67th Duszniki-Zdrój International Chopin Piano Festival August 3-11, 2012

The noble statue of Fryderyk Chopin in the Duszniki Zdroj Spa Park by the Warsaw sculptor Jan Kucz. It expresses the formidable, revolutionary side of his personality, an aspect one does not normally associate with the refined salons of Paris and 'pieces for schoolgirls' as one misguided contemporary English critic expressed his ignorance. Erected in 1976, its masculine, internalised creative power reminds me of Rodin's similarly controversial and formidable statue of Balzac

Click on all photographs to enlarge

Despite appearances to the contrary there is  life on earth outside the Olympic Games!

I like sport as much as anyone but I am also greatly looking forward to attending the oldest piano festival in the world yet again, beginning August 3. I shall be keeping my detailed blog as ever. The lyrical surroundings of this spa town on the Polish-Czech frontier where Fryderyk Chopin once took a cure and gave charity concerts often lures me away for hiking in the mountains and forest, so I may not cover every item on the programme. But I usually attend most.

The festival will be opened by the great Spanish virtuoso Joaquín Achúcarro of whom Zubin Mehta commented  'I have only heard this sound from Rubinstein' and a similarly enthusiastic Sir Simon Rattle who remarked 'There is something special with Achucarro. Very few musicians can extract this kind of sound from the piano.'

Other pianists in the festival include the soulful Polish Chopinist Janusz Olejniczak (6th prize in the particularly great 8th International Chopin Competition in 1970 which was won by Garrick Ohlsson with 2nd prize going to Mitsuko Uchida and the 3rd prize to Piotr Paleczny, the fine pianist and inspired Artistic Director of the Duszniki Zdroj Festival ) Olejniczak will perfrom a portion of his programme on an original Erard instrument of Chopin's day leant by the National Chopin Institute in Warsaw; the quite fantastic young Russian Nikolay Khozyainov who betrayed so incandescent a talent and was so highly regarded in the 2010 International Chopin Competition; the sublime poet of the instrument from Switzerland, to my mind an artist of the highest calibre, Francesco Piemontesi, who reduced the entire audience here to awed silence last year with his profound understanding of Schubert. One could hear a pin drop. I will be overjoyed to meet and hear once again at Duszniki the overwhelming virtuosity, charisma and interpretative depth of the Ukrainian-Australian Alexander Gavrylyuk who rouses audiences instantly to their feet in approbation like an electric high-voltage current;

The Russian Dmitri Alexeev, one of the world's most respected artists is scarcely in need an introduction from me; the beautiful Georgian Elisso Bolkvadze, is an artist of great power and extraordinary sensibility; I look forward to the German pianist Alexander Schimpf at this time unknown to me as is the brilliant young South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho whom I only know by reputation and through his important competition victories; I have also never heard the Baltic Duettists Vilija Poskute and Tomas Daukantas  from the wonderful and picturesque country of Lithuania which I have visited with the greatest pleasure and admiration. From previous experience with duettists at Duszniki, they are normally superb entertainment and deeply musical in their joint understanding and  almost subliminal communication. There is a fine repertoire we often miss in the literature for two pianos.

One pianist I have heard a number of times now and whom I admire above almost everyone of the younger generation is the Russian Denis Kozukhin. His programmes are always musically adventurous and often courageously exploratory, the more familiar works brought off with breathtaking insight and new interpretative thinking. This pianist has so much of a unique quality to say, approaching the instrument with a creative energy rare to encounter anywhere. Oh yes... 

The festival will close with a recital by the marvellous Italian pianist Alberto Nosè whom I heard in Duszniki in 2006 if memory serves me correctly. He has carried off a basketful of first prizes all over the world and is a very fine and sensitive interpreter of Chopin.

The Master Classes this year will be taken by Professor Joaquín Achúcarro and Professor Dmitri Alexeev. These classes provide many of the finest insights into piano playing, often in a simple throw-away remark emerging form a lifetime of experience or an apt aphorism - pens at the ready!

Finally I would mention the delightful and stylish Nokturn, the audience seated at tables by candlelight with a glass of wine, the occasional Black Tie on display and a number of terribly glamorous Polish usherettes hovering about. All the pianists perform a piece or two and a commentary will hold the evening together by the well-known Polish actor Olgierd Łukaszewicz who has appeared in films by the Polish Director of genius, Andrzej Wajda.

From the adjacent park, the finely restored 17th century Paper Mill for which Duszniki Zdroj is particularly famous. It is one of the oldest in existence in Europe.

For more from the Festival Website:

Friday August 3rd

The drive from Warsaw to Duszniki Zdroj is rather a long one (7-8 hrs depending on your route, the traffic and lunch break). As it was a gloriously sunny day on this occasion I took a route which would enable me to break for  a pic-nic (with an excellent bottle  of Cote du Rhone Rouge from La Famille Perrin - doyens of Ch. de Beaucastel) in the grounds of the  hunting lodge at Antonin, a place with strong Chopin associations, about 70 kms from Wroclaw.

Fryderyk Chopin stayed in Antonin in 1827 and in September 1929, shortly after the 'completion' of the lodge. Prince Antoni Radziwiłł (1755-1833) who owned the nearby village was, apart from his passion for hunting, an excellent cellist and composer, creating an fine opera around Goethe's Faust. Chopin composed for the prince and his daughter Wanda, whom he was teaching the piano ('It is a joy to place her little fingers on the keys'), the Polonaise brillante in C major, Op. 3 for cello and piano ('A piece to please the ladies'). Later he dedicated his charming although immature Trio in G major, Op. 8 for piano, violin and cello to the prince.

Until World War II Antonin belonged to the Radziwiłł family. The building stands in a lovely park with old oak trees opposite an extensive lake with a beach. The lodge has been converted to a restaurant and hotel. Accommodation is provided there and also music festivals are held annually with distinguished performers.

The hunting lodge, a pavillon de chasse in the romantic classical style, was bulit in 1822-1824 for Prince Antoni Radziwiłł by Karol Frideric Schinkel. The four-storey wooden building was erected on the plan of a Greek Cross. However it was not actually completed until 1926.
The spectacular decorated interior of the hunting lodge at Antonin. The structure on the left is a central chimney. Under winter snow the crackling of the fire in there is a delight.

I greatly look forward to the opening ceremony and recital by Joaquín Achúcarro this evening. As  I write this morning a characteristically operatic thunderstorm has erupted over Duszniki.

At 19.30 interviews and speeches were completed by various eminent people closely connected with the festival and flowers were laid in the customary reverent style at the foot of the Chopin memorial.

The bouquet of young Polish ladies who make finding your seat and rewarding the pianists with flowers such a sensual and aethetic pleasure at the Duszniki Festival

The rather more serious gentlemen empowering the Duszniki Festival.
From Rt. to Lt.  Artistic Director of the Festival Mr. Piotr Paleczny; Founder, President of the Board of the Foundation and main Organiser of the Festival Mr. Andrzej Merkur; the Founder Mr. Jan Lipiec; Member of the Council of the Foundation Mr. Peter Otto;

The Chopin Memorial at Duszniki Zdroj after the laying of flowers at the opening ceremony

August 3rd - 20.00 - Joaquín Achúcarro

From the opening bars of Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor Op. posth. 66 (1834) I felt transported into a manner of playing the piano which is fast fading - the rather opulent, pedalled and romantic sound palette of what might now term the 'old school' of say the 1950s.  A rare experience and a world away to be sure from the scintillating fireworks of young tyros today. The phrasing was quite deliberate and long-breathed, the tone finely cultivated but occasionally with almost too strong dynamic contrasts, playing from the heart and sensibility rather than emphasising  velocity and dynamics - and on occasion sacrificing accuracy.

He followed this piece with an equally heart-felt Nocturne in C-sharp minor - Lento con gran espressione Op. posth. (1830) and Nocturne in F-sharp major Op.15 No.2 (1830-33). This increasingly rare playing from the 'soul' I found deeply affecting and nostalgic. The Barcarole in F-sharp major Op.60 (1846)  is best passed over in silence - at least for me. Readers of my blog will know I have a fixation on the opening chord of the work. I believe it is merely to set a seductive harmonic atmosphere and is not a violent accident at the wharf before the boating expedition on the Venetian lagoon begins. A gale on the Atlantic it is not....

I very much liked the Waltz in B minor Op. posth. 69 No.2 (1829) which I admit to playing myself at home on a Pleyel instrument. The New National Edition of Chopin by Jan Ekier (brilliant detailed editorial work which gives much scope for new approaches and variant readings) gives an early variant of the work marked 'dolente'.  Achúcarro performed this as a waltz with melancholy rather than a display of brio, a piece that inhabites the memory of Chopin, a distant romantic dream of youth perhaps (the piece written when he was only 19), a reflection on happier times and the pain of recalling such memories now distant. The best account I have ever heard of this popular waltz, too often misinderstood, full of regrets and nostalgia. The Waltz in E-minor Op. posth. (1830) Achúcarro  performed in sparkling and energetic contrast. The final work in the Chopin group, the Polonaise in A-flat major Op. 53 (1842) lacked for me at least, a tight grip on rhythm and energy as well as majestic anger and revolt, zal in a word. 

I greatly looked forward to the Spanish group in the second half of the recital. Achúcarro explained his thinking behind the plan of his recital collection which was a fascinating exercise and something younger musicians could think of doing. I always wonder why musicians choose the pieces they do. He wished to explore and express the tribute Manuel de Falla paid to the friendship between himself and Enrique Granados and Claude Debussy. 

La Puerta del Vino (The Wine Gate) at the Alhambra, Granada (Eve Andersson)

Achúcarro focused on the marvellous Debussy Prelude from Book 2, La Puerta del Vino (The Wine Gate) and its Habanera rhythms. The Wine Gate is part of the sublime Moorish Palace of the Alhambra at Granada in Andalusia. He pointed out how we would hear a contrast beween the 'Islamic Habanera' (the Moors in Spain) in Debussy's La Puerta and the powerfully energetic Gypsy or Tsigane Habanera in Falla's Fantasia Betica (1919), a rarely performed extensive (almost too long) magnificent work dedicated by Falla to Artur Rubinstein who was in Spain during the Great War.

