Wednesday 27 May 2015

After hearing Stefan Warzycki’s new Nimbus release of Piano Music for the Left Hand, perhaps the biggest tribute to this fine pianist is that one quickly forgets and, indeed, doesn’t care that only one hand is at work, such is this artist’s fluency and artistry

Stefan Warzycki was born in Tokyo but grew up in the United States giving his first solo piano recital at the age of seven. Since graduating from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he made his concerto debut with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, he has lived in London. His mentors include Alfred Brendel, Louis Kentner and Leon Fleisher He has given recitals and concerto performances in some of the most prestigious British venues such as Wigmore Hall, the South Bank, St John’s Smith Square and the Edinburgh Festival. He has also undertaken numerous concert tours in Europe, North and South America, Japan and south-east Asia.

In recent years Warzycki’s right hand has fallen victim to focal dystonia, a debilitating neurological condition which severely impairs control of the fingers, but his left hand is unaffected and like a number of eminent predecessors such as Paul Wittgenstein, Leon Fleisher and Raoul Sosa he has re-invented himself as a left-handed pianist, selecting technically challenging left-handed repertoire, augmented by new music written for him by contemporary composers.

Stefan Warzycki’s new recording for Nimbus  has recently been released entitled simply Piano Music for the Left Hand.

NI 6305

In this well planned recital Warzycki opens and closes with Bach, firstly with his own arrangement of the Chromatic Fantasia in D minor, BWV 903. It is immediately obvious that Warzycki is an incredibly fluent pianist. He never uses the music as a mere show piece, bringing many moments of subtlety and sensitivity. Indeed, Warzycki in his arrangement and performance doesn’t overtly try to conceal that this is for left hand but lets the music speak first and foremost, something that is the keynote here.  

I came completely new to Camille Saint-Saëns’s Six Etudes pour la main gauche, Op.135 and what attractive lovely pieces they are. There is a very fine Prelude with lovely crisp playing, a light touch, beautifully done and a Fugue where one could swear that there are four hands at work as the musical lines are revealed in this lovely little piece. There is fine fluency again in the Moto perpetuo before a Bourrée that is given a lovely lift, again musically and technically overcoming any sense of one hand at work. The Elégie is beautifully phrased with superb pedalling, a lovely sensibility and, of course, that fluency bringing some beautifully limpid passages. The final Gigue is finely nuanced with lovely phrasing and control.

Frank Bridge’s Three Improvisations (1918) are fine miniatures that I am really glad to have been able to hear. At Dawn is exquisitely delicate with a lovely free flow. Warzycki develops this fine piece beautifully, increasing in power subtly before quickly falling to lead to a quiet coda. A Vigil is a surprisingly brighter piece, exquisitely nuanced again with a lovely flow. Warzycki is terrifically fluent in A Revel bringing a beautifully light in touch.

Dinu Lipatti was, of course, a legendary pianist, studying under the great Albert Cortot. However, he also studied composition under Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger. The Allegro of his three movement Sonatine pour piano (main gauche seule) (left hand only) (1941) takes off tremendously in a fast flowing, fiendishly intricate theme before introducing the most difficult, changing rhythms brilliantly done here. The Andante espressivo is finely developed with some lovely little touches in this rather fine movement before a forthright Allegro that skips along full of good humour, played here with great panache with some absolutely terrific moments.

Warzycki brings a tremendous fluency to Franz Schmidt’s Toccata in D minor for the left hand (1938), a fluency that would be remarkable from two hands. There is a fine underlying flow over which the most delicate and intricate musical lines are poured. This is a terrific piece which I am pleased to have been acquainted with particularly in such a fine performance.

Alexander Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne for the left hand, Op.9 is an early work dating from 1894 so it is not surprising that the Prelude is rather Chopinesque. It is beautifully played, allowing the musical lines to emerge with moments of fine poetry. The Nocturne is given a lovely sway as it gently moves forward with exquisite phrasing, a gentle ebb and flow – quite lovely. It builds in power, falling to some lovely light and delicate passages before a gentle coda.

Tim K. Murray studied composition with Anthony Milner and John Lambert and piano with Yonty Solomon and Peter Wallfisch at the Royal College of Music, London. His Postlude (after Scriabin) (2011) has a dissonant opening before rising up in some often florid passages that move across the keyboard with the spirit of Scriabin showing through. It receives a terrific performance from Warzycki who also brings passages of thoughtful delicacy.

Returning to Bach we have Brahms’ arrangement of his Chaconne in D minor, BWV 1004, finely phrased, with a lovely flow, it builds through some terrific passages with Warzycki bringing his lovely touch and fine rhythmic fluency. He has a fine sense of the overall structure as Bach’s fine invention unfolds with a particularly fine coda.

First and foremost Stefan Warzycki is a very fine musician. Perhaps the biggest tribute to this fine pianist is that one quickly forgets and, indeed, doesn’t care that only one hand is at work, such is this artist’s fluency and artistry.

He is very well recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England and there are informative booklet notes. 

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