Saturday, 1 August 2015

Warsaw Rising - August 1st 1944 - 1700 hours


The conflagration of Warsaw August 1st.1944

I am a little pressed for time as I am heading towards the creative delights of the Djuszniki Zdroj Chopin Piano Festival (rather than remembering destructive horrors) but this uprising must never be forgotten. See post below this.

Sorry if the formatting is astray at times but I have no time now to correct it!

Extract from Chapter 4  Warsaw the Phoenix  from A Country in the Moon: Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland  by Michael Moran (London 2009)


English version      (Version in Polish is below in green)


Abandoned by the Allies in thrall Stalin, the effort was valiant but hopeless. Essentially the Warsaw Rising of August 1944 was fought against the SS and the Wehrmacht by the Army in blazing buildings, cataracts of rubble and stinking sewers by adult, youth and child. For two months a kilometer-high pall of smoke and fire lay over the city.

John Ward, a British airman and Times correspondent during the Uprising wrote in August 1944:

'Today the battle is going on in Warsaw That is very difficult for the British nation understand it. It is a battle that is being carried on as much by the civilian population as by the AK ... It is total warfare. '

Five years of cruel occupation had united Poles in an outburst of hatred and revenge, even joy in taking positive action against the oppressor, a magnificent gesture of defiance. All classes felt as one. 'Liberated Warsaw throbbed with a kind of freedom ...' wrote Joan Hanson in her riveting account of The Civilian Population and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.

However, the political and military motivations for the uprising were conflicted. Some Varsovians did not want a rising and felt it an ill-conceived idea. Many were psychologically and materially ill-prepared for the type of fighting that did occur. Children delivered food, guns and bombs for the army while scouts fearlessly delivered newspapers and replies to letters limited twenty-five words. Collective prayer and the Catholic faith held the fabric of society together as always in a Poland laboring under the heel of an invader.

The various districts of Warsaw experienced violence in distinct ways and degrees of horror. The Old Town suffered grotesquely, its fall and the premonition of doom and the ultimate capitulation of the entire city. Some of the inhabitants were reduced to '... eating noodles cooked in water had flowed over dead bodies'. Communication over the timing of the beginning of the uprising and later communications between areas cut off by the fighting proved problematical. As the battle raged on far beyond its intended duration, mood swings by the population were inevitable. Water shortages posed insurmountable problems; filthy living conditions and chronic hunger weakened everyone. Allied promises of assistance proved hollow, mendacious in the case of Soviet Russia. Disillusionment with the Allies, the Polish Government in Exile and conflicts within the AK weakened the spirit of resistance.

Incandescent with rage at an upstart capital that dared resist his paranoia, Hitler ordered the systematic annihilation of the city and its inhabitants. Those not slaughtered in the burning tenements or immolated by flame-throwers were drowned in sewage beneath the streets or shot upon emerging from manholes, their bodies are covered in excrement.

The Russians applied their infamous 'hyena principle' of waiting for the twitching corpse to die. The carnage of the uprising was witnessed from the district of Prague on the opposite bank of the Vistula by a cynical, complicit and anaesthetized Russian army before their eventual 'liberation' from the smoking ruins. For them the battle was simply a tactical element in their drive on Berlin and part of their longer-term strategy to deny independence to Poland. The aim of the insurgents, urged on by a cynical Government-in-Exile in London, was to create a functioning Polish government before the arrival of the Russians. 'This was the revolt of a fly against two giants. One giant waited beyond the river for the other giant to kill the fly.' Scarcely a shot needed to be fired over the lifeless rubble. Neither cat nor dog nor human moved there, only rats scurried among the dead.

Your scarlet victorious army

Has stopped beneath Warsaw's fiery clouds


And like a vulture with a carcass sates itself


On a handful of madmen, who are dying in the ruins



Mention of the August 1944 uprising inevitably unleashes a fiery response from Poles to this day. It was an action of profound controversy in detail in which detail battles with detail. The resistance is celebrated in memorial services and symbolic re-enactments every year. 

Warsaw stops dead at 5.00 pm on 1 August, the time of the uprising began. Sirens wail, traffic ceases to move and people are frozen in time on the pavements. At night the war cemetery flickers with oceans of candles. It is impossible for a generation unaccustomed to war or occupation to imagine the horror of those days. Recorded history sanitizes the most grotesque in human experience: even the magnificent, sometimes harrowing new museum devoted to the rising provides the visitor with an immaculate dry sewer of new bricks devoid of stench.

My friend Wojciech Potocki, and Warsaw architect and painter, was just a baby during the rising, but his father was an active member of the AK or Home Army. Like many elderly Poles his parents were unwilling to discuss the war with him but he remembers a few family stories. Before the outbreak of violence his mother used to wheel him around the streets sleeping peacefully on smuggled guns hidden in the bottom of his pram. He told me many stories, any one of which would be sufficient for life.

The Army had captured a German tank and were jubilantly about to board it when Wojciech suddenly began to cry in his parents' nearby apartment. His father came onto the balcony and called to his mother to come as the baby seemed particularly distressed. His mother reluctantly left her friends, irritated by this 'domestic' summons. Shortly after entering the building the booby-trapped tank exploded in a ball of fire as a member of the Army lifted the hatch, killing and wounding many nearby. The cries of her baby had saved her life.

On another occasion after an Aktion (an operation which involved the assembly, deportation and murder of Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust) a German soldier was about to shoot Wojciech's father in the street. His mother begged for his life on her knees. The soldier kept raising his rifle and lowering it indecisively as the pitiful pleading continued. The soldier suddenly noticed a pet red squirrel in a cage on a balcony. In frustration, and unable to overcome his need to kill something, he shot the squirrel dead and stormed off shouting imprecations.

Finally, his father was stalking a German sniper holed up in the rubble of the city. He had crept up behind him when the German suddenly swung around and fired. A 'click' indicated his pistol was empty. Wojciech's father then fired his own pistol but he too was out of ammunition. Both laughed and made Their respective escapes.

Wojciech believes to the Warsaw Uprising was a complete waste of the finest in Polish youth and an act of profound irrationality and cynical manipulation. Yet his parents never regretted their actions during those terrible weeks.

Many of the most admirable characteristics of the Polish temperament were graphically illustrated during the rising. The persistent belief that the impossible can be accomplished with sufficient sacrifice has become almost a truism in this country as it ultimately realized the seemingly unachievable dream of becoming an independent nation within the European Union. Belief in the unattainable was, as ever in Poland, driven by that passionate, almost obsessional desire for freedom that peppers so many historical events.

However, such laudable emotions were often unbalanced by an almost cavalier disregard for the consequences of action. The result of the uprising was that some 200,000 civilian Varsovians were slaughtered and the city 85% destroyed. The boundless faith in their Allies had been shattered. The importance of Poland in their eyes had clearly been overestimated. The most promising young people, the flower of the nation, had been offered up in a desperate iconographic gesture of 'freedom'.

After what many Poles consider to be the treacherous sell-out of the country at the Tehran Conference and the long-drawn-out Yalta accords, Warsaw experienced another half century of Soviet slavery as a reward for her Allied war effort. The paranoid NKVD ( Narodna Kommissariat Vnutrennikh Del or People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs) pro-ceeded to shoot or imprison any surviving member of the Home Army they could track down who had been 'Collaborating with' (ie fighting) the German enemy. Close to ninety-eight per cent of the Jewish population of Warsaw died during the Second World War and around twenty-five per cent of the Polish population. The war and the uprising cost the city some 720,000 lives, half its pre-war adult population, 'undoubtedly the greatest slaughter perpetrated within a single city in human history'.

After being almost completely destroyed by barbarian lust, the city miraculously revived in a wave of historicist nostalgia and selfless labor on an unprecedented scale. Poles began clearing the monumental mound of rubble that was Warsaw by hand. Over eighty per cent of the city had been destroyed. In the eighteenth century the Venetian painter Bernardo Bellotto had meticulously painted many views of the city and the surrounding riverscape of the Vistula which were used in a careful regeneration of the original appearance of the Old Town. (Many who knew both towns considered the new version superior.)

In addition it replicating the historical appearance of the city, Varsovians constructed a breathtaking and architecturally faithful reconstruction of the sixteenth-century Royal Castle. The destiny of the Royal Castle is that of the city itself. The statue of King Sigismund III, the king who made Warsaw the capital of Poland, was blasted from the top of the nearby Column of Sigismund III (Sigismund Column) by a tank in 1944. His image lying amidst the rubble and ashes of the city and then restored to its plinth became a potent symbol of death and renewal. The ruination of the castle was shockingly effective as demolition squads were allegedly advised where best to place the charges by prominent Polish art historians. Fortunately, thousands of original sculptural and architectural fragments as well as the furnishings were secretly and courageously saved before the final annihilation. Many surviving fragments were incorporated into the new walls. Due a communist ideological barriers against this national symbol, reconstruction work did not begin until 1971.

[The book A Country in the Moon from which this extract was taken is available from:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Country-Moon-Travels-Search-Poland/dp/1847081045/ref=ed_oe_p  
                                                      
                                                                            ***** 


Polish version 

Michael Moran: Kraj z Ksiezyca : Podroze do serca polski (Wydawnicwo Czarne, Warszawa 2011)




Pozostawieni przez aliantów na pastwę Stalina, Polacy stanęli do mężnego lecz beznadziejnego boju, wzniecając w sierpniu 1944 powstanie w Warszawie. Żołnierze AK[1], dorośli, młodzież i dzieci, walczyli z SS i Wermachtem pośród hałd gruzu, w płonących budynkach, piwnicach i kanałach. Przez dwa miesiące nad miastem unosił się wysoki na kilometr obłok dymu i ognia. John Ward, brytyjski lotnik i korespondent „Timesa” w czasie powstania, pisał w 1944 roku: „Dziś toczy się w Warszawie bitwa, którą narodowi brytyjskiemu bardzo trudno zrozumieć. To wojna, w której uczestniczą w równym stopniu cywile, jak i żołnierze AK… To wojna totalna”.

Pięć lat okrutnej okupacji zjednoczyło Polaków w wybuchu nienawiści i żądzy zemsty, a nawet radości, jaką dawało podjęcie konkretnych działań przeciwko oprawcy, wspaniały gest sprzeciwu. Wszystkie klasy społeczne łączyły się we wspólnym działaniu. „Oswobodzona Warszawa pulsowała wolnością…” pisała Joanna Hanson w swej zajmującej książce „The Civilian Population and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944” (tytuł polski „Nieludzkiej poddani próbie”).

Jednak polityczne i wojskowe przyczyny powstania nie były jednoznaczne. Niektórzy warszawiacy nie chcieli zbrojnego konfliktu i uważali, że to nieprzemyślany pomysł. Wielu nie było psychologicznie i materialnie przygotowanych do tego rodzaju walki. Dzieci dostarczały jedzenie, broń i amunicję dla żołnierzy, podczas gdy nieustraszeni harcerze przenosili gazety i pocztę (listy ograniczone do dwudziestu pięciu słów). Zbiorowe modlitwy i wiara katolicka podtrzymywały społeczeństwo na duchu i dodawały mu sił, jak zawsze w Polsce znajdującej się pod obcą okupacją.

Różne dzielnice Warszawy doświadczyły przemocy wroga w różnym stopniu i na różne sposoby. Straszliwie ucierpiało Stare Miasto, a jego upadek miał być zapowiedzią ostatecznej kapitulacji i zagłady całej stolicy. Niektórzy mieszkańcy byli tak zdesperowani, że „jedli kluski gotowane w wodzie, która spływała po trupach”.[2] Utrzymanie stałej łączności między poszczególnymi oddziałami (to właśnie z powodu tych trudności nie wszystkie oddziały rozpoczęły walkę w tym samym czasie), a później pomiędzy poszczególnymi dzielnicami miasta, okazało się zadaniem bardzo trudnym. Nieuniknioną konsekwencją przeciągania się walk dalece poza założony wcześniej okres były zmiany nastroju ludności cywilnej. Ogromnym problemem stał się brak wody; fatalne warunki życiowe i wieczny głód pozbawiały wszystkich sił. Obietnice pomocy, składane przez sprzymierzeńców, okazały się niewiele warte, a w przypadku sowietów kłamliwe. Rozczarowanie postawą aliantów, działaniami rządu Rządu RP na Uchodźstwie i konflikty z AK osłabiały duch oporu.

Hitler, wściekły na harde miasto, które odważyło się sprzeciwić jego paranoi, kazał unicestwić Warszawę i jej mieszkańców. Ci, którzy nie zginęli w zrujnowanych kamienicach lub nie spłonęli w ogniu miotaczy, umierali pod ulicami, w kanałach ściekowych. Niemieckie kule dosięgały także i tych, którym udało się przejść kanałami, gdy wychodzili już ze studzienek włazowych, okryci ekskrementami.

Sowieci zastosowali swoją niesławną „zasadę hieny” i czekali, aż wstrząsane przedśmiertnymi drgawkami ciało całkiem znieruchomieje. Zmasakrowana Warszawa dogorywała, a z drugiej strony Wisły, z dzielnicy Praga, przyglądała się temu cyniczna, obojętna i współwinna tej klęski armia sowiecka, która kilka miesięcy później „wyzwoliła” dymiące ruiny. Dla nich ta bitwa była tylko taktycznym elementem pochodu na Berlin i częścią długoterminowej strategii, która miała na celu zniewolenie Polski. Celem powstańców był mężny opór, wyraz politycznej i moralnej jedności – kolejny akt tak dobrze znanej Polakom walki o wolność i godność. „Było to powstanie muchy przeciwko dwóm olbrzymom. Jeden olbrzym stał za rzeką i czekał, aż drugi olbrzym zdusi muchę”.[3] Wchodząc do wypalonego morza ruin, Rosjanie nie musieli oddać ani jednego strzału. Nie było tu ludzi, kotów ani psów, tylko szczury przemykały między trupami.

Legła twa armia zwycięska, czerwona
U stóp łun jasnych płonącej Warszawy
I ścierwią duszę syci bólem krwawym
Garstki szaleńców, co na gruzach kona…[4]

Powstanie warszawskie do dziś wywołuje żywe reakcje Polaków, będąc przedmiotem wielu sporów i kontrowersji, pojedynków na drobne szczegóły i opinie. Rocznica powstania co roku obchodzona jest na wiele sposób, między innymi podczas nabożeństw żałobnych i rekonstrukcji poszczególnych bitew lub potyczek odgrywanych na ulicach miasta. Warszawa nieruchomieje na moment pierwszego sierpnia o piątej po południu, w rocznicę wybuchu powstania. Wyją syreny, samochody zatrzymują się na ulicach, ludzie stoją w pełnym powagi milczeniu. Pokolenie, które nie miało do czynienia z wojną i okupacją, nie jest w stanie wyobrazić sobie grozy tamtych czasów. Oficjalna historia „ugrzecznia” te straszliwe doświadczenia: nawet wspaniałe, a czasem przerażające, nowe muzeum poświęcone powstaniu pokazuje zwiedzającym nienagannie czysty kanał ściekowy pozbawiony duszącego smrodu[5].

Mój przyjaciel Wojciech Potocki, warszawski malarz i architekt, podczas powstania był jeszcze małym dzieckiem, ale jego ojciec był aktywnym członkiem Armii Krajowej. Podobnie jak wielu starszych Polaków, rodzice Wojciecha nie chcieli rozmawiać z nim o wojnie, udało mu się jednak zapamiętać kilka rodzinnych opowieści. Przed wybuchem powstania zdarzało się nieraz, że matka woziła go po ulicach Warszawy w wózku wyładowanym na dnie bronią, podczas gdy on smacznie sobie spał na tym niezwykłym posłaniu. Usłyszałem od niego jeszcze wiele innych historii, z których każda mogłaby stać się najważniejszym punktem życia innego człowieka.

Powstańcy zdobyli niemiecki czołg i uradowani chcieli już do niego wsiadać, kiedy nagle Wojciech zaczął głośno płakać w pobliskim mieszkaniu swoich rodziców. Jego ojciec wyszedł na balkon i zawołał jego matkę, dziecko wydawało się bowiem wyjątkowo niespokojne. Matka Wojciecha z ociąganiem zostawiła swoich przyjaciół, zirytowana rodzinnymi problemami. Ledwie weszła do budynku, jeden z żołnierzy podniósł klapę włazu, a czołg-pułapka eksplodował, zamieniając się w kulę ognia. Zginęło wówczas kilkaset osób zgromadzonych wokół czołgu, wiele innych zostało rannych. Płacz Wojciecha uratował jego matce życie.

