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The title of this glorious concerto is another example of musical cataloguing triumphing over historical fact. Far from being Chopin’s first piano concerto, this is actually his second. It was published before the real No. 1, though, and therefore became forever known as the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
The issue is largely academic because Chopin’s two piano concertos were composed within a year of each other. As you listen to this deeply expansive and expressive work, it has the mark of a composer who has reached full emotional and musical maturity, so it’s astonishing to think that Chopin wrote it while in his late teens. At its premiere in 1830, he played the piano part himself, and the concert marked his final public appearance in Poland. Within weeks, Chopin had left for Vienna and then Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Although best known for its lyrical middle movement, this concerto also contains melodic gems throughout the two outer movements. It’s unashamedly heart-on-your-sleeve stuff, with Chopin allowing the rich sounds of the piano to be cushioned by some gloriously rich string accompaniment. The majority of Chopin’s output was for solo piano. But, as his two concertos for the instrument prove, he was adept at writing for piano and orchestra too.
Janina Fialkowska (piano); Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Bramwell Tovey (conductor). ATMA: ACD 22643.
Illustration: Mark Millington