Jan Krzysztof Broja

Chopin's salon junkies would have been impressed

Chopin is celebrating, albeit posthumously, the bicentenary of his birth this year. The anniversary is one of the Belfast Festival at Queen's programming sub-themes and it is given a kick start at the Great Hall with a polished performance by, appropriately, a gifted Polish pianist – Jan Krzysztof Broja.

Broja is not exactly a household name, but his track record to date is far from shabby and, at almost 40, he has a sufficient number of prizes from international competitions to warrant attention. What strikes me at once in his performance is his comprehension of the multi-layered capabilities of the piano and its almost infinite variety of sounds and sonorities.

The first half of Broja’s programme is devoted to a single work – a solo piano version mostly by the composer himself of the E minor Piano Concerto – which is an unusual inclusion in a solo piano recital.

Broja’s approach is to differentiate in the most subtle ways the two forces of solo and tutti. He seems to be orchestrating at the keyboard the erstwhile accompaniments with a wide variety of pianistic tones, conveying the contrasts by allowing a certain freedom to the flow of the solo sections and constraining the more hefty orchestral interludes with a measured gravity.

I am more and more drawn in by Broja’s technical abilities and his tonal imagination. At times, it is almost as if the whole concerto is being improvised as the skeleton beneath the familiar work is revealed. It occurs to me that this was probably how most of the salon junkies of early 19th century Paris encountered Chopin’s youthful genius.

The set of miniature masterpieces otherwise known as the Preludes Op.28 fills the second half of Broja’s recital. Although short and small, these preludes adumbrate many of Chopin’s later and arguably greater pieces, such as the Studies. Like them, the preludes tend to pick on a particular technical difficulty and expound thereon.

Broja perhaps overstates the case for some of the preludes, but he always produces an intelligent and musical sound. As a pianist of buoyant technical resources and an interpreter of calibre, he is well worth hearing, and deserving of the standing ovation he receives on this occasion.

For more events during the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's see our listings.