Innym razem, tuż po Aktion (w czasach holocaustu była to operacja, podczas której naziści gromadzili, deportowali i mordowali Żydów), jakiś niemiecki żołnierz chciał zastrzelić ojca Wojciecha na ulicy. Jego matka błagała na kolanach, by darował mu życie. Żołnierz podnosił i opuszczał karabin, niezdecydowany. Wreszcie zauważył na balkonie klatkę z oswojoną wiewiórką. Sfrustrowany i wiedziony potrzebą zabicia czegokolwiek, zastrzelił wiewiórkę i odszedł, wykrzykując obelgi.

Kiedy indziej jeszcze ojciec Wojciecha tropił niemieckiego snajpera ukrytego w ruinach miasta. Podkradł się tuż za niego, gdy nagle Niemiec obrócił się w miejscu i nacisnął spust. Rozległ się głuchy trzask, świadczący o tym, że karabin jest pusty. Wtedy ojciec Wojciecha sam pociągnął za spust, ale okazało się, że i jemu zabrakło amunicji. Obaj roześmieli się i uciekli w różne strony. Wojciech uważa, że powstanie warszawskie było aktem zupełnie irracjonalnym, wynikiem cynicznej manipulacji, która doprowadziła do śmierci kwiatu warszawskiej młodzieży. Jego rodzice nigdy jednak nie żałowali czynów, których dokonali podczas tych straszliwych tygodni.

Podczas powstania uwidoczniło się wiele spośród najbardziej godnych podziwu cech polskiego charakteru. Głęboka wiara w to, że dzięki wystarczająco dużemu poświęceniu można osiągnąć niemożliwe, stała się w kraju niemal truizmem, a teraz znajduje w końcu swoje potwierdzenie, Polska bowiem odzyskała nareszcie pełną niepodległość i jako wolne państwo została członkiem Unii Europejskiej. Wiarę w nieosiągalne zawsze wspierało przemożne, obsesyjne niemal pragnienie wolności, będące przyczyną tak wielu wydarzeń w historii tego narodu.

Jednakże porwani tymi chwalebnymi emocjami Polacy często nie liczyli się w ogóle konsekwencjami swych działań. W wyniku powstania zginęło około 200 000 mieszkańców Warszawy, a 85% zabudowy miasta zostało zrównane z ziemią. W gruzach legła również niezachwiana do tej pory wiara w aliantów; okazało się, że Polska wcale nie była dla nich tak ważna, jak chcieliby w to wierzyć sami Polacy. Tysiące wspaniałych młodych ludzi, kwiat narodu, zostało poświęconych w tym desperackim geście „walki o wolność”.

Po konferencji w Teheranie, podczas której zdaniem wielu Polaków ich kraj został haniebnie zdradzony i sprzedany, oraz po ustaleniach konferencji jałtańskiej, Warszawa w nagrodę za swój wkład w działania wojenne aliantów doświadczyła kolejnych pięćdziesięciu lat niewoli, tym razem sowieckiej. Paranoiczna policja polityczna NKWD (Narodnyj Komissariat Wnutriennich Dieł) zabijała lub zamykała w więzieniach wszystkich członków Armii Krajowej, których udało jej się wytropić, oskarżając ich o kolaborację (czyli walkę) z niemieckim wrogiem. Podczas drugiej wojny światowej zginęło niemal dziewięćdziesiąt osiem procent Żydów mieszkających w Warszawie i około dwadzieścia pięć procent całej ludności Polski. W czasie wojny i powstania życie straciło 720 000 mieszkańców stolicy, połowa jej przedwojennej populacji, co było „bez wątpienia największą zbrodnią dokonaną w obrębie jednego miasta w całej historii ludzkości.”[6]

Choć niemal całkowicie zniszczone przez barbarzyńską żądzę władzy, miasto w cudowny sposób podniosło się z ruin dzięki fali historycznej nostalgii oraz ogromnemu, bezinteresownemu wysiłkowi o niespotykanej dotąd skali. Polacy gołymi rękami zaczęli porządkować monumentalną stertę gruzów, w którą zamieniała się Warszawa. Zniszczeniu uległo ponad osiemdziesiąt procent miasta. W osiemnastym wieku wenecki malarz Bernardo Bellotto[7] namalował wiele szczegółowych pejzaży przedstawiających samo miasto oraz okoliczne krajobrazy nadwiślańskie, które to pejzaże wykorzystane zostały później do odtworzenia oryginalnego wyglądu Starego Miasta. (Wielu spośród tych, którzy widzieli obie starówki, uważa nową wersję za lepszą.)

Warszawianie nie tylko odbudowali starówkę, ale stworzyli też zapierającą dech w piersiach i architektonicznie wierną pierwowzorowi rekonstrukcję Zamku Królewskiego. Losy Zamku stanowią doskonałą ilustrację losów samego miasta. Posąg króla Zygmunta III, który uczynił Warszawę stolicą Polski, w 1944 roku został strącony pociskiem czołgowym z pobliskiej kolumny. Podobizna króla, leżąca pośród ruin i popiołów miasta, a potem ponownie ustawiona na postumencie, stała się sugestywnym symbolem śmierci i odrodzenia. Samo wyburzanie zamku było szokująco skuteczne, gdyż oddziały saperskie korzystały podobno z pomocy wybitnych polskich historyków sztuki, którzy podpowiadali im, gdzie umieścić ładunki. Na szczęście dzięki odwadze innych Polaków tysiące oryginalnych elementów wystroju wnętrz oraz rzeźbień i fragmentów architektonicznych zostało ocalonych przed ostateczną zagładą budynku zamkowego. Później fragmenty te zostały włączone w nowe mury zamku.

Ze względu na ideologiczne bariery stawiane przez komunistów, odbudowa tego symbolu narodowego rozpoczęła się dopiero w 1971 roku.




[1] AK czyli Armia Krajowa powstała w 1942 (wcześniej, od 1939 roku, działała jako Związek Walki Zbrojnej) roku i była największym ruchem oporu w okupowanej Europie. Oficjalnie była częścią polskich sił zbrojnych i jako taka posiadała silne struktury polityczne i prawne. Zbrojne powstanie przeciwko okupantowi uważane było za jej naturalny obowiązek. 
[2] Cytowane w „The Civilian Population and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944” (Cambridge 1982) str. 110
[3] „Zniewolony umysł”, Czesław Miłosz
[4] Z wiersza „Czerwona zaraza” Józefa Szczepańskiego z „Parasola” (kryptonim batalionu AK). Poeta Józef Szczepański znany był w AK pod pseudonimem „Ziutek”. Wiersz zamieszczony w książce Normana Daviesa „Powstanie ’44. Bitwa o Warszawę”. (Kraków 2006) str. 909
[5] Wstrząsający film Andrzeja Wajdy „Kanał” doskonale oddaje grozę tych dantejskich scen rozgrywających się pod ulicami Warszawy. Film ukazuje tragiczną zdradę, kłamstwa i rozczarowanie, a także heroizm ludzkiej egzystencji w czasie wojny.
[6] Op. cit. Paulsson s. 1
[7] Bernardo Bellotto urodził się w Wenecji, w 1721 roku, i zmarł w Warszawie, w roku 1780. Był bratankiem słynnego Giovanniego Antonio Canala (znanego jako Caneletto), a ponieważ sygnował swoje obrazy „Il Canaletto”, często bywał mylony ze swym słynniejszym krewniakiem (czemu wcale nie próbował przeciwdziałać). Jego wspaniałe panoramy łączyły w sobie drobiazgowość realizmu architektonicznego z nastrojowym światłem. Król Stanisław August zlecił mu namalowanie dwudziestu sześciu obrazów do „Pokoju Canaletta” w Zamku Królewskim. Projekty odbudowanej po wojnie starówki oraz Zamku Królewskiego bazowały w dużej mierze na jego cudem ocalałych, szczegółowych verdutas

Kraj z Ksiezyca : Podroze do serca Polski (Wydawnicwo Czarne, Warszawa 2011)

http://czarne.com.pl/?a=2057

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Path to Val Sinestra. An Account of My Recent Extraordinary Summer Holiday Hiking in the Wild Lower Engadine Region of Eastern Switzerland, the Canton of Graubünden, known for its Breathtaking Alpine Scenery


                              Click on pictures to enlarge - far superior resolution




You take that path you silly boy...


The remote Hotel/Kurhaus Val Sinestra which I used as an adventure base

I have only just returned to my desk in Warsaw after what has been the final and certainly most exciting of all the research trips associated with my recently completed biography of  my great uncle, the glamorous concert pianist Edward Cahill (1885-1975). 

One of his Swiss patrons, Helen Sieger, used to come to this place then known as Arsenheilbad Val Sinestra from their residence in Monaco for 'a cure' in the 1960s and I believe 'Uncle Eddie' may well have also visited it  once. 

I was the first Australian ever to stay there as a guest. 

The great thing about writing books, particularly biographies, is the long process of exploration and discovery as one travels whilst physically and intellectually assembling the chosen subject. Then follows the labour of writing, editing and galvanising a publisher's interest in a somewhat esoteric subject. This work has taken me 5 years so far. The book itself will come as rather an anticlimax. As a result of this journey I will be able to add some excellent further commentary to the existing section before publication. 

I motored the long 3,100 kms round trip from Warsaw in my now ageing 2004 Peugeot 307 CC cabriolet (not without electronic incidents) through Poland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

As I have only been back two days after three weeks away and have hundreds of photographs to sort thorough, the washing of piles of clothes, looking at the entries in my journal....all the dull stuff of a once bohemian but now domesticated bourgeois, please be patient for the 'thrilling details' which will inevitably follow.

In the meantime you might like to peruse:





First Leg - Warsaw to Potsdam (July 1-3) 582 kms 

           On this tour I decided on two different routes to and from Val Sinestra. I had visited Potsdam on a previous research trip in 2011 and taken in the major sights, visiting the superb Sanssouci Palace. Eddie and Sabine’s own concert was given not in Berlin but in this exquisite location. 

They spent the late spring afternoon of June wandering in the sun like many young other lovers in the monumental park laid out by Frederick the Great (Friedrich II), the King of Prussia. The ensemble is an unsurpassed marriage of landscape and architecture created by a cultured, private figure of the Enlightenment. Hitler idolised Frederick and even hung a portrait of the benevolent monarch above his desk. Characteristic of the man, Frederick is now buried beside his hounds in the gardens just outside the palace in a simple grave plot without decoration. The architecturally modest yet sumptuously decorated palace interior delighted the lovers, especially the Rococo Music Room where they performed.

              Eddie felt a singular sympathy with Frederick the Great. The king had been treated cruelly by his father , the obsessively militaristic Frederick William I. His son simply wanted to study music and learn to play the transverse flute. Dr Charles Burney, the urbane yet critical English music historian, had a high opinion of his playing when he heard him in Berlin in 1772. He wrote  ‘his embouchure was clear and even, his finger brilliant, and his taste pure and simple’. The paternal accusations directed at Frederick of betraying ‘effeminate, dissolute and unmasculine preoccupations’ had a painfully familiar ring for Eddie. Of course his father did not beat him in public with a cane or force him to watch the beheading by sword of his best friend as did the psychotic militarist Frederick William.

                This recital was also Eddie’s first encounter with the harpsichord, albeit a heavily constructed modern Pleyel instrument with numerous pedals. He fell in love with it. In this concert with Sabine they performed a Bach Sonata for violin and harpsichord, and sonatas for flute and harpsichord by Frederick the Great his teacher Joachim Quantz. Performing in this enchanting fairytale palace with its intimations of eighteenth century high European civilisation was intensely romantic for both Sabine and Eddie, the ‘boy from Beenleigh’      

The Palace of Sanssouci, Potsdam

In the Park of Sanssouci

The modest grave of Frederick the Great (with potatoes)



         On this occasion I decided to visit the city itself on this particularly hot day. The immaculately restored example of German Classicism known at the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church) and other buildings in the Alte Markt make a fine ensemble. The beautiful architectural unity is disrupted by the customary communist anti-aesthetic structures, a nasty and unsympathetic gesture of defiance, languishing in decay.




I had always wanted to visit the Filmmuseum which is situated in the imposing former royal stables. 


Filmmuseum Potsdam


I spent some hours there watching rather more obscure films in this genre as well as familiar films by Fritz Lang, Georg Pabst and F.W. Murnau. German Expressionism in poetry, art (the Die Brücke movement) and film had fascinated me as a young man. This movement together with the French Symbolist poetry of Mallarme influenced my developing developing writing style. I wondered how Eddie Cahill (my 'Uncle Eddie') would have accompanied such films during his period in the travelling silent cinema travelling through the Australian outback. The exhibits concentrate on German Expressionist films and the history of the famous Babelsberg film studios.










Out of the centre of the city to Schloss Cecilienhof, the mock Tudor country house built during the Great War for Crown Prince Wilhelm (1882-1951) and his wife Cecilia of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1886-1954). The historic meeting rooms of the Potsdam Conference of 1945 dominate the interesting interiors. Fascinating detailed material and photographs of the distinct activities and culture of the various Allied delegations have been assembled in he lead up to the signing on August 2, 1945.


A Wing and fine gardens of the Schloss Cecilienhof









The Conference Room at Schloss Cecilianhof

Not far from here but seldom visited is the elegant Marmorpalais (Marble Palace). Built in the Neuer Garten by Konrad von Gontard and converted into a summer residence for Friedrich Wilhelm II by Langhans (1744-97). I was taken on a long detailed private tour of the apartments.




Second Leg - Potsdam to Eichstätt (July 4) 470 kms


[I have been covering the 70th Chopin International Music Festival on my internet journal. It took up over a week of work and effort. 

Unfortunately at the small spa town of Duszniki Zdroj in Poland where the festival was held I caught a mysterious virus or infection probably from food and which I am still recovering from.

This post will definitely be continued and completed when I am up and about again - 

26.VIII.15]

Friday, 24 July 2015

70th International Chopin Piano Festival, 7 August - 15 August 2015, Duszniki Zdroj, Poland

                    Click on photographs to enlarge - far superior rendition

The Dworek Chopina where the piano recitals take place
Welcome to the 70th International Chopin Festival at the lovely Polish town of Duszniki Zdrój, a charming spa in Silesia on the mountainous Czech-Polish border not far from Wrocław.

In this 70th year of the festival, the artistic director Piotr Paleczny has assembled a quite remarkable array of famous, musically outstanding and charismatic pianists. Most of the greatest pianists playing on the international stage today have appeared at Duszniki Zdroj, many at the very beginnings of their pianistic careers or shortly after winning major international competitions. This is also the case this year of Eric Lu, performing on 11 August, the 1st prize winner at the 2015 US National Chopin Piano Competition. 


A modicum of 'ancient' history first. Part of the way through his studies Joseph Elsner recommended that Chopin ‘take the waters’ or 'go into rehab' not far from where Elsner was born in the small Silesian spa of Bad Reinerz (now Duszniki Zdrój). Originally on the Prussian-Bohemian frontier, the village is now in the south-west of Poland on the border with the Czech Republic. Frycek’s studies and intense partying into the small hours during his third and final year at the Liceum had begun to affect his health. He was a bit of a 'party animal' was Frycek! In his youth he was not the melancholic consumptive of popular myth at all. The virtuosic youthful exuberance of the concertos, rondos and variations reflect this freedom from care.

Headaches and swollen glands necessitated the application of leeches to his neck. The family doctors (there were a number) agreed his condition might possibly be serious. The idea gained in popularity with the Skarbeks of Żelazowa Wola (Countess Ludwika herself was suffering from tuberculosis) and three family groups set off at intervals on the arduous 450 km journey by carriage from Warsaw to Bad Reinerz over rough roads serviced by indifferent accommodation. The route they took through pine forests and agricultural country now passes through industrialized towns.

Frycek arrived at Duszniki Zdrój on 3 August 1826 spending a day en route at Antonin in the honey-coloured timber hunting lodge of Prince Antoni Radziwiłł, respected scion of one of the wealthiest Polish magnate families. He was a fine cellist, composer and singer. This delightful octagonal lodge is built in a beautiful region of forests and lakes. On a later visit he wrote ‘There were two young Eves in this paradise, the exceptionally courteous and good princesses, both musical and sensitive beings.’ Of Wanda Radziwiłł   ‘She was young, 17 years old, and truly pretty, and it was so nice to put her little fingers on the right notes.’ While a guest Chopin wrote a Polonaise for piano and cello - ‘brilliant passages, for the salon, for the ladies’.


Chopin sketched by Eliza Radziwill at Antonin en route to Duszniki Zdroj 1826.
Duszniki as a treatment centre has not greatly changed. The Spa Park and the town nestle in the peaceful mountain river valley of the tumbling Bystrzyca Dusznicka. Fresh pine woods flourish on the slopes and the moist micro-climate is wonderfully refreshing. Carefully stepping invalids negotiate the shaded walks that radiate across the park between flowering shrubs, fountains and lawns.
                                                  
                 

                                                                                  The Spa Park at Duszniki Zdrój

Many famous artists visited Duszniki in the nineteenth century including the composer Felix Mendelssohn. In times past the regimented cures began at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. when people gathered at the well heads. The waters at the Lau-Brunn (now the Pienawa Chopina or Chopin’s Spa) were dispensed by girls with jugs fastened to the ends of poles who also distributed gingerbread to take away the horrible taste (not surprisingly it was considered injurious to lean towards the spring and breathe in the carbon dioxide and methane exhalations).

Chopin was reputed to have developed an affection for a poor ‘girl of the spring’ named Libusza. One tragic day Lisbusza’s father was crushed to death by an iron roller (perhaps in the nearby Mendelssohn iron mill) and she and her brothers were made orphans. In his generous way ‘Chopinek’ (an affectionate Polish diminutive of his name) wanted to assist the family and his mother suggested giving a benefit recital. Despite the lack of a decent instrument he agreed and in August 1826 gave two of his first public concerts in a small hall in the town.


Since 1946 this event has been celebrated every August in a week-long International Chopin Piano Festival, the oldest piano music festival in Poland and indeed the world. I have made a point of attending it as often as I can. An original building near where he played has been converted into the charming Dworek Chopina, an intimate concert room. Many of the finest pianists in the world, established artists and even child prodigies including past winners of the always controversial Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition have appeared in these Elysian surroundings.

The Duszniki festival attempts to maintain the intimate nature of the salon and the piano music is not restricted to Chopin. During the day there is time to walk in the peace of the surrounding pine-clad mountains, ‘take the waters’ if you dare or visit splendid castles in the nearby Czech lands. Eccentric characters regularly appear there: the ‘Texan’ Pole who wears cowboy boots, Florida belts and Stetson hats of leopard-skin or enamelled in blue, maroon or green. ‘I jus’ love it here but I jus’ hate that goddam music!’ (recitals are broadcast through loudspeakers over the Spa Park); the ethereal girl with the swan neck who seems to have stepped directly from a fête galant by Antoine Watteau; an elderly musician with long grey hair and wearing a voluminous silk cravat materializes and then disappears. 



Sviatoslav Richter (far left) on the steps of the Dworek Chopina 
at the 
1965 Duszniki Zdroj Festival

In the past I have experienced many remarkable musical moments at Duszniki. Grigory Sokolov, arguably the greatest living pianist, gave a magisterial performance of that radical composition the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie. He profoundly recreated the tragic instability of Chopin’s disintegrating world during his final years. The Ukrainian pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk returned to the piano after an horrific car accident that threatened to leave him permanently incapacitated. He has gone on to great things internationally. His theatrical temperament, musical passion and truly astounding virtuosity never fail to astonish.

The soulful young Russian Igor Levit is deeply involved with the music of Schumann. He movingly reminded the audience of the genesis of the Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations) written when the composer was on the brink of suicide in a mental institution. After completing the final variation Schumann fell forever silent. The great Liszt super-virtuoso Janina Fialkowska, a true inheritor of the nineteenth century late Romantic school of pianism, courageously returned to the platform here after her career was brought to a dramatic and terrifying halt by the discovery of a tumour in her left arm. Daniil Trifonov utterly possessed by the spirit of Mephistopheles in the greatest performance of the Liszt Mephisto Waltz No:1 I have ever heard. The moments continue...

One remarkable late evening event of the festival is called Nokturn and takes place by candlelight. The audience in evening dress are seated at candlelit tables with wine. A learned Polish professor and Chopin specialist such as the wonderful Polish musicologist Professor Irena Poniatowska might draw our attention to this or that ‘deep’ musical aspect of the Chopin Preludes or perhaps the influence of Mozart on the composer. Sometimes it is a famous actor, music critic, or journalist. The pianists ‘illustrate’ and perform on Steinways atmospherically lit by flickering candelabra.

In spite of the immense popularity of Chopin, this festival manages to recapture the essentially private and esoteric experience of his music, an experience one might consider had been lost forever.

I will be keeping my detailed blog of the pianists as I normally do for this unique festival. I always keenly anticipate coming to the small Polish spa town. One can walk in the morning in the invigorating pine-forested mountains of the former Silesian spa Bad Reinerz or attend a Master Class followed by a late afternoon and evening recital. Of course each day one approaches in trepidation the Chopin Spring to take the smelly waters with a draught from the traditional spouted ceramic drinking cup.

The festival offers one rare moments of bliss and oblivion to escape the constant news of the unhinged, economically fraught and increasingly brutal violence in this world of ours. 



Detail from the wall decoration of the remarkable 17th century paper mill that survives in Duszniki Zdroj. This building is unique in Europe. It is a fascinating place to visit. 

Introduction to the 70th Festival 
by the 
Artistic Director Piotr Paleczny



Ladies and Gentlemen, 



The fact that I have the opportunity to present and propose to you the programme of the 70th jubilee International Chopin Piano Festival in Duszniki-Zdrój is for me a truly moving and great privilege. It is with pride that we remember the magnificent history of the world’s old- est piano festival, at the same time looking with hope to the future of this great celebration of piano performance. The jubilee festivals always coincide with the International Chopin Piano Competitions. Indeed, we are separated by only 8 weeks from the next, 17th International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. 



In view of this great event this year’s Festival will provide us with the possibility of hearing many winners and laureates of previous Chopin Piano Competitions again. We will also get to know the Polish participants of the upcoming Competition, whom we wish many successes. This time we will hear a much broader than usual Chopin repertoire, including the composer’s concertos, chamber pieces and songs. I am deeply convinced that the programme of this year’s Festival will duly honour this unique Jubilee! I wish to express my sincere gratitude to all of our unfailing Sponsors, thanks to whom we are able to implement the majority of our artistic Festival plans. My special thanks go to the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and Polish Radio 2, whose assistance and support is crucial to the development of our Festival. You are cordially invited to attend the Festival concerts, which 


I hope it will meet your expectations and bring you plenty of unforgettable moments! 


Introduction to the History of the Festival 

by 

Polish musicologist, academic, music critic, music journalist and essayist 

Stanisław Dybowski

An veritable 'encyclopaedist' concerning all matters relating to Fryderyk Chopin and the greatest performers of his music both past and present 


It's Been Seventy Years! 


When, in 1946, Ignacy Potocki, a co-founder of the Lower Silesian Health Resorts, proposed that a music festival named after Frédéric Chopin be held in Duszniki-Zdrój, nobody thought that that annual event would continue for the next seventy years. It has, indeed, continued without interruptions until today, rendering famous the name of the Polish genius and his music, as well as the health resort, at the same time enlarging the output of the global musical culture. 



It all started very modestly, amid still strong memories of World War II that had ended only a year before. The two-day Chopin celebration was inaugurated with a solemn ceremony (25 August), during which a plaque commemorating Frédéric Chopin’s stay at the resort was un- veiled, followed by a recital by one of the greatest Polish female piano players, a magnificent Chopin expert, Zofia Rabcewiczowa (1870– 1947). In the interval during her concert Paulina Czernicka familiarised the present with the content of unknown letters sent by Chopin to Del- fina Potocka, which twenty years later turned out to be … apocrypha. On the next day (26 August), at the concert hall of the Spa House, the audience listened to a performance by Henryk Sztompka (1901–1964), also one of the foremost Chopin experts. At the time Duszniki-Zdrój witnessed an encounter between two heirs of the great traditions of Ignacy Jan Paderewski (Sztompka) and Antoni Rubinstein (Rabcewiczowa). They performed exclusively compositions by the patron of the 1st festival. Interpretations of both pianists, including those, among other works, Sonata in H minor and selected études (Rabcewiczowa), as well as mazurkas, preludes and nocturnes (Sztompka), are now part of Chopin performance history. Those present at the concerts claim that they have never heard those works performed better… 



Initially, the festival programme included only Chopin’s music performed by Polish artists. With time, however, the repertoire began to be extended with works by other Polish composers of Chopin’s period. Gradually, in subsequent years, pieces by foreign artists were added and the performers began to include laureates, and then participants, of the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. Thus, the event was becoming a forum of the world piano performance. For many artists, even those renowned, performing Chopin’s music on the Duszniki-Zdrój stage is an important point in their musical career. 



During its seven decades the event has witnessed concerts by the greatest piano masters. The already dead ones include legendary Raul Koczalski, Witold Małcużyński, Stefan Askenazy, Władysław Kędra, Paweł Lewiecki, Stanisław Szpinalski, Zbigniew Drzewiecki, Jan Ekier, Halina Czerny-Stefańska, Regina Smendzianka, Zbigniew Szymonowicz, Barbara Hesse-Bukowska, Jerzy Lefeld, Klara Langer-Danecka, Tadeusz Żmudziński, Miłosz Magin and others, while the foreign ones  e.g. Louis Kentner, František Rauch, Malcolm Frager and Stanislav Neuhaus. Many have made their debut in Duszniki-Zdrój, where they embarked on their international careers, including Adam Harasiewicz, Piotr Paleczny, Janusz Olejniczak, Krystian Zimerman, Ewa Pobłocka or Wojciech Świtała. It is with great sentiment that we remember, until today, the magnificent recitals by Paul Badura-Skoda, Michael Ponti, Joaquin Achucarro, Philippe Entremont, Dang Thai Son, Fou Ts’ong, Eugen Indjic, Cyprien Katsaris, Christian Zacharias and Kevin Kenner, among others. It was also here that the Festival’s artistic director, Piotr Paleczny, had his great successes. 



Today the International Chopin Piano Festival in Duszniki-Zdrój is the world’s oldest Chopin festival and oldest piano festival. The originally modest event dedicated to Chopin has, after years of beautiful development, become a unique occasion. It is very often the centre of the world piano art, a place where aesthetical canons in music are built, performance trends are created and artistic careers are launched. 



Since 1993, i.e. the 48th Festival, the artistic supervision over the event is exercised by Professor Piotr Paleczny, who himself comes from a beautiful Chopin tradition. 



As is well known, Chopin’s favourite student was Karol Mikuli (1819–1897), whose outstanding pupils included Aleksander Michałowski (1851–1938). Aleksander Michałowski was, in turn, a professor of Stefania Allina (1895–1988), who taught Piotr Paleczny… 



The Chopin tradition does not end with Paleczny, though. It is now continued by his students, who win prizes at international competitions and music reviews, and is further developed by the festival that it shapes. In Duszniki-Zdrój we have the opportunity to meet the most brilliant young pianists from around the world and, at the same time, experience the art of famous performers, whose names give prominence to every festival. It is often here that music lovers are able to listen to a laureate of an international piano competition that was concluded only a few days earlier!



The characteristic feature of Duszniki-Zdrój concerts is their high level and varied programme. Although Chopin’s music remains the core of the repertoire, it is supplemented with works by other composers, creating in various styles and various periods of history. Some pieces may be heard several times, which provides an excellent opportunity to compare their interpretations, ways in which the same text has been read, demonstrations of hitherto undiscovered layers in music… Even though piano music is still the main feature in Duszniki-Zdrój, Chopin’s chamber pieces are not neglected by Piotr Paleczny. Therefore, we are able to listen to his songs, cello works, a piano trio and transcriptions by various authors of the composer’s brilliant works.



A beautiful tradition, initiated by Paleczny, are open lectures and talks on Chopin’s piano art, delivered by outstanding Chopin experts and piano performance researchers, as well as master interpretation classes for selected, talented young musicians, conducted by world-re- nowned professors and famous pianists.



At the beginning of August every year Duszniki-Zdrój becomes the Chopin centre, attracting music lovers from around the world, young musicians, music critics, art critics and all those who care about Chopin. The multilingual noise in Spa Park clearly indicates where Chopin is being celebrated and where his beloved instrument is being played…



This year’s 70th Chopin Festival in Duszniki-Zdrój will coincide with the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (2–23 October), which is emphasised by the presence of recitals by laureates of previous competitions and the Polish team of this noble tournament, which will be taking part in the master class conducted by Professors Andrzej Jasiński and Mikhail Voskresensky.



Stanisław Dybowski



Schedule of distinguished pianists
taking part in the
70th International Chopin Piano Festival in Duszniki-Zdrój, Poland


7 August 2015 (Friday)

  • 20.00: "Amadeus" Chamber Orchestra,
    conductor:  Agnieszka Duczmal,
    piano: Kevin Kenner and Philippe Giusiano
8 August 2015 (Saturday)

  • 16.00: Takashi Yamamoto
  • 20.00: Yulianna Avdeeva
9 August 2015 (Sunday)

  • 16.00: Lukas Geniušas;
  • 20.00: Dang
10 August 2015 (Monday)

  • 16.00:A. Kulka-T.Strahl - A. Przemyk (F. Chopin - Chamber works) 
  • 20.00: Ewa Pobłocka
11 August 2015 (Tuesday)

  • 16.00: Andrzej Wierciński the 1st prize winner at the 2015 F.Chopin Institute (NIFC) Competition
  •  Eric Lu the 1st prize winner at the 2015 US National Chopin Piano Competition 
  • 19.00: Laureates of the February 2015 F. Chopin Institute (NIFC) Competition
  • 22.00: NOCTURNE
12 August 2015 (Wednesday)

  • 16.00: Evgeni Bozhanov
  • 20.00: Alexander Kobrin
13 August 2015 (Thursday)

  • 16.00: Miroslav Kultyshev
  • 20.00: Genova/Dimitrov
14 August 2015 (Friday)

  • 16.00: Ingolf Wunder
  • 20.00: Krzysztof Jabłoński
15 August 2015 (Saturday)

  • 16.00: Olga Pasiecznik-Natalia Pasiecznik (songs by F.Chopin)
  • 20.00: Alexander Gavrylyuk


Full Detailed Programme of Works to be Performed 
and 
Biographies of the Pianists 
and 
Masterclass Professors

NOTE

The programme is printed in two languages: Polish and English.

After downloading you will need to scroll down to Page 85 for the English language version



And so the Festival begins...


À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs

The tradtional laying of flowers at the Chopin memorial
I have seen the eloquent expression of the far lady in many a Renaissance portrait!


Professor Piotr Paleczny receiving his award from the Stowarzyszenie na Rzecz Promocji Dolnego Slaska
The opening concert was in a large tent erected in the spa park. As this is an important anniversary of the festival there were many speeches and awards. One of the most important was an award in the form of a large key fitted into a symbolic structure given to the Artistic Director Professor Paleczny by the Stowarzyszenie na Rzecz Promocji Dolnego Slaska in recognition of his contribution to the business, artistic and cultural life of the region of Lower Silesia.

August 7th    20.00  Inaugural Concert

Kevin Kenner    piano  

Amadeus Polish Radio Chamber Orchestra conducted by Agnieszka Duczmal

Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11

The 'flat' acoustic inside this enormous tent with the intrusion of outside noises of birds, distant barking dogs and happy children added a curious authenticity to the proceedings. I am sure when Chopin performed his charity concert here on an indifferent instrument, similar noise would have intruded. The orchestra lacked woodwind, brass and percussion whose parts had been transcribed for strings with an occasional curious effect of hearing melodic lines I had never heard before. Occasionally I found this quite humorous!

