079: nước mắm

Noun – nước mắm: A light brown, watery fish sauce used in Vietnamese cookery.

A lot of things happened at once on Tuesday: in a whirlwind of frantic action, I executed my plan to reinstall Fedora on my laptop. I downloaded a Fedora 18 image first thing in the morning, wrote it to a USB stick, tested the USB stick, backed up everything in my home directory, reinstalled Windows, upgraded my BIOS, nuked my Windows setup again, installed Fedora carefully (to my SSD this time, with /home on my hard disk), cleaned up my backup of extraneous files that could be generated again (but left intact, for example, my Pidgin files, my vim configuration, and my Openbox config), performed a reverse rsync to send everything from the external disk to my home directory, installed all my favorite applications, had a jolly time messing up my bash prompt and fixing it again, configured everything – I think it’s all good, even i3lock works now.

The best thing, though, is that I can now reboot with impunity; going down may take a while, but a cold start takes less than thirty seconds from power button to usable desktop. From power button to login screen, even less (which says something about my password). Yeah, it’s not the ten-second boot time everybody seems to brag about, but for this peasant who’s never seen better, this is an amazing improvement.

Last night, though, was one of the most exciting things that could have happened all break: before two in the morning, this popped up in my feeds. I followed the link as fast as I could (if it’s gone, I record some of the text here for posterity – related post) and queried Wolfram|Alpha furiously for the time in Australia. I groaned internally when WA happily reported that I had to stay up to almost half-past twenty to even start the recital; I would be up to four if I wanted to finish.

Best idea I've had, I think

“I have to be up ’till four? …well, it IS Blechacz…”

I tuned in somewhere in the Rasmussen and got to hear most of Schubert’s symphony, but spent a good half-hour fruitlessly searching for a way to capture from my soundcard (I desperately wanted a copy of this recital).

Mercilessly the clock ticked on until I gave up at 2:10 and simply rebooted (I’d screwed up my audio) to just listen like a good boy. I closed all the unnecessary windows and held my breath as the announcer came on to announce the program. And then the first notes of Mozart came trickling through my speakers. I breathed again. It was that same golden touch that only Blechacz could, or would achieve.

He’s REALLY more than a Chopin specialist – his Mozart was tasteful, his Debussy colorful (but not overly so – I admit I wasn’t fired up by the ending), and his Szymanowski epic. All three works were performed with the traditional Blechacz clarity and beauty of tone.

I huddled for warmth around my little heater with a blanket draped over me, listening with the speakers turned up too much. I clapped after every piece even though I was only listening to an ancient re-broadcast, alone in my room.

In the second half came the Chopin, what he of all pianists excels at. Simply because Chopin happens to be easier for the average listener to follow, it tends to be more enjoyable. I lost the Szymanowski in many places, and even the Mozart escaped me in a few; but with Chopin, it was almost as easy as listening to pop music.

The Ballade flowed deep, touching me gently but in all the right places. As always he didn’t play to electrify; he simply delivered the music as he thought it should have been played.

The two polonaises, Op. 26, were works made familiar to me through Evgeny Kissin at the Verbier Festival, but the interpretations were quite far removed from what I was used to. The first (in c sharp minor) began with an uncharacteristic (well, for Blechacz at least) double-forte; and on the whole, the piece moved faster than Kissin played it (and Kissin wasn’t slow). And yet Blechacz knew so intimately (perhaps it is one of the privileges of being Polish, being able to grasp the polonaise so well) all the voices and all the rhythms and all the little things that make the piano sing. The same went for the second (in e flat minor), which went faster and with greater vigor than Kissin, and yet still without exaggeration or Robin-Williams-ness. At all times, a clarity – a lucidity in every note, and in every subarc of the piece – dominated the music.

I remember how moved I was the first time I listened to him play the Polonaise in A flat Major, Op. 53 – and it still moves me today. These two polonaises he played in recital MUST be recorded some day – they are so terribly beautiful that I can only pity pianos that never have his loving hands perform these two pieces for.

I also remember my first mazurka (listening-wise – I have never played one, and probably never will) was the Mazurka in D Major Op. 33 No. 2 by Fou Ts’ong on The Essential Chopin – an album gifted to me as a parting present from my old piano teacher – and, well, it didn’t really blow me away. The recording wasn’t great, and the piano sounded a little tinny.

Neither of those factors, however, marred Blechacz’s performance, allowing me to focus purely on his gorgeous interpretation of the music. Again, I (more than once) lost track of which mazurka he was on, but by God I enjoyed all four. I won’t repeat my “analysis;” there’s only so many ways I can rephrase my praise for Blechacz.

Then the encores: the Waltz in A Minor, acquainted with me by a recital of Kissin’s at Carnegie Hall. Again, Blechacz really broke the mold (of what I’m used to). No, there weren’t fireworks – but at least there wasn’t the predictable “listen to how soft my pianississississimo is.” It was an unreserved, vaguely mazurka-ized affair that miraculously balanced a sumptuous rubato against the basic three counts. I began tapping along; at very few points did I have to break count (I suspect there are some time changes I’ve forgotten in that waltz, too) – where he sped up, he later slowed; and vice-versa. It was all self-contained. That was the beauty of the waltz.

The Mazurka in E Minor I was unfamiliar with – and so I just sat back and let Blechacz sweep me away with his second and last encore.

Oh, what a night. It’s corny of me to say it now (the recital was this November past), but I’ll never forget it. BRAVISSIMO, MAESTRO BLECHACZ!



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