Artur Haftman at St Mary’s for the glory of Chopin

Tuesday 15 December 4.00 pm 

Artur Haftman (piano)

A Chopin recital :

Sonata in B flat minor Op 35 ‘Funeral March’

Grave – Doppio movimento / Scherzo / Lento / Presto

Nocturne in F sharp op 15 n.2

Variations Brillantes Op 12

4 Mazurkas Op 24
no 1 in G minor / no 2 in C major / no 3 in A flat / no 4 in B flat minor

Ballade in A flat major Op 47

Polonaise in A flat major Op 53

It is some time since I heard a young Polish boy at St James’s Piccadilly give a recital that had such an impact on the usually staid lunchtime audience that he was called back time and time again to play encores for almost another half hour.I remember being so impressed that I spoke about him to many musician friends but this was just the beginning of a young Polish boy’s first adventure outside his homeland. He was in London for an extensive period of study at the Royal College of Music with one of the mostly highly respected Professors Dmitri Alexeev.He has had to cope with the inevitable transition from an innocent instinctive highly talented young boy to becoming a mature experienced artist able to cope with the difficult world that awaits.Similar indeed to the young Chopin who also left his homeland and was accepted into the Parisian salons as a virtuoso until Schumann exclaimed in an article about his op 2 Variations ‘Hats off ,Gentlemen,a Genius.’

It was in his recital dedicated to his compatriot Chopin that Artur was able to show how this highly talented young boy had been transformed over a four year study period (with two former Leeds Piano first prize winners Dmitri Alexeev and Sofia Gulyak) into a mature artist adding wisdom and considerable technical assurance to his natural juvenile talent.

It was in the four Mazukas op 24 that it became obvious that here was an artist who felt these dances as only a native could.As Dr Mather commented at the end of the recital daring to say that Polish born pianists seem to understand so instinctively the Mazurkas of Chopin . A whole world is described in the 52 little tone poems that were penned a long way from his homeland and are full of delicacy,nostalgia and hypnotic dance rhythms.

The first Mazurka was played with ravishing delicacy and a real sense of natural shape and direction with some very subtle changes of colour.The whispered return of the opening theme was pure magic.The crisp and clear dance of the second opening to a flood of melody bursting out in the bass reminded me of the memorable Chopin recitals of Smeterlin that I was captivated by as a child.The gentle musings of the third Mazurka disappearing into the distance from where the fourth emerged so poignantly.In anyone else’s hands the rubato would have seemed excessive but here in Arthur’s hands it was captivating.The beautiful question and answer in the middle section with it’s echo effect was so compelling.A beautiful ending clouded by the pedal as the mazurka disappeared into the mist.It is so rare to hear Mazurkas included into recital programmes these days that it became today like a breath of fresh air between the two more substantial parts of the programme.

Of course part of being a mature artist is to know how to make up a programme so it did not worry me in the slightest the unannounced addition of the F sharp nocturne after the opening Bflat minor Sonata.It just made such sense as did everything he played today.

Especially as this second most played nocturne can sound very sentimental in the wrong hands.It was Rubinstein that showed us how aristocratic sentiments can add such power and emotion to these delicate bel canto works that can slip so easily into sickly sentimental rhetoric.Artur played them in just such an aristocratic way .The mellifluous middle episode played with some unexpected but ravishing tenor counterpoints building to a sumptuous climax before dying away to the return of the opening melody and the final delicate notes high in the piano descending so magically to the single final note that was placed to perfection with such knowing care.

The B flat minor Sonata opened with passionate energy contrasting so well with the beautifully shaped second subject.I would have been interested to see how he would have played the repeat but he decided to go straight into the development section.Played with almost Beethovenian contrasts as he built up to the mighty climax where the all important bass notes gave such nobility to the sumptuous full sounds that he produced so effortlessly.One or two small stumbles were immediately remedied and forgotten and were in any case much less than on occasion in Rubinstein’s hands where the search for discovery and inspiration could lead to momentary stumbles that were of no overall importance.There was great shape to the Scherzo played with exhilarating rhythmic release but it was the meltingly beautiful middle section that showed his aristocratic Polish heritage.A melodic line fully sustained by the tender harmonic colours and trills that were mere vibrations of sound in such sensitive hands.The somber Funeral March in which the melodic line seemed to appear above a growling bass finally finding voice for its wailing lament.There was a release of tension in the sublime Trio where even here there was a full sonority from the bass on which the melodic line was allowed to float.The final ‘wind over the graves’was played with a relentless forward movement showing remarkable control as he hinted at the melodic line in this turmoil of wailing sounds weaving it’s way to its glorious fate.

