69th Duszniki-Zdroj Chopin Festival August 1-9 2014

Click on photographs to enlarge - far superior rendition

The spectre of Fyrderyk Chopin always haunts the feast of music and pianism on offer at Duszniki Zdroj

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I shall be covering this year's festival in my customary fashion. 

The Artistic Director Piotr Paleczny has assembled an outstanding group of pianists for our refined pleasure and spiritual enhancement in this increasingly heartless world where children are murdered wholesale in various pits and slaughterhouses in wars beyond my understanding. The veneer of our achieved  'civilization' is wafer thin. A platitude perhaps but true nevertheless...

This was written before the horrors now unfolding hourly in Gaza, Ukraine, Syria and Iraq. 

The barbarians are well within the castle walls but we still feel safe in our distant 'civilized' rooms listening to disturbances beyond. For how much longer?

Western Foreign Policy and Diplomacy is surely at the lowest ebb it has been since 1979, or so it seems to me. 

Let us close our eyes to these horrors for a few days and consider something that makes one feel better about being a human being and uplift the creative rather than the destructive in the human spirit. 

Franz Schubert wrote in his diary:

'O Mozart, immortal Mozart, what countless images of a brighter and better world you have stamped upon our souls.'

Certainly the remarkable range of nationalities represented at this year's festival possibly indicates the miraculous unifying capacity music can possess with the correct will, its capacity for consolation in adversity, all precious characteristics of this 'cabbalistic craft' that can wing so effortlessly above strife and death.

The tumbling mountain stream rushing through Duszniki-Zdroj, a stream that so refreshes the spirit, the  Bystrzyca Dusznicka
Welcome once more to the International Chopin Festival at the lovely Polish town of Duszniki Zdrój, a charming spa in Silesia on the mountainous Czech-Polish border not far from Wrocław.

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

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

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

Chopin sketched by Eliza Radziwill at Antonin en route to Duszniki Zdroj 1826.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the past I have experienced many remarkable musical moments at Duszniki. Grigory Sokolov, arguably the greatest living pianist, gave a majesterial performance of that radical composition the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie. He profoundly recreated the tragic instability of Chopin’s disintegrating world during his final years. The Ukrainian pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk returned to the piano after an horrific car accident that threatened to leave him permanently incapacitated. He has gone on to great things internationally. His theatrical temperament, musical passion and truly astounding virtuosity never fail to astonish although he is unfortunately not appearing this year despite his particular affection for this tiny place. 

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

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

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

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

The festival offers one rare moments of bliss and oblivion to escape news of this crazy and increasingly violent world of ours.

Detail from the wall decoration of the remarkable 17th century paper mill that survives in Duszniki Zdroj. This building is unique in Europe. It is a fascinating place to visit. 
My enthusiasm for the festival and description will be familiar to all the readers of my well received literary travel/residence book on Poland :

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

Translated into Polish as Kraj z Księżyca: Podróże do serca Polski (Czarne, Warszawa 2010)


Highlights of the 2014 Festival

The Artistic Director Professor Piotr Paleczny has assembled this year another quite outstanding group of some of the world's finest pianists both young and mature artists - the excitement of Duszniki lies in this variety and range of glittering talents. A unique festival indeed for piano lovers. His tireless work as a jury member in many major international piano competitions and faultless judgement of musical talent gives him unique access to mature artists and prize winners. 

Not only are the pianists performing Chopin in Poland at a ‘hallowed spot’ associated with the youth of the composer (a feat requiring no small degree of vanity, self-confidence or sheer courage) but also before an audience made up of a somewhat intimidating block of distinguished and immensely knowledgeable Polish musical professors, brilliant young music students of critical mind, national radio and an audience who have developed an almost slavish devotion to this festival. They loyally appear every year in a curious, what one might almost term, ‘family reunion’. 

The opening concert is by the fine Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi who is a distinguished prize-winner, teacher and recording artist. He writes on his website:  

My proudest moments are always whenever I realize I've touched someone with my playing. Every time my music gets to someone's heart. It can happen at any time and place. And it is the best feeling in the world.

During the festival we will be privileged to hear the American pianist Claire Huangci. Claire Huangci began her international career at the age of nine, billed a prodigy and playing in a concert for President Bill Clinton at the age of ten. With her technical brilliance, deep musical expression, playful virtuosity and her keen sensibility, she captures her audiences all over the world. A special companion to her musical development has been the music of Fryderyk Chopin. Over the years, her special bond with Chopin has deepened even further, having won First Prize at the 2009 International Chopin Competition in Darmstadt, Germany, as well as the First and Special Prize at the 2010 International Chopin Competition in Miami, USA. Thanks to these achievements, Claire Huangci is already regarded as one of the premiere Chopin interpreters of her generation.

The Russian pianist and composer Daniil Trifonov needs little introduction as without doubt he is one of the greatest pianists of his generation. Martha Argerich wrote of him “It’s also his touch – he has tenderness and also the demonic element. I never heard anything like that.” In the single year of 2011 he won the 13th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel-Aviv and the Gold Medal and Grand Prix at the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition.  In February 2013, Deutsche Grammophon announced the signing of an exclusive recording agreement with Daniil Trifonov. I have written many glowing reviews of his playing on this blog apart from the most recent occasion I heard him in Warsaw. Let us hope none of my strangely unsettled observations of that concert are confirmed at Duszniki.

Any reader of my extensive post on the IX International Paderewski Piano Competition, Bydgoszcz, Poland 3rd - 17th November 2013 will know of my enthusiasm for the winner, the South Korean pianist Zheeyoung Moon. Best to refer to the posting itself rather than repeat myself here.  A wonder for the eye, ear, heart and soul.


I am much looking forward to hearing the young Polish pianist Mateusz Borowiak who recently made his Wigmore Hall debut in London. He achieved a double first in music at Cambridge University which is a most unusual background for a concert pianist which may well give him musicological insights not given to many. The excellent critic Robert Beattie wrote of his Wigmore Hall recital in March this year: 

Altogether, this was an absolutely remarkable recital from such a young pianist. Borowiak has all the qualities of the consummate musician and virtuoso and is clearly destined for great things. 

The Canadian pianist and composer Marc-Andre Hamelin scarcely needs any introduction. His unique blend of musicianship and virtuosity creates interpretations remarkable in their freedom, originality, and prodigious mastery of the piano’s resources. 

For me possibly the greatest of all the 'young' pianists playing today in terms of refinement of sensibility, deep musicality, richness and variety of piano tone and colour, variety of touch and profound poetry of the soul is the Swiss-Italian Francesco Piemontesi.  He is of course unique and individual but for me comes the closest of all to a reincarnation of the pianism of that supreme artist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. He gave a stunning account of Mozart last year and in 2011 he reduced the entire Duszniki audience (august and demanding Polish Professors, music students and our own modest amateur selves) to awed silence with his profound understanding of Schubert. One could hear a pin drop in that rare musical moment of spiritual transcendence.

I anticipate with great interest the recital of Emanuel Rimoldi. He was born in Milan in 1986 to a Rumanian mother and an Italian father and has played the piano since he was five. At the same time as studying piano at the Milan Conservatory, Rimoldi also took courses in harpsichord and composition with Fabio Vacchi. As I play both these instruments after a fashion myself I will be very interested to hear the 'cross-fertilization' that inevitably occurs in interpretative terms.

We are to hear the Ukrainian pianist Antonii Baryshevskyi. He has won many important prizes but most recently the First Prize, Gold Medal and Special Prize for the best performance of Israeli composition at the 14th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel-Aviv. I must say I have never heard a 'bad' Ukrainian pianist - it is nearly always incandescent and exciting! Looking forward to this one. Prize winners are always interesting to hear although experience has taught me to conceal my reservations, the eminence of juries always a danger to one's reputation for objectivity and musicianship. This was not the case in Bydgoszcz at the last Paderewski Competition where I got along terribly well both personally and musically with all of the jury members! It is astonishingly fortunate we hear them at Duszniki so early in their careers after such triumphs and it is a great education. 

At the 
IX International Paderewski Piano Competition I thought Krzysztof Książek was a very impressive young pianist and for me was superior to all the other contestants in the compulsory performance of selected compositions by Paderewski. You can read my comments on his playing at 


Watching the development of Miroslav Kultyshev has been fascinating. He was born in Leningrad in 1985. In 2004 he graduated from the Specialized Secondary School of the Conservatoire (class of Z. M. Zuker). At present he is a student of the St. Petersburg State Conservatoire (class of Professor A. M. Sandler). He was awarded second prize at the the XIII International Tchaikovsky Competition. After the success at the Peter Tchaikovsky Competition Miroslav Kultyshev made his debut in Poland at the International Chopin Festival in Duszniki in August 2008 playing Tchaikovsky and Chopin. He reached the finals of the XVI International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2010 and was awarded a Distinction. An extraordinary achievement. 

His concert career began when he was just six years old. At the age of ten he made his debut at the Great Hall of the St Petersburg Philharmonic, performing Mozart´s Concerto in D Minor under Yuri Temirkanov. Miroslav Kultyshev has won prizes at many international competitions.

I well remember his playing from Duszniki in 2008 (all those years ago) and was absolutely astounded at the communicative electricity he brought to the performance. An amazing executant and I look forward to this recital immensely.

The French pianist David Kadouch (born in Nice) is quickly becoming one of the most acclaimed pianists of his generation. A prize-winner at the Beethoven Bonn Competition in 2005 and Leeds International Piano Competition in 2009, Kadouch has become a regular guest of some of the most important orchestras, recital series and international festivals. I am very much looking forward to hearing this pianist for the first time.

The Festival will close with a recital by Ludmil Angelov. This pianist has an extraordinary and distinguished reputation internationally for his interpretations of Chopin. He was born in Varna, Bulgaria, into a family of well- known musicians of Bulgarian and Greek descent. His CD recording of Chopin’s Complete Rondos & Variations won the Grand Prix du Disque Chopin by the International Chopin Institute of Warsaw.

The presentation at the late evening Nokturn this year is by the irrepressible, humorous and brilliant Professor Irena Poniatowska, a beacon of musical culture in Poland.

Yours truly Michael Moran and the irrepressible Professor Irena Poniatowska share a humorous moment
Duszniki Zdroj August 2012

One set of Masterclasses will be given by Professor Boris Petrushansky. This Russian concert pianist of wide renown has performed with some of the world's greatest orchestras under conductors such as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Valery Gergiev. As a young man he numbered the great pianist and pedagogue Heinrich Neuhaus among his teachers. He himself is also a highly gifted teacher at the Accademia Pianistica Internazionale Incontri col Maestro in Imola in Italy.

The other set of Masterclasses will be given by Professor Ramzi Yassa. He is that rare creature, a distinguished prize winning Egyptian concert pianist. He is the first Arab pianist to record Beethoven's piano concertos.

Born in Cairo, he studied piano with his mother, graduated from the Cairo Conservatoire, and then joined the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire in Moscow under Professor Dorensky. In 1977 he won the First Grand Prix in the Paloma O'Shea International Competition in Santander, and the Special Prize E. Casanueva. He has played with many of the great orchestras under conductors such as Zubin Mehta and Charles Groves. His CD recordings include works by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Chopin, and Beethoven and he has received the Franz Liszt Centenary Commemorative Medal.

He is Pianoforte Professor at the Ecole Normale de Musique 'Alfred Cortot' in Paris, where he has lived since 1977. Ramzi Yassa has been Artistic Director of the International Music Center in Manasterly Palace, Cairo for the past ten years.

This is a really interesting choice of Professor. I hope to be able to talk to him about one of the greatest of forgotten pianists of the past and possibly of all time, the Pole Ignace Tiegerman (1893-1968). He studied with the great Polish pianist and pedagogue Theodore Leschetizky. But it was his lessons with Ignaz Friedman that were fundamental to his development. Friedman said of him 'Tiegerman is the greatest talent I ever worked with.' His historic recordings, although variable in recorded quality and sadly extremely rare, are absolutely extraordinary at every musical level (some taken directly from radio broadcasts onto open reel tape by amateur enthusiasts). He was the only pianist Horowitz feared. Tiegerman spent much of his life teaching at the Cairo Conservatoire and incidentally taught the now much missed Edward Said who was also a fine pianist and close friend of Daniel Barenboim as well as writer and philosopher of genius.