We began with the Granados Quejas o La maja y el ruisenor (The Maiden and the Nightingale) a wonderful impressionist piece from the magnificent suite 'Goyescas'. It was clear from the outset how much more 'at home' the great Spanish pianist was with this repertoire than the Chopin. Then from Book 2 of Debussy's Preludes, Feux d'artifice (Fireworks) and La Puerta del Vino (The Wine Gate). I adore the Moorish/Spanish atmosphere of the Habanera rhythm in this work, the refinement reminiscent of the elaborate decoration of the stone on the Alhambra and the Lion Fountains, the sudden contrasts of tone, the impressionistic washes of colour - a wonderful sound painting under Achúcarro's fingers.

The final works in the programme were first Falla's Hommage a Debussy - Pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy with all the echoes of the Habanera rhythm we had heard in the Debussy - so meaningful now after the initial explanation. Then the tempestuous Fantasia Betica with all the sun-drenched colours, the heat of the parched landscape, the palms, wild gypsy dancing, garlic and wine, bull-fights and more - the full Espana! Achúcarro played this piece for two reasons - one as he explained, his inestimable admiration for Artur Rubinstein as a pianist and secondly the fact he feels the piece should be more often performed. I entirely agree!

Encores were Scriabin's Prelude for the Left Hand, Debussy's Claire de Lune, and a rousing account of Falla's Ritual Fire Dance (a favourite encore of Rubinstein's too).

A highly enjoyable recital by this great Spanish professor and pianist.

August 4th - 16.00 - Mariangela Vacatello

Here in Poland we have been so fortunate over the last couple of years to hear a number of beautiful Italian female pianists of outstanding talents, charm and bella figura - Veneziano, Armellini and tonight Vacatello - all who are able to give such rich pleasure, both visual and in sound, to a musical audience sensitive to aesthetics - a fading sensitivity in a world devoted so slavishly to the physical. 

Mariangela Vacatello was born in Naples into a family of musicians. She plays with all the passion, power and instinctive musicality one might expect of a Neapolitan - renowned throughout the ages in Europe for operatic exuberance of a high artistic and cultural order. The baroque composer of genius Alessandro Scarlatti and the modern conductor Riccardo Muti both have close associations with Naples and its deep musical traditions.

After the first elegant notes of the Haydn Sonata in C-major Hob. XVI:50 (1794-5) I knew I was in the presence of  rare musical artist. She played the piece with the greatest esprit and elan, expressing the conversational nature of the work, revealing its inherent wit and 'healthy' human spirit. She contrasted the elegance of a Viennese eighteenth century salon with the robust masculinity of 'Papa Haydn' wreathed in cigar smoke. The tone glittered and articulation was as sharp as rococo plasterwork. On occasion however I felt she broke the bounds of classical decorum and fell prey to excessive dynamic contrast which would have wrecked an instrument of Haydn's day, let alone a square piano so common in the domestic situation. I felt this tended to unbalance the classical poise Haydn may have had in mind but overall I was utterly convinced by the shifting moods and witty banter of the work she revealed. C major is not a key for the tortured utterance...

This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy. We will hear a great deal of this composer during the course of the festival which is a wonderful thing. The three Debussy Etudes Vacatello chose were performed with the greatest virtuosity and control of impressionistic colour [No.1 Pour les cinq doigts d'apres Monsieur Czerny; No. 11 Pour le arpeges composees; No. 5 Pour les octaves] Like the Chopin Etudes to which they can be justly compared, they are at once technical studies but also masterpieces of musical poetic art. They are also extremely difficult to play and Vacatello here showed an awesome technical authority and the highest poetic musicality at the instrument. The first half concluded with the Chopin Rondo in E-flat major Op. 16 (1833). A marvellous virtuosic reading of this early styl brillant work belonging stylistically to his Warsaw period of youthful extrovert composition. For me however the brilliant Polish pianist Wojciech Świtała is the non plus ultra in his interpretation of this work in the early recording he made for Katowice Radio - incandescent.

After the interval Liszt's piano transcription of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in A minor BMW 543 for organ. These faithful transcriptions are an aquired taste for someone like me who plays Bach on the harpsichord and I can scarcely be dissuaded from this prejudice. I felt she was overly tempted by the pedal and certainly adopted some complex pedalling but for me the clear terraced dynamics and polyphony so beloved of Bach were muddied by an overtly 'romantic' compromise. All very personal opinions I might add judging from the applause.

One must never forget the constraints of instruments that brought about such transcriptions and the exraordinary service the selfless Liszt performed for keyboard players in the nineteenth century who were without ready access to an organ or the services of an orchestra. We are indeed richly endowed today and tend to forget this when maligning the great Ferenc for his generous transcriptions of everything under the sun.

The recital closed with one of my favourite piano sonatas, the Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor Op. 36 by Rachmaninoff (original 1913 - revised 1931). I know this is a desperately unfair comparison but in May 1982 I queued for 8 hours in freezing rain to buy a fabulously expensive ticket for Horowitz's last recital in London. The Prince of Wales had invited him to play at the Royal Festival Hall and among a number of works was this Rachmaninoff sonata. What a recital that was! A standing ovation before he played a note.

I cannot listen to anyone playing this sonata without that experience haunting my musical memory, even though the great Ukrainian born in Kiev was past is best (b.1903 d.1989). His London 1968 recorded version is superior to my mind. Horowitz considered his meeting with Rachmaninoff the greatest musical experience and success of his life and adored the nineteenth century 'Russianess' of his music. He created a syncretic version of the original and reduced versions of this sonata with Rachmaninoff's permission but not being a musicologist I am unsure which version Vacatello performed this evening.

Vacatello has this great virtuoso work well and truly in her fingers and has explored the inner heart to a great extent but to my mind she cannot yet plumb the spiritual depths of this (dare I say this today in the absurd world of PC censorship) profoundly Slavic, quintessentially Russian soul - the suffering, conflicting emotions, contraditions, intimate introspection, anger, despair, the Russian steppe in panoramic vision, the bells of the Russian Orthodox Church (Rachmaninoff's The Bells was conceived at the same time as this sonata), the Great Gate of Kiev and the passionate personal references the massive work entails. Rachmaninoff himself said in an interview that music should be the 'expression of a composer's complex personality, [..] the country of his birth, his love affairs, his religion, the books which have influenced him, the pictures he loves...' Ah, and those fervent tunes of his that speak so to the heart...I am not ashamed to love them.

Her approach was to perform it predominently as a virtuoso work. Her powerful dynamic often bordered on the harsh rather than a rich fullness of sound. This case is analagous to the Liszt B Minor Sonata that many young pianists have in their miraculous fingers but have little inkling of the dark even malign Mephistophilian heart within. The sulphur of hell wafts over the Horowitz recording of 1932.  I wonder how Vacatello might perform this work - her recent recording of the Liszt Transcendental Studies is brilliant.

Vacatello's love, understanding and talent for interpreting Debussy gave us for encores a wonderful impressionistic account of the first Arabesque followed by a spectacular rendering of the Danse Rapide. A truly wonderful artist.

August 4th - 20.00 - Janusz Olejniczak

This recital originated from a new co-operation of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute with the Duszniki Zdroj Chopin Festival. The entire recital devoted to Chopin was performed on an historic 1838  Erard piano from the Institute's collection. Olejniczak has made several recordings on early Erard and Pleyel instruments (the FCI 'Black Series' and Opus 111 - buy from their website shop) which have been very well received.

The nameboard of the Chopin Institute's 1838  Erard on which Janusz Olejniczak performed this evening

The first half of the recital was eminently suitable for the varied colour palette and delicacy of these famous instruments. He began with a haunting performance of the Nocturne in C-sharp minor - Lento con gran espressione Op. posth. (1830) followed by an assorted group of Mazurkas and the Polonaise in A-major Op.40 No.1. This so-called 'Military' Polonaise seemed to benefit from the varied tone colours of the piano's different registers and effectively evoked in my mind the angrily resented ambience of 19th century Russian military manoeuvers in occupied Warsaw. The Mazurka in A-minor Op. 68 No. 2 posth. (1827) was infused with the all the perfumes of Sarmatia and the Orient, an aspect of some of Chopin's mazurkas and nocturnes that disappears or is ignored on the modern Steinway or Yamaha. Debussy understood this aspect of Chopin very well indeed.

The larger works in the second half fared less well - the Scherzo in B-flat minor Op.31; the Ballade in G minor op.23; the Polonaise in A-flat major Op. 53;  I felt that here Olejniczak was tempted into more agressive dynamics more suitable for the modern instrument. On the Erard the fortissimo sound, particularly in the bass, became more of a clatter than a rich rounded  tone. A lack of consistency in his playing was rather unfortunate and surprising as I have heard him give deeply moving and rather more accurate performances. This pianist is highly respected as an artist in Poland and a Chopin interpreter of the highest calibre. But Olejniczak is very much 'his own man' and has an independent and markedly individualistic approach to Chopin interpretation that can bring one close to tears (as in the nostalgic and deeply affecting Mazurka in A minor Op.17 N0.4 this evening) or make one ask uncomfortable unaswered questions as in the Ballade in G minor Op. 23. He omitted the interval of the recital and pressed on regardless for unexplained reasons which left us all wondering rather than listening!

I have always felt piano students during the course of their studies should be urged by their teachers to play some Chopin on an early instrument to augment their feeling and cultural contextual understanding of what his pupil Princess Marcelina Czartoryska referred to as 'le climat de Chopin'. The great Andreas Staier has built an illustrious career on early instruments, but he is a brilliant and rare exception.

The Chopin Institute's 1838  Erard on which Janusz Olejniczak performed this evening

August 5th - 16.00 - Nikolay Khozyainov

I had high expectations of this recital which were only partially realised. This pianist was highly praised by everyone during the XVIth International Chopin Competition and received a Distinction in the final result. I myself had written 'He has the most incredible technique, refined tone and touch and precocious musicality one cannot help marvelling.' I really do not know what has happened over the last two years but it is not all to the good.

