Theatre / “Oh, What a Lovely War”. Directed by Chris Baldock. At Theatre 3 until March 10. Reviewed by JOE WOODWARD
IT was fitting that the chair of the judging panel for the 3rd Australian International Chopin Piano Competition, composer, pianist and teacher, emeritus Prof Larry Sitsky was celebrating his birthday on the opening day. And he could have received no better birthday present than the unforgettable opening gala recital given by fellow judge, Prof Ewa Pobłocka.
Poblocka is from the National Institute of Fryderyk Chopin, in Poland, and a string of other institutions in Poland and Japan.
In his remarks about the Chopin competition, Sitsky noted the role of “rubato” – varying note values in a single bar or phrase to make it sing but retaining the correct duration over all. He said he would ask students whether they were counting as they played. “Of course”, they would reply, to which Sitsky would retort, “well, stop counting immediately”. The eminent Polish pianist, and one-time prime minister, Paderewski called rubato the “irreconcilable foe of the metronome”.
With a bust of Chopin on stage, looking on, Poblocka’s performance had rubato aplenty. Whether it was a nocturne, mazurka, waltz or etude, Poblocka’s playing, coming from years of study and a mature interpretation, was chock-full of sensitivity and emotion. She played Chopin’s music with such affection, the romanticism seemingly dripped off the walls.
At no stage was her performance showy or embellished with faux-drama. She sat at the piano with no nonsense and almost no body movement, playing piece after piece with a feather-light touch that could command full power or lullaby softness at a whim as her fingers caressed the keys, floating up and down the keyboard on angel wings and with a love and connection that can only be hoped for or even imagined.
I got the impression Poblocka was in just the right mood to sit and play all night long. Each piece came to her with extraordinary ease and was delivered with consummate beauty. If she was ready to play all night long, I was ready to listen.
This recital set the scene for a very special week of music-making in Canberra as 16 competitors from 11 countries vie for first prize of $25,000, as well as other prizes and awards. It’s a rare treat for Canberra and for lovers of the music of one of the greatest composers of all time.