In summary, the 69th Duszniki-Zdroj Chopin Festival will undoubtedly be another exciting ten days of piano music for us to fondly remember.

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Thursday July 31st. 2014

Pleased to say I have arrived in Duszniki safely although it was a long and rather gruelling seven-hour drive from Warsaw on this occasion, the final 200 kms in heavy rain. The roads are becoming increasing full of traffic (particularly lorries) as Poland becomes more economically successful within the EU. Roadworks and carriageway improvements slow everything down but are very welcome for drivers. Only one Polish bus and a Lithuanian truck lay in the roadside ditches.

I usually try to have a picnic lunch and a rest in the grounds of Prince Antoni Radziwill's hunting lodge at Antonin. It about half-way from Warsaw to Duszniki [See above drawing of Chopin and a brief account of his time spent here. Incidentally for those 'in the know' the fine pianist Ingolf Wunder is giving a rare solo recital here on 24th August 2014. He harbours a rare passion for Chopin which probably attracted him here. I know many of you thought he should have won the 2010 International Chopin Competition. A great opportunity to hear him in intimate surroundings. A wonderful artist now recording for Deutsche Grammophon but a winner not my opinion during the competition!]

My picnic at Antonin today - July 31st 2014

An eloquent group of classical columns of the masculine Tuscan Order in the gardens at Antonin

Friday August 1st. 2014

À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs   Duszniki Zdroj 2014

A rather damp laying of the flowers at the Chopin Memorial 

And so we begin...

Inaugural Recital by  Antonio Pompa-Baldi

This was a very satisfying recital by a mature artist who has gone well beyond the urge to bombard us with overt virtuosity and keyboard pyrotechnics for their own sake. Almost everything was most heartfelt, romantic and full of warm, dare I say Italian unashamed emotional expression never cloying but subtle and suffused with love of the music he chose to give us. certainly with this chilly and damp beginning to the festival we needed the embrace of some warm Italian sun on the proceedings!

He opened with a deeply felt account of the Chopin Etude in C-sharp minor  Op. 25 No.7 (1835-37) which for me set the tone of the all the Chopin that followed especially the Berceuse which followed seamlessly in terms of tone and sensitivity of approach.  The 12 Etudes Op.10 were viewed as achieved poetic pieces of music, each a self-contained world that was not merely an exercise to display how clever you are at the keyboard in overcoming particular digital difficulties. This was particularly true of No.11 in E-flat major which I found most moving. A sensitive poetic set which we are not often given to hear.

After the interval the famous Suite Bergamasque by Debussy convinced me (as if I needed it) of the greatness of this composer. I am so accustomed to his shimmering palette of colours, I felt although the tempo, dynamics, articulation and rhythm were almost right in the Prelude, Menuet and Passepied, Pompa-Baldi could have perhaps explored the composer's fabulous spectrum of colours more seductively, given a more luminous and sensitive range of tone and contrast of texture throughout, in particular the impressionistic dream that is Clair de lune, that hallucination of fading love. It is quite unfair to make invidious comparisons but if you love this Suite as I do, Richter is ravishing and unmatched in his exploration of this unique Debussyian sound world...

The Liszt Sposalizio from the Années de pèlerinage Deuxième année. Italie  No.1, a work inspired by the painting The Marriage of the Virgin by the 'divine' Raphael. Again this was approached from the poetic point of view rather than simple virtuosity for its own sake. 

I must confess to not liking as a piece of music the concert paraphrase on themes from the Verdi opera Ernani. Liszt limited himself in this type of paraphrase (as opposed to his transcriptions or fantasies on operas) to a section of the opera Ernani namely the finale of Act III (the King of Spain’s aria and chorus at Charlemagne’s tomb) expressed in a completely pianistic idiom. 

One must remember in these labours of love Liszt gave an invaluable ‘service’ to music in making it possible for audiences to hear favourite operas or parts of operas denied them by geographical separation or infrequency of performance. With ubiquitous recordings today we tend to forget how rare it was for most ordinary folk in Liszt's day to hear certain classical works more than once in a lifetime. This being said the work does little for me I am ashamed to say but I am sure Pompa-Baldi did the massive piece justice being a romantic Italian!

His final piece was a performance of Après une lecture de Liszt (2013) by the Italian Roberto Piana (b.1971). This multifaceted artist - pianist, composer, writer and researcher - was unknown to me until this recital. Clearly this work was based on Liszt's Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata from Années de pèlerinage Deuxième année. Italie  No.7. Clearly Pompa-Baldi had in mind the earlier work in his programme Spozalizio from the same wandering traveller Franz Liszt. There were many almost direct quotes from the Dante Sonata which were developed in manifold ways, some I felt quite ironical and amusing but I am not sure I was supposed to be feeling like this...an interesting idea but I would like to hear it again before giving a firm opinion. 

Antonio P-B is evidently is champion of Piana as we were to hear in his excellent and fastidious selection of encores. Two affecting piano works by Poulenc - the first I was not familiar with, the second a most beautiful waltz taken from a song Les chemins d l'amour. He then turned to Roberto Piana again for his arrangement of the Edith Piaf song Hymn to Love. So charming. Finally we were given the Grieg Nocturne. In an interview Pompa-Baldi wrote of one of his favourite composers :

In almost every piece by Grieg the main musical challenge is to avoid sentimentality without sacrificing sincere expressiveness. And this isn’t as easy as it may seem. One needs also to be able to get into the dance-like rhythms and to ‘read’ beyond the titles to come up with a properly descriptive rendition of many pieces.

This was beautifully realized in his performance.

If only more pianists could be so imaginative, sensitive and graceful in their choice of encores as this fine pianist instead of the hackneyed predictable fare we are usually offered!

All in all an excellent and optimistic opening to the festival.

Saturday August 2nd.  2014

11.00 am  Andrzej Wierciński at the Hotel Fryderyk

This was termed a 'Promotional Concert' and showcased a very promising talent of only 19. As it was free and on a sunny Saturday the Banqueting Room was packed out well before so I sat in the garden on the terrace and listened indirectly through the open doors. 

The four mazurkas Op. 24 were eloquent and poetic - one could scarcely ask for more sensitivity or Chopinesque atmosphere. The B-flat Minor Scherzo Op. 31 was well played but I felt lacked a certain forward momentum and drive towards its climactic moments. Building this inner tension is difficult in Chopin - much of his music contrasts what William Blake might have termed 'braces' and 'relaxes'. Certainly I felt there were many beautiful moments in the  Sonata in B Minor Op.58 but creating this as a grand integrated structure requires great musical maturity. However having such a great work already in your fingers at 19 is a great leap forward. One should always bear in mind that  the indication Largo in Italian does not mean 'slow' but actually 'broad' which is a different matter altogther. The A-flat Major Polonaise Op. 53 aroused all the right patriotic sentiments despite the fact Poland is no longer under the foreign heel. 

Some in the Polish fruit industry might disagree just now but to paraphrase a well-known English saying as an encouragement to us all :

                                                     An apple a day keeps Putin away

Waiting for the concert.....

16.00  Antonii Baryshevskyi 

In appearance this Ukrainian pianist  resembles a figure from a 19th century lithograph wildly riding the steppes which of course gave rise to keen audience anticipation. The programme photograph bears a vague resemblance to the present which is far more flamboyant.  The pieces chosen for this recital were adventurously mixed as might be imagined from the 1st prize Winner of the 14th Arthur Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv. 

The three Scarlatti Sonatas with which he opened the programme (B minor K.27; C minor K.11; D major K.96) were wonderfully played to my mind. Full of colour, varied articulation and refined 'conversation' between civilized folk. A sense of Spain with lovely 'echo' effects and varied rhythmic tensions. I recalled that Scarlatti had at his disposal in Spain at the Escorial a number of Christofori early pianos as well as harpsichords and many of his pieces were certainly conceived for such instruments. This is the reason they transfer so well to the modern piano with a discreet use of the pedal. For me these were reminiscent of the sublime articulation of those early Pogorelich recordings on DGG.

The Schumann Sonata No. 2 in G minor Op. 22 came off less well. 

‘I am endlessly looking forward to the second sonata’, so wrote Clara to Robert Schumann in 1838, ‘Your whole being is so clearly expressed in it.’ The Sonata had quite a long 5 year gestation and is an example of Schumann upholding the tradition of the Classical Sonata. A certain degree of romantic ferment occupied Schumann during the period of composition  (the female dedicatee was changed) but I have no time to dissect matters of Robert's heart here! The tempo indication for the first movement is curious to say the least: 'As fast as possible' followed by ' faster' and then the impossible in the logical and rational order of things  'faster still'. However Schumann was always preoccupied with the Romantic view of the superiority of 'madness' as expressed in many of his musical compositions which gave rise to the mercurial nature within many of his works - something that is so difficult for a pianist to catch and express with conviction. The second movement did sing under Baryshevskyi but the Scherzo and Presto (Always faster and faster) were not light and playful enough in that curiously whimsical way Schumann has, shadows crossing the sun.

After the interval we were treated to a rarely heard work these days in recital, 2 pieces from the marvellous Olivier Messiaen work Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jesu. The cosmic works of Messiaen were a passion of mine in my early twenties and have remained so. This brought back many fond memories of my forays into what was called in those days the 'avant-garde'. The work has 20 sections and is a meditation in various tonal modes on the life of the infant Jesus lasting some two hours. In London many years ago now I attended an unforgettable performance of this complete work performed by Yvonne Loriod (1924-2010), Messiaen's wife, for whom the piece was written in 1944. She was dressed in a fabulous coloured gown that made her appear as a great Bird of Paradise, so appropriate as much of Messiaen's work is based on his notation of the songs of vast numbers of birds. 

I felt Baryshevskyi  possessed a really rare affinity for this complex and rather inaccessible work. Most audiences would need to have done some background preparation and informed themselves concerning the complex directions taken by modern classical composition. The extraordinary piano works of Messiaen  hardly ever appear in recital programmes and it is a great omission - one among many! Congratulations for this courageous decision Antonii!

Olivier Messiaen and his second wife Yvonne Loriod performing Visions de l'Amen for two pianos - Metz 1973

The final work on his programme was the Moussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition. I have heard this work at Duszniki on may occasions. Certainly Baryshevskyi in appearance bears a distinct facial resemblance to Mussorgsky at the same age of 26 which gave a rather exciting extra-musical dimension to his performance. This aspect of a piano recital from the audience point of view is more important than many pianists imagine...

Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) at age 26

This was a powerful and idiomatic interpretation of the work with many moments of fine pianistic colour and detail. The tempo adopted for the Promenade should bear in mind that this is a portrait of a man walking around an art exhibition (the pictures painted by Mussorgsky's friend, the artist and architect Viktor Hartmann). The composer is reminiscing on this past friendship now suddenly and tragically cut short when the young artist died suddenly of an aneurysm. The visitor walks at a fairly regular pace but perhaps not always as his mood fluctuates between grief and elated remembrance of happy times spent together. This is always a challenge for the pianist but for me this Promenade was at the proper tempo although it seems I personally wander far more slowly and less heavily around art galleries than this pianist! 

The art exhibition was of Hatmann's drawings and watercolours (not strong oil paintings) and I feel this should be considered when approaching the dynamic range of any performance in order to avoid undue heaviness. I found the Балет невылупившихся птенцов (Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks) as perfromed by Baryshevskyi  particularly amusing. 

Viktor Hartmann's costumes for the ballet Trilby which Moussorgsky attended and inspired the 5th movement

The bass of this new Steinway at Duszniki is very resonant and in such a work the temptation to overwhelm the audience with sound proves irresistible to many young virtuosi. Particularly in this work the final movement Богатырские ворота (В стольном городе во Киеве) The Bogatyr Gates which depicts the Great Gate of Kiev begs for a monumental sound. 

I shall never forget the shattering performance here some years ago by the inspired Russian pianist  Denis Kozhukhin when we could distinctly hear the Orthodox bells tolling.