The first half of his programme was devoted to Chopin. I felt during the competition he had not grasped the essence of the Chopin waltz as had say Ingolf Wunder or Ivgeny Bozhanov. I felt this again in his Waltz in A-flat major Op.42 (1840) which for me lacked the necessary elegant rhythmical esprit and elan. The marvellous Bolero Op.19 was excellently and joyfully done and suits younger pianists so well. In the Berceuse in D-flat major Op. 57 he adopted a particularly slow tempo and gentle dynamic which for me was a revelation. The piece emerged as a sensitive and gentle lullaby infused with a degree of childish innocence the like of which I think I have never encountered with any pianist before in this work. The skill of his pedalling is quite superb and may well have impressed Chopin himself who felt it was 'a study for life.'

What a pity he does not cultivate this type of beautiful, considered musical tone rather than the constant almost obsessive virtuosic display which marred much of the remainder of his programme for me. The opening of the Ballade in F major Op. 38 (1839) was similarly hushed, with this curious atmosphere of infantile innocence, a unique quality to my mind, before the Chopin musical narrative literally explodes in passion. A breathless but fine account which allowed the inner polyphony full expression through his skillful pedalling and articulation.

Again I am forced to ask myself, is it only in maturity that pianists realise that the attention of an audience is far more forcibly captured by more gentle ranges of dynamic - often in piano and pianissimo passages than beating them into submission with virtuosity.

In many works the power of expression lies in the listener's suspicion of the  supression of emotion not always in its overt and blatant expression. 

This was the uniqueness of the poetry and ability to move an audience of Dinu Lipatti and to a lesser extent Artur Rubinstein. Seduction not violence wins the day. Francois Couperin understood this. Chopin too realised this himself and it was the source of the cult of Ariel that surrounded him. He said 'I merely indicate. The listener must complete the picture' Listening to Chopin is 'like listening to elves'  I think Berlioz said. According to contemporary reports his tone rarely rose above mezzo-forte but ranged widely over this far lower dynamic threshold. This would not of course be acceptable in large concert halls today (actually Chopin received complaints about not being heard) but the sound in the Dworek Chopina should be tailored to the limited space - it is not Carnegie Hall in there! Few if any pianists at this festival seem to consider this acoustic aspect and its importance at all.

Khozyainov is clearly passing through that important period of revelling in his own explosive keyboard power which is undoubtedly formidable and complete. But the musical soul must be given time to develop, time to  breathe. His teachers, however eminent, need to reign him in somewhat and expose him to some relevant cultural context before this great talent is ruined. 'Absolute rubbish! Who is this fellow?' I hear them cry but for me much of his present playing can be described in the words of C.P.E Bach in his Versuch über die wahre Art das Klavier zu spielen 1753 (Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments)  'They overwhelm  our hearing without satisfying it and stun the mind without moving it . . .’ 

This was most evident for me in his performance of the Schubert Fantasie in C major (The Wanderer) Op.15. D 760. The dynamic scarcely fell below forte or fortissimo and the 'interpretation', such as it was, displayed extraordinarily limited understanding of Schubert's intentions in this piece - the operatic nature of 'The Wanderer' passing thorough varied landscapes and the joyful and bitter experiences of life on his great journey through it. He wrote it in 1822 only six years before his premature death. The work is surely a keyboard version of what might have been another great Schubert song cycle. The main theme in a hardly festive C-sharp minor is actually taken from his song Der Wanderer. Perhaps Khozyainov cannot possibly be expected at his tender age to understand the shadow of death that hovers over so much of Schubert - it is probably not even desirable in tender youth - so the piece is best left well alone. It is a pedagogical travesty to allow this overwhelmingly gifted boy to approach such a towering statement of the human spirit in performance as a mere virtuoso vehicle however important the 'career' of both parts, teacher and student, are in this equation. Schubert is not Liszt or is his music punctuated with wild Beethovenian sfortzandos despite the composer's belief the piece could only be played by the devil. Learn the notes yes, but no further yet...

His present technique and approach suited the great Prokofiev 'War Sonata', the Sonata No.7 in B-flat major Op. 83 (1939-42). The percussive anger of the Allegro inquieto was superbly expressed as was the lyrical contrast of the emotional and romantic Andante caloroso. That plaintive repeated note that for me expresses all the intense loneliness and isolation of the human soul in the firmament confronted by the cruelty of war was not sufficiently captured - but how at his age? I anticipated the Precipitato final movement with some apprehension knowing what had come before and this was well founded. If you already begin a movement of such cumulative power at an up tempo forte which leads to an overwhelming resolution and harmonic climacteric, where can you go other than pounding the instrument through the limits of its tone ceiling? Begin at a lower dynamic and then a great highway of dynamic and tempo augmentation opens before one. Too many pianists make this, to me at least, elementary error.

A number of highly virtuosic encores followed (including an excellent account of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz but falling far short of the demonic, insidious account Daniil Trifonov gave us last year - never to be forgotten). I felt  Khozaiynov at this stage in his career showed little understanding of how to 'work' with an audience. The extreme virtuosic nature of his encores were evidence of this. An encore should not be so showy or brilliant as to erase the memory of the recital itself. A musician's ability to communicate directly with the audience on an emotional level seems to be a God-given gift, validating Thomas Mann's remark in Dr. Faustus through the words of the composer Adrian Leverkuhn - essentially music is  'a cabbalistic craft'.

I remain in hope for this massive, brilliant but as yet unfocused and maturing talent.

Duszniki Zdroj from the heights of Muflon (Mountain Goat) where I often walk to clear my ears and head

August 5 - 20.00 - Mariangela Vacatello

Mariangela Vocatello

Duszniki always provides a drama of one sort or another. In an act of great professionalism Mariangela Vacatello agreed to stand in for Francesco Piemontesi who is ill at immensely short notice. For this alone she should be given a standing ovation. I was looking forward to his recital perhaps more than any other - he is sublime in Schubert and Schumann. 

Her choice of works betrayed the greatest self-confidence in view of the circumstances. Astonishing.  She began with Schumann's popular Sonata No. 2 in G-minor Op. 22. The first movement marked So rasch wie moeglish ('As quickly as possible') is rather a conundrum as the ear needs to follow what is happening harmonically and rhythmically but perceive that the pianist is playing almost beyond him/herself. The pianist is then instructed to play faster and then even faster - Schneller - beyond what is actually possible? Vacatello solved the mystery to perfection. The rest of the sonata was equally idiomatic capturing that elusive mercurial temperament of Robert Schumann in all its winning romantic grotequeries and sudden shifts of mood and tone. The work posed no difficulties for this pianist whose authority at the keyboard is appropriately (for the present time) Olympian. 

She then gave us a peformance of  the Liszt Transcendental Study No: 11 Harmonies du soir from cycle. She understood the harmonic avant-garde forward looking nature of this piece. Her tone and touch suited the work wonderfully well. It is always a desperately moving moment as the central melody resolves itself and soars above carrying one's heart and soul. This was Liszt the poet, the true Romantic spirit and Vacatello took us on a lyrical flight.

This was followed by a quite luminous performance of Debussy's L'isle joyeuse. Interestingly although this piece was not begun there, it was revised and completed on the island of Jersey in the summer of 1904 where he stayed with his lover Emma Bardac - the reason the title is somewhat anglicized.  In London I lived close to the Wallace Collection for thirty years and was intimately familiar with the collection of paintings by one of my favourite painters, the French artist Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). Debussy also had in mind this artist, his sense of melancholy, loss and nostalgia expressed in the painting L'embarquement pour Cythère (the Island of Love) and the poetry of Paul Verlaine who was also inspired by the painting. Jersey is lovely but scarcely the enchanted island Watteau and Debussy had in mind but remember, imaginatve genius was at work. But it was an island and islands are special places indeed.

L'embarquement pour Cythère Watteau

Your soul is a favoured landscape

For maskers and bergamaskers enticingly to roam

Dancing and playing the lute,

Almost sad beneath their fanciful disguises.  (Paul Verlaine)
Originally the work was to be part of a trilogy that never came to fruition. Certainly Debussy wanted to conjure up an enchanted impressionistic landscape in sound. He often wrote love messages on his scores such as this on the L'isle joyeuse manuscript:

'these bars belong to Madame Bardac pp.m. (petite mienne or 'little darling' in English) who dictated them to me one Tuesday in June 1904'.

Vacatello, being a Mediterranean and Neopolitan, has been steeped in impressionist colour and heat, I imagine, since birth. She seemed to understand so well the nature of love and possible disillusionments set in an enchanted landscape to perfection - the sad nature of the fetes galantes is that the elegant party must always come to an end. The performance was full of superb pianistic colour effects, warmth and affection.

The second half of the concert was devoted entirely to the Liszt B minor Sonata. The manner in which a pianist opens this masterpiece tells you everything about the conception that will evolve. The haunted repeated notes Vacatello produced  were of just the right duration (a terrible battle lies in wait for pianists here - Krystian Zimerman drove his recording engineers mad repeating it hundreds of times before being satisfied). Her duration and dynamic boded well for the outcome and so it was.  

Just to have this vast work in your fingers is a massive achievement but what you do with this is another matter altogether, what you have to say about this work. This is a profound piece, too often played as some type of hectic fantasy or dream fantasy when it is actually in many respects a philosophical dialogue between different fundamental aspects of the human spirit as symbolised by Faust, Mephistopheles and Gretchen. Liszt was tremendously influenced by literature and poetry in his compositions and in particular Goethe’s Faust, the dramatic spiritual battle between Faust and Mephistopheles with Gretchen hovering about as a seductive, lyrical feminine interlude. And it is a far more complex musical and structural argument than that rather trite account would indicate.   Vacatello gave a magnificent performance of this sonata. To begin analysing her approach in detail would be to diminish her total monumental conception of the edifice.

And so I have discovered another beautiful Italian pianist of formidable talents and bella figura to add to my burgeoning Italian  harem (to be absolutely and quite unnacceptably chauvinistic for a moment).

August 6 - 16.00 - Soyoung Yoon (violin) and Marcin Sikorski (piano)

Soyoung Yoon (violin) and Marcin Sikorski (piano)

Certainly we experience fine pianists at Duszniki Zdroj but seldom a violinist of the calibre of the South Korean Soyoung Yoon. She has won almost all the major and most prestigious violin competitions in the world: the Wieniawski [2011], the Queen Elizabeth [2009]; the Tchaikovsky [2007]; the Yehudi Menhuin [2002]; the Kulenkampff [2003]; the David Oistrakh [2007]; the Varga [2005]. Of all the musically talented Asian nations, South Korea has always seemed to me the most musically gifted in its artists. Marcin Sikorski has had a distinguished career mainly in the area of chamber music.

From the opening seconds of the Larghetto affetuoso of the Il Trillo del Diavolo ('Devil's Trill') Sonata (1713) by Giuseppe Tartini I realised I was listening to a most extraordinary talent who is capable of producing the most glorious tone from the Guadagnini violin from 1773 - the 'ex-Bueckeburg'. One of the greatest luthiers, Guadagnini was born in Piacenza in Emiglia Romagna. Wieniawski himself owned a 1750 instrument from this maker.

Suspected of collusion with the devil on account of his phenomenal effect on audiences, Tartini asserted that he had once had a dream in which Satan had appeared at the foot of his bed. Tartini's baroque life is beyond compare for drama.

The complete story is told by Tartini himself in Lalande's Voyage d'un François en Italie (1765 - 66):

'One night, in the year 1713 I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I wished: my new servant anticipated my every desire. Among other things, I gave him my violin to see if he could play. How great was my astonishment on hearing a sonata so wonderful and so beautiful, played with such great art and intelligence, as I had never even conceived in my boldest flights of fantasy. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted: my breath failed me, and - I awoke. I immediately grasped my violin in order to retain, in part at least, the impression of my dream. In vain! The music which I at this time composed is indeed the best that I ever wrote, and I still call it the "Devil's Trill", but the difference between it and that which so moved me is so great that I would have destroyed my instrument and have said farewell to music forever if it had been possible for me to live without the enjoyment it affords me.'

Le Songe de Tartini by Louis-Leopold Boilly 1824

The work abounds in great difficulties which were surmounted by Yoon with ease. She played with the greatest aristocratic poise one could imagine, entirely free from histrionics or apparent physical extertion. The sound and musical phrasing was truly ravishing. What an experience for a lover of the baroque!

She next tackled on my favourite Brahms sonatas, a sunny and lyrical work, the Violin Sonata in A major Op. 100 No.2 (1886) known sometimes as the Thun (he wrote the work in a town on the shores of Lake Thun in Switzerland) or the Meistersinger (in one theme he may have quoted from Wagner whose music he greatly admired). Certainly I felt the  ardent love theme may have been inspired by his close friendship with the famous alto Hermine Spies. The complex variable tempos of the second movement were brought off brilliantly successfully. Ah, how I was carried back to an age where sensibility, charm, refinement and intellect held some weight in human relations.

Then a complete surprise in a contemporary work I had never heard before Subito (1992) one of the last pieces by the one of the greatest modern Polish composers, Witold Lutoslawski ('Luto'). The work was commissioned by the International Violin Competition in Indianapolis. His later works for the violin were often dedicated to and inspired by he German violinist Anne- Sophie Mutter. In Italian 'Subito' means 'sudden' and the work was full of 'sudden' musical interludes or 'refrains' followed by 'episodes' of varying complexities - composed through aleotoric techniques. I love the way Lutoslawski balances the fearfully abstract which leads towards  the more accessible harmonic in a manner that betrays the utmost aristocratic refinement of mind and intellectual mastery. Yoon has such an exact sense of rhythm and attack the work came off exceptionally convincingly.

After the interval Prokofiev's Violin Sonata in F minor op. 80 No.1 (1938-46). I had never heard this rather dark and even forbidding work before. Prokofiev had described the slithering violin scales at the end of the 1st and 4th movements as 'wind passing through a graveyard'. The piano part sometimes leaps out at you unexpectedly like a spectre at the feast. To complete her recital the ever popular and beautiful Variations on an Original Theme op. 15 by Henryk Wieniawski (1854). With the sound of the Guadagnini instrument (Wieniawski himself owned one from 1750), her feeling for restrained lyricism and her complete technique it was a most memorable performance of an often played work. 

A wonderful symbiosis exists between these two performers. This concert was certainly one of the highlights of this Duszniki so far.

One of the picturesque wooden houses dotted about Duszniki Zdroj, Poland

August 6 - 20.00 - Alexander Gavrylyuk

This pianist needs no introduction to afficianados of the Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin  Piano Festival. He has been electrifying us for years and this year was no exception. He opened his recital with one of my favourite Schumann piano works, the Fantasy in C major Op. 17 composed in the summer of 1836.

 Liszt said of this piece 'It is a noble work, worthy of Beethoven, whose career, by the way, it is supposed to represent.' Gavrylyuk captured all the pathos within the piece and the explosions of passion. It is such a mercurial work and his range of touch, articulation and tone were perfectly suited to capture the febrile temperament of Schumann. I really loved this interpretation as Schumann is so rarely captured by pianists in his proper, rather unstable, whimsical essence. Next to Kreisleriana surely one of his greatest piano works. 

For me the Chopin Scherzo in B minor Op.20 was less successful to my mind. I felt much of the opening over-pedalled and too fast to achieve the necessary clarity of running passages of the atmospheric 'infernal banquet' required by this dark 'joke' (as the word  'scherzo' is supposed to mean in Italian). The lyrical central section (based on the Polish Christmas Carol  Lulajze Jezuniu) however was quite superb with an ardent singing tone that was deeply affecting. However the return for me of 'the infernal' remained rather rushed and 'over-hectic' for Chopin, again not sufficiently clearly articulated. But others  spoke to afterwards loved this individual approach and interpretation full of a breathless rush of passion. Musical appreciation is such a personal matter at this astonishing level of pianism!

The two Debusssy Arabesques were quite superb in touch, tone and inpressionistic feeling. Quite wonderful.

This was the calm certainly before the storm was unleashed of the Tarantella  from 'Venezia i Napoli' from the supplement to 'Annees de Pelerinage' by Liszt . Nothing so subtle as 'impressionism' here. Virtuosic in the extreme and breathtaking in command - one felt the poisonous spider bite, the frenzied dancing that was supposed to dispel the poison, sweating it out before death captured you, the madness that followed a failure - perhaps even moments of a courtship dance - all present in this tarantella performance. 'Terrific' in the full, true meaning of that word.

He concluded his recital with the Rachmaninov Sonata in B-flat minor Op. 36. He chose the edited 1935 version which is shorter than the original 1913 version. I thought it an expansive, deeply satisfying peformance of this panoramic Russian work which I have already spoken about in more detail above with Vacatello. The instinctive Slavic elements were all there in abundance in this performance. It is clear Gavrylyuk has a profound understanding of this composer, evident from many performances here at Duszniki. 

Encores were as ever mind-boggling...I am sure his Flight of the Bumblebee (Korsakov) is getting faster over the years - we must put him to the stopwatch and graph the result in true Olympic fashion!

A rather poor, but decidedly exotic, picture of Gavrylyuk signing autographs after the concert in Duszniki Zdroj, Poland

A Masterclass with Professor Joaquin Achucarro with Krzysztof Ksiazek working on the Granados El Fandango de candil  from Goyescas 

Professor Joaquin Achucarro made a couple of remarks at his Masterclass that I noted. 'Each note is alive' - a small but profoudly significant remark all developing pianists should take to heart. And concrning Chopin he observed that in so many of his works the emotion of triumph and confidence is followed by emotions of introspective doubt. Is this a Polish national charcteristic too I kept on asking myself?  

While I was attending the Masterclasses I noticed on the wall of the coffee area some quite extraordinary and brilliant photographs of Daniil Trifonov taken by the local photographer Marek Grotowski  during his overwhelming Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1  from the festival last year (and I mean this - the greatest performance of it I have ever heard) . I must share them with you. I quote myself concerning this concert :

Finally in the Liszt group the Waltz Mephisto No. 1 in A major (Der Tanz in Der Dorfschenke – The Dance in the Village Inn). Trifonov was terrifyingly intense and seemed full of insidious Mephistophelian seductiveness and evil. His unsurpassed technique was numbing and electrifying, like an electrical discharge on the Hungarian Plain. He really did play this like a man possessed, crouching low over the keyboard, leaning back in Mephistophelian derision, grimacing, cackling wickedly…really it was quite something to watch as well as hear and added to the overall dramatic emotional impact. 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."

Trifonov through Liszt communicated all this passionate theatre to us in the most intense manner imaginable. ‘What incredible music this is!' I thought as we leapt up to an instant standing ovation even though it was interval and usually ‘not done’ in modern concert life. the greatest perfromance I have ever heard or witnessed  - and there have been many.

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

Daniil Trifonov performing the Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1 at Duszniki Zdroj in August 2011 in the greatest peformance I have ever heard. He literally became Mephistopheles...
Photograph Marek Grotowski

Daniil Trifonov performing the Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1 at Duszniki Zdroj in August 2011
Photograph Marek Grotowski

Daniil Trifonov performing the Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1 at Duszniki Zdroj in August 2011
Photograph Marek Grotowski

It is for unforgettable, unrepeatable and fantastical musical moments like these that the 'Duszniki Family' make their annual pilgrimage to this small but significant Polish spa town.

August 7 - 16.00 - Chamber Concert with Laureates of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute National Piano Competition - December 2011

Lukasz Chrzeszczyk (piano) and Marta Kowalczyk (violin)

These two musicians chose a lyrical and charming work to perform that I had not heard before, the  Sonata for piano and violin in E-flat major Op 18  (1887-88) by Richard Strauss.  This was when Strauss was in love with the soprano  Pauline de Ahna and his youthful ardent feelings are very affecting. I seemed to be taken back to fin de siecle Vienna before the disillusionments of the Great War took hold of the hearts of artists. Lovely performance.

Pawel Motyczynski

This young pianist performed with charm and style the Mozart Sonata in F major K. 332 (1778). He followed this with a sensitive  account of Chopin's Nocturne in D-flat major op. 27  No.2 (1835) and ended his recital with a lively rendition of Liszt's La Campanella (1838).

Karolina Nadolska

I always admire her choice of pieces that make up a charming programme so suitable for an afternoon recital in the salon environment of the Dworek Chopina. She began with an idiomatic account of two Chopin Mazurkas - G major Op.50 No.1 and A flat major Op. 50 No.2. Then a delightful interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Op.37  'The Seasons' - December: Christmas (A flat major). In 1875, Nikolay Bernard, the editor of the St. Petersburg music magazine Nouvellist, had commissioned Tchaikovsky to write 12 short piano pieces, one for each month of the year. Bernard suggested the subtitles for each piece. Despite their simplicity of form they are melodic masterpieces to my mind. Incidentally the sadly missed Tatiana Shebanova recorded this work in its entirety on an historic  mellow-toned Bluthner piano - availability of the recording unknown unfortunately.

I was unaware that Debussy had written a Mazurka (although every composer of note has done so) which is an  early delightful piece seldom performed. She then tackled a rather long and difficult piece from Goyescas by Granados - El amor y la muerte (The Walk of Love and Death) managing to convey the improvised and heartfelt nature of this work excellently with great emotion.

I have always thought Paderewski much underrated as a composer. It is no insult to say he could have been the greatest composer for the cinema ever if the medium it had been in its maturity when he was at his peak. The second movement of his piano concerto could fit any French love film by Francois Truffaut. Here we heard his Chant d'amour from the  Album de Mai Op.10 No. 2 and his idiomatic Polonaise from his cycle Danses polonaises Op.9 No.9.

I am terribly fond of the compositions of this lyrical composer whose output has been undeservedly overshadowed by his legendary status as a pianist and statesman. I found them charming pieces full of those innocent, slightly naive, tuneful melodies Paderewski so loved. I am always reminded of lyrical pic-nics in fields of wildflowers during the Polish summer when I hear his music, uncluttered by melancholic neurosis or inner torment, full of sensitve feeling.

 The black and white 1937 film starring Paderewski called Moonlight Sonata captures this aspect of his nature to perfection. I adore this unashamedly sentimental, wonderful film as it speaks of a time where true feeling, graciousness, respect, empathy, sensibility, charm, Nature and poetry still meant something to civilised people in their relations with each other. The performance of the Moonlight Sonata itself is impressionistic and deeply poetic. Paderewski was 77 when he made this film. Do try and see it somehow - a sentimental dream when one did not have to apologise for being sentimental.

A wonderful still I captured from the beginning of Moonlight Sonata with Paderewski receiving the congratulations of a tiny child after performing Chopin and Liszt to tumultuous applause

Another still I captured from the film Moonlight Sonata where Paderewski is playing his charming and gracious Minuet in G major Op.14 No.1 while children dance at an orphanage. An amateur pianist fails to be able to sight-read this music and the 'unknown' Paderewski slips into the breach as a 'someone who can play the piano'. He looks at the music briefly and mumbles 'I think I can just about manage that.' So amusing...

An eloquent portrait of Paderewski captured from the film Moonlight Sonata while he is playing his own Minuet in G major Op.14 No.1

A lovely recital, beautifully executed and suiting the ambience and circumstances perfectly.

'NOKTURN' (NOCTURNE)  -  August 7 - 22.00

This gracious evening by candlelight with wine is always pleasant. The great Polish actor Olgierd Lukaszewicz read from books and source material on aspects of Chopin the composer and performer. I even played a minor part in the proceedings giving a summary of his presentation in English at the beginning - incidentally, well-received by the many not fluent in Polish. He first considered Chopin the performer as reported by his pupils and contemporaries. He then considered the significance of Chopin's fastidious and extravagantly expensive approach to dress and clothing and finally his approach to the decoration of his apartment in Paris. The composer had advanced tastes in interior decoration and many felt a strong femininity in the atmosphere he created there.

The great Polish actor Olgierd Lukaszewicz at the Nokturn

This presentation was punctuated by performances of various pieces of Chopin by the young Polish pianists present and celebrities such as Dimitri Alexeev and Alberto Nose. An outstanding and interesting performance was of two modern Spanish works by the Catalan composer and pianist Federico Mompou (1893-1987). He suffered terribly from shyness and nerves so rarely performed in public and turned mainly to composition rather than a concert career. His impressionistic, mainly miniaturist works, influenced by Faure and Satie, have major resonance. They have been performed by many great pianists including Rubinstein, Michelangeli, Hough and Larrocha. The   Professor and pianist Joaquin Achucarro (who has been taking masterclasses here) played the exquisite Preludes No. 1 and 9. He informed us that they were directly inspired by Chopin's own set of Preludes. He naturally performed them superbly with instinctual understanding. He is so keen to impart his detailed knowledge of Spanish piano music and advertise rarely played masterpieces. A new composer to me that I must follow up. 

The handsome Italian pianist Alberto Nose after playing Chopin's Barcarolle at the 'Nokturn' - Duszniki Zdroj, Poland

August 8 - 9.30 - Lecture by Professor Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski

'Around the phenomenon and paradox of Chopin's music. From inspiration to resonance'

I did not attend the lecture by this great Polish musicologist and editor. My Polish is not up to understanding technical musicological matters of the highest order of complexity which fascinates Tomaszewski. Such a loss but I am still studyng the language at least!

August 8 - 16.00 - Seong-Jin Cho

"Ah, Youth - the glory of it!" so wrote Joseph Conrad.

Piotr Paleczny, the Artistic Director of this festival, is to be congratulated on his unfailing ability to give us outstanding pianistic experiences, particularly with prodigious young talents.

Every once in a while a Wunderkind  actually lives up to the hype in performance. This is certainly the case with the South Korean Seong-Jin Cho who this afternoon gave one of the most outstanding recitals I have ever heard from a young pianist - 'prodigious' scarcely describes the effect. Of all the musically talented Asian nations, South Korea has always seemed to me to produce the most musically gifted pianists by far. Perhaps the fraught and tragic history of this country enables its musicians to more readily identify with the psyche of composers such as Chopin. 

He appeared here two years ago at the age of 16 and this is what I wrote on that occasion:

The afternoon recital was by the 16 year old Korean pianist and winner of the 2009 Hamamatsu Competition in Japan, Seong-Jin Cho. The Schumann 'ABEGG' Variations and Humoreske in B major Op. 20 were quite wonderful and he responded so well to the romantic and lyrical side of this composer. Few pianists can capture the quirky, mercurial side of his complex nature and this pianist was only partly successful in this difficult interpretative aspect. There was occasionally far too much unacceptable dynamic contrast between the piano and forte sections in the Humoresque.

The Chopin Ballade No: 1 in G minor Op. 23 was superb from the technical point of view but really showed no sign of understanding the work as a musical narrative - not a technical tour de force. The Chopin Ballades tell a story in absolute music - a type of mini-opera. The Op.10 studies were magnificent and thrilling with absolute technical perfection - of course a few lacked emotional maturity but then many pianists are simply too young to convincingly unravel the mystery of Chopin's psyche. That will come. His encores were similarly immaculately prepared (I heard him practising them before the concert at the hotel). Debussy's Claire de Lune was ravishing in tone colour and sentiment. His 'Heroic' Polonaise of Chopin Op. 53 one of the grandest and most magnificent perfromances I have ever heard - the predominantly Polish audience leapt to their feet with a shout at the concluding chord. No bashing or hysteria just glorious tone and musical accomplishment. What a future this young man has ahead of him! He was so perfectly prepared in all aspects of concert pianism, technique and musical understanding - watch out you Europeans!

Now, two years later at the age of 18, he opened his recital with Schumann once again. The Phantasiestucke op.12 (1837).  The composer was inspired by the novellas entitled Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier by his beloved author of horror tales and the gothic, E.T.A Hofmann. Incidentally, Hofmann came to live in Warsaw from 1804 to 1807. He assimilated well into Polish society. The years spent in Prussian Poland were some of the happiest of his life. In Warsaw he found the same atmosphere he had enjoyed in Berlin.

The glorious tone Seong-Jin Cho produced, his immaculate articulation and exact phrasing, his poise at the instrument are the first thing one notices about his playing.

I could analyse each piece in turn but feel compelled to highlight the opening  Das Abends (In the Evening) so lyrical and sensitive a portrait of Eusebius/Schumann himself, suffused with the dreamy light of dusk. Then  Aufschwung (Soaring) representing Florestan (Beethoven - Fidelio) and his wilder passions. Warum (Why?) sensitively questioning and Grillen (Whims) was absolutely brilliant with astonishing control of rhythm, degrees of staccato, inner contrasts of tone - perfectly conceived. In der Nacht (In the Night) brings together Eusebius and Florestan alternating passion with nightime serenity. Fabel (Fable) again brings out the whimsical, mercurial aspects of Schumann and Seong-Jin Cho captures this to perfection - underpedalled, glittering, rhythmically exact ands above all humorous in its shifting moods. The difficult and intense rhythms of Traumes Wirren (Dream's Confusions) were accomplished with the greatest virtuosity which blended seamlessly into the final Ende von Lied (End of the Song)  marked Mit guten Humor - the joy of wedding bells followed by painful anxiety Schumann noted. How all this was accomplished in such an incandescent fashion by an 18 year old is beyond me but more was to come.

