Yulia Chaplina the aristocratic love and beauty of Chopin at St Mary’s

Thursday 28 April 3.00 pm


What a refreshing thing it was to hear Yulia Chaplina’s Chopin recital at St Mary’s today.An improvised solo recital instead of the advertised violin and piano duo.It is something of a rarity these days to hear an all Chopin recital but I remember the recitals of Smeterlin,Askenase and Rubinstein filling the Festival Hall on a Sunday afternoon.Rubinstein would add four mazurkas by his friend and compatriot Szmanowski to cleanse the air for the second half of his all Chopin recitals.How could one ever forget Rubinstein playing a recital at the Fairfield Hall Croydon,dedicated to his compatriots of the Polish Air Force.He sat at the piano and immediately intoned the Polish and English national anthems before embarking on a memorable all Chopin recital.Croydon comes to mind too as it was where Peter Katin lived,in St Peters Road,a pilgrimage that all aspiring pianist would make in that period.We should not forget his annual Chopin recitals in a sold out Festival Hall that were memorable even though not particularly admired by Joan Chissell of the Times.It was a miniature Chopin painted in porcelain not blood and tears but nevertheless very beautiful and we should not forget the stature of this rather underrated English pianist.
It was the same love that we heard today from an artist who has lived and loved these pieces for a long time and could add freedom and timelessness to her artistry in works we know so well.

Yulia’s playing was certainly not miniature as she carved out a programme that showed the evolution of Chopin’s pianistic genius.

Mozart ,together with Bach,was one of Chopin’s most admired composers and opened the programme with his D minor Fantasy.It was played with a refreshing simplicity and sense of improvised discovery and was an ideal introduction to the early Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise that Chopin would have ravished the audiences of the Parisian salons with,as a twenty year old Polish émigré.

The Grande polonaise brillante is a work for piano and orchestra, although the piano part is often played on its own. The Andante spianato (spianato means “even” or “smooth”) for solo piano was composed as an introduction to the polonaise after Chopin received a long-awaited invitation to perform in one of Habeneck’s Conservatoire Concerts in Paris. This was the only time Chopin had ever used the term spianato as a description for any of his works.There was beautiful cantabile and superb sense of balance in Yulia’s playing with very delicate embellishments and an aristocratic sense of timelessness.There was great rhythmic impulse to the Polonaise but a feeling that there was time to allow the music to unfold in a beautifully natural way.Even the dramatic octave flourishes and scintillating passage work were incorporated into the overall shape with such loving care and dynamic control.

The arpeggio study op 10 n.11 too was allowed time to unfold as the marvels that Chopin unravels were revealed with such subtle colouring and sense of style.It became in Yulia’s sensitive hands a miniature tone poem – ‘canons covered in flowers’ indeed.

The Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat major, Op. 61, is dedicated to Mme A. Veyret and was written and published in 1846 just three years before Chopin’s untimely death.
It was slow to gain favour with musicians, due to its harmonic complexity and intricate form.But as the great Chopin expert Arthur Hedley wrote in 1947 it ‘works on the hearer’s imagination with a power of suggestion equaled only by the F minor Fantasy or the fourth Ballade’.It is indeed a remarkable work more Fantasy than Polonaise with its magic opening of washes of colour that pass over the entire keyboard preparing us for the gentle first appearance of the Polonaise rhythm.There was an architectural shape to Yulia’s playing but also a sensitivity and sumptuous beauty especially in the mellifluous central episode before the explosive trills that lead to the triumphant climax that dies away to a mere whisper with a final resigned A flat on high.

Manuscript of the Polonaise op 53

The same A flat that opens the Heroic Polonaise op 53 written only four years before the Polonaise Fantasie

George Sand in one of their private letters wrote passionately, “L’inspiration! La force! La vigueur! Il est indéniable qu’un tel esprit doit être présent dans la Révolution française. Désormais cette polonaise devrait être un symbole, un symbole héroïque!” (“The inspiration! The force! The vigour! There is no doubt that such a spirit must be present in the French Revolution. From now on this polonaise should be a symbol, a heroic symbol”).

Chopin daguerreotype taken around 1847 in the studio of Louis-Auguste Bisson

Yulia played it with great energy but also with beauty and sumptuous rich sounds.The left hand octaves of the military charge were played with absolute authority but never overpowering the melodic line that rides above it.There was such subtle colouring to the build up to the final triumphant outpouring of the Polonaise theme and a coda of great excitement and transcendental technical command.

The last two studies from op 25 were played with great technical assurance and ravishing sounds with an aristocratic sense of architectural line.It brought this refreshingly simple Chopin recital to a wonderful end and as Dr Mather said is a good preview for the 17 hours of Chopin’s works that will be played by many different pianists over a weekend next October.

My mother with my wife Ileana Ghione in our garden in Kew

As a final note to remember my mother whose 109th birthday it would have been today.When I was still a child she would accompany me to many Chopin recitals of Jan Smeterlin at the Festival Hall which was where my passion for music was born.

Yulia Chaplina is the winner of 7 international piano competitions. Since winning the First Prize & the Gold Medal in the prestigious Tchaikovsky International Competition for Young Musicians, she has performed regularly as a soloist in many of the world’s finest venues, including the Wigmore Hall and the Southbank Centre in London, Berlin’s Philharmonie, the Grand Halls of the Moscow Conservatoire and the St. Petersburg Philharmonia, Bunka Kaikan Hall in Tokyo and many other concert halls. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Arts (Berlin), Masters in Music & Fellowship from the RCM (London). Yulia received music coaching from Mstislav Rostropovitch, Andras Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida, Paul Badura-Skoda, David Waterman, Steven Isserlis, Thomas Adès and Liliya Zilberstein. She has been invited to participate as a jury member in several music competitions in the UK, Russia and Italy. Her students have won prizes in many prestigious piano competitions. Yulia is the Artistic director of the Prokofiev Festival in London. Yulia is a regular music contributor for Russian Arts & Culture and has written extensively for many UK music publications, including Gramophone, Pianist, International Piano and BBC Classical Music magazine.


Yulia with Dmitri Alexeev

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