Viktor Hartmann - Plan for a City Gate at Kiev

A thought-provoking and impressive recital with a curious unidentifiable short tempestuous encore.

20.00 Claire Huangci

She announced a change to her programme suddenly at the last moment due to illness which caused great comment among the audience. She now opened her performance with the 24 Chopin Preludes. Since the last time she appeared at Duszniki it was immediately obvious that she had greatly matured musically. In the opening pieces of the cycle she produced a truly glorious tone, touch and affecting rubato. As with most performances of the Preludes some were more successful than others, particularly in terms of the tempo adopted which if too rapid makes it difficult for the listener to follow the inner harmonic development of the piece, so important in the counterpoint of which Chopin was a master. 

She does have fantastic fingers and is able to produce an effect characterized by lightness, delicacy, charm, sonority, purity, precision and a rippling execution resembling pearls – le son perlé of the great pianists of the past. Such a sound is more easily obtainable on a Pleyel instrument of Chopin's time with its single escapement action and lighter touch. To achieve it on a heavier modern Yamaha as she can is an astonishing achievement.

She also 'joined up' all the Preludes seamlessly into a continuous cycle and I am afraid I cannot agree with this approach although it is now the generally accepted way of performing the set in nearly all piano recitals. Chopin adored J.S.Bach and probably had in mind the cycle of keys in  Das Wohltemperierte Klavier when he conceived the group. This does not necessarily imply performance of all of them at once. I am sure Bach would not have considered such an idea seriously as his own work was mainly pedagogical in intent. 

I think it derives from the increasing modern concern with presenting 'large-scale' works on programmes - viz. the complete Ballades or complete Scherzos or all Op.10 and Op.25 Etudes in the one programme and so on. So many smaller works of many composers (even the many underperformed Chopin Mazurkas) are unjustly neglected and left on the shelf because they do not conform to the 'small is beautiful' idea - a sad loss of musical entertainment for audiences. Take for example the lovely pieces of the female composer Cecile Chaminade (1857-1944), the salon pieces of Julius Schulhoff (1825-1898), the Etudes of Adolf von Henselt (1814-1889), Viennese waltzes arranged by Alfred Grunfeld (1852-1924) or so many wonderful pieces by Ignacy Paderewski such a the glorious Nocturne.  

Chopin never performed more than five of his Preludes in any of the rare recitals he gave. Ferrucio Busoni was the first pianist to present them as a closed group relatively recently at a concert in 1906. I just feel that each of these astonishing masterpieces of atmosphere and form is diminished by joining them up and not pausing between them. Not that we should slavishly follow programming principles of the past where such compete sets were never performed but I feel we should be aware that large scale is not always the deepest or even musically  the most significant interpretative approach. Chopin's smaller works contain entire worlds of feeling - like Elizabethan portrait miniatures by say Nicholas Hilliard - once you enter that world scale becomes irrelevant and an entire universe unfolds.

I was looking forward to the Schultz-Evler arrangement of the Blue Danube by Strauss - one of my most favorite warhorses and I am sure under her fingers it would have been stunning. Piemontesi gave a fabulously stylish performance of this last year. It is a physically very demanding work and Claire felt unwell so sensibly abandoned it. 

We were treated instead to three Scarlatti Sonatas, one of which was was a beautiful cantabile piece clearly written for an early Christofori instrument and another blindingly rapid which made little musical sense - breathless with insufficient breathed phrasing. No real feeling for the atmospheric rubato of Spain and the conflicting rhythmic tensions of the guitar that accompany the dance. She perhaps did not have time enough to prepare them owing to her health problem.

The final work was the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel in B-flat major Op.24 by Brahms. Naturally this was a very accomplished performance technically but I truly felt she lacked any deep and mature musical understanding of the strong German or Saxon masculine nobility of spirit contained in either Handel or Brahms. 

Brahms smoked strong cigars and drank powerful coffee for inspiration. Handel once thoughtlessly placed a buttered crumpet on a priceless book binding at a friend's house. What has this to do with music I hear you cry? Understanding the personality of the composer one is playing is of great import to my mind. I realize I am not permitted to speak with such a lack of political correctness (no prosecutions please) but the tempi she adopted in performance lacked the required profound gravitas and sheer grandeur of many of the variations contrasted with intense romantic lyricism, pastoral innocence and joy so characteristic of Brahms who experienced such a long life of unrequited love. The performance lacked that particular high seriousness contained within the German soul especially in the magnificent Fugue. This monumental variation structure must build like a great Gothic cathedral in our imagination, such a noble  statement of the strength and power of the human spirit. The theme itself is a magnificent triumphant expression of faith. 

Grigory Sokolov understands this and gave an absolutely overwhelming performance in the Zurich Tonhalle in March 2012. Claudio Arrau understood it too. Listen to them...

The Chopin Nocturne played as an encore was refined and beautifully wrought with the most beautiful singing cantabile tone one could imagine.

Sunday August 3rd. 2014

16.00  Soo-Boon Lee (violin) with Marcin Sikorski (piano)

I can scarcely write sensibly about this prodigious talent from South Korea. Born in 2000 (a millennium child), at the age of 12 she won 2nd prize the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists. At the age of 13 she won the 1st prize at the Moscow International David Oistrakh Competition.

One gazes and listens to prodigies in a sort of trance, with amazed fascination at such extraordinary natural gifts and a grim realization of one's own limitations never to be overcome - well at my age anyway! Her musicality, technique and formidable skills developed so early in life were evident from the first work, popular in Poland - the Variations on an Original Theme in A major  Op. 15 for violin and piano by the Polish violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880).  Born in Lublin into a Jewish family he occupies a special place in the history of violin-playing. First and foremost as a brilliant virtuoso whom contemporary critics and music-lovers regarded as the re-incarnation of Nicolò Paganini. Second, as a composer whose works have stood the test of time and have featured prominently in the literature of the violin and in the repertoire of many leading violinists. Third, as a teacher at two of Europe’s celebrated music academies. Finally as an exciting and flamboyant personality.

For more on Wieniawski this detailed website is excellent:


The Tchaikovsky Souvenir d'un lieu cher Op. 42 for violin and piano was deeply affecting especially the Mélodie. The composer described it as a chant sans paroles (song without words). How a musician of such a tender age and experience can invest this piece with such engaging and felt emotion is an inexplicable aspect of a gift of nature.

The virtuoso arrangement for violin of a work by Saint-Saëns by the violinist Eugene Ysaÿe - Caprice d'apres l'Etude en forme de Valse op. 52, No.6 de Saint Saëns  followed which was simply spectacular in all respects.

The only slight negative I felt in these performances was that the piano was too loud, unbalanced and sometimes overwhelmed the violinist. The lid should have been half closed and the dynamic more controlled.

This extraordinary child was then joined by the Wratislavia Chamber Ensemble for a performance of The Four Seasons with her taking the major violin solo part. her sense of ensemble and synchronization as the conductor of the band showed extraordinarily precocious musicianship. A great communicator, relaxed and smiling all the way at audience and ensemble alike.  All I can say was the whole concert was breathtaking in its musical and technical command. An absolutely authentic Wunderkind of which there few in truth but many who aspire to the label. 

20.00  Daniil Trifonov

After my recent unsettling experience hearing Trifonov in Warsaw I must admit to being slightly apprehensive of tonight's recital. I need not have worried in the least!

He strode in determined and serious fashion onto the stage and sat almost immediately at the instrument, clearly deep in concentration and intent on the opening of the Tchaikovsky Thème original et Variations in F major Op. 19 No.6. 

I am not overly familiar with this work which was taken from the Six Morceaux for solo piano composed in 1873 in Moscow. The Theme was dedicated to Russian music and literary critic, teacher, and longstanding friend of Tchaikovsky Herman Laroche. He particularly loved and appreciated the music of Tchaikovsky and many of his collected reviews of Tchaikovsky's music were published as books. 

Trifonov clearly recognized the influence of Schumann in this work made up of 12 variations which are playful, mercurial, elegant and dreamy in moods with a powerful Lisztian Coda. Trifonov at his best - a fine performance and an intelligent choice as the Schumann Symphonic Etudes were to follow after the interval.

We then heard the very rarely performed Rachmaninoff Variations on a Theme of Chopin Op.22. It is always interesting (but possibly verging on the academic) to explore the output of a popular composer away from the usual well trodden paths of the average listener. Trifonov quite rightly felt this set of variations was particularly appropriate for Duszniki having such an historic connection with Chopin. The work is overshadowed by the variations Rachmaninoff wrote on a Theme of Corelli - La Folia.

This long and demanding work for the listener is based on the well-known Chopin C minor Prelude, Op.28 No.20 which all of us can play! That is where the possibilities of performance of this piece end, at least for me. I recognized the Prelude at the beginning and the dynamic reversal of it at the end but the long sections in between? I had great trouble finding the theme in the claustrophobic forest Rachmaninoff builds around it. Clearly Trifonov heard echoes of Schumann in this work also in some of the part writing.

I cannot examine in detail all the variations he chose to play here save to say some were rebellious and violent in mood, some brooding, some concerned with the heavy hammer of death and fate (such Russian preoccupations), lyrical episodes and of course 'the bells, the bells' another love of the composer. Trifonov as ever had tremendous command over these fluctuating moods, sound texture and colour and the fierce pianistic demands of the work.

After the interval, a far more accessible piece for the audience, the Schumann Symphonic Etudes Op.13; Op.13a posth. I love this work of Schumann so much and Trifonov gave a superb and idiomatic account of it. Horowitz felt it was the best introduction to the essential problems of Schumann interpretation for any young pianist. The composer's mercurial and whimsical nature is so difficult to grasp, the fluctuation in moods of fantasy even moments of visionary madness escape so many pianists.

An autobiographical romantic element is interwoven in the complex genesis of the Études symphoniques which Trifonov captured perfectly. The work was dedicated to Schumann's English friend, the pianist and neglected composer William Sterndale Bennett. Bennett played the piece frequently in England to great acclaim, but oddly Schumann thought it was unsuitable for public performance and advised Clara not to play it!

In much the same way as Chopin's Etudes they are concert studies with a possible pedagogical element in terms of piano technique and timbre. They are widely regarded as some of the most difficult works in the piano literature. Trifonov played these textually difficult 'orchestral' works with a convincing and absolute passion capturing the electrical whimsy and quicksilver moodiness that flows through Schumann.  

Encores by Chopin (2 Preludes and a Waltz), Rachmaninoff's arrangement of a Bach Gavotte and I believe a piece of Trifonov's own composition. One tends to forget he is also a significant composer and actually belongs to that select group of composer-pianists.

A deeply satisfying recital that put most of my fears to rest....

Monday August 4th

16.00 Emanuel Rimoldi

The first part of this recital was entirely devoted to Chopin and his approach puts me in a difficult and uncomfortable position. Each of us has our own 'ideal Chopin' and of course this perfect congruence of pianist and personal conception is rarely if ever achieved. I am afraid that the Rimoldi interpretation is substantially distant from my personal view of this composer. The cultivation of a beautiful tone, long legato phrasing and refined touch were present occasionally but all too rare. Strong emotions yes but stamping the floor for emphasis - not particularly Chopinesque I would have thought. However rather than pontificate concerning the strengths and weaknesses of his approach I would really prefer to remain silent on the issue as he is clearly an accomplished pianist and has his own viewpoint of the composer. I am a mere critic who anachronistically plays an old Pleyel...

The Prokofiev Sonata No.4 in C minor (1917) however seemed to better suit his approach to the instrument. The work was dedicated to Prokofiev's good friend and fellow student at the St. Petersburg Conservatorium, Maximilian Schmidthof, whose suicide in 1913 shocked and deeply depressed the composer. The first two movements open rather gloomily which may be an expression of grief but the final Allegro con brio, ma non leggiere has within it a renewal of energy and life in the face of this awful emotional reversal. Rimoldi captured these moods well and also the implied orchestral colour within the piece.

The Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No.12 was for me the most successful work in his entire programme. It lent itself to the extreme dynamic contrasts he seems so terribly attached to and allowed the true delicacy of some of his fine piano and pianissimo playing, fleetness of finger work, to shine brilliantly. A very satisfying, idiomatic and strongly rhythmic performance of this work. Most enjoyable.

20.00  Mateusz  Borowiak

This was an excellent recital by a fine pianist who showed great self-confidence and authority and was not out to 'prove' anything about his abilities - the music was the thing!

He began with an excellent group of Sonatas (43 in G major; 47 in C minor; 44 in C major; 50 in C major) by Padre Antonio Soler (1729-83). It is rare this enlivening composer is chosen instead of the far better known Scarlatti. I know this will sound prejudiced but I feel that Scarlatti transfers to the modern piano far better than Soler who seems to benefit from the rich overtones and harmonics contained within the harpsichord sound. His writing seems to suit the instrument. That being said, Borowiak was utterly convincing in his semi-detached articulation, discreet use of the pedal, phrasing and rhythmic drive.

He then gave a moving and sensitive account of the popular Schubert Impromptu in B flat major op. 142 No.3, D 935. The beautiful and moving Theme and Variations that comprise this piece are associated with the incidental music Schubert wrote for the play Rosamunde written in 1823 by Helmina von Chezy. He gave Schubert slightly more inner strength with his rich confident tone which was preferable to my mind that the rather effete water colour Schubert we are often presented with.

I found his performance of the Chopin Sonata in B minor Op. 35 tremendously exciting and energetic. He adopted an authentic galloping cavalry tempo in the opening movement, perhaps too fast for some but having galloped myself through Polish forests I thought this absolutely appropriate even if it has little to do with music or military matters! Tremendous energy and forward momentum - I loved it. The Scherzo was similarly full of elan and drive. I was less happy with the Marche funebre as I felt the opening far too heavy in dynamic lacking a great feeling of tragedy. However the contrasting lyrical central section was deeply moving perhaps as a result of the extremes of dynamic. He captured well the emotions and profound association of love and death I feel this movement represents.  Then the mysterious Finale. The Presto could perhaps express the terrible grief-stricken confusion in a mind unable to think or cope with the incapacitating sadness that descends over the loss of a deeply loved one. Perhaps more conventionally and prosaically  'wind over the graves'. 

                                                                              Ondine and Scarbo                                 (from Greg Anderson - concert pianist)
After the interval a sensitive treatment of Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel. 'Gaspard' is the Persian guardian of the treasures and so 'The Treasurer of the Night' creates allusions to someone controlling everything that is jewel-like, dark, mysterious. the work was inspired by poems of Aloysius Bertrand, the French Romantic prose poet. 

In Ondine Borowiak controlled a luminous tone and delicate touch to create the sense of water enclosing the seductive water sprite.

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

Le Gibet was as haunting and horrifying as one might want under his fingers.

What do I see stirring around that gibbet?

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

Scarbo, one of the most difficult pieces in keyboard literature, was not presented by Borowiak as a tremendous virtuoso display piece but more thoughtfully as an attempt to create the atmosphere surrounding a goblin that is terrifying a sleeper in his bed. The climaxes were sufficiently terrifying.

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

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

Finally his programme closed interestingly with the Samuel Barber Sonata No.2 in E-flat minor Op.26. The piece was commissioned in autumn 1947 by Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the League of Composers. The sonata was premiered by Vladimir Horowitz. In fact Horowitz so disliked the final movement he telephoned Barber and told him he was 'a constipated composer' which made him so angry he wrote the final brilliant Fuga in a day. The piece suited Borowiak down to the ground - fast and energetic in the opening Allegro energico, delicate and subtle in the second movement Allegro vivace, expressive and languorous in the third movement and the final fourth a rather jazzy four part fugue.

Excellent recital from a fine pianist.

Tuesday August 5th 2014

Masterclass with Professor B. Petrushansky and Lukasz Mikolajczyk

This Russian concert pianist of wide renown has performed with some of the world's greatest orchestras under conductors such as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Valery Gergiev. As a young man he numbered the great pianist and pedagogue Heinrich Neuhaus among his teachers. He himself is also a highly gifted teacher at the Accademia Pianistica Internazionale Incontri col Maestro in Imola in Italy.

As this masterclass was delivered in Russian with a talented Polish simultaneous translator I was often at sea with the humorous anecdotes and highly intelligent emotional exegesis. He conducts his masterclasses from the first piano and plays what he wishes the student to be guided by as well as supplying fascinating musical, technical and anecdotal details.

The Jan Weber Hall Duszniki Zdroj where the Masterclasses take place

Professor Petrushansky elucidating a digital point to Lukasz Mikolajczyk
concerning the Brahms Sonata no 3  in F minor op. 5
As above
As above but with a slightly complicit professorial smile to the audience...
As above
As above but with the brilliant simultaneous translator and musician Maria Wojcik demonstrating a translated point

16.00  Adam Wodnicki

This recital was in many ways a journey into the past, a journey of sweet nostalgia and enlightenment when pianists were concerned with presenting music to the audience rather than themselves as celebrities. This masterclass Polish professor, international jury member and concert artist could have given recitals as a glamorous young man before a wealthy and discriminating clientele in the setting of the recent glorious film Grand Hotel Budapest in its heyday of the 1930s. Of course he is not so old as that, but carries that elegant past aura of civilized refinement with him in his appearance in period white tie and tails and an entirely self-effacing approach to the instrument and the music. 

Before the war my great-uncle Edward Cahill, the concert pianist whose biography I have just finished writing, gave similar exclusive recitals among his usual concert engagements at the Ritz in Paris when Coco Chanel lived there and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were habitues. A lost era of sensibility and grace in piano playing.

Adam Wodnicki playing his final encore, the very brief but deperately moving Chopin Cantabile in B-flat 

Unusually he opened his programme with a work I had never heard before, the eloquent Samuel Barber Nocturne 'Homage to John Field' Op.33. It set a curious mood for me of languid nights on the French Riviera in the golden time of the 1960s. The delicate filigree beginning, arpeggiated accompaniment agitated middle section and calm conclusion was a fine creative homage to both Field and Chopin. 

He then played a group of Chopin works. First the Impromptu in A-flat major Op.29 which reminded me in its control of dynamics, tone and execution of a different generation of less declamatory players than many present young tyros of the instrument. 

The Ballade No.3 in A flat-major was equally fine in control of the intricacies of counterpoint of which Chopin was such a master. He certainly attempted to present an 'operatic' poetic narrative in absolute music - something I feel can be done by a pianist after the experience of life and music can bring, playing the work often, meditating upon it and examining it closely over many years. 

The Bolero, one of my favorite works of Chopin, could have been more playful and much lighter in touch and with more Latin warmth. Incidentally Chopin was a friend of Pauline Viardot, the daughter of the famed Spanish tenor Manuel Garcia who had introduced the dance to Paris in Chopin's day.

Antonio Cabral Bejarano (1798–1865) - A Bolero dancer
I felt similarly about the rarely performed Allegro de Concert in A major Op. 46. This supremely difficult virtuoso work is a real style brillant piece of Chopin that he probably conceived as a solo version of a movement for a projected 3rd Piano Concerto. Chopin held it in very high regard personally and said it would be the first piece he would play if Poland were by some miracle to become independent. Ironically the country is now independent and we never hear it! In performance the work should have a detached light fleetness of finger-work similar to the Grande Polonaise and early concerti. With Wodinski the work simply did not 'take flight' for me. However I was grateful to hear it at all!

After the interval an excellent Fantaisie in B minor Op.28 by Scriabin - one of the most accessible of his extraordinary works. There is an anecdote, possibly apocryphal, that Scriabin had forgotten he had composed it when a friend played it in his apartment in Moscow!

To conclude the recital the Prokofiev Sonata No.6 in A major. This was an accomplished performance of the War Sonata but for me lacked authentic 'electricity' and sufficient fierceness. 

I can never forget the performance of this work by  that visionary Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin at Duszniki on 10 August 2012 which exploded onto us after a Haydn sonata when I wrote:

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.

22.00  NOKTURN hosted by Professor Irena Poniatowska

I always enjoy this candlelit evening when we listen to a lecture or theatrical reading illustrated by piano works played by those artists in residence for the festival at the time and some who have stayed on especially.

Professor Poniatowska welcomed international visitors in English and provided a handout in German, English and Polish which was most welcome. 

Professor Poniatowska spoke with highly entertaining anecdotal humour of the critical reception of Chopin in various European countries, his relationship with the works of John Field, extracts from newspapers who reviewed his playing. 

One delightful story involved Paderewski so I will tell you - you may already be familiar with it, if so bear with me. 

One evening after a recital in in Paris where Paderewski had included some Bach (as he often did) a female admirer came up to him and said in French (the story is even more amusing in that language)

"This Bach that you play Monsieur Paderewski, it is is very nice music. Does he still compose?" 

Paderewski, terribly alert mentally, without batting an eyelid replied 

"Madame, this gentleman Bach you so love has been decomposing for two hundred and fifty years." 

Her reaction to this quip is forgotten. 

Professor Poniatowska gave us many stories and anecdotes equally amusing. 

These delights were balanced with uncompromisingly serious musical analytical material on say the Chopin genre of the Ballade. The NOKTURN was particularly long this year ending at 1.00 am but that did not worry me in the slightest. For me personally the musical highlight of the evening was sitting mere inches from the South Korean prodigy violinist Soo-Boon Lee as she played Tchaikovsky - an experience to treasure and a definite 'musical moment'. Another was to hear once again Zheeyoung Moon, winner of the 2013 Paderewski Competition in Bydgoszcz which I covered in detail on this blog.

An 'oil painting' of the High Table at the Duszniki NOKTURN

Programme for the Nokturn Duszniki Zdroj Tuesday August 5th 2014

[An event has occurred which is surely one of the miracles of our age and would certainly have inspired and astounded composers and poets of the past (especially Scriabin and William Blake) with cosmic visions. Such are the fantastic achievements of mankind in 2014. It makes me proud to belong to this species. Ask me about Karheinz Stockhausen an his relationship with space...

After a decade long chase of 6.4 billion kilometers (4 Billion miles) through interplanetary space the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft has now historically rendezvoused with its target comet 67 P some half a billion kilometers from the Sun. 

Rosetta has arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It will provide information about the origins of the universe.]

Wednesday August 6th 2014

16.00  Zheeyoung Moon

Having heard her play so often during the IXth International Paderewski Competition in Bydgoszcz where she was the winner I was greatly looking forward to a renewal of acquaintance. 

When she began the Chopin Prelude in D-flat major (The Raindrop 1838-9) the first thing I noticed was how her tone had been affected by the acoustic of the Dworek, so different from the remarkable acoustic of the concert hall at the Bydgoszcz Music Academy. Also of course the pianos were different as she played a Yamaha on this occasion. This was a good performance but in some way lacked the haunting presence of implacable fate and death (the incessant 'raindrops') which lies at the heart of this deceptively lyrical work, so often misconstrued.

I felt the Chopin Piano Sonata in B-flat minor Op. 35 (1837-9) was not quite within her full interpretative grasp as yet although the Scherzo was fine indeed. The challenges of the Marche funebre. Lento were not really met - the dynamic contrasts within the two major sections were too great. The funeral march itself should not be too heavy in dynamic and tone with such big sforzandos which only detract from the introverted tragic element of the movement and contrast too much with the reflective lyricism of the middle section. Perhaps one has to have truly experienced a personal bereavement to penetrate the heart of this movement. The Presto was well brought off but needed more mystery in its fleeting atmosphere.

The Polonaise in A-flat major op. 53 was slightly wayward in its individualistic rhythmic variety which for me tended to detract slightly from the magisterial, Polish patriotic nature of the work. 

May I make a general observation? In a paraphrase of a remark made by Chopin in Paris which I think is appropriate to her playing of all these works. He said 'In otherwise excellent performances of my pieces I often find the 'Polish element' to be missing.' In his later works (not the early style brillant pieces) many fine pianists find it difficult to achieve that unique musical alloy of tragic loss, heroic resistance to oppression, despair followed by triumphant resurgence of spiritual strength and perseverance in the face of terrible adversity that permeate so much of Chopin. Such a deceptively accessible composer! Time and experience of life will help...