Kevin Kenner approached  the concerto in his usual thoughtful, generous and poetic way founded on his true virtuoso technique. Certainly it was clear he had thought about this work over a period of many years and evolved a proper open philosophy concerning it. His communication with conductor and orchestra was close.

He cultivated a beautiful tone and colour from the Bosendorfer from the beginning of the Allegro maestoso and chose a tempo that was both noble and indicative of the latent passions residing in the heart of the youthful Chopin. This was an intensely musical and committed approach to the concerto with expressive and varied shading of dynamics and articulation. Chopin himself had an acute ear for the actual sound possible to obtain from the then developing instrument, the pianoforte. This is indicated most obviously if one carefully examines the National Edition of his compositions. Kenner clearly remains open to variant detailed readings of the score which is a wonderful quality that keeps the works 'alive' after many performances. More pianists should do this as the established names scarcely acknowledge what this composer wanted in terms of sound. Interpretations that concentrate on melody alone all too often lose inner vitality.

The Romance. Larghetto was beautifully expressive of the burgeoning of innocent love. A refined simplicity pervaded his whole approach to this movement. Quite correctly in this early work the tortured soul was never in evidence. I found it both poetic and emotionally very moving.


The Rondo.Vivace was imbued with the childlike joy in being alive, the scarcely contained energy of the rise of life force with charming moments of humour and delight. I was reminded of the remark of the aged and nostalgic Joseph Conrad 'Youth! Ah, the joy and pleasures of it!'


As an encore he played a rarely performed charming piece, a Sarabande, the second piece from the Humoresques de concert, Op.14 by Paderewski based on the baroque genre. His solo piano music is so unjustly neglected as I learned whilst covering the last Paderewski Piano Competition.

One of the finest aspects of a Kevin Kenner performance is his rare ability to communicate musically and intimately with his audience. A gift not given to many pianists!



 Philippe Guisiano    piano  
Amadeus Polish Radio Chamber Orchestra conducted by Agnieszka Duczmal

Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21

Philippe Giusiano brought to his performance a variety of emotional restraint and poetry that was rather a contrast to the emotional warmth of Kevin Kenner. I could not help reflecting as he played that we all have 'our own Chopin' with very personal ideas how he should  be interpreted as a composer and artist, keyboard virtuosity being a given. Every age to has its own view of Chopin and the significance of his works governed by the predominant sensibility of the time.

Here in the Maestoso opening and Allegro vivace close we had a more 'classical' Chopin in evidence with emotions indicated rather than expressed more openly. The work is clearly influenced by the glittering style brillant piano concertos of the Austrian Johann Nepomuk Hummel. In Poland Hummel was considered the foremost composer of piano music at the time. One Polish critic wrote of this concerto 'even Hummel would have been proud of the Adagio and Rondo.'


Chopin admired Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837) as a composer and a pianist above
anyone apart from Bach and Mozart. His status as a pianist and pianistic ‘devil’ was legendary in Europe (members of the audience would stand on their chairs to improve their view of his double trills). Born in Pressburg in Austro-Hungary (today Bratislava in Slovakia) he was a prodigy and so impressed Mozart that he gave him free tuition, board and lodging in Vienna for two years. A friend of Beethoven and Schubert, a pupil of Haydn, it is all too easy to underestimate his extraordinary contemporary fame. The styl brillant of Chopin’s piano concertos and variations was much influenced by the glittering style of Hummel’s piano concertos. When he visited Warsaw to give a concert, Hummel was greatly impressed by the young Chopin. Liszt’s dramatic power defeated Hummel the refined classicist, whose music fell out fashion. His piano music (and the famous trumpet concerto) is having a resurgence today but his output has been unaccountably neglected. 


I have been listening to rather a lot of his chamber music lately with the greatest pleasure. Such energy and delight in life resides in the piano writing! The 'dark night of the soul' scarcely ever obscures the sunny picture of a fete galant. I once visited his grave in the cemetery in Weimar.

This was an immaculate, superbly turned performance of this early concerto with a finely cultivated and refined touch, tone and control of dynamics in the outer movements. He had a close connection with orchestra and conductor. The profoundly moving melody of the Larghetto was an restrained expression of poetic adolescent sentiment rather than being over sentimental as it can too often become. He avoided what might be considered by some as excessive rubato. A thorny subject indeed. This balance is a fine one to be managed tastefully in Chopin. This was clear in the expressive Chopin Nocturne he performed as an encore.

I have followed the career of Guisiano for many years since he was controversially awarded joint second place in the 13th Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw with the brilliant  passionate and ultimately tragic figure of Alexei Sultanov from Tashkent. 

I find him a deeply satisfying interpreter of Chopin, whose music he clearly sees through the classical historical filter of Hummel, Mozart and Bach.


August 8th    16.00

Takashi Yamamoto

This was a recital in turn fascinating and yet frustrating (at least for me). I wish to be heretical for a moment. I do consider there to be a Japanese conception of Chopin which I consider to be unique. This was clear to me in the last Chopin International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2010 which had a number of superb and musically intensely refined Japanese female competitors. They were in my view unjustifiably neglected and simply disappeared at Stage III as their approach seemed not to conform to an accepted view of Chopin interpretation, whatever the justification for that may have been in relative terms. 

I am assured by musicians and musicologists far more qualified to judge musical matters than I, that this view of mine is an utterly mistaken and misguided belief. They argue that in broad terms national schools of Chopin interpretation do not exist. However in my listening experience of this popular yet ultimately inaccessible composer, the Russian approach is quite different to the French, the Polish, the Italian and so on. I feel this stems directly from the different ways in which Chopin's music was originally received in Europe and elsewhere and the varying conception of him and his significance as a composer (a subject which has now become an academic field of study in itself) 

This view does not at all imply any musical limitation. Quite the opposite. Alright, clearly I agree there are outstanding individual talents of genius that owe nothing to national allegiance. But however politically correct one wishes to be, I do believe there are such things as national characteristics that are inescapable and unavoidably absorbed during one's upbringing. This does not diminish musical achievement and perhaps adds nothing useful to the listening experience but it can allow the listener to broaden the acceptability of very different approaches to this inaccessible composer. And not only Chopin...

I have always loved the Japanese acute approach to refined detail both in life and art. The highly refined music of Chopin gives them ample opportunity to indulge this. In this recital it was clear Yamamoto had deeply and conscientiously analysed the works on his programme in the greatest detail. Although he possesses a fine tone and touch, for me this analysis resulted in what one might term 'over-interpretation' of some of the works - the four Mazurkas Op. 17, the A flat-major Waltzes Op. posth. 69 No.1 and Op.42, the Ballade in G minor Op.23 were strong cases in point. 

For me excessive rubato and the highlighting of detail out of context seemed a constant temptation. Structural cohesion was lacking in his search for a dreamlike even sentimental conception. His approach on occasion seemed mannered and stylistically overwrought with excessively violent contrasts of dynamic. The forward momentum and dramatic impetus, so vital in this composer, was frustratingly interrupted by an exaggerated hiatus all too often. Chopin himself advised his pupils not to fragment the musical idea but to carry it forward in one long breath. It was as if Yamamoto during the process of restoration had disassembled a superb Bugatti and then found difficulty in putting it back together again as a precision creation.

Yet this approach of refinement of detail worked well in a beautifully wrought and deeply expressive interpretation of the Berceuse and Barcarolle. The Polonaise-fantasie op. 61 also benefited from what one might call an 'interrupted narrative' approach (detours and ambiguities) as the piece is imbued with disparate genre elements and a comparatively unschematic form that stem directly from Chopin's passion for improvisation. 

Is it possible to love Chopin too much? I felt that this afternoon. Many Japanese pianists and music lovers desperately love Chopin, even to excess. His melodic gift so ravishes them I think it can interfere with a more restrained conception of him as a 'classical' and profoundly disciplined composer who adored Bach and Mozart and whose work displays such divine dramatic coherence. 



August 8         20.00

Yulianna Avdeeva

In Poland any mention of this artist is bound to generate intense and passionate discussion. As those of you who are familiar with my account of the 16th Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw in 2010, you will know of my strong conviction from the outset that Avdeeva would win the competition. My opinion of her brilliance is certainly not shared by all in Poland - I simply cannot understand this but then again I am not a Polish melomane.


For me her conception of Chopin is deeply satisfying on every level - pianistically, poetically, stylistically and spiritually. She has retained her noble upright posture at the instrument and together with her aristocratic profile  the music is somehow imbued with similar qualities. Her glorious tone and refined touch seduced the ear from the moment she touched the Steinway. Her Nocturnes have always been examples of the utmost refinement of sensibility (C-sharp minor Op. posth. and E-flat major Op.55 No.2).


The Fantasy in F minor op. 49 had a haunting opening with tremendous variety of articulation, touch, tone, dynamic, colour and invention. Sections of deep philosophical reflection whose sonority reminded me inescapably of Beethoven. This has never happened to me with this piece before. It is an astonishing realisation that Chopin and Beethoven were contemporaries and actually Chopin used to teach and play the Beethoven sonata Op. 26 to his students. Her fingers are strong but never produce an ugly tone (unlike some in the competition). The tempo was noble and measured and the background full of simmering political discontent. The artfully concealed political message of this Fantasy once elicited the remark from a diplomat, ‘You should have thrown out a demagogue like Chopin!’ There are powerful patriotic messages contained within this work which contains among other things a reference to the insurrectionary song Bracia, do bitwy nadszedł czas (‘Brothers, The Time has Come To Battle’). Her silences were emotionally demolishing, her breathing expansive. An heroic, profound and masculine interpretation of this great work that ranks with the finest.



One could request nothing more from the four Chopin Mazurkas Op. 17



The Polonaise in F-sharp minor Op.44 was noble yet passionate from the outset replete with a magnificent anger, resentment and resistance to oppression. A powerful expression of everything that is spiritually great and valiant in the Polish heart and soul.  I am left with nothing more to say after a performance of such disciplined anger bordering on fury. 



Avdeeva brings an intellectual seriousness to her Chopin with her unremitting search for artistic and musical truth within the notated score. She brings a self-consistent, fully integrated vision of the composer to us, which irrespective of one's personal view of her Chopin interpretations and Chopin himself, creates an 'authentic'  and deeply rewarding coherent concept of his music.



After the interval the demanding Prokofiev 'War Sonata' VIII in B-flat minor Op.84 (1939-1944). This was a towering performance. 'She was born to play Prokofiev!' as one critic whispered to me later. 


Let me just say I found this a powerful, deeply intuitive reading that revealed the emotional and certainly in this sonata, the more lyrical side of Prokofiev. Here the particular sense of powerful and complex rhythmic drive, inexorable in the final Vivace, phrase length and crushing tempo of war were an undoubted strength.  Her formidable finger dexterity and bravura playing lifted this work to another plane of existence way beyond the everyday. For me a brilliant account of the mercurial, possessed, politically subversive psyche of the composer.


Prokofiev at the piano (Library of Congress)

Instant standing ovation and wild enthusiasm.

Clearly exhausted by playing Prokofiev in the heatwave that prevails in Duszniki just now, she generously gave us as encores the beautiful January By the Fireside from Tchaikovsky's Seasons. The Chopin A-flat major Waltz Op. 42 - stylishly brought off with the greatest idiomatic elan and panache. A final calming mazurka...

Lukas Geniusas        16.00

I had admired his playing in the 16th International Chopin Competition in Warsaw and was full of anticipation as he had so recently won the silver medal in the 2015 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow. He looks every inch a passionate Lithuanian pianist with wild hair and trimmed beard. As a young man he has tremendous potential as a pianist and artist headed for greatness. A complete technique.

He opened with the enormous and demanding Brahms Sonata No. 1 in C major Op.1 (1852-3). The work is enormous in musical scope, power and is a giant structure. I had only ever heard this sonata performed live at the Duszniki Festival of 2011 performed by the young Russian of pianistic genius, Denis Kozhukhin. The second Sonata in F sharp minor (my favourite key) is better known (Sokolov has given us a mighty performance of it on Opus 111). Dedicated to the great violinist Joachim and published in 1853 the first was actually written after the second but Brahms thought it was a finer work. In the 1850s Brahms had spent 6 weeks as Liszt's guest in Weimar but actually preferred the musical life of Gottingen and soon returned there. Schumann played a major role in the publication of the sonatas of Brahms. I have visited the Brahms House in Baden-Baden and felt his innate modesty as a man and integrity as a musician. I could also not help thinking of the young Brahms and his frustrated love for Clara Schumann especially in the Andante and throughout this powerful, youthful performance of the fiery, romantic and joyful early work of a young exuberant man.

He then turned to the rarely performed Bartok 3 Burlesques Op.8c (1908-10). After the Elegies Bartok returned to composing with folk inspired elements delivered with virtuoso gestures. He was building his fame as a concert pianist at this time and used these pieces to enhance his repertoire. They are marvellous works and musically intensely descriptive.

The three Movements are bucolically entitled: 
  1. Perpatvar (Quarrel) A great musical depiction of a row between a married couple (ironically dedicated to his new wife Marta)
  2. Kicsit ázottan (A Bit Tipsy) The music, a lovely folk tune, wanders about amusingly. The right and left hands are 'staggered' and resembles that pleasant state of tipsy euphoria I so miss these days.
  3. Molto vivo (Capriccioso)
I thought this music suited both the keyboard temperament and his musicianship to perfection.  Colour, rhythm and tone quality as well as varied articulation brought the rarely performed work off splendidly.

Bartok and his new 16 year old  wife Marta Ziegler

After the interval I suppose Geniusas chose the Beethoven Sonata No.5 in C Minor Op. 10 No.1 for the opportunity it gave him to play a relatively 'angular' early work in finely wrought classical style. It is not the largest in scale of the set.

Charles Rosen in his Beethovens' Sonatas: A Short Companion wrote perceptively of the key of this early sonata:

'Beethoven in C minor has come to symbolise his artistic character. In every case, it reveals Beethoven as Hero. C minor does not show Beethoven at his most subtle, but it gives him to us in most extrovert form, where he seems to be most impatient of any compromise.'  (p.134)

The ornamented Adagio molto transports us back to the world of Hummel, who was such a master of this art. 

I felt that the position Geniusas placed the sonata in the revised programme, following as it did the grandiose Brahms sonata and the Bartok, unavoidably diminished the impact and the majestic expressivness of the sonata as a whole and in particualr the Finale: Prestissimo. At all events a fine performance, if an unusual choice of Beethoven for this pianist apart from the fact that both the composer was and the executant is, fiery and young.

Above I have mentioned the Chopin Fantasy in F minor Op. 49 I shall not repeat myself save to say that this performance was technically in complete command of the piece. However I felt he did not penetrate to the insurrectionary core of it. The drama did not build in anger and bitterness so inexorably as it did with Avdeeva the previous evening. Comparing pianists is an invidious exercise at best when we are listening at such tremendous levels of musical accomplishment. Once you are familiar with a piece personal preference becomes operative. The so-called 'correct interpretation' is indeed unachievable, increasingly separated as we are from the historical source of these compositions and dominated by our own contemporary zeitgeist.

The 3 Mazurkas Op.63 seemed despite having a fine 'mazurka character' for me sacrificed a little of interest rhythmically on the high altar of lyric melody. Well, the melodies are ravishing but I missed the touches of 'peasant garlic' in this performance (often embedded in rhythm and dynamic) which Chopin was not shy of including despite his 'high art' sublimations of the mazurka.

 The three Etudes from Op.25  (No. 1 in A-flat major; No.2 in F minor and No.12 in C minor) had all the virtuosity one might expect from such a Chopin Competition prizewinner despite some, to my mind, slight over-pedalling and concentration on right hand figuration at the expense of the left. 

I last heard Geniusas live at Duszniki in 2011 when he performed a huge programme which included the complete sets of Etudes Op. 10 and Op. 25 as well as the Liszt B-minor Sonata. I am not sure he maintained this level of expressive power this afternoon.


Here is what I wrote of the Etudes on that occasion:


He shed new light on each one, not always successfully but in the main a revelation of really individual thinking and the pleasure that he has something unique to say about each one. Inner voices were revealed (not simply for ‘show’ but inherently structural), rhythms explored and a remarkable coherence emerged for each set of etudes, a distinct character that made each distinct as a collection. He has a complete technique that is quite breathtaking.

