The newest album of 21-year-old Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki comes out today.
Lisiecki is joined by the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester and Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbański for Chopin: Works for Piano and Orchestra. (Watch the trailer here). This marks Lisiecki’s fifth Deutsche Grammophon release. The recording moves beyond Chopin’s two concertos (which Lisiecki recorded in 2009) to an assortment of the composer’s smaller works for piano and orchestra: Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante in G Major/E-Flat Major, Op. 22, Variations on “La ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Op. 2, Fantasy on Polish Airs, Op. 13, and Rondo a la Krakowiak in F Major, Op. 14.
The vast majority of Chopin’s output was for solo piano. In a recent interview, Jan Lisiecki shared some of his thoughts on the music:
I think Chopin felt the most comfortable writing for the piano, though it was not necessarily his favorite instrument. He was simply able to use it to its full potential and to express everything that he imagined in his mind. In many ways his writing for piano and orchestra is just and extension of that. It’s not symphonic writing. It’s not writing that uses the full potential of the orchestra. It’s his imagination for the piano enlarged by the writing with orchestra. It adds colors to the piano. We are given endless possibilities already at our instrument. But Chopin uses the capabilities of the winds and the strings, their richness, their sound quality to add to the piano’s possibilities and color palette. It’s a gift that he gave us with these orchestral pieces.
In a Mozart or Beethoven piano concerto if you removed the orchestra and told the pianist to play their part alone you’d be left with a bare bones structure. There would be some beautiful themes, some beautiful moments, and then there would be these very dull and uninspiring passages because you would be missing the core of the work. Now in Chopin if you take away the orchestra for the most part you would still end up with a fully-fledged and well-developed work. When the orchestra comes in it adds something- another layer- not instead of the piano, not in place of one of the piano themes or capabilities, but yet another relayer, and more beauty.
The album opens with the quiet intimacy of the solo piano. Chopin placed this dreamy, solo Andante spianato, written in 1834, before the Grande Polonaise Brillante, which breaks the spell with a rousing horn fanfare: