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Most arresting is a 1960 reading of Schumann's Fantasy in C major, the middle movement, which reaches an utterly singular, harrowingly intense climax.
Written in flat, almost emotionless prose, The Pianist evokes the strange mix of horror and elation Szpilman must have felt at that time.Over the subsequent weeks, the German officer regularly brought bread to the Jewish musician, and news from the Front.Finally, in December 1944, he left him with the words: "The war will be over by spring at the latest." As Szpilman tells it now, the story sounds like a coincidence, a once-in-a-life-time piece of luck.Inside his sitting room there are shelves of old books, a Bieder-meier secretaire, a polished parquet floor.Black and white photographs of old friends stand in rows on the piano; prints and framed mementoes hang from the white walls.I told him that this was my old flat, that I had come back to see what was left ..." So begins Szpilman's account of how, in the final weeks of the Second World War, having escaped the Warsaw Getto and survived months of hiding, he was rescued by a German: Captain Wilm Hosenfeld discovered him, ascertained that he was a pianist - to convince him, Szpilman played Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor on a battered, out-of-tune piano - and without much further ado found him a better hiding place.
"He noticed something I had not seen: that just beneath the roof there was a tiny attic ..." Together, they made sure Szpilman could climb into it, and pull up the ladder afterwards.You can hear it in before-and-after recordings, in which one conductor beefed up the militaristic brass, and another found a conduit for psychic pain in the music's dissonances. You could argue that such changes have most to do with how we hear. I made a point of listening to the Szpilman discs (one from the independent label BCI Eclipse and the other from the German branch of Sony Classical) before and after seeing the film.What I heard didn't change, but the film explained a few things.Szpilman, who died three years ago, was an artist of sterling pedigree, which all but guarantees his recordings won't be a redux of the David Helfgott-style compromised pianism heard in the wake of the 1996 film Shine.No, from the first notes of both Szpilman discs, you hear poetic, Old-World rubato and that warm blanket of piano tone that's missing from the film's soundtrack performances by Janusz Olejniczak.The son of the Polish Holocaust survivor who was the subject of Roman Polanski 's Oscar-winning film "The Pianist" hailed the awards as a tribute to the victims of World War II.