The early variations op 12 were played with all the brilliance and elegance that I am sure Chopin would have demonstrated as he charmed the salons of the day with his scintillating playing.The opening was thrown off with an easy elegance and beautifully shaped fiortiori.Leading to the Ronde de ‘Ludovic’theme that was played with a simplicity full of ravishing sounds.The beautifully mellifluous first variation in which the right hand spun it’s magic web and the second played with a hypnotic Mazurka rhythm before the beauty of the third.Ravishing arpeggios led to the intricacies of the fourth and the exhilarating finale played with scintillating virtuosity of such subtle inflections and colouring.It reminded me of the Rondo op 1 that Dmitri Aleeev had played so magically at the Chopin festival in Warsaw this summer.These early works have all the innocent charm of youth but with Chopin there is always the unmistakable voice of the genius that was to emerge in his later works.

The third ballade ,the most pastoral of all four,floated in on a wave of sound.There was such subtle colouring and sumptuous sounds .The embellishments flew from his fingers as they spun a golden web of sound.Passionate climaxes of another age led to the gradual build up to the final glorious outpouring that was played with a passionate involvement that was quite overwhelming .

The famous Polonaise Héroique op 53 opened with sparse use of pedal and very clear and clean sounds.This was just to contrast with the superb later famous declamations that built up in ever growing intensity.His magnificent cavalry rode so intrepidly across the field with the military band sounding out above the charging brigade.Some transcendental playing never forgetting the long architectural lines that were driving us on to the climax and the desolation and yearning as we were led to the triumphant final tumultuous outpouring of the Héroique theme.

It is always good to see what artist emerges from early promise.Artur was a lean young man with his mother taking photos of his first London concert when I was struck by his talent.Now four years on and in a dapper matinée idol red velvet jacket he looks and plays like he is enjoying the good things in life just as his famous Polish namesake with whom he obviously has much in common!

Artur Haftman is a Polish pianist and is currently studying for Artist diploma at the Royal College of Music under Professor Dmitri Alexeev, Jianing Kong and Sofya Gulyak. He began playing piano at the age of seven with Ewa Kubiak-Kubacka and Jolanta Reszelska and made his début performance with an orchestra at the age of eight. Due to great opportunities, teachings and talent, he has received numerous awards in international competitions including 1st prize in the International Music Competition “Musicaclassica” in Moscow, 7th in International Chopin Competition in Narva – Estonia, “Gold Parnas” (The Grand Prize) at International Piano Forum “Bieszczady bez granic” in Sanok, 2nd in “Cesar Franck International Piano Competition” in Brussels, 2nd in Music Club of London Music Competition and 2nd in III International Piano Competition ”Villa de Xàbia ”. Recently he was awarded with 1st prize at Thomas Harris International Piano Competition in London (November 2019).

Since young, Artur has built his international reputation by participating in masterclasses with renowned pianists such as Russell Sherman, Janina Fialkowska, Arie Vardi, Jacques Rouvier and Meng-Chieh Liu. He has also performed solo recitals across the United Kingdom, Poland, France, Estonia, Lithuania, Italy and Slovakia. In 2018, he has launched his debut CD in London, commemorating the 100th Anniversary of Poland’s Independence and performed in various venues such as Steinway Hall, Lancaster House, St Martin-in-the-Fields, St Mary’s Perivale, Delbridge Hall in Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Boston (USA), Culture Center in Stargard, Gallery 13, and Artist Homes in Berlin and Renaissance Hotel for for Nobel Prize Winners. 

Artur’s talent is recognised by many. Namely, he is RCM Gary and Eleanor Brass Scholar, supported by Henry Wood Trust and a recipient of Carnwath Piano Scholarship awarded by Worshipful Company of Musicians. He is also supported by Drake Calleja Trust, Talent Unlimited Musical Charity, the Hanna and Zdzislaw Broncel Charitable Trust and “Konfraternia Artystów Polskich.” Currently, upcoming concerts include Grand Tour in China and Recital in Royal Albert Hall.


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