Winner of the 2nd Australian International Piano Competition, Kotaro Nagano (Japan), returned to Canberra in May 2015 to give a recital of Chopin on historic instruments: the ANU School of Music's 1847 Pleyel concert grand, and an 1857 Erard concert ground (courtesy of a member of the Friends of Chopin Australia).
Although Erard pianos were something akin to the Steinway's of their day, Pleyel was Chopin’s preferred make of piano. There is an oft repeated quote of Chopin's that goes, “If I am not feeling on top form…not strong enough to mould the keyboard to my will, I prefer an Erard, with its bright, ready made tone. But if I feel alert, I must have a Pleyel”. Chopin quite often composed his pieces for the particular sounds, and nuances that only the Pleyel possessed.
Erard and Pleyel pianos were both quite common in the Salons of Europe, so to hear both instruments together, so close in years, gives us a very good idea of the sounds and music that Chopin's audiences would have heard.
The School’s Pleyel dates from Chopin’s own time, and Kotaro chose to have the piano tuned to Werckmeister III temperament, a temperament more commonly associated with harpsichords of an earlier era. The Erard was tuned to even temperament. The audience greatly enjoyed the contrast of the two instruments in their respective temperaments.
The Pleyel was purchased by the ANU School of Music in 2012 and added to the School's historic keyboard collection, which is the largest in the southern hemisphere. The Erard came into the possession of the Vice-President of the Friends of Chopin Australia late in 2014, and he is now engaging in a project of restoration and tracing the pianos provenance. A tantalising (if tenuous) link to Chopin has already emerged. At the time of this recital, very little restoration work had been done on the Erard.
Kotaro had also just finished a spectacular performance in competition in the Elimination Round of the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, one of the oldest and most prestigious piano competitions in the world. The Eliminations were held between 13 and 24 April, there were 160 competitors in the Eliminations, chosen from over 450 applicants, and 80 will go through to Round 1 in October.
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