The second half of the recital was far more successful. The three Paderewski pieces (the famous Minuet in G major; the gloriously affecting Nocturne in B-flat major; the delightful period charm of the Valse Caprice op.10 No.5) were all beautifully and affectingly played with restrained tone and touch and as is usual with this composer brought tears to my eyes - why is this? Perhaps I am a great sentimentalist after all. Many Celtic Australians have quite a bit of the Irish in them.... 

I would like to repeat my remarks on this composer made at the beginning of the Paderewski Competition where a group of his works were mandatory:

Paderewski is such an underestimated composer of affecting lyrical and poetic piano music which speaks directly to the heart and sensibility rather than burdening the intellect with high seriousness.

Naturally being a great patriot he writes many Polish mazurkas and polonaises but much of his solo piano music reminds me of a superb film score for say an intensely romantic French love affair set in Provence directed by Francois Truffaut. In our imaginations we could be bowling along a poplar-lined route secondaire past hills of vineyards with Catherine Deneuve or Stephane Audran in the passenger seat of a Chapron Citroen cabriolet. Her hair is wonderfully awry in the wind as we head towards une belle gentilhommiere and nights of sophisticated sensual bliss, days of cultivated tastes, food and wine.  Ah...what we have lost of true civilization and culture in 2014...Paderewski had it all. 

The music of Paderewski wears its learning lightly with poetry, charm, elegance and refinement of the highest order. The pieces chosen are an excellent introduction of this neglected repertoire for these young pianists and with luck the pieces might kindle poetry and charm in their playing. 

His piano music, the Polish Fantasy and Piano Concerto (the Romanza Andante second movement is especially graceful and charming) should be far more often performed.

She then gave a fine performance of the Liszt arrangement of Schumann's Liebeslied "Widmung" (1848). Again a very affecting performance. 

Her recital concluded with the highly virtuosic and demanding Liszt Spanish Rhapsody S. 254 (1863) based partly on the Folies d'Espagne of Corelli and the Jota Aragonesa. It was inspired by a tour Liszt made of Spain  (Seville and Granada) and Portugal in 1845. Oddly considering his interest in folk music, Liszt seems to have showed no interest in Flamenco. Zheeyoung Moon brought the work off splendidly with great panache and virtuosity of no mean order.

As encores an emotionally refined Melodie by Paderewski and an impressive, even spectacular Chopin Etude. 

Wild flowers at Duszniki  in the summer of 2014
20.00 Marc-Andre Hamelin

As one might imagine the hall was packed for this concert by a mature artist with a well established international reputation.

He opened his recital with an immaculate rendering - in terms of articulation, dynamics, scarcely any use of the sustaining pedal - of the Haydn Sonata in B-flat major Hob. XVI:41 (1782 -84). The only quibble I had was a lack of period style and what one might term 'affected elegance'. I know the composer was known as a possibly gruff 'Papa Haydn' but I was looking some evidence of the elegance and charm in social manners of the eighteenth century Viennese style. It is a modern trend to interpret Haydn piano sonatas as immaculate conceptions but I missed the graceful phrasal gestures, the 'conversational' element between civilized eighteenth century folk that is implicit in his piano sonatas and explicit in his quartets and other chamber music.

He then performed a truly intimate and refined piece by John Field the Andante inedit in E-flat major. The Irishman Field (1782-1837) was a fascinating character - pianist, composer and teacher - who influenced many later composers such as Chopin, Brahms, Schumann and Liszt. He was taught by the underestimated composer (except perhaps by Horowitz) Muzio Clementi and after a period in London as a concert pianist moved to St. Petersburg for much of the rest of his life where he represented the pianos Clementi manufactured. There is no recent definitive modern biography of the astonishing and adventurous life this bon viveur composer. He died in Moscow.

As well as his famous Nocturnes, Field's seven piano concertos are especially marvelous to my mind and absurdly neglected except in recordings by Andreas Staier and Concerto Cologne. In his fifth piano concerto in C major subtitled L'Incendie par L'Orage (The Storm) there is fantastic moment, a momentous crash, when a tam-tam is struck at the height of the storm, the only tam-tam in any piano concerto ever written. An interesting paper on Field's concertos by Philip Buttall is at:  


The Claude Debussy Images Book I was truly poetic, subtle and impressionistic beyond compare. Words are simply inadequate to describe the tone, touch, sensitivity and refinement of this performance.

He completed the first half with a composition of his own, the Variations on a Theme of Paganini (2011). How to describe this incredible display of overwhelming virtuosity, musicianship, humour, derivative grotesqueries and wild imagination? I have never heard anything to equal it! Standing ovation and wild scenes.

In the second half of the concert the Chopin Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor Op. 58 (1844). the Allegro maestoso was exactly that in tempo, its contrapuntal complexities superbly delineated and full of patriotic emotion. The Scherzo light, scintillating and under-pedalled. The Largo, so difficult to sustain tension and forward movement because of its length, was deeply meditative and created an extraordinary sense of metaphysical consciousness of the mind taken over by a melancholic yet uplifting poetic reverie of a high spiritual order. This movement is one of the greatest statements of nostalgia and yearning reminiscence in Western piano literature. However I felt he made far too strong a dynamic contrast between this dreamlike state one enters with the entry of the Finale. Presto non tanto. It was a terrific jolt and too heavy in dynamic throughout although one was finally carried unresistant to the triumphal concluding chords.
The encores were of particular interest. 

First of all a very recently discovered Godowsky arrangement of the first of the Chopin Trois nouvelles études in F-minor. Hamelin completed this piece himself as Godowsky left it unfinished. This was the first performance in Poland and only the second in Europe. Hamelin has long experience of Godowsky as he recorded a quite extraordinary account of Godowsky's virtuoso 'arrangements' of the Chopin Etudes.

The second encore I thought was to be of the Chopin so-called 'Minute Waltz' op. 64 No.1. Well that was how it began but it was not how it finished with a shall we say almost cacophonous but very witty conclusion Hamelin invented for himself - not unlike in the spirit of the great Victor Borge.

The third encore was of a virtuoso Etude by a Russian composer unknown to me - I shall endeavor to find out form one of the encyclopedic Polish professors who are 'on site'.

Finally a clearly very weary Hamelin ended with the first movement of Mozart's Sonata in C which seemed so fitting in its ultra-innocence and simplicity as a contrast to the sophistication of the programme.

One of the finest recitals so far in the festival since Daniil Trifonov and Antonio Pompa-Baldi.

The joy of a beautiful Duszniki girl. Aren't we lucky...

Thursday August 7th 2014

16.00  Krzysztof Książek 

This was an excellent short recital by a very promising young Polish pianist I first heard at the 2013 Bydgoszcz Paderewski Competition and admired there. 

He began his recital with Mozart - the Eight Variations in A major on Migone's aria 'Come un'agnello' from Giuseppe Sarti's opera 'Fra i due litiganti il terzo gode' ('While two Dispute the Third Enjoys') KV 460 (1784). Mozart quotes Come un'agnello at the conclusion of Don Giovanni. The story of this entertaining opera produced in 1782 is not unlike that of Mozart's  La nozze di Figaro with the usual suspects of arguing jealous Counts and vexatious servants. I found his interpretation both elegant and stylish with the just the right 'Mozart sound' on the modern instrument. A lovely piece of music seldom heard in the concert hall.

At Bydgoszcz I felt his is playing of the mandatory Paderewski pieces among the very best and actually felt he could have won the special prize allocated for this section. Here it was the Variations in A major Op. 16 No. 3 which were performed idiomatically and in the true Polish spirit.

The final piece on his programme was the Prokofiev Piano Sonata No.2 Op.14. Like the Sonata No.4  the work was dedicated to Prokofiev's good friend and fellow student at the St. Petersburg Conservatorium, Maximilian Schmidthof, whose suicide in 1913 shocked and deeply depressed the composer. Here Prokofiev begins to find his own voice which would continue to sound through subsequent piano works.  Książek was in turn lively and lyrical in the opening themes of the Allegro. The Scherzo was a good example of that almost mechanized repetitive rhythm that became so characteristic of the composer. This was brought off well as was the contrasting rather poetic  Andante. The sonata finishes with a brilliant Vivace to which Książek gave the requisite fire. 

Konrad Skolarski

An ambitious short programme to say the least! 

He began his recital with the Rachmaninoff Piano Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor in the First 1913 Version. 

I know this is a desperately unfair comparison to make for any pianist 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 definitely 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 he adored the nineteenth century 'Russianess' of his music. Horowitz created a syncretic version of the original and reduced versions of this sonata with Rachmaninoff's permission.

Skolarski has this great virtuoso work in his fingers but to my mind he cannot yet plumb the spiritual depths of this profoundly Slavic, quintessentially Russian soul - the suffering, conflicting emotions, contradictions, 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.

His approach was to perform it predominantly as a virtuoso work. I found the inner structure often muddied by over-pedalling and there was often a lack of dynamic subtlety. If this was the full 1st version of the Sonata I do feel that the Horowitz version superior as it is more concentrated as I often felt I was getting lost in a vast forest of sound. His powerful dynamic often bordered on the harsh rather than a rich fullness.

This was followed almost immediately by the Chopin Ballade No.4 which felt to be ill-advised. As a listener it is impossible to move from the dense passionate world of Rachmaninoff to the sensitive introvert Chopin almost instantaneously. I am not sure it is even possible even as a pianist. The vital opening to the Ballade was rather lacklustre in setting the atmosphere the scena that follows and I am afraid this conventionality of conception persisted throughout the work. Unfortunate, as the work is after all is one of the greatest piano works in the Western canon. Much more could have been done with this as a 'narrative' and more exploration of the musical sense despite his clear digital mastery of the notes. 

He concluded this short recital with the Liszt Spanish Rhapsody S. 254 (1863). This suited his declamatory piano style far better and he gave us an impressive virtuosic display of some of the fastest octaves I have heard for many a year. This was an exciting performance of a theatrical, ostentatious and immediately engaging work of the traveller Liszt. (see notes above on this work played by Zheeyoung Moon).

20.00 Francesco Piemontesi

This serious programme gave me rather mixed feelings compared to other extraordinary appearances he has made at Duszniki. I felt in this particular recital at least he had lost some of the finesse, seductiveness and subtle control of dynamics I so fondly remember. Clearly he is a very fine pianist but with the exception of the Schubert sonata, the rare hypnotic quality he can conjure with an audience was missing tonight, at least for me. 

A mystery that may have as much to do with me and my fluctuating receptivity as to do with him...'magic' cannot be guaranteed in any concert, certainly not in every piano recital. I feel our expectations are often unrealistic and unfair - pianists are changeable developing human beings after all and everything that this entails. Duszniki is a tough audience as I have said many times before.

He began his recital with a group of Debussy Preludes taken from Books I & II. They were not the most familiar ones. Piemontesi has superb control over the quality and colour of sound he produces from the instrument, a marvellous layering the sound palette as an impressionist painter might do. His control over the pedal, vital in Debussy, is done with inspiration. 

Book I No. 1. Danseuses de Delphes / Dancers of Delphi  
This he played with deliberation and a curious ringing resonant tone that was beautiful and eloquent 

Book II No. 2. Feuilles mortes / Dead Leaves
This could have been played with a little more melancholic atmosphere...for me.

Book I No. 5. Les collines d’Anacapri / The Hills of Anacapri
Beautiful interpretation. Having been to Anacapri and the Villa San Michele I saw it all in my mind's eye. The glissandi were like sun flashes off the blue Mediterranean - wonderful.

Book II No. 7. La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune / The Terrace of Moonlit Audiences
Possibly slightly more 'impressionistic' and piano for the poetry of the night...

Book II No.1 Prelude Brouillards / Mists
Everything I could wish for in terms of atmospherics...

Book I No. 11. La danse de Puck / Puck’s Dance
Probably my favourite of the the group this evening. Puck is a clever, mischievous elf or sprite. In A Midsummer Night's Dream Shakespeare introduces Puck as the 'shrewd and knavish sprite' and 'that merry wanderer of the night'. Debussy and Piemontesi captured his flighty, devious character to perfection. 

There was a programme substitution in his recital for the Schubert B flat major D 960 which was the late Beethoven Sonata No. 30 in E major Op.109. This smaller scale remarkable work has a more intimate character after the massive Hammerklavier Op.106. I thought it an excellent performance with extraordinary variety of articulation, tone, rhythm and touch. Piemontesi approaches Beethoven rather more emotionally, in a completely different way to say the far cooler and 'classical' Alfred Brendel or the restrained Wilhelm Backhaus. His 'Beethoven sound' and tempi seem to foreshadow the arising Romantic movement in say Schumann which is historically accurate in this late sonata. Premonitions.

The contrasting tempos of the unusual first movement structure Vivace, ma non troppo were well delineated in this performance with energy and great emotion. High tension and energy in the second Prestissimo movement. The Third movement Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung. Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo  has a beautiful theme which perhaps he could have taken taken a little broader and at a more moderate shall we say 'philosophical' tempo. The variations were really quite wonderful under his fingers. The glowing pianistic tone and sheer variety of articulation, touch, singing legato contrasted with almost fierce emotional staccato at moments (the fugue in Variation 5) and other technical achievements Piemontesi brought to this set of variations was quite remarkable. He brought great intensity to Beethoven's tremendous augmentation of his demonic passion that occurs through the closing pages, the apotheosis of this sonata - but there was true resignation in the end, free of life's torments. 

I felt the audience were not so familiar with this rather less than 'grand' late sonata and did not respond with the enthusiasm I felt!

The opening page of Beethoven's op.109 Sonata. So much of his agitated state of mind can be gleaned from examining the wild movements of his quill in such manuscripts. Beethoven was profoundly deaf by the time he wrote this sonata in 1820

After the interval Piemontesi embarked on two Etudes by Gyorgy Ligeti (with the scores). I have racked my brains to discover what his thinking was on this issue and why he made such a choice. I am completely unfamiliar with these works and they did not leave much of an impression. I would have thought if he wanted to enter or educate us in the avant-garde he could have chosen say a Boulez Piano Sonata or even a piano piece by Stockhausen which are far finer and more interesting than this visionary German composer is usually given credit for. Even Pollini plays a few of them...

The final work on his programme was the late Schubert Sonata in C minor D  958 - something I had really been looking forward to since he performed the Sonata in A major D. 959 here in 2011. These late sonatas were written during the last prolific months of Schubert's all too brief life, this one in 1828 a mere three months before his death. His sonatas were neglected until the twentieth century as they were thought to be inferior to those of Beethoven. Of course they possess the unique voice of a musical genius. Beethoven had died the previous year and in some ways Schubert felt he had inherited his mantle. 

There is really nothing left for me to say about this deeply satisfying and spiritual performance. The turbulence of the Allegro, the haunted atmosphere, chromaticism and terrifying sforzandos of the Adagio, the mysterious bars of fatalistic silence in the dark, deeply moving and sombre Menuetto, the inexorable inevitability of fate that lies in the relentless rhythm of the final Allegro  -  all captured by Piemontesi with aching intensity in the richest of tone and refinement of touch. In many ways, other pianistic matters being equal, this type of emotional commitment is superior (for me) to Alfred Brendel's rather more 'classical' detachment.

I gave him a standing ovation but as so often with Schubert at Duszniki I was on my own...well, at the beginning anyway. A noble, profound and monumental performance as I have come to expect from Piemontesi and Schubert. 

Two encores: 

The first another piece by Debussy, the Arabesque No.1 followed by a spectacular virtuoso arrangement of the George Gershwin song Embraceable You.

Friday August August 8th

16.00   Ji-Yeong Mun

It would be very easy to underestimate the enormous talent of this South Korean young lady she is so modest in her approach to the audience - but then she is only 19 and has already won the 1st prize at the 2014 International Piano Competition in Takamatsu. 

She opened her recital with the Piano Sonata No.15 in D major -the 'Pastoral' - by Beethoven. How the original publisher came by this title is somewhat of a mystery except perhaps the bucolic pastoral character of the final movement. We fancy we hear musettes in the left hand. 

Ji-Yeong Mun has a fine ear and fingers that are perfectly commanded by it. Stylistically the sonata was absolutely perfectly in period - at least as we conceive of the approach to the 'classical' sonata in modern times. The pianistic intricacies of the score posed no issues. Published in 1801 the sonata is emotionally untroubled as Beethoven had perhaps only just begun to experience the first signs of deafness that would seriously descend in 1803 and result in his tragic writing of the Heiligenstadt Testament. 

My misfortune is doubly painful to me because I am bound to be misunderstood; for me there can be no relaxation with my fellow men, no refined conversations, no mutual exchange of ideas. I must live almost alone, like one who has been banished; I can mix with society only as much as true necessity demands. If I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me, and I fear being exposed to the danger that my condition might be noticed. Thus it has been during the last six months which I have spent in the country. By ordering me to spare my hearing as much as possible, my intelligent doctor almost fell in with my own present frame of mind, though sometimes I ran counter to it by yielding to my desire for companionship. But what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone standing next to me heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life - it was only my art that held me back.  
(A passage from the Testament © Translation John V. Gilbert)

Beethoven deeply loved the countryside and its delights. An excellent choice of sonata then for this lovely young lady in the bloom of youth who is highly unlikely to be troubled by the darker shadows of the soul and spirit.

She then continued the Beethoven connection but with  in a modern work, a spirited piece by the American composer John Corigliano, the Fantasia On An Ostinato (1985). Corigliano's scores, now numbering over one hundred, have won him the Pulitzer Prize, the Grawemeyer Award, four Grammy Awards, and an Academy Award (“Oscar”) and have been performed and recorded by many of the most prominent orchestras, soloists, and chamber musicians in the world. 

This work was commissioned by the VII Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1985 as a competition piece to be played by the 12 semi-finalists. Corigliano writes that he intended them to create rather than recreate which is what most pianists are taught to do. In the competition they would never have heard the piece before and thus be forced to create

The first half of my Fantasia On An Ostinato develops the obsessive rhythm of the Beethoven [2nd Movement of Beethoven's Symphony No.7] and the simple harmonies implicit in the first half of his melody. Its second part launches those interlocking repetitions and reworks the strange major-minor descending chords of the latter part of the Beethoven into a chain of harmonies over which the performer-repeated patterns grow continually more ornate. This climaxes in a return of the original rhythm and, finally, the reappearance of the theme itself.

After the interval Ji-Yeong gave an excellent performance of the Schumann Piano Sonata No.1 in F sharp-minor 'Florestan and Eusebius' Op. 11 (1833-35). He was 25 when he wrote this work which broke many of the 'rules' of the classical sonata as written by Beethoven. he dedicated the wpork Clara Wieck who would become his future wife. At this time her father Friedrich had sent her away and in some ways this was a  'secret' musical communication between them. Schumann used the characters 'Florestan' and 'Eusebius' to reflect opposed aspects of his personality: 'Florestan' (from Beethoven’s opera Fidelio) is the extrovert and adventurous hero, the great winning risk-taker. 'Eusebius' is the gentle, rather introverted, poetic aspect of the composer's personality. In many ways the sonata is a conversation between these two aspects of the composer's character. There is often a literary element to Schumann's musical inspiration (E.T.A. Hoffmann for example) and this sonata is no exception. So infatuated with virtuosity was he that he actually abandoned a novel he had begun on the violinist Paganini, that 'devilish creature'. 

Technically it is a very demanding virtuoso work particularly the Finale. Liszt loved the 'Aria' of the sonata which he singled out fro praise in a review he wrote of it in Paris. Ji-Yeong seemed to rise to this technical challenge effortlessly and brilliantly. I felt she needs more time however to absorb the deeply personal elements Schumann wove into this work - life, love, imagination and virtuosity - but naturally this will come in the fullness of increased maturity. Capturing the elusive, mercurial nature of Schumann's shifting moods, his changing whimsical patterns rushing hither and yon like quicksilver, is no mean task for any pianist.

A remarkable recital by a tremendously gifted young lady who is certain to go far in the frighteningly competitive world of modern pianism.

20.00  Miroslav Kultyshev (piano) and Mayuko Kamio (violin)

Kultyshev and Kamio after their stupendous recital
At every Duszniki Festival there is what I have come to call a 'Duszniki Moment' when something remarkable happens in performance or in the social life of the event. As it was already the Friday I had pretty well given up hope of anything occurring of really extraordinary musical or social interest. And then this astonishing recital burst upon us all...

The concert began with a solo recital by Miroslav Kultyshev of the Chopin 12 Etudes Op.25. I had been keenly anticipating hearing this pianist again. I had first heard him play at the great  Duszniki Festival of 2008 (they are all marvelous but this one was especially graced by brilliant pianists of world class). At that time he played the Tchaikovsky Dix-Huit Morceaux Op. 72 and a monumental Chopin Sonata in B-minor op.58. 

When he reached Stage III in the XVI (2010) International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition Warsaw I wrote:

His Sonata Op. 58 (which the majority of competitors chose to perform) had a marvellous noble and expansive exposition, urgent and passionate but somewhat rushed towards the end of the first movement. The Scherzo did not have enough emotional content for me. The Largo (which can become interminable in the wrong hands) had superb cantabile and was true bel canto. The Finale - Presto, non tanto was powerful and dramatic with amazing articulation. (Incidentally the indication 'non tanto' was not observed by many competitors as they took part in what might be termed the Grand Prix de Vitesse Pianistique). Kultyshev released the unrelenting driving force of fate. Must be a finalist.

He was a finalist but failed to achieve a prize and was given a 'Distinction'.  I wrote of his Chopin E Minor Op.11 Concerto performance:

His cantabile tone is glorious and his touch effortlessly refined and articulate. The Rondo. Vivace based on the Polish krakowiak dance rhythm was tremendously energetic and sparkled with virtuosity of a kind rarely heard. A very fine performance in perfect 'classical' style. He must be among the prize winners if all his solo performances are taken into account. 

The intervening three years or so (six for Duszniki) have seen a remarkable improvement in his playing in terms of emotional depth and finesse in technique. Each Etude was conceived as an integrated independent world of expression and sound. I cannot go thorough each one here (although they deserve it) but I would like to single out: the beautiful glowing tone and cantabile of No.1 in A-flat major; the most ardent and heartfelt No.6 in G-sharp minor I think I have ever heard in concert; the haunting emotion and ominous phrasing he gave to the tenuto opening of the so-called 'Winter Wind' Etude No.11 in A minor and the explosion of passion that followed; the courageous even fierce expression of triumph over fate in No.12 in C-minor the mood of which the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas so well expressed in his lines 

Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light 

A magnificent performance of the Op.25 Etudes that left me emotionally bereft.

Yet more was to come in the encores. A brilliant Chopin Etude No.8 in F-Major from the Op.10 set. This was followed by one of the most deeply emotional and moving renditions of  the Schumann/Liszt Widmung (Dedication) I have ever heard. This is the first piece in the Schumann song cycle Myrthen inspired by the German poet Ruckert. Is it too fanciful to suggest that he was playing this deeply romantic love song to his beautiful Japanese wife who was present? They seemed so much in love during the second part of this recital. After the high tension of the Op.25 I simply left the hall in tears and hid myself in the garden of the Dworek. Should I admit to this publicly? I have the authority of great age and sensibility...and it happens so rarely these days in concerts of music - 'that cabbalistic craft' as Thomas Mann described it in Dr. Faustus. Kultyshev posses a rare power. 

After the interval he was joined by his wife the Japanese violinist Mayuko Kamio to perform the Cesar Franck Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano (1886). How often is it that you are able to listen to two Gold Medal Winners from the same year (2007) of the 13th International Tchaikovsky Competition playing this passionate sonata? In November 2012 Kamio and Kultyshev released a difficult to obtain recording of this work for Sony Japan.

The violinist performed on a 1735 'Sennhauser' Guarneri del Gesu Cremona instrument lent to her by The Stradivari Society in Chicago. 

The "Sennhauser" is one of fewer than ten known examples by Guarneri del Gesù with backs made from maple cut "on the slab," which dramatizes the appearance of the flames in the wood. Interestingly, the "King Joseph," "Stern, Panette," and "Sennhauser" all have backs of this rare type and were probably cut from the same log.

Little is known of the early history of the "Sennhauser" violin. In 1924, the Hamma firm of Stuttgart sold it to Dirksen Adolf Sennhauser, thus the name of the instrument. Joseph Fischoff, an enthusiastic amateur living near Chicago, acquired the instrument and enjoyed it for many years. In 1989, Bein & Fushi acquired the instrument from Fischoff through an intermediary and sold it to the present owner, who generously makes the violin available to exceptional artists through The Stradivari Society®. (taken from the Stradivari Society website)

Many regard the Cesar Franck as the greatest violin and piano sonata ever written. Certainly it seems to me to be the most transcendent and ardent expression of passionate love in the repertoire. A biographer of Franck Léon Vallas writes of his music:

The overpowering climaxes to which he builds are never a frenzy of emotion; they are superbly calm and exalted. The structure of his music is strangely inorganic. His material does not develop. He adds phrase upon phrase, detail upon detail, with astonishing power to knit and weave closely what comes with what went before. It is this strange absence of genuinely dramatic and sensuous elements from Franck's music which gives it its quite peculiar stamp, the quality which appeals to us as a sort of poetry of religion. It is a music which is apart from life, spiritual and exalted. It does not reflect the life of the body, nor that of the sovereign mind, but the life of the spirit.

The sonata was composed by the 63 year old Franck as a wedding gift for the young violinist Eugene Ysaÿe. What a wonderful gift for young lovers! Franck presented the score on the wedding day and it was actually performed on the morning of the wedding breakfast (26 September 1886) by the violinist and a wedding guest who was a pianist. One can scarcely imagine a more romantic premiere. 

The story of its performance history continues in mystery at the first public performance of the work at the Museum of Modern Painting in Bruxelles in December 1886. Electric light was forbidden in the gallery and the work came at the end of a long afternoon programme. Dusk had already fallen when Ysaÿe and the pianist Léontine Bordes-Pène opened with the Allegretto and the last three movements were performed in complete darkness from memory. The intensity of listening to this music in Stygian gloom must have been an intense experience not given to many.

I suppose the first aspect that struck me when Kamio and Kultyshev began was the exquisite flute-like tone she was able to produce on this violin. I have never heard anything like it particularly as the sonata progressed and the rich timbre she was able to produce resembled that of a cello.  

It is simply foolish to try and describe in words the overwhelming impression this brilliant performance had on the audience. Standing ovation and wild scenes. 

The only negative aspect was not to do with the inspired and passionately spiritual interpretation but it was that Kultyshev left the lid on 'full stick' on the Steinway which meant that the instrumental balance of piano and violin seemed on occasion severely distorted in this small room with its resonant acoustic. The nature of piano design means that on 'half-stick' the piano sound changes so perhaps he did not want this as a musician. If that is the case then he could have lowered the general dynamic of his playing, left the piano lid fully open but not so often drowned the extreme subtlety of Kamio's mastery of her instrument. He is not a soloist in the sonata. So few artists properly consider the acoustic of the Dworek when they perform here - a complete mystery to me. They are often far too loud on a full concert grand - it is not Carnegie Hall in there. Oh, and no-one likes me to say this either...

The Franz Waxman Carmen Fantasie (1946) is a virtuoso showpiece for violin and orchestra originally written for Jascha Heifetz  to play in the movie Humoresque. The young Isaac Stern actually subsequently performed the piece in the film. The composer was born in 1906 in Upper Silesia in Chorzow (formerly Konigshutte). Was this one reason apart from the display of virtuosity the piece was chosen? Duszniki Zdroj (formerly Bad Reinerz) is in Lower Silesia. This fascinating character had a extremely prestigious celebrity career writing film music for the large Hollywood studios such as Universal and MGM. He died much honoured in 1967 in Los Angeles. 

This was an arrangement for violin and piano and was spectacular in the extreme for the violinist, in particular the closing pages which literally rendered the entire audience breathless with excitement and admiration. A 'Dusznki Moment' indeed!

A fisherman at the trout pond at my favorite fish restaurant near Duszniki Zdroj.

22.00   Leszek  Mozdzer 

The audience who attended the concert given by this world famous Polish Jazz musician was completely different to that at the main festival except for a smattering of interested folk. The concert was full of highly enthusiastic jazz aficionados who clearly appreciated his music. 

He is an excellent pianist and I think I would like to have heard him a different venue - a smokey jazz bar with a beer in one hand and a lady in the other.

In my youth I knew and played quite a lot of jazz in hotels and bars (mainly Hammond organ and some piano). However I was from a different generation of piano - that of Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk and Fats Waller. Favourite groups were MJQ, the Dudley Moore Trio, the Jacques Loussier Trio, Stephane Grapelli. The most abstract jazz I encountered was probably Miles Davis. I never really responded to the John Coltrane type 'free jazz'.

Mozdzer belongs to the latter school of abstraction with some recognizable jazz improvisations on Chopin mazurkas, some Bach and some Prokofiev inspired things. The rest were his own compositions assisted by placing various objects inside the Steinway to give it sound effects - John Cage and others in the avant-garde would have called it a 'prepared piano'. The sound was not unlike the effects possible on the more expensive pianos of Mozart's and Schubert's day with 'Janissary' stops, harp effects, mutes and Turkish bells. 

I found his music sound improvisations interesting but rather repetitive in style and creativity and not entirely suitable for intensive listening in the 'high art'  venue of the Dworek Chopina

Saturday August 8th. 2014

Masterclass in the Jan Weber Hall with Professor Ramzi Yassa

He is that rare creature, a distinguished prize winning Egyptian concert pianist. He is the first Arab pianist to record all the Beethoven piano concertos.

Born in Cairo, he studied piano with his mother, graduated from the Cairo Conservatoire, and then joined the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire in Moscow under Professor Dorensky. In 1977 he won the First Grand Prix in the Paloma O'Shea International Competition in Santander, and the Special Prize E. Casanueva. He has played with many of the great orchestras under conductors such as Zubin Mehta and Charles Groves. His CD recordings include works by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Chopin, and Beethoven and he has received the Franz Liszt Centenary Commemorative Medal. 

I discovered in conversation that he was a onetime pupil of the great Polish pianist Ignacy Tiegerman (1893-1968), the only pianist feared by Horowitz and the greatest talent Ignatz Friedman ever taught.

He is Pianoforte Professor at the Ecole Normale de Musique 'Alfred Cortot' in Paris, where he has lived since 1977. Ramzi Yassa has been Artistic Director of the International Music Center in Manasterly Palace, Cairo for the past ten years.
Professor Yassa working with Lukasz Mikolajczyk on the magnificent Brahms Sonata in F-minor Op.5

Professor Yassa'a right hand eloquently elucidating a point concerning the Brahms Sonata

Professor Yassa was the antithesis of Professor Petrushansky in that he did not play passages for the students as examples but allowed them to find the sound or phrase themselves under his guidance. He did not provide a 'sound model' on the second instrument to emulate but used what I felt was a more creative approach by encouraging the student to discover for himself the effect the Professor desired. 

He told me that once in conversation with Jorg Demus, the great Austrian pianist had remarked that owing to the plethora of recordings much playing in modern times has become imitation rather than interpretation.  Professor Yassa extended this idea by saying that much in modern playing is imitation rather than inspiration. I could not help but wholeheartedly agree after all my recent research into a large number of early recordings for my just completed biography of Edward Cahill.

Professor Yassa working on Chopin Preludes 12-24 with Edwin Szwajkowski

Professor Yassa working with Alexander Chodacki on the Prokofiev Sonata VII
As above

Professor Ramzi Yassa performing at the Duszniki-Zdroj International Chopin Festival in 1981
(photo - Marek Grotowski)
16.00    David Kadouch

I was very much looking forward to this French winner of the 2005 Beethoven Competition in Bonn and the 2007 Lees International Piano Competition.

He began with Bach - the Capriccio in B-flat major 'sopra la lontananza del suo fratello dillettissimo (On the Absence of his Most beloved Brother) BWV 992 (1704). EWhen he composed this early work Bach was living at Arnstadt on the northern edge of the Thuringian Forest and was influenced by the music of that region.

In 1704 Bach's older brother Johann Jacob who was an oboist joined the army of King Carl XII of Sweden. Bach was nineteen when he wrote this charming Capriccio which showed a great fondness for his brother. There are not many 'programme music' works of Bach. It paints a picture of his departure in the carriage with a subtitle describing what occurs. The opening
Arioso is 'a coaxing by his friends to dissuade him from the journey.' The Andante 'is a picturing of various calamities that might overtake him in foreign parts' (a real risk in those days which caused his family endless anxiety). Bach modulates into wrong keys to describe such reversals. The Adagissimo is 'a general lament of his friends,' and in the Andante 'come the friends, since they see it cannot be otherwise, to take their leave of him.' The fifth movement is an Aria de Postiglione which depicts the horn-call summoning him to the carriage that will take him away. The final movement is a 'Fugue in Imitation of the Postilion's Horncall' as might be expected from Bach.

Kadouch painted all this colourful activity and various scenes with great skill and panache - the horn-call especially!

He then played a work I was not familiar with -  Dans les brumes (In the Mists) (1912) by Leos Janacek. It is in general atmosphere an impressionistic work in a cycle of four parts clearly related to the soundscape of Claude Debussy. On a first hearing played by Kadouch it seemed a lovely work to me and I believe one of his finest pieces for piano.

We then had Bartok's Out of Doors Suite (1926)

The work is made up of five pieces:

With Drums and Pipes - Pesante
Barcarole - Andante
Musette - Moderato
The Night's Music - Lento - (un poco) pìu Andante
The Chase - Presto

Kadouch entirely understands the use of the piano as a percussion instrument rather than a melodic one in this work. The opening was excellent with the percussive effects of drums. The sound world he created was abstract and clear with accurate durations which is so difficult to achieve. The ominous, threatening nature of The Night's Music was well captured with the cicadas, birds, frogs and peasant pipes of an Hungarian summer. The composer wrote in a letter that he would allow the pianist to play the world of night insects ad libitum but to be honest I am unsure whether Kadouch did this as I was not reading the score.

After the interval a commanding although not perhaps inspiringly individual performance of the 24 Preludes of Chopin Op.28. I have said much about these Preludes as a cycle above in my comments on the performance by 
Claire Huangci so shall not repeat myself here save to say that Kadouch also joined up the Preludes

I was particularly moved by his No.15 the so-called 'Raindrop Prelude' which to me illustrated perfectly the accepted story behind its composition in a wet and windy Valdemossa on Mallorca. In her Histoire de Ma Vie Georges Sand wrote that Chopin 'had a vision of himself drowned in a lake. ‘Heavy, icy, drops of water,’ he said, ‘were falling rhythmically upon his heart,’ and when I made him listen to the raindrops which were, in fact, dripping with regularity upon the roof, he denied that they were what he had heard.'  Then of course there is the perhaps apocryphal  story of monks appearing to Chopin in the monastery where he was staying and terrifying him...

True or not the 'raindrops' in the Prelude move from uncomplicated innocent evocation of rain and life to become what seems to me to become the hammer of irreversible, impending doom and ominous fate 'on the shores of the Styx' before a degree of optimism in life is again restored. Kadouch captured this scheme perfectly to my mind, more eloquent than most pianists I have heard. Unfortunately the reflective mood thus created was violently interrupted and lost by his immediate and forceful beginning of Prelude 16. 

I am increasingly convinced that if the Preludes are now to be played as a cycle (as seems inevitable  according to contemporary demands and practice) they should at least be grouped in singles, or twos or threes so that one group follows another naturally through key relation, similar 'atmosphere' or some at least some  musical congruence in dynamics. There could then be an eloquent silence between such groups or individual Preludes which I feel would add even greater drama to the cycle as a whole and which would allow us to absorb as listeners each brief masterpiece at its true worth.

