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Hold onto your ticket stubs! Save your program! Keep your autographed CD in a safe place! You are going to want to remember last night’s concert for a very long time!

My wife Jan and I returned for a third time this summer to Stratford for what turned out to be an exceptional musical experience. The Stratford Summer Music Festival has presented a truly inspiring quartet of piano recitals during its 2016 season. Jan Lisiecki was the much anticipated highlight of the series. Last night’s concert was his sixth annual appearance at the festival. No one went home disappointed. 

Since long before his first concert in Stratford at age 16, he has been called a prodigy and a boy genius, terms he has never liked. Last night at St. Andrew’s Church, the 21 year-old presented himself as a complete artist, musically mature and completely confident in what he has to offer.

Lisiecki is no stranger to adulation. Since the age of 9 he has been hailed as a significant musical talent. In 2013 he was awarded a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. He has recorded four albums with yet another due out in a few months. His concert appearances in 2016 alone span the globe with performances in the major centres of a dozen countries in three continents.

Last night, he performed music by Bach, Rachmaninov, Chopin, and Schumann. It’s not enough to say that he understood the essence of each composer. He played the music of each from a heartfelt inner knowledge of their distinctive musical sensibilities.

The Bach Partita No. 2 in C minor BWV 826 was bold and dramatic. From the opening thunderous C minor chord, the audience was put on notice that this was to be something very special. In the ‘Sinfonia’ section alone, he went from the serious tone of the Grave to prancing lightly through the Andante and then to a buoyant, spirited and joyful fugal conclusion. The wonderful changes in colour of the sound were incredibly subtle and moving. When the fugal theme entered in the bass, it took on a power that was overwhelming. One came away with fresh insights into the genius of J.S. Bach.

Rachmaninov’s Elegie, Op. 3 No. 1 and Prélude in C sharp minor, Op. 3. No.2 were a total contrast in style and expression. Here, Lisiecki displayed the Russian spirit in these two monstrous works. The first offered a glimpse into the longing heart of Rachmaninov. Lisiecki leaned over the keyboard with head bowed as he searched for the precise combination of beauty and melancholy in the music. The Prélude was a display of the power that used all the sonority the full-size concert grand could give. The deep, booming first three notes were followed by a range of colours and pianistic effects super-imposed over the pedal notes in the bass. The performance was magical and mesmerizing as it took us into a world of cathedral carillons.

Jan Lisiecki signing autographs following the performance, Photo by  Jan Richards

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Jan Lisiecki mesmerizes Stratford audience!

I am not sure if it is because of Lisiecki’s Polish heritage or if it is because he shares a musical sensibility with the Polish master, nevertheless he performed the Chopin works to follow in a way that touched our souls. His Nocturne in C sharp minor Op. post. spun a musical line of delicacy and buoyancy that left one breathless.

The Rondo a la Krakowiak, Op. 14 displayed the youthful Chopin as only a Polish dance can. It was brilliantly virtuosic and joyful. The work, written for piano and orchestra, was condensed into a piano solo and yet effectively expressed its vitality. Lisiecki was almost demonic in his ability to perform this almost impossible piece of music.

The Andante spianato & Grande polonaise brillante Opus 22 expressed beauty in every note through a transcending melody, in the shading of each phrase and in the joyful exuberance of the music. Lisiecki’s interpretation was indeed uplifting.

The audience was spontaneous in its joyful and overwhelming response to the concert. As an encore, Lisiecki said good night with Schumann’s Reverie, a gentle, quiet lullaby.

Jan Lisiecki has been heralded around the world for his sensitivity and pianistic skills. In both his playing and in his informal jocular introductions, he demonstrated that he is totally comfortable as a person, both confident and humble, and totally prepared for the great things the musical world has in store for him. Lisiecki will perform next in Ontario on February 15th and 16th, 2017 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall. It was also announced that he will return to the Stratford Summer Music Festival in 2017.

Jan Lisiecki (pianist), Photo by Mathias Bother

Review by David Richards
Stratford ON, August 27 2016