The U-M Chopin Project has no need of boosterism. Though the first recital was on a cold and snowy Tuesday night, and though the program consisted solely of works written
when the composer was between seven and eighteen years old, Britton Recital Hall overflowed its 250-seat capacity, with folks standing at the back and outside in the corridor. Chopin is far and away the most popular composer of Romantic piano music in history — and besides, it was free, and the audience knew what to expect.
At a bare minimum, they can expect, over the course of nine concerts, performances of every single solo piano work Chopin ever wrote, in chronological order. The good stuff — works from Chopin's late teens — started late in the second concert, and the really good stuff kicked in during the third concert, with works from his early twenties.
Whether the music itself is early, late, or middle, an audience can also expect the format to remain essentially the same. The Chopin Project was undertaken by the pianists in the studio of Arthur Greene, and performances by the students are interspersed with performances by the master. In the first half of the opening concert, for example, Greene played the opening works — a pair of polonaises in G minor and B-flat major; the closing works — three ecossaises, two mazurkas (in G major and B-flat major), and a rondo in C minor; and the central work — the Introduction and Variations on "Der Schweizerbub." Two of his students played the flanking works: Dmitri Vorobiev took on the Polonaises in A-flat Major and G-sharp Minor, while Christina Thayer tore into the Polonaise in B-flat Minor.
Whether student or master is playing, the approach is consistent. To judge from the first concert, Greene and his studio are quintessentially lyrical Chopin players. This doesn't mean they don't have the chops — Vorobiev's technique was strong but supple; and it doesn't mean they don't have the guts — Thayer's tone was firm but flexible. But it does mean that, like Greene, they all emphasize Chopin's long legato melodies. And although the precocious young composer's supervirtuoso piano writing sometimes made this tough to accomplish, Greene and his students pulled it off successfully in the first concert, and the audience can reasonably expect they'll be able to do it again.
The U-M Chopin Project concludes with concerts on April 7, 10, & 14.
[Review published April 2007]