The Full Works Concert – Friday 9 August: Chopin

This week's Great Composers Full Works Concerts end in romance, with five pieces by the Polish piano maestro Frédéric Chopin.

A child prodigy, Frédéric Chopin grew up in Warsaw and completed his musical education in Poland before settling in Paris for the rest of his short life. Most of Chopin's works are for solo piano, though he also wrote two piano concertos, both of which we'll hear tonight.

Both of the piano concertos were early works with which Chopin hoped to launch his own international career as a pianist. Few composers have concentrated on a single instrument as much as Chopin did and in both the concertos, the whole orchestra is clearly playing second fiddle (so to speak) to the solo piano. The Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, despite its official number, is actually the first of the two piano concertos. A huge artistic and commercial success when he premiered it, Chopin immediately began another concerto, which went on to be published before the F minor Concerto - hence the switch in numbering. Instead of drawing on the innovative concertos of Mozart or Beethoven, Chopin's piano concertos are uniquely poetic and lyrical, perhaps owing more to the bel-canto opera style of Bellini than other romantic concertos.

The Cello Sonata dates from the troubled final years of Chopin's life and was his last published work. Chopin wrote very little for instruments other than piano, but he seems to have had a special feeling for the cello, composing three works for it. The Cello Sonata shows a little-known side of Chopin and some believe that it suggests the course his music might have taken had he not died so young.

Les Sylphides is a short ballet orchestrated from Chopin's music by Alexander Glazunov. Glazunov had already set some of the music in 1892 as a purely orchestral suite, under the title Chopiniana. The ballet has no plot, but instead consists of many white-clad sylphs dancing in the moonlight with a poet or young man dressed in white tights and a black top. Tonight we hear the Prelude played by the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge. 

Tonight's concert ends with the solo piano - 3 Nouvelles Etudes by Chopin, played by Alexandre Tharaud.

Chopin: Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor
Piano: Martha Argerich Charles Dutoit conducts the Montreal Symphony Orchestra

Chopin: Cello Sonata in G minor
Cello: Natalie Clein Piano: Charles Owen

Chopin: Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor
Piano: Maurizio Pollini Paul Kletzki conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Chopin: Les Sylphides – Prelude
Richard Bonynge conducts the National Philharmonic Orchestra

Chopin: 3 Nouvelles Etudes
Piano: Alexandre Tharaud