He then embarked on the piano solo version of Ravel's La Valse (1921). It was in this work that it became clear to me the diffrence between a natural musician of the highest ability playing from the heart and a trained musician of the highest ability studying the emotional content

His natural musical gifts were immediately clear in this work - an instinctive sense of jazz rhythms, the ability to leap efforlessly from one misplaced beat to another, the command of what might call 'grotesquerie', his articulation sparkled as ever with him, the wildness building as the gyroscopic nature of this work unfolded - an amazing performance. Diaghilev had requested a four-hand reduction of the original orchestral score. Reports say that Stravinsky when he heard Ravel perform this with Marcelle Meyer, he quietly left the room without a word so amazed was he. Ravel's note to the score gives one an insight to what I heard:

"Through rifts in swirling clouds, couples are glimpsed waltzing. As the clouds disperse little by little, one sees an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene becomes progressively brighter. The light from chandeliers bursts forth at fortissimo (letter B in the score). An Imperial Court, around 1855."

After the interval the Chopin Ballade in F minor Op. 52 (1842-1843). He has now understood the musical narrative nature of Chopin's Ballades  to a degree not obvious in the Ballade of two years ago. This was a far more mature performance, a wonderful performance in fact, of one of the undisputed greatest works of Western piano literature.

I must confess to having had grave reservations about how a young boy of 18 might apprach the Liszt B-minor Sonata which formed the last piece on his programme. Would it be another barn-storming virtuoso effort lacking substance as is so often the case? I need not have worried. I think this was where his really prodigious talent, bordering on pianistic genius (and I use this word judiciously), was evident. Almost everything was in place and inspired. I have said much in previous postings (Mariangela Vacatello) on this sonata so shall not repeat myself. Technique overwhelming and the servant of his imagination. Religiosity, passion, hell, introspection, love - an entire man's life held up to inspection and then the quite heavenly conclusion, pianissimo tone quite ravishing, where I imagined angels carrying the soul aloft into the ether - no, I am not so prone to hyperbole as you might imagine but such feelings are occasionally created but not normally by 18 year olds. He appeared never to sweat physically despite all these incredible exertions - remarkable.

His encores, as the rest of his programme, perfectly prepared, polished and immaculate not erasing the memory of what had gone before. The Chopin so-called 'Minute' Waltz brought off to perfection rhythmically with a great flourish of joyful conclusion at the end which one hardly ever hears. Just right! Then the Liszt Consolation No 3 followed by a fabulous account of La Campanella. I have never heard this piece played with such passion, highly emotive, even a possessed conclusion unlike any other. The sound and feather-light articulation of the earlier sections reminded me in sound of Horowitz at his peak or Godowsky - that incredible Fingerfertigkeit (finger dexterity) of the late nineteenth century. Exquisite beauty of tone with absolute delicacy and evenness of touch. Possibly the poetry and charm elude him on rare occasions but that will hopefully come with maturity.

I have never seen the Professors at Duszniki so animated. Many were shouting 'Bravo' - a standing ovation - two weeping with the emotion of it. Remarkable scenes indeed in this super-critical musical environment.

This recital was like the electric green of early spring growth as the trees are coming into leaf, a shimmering vibrancy of new colour and new life, pulsating with the force of nature that will inevitably last but a short time, miraculous to experience in its unique energy and delight.

How fortunate I am to have witnessed this explosion of talent.

The remarkable artistry of a hand-crafted shingle roof on a house in Duszniki Zdroj which reminded me of the matched perfection of the notes Seong-Jin Cho produces on the piano

August 8 – 20.00 – Dimitri Alexeev

What a striking contrast to the afternoon performance!

The eternal polarity of Youth vs Age.

I had been greatly looking forward to this recital since booking my Karnet for the festival. I have admired this distinguished pianist and his individual approach to sound and musical phrasing for many years. But as so often, Chopin interpretation defeats the finest pianists. The composer lies in wait for the unwary, so apparently accessible through glorious melody but fiendishly difficult to plumb the essence of his soul.

The first half of his programme was interestingly devoted entirely to transcription of songs or opera.

Alexeev began with the Liszt transcription of the Pilgrim’s Chorus from Tannhauser (1861) followed by Isolde’s Liebestod from Tristan (1867). He played with what one might call a ‘considered tempo’ bordering on the slow, For me the orchestral sound of the original, which I feel should be in your inner ear, became too massive on the piano, particularly at the climacteric of the Liebestod. I felt the urge and impetus to move forward being uncomfortably controlled.

Liszt adored Schubert and we next heard some beautifully executed, emotive and singing transcriptions of 4 of his songs. They seemed particularly suitable to the intimate atmosphere of the Dworek Chopina and were affecting in their emotional content.

The despair and suicide death in Der Mueller und der Bach (1846) from that masterpiece song cycle Der schone Mullerin; Aufenthalt (1838-9) from the cycle Schwangesange; Litanei; and Der Wanderer (1837-8) which was instructive in view of my remarks concerning the unfortunate performance of the Wanderer Fantasy earlier in the week. The Liszt transcription of the song Der Lorelei after a poem by Heinrich Heine followed. In the nineteenth century legend the beautiful girl on the rock combing her golden hair lures unwary sailors onto the rocks in the middle of the Rhine River.

Finally the Liszt transcriptions of five of Chopin’s Chants Polonaise. 1. My Darling (charming and so familiar in Poland) 2. The Bridegroom (rather too rumbustious for me!) 3. Spring 4. The Ring 5. Merrymaking (definitely an interpretation of Chopin in his rather wilder and joyful youth as a ‘party animal’ – which he certainly was! People forget the carefree youth of this great actor, mimic and practical joker so popular with everyone…).

The second half of the programme was devoted entirely Chopin. First of all the Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat major Op. 61 (1846). It became apparent fairly early on in this half that Chopin was posing some difficulties for this fine artist and musician. This unsettled me greatly. He seemed unable to grasp what various musicologists for better or worse have termed Chopin’s ‘Last Style’. The composers mental and physical state were fractured at the time of composition and this is ever present in this complex, highly demanding work – his last extended composition for the piano. He struggled with the formal design in a final attempt at musical renewal and forging a new aesthetic. I felt Alexeev failed to penetrate the surface of this work as let’s say did Grigory Sokolov when he performed it at Duszniki some years ago – overwhelming in its philosophical, even metaphysical, impact. But that is Sokolov…

The three late Mazurkas Op. 59 (1845) were played in a highly poetic and nostalgic vein with luminous control of tone colour, touch and emotion – exquisite and superb in their way - but I feel Poles prefer a slightly ‘rougher’, more rhythmically urgent, sprightly, less sweet mazurka even in sublimated Chopin rather than one bathed in nostalgia bordering on sentimentalisation, however beautiful and affecting the sound and phrasing. The Mazurka in C-sharp minor op.63 No.3 (1846) was similar in approach.

His performance of the final work in his recital, the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise Brillante in E-flat major Op. 22, I feel is best passed over in silence. All I will say is that this piece requires a great deal of thought of the nature and rhythm of the polonaise and intensive practice before any performance if the styl brilliant nature of it is to be brought off convincingly. It is a deceptively easy work for the virtuoso pianist to feel he has mastered. Many a great pianist has come to grief on the rocks this particular seductive Lorelei. The elusive Chopin requires very particular qualities not given to all pianists…even the finest musicians.

This atmospheric painting entitled Koncert Chopina is by the local artist Władysław Kolbusz
Chopin performing in the Dworek Chopina, Duszniki Zdroj, Poland.

August 9 – 14.00 – Alexander Schimpf

We do not often have German prize-winning pianists at Duszniki and I keenly anticipated the different aesthetic. He opened with the French Suite No.5 in G major BMV 816 by Bach. Playing this on the harpsichord, I was really pleasantly surprised at his use of absolute minimum pedal and ‘dry’ touch and tone. He understood everything about playing Bach on the piano. I felt this very communicative artist had a firm grasp of all the baroque dance rhythms of the work and they sparkled and danced away to perfection. Terraced dynamics are difficult to achieve effectively on the piano.

The Le Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel (1914-1917) came off less successfully to my mind. I also play a great deal of François Couperin on the clavecin and I think studying some of his works, in their unique cultural context, dance rhythms, use of trills and ornamentation assists a great deal in performance of this modern impressionistic work which so often appears of the surface of it to lack baroque elements. Baroque memories filtered through the aesthetic of Ravel is not a simple musical challenge.

After the interval the Chopin Fantasie in F minor Op. 49 (1841) although a perfectly respectable performance of one of the great works of Chopin’s maturity, again did not plumb the depths of this work which contains at its heart the seeds of national revolution.

Chopin often chose as the subject for one of his famed improvisations a piece that is now the national anthem of Poland, the ‘Dąbrowski Mazurka’ or Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła (‘Poland Has Not Yet Perished’). The artfully concealed political message of this improvisation once elicited the remark from a diplomat, ‘you should have thrown out a demagogue like Chopin!’ There are powerful patriotic messages contained within his songs, ballades and particularly the Fantasy in F minor Op.49 which contains among other things a reference to the insurrectionary song Bracia, do bitwy nadszedł czas (‘Brothers, The Time Has Come To Battle’).

His early biographer Marceli Antoni Szulc wrote of his compositions, ‘they are native, immaculate and purely Polish’. The Counsellor of State to the Russian Imperial Court, Wilhelm von Lenz, wrote of ‘his soul’s journey through . . . his Sarmatian dream-world’, and that ‘Chopin was the only political pianist of the time. Through his music he incarnated Poland, he set Poland to music!’ The great pianist and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski, in an eloquent address given at the Chopin Centenary Festival at L’viv (Lemberg, Lwów) in 1910, said, ‘he gave all back to us, mingled with the prayers of broken hearts, the revolt of fettered souls, the pains of slavery, lost freedom’s ache, the cursing of tyrants, the exultant songs of victory.’