As an encore to this fine recital I think Kadouch played a piece of Schumann but my 'little grey cells' were unable to come up with the title!  Sorry...

20.00      Ludmil Angelov      Final Recital 

On the 100th Anniversary of the Birthday of the great Polish pianist 
Witold Malcuzyński (1914-1977)  


A few words concerning Witold Malcuzyński before I begin to assess the recital by Ludmil Angelov, the world famous Bulgarian pianist. 

First of all I would refer you to the excellent introduction to Malcuzyński in the programme notes on pp. 81-84 (see programme link below) written by the gifted musicologist and peerless historian of pianists and their historic recordings, Stanislaw Dybowski. One quotation in this text struck me forcibly. Dybowski directly quotes Malcuszynski:

'Interpretative fidelity is a myth. [...] In my opinion, a composer is someone who created the work, then went his own way and left it to its own fate. I see a composer saying to performers: it's up to you now. Perform my piece in line with your own temperament and let yourself be carried away by your fantasy. Don't try to imitate me. [...] You will prove your interpretative fidelity by thinking not about me, but about yourself. I would put such imaginary words into the mouth of Chopin, Brahms or Liszt. It's time we abandoned such meaningless aesthetic cliches as 'objective interpretation'. There is nothing objective about art. Art is subjective - otherwise it comes to nothing.' 

My great-uncle, the Australian concert pianist Edward Cahill, would have agreed completely with this philosophy as would most of the pupils of Leschetizky or those who came under his charismatic influence.  Malcuzyński concentrated on the production of a beautiful tone and touch through the direction of Leschetizky's famous pupil Ignacy Paderewski with whom he took lessons. Cahill admired Malcuzyński greatly and had attended his concerts in London. 

Malcuzyński was the son of affluent parents and grew up in Warsaw and on his mother’s estate in Wilno. His first piano teacher was Jerzy Lefeld, but his main period of tuition was with Josef Turczynski, a pupil of Busoni, at the Warsaw Conservatory. His parents however were uneasy about their son becoming a professional pianist, and insisted that he combine his musical studies with those of law and philosophy at the University of Warsaw. After graduating from the Warsaw Conservatory, Malcuzyński took some lessons from Ignacy Paderewski at the home of the celebrated pianist at Morges in Switzerland. Paderewski had an enormous influence on the young Malcuzyński, as he later recalled: 

‘After a few months with him, I was no longer the same person, and my conception of the piano as a means of expressing feelings had been completely transformed.’

In a review of a London recital of November 1946 a critic stated that Malcuzyński was

‘…one of those pianists in whom a natural physical endowment has combined with an acute musical sensibility to produce a virtuoso of the first rank… he is the most unsentimental and unaffected interpreter of Chopin we have heard for a long while.’

In 1958 a Polish music critic in Warsaw reported

‘…a pianist who is very much our own, one who upholds the great tradition of “Romantic” pianism, of Paderewski and Slivinski. People have need of such playing: frank, generous, personal, human in the full musical sense of the word and altogether eloquent.’

With his elegant good looks and aristocratic bearing, charming stage manner, presence and style, Malcuzyński was a favourite pianist with the public during his lifetime.

(Above quotations and material from the outstanding detailed notes by Jonathan Summers  for NAXOS at:   http://www.naxos.com/person/Witold__Malcuzynski_/73773.htm )

Recordings by Malcuzyński are now available through Warner Classics ICON Series at:

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The first half of  the Angelov recital was devoted to Polish piano music that was not all familiar to me. The programme served to emphasize the huge repertoire of 'forgotten' smaller works that begs for exploration by pianists, a subject I have already mentioned above. 

He opened with the Grande Polonaise in F-sharp major Op.6 (1881) by the Polish/Ukrainian composer and pianist Juliusz Zarębski (1854–1885). I had never heard this work in concert before although thanks to the recent championing by Martha Argerich of his masterpiece, the Piano Quintet in G minor (1885), I was familiar with the genius of this composer. 

Juliusz Zarębski (1854–1885)

Born in Zhytomyr in Ukraine he became an outstanding pianist studying with Liszt in Rome who became his friend. He became interested in the two keyboard piano, an invention of Edouard Mangeot in a time of ferment in the exploration of the possibilities of the piano. This piano had the astonishing additional 'horror' feature of the upper keyboard running in the opposite direction (i.e. the bass to the right, the treble to the left) to the second conventional keyboard below. He mastered this extraordinary instrument in two months.

A Mangeot double keyboard piano

Zarębski was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1883 and this great musical genius died at the appallingly young age of 31.

The Grande Polonaise begins with a splendidly spirited 'tune' full of the nationalist feelings of resistance and rebellion. A patriotic work and then some! In the middle section the cavalry begin their customary valiant charge at the enemy and the work concludes triumphantly and triple forte. 
Certainly this composition betrays Lisztian bravura, virtuosity and dramatic influence. There are also echoes of the Chopin Polonaise in F-sharp minor. Angelov possesses a fine tone and touch and gave a full-blooded account of this super but to me rather unfamiliar work although strangely enough I immediately recognized the theme.

He then performed 4 Mazurkas by Aleksander Michałowski (1851–1938). Michałowski was a Polish pianist, pedagogue and composer who, in addition to his own remarkable abilities (testified by his many historic recordings), had a profound influence upon the teaching of piano technique particularly the works of Chopin and Bach. He founded what might be loosely termed the 'Polish School'.  Michałowski had a large number of gifted pupils who became great concert pianists in their own right (Wanda Landowska, Vladimir Sofronistsky, Mischa Levitzki, the brilliant Boleslaw Kon and Heinrich Neuhaus (teacher of Richter and Gilels) were among the most famous). 

  Aleksander Michałowski (1851–1938)

These Mazurkas were charming works, full of refinement, sensibility and the achieved civilization of a different more refined age to ours. The influence of Chopin was clear but perhaps with a little more appropriate 'peasant stamping' in the dance under the fingers of Angelov.

Then a definite virtuoso treat the a rarely if ever performed 4 Etudes from the École des doubles-notes by Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925). 

                 Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925)

Born in Breslau (now Polish Wroclaw) Moszkowski was a German-Jewish composer, pianist and teacher. He was also an excellent violinist. His father was Polish and his brother Alexander a well-known writer and satirist in Berlin.

Paderewski once said of him: 

'After Chopin, Moszkowski best understands how to write for the piano, and his writing embraces the whole gamut of piano technique.'

In the mid 1880s he began to suffer a problem with the nerves of his left arm and abandoned his glittering concert career for teaching. As a wealthy man he moved to Paris in 1897 and among his famous pupils were Vlado Perlemuter, surprisingly Sir Thomas Beecham who took lessons in orchestration, the astounding Josef Hofmann and Wanda Landowska. His closing years were impoverished and debt-ridden but many famous pianist admirers came to his aid with benefit concerts. He died of stomach cancer.

Although largely forgotten by concert audiences (although not by pianists and not in Poland!) many of his small-scale piano pieces remain popular, often as encores. Horowitz was particularly fond of the scintillating Étincelles (Sparks) as an encore piece and Marc-Andre Hamelin is fond of performing his Études de Virtuosité, Op. 72.

Angelov gave a fine virtuoso display of these not terribly musically interesting studies written mainly in thirds and sixths - fiendishly difficult to play I expect. What would Josef Hofmann have made of them I kept asking myself. The period delicate glitter, charm and lightening velocity of those great late nineteenth century virtuosos was absent but that breath-taking tradition has now utterly died it seems in by 2014. I know his Piano Concerto in E major Op.59 performed relatively recently by Piers Lane in Warsaw which is magnificent and monumental in its almost overblown patriotic panorama - but what of that? Stupendous and grand in scale and scope like so many of these now neglected late nineteenth century concertos.

If you consult the biographical details of Ludmil Angelov on the link below p. 149 you will find he possesses an enviable world reputation for playing Chopin.

He began the second half of his programme with 3 mazurkas  Op. posth. which were played with grace, sensitivity and refinement and the correct often inaccessible rhythm.

The Sonata in B-flat minor Op. 35 fared less well however. The first two movements were rather disappointing and for some curious reason did not engage me emotionally. It seemed to me he played without sufficient analysis of the spiritual depth, lacked expressive passion, variety of rubato and colour and thoughtful attention to detail. I truly felt he had played this work so often that a certain blurring and emotional disengagement now marred his performance. He did observe however the important repeat of the Grave after the exposition which most authorities such as Charles Rosen, Jeffrey Kallberg and Jan Ekier in the New National Edition now accept as correct. 

Many pianists still do not observe this even in such overwhelming performances as that by Grigory Sokolov whom I heard possibly twenty years ago in WarsawThat night after the passionate agitation of the first movement and the subtle pianissimo conclusion of the Scherzo, he prepared us for the most profound and tragic Marche funèbre of any I have heard...the angelic soul of the central cantabile would bring the very stones to tears...the fierce and unrelenting mental anguish of the Presto. I know I should not make invidious comparisons but given Angelov's international Chopin reputation I feel I am entitled to this. 

Among the 'young moderns' I can never forget Yulianna Avdeeva's incandescent and exalted performance at the XVI International Fyderyk International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2010 which incidentally gave her the Best Performance of a Sonata prize. Among the visionaries of the past the extreme individuality and creativity of Alfred Cortot opens the mind.

The Nocturne in C-sharp minor op. 27 No.1 had beautiful control of a luminous tone, touch and warm emotional range, colour and an affecting rubato. Why oh why could he not have brought such sensitivity to the larger scale works such as the sonata and the Polonaise in A-flat major Op.53 which concluded the recital, a performance I would prefer to pass over in silence.

As encores we were given the delightful Moszkowski Capriccio Espagnol and a charming piece entitled Humoresque perhaps by the Bulgarian composer Ivan Marinov but I may have misheard his announcement.

The Dworek Chopina where the concerts take place

And so we thank and bid farewell to the Artistic Director Professor Piotr Paleczny and the Administration of Mr. Andrzej Merkur for yet another excellent festival of piano music unique in Europe and the oldest piano festival in the world. 

The 70th International Chopin Piano Festival in Duszniki-Zdroj in 2015 is sure to be something very special indeed so I have been told. Why not try and come?

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As I write this I have just now sadly learned of the death of that great musician and pioneer of the 'Early Music' movement, the Dutch recorder player, flautist  and conductor Frans Bruggen at his home in Amsterdam. Together with Gustav Leonhardt, Alfred Deller, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Kuijken brothers (with whom he formed the superb La Petite Bande) he changed the sound and performance practice of baroque music forever. 

He co-founded and conducted the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century in many inspiring concerts of eighteenth and nineteenth century music on authentic and historical instruments in Warsaw as part of the Chopin i Jego Europa Festival which is about to begin once again this evening. His loss to the festival is tragic and irreplaceable.

In the 1970s when the great Early Music revolution really began, such performers inspired me to take up the harpsichord in London and I commissioned my Flemish instrument from the great Luthier David Rubio as a result. I still have it.

Thank goodness we can continue to listen to the perfection of his art unblemished by the passage of time through the miracle of modern recordings.

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Another source of melancholy occurred on 15th  August 2014 with the death of Professor Jan Ekier, one of the world's greatest authorities on the music of Chopin. He was 100 and just two weeks shy of his 101st birthday. He is responsible for the monumental National Edition of Chopin's music which I use extensively. It provides many variant readings (vital in Chopin scholarship) and shows numerous fine details unrecorded in other editions. Chopin is revealed as possessing  an even more acute ear for the nature of piano sound than previously thought in addition to his melodic genius. 

On my 1844 Pleyel the variants contained in the National Edition are fascinating to explore. Jan Ekier was also a composer and fine prize-winning pianist and his recordings of the Chopin Mazurkas is certainly one of the finest and most idiomatic in my collection.

The Fryderyk Chopin Institute has more on Jan Ekier here:


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70th Festival Website Link:        http://www.chopin.festival.pl/

Past Festival Posts

The 68th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Festival 2013


The 67th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Festival 2012


The 66th. Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Festival 2011


The 65th. Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Festival 2010


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