As encores he played a minimalist work by a modern Russian composer and the Scherzo a la russe Op. 1 by Tchaikovsky dedicated to the pianist Nikolay Rubinstein.

If you would like to read more of the great 2011 recital and something of what I have written on the fascinating Baltic State of Lithuania , so closely associated with this pianist (and Poland throughout history) scroll down to Geniusas on this ink:


http://www.michael-moran.com/2011/08/66th-duszniki-zdroj-international.html



August 9       20.00

Dang Thai Son

Any concert given by this gifted artist is a musical treat to look forward to but such language does no do him justice in the slightest. 

He began with a selection frpm the 20 pices that make up Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives Op.22 (1915-17). They were written individually, many for specific friends of Prokofiev's, and he originally referred to them as his "doggies" because of their "bite". They are rather impressionist in style and give a feeling of playfulness and even effervescence, qualities not normally associated with this composer. Inspired by these words from a poem by the Russian poet Konstantin Balmont. 

In every fleeting vision I see worlds,
Filled with the fickle play of rainbows

I found the performance of these difficult small pieces immaculate, rather like a fine haiku. Dang Thai Son’s absolute control of a finely wrought, shimmering tone and velvet touch were much in evidence.

He then performed the remarkable  Davidsbündlertänze (Dances of the League of David), Op. 6 (1837), a set of 18 pieces and one of the great works of Western Romantic piano literature. The Davidsbündler (League of David) was a music society founded by Schumann in his literary musings. The League itself was inspired by real or imagined literary societies such as those created by E.T.A Hoffmann. The theme was based on a mazurka by Clara Wieck and was inspired by his love of her which permeates all the works of this period. Literature and music had a symbiotic relationship for Schumann and was a source of the unique qualities of his genius.

The pieces are not really dances but musical dialogues concerning contemporary music between Florestan and Eusebius, characters Schumann created representing the active and passive aspects of his personality. I cannot here analyse each work save to say Don Thai Son captured the the poetic, mercurial,  impetuous and the lyrical aspects of Schumann's nature to perfection. His control of refined tone, colour palette and rhythm were superb. The simple and yet unexpected recollection of the original slow, sad Landler in the seventeenth piece he made desperately moving, even heartbreaking. He brilliantly preserved the unity of this cycle that allows us to experience ‘music as landscape’ (Charles Rosen).

After the interval the two Chopin Nocturnes in E-flat major Op. 55 No.2 and C minor Op. 48 No.1 were replete with poetic nuance and refinement.

The Scherzo No.2 in B-flat minor Op.31 was one of the greatest I have ever heard and caused me to leap to my feet at the conclusion (rare enough). The haunting ‘house of the dead’ opening phrase (as Chopin himself described it) was the beginning of the development of a vast spiritual drama that moved with terrifying power and inexorable force to its apotheosis. Dang Thai Son gives every note of the score its full value and we hear every note perfectly dynamically matched with the other in running passages. In chords he strikes the keys with complete accuracy from the vertical with a prepared hand involving no blurring of the sound as the great Polish pedagogue Theodore Leschetizky advised. This is rare even among the greatest pianists and I think one of the secrets of the shattering impact of this interpretation of a work I have heard hundreds of times.

The three waltzes (Op. posth.,Op.34 No.3; Op.42)  were charming, exuberant, polished with elan and panache, particularly the A-flat major. He finished up with the ‘Heroic’  A-flat major Polonaise Op.53 in which he created a monumental sound quite overpowering the room. Speaking at the highest level as a mere listener, dare I say this interpretation was not quite how I see this emotionally difficult majestic and monumental work.

In short Dang Thai Son is without doubt one of the greatest Chopin players and pianists performing today.

Masterclasses with Professor Mikhail Voskresensky

Professor Mikhail Voskresensky

These were wonderful classes with an absolutely outstanding figure in the world of classical pianism. His range of achievement is so great I cannot possibly outline it here but I strongly  suggest you read it in the programme for which I have provided a link:

http://festival.pl/images/70th/program.pdf (Scroll down to p.167)

He spoke in Russian and these comments were simultaneously translated into Polish by the talented Maria Wojcik. His approach was to give the warmest amd often humourous examples and encouragement. He has a face and head and great artistic nobility. His personality is one of boundless humanity and goodwill, eyes brimming with passionate emotional commitment to music. Lukasz Mikolajczyk is a very fine pianist.

Professor Mikhail Voskresensky working Lukasz Mikolajczyk and the translator Maria Wojcik working on a Chopin Nocturne with great feeling and sensibility. The bel canto sung aspects were constantly emphasized.



 
Russian passion in evidence as Professor Mikhail Voskresensky works with Lukasz Mikolajczyk on the Chopin Polonaise in A-flat major Op.53. Here we see the emphasis on the majesty and power of the opening.







August 10         16.00



Konstanty Andrzej  Kulka  (violin)
Tomasz Strahl  (cello)
Agnieszka Przemyk-Bryla (piano)

This excellent chamber music concert was devoted to all Chopin’s chamber music for piano and strings. 

We began with the early Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major Op.3 for piano and cello. Chopin was well acquainted with the cello repertoire. In Warsaw where he wrote this work he was enchanted by the playing of Joseph Merk to whom it is dedicated. 

Frycek had arrived at Duszniki Zdrój on 3 August 1826, spending a day en route at the honey-coloured timber hunting lodge of Prince Antoni Radziwiłł, respected scion of the wealthy Polish family and a fine cellist, composer and singer. This delightful octagonal lodge is built in a beautiful region of forests and lakes. On a later visit he wrote, ‘There were two young Eves in this paradise, the exceptionally courteous and good princesses, both musical and sensitive beings.’ Of Wanda Radziwiłł, ‘She was young, 17 years old, and truly pretty, and it was so nice to put her little fingers on the right notes.’ While a guest Chopin wrote a polonaise for piano and cello – ‘brilliant passages, for the salon, for the ladies’.

This was followed by the rarely performed Grand duo concertant, Op.16a, on themes from the opera Robert, le diable by Meyerbeer for piano and cello.  Later in Paris had been beguiled by the cello playing of his friend Auguste Franchomme who inspired this work. In his writing for cello, together with his love of Bach, Chopin may well have been influenced by the unaccompanied cello suites of the composer he adored above almost all others save Mozart. Both these early works are hugely charming and entertaining and foretell the mastery of form which was to come. 

We were then treated to that truly great chamber work, the Sonata in G minor Op.65 for piano and cello. This caused Chopin more pain and anguish than any other composition to that date. He worked on it for something like two years with a great number of drafts. The great musicologist and Chopin specialist Jim Samson refers to it as ‘meditative, introspective, and profoundly original’. (Chopin Master Musicians Oxford 1996 p. 269). In his life if Chopin had only written the heartbreaking melody of the Largo he would have been considered an immortal composer (bear with me...).
 
After the interval another charming early work the Trio in G minor Op.8 for piano, violin and cello. This lovely salon piece emphasized a problem I was having all along in this concert with the instrumental balance. Although much of the piano writing in the early works is written in the style brillante piano figuration of the day the volume and dynamics of the concert Steinway played rather as a solo concert instrument tended to overwhelm the strings. Painful sometimes. 

All the members of the trio are fine musicians, excellent players and inspired on occasion. However I felt such a strong case could have been made for using a piano of Chopin’s day, say a Pleyel or possibly an Erard, whose more limited dynamic, colourful range of timbre and tone, would have achieved a far finer and more appropriate  instrumental balance in these chamber works. After all the cellist was playing a magnificently rich-toned L. Widhalm instrument of 1778.



August 10       20.00

Ewa Poblocka

In many ways one might say this recital was in another time and place so suffused was it with yearning for the less physical, the less violent, in short a world of sensibility and charm. The first half  the programme was beautifully designed and balanced with three groups of four mazurkas punctuated by the Etude in C-sharp minor Op.25 No.7, the Prelude in C-sharp minor Op.45 and the Nocturne in E-flat major Op 59. 

Poblocka played the mazurkas, and in fact the entire programme, with charm, grace and the fullest understanding of Chopin. She has a refined tone and touch perfectly suited to the composer. The mazurkas had the ‘correct’ rhythm and the cantabile melodic lines beautifully presented with a pure lyricism. They certainly contained ‘the Polish element’ as Chopin was fond of observing was singularly lacking in otherwise excellent performances of his music in Paris.

Chopin’s pupil Karol Mikuli described the playing of the composer as expressing ‘energy without roughness’ and ‘delicacy without affectation’, while his best pupil Princess Marcelina Czartoryska advised the performer to intuitively immerse himself ‘au climat de Chopin’. This was exactly the feeling created this evening. Here there was no hysteria, no search for cunningly hidden voices in the polyphony, no desire to impress with virtuosity. The recital was a personal and private invitation to share Chopin’s music and spirital life  with a pianist who had clearly lived and breathed Chopin all her life.

After the interval the Impromptu in A-flat major Op. 29 was a fine performance. The Ballade in A-flat major and the Ballade in G minor Op.23 (which she added to her programme) were dramatic narratives brought off with passion and  great control. I must admit to being less happy with the group of 7 waltzes, some rarely performed in concert. I simply felt she had played them so often throughout her career that certain infelicities had crept in which should have been avoided at this high level of pianism. However I loved the sheer Polishness of the nostalgic Waltz in A minor Op. posth. Quite wonderful.

Her encores were similarly full of restrained sentiment and sensibility – the Mazurka in C-sharp minor Op.50 No.3 and a marvellously ‘alive’ rendition of the Waltz in A flat major Op. 42 

In short a charming Chopiniana full of warm affection on the part of the predominantly Polish audience for this lady who has such a long established reputation in Poland for being ‘one of their own’ both as a pianist and a superbly idiomatic Chopinist.




August 11          16.00

Andrzej Wiercinski

The recital this afternoon was shared between two pianists - Andzej Wiercinski and Eric Lu. Both will be contestants in the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in October 2015.
 
This young pianist, who rather resembles the young Chopin in appearance, has recently won the 1st Prize in Budapest and also 1st Prize in the Chopin Institute Competition in Warsaw. 

He began his recital with a sensitive performance of the Chopin Nocturne in B major Op. 9 No.3. I felt in ways the Agitato section was rather a little too agitated if you look at the dynamic variations within the score. Fortissimo (ff) for Chopin was always to be interpreted in the relative terms of his own scaled down dynamics which from contemporary accounts were at least one level below what we have become accustomed to in modern times on a concert Steinway.

The Ballade in F major Op.38 No.2 was an excellent, impassioned account as was the Scherzo in C-sharp minor Op.39 No.3. I felt a lack of what one might call a strong personal or individual statement in his playing but undoubtedly this will come with time as he is still only 20. His choice of the popular and demanding  Polonaise in A-flat major Op. 53 as an encore was ill-advised. Infelicities became apparent and we left the hall with a less high opinion of this young tyro than we might have had. One has to be careful of encore choices in that they do not overshadow (in duration or difficulty) the main portion of any programme.

Eric Lu

This remarkably young pianist of only 17 had just come from the US after winning the 1st Prize in the US National Chopin Piano Competition in Miami. He was born in the US to Chinese and Taiwanese parents. It is held every five years and the rules reflect closely the regulations and requirements of the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw which will take place in October 2015. The winner is automatically accepted into the Warsaw Competition. We were full of anticipation which was more than realized.

He chose to perform the great and demanding cycle of Chopin Preludes Op.28. I could not possibly give an account of each prelude nor would it be desirable in review of this nature. 

During the Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Festival there is always a 'Duszniki Moment' that is unique. One can never anticipate when it might occur or what nature it might take, be it pianistic, scandalous or highly amusing. But it will occur...this was the moment for me but will there be another?

First of all the tone Eric Lu produced was luminous, the articulation spellbinding and exciting, the legato and bel canto desperately moving. Notes were articulated as flowing water or as 'strings of pearls'. Even if this phrase smacks of cliche, this is what he did - every note of the score fully articulated. The reminiscence of a Horowitz sound if not a Horowitz temperament seemed inescapable. One could hear a pin drop in the dworek. The playing was breathtaking and really of the highest order of finger dexterity. In the background I could hear the refined sound world produced by one of his teachers, Dan Thai Son (and you know my opinion of this great artist). 

It would have course been impossible for Chopin to have ever considered performing this complete radical cycle in his musical and cultural ambiance (not least because of the brevity of many of the pieces).  Although it is now well established as a complete work, a masterpiece of integrated ‘fragments’ (in the nineteenth century sense of that aesthetic term). Each can of course stand on its own as a perfect miniature landscape of feeling and tonal climate but ‘Why Preludes? Preludes to what?’ as André Gide asked. I think it unnecessary and superflous to actually answer this question. We must to turn to Chopin’s love of Bach to at least partially understand them (he took an edition of the ‘48’ to Mallorca where he completed the Preludes). I think it was Anton Rubinstein who first performed them as a cycle but I stand to be corrected on this. 


The sound world of each as Lu produced it was simply stunning and breathtaking. A 'leaping to the feet' moment.  Some performers of the cycle (Sokolov, Argerich, the greatest historically to my mind by Alfred Cortot) give one the impression of an integrated 'philosophy' or spiritual narrative which I felt was lacking here. Such comparisons are desperately unfair and invidious to level at an 17 year old with his magnificently precocious talent and pianistic future ahead. Depth with growing maturity is inevitable in life as we all know...

As always I felt the magnificent bass resonance in the left hand of many of the Preludes on the Steinway in the small dworekoccasionally unbalanced the musical writing. This does not detract from the Lu's amazing execution. It is just that some of their 'Prelude egos' were inflated rather than retaining the intimacy which waxes and wanes so fleetingly and poetically until that final passionate utterance in D minor of No. 24, traditionally the 'key of death'. The last three notes (the lowest D on the piano) Lu played with his fist which for me visually gave expression expression to the lines by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in his poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night which could apply to the spirit of the cycle as a whole:

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

They were written in a period of great emotional upheaval for Chopin. I have always felt a Pleyel in the right hands is the perfect instrument for a poetic rather than virtuosic interpretation of the Preludes. After all he had a Pleyel pianino sent to Valldemossa. Not a popular manner of rendering them....

A bust of Chopin, Wielkopolskie Centrum Chopinowskie (photo: Daniel Pach /Forum)

NOCTURNE  22.00   Candelit Concert



We all dressed up and appeared at the candlelit dworek for a charming evening that for me is a triumph of civilisation in an increasingly brutal world.

The evening was presented by the musicologist, broadcaster and writer Anna Skulska and the actor Marcin Przybylski. 

Some of the scenes thoughtfully provided in an English resume
The scene is set in two locations - a manor house where Chopin gave charity concerts and in 19th century Paris. The dramatized interview with Chopin (dressed in 19th century costume) made use of his letters, statements and reviews. This was interspersed with performances by many pianists just now resident and performing in Duszniki.




The concert programme
Of course all the performances were excellent with the added charm of being by candelight. I was seated right alongside the Steinway next to the keyboard and have never ever sat so close to the 'flying fingers'  in my life. Quite an experience I can tell you! 

I would highlight Eric Lu for his tone, intimacy and charm. The cello and piano pieces performed by Tomasz Strahl and Agnieszka Przelym-Bryla were especially fitting in this salon environment. I admire enormously the playing of Alexander Kobrin. He performed pieces from Schumann's Kinderszenen and his Traumerei was subtle, sensitive, full of sensibility, velvet in tone and touch - one of the finest, if not the finest, I have ever heard and superior in delicacy to Horowitz whose favourite encore piece it was. Krzysztof Jablonski achieved a remarkable salon intimacy with his idiomatic mazurkas.

A unique evening anywhere in the world surely - a 'sacred place' in a peaceful small spa in the mountains, superb pianists, wonderful and amusing theatre, candelight and a refined salon atmosphere in abundance. Such a gift in the heartless 2015 we are experiencing ...

 
Tomasz Strahl at the Nocturne

August 12          16.00


The two recitals today by happenstance provided us with two outstanding pianists that make one deeply pose a vital question - the role of the interpreter in modern performance. Evgeni Bozhanov vs Alexander Kobrin. The Duszniki Festival, with its unique and extraordinary concentration of remarkable pianistic talents, often results in profound questioning of accepted musical philosophy and values for the alert listener. This was definitely the case today. 