When it came to Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor Op. 111 (1821-22) I must confess to listening to the music rather than the pianist. After all the glittering virtuosic display of the last few days I suddenly found myself immersed and taken over completely by one the greatest philosophical statements in Western piano music on the nature of life and our relation to death in the brief passage of time given to us here on earth. The full-blooded Maestoso movement Allegro con brio et appassionato Schimpf presented Beethoven the titan. Then the destiny of that tiny Arietta theme took possession of me as it unfolds and grows in utmost variation and diversity, achieves an incandescent apotheosis and finally passes away. Schimpf took me on this journey with consummate skill and I am eternally grateful to him for it – I was quite beyond judging the pianism on this journey although I felt it to be a great performance because he communicated to me the soul of late Beethoven. What more can one ask for? Analysis of the actual playing if fine enough simply distracts from the spiritual impact of a work such as this. He held us in silence at the end for almost a minute – yes, as it should be. Ideally one should leave the hall profoundly moved in a reverie with no applause.

His calm encore was tasteful and eminently suitable after our profound journey with Beethoven – the beautiful Egon Petri arrangement of Where Sheep May Safely Graze BMW 208 from Bach’s Hunting Cantata.

Professor Dimitri Alexeev making an important point to Artur Haftman during a Masterclass concerning Chopin's Scherzo in C-minor Op. 37

August 9 - 19.00 - Elisso Bolkvadze 

I must confess to admiring greatly the stage presence of this beautiful Georgian pianist. She is quite wonderful to watch and listen to at the instrument.

Elisso Bolkvadze seeking inspiration from the bust of Chopin during her recital at the Dworek Chopina
She opened her recital with Beethoven’s Sonata in C-major Op.2 N0.3 (1795). The composition is dedicated to Joseph Haydn with a nod to Mozart but Beethoven was already pushing the boundaries of the classical sonata and this is his first truly virtuosic work in this form. Bolkvadze has dramatically fleet fingers and a superb glittering son perle in running passages – the envy of any pianist. This fluency tempts her into musical solecisms. I felt throughout this sonata the classical style was eschewed for an opulent, over-pedalled sound with full romantic dynamic contrast which seemed at odds with how I envisage the ‘masculine’ rather forthright Beethoven style of these early sonatas. Szforzandos were performed rather as pedalled chords fortissimo which for me at least resulted in an inappropriate emotional response. The Adagio was beautifully played but an Adagio by Beethoven is not a nocturne by Chopin. In many ways hers was at least a consistent vision of the sonata but not one I would describe to as Beethovenian. Michelangeli’s immaculate, classical reading recorded in a 1955 Warsaw live performance expresses everything that my words are woefully inadequate to express –as ever with music.

The Chopin she chose – the Scherzo in E major Op.54 and the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise Brillante in E-flat major Op.22 did not indicate an affinity with this composer. This scherzo is one of his great works of that extraordinarily productive year of 1842. It is rather benign and calm as compared with the other three and is a study in elegant balance and proportion, rather like a dance. The shifting moods and unusual true scherzo (in the Italian sense) writing make it a musical challenge of the first magnitude. The central lyrical section was beautifully brought off but this was followed by a hectic, rushed conclusion which gave her incredible fingers full reign to display their prowess but at too exaggerated a tempo for this mature work. The Andante Spianato was charming and lyrical but I felt she simply failed to understand the essential nature of the Grand Polonaise Brillante. Certainly it was brilliant in execution but rhythmically and dynamically confused.

After the interval the Debussy Etude No.11 Pour le arpeges composes (1915) and L’Isle Joyeuse (1904). I have dealt with both these works previously so shall not repeat myself. The study came off with much beautiful impressionistic colour. However in the  L’Isle her extraordinary digital dexterity and strength tended to cloud the haze which hovers over Debussy rendering it so seductively impressionistic. The Frenchman is a master of seduction. The dynamic of this score is (rather like the nature of romantic love itself) predominently in piano or pianissimo rising occasionally to mezzo-forte or forte with the final section a triumphal fortissimo. There was not enough subtle dynamic variation for me and the virtuosic rather than expressive tempo she adopted tended to push the cumulative rush forward at breakneck speed obscuring the finer harmonic and rhythmic detail and development.

Bolkvadze was most successful in the Prokofiev Sonata No.2 in D minor Op. 14 (1912) in a spectacular performance. Her technical command and temperament perfectly suited this composer. The up tempo Scherzo. Allegro marcato was fantastically brought off with the greatest energy and drive. The Andante suitably lyrical and the Vivace another tour de force of digital dexterity and she maintained a rhythmic pulse of an impossible order. A very satisfying performance altogether.

August 9 - 22.00 - Glass Duo - Anna and Arkadiusz Szafraniec

The remarkable Glass Harmonica played at the Dworek Chopina

Duszniki always manages to present us with something special and this was a quite extraordinary magical recital on the glass harp or glass Armonica. This particular instrument is the largest professional instrument of its type in the world. In the 1700's the German composer Glück, and an Irishman named Richard Pockritch popularized the use of wet fingers and friction to coax music out of an array of tuned glasses. Skilled glassmakers could subsequently vary the sizes and thickness of cups to sound exact pitches, eliminating the need for tuning water.

They began their concert with Mozart’s Adagio written specifically for this instrument. The ethereal fragility of the sound was immediately apparent also the fact that the two players were clearly highly talented and experienced musicians. Part of Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt’ Suite followed – Morning Mood and Anitra’s Dance. I was fascinated by what one might call ‘the ballet of the hands’ as the movements required to produce the sounds were of the utmost refinement and beauty. Bach’s Toccata in D minor and then the extremely affecting slow middle section of Chopin’s Scherzo in B minor Op. 10. Some of the audience were in tears hearing Chopin transported truly to the realms of the angelic Ariel. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker was clearly suited having been originally composed for the celeste. The Chopin Prelude in E minor Op. 28 No. 4 achieved a remarkable fragility and even angelic religiosity of sound singularly appropriate to the chorale nature of this piece (usually performed too slowly for this to be evident – hear Raoul Koczalski). The harmonies of the Szymanowski Mazurka Op.50 No.1 were absolutely extraordinary on this instrument.

A few more ‘popular’ works followed which were highly successful. The infectious rhythms of Sanfraniec’s own Songuiera had feet tapping quite apart from the performance ballet being acted out during the dancing physical movements of these two musicians. Quite remarkable. Then Pniewski’s GlassPIN and a terrific performance of Piazzola’s Libertango. A Chopin Mazurka encore was astonishing and actually set me thinking about the oriental perfumes of Sarmatia that emanates from some of his mazurkas and nocturnes, immediately evident when performed on this instrument.

What a unique experience this was!

August 10 - 16.00 - Piano Duo - Vilija Poskute and Tomas Daukantas

For sheer entertainment this concert ‘took the biscuit’. This Lithuanian Duo have won a number of distinguished prizes for piano duo. Incidentally, do try to visit their wonderful country some time in your life. It is one of the most unspoiled countries of Europe and the capital Vilnius is quite superb as is the relatively unknown Curonian Spit - a real summer holiday secret for most Europeans except perhaps Russians and Germans. Thomas Mann had a summer house there and wrote Joseph and his Brothers in that lovely house high in the pine woods by the shore. 

Back to the music! From the very outset their deep musical communication was evident. They began with a lively and delightful Spanish work packed with the spirit of the dance by the composer Antonio Robledo (1922-) – Danza Iberica – Mosaico Musical. He dedicated this work to this piano duo. I knew little of this composer but gleaned this from his website:


The composer Antonio Robledo (Hanover-born Armin Janssen) has lived in Zurich for a good forty years. His artistic work is concentrated in the main in Switzerland, Germany, Canada and Spain. He has worked in these countries along with his wife, the acclaimed choreographer Susana, for various ballet companies (e.g. the National Ballet of Toronto, Zurich Opera House). This partnership has given rise to works like Obsesión, A Juan, La Celestina and El canto nómada, musical dramas, which the Flamencos en route dance company performs in its repertoire.

He is also well known for his collaboration with Spain's most innovative Flamenco singers, Enrique Morente and Carmen Linares, the most famous and most colourful Flamenco singer of the modern day. His compositions uniquely marry the symphonic world of the concert hall with the archaic sounds of the Flamenco song. His Flamenco compositions bear testament to his in-depth knowledge of the Flamenco song.

The movement Ritmo from the suite was just so brilliant.

We then had Camille Saint-Saens jocular, amusing and emotionally ironical (to my mind certainly) set of Variations sur un theme de Beethoven in E-flat major Op. 35. Saint-Saens chose the Trio section of the Menuetto from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major, Op. 31, No. 3 as the theme for this 1874 set of Variations. The duo brought it off with tremendous elan and robust good humour. The Ravel Rhapsodie Espagnol (1895-97) for two pianos showed their great technical accomplishments and was a delight from beginning to end with a fine grasp of the Spanish rhythms in many movements of this piece. The opening Prelude a la nuit was beautifully impressionistic and haunting.

One of the greatest works written for the piano and certainly one of the most profound in Western piano literature is the Fantasie in F minor Op. 103. D. 940 (1828) for four hands by Schubert. This was a deeply moving performance that grasped the heart of the tragic consequence anticipated in this late work. The entire audience were moved to silence in the face of such an eloquent spiritual statement.

[I make no invidious comparisons, but one of the finest and most deeply moving recorded performances of this work is by Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia when they were young men on Sony Classical.]

This duo however would not allow one to dwell on the ghastly inevitable darkness of the Reaper and we were then treated to the rumbustious and lively Reminiscences de ‘Don Juan’ de Mozart for 2 pianos by Liszt which lifted our spirits immeasurably. An excellent concert altogether.

A Renaissance fascade in the Rynek or Main Square of Duszniki Zdroj
  August 10 - 20.00 - Denis Kozhukhin

I had been looking forward to this recital as his performance last year at the festival was quite phenomenal. The young Russian from Nizhny Novgorod is without doubt one of the most talented pianists of the younger generation.

For reasons unknown he decided to replace the four Schubert Impromptus on his programme with Cesar-Frank’s Prelude Chorale, and Fugue. I was disappointed but then this work is a great spiritual journey from darkness into the light of dawn and rather set the tone for this deeply serious recital with one curious and elegant Viennese exception. The title immediately takes us back to the formality of the baroque of Bach but Cesar Frank transforms this with his own unique solutions and cyclical form. The Prelude contains a great deal of human pain and anguish which becomes more personal in the Chorale until finally in the complex and embattled Fugue suffering is resolved into the triumphant Chorale theme once again – like a great chiming of bells. Kozhukhin has a serious demeanor at the instrument and emanates a Slavic seriousness of philosophical purpose difficult for me to express – ‘existential dis-ease’ fits well enough. He had fully mastered this profound work in all dimensions.

