Every summer, most of the Triangle's musicians head out to the greener pastures of summer festivals. But before they go, Duke University recruits them in late spring for a series of four chamber music concerts in the Bryan Center. This year, a fifth concert, an all-Chopin recital by pianist Elza Kolodin last Wednesday, May 24, was quite a bonus. Born and trained in Poland and the winner of many international competitions, including, surprisingly, a first prize as interpreter of Spanish music, Kolodin is currently a professor of piano at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg, Germany.
Presenting an all-Chopin recital, Kolodin embraced the composer's romanticism without the mawkishness that characterizes the performance of so many pianists. Kolodin's sense of Chopin's musical architecture, her subtle use of tempi and dynamics, built up the tension and excitement of the music to an electrifying level, particularly in the final work in the program, the Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58. She has a way with the music and her listeners reminiscent of the late Artur Rubinstein: the feeling of sharing her experience and pleasure with the audience as if to say "Let's enjoy the music together."
A singular benefit of this concert was Kolodin's selection of works that are seldom performed, even during last year's plethora of all-Chopin recitals in honor of the composer's sesquicentennial. Her program opened with three nocturnes (F sharp minor, Op. 48, No. 2; F sharp major, Op 15, No. 2; and C minor, Op. 48, No. 3), followed by four mazurkas, Op. 24, none of these on the "most popular" list. What binds these seven works together is their pianistic delicacy and slightly melancholy mood. The combination allowed Kolodin to show off her marvelous interpretive ability within the dynamic range of pianissimo to mezzo forte. Her interpretations are clearly introverted, but not neurotically so. On occasion within these works, Kolodin retreated into a kind of personal musical reverie that, at the same time, drew the audience into her private world.
In line with this introspective mood was the performance of the Ballade in F minor, Op. 52. The title "ballade" was Chopin's invention, and there is some disagreement about exactly what the term relates to. Generally described as "narrative" in character, the ballades are thought to be based on the German literary ballad. Some scholars believe that they may have been inspired by the ballad poetry of the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz. Certainly, there is no overt literary reference in any of Chopin's four works with this title.
The Ballade in F minor is one of Chopin's most charged compositions, full of yearning, where the powerful emotional shifts are almost imperceptible until you suddenly realize that the mood has drastically changed. From the subtle opening to the stormy, arpeggio-sweeping latter section, Kolodin kept a tight control over the music, giving its development a sense of inevitability. She clearly thought very carefully how to bring out these shifts with the most dramatic success.
The same can be said about her performance of the B minor Piano Sonata. One of Chopin's few large-scale compositions, the sonata covers an immense emotional range, and Kolodin's performance was nothing short of electrifying. She milked every one of its expressive nuances to its utmost, blazing through the stormy presto finale to leave the audience breathless.
Every silver lining does have a dark cloud, however. The printed programs handed out at the door were a disgrace. Kolodin's bio read as if it had been translated from German by someone with English as a third language, to say nothing of numerous typos.
By the time this article comes out, three of the five Summer Festival concerts will have passed, so be sure not to miss the last two. On Friday, June 2, the Mallarmé Chamber players will perform some rarely heard works by Dennis Riley, Mozart, Rebecca Clarke, Charles Martin Loeffler and Maurice Rolliant; on Sunday, June 4, the Ciompi Quartet and Friends will perform works of Vaughan Williams, Arvo Pärt and Dvorák. Both performances are in the Reynolds Theater.