revolution. In fact, the famous E-flat minor etude (No. 5), the final one written, was completed just four days before the premiere of the set by Rachmaninoff himself. For who else could possibly have played these uncompromising, complicated studies?

Of course, today all young pianists grow up with these and other difficult repertoire firmly in their lesson plans, especially if they are serious about a career. In fact, through the course of Mr. Borowiak’s survey, I had to ponder how many physiological limitations have been conquered, how the landscape of what’s “possible” has evolved, even in my time, let alone since 1900.

Mr. Borowiak favored a “big-boned” approach to the Rachmaninoff, with gigantic sonority, big arching structure, clear voicing, and wonderful elasticity. Remember, Stravinsky referred to Rachmaninoff as a “six-and- a- half -foot scowl,” and it was mainly this person we hear in these distinctly anxiety-ridden works. For me, the stand-outs were No. 2 (“the sea and the seagull”), No. 5, No. 7 (“funeral march”), and No. 8, but they were all beautifully played, with complete fearless mastery. Mr. Borowiak organized their complexity with such assurance that the set sounded more coherent than I can recall from any recent artist.

After his customary tumultuous ovation, Mr. Borowiak, in a gesture of extreme modesty and renunciation, didn’t play an encore, though it was richly deserved (nor had he on any of the recitals).

When was the last time you saw the word aposiopesis in a program note? Yes, I had to look it up. Congratulations to you, Mateusz, and may you grace our shores again with more intelligent programming.


Mateusz Borowiak Second Recital in Review

Mateusz Borowiak Second Recital in Review

Mateusz Borowiak, piano
Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center, New York, NY
November 8, 2017

 

As serendipity would have it, I saw a poster in a small restaurant prior to attending Mateusz Borowiak’s second recital (of three) comprising his US debut. The slogan said: “The only way to do great work is to love.” This seemed particularly apropos regarding the sonatas of Louis Pelosi, two more of which (Nos. 5 and 1) were played on November 8, 2017 by Mr. Borowiak.

 

Clearly, Pelosi works with a great deal of love: love of imitative counterpoint, love of tonal harmony with many layers of complexity, love of the piano and its possibilities, and love of expressing large feelings and ideas. My fear, if that is the right word, is that this literature will not appeal to other pianists en masse, or the wider audiences it merits (and perhaps that’s okay) for it seems to me now that I have heard four of the six that his music lacks one thing the average concertgoer wants: memorable melodies.

 

Pelosi works with “themes and motives” more than “tunes,” and this certainly is an honorable practice going all the way back through music history, but it does make his music harder to listen to for the novice, even for those with some experience. The Sonata No. 5 made a strong impression in Mr. Borowiak’s expert hands—he has a way of clarifying these extremely dense textures, leading the ear to where the main matter is. Sonata No. 1 alternated between playful imitative materials and darker forces, and again, one could not imagine a better performance.

 

After intermission, Mr. Borowiak continued his marathon presentation of three complete etude cycles with all twelve of Debussy’s etudes. These are great late works by the master, pointing the way to modern trends while remaining totally “Debussy” in style as well. Debussy probably had the deepest, most intimate knowledge of the potential for piano sonority of any composer since Chopin. Let me make absolutely clear that at no time was the technical prowess of Mr. Borowiak in doubt, however, those who know my background and writings know how fervent I am about French music and its style. I feel that Mr. Borowiak could benefit from a bit more in the way of tints and tones of the same color, delicacy, and an almost indefinable French “wit” so essential to this music. The “cinq doigts” needed more leggiero and its last note was cut way too short, the “Tièrces” and “Quartes” were very good, the “Sixtes” however needed more legato gliding and delicacy, as they were a bit too jumpy. The “Octaves” and the “huit doigts” were very good. In the second livre I felt he grasped the nature of each piece much better—these are frankly much less didactic and more imagistic in tone. Everything was just put perfectly in place by Mr. Borowiak, and his tempo for the concluding “accords” was the fastest I’ve ever heard, and accurate.