He then moved on to a rarely, if ever performed work in these days of market forces determining audience attendance, the Sonata in B No. 3 by the German composer Paul Hindemith. A courageous and fascinating choice I thought. Hindemith developed his own compositional system which in many of his works is tonal but not diatonic. We move in cycles from consonance to dissonance and then to powerful fully resolved consonant chords at the conclusion of the sonata. I have only heard this work a couple of times and would need to analyze it in far greater detail to make sense of what occurring harmonically here. It was a favorite sonata of the remarkable pianistic spirit Glen Gould who recorded and performed it. I felt it was rather beyond the Duszniki audience’s frame of reference.

How curious then when the first piece after the interval was Haydn’s Sonata in F major Hob. 16/23 (1773). It appeared like an apple on the moon in this ultra-modern and rather tortured pianistic environment. His performance was brimming with elegance, wit and charm – brilliantly brought off.

This gave such a tremendous almost insupportable contrast when the Prokofiev Sonata in A major No. 6 (1939-1940) exploded upon us with its furious canon fire of that insistent, punishing, tortured opening Allegro motif. My ears became suddenly lost and my whole being became disorientated. Did Kozhukhin intend this as a wry comment on conventional audiences or to deftly point out how human nature and social custom has changed so dramatically since the eighteenth century – the failure of the Enlightenment? Certainly I shall not forget the violent transition from the world of Haydn to this twentieth century percussive War Sonata. The Prokofiev was magnificent – deeply wrought and fully understood in all its anger and anguish. A formidable performance to my mind. The Tempo di waltzer full of yearning for more loving days and suffused with the sadness of total loss, nostalgia and memories. The Vivace was electric and astounding.

The audience clearly appreciated the pianism but were bemused I felt by the programme choices – but then the majority of them are not Russian and all that this entails of that magnificent psyche of suffering and redemption.

As an encore he played an achingly beautiful rendition the Sgambati piano arrangement of the ‘Melody’ from Gluck’s Orpheo ed Euridice. I found it terribly hard to move from the emotions aroused by the War Sonata to those contained within this divine music and the divine way he played it – another extraordinary journey of the spirit with appropriate pianistic tone colour that Kozhukhin can make effortlessly. His final encore was luminous and passionate performance of Prelude op. 32 No.5 of Rachmaninoff.

He seems to be capable of anything with this magnificent technique and wide-ranging sensibility. A rare experience this one, that made uncompromising and strong demands on the audience. Such a rare mind, heart and technique is Kozhukin.

The beautiful market gardens around Duszniki Zdroj, Poland

Laureates of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute National Piano Competition - December 2011

August 11 - 16.00

Wojciech Pyrc

He began his recital with the Mozart Sonata in B-flat major KV 281 (1774). This was a finely tuned performance that showed an understanding of the classical style and a high degree of finesse although something of that eighteenth century Viennese elegance and affectation was absent. The Chopin Fantasie in F minor Op. 49 (1841) was excellent and contained all the requisite ‘Polish element’ as Chopin referred to it. As always with this work it improves with deeper analysis to its revolutionary heart. I must say I was surprised that he embarked upon that fiendish nineteenth century virtuoso warhorse, the Balakiev Islamey: An Oriental Fantasy (1869). He gave a very creditable performance showing his excellent technique. Of course, spoilt brat that I am, on recordings I have heard some of the greatest pianists such as Josef Lhevinne tackle this work and find it difficult to be entirely fair. But Pyrc is to be congratulated in taking it on at all – great courage necessary!

Krzysztof Ksiazek

This pianist is careful, thoughtful and sensitive. He performed three Scarlatti Sonatas (D major L 461; F minor L 383; D minor L. 422). He gave rather beautiful performances but rather too ‘pianistic’ and over-pedalled for my taste even though Scarlatti did play and compose cantabile sonatas suitable for the early Christofori fortepianos at the Spanish court rather than the harpsichord. I find it surprising that many modern pianists who perform Scarlatti do not perform them in the pairs advocated by Ralph Kirkpatrick or even refer to his superior edition when numbering the sonatas. The old Longo Edition has many editorial flaws. I feel young pianists could do well to read the book Domenico Scarlatti by Ralph Kirkpatrick (Princeton 1953). Essential reading to understand the appropriate cultural context and musical structure of the sonatas.

The final work in his programme by Brahms, the Variations on an original theme Op. 21. This was a sensitive and thoughtful performance with immaculate control of tone and touch. An extremely sensitive reading and a pianist who is deeply emotionally committed to the piano and his involvement in the work he is playing.

Pawel Clapinski

I liked his playing very much and feel this pianist has great imagination and an idiomatic understanding of Chopin’s music – he performed the musical narratives, even ‘operas’ of the Ballade in G minor Op. 23 and the Ballade in F major op. 38 with stirring rubato and eloquent silences. His technique has a few glitches and he needs to have more self-confidence in his outstanding gifts. The monumental Liszt Dante Sonata. Fantasia quasi sonata ‘Après une lecture du Dante’ (1837/49) showed he clearly had the work in his fingers but perhaps not the extraordinary shifting tempi, rhythmic fluctuations, chiaroscuro and elements of religious dementia quite in balance.

The teachers of all three boys should train them how to bow, greet and leave the audience in a mature fashion. The self-conscious jitters they communicated to us by rushing on and off were rather needlessly amateurish. An audience sees as well as listens.

Pawel Clapinski working on the reflective Chopin Etude in C-minor op. 25 No 7 at a Masterclass with Professor Joaquín Achúcarro 

August 11 - 20.00 - Final Recital - Alberto Nosè

This Italian pianist was born in Verona in 1979. He has won a veritable bouquet of world laureates. In the year 2000 Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw he achieved fifth place, the year it was won by Yundi Li. I had heard him at Duszniki in 2006.

On this occasion he chose the same Beethoven Sonata in E flat major ‘quasi una fantasia’ Op. 27 N0. 1 that he played in 2006. From the opening bars I realised I was in the presence of a refined and accomplished artist with a complete command of the Beethovenian aesthetic and style. Each movement felt as if it existed alone but at the same time the movements ran together (attacca subito) absolutely intelligibly. His touch and touch highlighted the different textures perfectly of each movement (legato and staccato contrasts for example). This was a deeply satisfying performance but not perhaps as philosophical as the deeply considered Claudio Arrau view.

He followed this with a rather tempestuous even ‘possessed’ performance of Liszt’s Dante-Sonata. Fantasia quasi sonata ‘Après une lecture du Dante’. His interpretation had all the haunted passion and understanding of Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso as a source one could wish for (the pianist is a Northern Italian after all). His technique is awesome in this work. The only criticism was that the dynamic level, particularly in the bass, in this small hall on a Yamaha concert grand was overwhelming and not always in the best sense!

After the interval we were treated to the Chopin 24 Preludes Op. 28. I could not possibly give an account of each prelude nor would it be desirable in review of this amateur nature. Suffice to say that there were no interpretative surprises, simply fine playing with occasionally uneven results. It would have course been impossible for Chopin to have ever considered performing this radical cycle (not least because of the brevity of many) in his musical and cultural ambience 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 actually to 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.

Although Nosè performed them with great virtuosity and deep musicality, I felt the magnificent bass resonance in the left hand of many of the Preludes on the Yamaha, as he utilised in the small Dworek, unbalanced the conception. Some of their egos were inflated rather than retaining their intimacy which waxes and wanes so fleetingly and poetically until that final passionate utterance in D minor of No. 24. I have always felt a Pleyel in the right hands is the perfect instrument for the Preludes.

There was a great call for encores. He first played Liszt’s Waltz-Impromptu to great and elegant effect. Then came one of the finest and most impressionistic performances of Debussy’s Feux d’artifice (Fireworks) I have heard for a long time. Superb delicacy and colour – real mastery here. The another impressionistic piece of Liszt which one rarely hears, the Cloches de Geneve (Geneva Bells) from Annees de Pelerinage Book 1 No. IX. The last was an exquisitely sensitive performance of the Chopin Mazurka Op. 68 No.4.

                                                                       *  *  * *  *

And so another Duszniki International Chopin Piano Festival drew to a close. Sweet sorrowful farewells are made on the steps of the Dworek and we await Mr. Paleczny’s harvest of great pianists for next year, hopefully overcoming the scandalous reduction of his festival budget.

Must we become so utterly obsessed with sport that we exclude the development or even maintenance of other human potentials and emotions? As the Renaissance knew profoundly, for true happiness man must be a balanced creature. The balance was expressed in the neo-Platonic symbolism that should be contained within all humans - a balance of the Book (intellect), the Flower (the sensibility) and the Sword (the physical). This notion speaks volumes concerning our tragically out of balance age.

'Dobranoc!' ('Good night!') at the Dworek Chopina on the final night of the 2012 Festival

The concert shell at Duszniki Zdroj (then known as Bad Reinerz in Silesia) in the early 20th century

The Dworek Chopina and the Chopin Monument in Duzniki Zdroj (then known as Bad Reinerz in Silesia) circa 1897

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this is the world's oldest piano festival (inaugurated in 1946) and I always keenly anticipate coming to this 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 drinking cup...the festival offers one rare moments of bliss and oblivion to escape this crazy and violent world of ours.

Duszniki Zdroj is a charming tiny spa in Silesia on the mountainous Czech-Polish border not far from Wroclaw. My enthusiasm for it and description will be familiar to all the readers of my literary travel/residence book on Poland

A Country in the Moon: Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland 
(Granta, London 2009)


Now translated into Polish as 

Kraj z Księżyca: Podróże do serca Polski (Czarne 2010)


Past Festival Posts:

The 65th. Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Festival 2010:


The 66th. Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Festival 2011:


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