As part of a series of events leading up to the forthcoming 2nd Chopin Piano Competition, to be held in Canberra from September 15-21, The Friends of Chopin Australia presented this recital by 16 year-old pianist, Olivia Urbaniak, currently a Young Steinway Artist and the recipient of a 2014 Rising Star Scholarship at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
Before the performance, The Friends of Chopin Australia President, Wanda Horkey, introduced the Polish ambassador, Mr Pawel Milewski, who welcomed guests before the artistic director of the piano competition, Mr Maciej Pawela, introduced Miss Urbaniak, then joined her at the keyboard for a spirited four-hands performance of Schubert’s “Polonaise in D Minor”.
Urbaniak then set the mood for the first part of her program, entitled “The Storytelling of Chopin” by reading some excerpts from a series of fictional letters between Chopin and George Sand, which she had written to deepen her own understanding of Chopin’s psyche.
This proved an excellent device for focusing the attention of the audience on the four Chopin pieces she was about to play.
Composed, confident, and playing without any reference to sheet music, Urbaniak commenced with Chopin’s waltz-like “Mazuka in F# minor, Op 59, no. 3”. She followed this with, what is considered to be among the most challenging pieces in the standard piano repertoire, his showy “Ballade no 2 in F Major, op.38”, leaving no doubt as to the brilliance of her technique with a impressive performance.
A sensitive interpretation of the familiar, heavily romantic “Nocturne in D Flat major, op 27, no 2” proved a delightful contrast to the fireworks of the ballade, following which she ended the first section of her program with another dazzling interpretation, this time the dramatic “Scherzo no 3 in C# minor, op 39”.
After a short interval, Urbaniak again read excerpts from her fictional letters to set the mood for a stunning performance of the fiendishly difficult “Sonata no. 2 in B flat minor, op. 35”, popularly known as “The Funeral March” because of its familiar third movement “Marche Funebre: Lento”. Her brilliant performance of this sonata left her audience cheering for more, and they were rewarded with a charming encore, Ravel’s “Ondine”.
Though too young to compete in the forthcoming Chopin Piano Competition in Canberra, Olivia Urbaniak will soon leave for a recital in Paris before further master classes in Poland to prepare to compete in the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 2015.
Those who experienced her brilliant Canberra recital were left in no doubt that they had witnessed an extraordinary talent and a brilliant young pianist on the threshold of major international career.
[Photos by Peter Hislop]