 

I’ll admit I do quibble about things, but the secret to French music is truly in the details. He has such a secure foundation already as a pianist, I hope Mr. Borowiak will continue to let these major accomplishments of his repertoire “sink in” to even deeper levels of refinement. Then he will truly be sans pareil.


Mateusz Borowiak in Review

Mateusz Borowiak in Review

Mateusz Borowiak, piano
Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center, New York, NY
Sunday, November 5, 2017 8PM

 

A stunning display of profound musicality and musical profundity took place in the first of Mateusz Borowiak’s epic three-recital series at Merkin Concert Hall, the venue of his US debut. When I first saw advance notice of the series, presenting the complete piano sonatas of American composer Louis Pelosi, two per recital, coupled with three of the major etude cycles—all twenty-four Chopin, all twelve Debussy, and Rachmaninoff’s Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39, I thought “This guy is either a foolhardy daredevil, or one of the great pianists.” After this first recital, I’m inclining to the latter.

 

Mr. Borowiak calls the presentation of the Pelosi works a “world premiere.” Perhaps it is for all six together, but I recall hearing Donald Isler perform the Sonata No. 1 a few years ago. No matter, it is certainly a noteworthy occasion in anyone’s musical calendar. Pelosi, who makes his living as a piano technician, calls himself a “tonal contrapuntist.” He believes in one “central tone” that dominates the proceedings.

 

I was going to compare Pelosi to Chopin, if Chopin had died 150 years later, with a dose of Anatoly Alexandrov, but that would be unfair to Pelosi. He is an original. His music is very brooding and gestural, favoring imitative counterpoint, with difficult, intricate piano textures that utilize the whole keyboard. He accomplishes all this without sounding neo-Baroque. Pelosi certainly has an ideal advocate in Mr. Borowiak, a pianist of serious demeanor and great concentration, who wore white tie and tails—one doesn’t often see that these days. The two have collaborated before, on a recording of preludes and fugues by Pelosi.

 

This recital opened with Pelosi’s Sonata No. 4, and closed with his Sonata No. 6, framing the complete Chopin etude sets of Op. 10 and Op.25. Both sonatas were rendered from score with clarity and expressiveness, even in the thickest murky textures. Pelosi seems to speak of tragic things, immense things, and his use of what I call “seeking and finding” in evaluating various contrapuntal outcomes leads him to his own seeking and finding of interior emotional states, which he generously shares with the listener. The music requires intense concentration, which is the least we can do when someone creates such material. Just when you think it’s perhaps a bit too discursive, it breaks into a sort of consoling song-like episode, then it turns to a jittery fugue. The works hold together because of superb thematic unity, and very often they are cyclic—themes from earlier in the piece return later in the work.

 

The Chopin Etudes were revelatory. Tempi in the fast ones were very fast, yet one never felt that Mr. Borowiak was at the outer limit of what he was capable technically. His lyrical playing was melting and passionate. He even managed to find flexibility, elasticity, and a certain flirtatiousness amid the welter of notes. Was it my imagination, or did the E-flat minor, Op. 10, No. 6, sound “Pelosi-like” in his hands? Really, all of Op. 10 was great, with perhaps two miscalculations: No. 10 needed more variety in the articulation, however it was completely convincing; and No. 12, the celebrated “Revolutionary,” was exciting but harsh (but certainly passionate!). I wrote “wow” next to No. 8, this was one instance of the flirtatious quality. Remember, Cortot said: “The Chopin Etudes are as inaccessible to the virtuoso without poetry as they are to the poet without virtuosity.” I imagine Cortot would have been pleased, for Mr. Borowiak possesses both.

 

The Op. 25 set was even more successful overall, if that is possible, a matter of degree. The pieces were stitched together into a sort of compelling narrative by Mr. Borowiak, from the delicacy of No. 1, “Aeolian harp,” to the feather light No. 2, with excellent attention paid to the left hand, the “not obviously difficult” one. His playful leggiero in No. 3 was breathtaking, and his incredible double thirds in No. 6. Again, only in the octave etude, No. 10, did I feel that he miscalculated the sound in the room, but it is a violent piece, and the middle section was gorgeous. I could go on, but this will have to suffice.

 

I can’t wait for the next installment!