by Elisabeth Lynne Bjork*
November 3, 2009, Raleigh, NC: I’ll admit it:
a concert geek. I love reading the program notes right before a performance.
But in Smedes
Parlor, at Saint Mary’s
School, I found something infinitely better than a few sentences on
a piece of paper. Pianist Brenda
Bruce and the Raleigh Symphony Quartet delivered a unique experience
similar to what Chopin’s listeners must have heard in the 1800s.
The parlor itself, said series coordinator Terry
Thompson, was constructed in the 1840s,
just a few years before Chopin’s death in
1849. As the pianist later told us,
Chopin did not favor concert halls because he felt they were too impersonal.
composed his pieces for
more intimate settings, like the parlor in which we sat. We had the
privilege to listen to Chopin’s music
in the kind of environment he desired
The program itself, all Chopin, was a special delight. Chopin
composed every piece before he turned twenty. Bruce performed her
largest solo piece, the Grand Polonaise Brillante, Op.
22, without the introductory Andante Spianato,
which usually precedes it, because
Chopin composed the Grand
Polonaise Brillante before he left
Poland, but he wrote the Andante Spianato later,
after he left Poland. Bruce’s scales and octaves in
the right hand were impressive at times,
but the chords seemed harder for her.
She first played two Mazurkas — Op.
7, Nos. 1 and
4. She had a pleasant touch, although occasional memory slips were
her performance. But the thing that fascinated me most was her hands.
After watching her next two pieces — two Waltzes, Op.
69/2, and Op.
70/3 — I
seriously wondered how she would execute the F Major Étude
10 with such petite hands, but she surprised
me and pulled it off. Along with that étude,
she performed the following
from Op. 10: E
Major, F minor, and the famous “Revolutionary” étude.
She projected beautiful, deep lyricism
in the beginning and end of the E Major étude,
although the middle chord section was a bit more laborious
for her before she returned to the gorgeous opening theme.
The “Revolutionary” Étude
surprised me in two ways: her
right hand was remarkably agile and rhythmic, carrying the piece along
with its octave melody, but the opening
of the piece felt a
nice and carefree to be deemed "Revolutionary."
The highlight of the evening was a performance
with the Raleigh Symphony Quartet as Izabela Spiewak and Anne
Leyland, violins, Yang Xi,
viola, and Nathan Leyland, cello, joined
Bruce in performing the rarely-heard Fantasia
on Polish Airs, Op. 13. Bruce told
us Chopin played both the Grand Polonaise Brillante and the Fantasia
on Polish Airs in his farewell
concert before he left Poland, never to return home again.
The quartet performed in complete harmony, all the members breathing
together and each listening for the blend
of sound from the other instruments.
The balance was lovely, and here Bruce gave her most solid performance.
The Fantasia was worth the whole concert. I left in wonder
at the sonorous sound that had filled the parlor. It was thoroughly
enjoyable, and I realized later how
much I had learned about Chopin, his life, and the way he intended
to be played. I learned far
more by this experience than just reading information in a program.
It was a fascinating evening.
*We are pleased to welcome Meredith student
Elisabeth Lynne Bjork to the pages of CVNC. With this review, she joins us as one of our 2009-10 interns.