Can the interpreter be 'permitted' (and I have chosen the word carefully with all its manifold regulatory associations), can the interpreter be 'permitted' to create a relatively free interpretation, a 'joint reading' if you will between his own psyche and that of the composer as he conceives his music? To what extent should he be 'permitted' to use the notated score as only a guide to the composer's inspiration? Should the performer be as faithful to the Urtext as is humanly possible, being allowed a limited freedom that permit him within accepted boundaries to express his own interpretative personality? What the devil are these interpretative limits and can one actually define them? And how much does the current interpretative zeitgeist affect not only the studies but also the judgement of the performer and also that of the audience? 

We are now very distant from the source and mentality of the music that we perform. Naturally we retain all the frailties of being as essentially human as ever we were when it was composed. However when most of the piano music regularly performed today was written, composers were improvisers and played predominantly their own compositions. We now go to concerts mainly to hear performers faithfully reproduce established masterpieces rather than 'new music'.  Only relatively recently has the idea taken hold of a pianist training for many years to perform in so-called 'recitals' of only the music of others, adopting a philosophy of faithful reproduction. Is there an inherent danger of musical ossification in this approach? Can interpretative creativity be constrained within the limits of that thorny term 'good taste'? 

The festival remains a real catalyst for such important reflections and questions on days like this. 

Evgeni Bozhanov   



        


Now to a difficult review - coming to terms with the highly individualistic nature, creativity and willful, occasionally perverse playfulness of Evgeni Bozhanov. Anyone who read my enthusiastic reviews of his 2010 International Chopin Competition performances in Warsaw will know how this artist deeply divided both the jury and the public - passionate adherents inhabit both camps to this day - and this was the result in this recital too. Certainly he plays 'outside the Chopin music box'. But how far outside the box is acceptable within current interpretative criteria? Where is the 'shadow-line', that ragged edge along which an interpretative artist such as Bozhanov makes his way? He seems to me a tightrope walker in the Big Top of the current classical piano circus, breathtaking on occasion and often in danger of taking things to excess. Are these proclivities and tendencies increasing as the years pass?

He began with the Chopin Barcarole Op. 60 one of my dearest Chopin works and in my favourite dark key of F-sharp minor. It is a type of bellwether of pianists for me.


So few pianists seem to know what a barcarole was originally as a musical form and Chopin's extraordinary development of the genre. It was a charming gondolier's folk song sung to the swish of oars on the historic Venetian Lagoon or a romantic canal, often concerning the travails of love. 



Editions of the opening octave of Op.60 vary. For me at least it is imperative to get this dynamic and duration correct as it sets the mood and tonal centre for the entire piece. Some editions give a sforzando marking, others simply forte with a staccato duration. At all events the gondola pushes off relatively gently from the pier, there is no violent incident, the boat rocks in the accustomed romantic barcarole rhythm and the love song begins. If one studies the score carefully the dynamic never rises above fortissimo (and then only briefly during the agitated coda). Most of the piece oscillates gently between forte, piano and pianissimo with subtle degrees of heightened emotion throughout.



If one considers the restricted dynamic range but extraordinary tonal colour of the Pleyel instruments of Chopin's day, the grossly inflated dynamics possible on Yamaha behemoth can distort the meaning of such an intimate love song. Disturbing yet civilized degrees of heightened but contained passion occur during this outing on the lagoon. 


It was often observed that Chopin played with a much lower relative dynamic than were are used to today i.e. forte for him was perhaps mezzo-forte for us or even softer. This together with and as a result of the limitations of the instruments of the day means the dynamic scale of the work is not gigantic. Pianissimo on a Pleyel is the barest perceptible whisper. 

Berlioz once described Chopin's own playing 

'....the utmost degree of softness, piano to the extreme, the hammers merely brushing the strings, so much so that one is tempted to go close to the instrument and put one's ear to it as if to a concert of sylphs or elves.' (Quoted in Rink, Sampson Chopin Studies 2 p.51). 

On this occasion the water-borne outing began with a frightful thud against the pier. Buzhanov gave the Barcarole a perfunctory and thoughtless beginning which he avoided in the competition performance. However as the piece progressed he brought out many details of colour and activity on the lagoon, the developing passions within the gondola, the feeling of a shifting impressionist sound palette both in rhythm and dynamic, a beautiful improvisatory quality. However he was occasionally quite cavalier with the notated score. One has to decide if this matters to one personally or not as an informed listener. I am sure it does to professors and serious teachers of he instrument. I felt his performance of the piece this afternoon not as fine as in the competition. I wrote after that 2010 performance:


The Barcarole was superb and the water-borne excursion began with scarcely a bump instead of the usual boating accident. This luminous and individualistic performance had a wonderful improvisatory quality about it. 


As ever, opinion was very divided today too.



Now to Bozhanov's freedom and behaviour which of course permeated his entire programme. He uses an especially low piano stool of his own design.



There is a report of Chopin playing the Barcarole work as written with its forte sections played with weighty tone. He then played the piece again with many of the expression indications reversed - a dreamlike piano and pianissimo version. The writer was utterly convinced of the truth of both interpretations. I could easily imagine Bozhanov doing something like this if the interpretation maintained an inner logic, observed certain natural musical 'limits' of taste but remained true to the composer's essential intentions. Writing down his compositions was an infinite labour for Chopin, an attempt to write in ink what was glowing in his brain. When he played he more closely approached his own artistic truth and this is clear from enthusiastic contemporary reports of his poetry at the keyboard. If slight alterations to the notation are not simply a confection, an applique of superficial special effects but have a musical logic, then they can be convincing as interpretation if not Urtext. Bozhanov's playing is often like this but not always. More often these days he strays unacceptably 'beyond the far horizon'.



It was often said that Chopin never played the same piece in the same way twice. He played Beethoven, Bach and Mozart by report a la Chopin. I think in judging Bozhanov it is imperative to consider pianists of the past who indulged much greater personal innovative freedoms both in playing and personal behaviour than authorities and the general musical zeitgeist consider acceptable today.

Take the case of the great Russian pianist Vladimir de Pachmann (1848-1933), born in Odessa. He was internationally and universally considered to be the near ideal Chopin interpreter of the day. His historic recordings can be in turn ravishing or infuriating. His technique and velvet, seductive sonority, refined sensibility can be impeccable. The liberties he took with the score on occasion were not restricted to playing - he often directly addressed members of the audience 'My dear lady, I cannot possibly play while you are wearing that ghastly hat!'. Or he might verbally elucidate a point of interpretation.

During actual performances de Pachmann might loudly compliment himself in bringing off a difficult run or a beautifully turned phrase 'That was excellent Pachmann!' Some reports say he might even kiss his own hand after a particularly brilliant passage. These shenanigans (as we see them in 2015) caused some people to doubt his mental stability but it failed to change him being universally considered as the greatest Chopin interpreter of his day or 'Chopinzee' as he gleefully put it. He cultivated extreme piano and pianissimo playing and Wilhelm Backhaus admired him tremendously. The recordings of the E-flat Nocturne Op.9 No.2 and the F major Op.15 No.1 are superb.

What point am I making here?

Just that in 2015 we have become accustomed to many standardized and 'correct' performances of the established piano repertoire through recordings and the graduates of the great music schools and professors..  When an individualist like Bozhanov comes along, someone who for me is much 'his own man', it can be deeply disturbing for many. Sometimes I am carried away as if by magic dust and on others a sense of extreme dislike commands me. He is very changeable concerning programming, deciding on changes at the last moment which is difficult for concert organizers. His improvisatory interpretations force a very personal decision from the listener on his playing.

This  is a review not a thesis I hear you cry!


                                                         
                                                       The low Bozhanov piano stool


I found the Sonata No 3 in B minor Op.58 a rather uneven performance. The poetry of the Largo I found as haunting, poetic and moving as in 2010 but some tempi were exaggerated such as in the Finale. Presto non tanto. The structure did not hold together well as a true sonata as Chopin intended and reminded me rather  'a group of unruly children'.

The Soiree de Vienne No.6  by Schubert transcribed by Liszt is a favourite piece of mine. I felt Bozhanov lacked the charm, grace and even what might call period 'social affectation' and gently mannered, civilised, romantic style the work demands of the pianist.

The Liszt Les Jeux d'eaux a la Villa d'Este was as impressionistic and colourful as a pianist with Bozhanov's commanding technique could make - what a superb tone poem this music is if you have ever visited the Villa d'Este and marvelled at the fountains designed by Pirro Ligorio under the influence of Cardinal Ippolito.  



The Liszt Dante Sonata was presented as Fantasia quasi sonata and had some truly ominous and forbidding moments as well as moments of great drama and premonition of doom.  The work always makes my hair stand on end no matter how it is played. For me it is the absolute apex of Romantic expression, a magnificent musical structure second only to his Sonata in B minor expressing a true fear of death and the Christian horror of losing the throw of dice and being thrown into the Inferno. However perhaps one must be a true believer to enter this piece fully and have at home a skull on the mantle as a momento mori of what is in store for all of us. Dante and Milton combine here in terrifying substance....

I felt Bozhanov with his improvisatory style did not quite tie the work together sufficiently as an integrated structure. Dislocated fragments of great substance.



Alexander Kobrin         20.00


I have admired this pianist enormously ever since I first heard him at Duszniki Zdroj many years ago. A greater contrast with Bozhanov could scarcely be imagined. Every note in this recital was perfectly weighted and 'in its place', each had been carefully considered in terms of dynamic, articulation, colour and timbre. The chosen tempi were never exaggerated and gave no cause for concern. There was complete command of the historical style of the work in question throughout with scarcely any invasion of what one might call the 'privacy of the composer'. All this founded on a flawless and complete virtuoso piano technique. 

This recital was a truly magnificent achievement of objective interpretation where the pianist really did seem to be merely a conduit for the composer, his own personality impinging scarcely at all on the interpretation. A perfect model of the contemporary aesthetic of absolute faithfulness to the published score. 

But is this enough? 

It certainly was with the emotionally restrained, unsentimental and profoundly simple expression of childish dreams in Schumann's Traumerei at the Nocturne evening.


He opened with the Haydn Sonata in C major Hob. XVI:50 (1794-5). What a marvellous confection of Papa Haydn he made of it with no Romantic neurosis just an expression of goodwill, health, humour, classical late eighteenth century elegance and charm. The best I have ever heard from a Russian pianist. The humour of the opening Allegro was an absolute delight. The Adagio was a change of mood to the gently thoughtful and reflective, never cloying or overdone, beautifully restrained and then the wonderful 'conversational' final Allegro molto. He played in a 'dry' style by which I mean with scarcely any pedal. Kobrin really should record the complete Haydn piano sontatas. So wonderfully stylish without affectation.



The only issue I have is not with Kobrin but with the modern instrument for Haydn. The sound is simply historically inappropriate. No, I am not an early instrument obsessive type. I really do feel Haydn benefits from the timbre and rich colour palette of earlier pianos, the way the pedal on such instruments changes the colour of the sound. His music is preferable even dare I say on a good square piano without pedals, an instrument on which so much of his piano music was performed in the intimate domestic or salon environment of the time. The difference between pedaled and unpedaled sonority on the instruments used by Mozart and Haydn is difficult nay impossible to realize on a modern Steinway or Yamaha. Of course I realize this is an impossible ask with concert performers in 2015.

We then had the early Schubert Sonata in A minor D 557 (1817). Oddly I felt Kobrin adopted rather too much of an Haydnesque approach when creating the sound world of this sonata. Pedal markings are rare in Schubert which suggest a Classical approach but I feel the emotional content of these early sontatas demand more warmth of expression than Kobrin gave it. Here we have the very beginnings of Schubert's sense of the inexorable passing of time and the budding of a Romantic soul. Sonority in early Schubert is just as important as with Haydn. 


I would like to have felt more of the transition in sensibility that was taking place in the psychology of artists in Europe in 1817, the date of this sonata. Rossini's opera La Cenerentola premiered in Rome and Franz Grillparzer's Die Ahnfrau premiered in Vienna. The previous year Lord Byron completed Parisina and the Siege of Corinth and Rossini's opera The Barber of Seville premiered in Rome.



After the interval the Chopin Barcarole. Yes, he merely set the tonal mood with the opening octave - calm - no declamatory gesture here - no accidents. It was a measured and beautiful performance of this wonderful piece, as true to the notated score as we could possibly expect. Such a contrast to Bozhanov's very personal interpretation of the work. Being something of a conservative I admired Kobrin greatly but lodged in the back of my mind was the Bozhanov performance at the 2010 Chopin Competition. I expect I shall retain as valuable both approaches of the same work given in different lights.



Then to Kobrin's quite magnificent Scriabin. Here he did sacrifice his studied objectivity somewhat and passionately entered the magical emotional and sound world of this mystic Russian Symbolist. Russian pianists seem to have a privileged gateway to his mysteries. Kobrin always retained a steely control over the emotional turbulence which I found tremendously exciting. Sensing the control of raging passion is always more compelling than the open expression of it.



I had never before heard the one movement Sonata quasi una fantasia in G-sharp minor Op. posth. The work was composed in August 1886 at the age of fourteen while a pupil of Nikolay Zverev who also taught Rachmaninoff. This marvellous piece was dedicated to Natalya V. Sekerina his first sweetheart. The influence of Chopin is vivid and striking - at this time Scriabin used to sleep with Chopin's music under his pillow and was trying to find his voice as a composer. 



We then moved to the later  Sonata No.5 Op. 53 (1907). At this time Scriabin moved from Paris, where he found high prices as well uncongenial neighbours, to Lausanne in Switzerland.

His pregnant wife Tatyana wrote to a friend Nemenova-Lunz:


We go out a little, having caught up on our sleep. We begin to look normal again. Sasha even has begun to compose - 5th Sonata!!! I cannot believe my ears. It is incredible! That sonata pours from him like a fountain. Everything you have heard up to now is as nothing. You cannot even tell it is a sonata. Nothing compares to it. He has played it through several times, and all he has to do is to write it down...

Scriabin wrote:


The Poem of Ecstasy took much of my strength and taxed my patience. [...] Today I have almost finished my 5th Sonata. It is a big poem for piano and I deem it the best composition I have ever written. I do not know by what miracle I accomplished it...



Richter considered this work the most difficult in the piano repertory next to the Liszt Mephisto Waltz No.1



Kobrin gave a superb performance of this work that contains an occurrance of the complete fabled mystic or Prometheous chord.  He moved directly into the final work in the programme Vers La Flamme  Op. 72, sensationally and passionately stopping us from applauding the completion of the Sonata.



I have always seen much symbolic significance in this work which for me is the inevitable movement of our lives towards the final victory of death in our rebellion against 'the dying of the light'. However I once saw a television programme called Horowitz: A Reminiscence where the great pianist explained that Scriabin was inspired by a strange belief that the an unremitting build up of heat would eventually result in the destruction of the world. Perhaps not so bizarre after all!



Kobrin gave a sonically powerfully controlled interpretation of the work with a marvellous palette of colours, almost visionary dynamic variation and increasingly shimmering tone as we progressed inexorably towards the flame. Magnificent in a word through the exercise not of wild abandon at the keyboard but through that rare quality of the fierce discipline of latent passions he possesses in abundance. 



I really regret not giving him a standing ovation but I have done this almost on my own too often here already. Not easy...Are the the audience listening to the formidable nature of what is actually being achieved by such a pianist? Well, this review is a form of compensation I hope. 



And I hope you have found the comparison with Bozhanov ever so slightly illuminating .


The young lady at the espresso machine outside the dworek who unfailingly brought an emotionally worn audience back to life.
August 13

Miroslav Kultyshev      16.00


Each time Kultyshev has played at Duszniki Zdroj I have been truly astounded at the passionate commitment he brings to the instrument. It is almost frightening in its power as is his transcendental technical force.

The first half of the concert was devoted to the 4 Chopin Ballades. I cannot possibly in a review of this length examine what he actually did in detail with these revolutionary masterpieces of form and genre. However, I did find this hall too small acoustically to accommodate the formidable power and terrifying unleashing of emotion through sound he released over us. 

