For the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth, I expanded my yearly Indiana University Summer Piano Workshop, and invited the Shanghai String Quartet to IU. They performed two concerts, in which I appeared playing Chopin’s two piano concertos. The Quartet’s performing schedule was so packed that we had to do virtually all our rehearsing during a couple of weekend visits in the preceding months. They arrived in Bloomington on July 6th in the afternoon, and we began recording—in my living room—the following morning. The recording work was finished July 8th, and the concerts took place the two days following. (Peter Lloyd, the bassist, playing with us for the first time, fit in perfectly nevertheless.)
The practice of playing concertos with string quartet, especially in the 19th century, was well established. I owe my awareness of this to the research of Dr. Halina Goldberg, a Chopin scholar on our faculty. Her article, “Chamber Arrangements of Chopin’s Concert Works,” in the Journal of Musicology (2002), explains that during Chopin’s time there were very few permanent symphony orchestras, and even superstars like Chopin often had to play concertos with the accompaniment of smaller ensembles. The original string parts for Chopin’s works for piano and orchestra (and for that matter, many works of his contemporaries) were printed with alternate versions that could be used for performances with a variety of chamber ensembles, including string groups without winds or brass. We based our performances and the recording on Chopin’s alternate orchestral parts for the E minor concerto, and I arranged the F minor in similar fashion. Although it was customary, in Chopin’s time, for the pianist to play along with the orchestra during the tutti sections, somehow my ear wouldn’t allow me to follow this practice. It seems to me that the piano sound ought ideally to be reserved for the solo part, and that the prevalence of the 18th-century “continuo” practice reflected the practical need to cover the missing voices in an incomplete orchestra.
Chopin wrote these two magnificent concertos when he was only 19 and 20 years old—they are surely among the most youthful compositions to find a place in the permanent concert repertoire. His use of the Polish dance genres (Krakowiak and Mazurka) in the final movements and the recitativo section in the middle movement of the F minor concerto are especially noteworthy.
I decided to present the two concertos on the CD in the order in which they were composed and premièred, i.e., first the F minor concerto, known as no. 2, then the E minor. Chopin first performed the F minor in March 1830, and the E minor in August of the same year.
My heartfelt gratitude to Indiana University and the Jacobs School of Music for three generous grants to support this project. My thanks also to Max Wilcox for a magnificent job in recording and editing this CD, and to Halina Goldberg for her great help and support.