Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz’s artistry is recognised as rare by any measure – his many plaudits include being dubbed “a musician in service to the music, searching its depths, exploring its meaning and probing its possibilities” (Washington Post) – and arises from his total command of the keyboard and ability to unlock his instrument’s full expressive range. Those qualities have supported his artistic and professional development in the years since he took first prize at the 2005 International Chopin Piano Competition. He stands today among the world’s finest pianists, in high demand for the honesty and vision he brings to performances of everything from Bach and Beethoven to Chopin and Szymanowski.
The eloquence and intensity of Blechacz’s Chopin Competition performances, delivered within months of his twentieth birthday, were rewarded not only with the winner’s medal but also with a clean sweep of the event’s four special prizes and the Audience Award. He signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon in May 2006, following Krystian Zimerman to become the second Polish pianist to join the yellow label’s international roster of artists. The new relationship was launched in October 2007 with Blechacz’s debut solo album, a coupling of Chopin’s complete Preludes and the Two Nocturnes op. 62. His second release – a recital of piano sonatas by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven – was issued in 2008, after which he returned to Chopin, recording the two piano concertos with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Jerzy Semkow for an album released in 2009 to herald the upcoming bicentenary of Chopin’s birth.
2012 saw the release of an album of solo works by Debussy and Szymanowski. This was followed in 2013 by another acclaimed Chopin recording, this one featuring the composer’s mature Polonaises. Blechacz’s sixth DG album, released in 2017, was devoted to works by Bach, the Partitas Nos.1 & 3 and Italian Concerto among them. He then joined forces with Korean violinist Bomsori Kim to record a selection of works by Fauré, Debussy, Szymanowski and Chopin. Released in 2019, this was his debut chamber music album for DG.
Devoted entirely to Chopin, Blechacz’s latest release presents his insightful interpretations of the Second and Third Piano Sonatas, Nocturne Op. 48 No. 2 and Barcarolle Op. 60. “I’ve had many experiences with this programme, playing it all over the world, in different concert halls and on different pianos,” says the artist. “I really wanted to share the beauty of these compositions with the audience.” Chopin will be released, digitally, on CD and on vinyl (2 LPs) in March 2023.
Recent and forthcoming highlights of Blechacz’s schedule include solo recitals in Italy (January 2023); performances of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in Athens and No. 1 in Mannheim (April); the Schumann Piano Concerto in Munich (April); and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in Kaiserslautern, Saarbrücken and Salzburg (May).
Rafał Blechacz was born in the small town of Nakło nad Notecią in northern Poland in June 1985. He showed early signs of musical talent and began piano lessons at the age of five. Having first enrolled at the Arthur Rubinstein State Music School in Bydgoszcz, he progressed to study at the city’s Feliks Nowowiejski Academy of Music, graduating in May 2007 from Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń’s piano class. Blechacz’s outstanding technical and artistic attributes secured a sequence of competition successes, beginning in 2002 with second prize at the Arthur Rubinstein International Competition for Young Pianists in Bydgoszcz, continuing the following year with joint first prize at the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition, and culminating in outright victory at the 2005 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, where he became the first Polish musician to receive the top prize since Krystian Zimerman thirty years earlier.
He went on to win the 2010 Premio Internazionale Accademia Chigiana, awarded annually by the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena to an outstanding pianist or violinist. In 2014 Blechacz received the Gilmore Artist Award, a prestigious prize conferred every four years in recognition of “extraordinary piano artistry”. In addition to formal prizes and awards, he has also garnered ringing endorsements from senior colleagues, with Martha Argerich, winner of the Chopin Competition in 1965, describing him as “a very honest, extraordinary and sensitive artist” and the Irish pianist and pedagogue John O’Conor as “one of the greatest artists I have ever heard in my life”.
Blechacz took a sabbatical from performing between 2016 and 2017 to complete a doctorate in philosophy at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland. His thesis explored aspects of the metaphysics and aesthetics of music and, as he reflects, his studies have helped him “understand both the freedoms and limitations of musical interpretations”.