Liszt, who really invented the modern piano recital as we know it - instrument placed lengthwise across the stage with the lid open reflecting the sound into the audience, performing the music of other composers apart from himself, first use of the word 'recital' in a tour of Britain, playing an entire programme solo on the piano...Liszt also referred to not only 'playing the piano' but also to 'playing the building' which meant paying close attention to the particular acoustics of the hall. Horowitz was also meticulous in his close consideration of the acoustic of the performing space.

I well wonder what Chopin would have made of such a performance of his Ballades. The sheer weight of sound of the concert Yamaha, its uniformity of tone colour and the effect of the modern pedal may well have had him scurrying from the room in fear and trembling. I almost did...Chopin loathed loud sound and any exaggeration beyond le bon gout. 

For me this interpretation was not Chopin for many reasons of detail and structure, quite apart from the dynamics. Overwrought emotionally with on occasion a harsh, abrasive and ugly sound as he broke through the sound ceiling of the Yamaha. His violent contrasts of dynamic were I felt entirely inappropriate to these works of Chopin. They are not overtly declamatory pieces influenced by Rachmaninoff. The magnificent Fourth Ballade was the most successful of the group. The Polish spirit is one of boundless nervous energy not the unremitting expression of raw power.

I quite realize we are not looking in modern times to re-create Chopin’s manner of playing. Most modern pianists I have encountered seem to regard any written descriptions of the composer’s performance style as utterly irrelevant to modern times and our modern age, their concert career and the modern instrument. Many are fashionably obsessed by power playing and the physical domination rather than seduction of the audience. Chopin’s pupil Mikuli wrote an account of the playing of the composer: ‘always measured, chaste, distinguished and at times severely reserved.’  We were certainly very far indeed from that during the Chopin this afternoon.

I dearly wish pianists would moderate their tone to the small, in many ways intimate space of the Duszniki dworek. We are not in one of the great American or European concert halls. I found it almost impossible to concentrate and actually deeply take into my musical consciousness what Kultyshev was achieving here in any detail – and it was magnificent at times, overwhelmingly so. I was so upset at being prevented from truly appreciating his supreme musicianship by the sheer weight of sound. Are students not taught at conservatoriums the art of moderating volume to the size of the room they are playing in?

I cannot imagine Artur Rubinstein ever being so unaware of the performing space. In many ways he was regarded as the beginning of the so-called ‘modern school’ of playing Chopin. Well, from what I hear these days (apart from say a lyrical Chopinist like the superb Andras Schiff) I feel there is now what one might call a ‘post-modern school’ of overplaying Chopin. Of course the inner emotional turmoil and conflict of Chopin’s psyche is terrifyingly present in the Ballades but for me this performance was quite distant from my idea of Chopin. Dare I say ‘the Russian school’ of Chopin but then Grigory Sokolov and Nikolai Demidenko are exceptions that spring readily to mind. I am dubious of identifying such performance traditions as you have already read but sometimes...hm...A good Russian friend of mine in London is always quoting a Russian proverb: The heavy hammer breaks fine glass but forges strong steel. Perhaps true not the philosophy of an industrial process suitable for Chopin.

There can be very few composers where the difference in interpretation matters so much to the listener, even to the point where certain performers of Chopin become cult figures. The heart of the issue is the piano itself as an instrument and Chopin’s unique relationship to it – he never wrote a piece without the piano as solo or taking central part.

The sublime mystery is that this great music survives all the interpretations...

After the interval Ravel gave less cause for concern. The Valses nobles et sentimentales, particualrly No:3 had grace, charm and were relatively delicately aproached.  

As might be imagined Gaspard de la Nuit was all one could desire of this evocative, impressionist masterpiece.

'Gaspard' is the Persian guardian of the treasures and so 'The Treasurer of the Night' creates allusions to someone controlling everything that is jewel-like, dark, mysterious. the work was inspired by poems of Aloysius Bertrand, the French Romantic prose poet.

In Ondine Kultychev  with a fine glowing tone and semi-legato touch, slightly detached, beautifully created the the impression of water enclosing the seductive water sprite. He has mastered control of the most ravishing glissandi.

Listen! – Listen! – It is I, it is Ondine who brushes drops of water on the resonant panes of your windows lit by the gloomy rays of the moon;

Le Gibet was ominous, evil  and threatening.

What do I see stirring around that gibbet?
Faust.

Ah! that which I hear, was it the north wind that screeches in the night, or the hanged one who utters a sigh on the fork of the gibbet?


Scarbo,
 one of the most difficult pieces in keyboard literature, was presented by Kultychev with tremendous virtuosity. The atmosphere surrounding the goblin terrifying a sleeper in her bed was suffocatingly frightful. The climaxes and abrupt rhythms were alarming and ghastliness pervaded the scene. Kultychev’s actual appearance and posture at the keyboard in this movement, his own physiognomy, arouses feelings particularly appropriate for this haunting work. Sometimes I felt as if the spirit of Scarbo himself had entered the pianist and as the atmosphere became apparitional.

Oh! how often have I heard and seen him, Scarbo, when at midnight the moon glitters in the sky like a silver shield on an azure banner strewn with golden bees.

How often have I heard his laughter buzz in the shadow of my alcove, and his fingernail grate on the silk of the curtains of my bed!

The Nightmare  Henry Fuseli

As encores we were treated to a rather poetic performance of the Chopin Etude in E-flat minor Op.10 No: 6 and from Miroirs by Ravel, a fine rendition of the difficult and challenging Alborada del gracioso (Morning Song of the Jester). Spanish musical themes are woven into its complicated melodies.



Aglika Genova and Liuben Dimitrov 20.00




They are one of the finest piano duos in the world. The opened their programme with the Chopin Rondo in C major Op. posth. for two pianos. This is a delightful and charming styl brillant piece to which they did full justice.



The onto the Romantic music of the Russian composer, pianist and professor Anton Arensky (1861-1906). We heard the Suite No.3 Op.33, Variations for two pianos. I would highlight the charming and elegant Variation 4 Valse; Variation 5 Menuet rather like a children's music box; Variation 6 Gavotte - a childlike, innocent piece in the baroque style; Variation 7 Scherzo - a true joke quite unlike a Chopin Scherzo;Variation 9 Nocturne a gentle and elegiac piece that followed Variation 8 Marche Funebre. An absolute pleasure.



After the interval the Grieg Peer Gynt Suite Op.46 for piano and four hands. Anitra's Dance was especially memorable for the terrific rhythmic impetus.



The Borodin Polovtsian Dances from the opera Prince Igor arranged for two pianos by Victor Babin was absolutely splendid outpouring of physical energy and joy.



Finally the Liszt Reminiscences de Norma de Bellini arranged for two pianos. Of course Liszt performed  a marvelous service with such works. Without the record industry as we know it music lovers would only be likely to hear the opera perhaps once in their lives if at all. Providing piano versions and transcriptions of such works Liszt with infinite labour provided pianists and the domestic environment with opportunities of endless hours of uplifting delight. I must say I found this work rather overblown for my taste verging on the humourous at some wonderfully excessive Lisztian moments.

One of the encores was the delightful Bizet's own piano arrangement for four hands of  his Jeaux d'Enfants Op.22.



An entertaining evening of relaxed music-making untroubled by 'the dark night of the soul'.


Master Classes by Professor Andrzej Jasinski


I had never been to a masterclass by this renowned Polish professor, pianist, teacher and chairman of the jury for the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw 2000, 2005, and 2010.



Professor Jasinski working with the highly talented young pianist Andrzej Wiercinski
on the Chopin Sonata in B minor Op. 58

Chopin listening in the background...

Andrzej 
Wiercinski is taking part in the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in October 2015


Professor Jasinski clearly shares my own view of the interpretation of much of Chopin's music. He is an intense teacher concentrating on many small details within the score and giving countless sound models until the student 'gets it right'. He has boundless energy and a great sense of humour. Hi s approach is quite different to other professors who have taken masterclasses at Duszniki. He uses expressive gestures almost constantly. These were wonderful and instructive classes even if I only understood 60% of the Polish!




Professor Jasinski hard at work in a Duzniki Zdroj Masterclass.
Chopin quietly looking on...



August 14

Ingolf Wunder         16.00


Anyone familiar with the dramas and nail-biting conclusion of the 2010 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw will keenly anticipate a recital by the audience favourite of the time, Ingolf Wunder.



He opened his programme with a beautifully turned, sensitive and poetic account of the Chopin Nocturne in E-flat major Op.55 No.2.



This was followed by the rarely performed Allegro de Concert Op. 46. Musicologists speculate this may have been the opening movement of an unfinished Third Piano Concerto. Chopin held it in very high regard personally said he would play first if ever Poland became independent. Ironically the country is now independent and we never hear it!



This supremely difficult virtuoso work is a real style brillant piece In performance the work should have a detached light fleetness of finger-work similar to the Grande Polonaise and early concerti. With Wunder the work simply did not 'take flight' for me. However I was grateful to hear it at all!



It is not really acceptable to create legato with the pedal rather than the hand and this also affected the limited detached technique. The result was this performance lacked the ‘glitter’ and energy that so suits Chopin pieces of this type influenced by Hummel. However there were some lovely stylish moments in more reflective and dancing passages. Wunder as an Austrian has always intuitively understood the nature of dance especially the waltz and mazurka.



Then a beautiful rendition of the Nocturne in B major Op. 62 with a finely controlled bel canto and tone of great beauty. Most moving.



The first half concluded with the Polonaise in A-flat major Op. 53 for which he chose a rather deliberate tempo Alla polacca e maestoso which may well be 'correct' but in some way the performance for me lacked the inferential energy and valiant defiance inherent in the soul of the Polish nation. I also felt in parts it was too declamatory but this may well be a matter of personal taste.



After the interval, Liszt. 



Unfortunately although being a fine performance of the fiendishly difficult Mephisto Waltz No 1 in A major (Der Tanz in Der Dorfschenke – The Dance in the Village Inn) no pianist I have ever heard comes close to the possessed performance given by Daniil Trifonov at Duszniki Zdroj in 2011. I realize comparisons of pianists is an invidious exercise but I missed the sulphur, sense of duplicitous evil, erotic mendacity and oily charm that pervades the work. Trifonov has matured immensely since the competition into a remarkable artist despite his relative youth.



Liszt was obsessed by Faust and he chose the account of the story by Nikolaus Lenau to set this piece of programme music. This passage from Lenau appears in the actual score:



“There is a wedding feast in progress in the village inn, with music, dancing, and drunken carousing. Mephistopheles and Faust wander by, and Mephistopheles persuades Faust to enter and join in the festivities. Mephistopheles grabs the violin from the hands of a sleepy violinist and draws from the instrument seductive and erotically intoxicating strains. The amorous Faust whirls about with a sensual village beauty [the landlord's daughter] in a wild dance; they waltz in mad abandon out of the room, into the open, away into the woods. The sounds of the violin grow softer and softer, and the nightingale sings his love-soaked song."










The Sonetto 104 del Petrarca from Années de pèlerinage. Deuxième année. Italie - No. 5 was a beautiful, poetic and lyrical performance of this original song that Liszt wrote as a group of three songs in Rome. He only later transformed them into pianos pieces for this Italian album in 1848. As songs they are quite perfect examples of Liszt’s art and capture to perfection the sentiment of Petrarch’s sonnets.



I had never heard the final work in its entirety - Hexaméron, Morceau de Concert. ‘Grandes Variations de Bravoure pour piano sur le Marche de Puritains de Bellini composées pour le concert de Mme La Princesse Belgiojoso au Bénéfice des Pauvres.



The evolution of this work is a fascinating story. Princess Christina Belgiojoso was one the strangest and most arresting creatures ever to inhabit the salons of Paris. At the end of March 1837 she arranged a ‘pianoforte duel’ between Sigismund Thalberg and Franz Liszt (‘Rome’ against ‘Carthage’) in her Parisian salon to benefit Italian refugees. She was a friend of the revolutionaries Garibaldi and Mazzini as well as Bellini, Meyerbeer, Dumas and other great artists of the day. After separating from Prince Emilio Belgiojoso she embarked on many exotic love affairs in her highly exotic boudoir. The 'lover' was guided to the inner sanctum by a turbaned 'black esclave' where presumably carnal activities took place on a ‘sacrificial altar’ under the light of silver candelabra. Her vast ebony bed was inlaid with elephant tusks and placed on a raised dais. After the keyboard duel she commented on the confrontation: 'Thalberg is the first pianist in the world – Liszt is only one.'



In another bid to raise funds for refugees she came up with the imaginative idea of inviting six of the greatest composer-pianists to contribute a variation each on the march from Bellini’s opera I puritani. Liszt, Thalberg, Pixis, Herz, Czerny and Chopin were given the theme. Thus was Hexaméron conceived. The work was not finished in time for the March 31st Thalberg-Liszt confrontation as Chopin had delayed delivering his contribution and no-one had the temerity to ask him to hurry up!



In Wunder’s performance I felt the different and contrasting pianistic styles could have been better indicated. The work is both a curiosity and singularly instructive. As it happened all the variations sounded like Liszt to me (despite the existence of detailed contemporary accounts of the playing of the other composers). All excepting of course the divine Chopin Largo such a beautiful gem of great sensibility marooned in (to me at least) a farrago of rather tasteless variations. What a superb delineation this work is of the stylistic difference between Chopin and other pianist-composers of the day.



Chopin once with his characteristic barbed irony confided to Liszt:



I am not suited to public appearances – the auditorium saps my courage, I suffocate in the exhalation of the crowd, I am paralysed by curious glances . . . but you, you can, since if you should fail to win over the audience you at least have the possibility of murdering them.


Cover of the First Edition 

As an encore Wunder appropriately played an arrangement from Bellini’s Norma.


Krzysztof Jablonski     20.00

This recital by a popular Polish pianist and winner of the 3rd Prize at the 9th International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (1985) was entirely devoted to Chopin and Liszt.

His first piece was the Chopin Nocturne in F minor Op.55 No.1 which was a poetic and sensitive performance with seductive tone and touch.



I felt my favourite polonaise, the Polonaise in F-sharp minor Op.44 which followed was rather 'flat'. For me there was not enough bitter resentment, nay anger, over the heartless oppression by Tsarist Russia. At least for me the drama did not build sufficiently passionately and the rhythm was not sufficiently fierce with bitterness.



Jablonski then tackled the Chopin Sonata in B-Flat minor Op. 35. Again I felt the pianist was holding back for some obscure reason as there seemed to me insufficient dynamic variation (really only mezzo-forte through forte to fortissimo in the Grave – Doppio movimento and the Scherzo). Poetry only began to emerge in the Marche funèbre: Lento. The curious and haunting Finale: Presto was simply not hallucinatory enough for me. In 1848 it was reported that Chopin abandoned a performance of this sonata because he had an hallucination of 'cursed creatures' crawling out beneath the lid of the piano during this movement.



These surprising reservations of mine would be partly explained at the end of his recital.



The Liszt that followed the interval presented the composer as a far more poetic and less overtly virtuosic figure than in many performances.



He began with the Liebestraum No.3 in a fine, tender and singing performance of this Nocturne/song.



Then  Funérailles from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses S.173. This lugubrious work was written by Liszt in response to the bloody outcome of the Hungarian nationalist uprising against Austria in 1849, inspired by the revolutionary events of 1848 in Paris when the 'Citizen King' Louis-Philippe was forced to abdicate and flee to England. The Hungarian rebellion led by Lajos Kossuth was a disaster and the Austrians carried out savage retribution. They executed thirteen prominent Hungarian generals and the Hungarian Prime Minister Lajos Batthyany (which caused revulsion throughout Europe). 

This massacre inspired Liszt to write a piece full of profound melancholy and passionate anger. Liszt was certainly a nationalist but believed in diplomacy and not armed conflict to resolve issues with Austria. Although in one section there seem to be unmistakable echoes in the circle of repeated left-hand octaves of the Chopin Op. 53 'Heroic' polonaise and the date of the work coincides with Chopin's death (October 17th, 1849), when asked Liszt denied having Chopin in mind when he wrote the piece (Alan Walker - Liszt)

I felt Jablonsky understood the idealistic disillusionment, melancholy and bitter anger contained within it rather than pumping up the more theatrical virtuosic elements of the work. 

Much the same was true of the literary background to La Vallée d'Obermann from the Années de pèlerinage I (Suisse), S.160.  his next piece.

I adore this work, Liszt inspired by the novel Obermann by Étienne Pivert de Senancour.

‘The vast consciousness of Nature, everywhere overwhelming and everywhere unfathomable, universal love, indifference, ripe wisdom, sensuous ease – all that the mortal heart can contain of desire and profound sorrow, I felt them all.’
(Obermann from Letter 4)



One should never underestimate the influence of literature on Liszt (he was a brilliant writer himself) and the profound influence throughout artistic and creative Europe of the poems of Lord Byron.

I have been in love with the work since my teens. Jablonsky gave a poetic impression of the grand Swiss landscape which one could imagine in one’s mind’s eye. Horowitz was fond of this work and his interpretation at his 1966 Carnegie Hall recitals was always the greatest to my mind. Liszt himself wept on hearing it again later in his life – the memories it evoked for him were so strong. 



Jablonsky completed his recital with the a fine but possibly not sufficiently insidious Mephisto Waltz No:1 and all my entirely unfair comparisons with Trifonov apply.

Then a curious thing happened. Another 'Duszniki Moment' began to evolve. Jablonski addressed the audience from the stage. He reflected that he had noticed with some shock his esteemed former teacher Professor Andrzej Jasinski seated in the front row of the audience. He had suddenly been overcome by all the feelings of inadequacy and 'wanting to please' that he could remember feeling as a student for many years. How extraordinary this was psychologically! To much laughter he then told us that Professor Jasinski had visited the artist's room during the interval to 'give him a few pointers' on the Chopin. He then hugged his former teacher professing the greatest gratitude to him preparing him for his concert career. A great wave of enormous patriotic emotion swept over the Polish audience. It explained a great deal about my reservations in the first half of his programme.



After this 'catharsis', Jablonski then launched into an encore of three Chopin Etudes performed in the most spectacular manner imaginable with glittering virtuosity and accuracy. Standing ovation and wild scenes.



Singularly appropriate to the anniversary of the Battle of Britain 
(10 July – 31 October 1940) I was surprised on one of my afternoon walks to find this memorial plaque near the Black Pond in Duszniki Zdroj. It commemorates the heroism of the highly decorated Polish airman Czech Nowacki who was attached to Polish Bomber Squadron 301 at Bramcote in Great Britain during WW II.
He spent the last years of his life in Duszniki Zdroj and loved the place deeply.

For more on the history of Squadron 301

 http://www.polishsquadronsremembered.com/301/301_story.html


August 15

Olga Pasiecznik (soprano) and Natalia Pasiecznik (piano)       16.00

I have always been fond of the Chopin songs as they create in the mind's eye and ear all the charm, civilization and harmony of domestic music making in cultivated households and aristocratic 'salons' during the first half of the nineteenth century. All the nostalgic and strongly delineated Polishness of Chopin's youth is present here, the refined life of evenings entertainments among friends at the Dwor and townhouse. He made no attempt to publish them, in fact his secretary Fontana saved them from being burnt. The composer probably improvised many songs now lost. Nineteen such songs are known today. Chopin's supreme lyric and melodic gift is always evident which raises the sometimes limited poetic content to the heights of a radiant cantabile.

 Olga Pasiecznik has a beautiful voice and gave a rather theatrical and animated performance of 14 of the Op. posth. 74 songs. I cannot examine her performance of each song in a review of this type but the Melody emerged as a serious and magnificent work. She captivated many in the audience and I noticed many tears surreptitiously wiped away by both men and women.



The second half of her programme was devoted to seven of Pauline Viardot-Garcia (1821-1910) songs set to Chopin Mazurkas transcribed for voice and piano. This remarkable woman Pauline Viardot, considering her contemporary fame, is a largely forgotten figure today. I will redress this a little if I may, as through her charisma and genius she influenced a great many composers to write in the genre we now so readily refer to as 'Romantic'.

Pauline Viardot was born into a distinguished a extremely famous family of Spanish opera singers. Her father Manuel Garcia was sought after throughout Europe. Pauline showed formidable musical promise and exceptional talent at the piano. She had her heart set on being a concert pianist, being highly praised by her teacher Franz Liszt and also in her compositions and musical theory by Hector Berlioz. A woman composer at this time was highly unusual.

However, much to her regret, her mother steered her away into a singing career as a soprano although she remained an accomplished pianist all her life. In 1839 she made her opera debut to great critical success as Desdemona in Rossini’s Otello in London. She was courted by many famous artists of the day including Alfred de Musset but in the end married Louis Viardot the Director of the Théâtre Italien in Paris in 1840. The marriage was happy and blessed with children.

Her singing career blossomed until she became know as 'the enchantress of nations' and so captured the heart of the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev during an season in St. Petersburg in 1843 that he took up residence in her home, adoring her till his death! Chopin, Gounod, Saint-Saëns and Berlioz thought her a divine presence on the stage. She held inspiring and famous musical salons for the cognoscenti when the family moved to Baden-Baden.

She became a close friend of Georges Sand at Nohant (Sand based her novel Consuelo on Viardot) and spent many joyful hours there and of course met Chopin there. A feeling of 'fellow souls' seemed to arise between them as their temperaments had a certain affinity. Chopin admired her playing and gave her piano lessons - compensating somewhat for what she considered her lost vocation. he also advised her on her vocal compositions and her settings of his mazurkas as songs. It was at Nohant that she transcribed twelve of his mazurkas for voice. 



She no doubt talked to him about Spanish music and one might speculate that perhaps the inspiration for the Boléro was Chopin's friendship with the French soprano. However the work does contain Polish polonaise elements and other inspirations have been advanced!   The rift between Chopin and Sand in July 1847 put an end to the pastoral idylls Chopin and Viardot enjoyed at Nohant. Pauline tried to get Chopin and Sand back together but...

After Chopin's death Pauline wrote to Georges Sand:

I came to know of his death from strangers who had come to ask me very formally to participate in a Requiem which was to be given at the Madeleine for Chopin. It is then that I realized how deep my affection was for him…. He was a noble soul. I am happy to have known him and to have obtained a little of his friendship.

George Sand failed to attend Chopin’s funeral but Pauline sang from Mozart's Requiem at the graveside as his body was lowered into the earth at  Pére-Lachaise in Paris.



A rare daguerreotype of Pauline Viardot at the piano


                                                               Pauline Viardot-Garcia


Pauline Viardot-Garcia


Pasiecznik gave a sensitive, poetic, nostalgic and and times lively and theatrical performance of these works. In the small dworek it was not difficult to conjure up the intimate and civilized charms of another age listening to this beautiful voice.



Although Natalia Pasiecznik is a fine chamber musician I again felt the need of a more appropriate sound palette on a period instrument to accompany this voice in this particular repertoire. At Nohant both Chopin and Viardot would have played Sand's Pleyel pianino. Superb, intimate and refined upright pianos. Considering they were a popular domestic instrument among the affluent citizens and artists of the day (Sand, Delacroix, Mme. Hanska, Franchomme, Princess Marcelina Czartoryska and countless others owned them) too often they are neglected as they are visually rather unprepossessing compared to the Grands. 



Among the encores (after huge applause), a song by Francis Poulenc and two particularly moving Ukrainian songs in view of the unfolding tragedy in that country a Dumka and another song. As she and her sister were both born in Ukraine, I found these songs desperately moving in view of the current brutal and murderous events taking place there.



Alexander Gavrylyuk      Final Recital       20.00


Duszniki Zdroj is an anniversary for Alexander ('Sasha') Gavrylyuk but is also an anniversary for me too. We have both been coming here - he to perform - me to listen - for 10 years. The first for both of us was the 60th International Chopin Piano Festival. In those days I kept a handwritten journal of my feelings and assessments of pianists. This morning (23/viii/15) I decided to look up some of my old entries judging his first appearance before writing this entry. I did not begin my illustrated online rather than written journal (far superior) until 2010.



The 2005 festival attracted some fine, even very great, pianists - Grigory Sokolov, Phillipe Giusiano, Dang Thai Son, Stanislaw Bunin, Kevin Kenner, Igor Levit, Ayako Uehara and of course Alexander Gavrylyuk. Many of the others already had or have gone to illustrious piano careers. You often hear them first at Duszniki!


In this 70th anniversary festival he repeated some of the works he performed in 2005.  Ten years ago I wrote that he played a 'warm and thoughtful' Brahms 3 Intermezzos Op.117 and the 2 Rhapsodies Op.79. Then a 'tremendous and glittering' performance of Liszt's Tarantella in G minor from Venezia e Napoli, a 'fiery and brilliant' four studies of Chopin from Op. 10 and Op. 25 and to conclude a Prokofiev Sonata No.6 that I felt was 'monumental in scope and staggering in terms of technique'. I also mentioned a 'crystalline tone and articulation'. As encores: Scriabin studies, the tumultuous Horowitz arrangement of Liszt's arrangement of Mendelssohn's Wedding March and Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.2. 

I wrote:

'There was a spontaneous and extended standing ovation. It was a spectacular recital. A brilliant, miraculous performance in more ways than one. Next to Sokolov, the most impressive pianist so far.' 

I also mentioned in my journal that he had not long recovered from a major and life-threatening operation in Australia. We were both resident at the Hotel Jarzebina - now unfortunately closed down. At the time excellent rooms and the best food available in Duszniki Zdroj by far at moderate cost. I remember popping a note under the door of his room at the hotel with an 'Australian' idiomatic phrase of appropbation (he considers himself an Ukrainian-Australian). 

'The concert was a little ripper mate! A beaut! Good on you, Michael - the Australian in the next room.'

He told me later he so appreciated this little 'breeze from home' as he would be eternally grateful to the brilliant Australian reconstructive surgeons who saved his life.

I have heard him play each time he has come to Duszniki Zdroj since then and tumultuous ovations have followed him each time.  He has a very particular relationship with the Duszniki habitues. I also listened online from Sydney in 2010 when he performed and recorded for the TRITON label a magnificent reading of all the Prokofiev Piano Concertos with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy. Still available on SACD.

So, as ever, I was full of anticipation before this recital.

He opened with the sublimely simple Mozart Sonata in C major KV 330. His intense musicality was obvious from the outset - each phrase perfectly moulded, limpid tone and touch, sensitive nuances and full of sensibility with scarcely any use of the pedal, restrained capturing a perfect classical style. I would have altered nothing...

The Schubert Sonata in A major Op. 120  D 664 had the most beautiful and moving song-like opening I have ever heard. One could actually feel the romantic character of classical piano music developing in this reading of the sonata. Again quite perfect in style, restraint, nuance, tone and sensibility. 

The Liszt Consolation No. 3 in D-flat major was equally exquisite. I could have listened to him playing this type of reflective, nostalgic and romantic reverie all evening. 

The titanic performance of the Dance macabre by Saint-Saens transcribed by Liszt and then arranged to even further fiendish difficulty and devilment by Horowitz took me back to 'the old Gavrylyuk' of 2005. An even more astounding display of pyrotechnics and virtuosity. A 'little ripper' indeed.

After the interval the deeply despairing and bleak Prokofiev Sonata No.6 in A Major Op.82 which he had played in 2005. It is quite clear in the interim his view of the composer has deepened and broadened. I felt at times however his enthusiastic response and communication with this uniquely sympathetic audience overcame his control of dynamics and he ceased to 'play the room'. The opening declamatory Allegro moderato was dynamically rather overwhelming in its emotional extremes. The Tempo di valzer was a comparatively light delight and the fourth movement Vivace was taken at an incredible, breathtaking tempo yet retaining a deep expressiveness beyond virtuosity that I am sure only dreamed of by lesser pianists, perhaps even Prokofiev himself!

The the reflective, meditative, soulful and poetic Chopin Etude in C-sharp minor Op.25 No.7 performed with such heartfelt and emotionally moving rubato it rendered the audience silent. 

The bel canto and cantabile nature of the Chopin Nocturne in D-flat major Op.27 No.2 was similarly brought off with poetry and sweet melancholy - 'Parting is such sweet sorrow...'

The Gavrylyuk encores are always an event, brought off with incredible panache and style - these were no exception. The first I could not place, Scriabin perhaps, then a Rachmaninoff Prelude. The Liszt/Horowitz arrangement Mendelssohn Wedding March he played in 2005 brought the house down with cheers of recognition and then a final parting gesture towards Monsieur Horowitz through Schumann, a poetic and delicate performance of Traumerei from Kinderszenen. 

Huge standing ovation, a loud buzz of delighted conversation from the audience quitting the dworek. Gavrylyuk was back at Duszniki with a vengeance placing so many in the musical shade! What a range of musical styles and genres we covered here with complete mastery - a magnificent pianist as well as a communicative and generous 'soul' entirely dedicated to music.




And so we bid farewell to the Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival in this 70th anniversary year. We congratulate everyone who has kept this oldest piano festival in the world in stirring health, strength and for giving us the finest in contemporary pianism.


        Felix Mendelssohn at Duszniki Zdroj in  1823


During this festival and many others I have reflected with great puzzlement on the complete absence of the piano music of Felix Mendelssohn from the programme of any pianist. Not only was he possibly the greatest musical prodigy since Mozart but his immortal piano music appeals to audiences, far more than many composers that appear regularly at Duszniki exciting sighs of pained tolerance in the face of genius. No names.

In many ways Felix has more right to his own dedicated festival at Duszniki Zdroj than Fryderyk. Dare I venture this opinion without the heavens falling upon me?

Here is a link to the surprisingly large number of Mendelssohn keyboard works completely ignored by pianists at the Duszniki Festival (and for that matter in many a pianist's
repertoire). Many are great works by any standard such as the intimate Songs without Words, quite unjustly neglected in the ubiquitous cause of virtuoso display and career building. His solo piano output has of course unfortunately been overshadowed by his great violin concerto, symphonic and chamber works.

http://www.classical.net/music/composer/works/mendelssohn/keyboard.php#misc


Once again I decided to go for a walk to to what is now the rehabilitation centre of Stalowy Zdrój on the outskirts of Duszniki and familiarize myself with the Felix Mendelssohn connections with the spa. I am always so disappointed there is not at least some Mendelssohn played at each festival although we have heard works by him here in the past. The Mendelssohn Festival was resuscitated in Duszniki in 2011 (one was regularly held in Duszniki before WW II I believe)  but as is often the case in Poland publicity of the event in November and December 2012 was limited.  

Now a little history to substantiate my claims. The iron ore deposits of what was known as Bad Reinerz (now Duszniki Zdroj) and its surroundings have been exploited since the beginning of the 15th century. Protestant miners emigrated here during the religious turmoil of the Thirty Years War when mining was established at the end of the 17th century. A molten iron and a hammer mill was established in 1822 by Nathan Mendelssohn (an instrument maker). With his brother Joseph Mendelssohn's financial help he revived the mining industry. I have often wondered if it was at this mill that the the tragedy occurred for which Chopin gave his charity concert.


Joseph was a successful banker as well as being another uncle of the composer Felix Mendelssohn. The Mendelssohns were a wealthy and well-established Jewish family. However the iron company had no lasting success because of severe flood damage in 1827 and 1829. Nathan Mendelssohn abandoned the operation at the end of 1829. 


Felix Mendelssohn came to stay with his uncles in Duszniki in 1823 three years prior to Chopin's stay. A concert was held in Duszniki in which the main protagonist was the fourteen-year-old Mendelssohn. The young pianist did without the accompaniment of the semi-amateur ensemble that normally performed and decided to improvise solo on themes from Mozart and Weber to great acclaim.

I will leave you with some photographs of buildings still standing that resulted from my initial explorations.


The house stayed in by Felix Mendelssohn at Duszniki Zdroj in 1823

The commemorative plaque on the house

A rather run-down pavilion on the estate

Detail of the pavilion

Other buildings on the estate contemporary with Felix Mendelssohn


Festival General Website Link: http://festival.pl/index.php/en/



Past Festival Posts


The 68th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Festival 2013
http://www.michael-moran.com/2013/07/68th-international-chopin-piano.html

The 67th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Festival 2012
http://www.michael-moran.com/2012/07/67th-duszniki-zdroj-international.html

The 66th. Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Festival 2011
http://www.michael-moran.com/2011/08/66th-duszniki-zdroj-international.html

The 65th. Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Festival 2010
http://www.michael-moran.com/2010/08/65th-duszniki-zdroj-international.html