72nd. International Chopin Piano Festival 4-12 August 2017, Duszniki Zdroj, Poland

A reproduction of a fragment of a picture depicting Chopin painted by Ludomir Sleńdziński (1951?)

The Dworek Chopina where the piano recitals take place
Welcome to the 72nd International Chopin Festival at the lovely Polish town of Duszniki Zdrój, a charming spa in Silesia on the mountainous Czech-Polish border not far from Wrocław.

In this 72nd year of the festival, the artistic director Piotr Paleczny (his 25th anniversary in this position) has assembled a quite remarkable array of famous, musically outstanding and charismatic pianists, many of them prize-winners in international competitions. Most of the greatest pianists playing on the international stage today have appeared at Duszniki Zdroj, many at the very beginnings of their pianistic careers or shortly after winning major international competitions.

72nd. Duszniki International Chopin Piano Festival

4 August
20.00Inauguration recital Nelson Freire No tickets
5 August
9.30Master Class Prof. Tamás Ungár
16.00Recital  Viviana Sofronicky – piano
i Sergei Istomin – cello
 No tickets
19.00Piano recital George Li No tickets
22.00Piano recital Szymon Nehring (out of combined festival ticket)
6 AugustSunday9.30Master Class Prof. Tamás Ungár
16.00Piano recital Claire Huangci No tickets
20.00Piano recital Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń
7 August
9.30Master Class Prof. Tamás Ungár
16.00Piano recital Pavel Kolesnikov
20.00Piano recital Ingrid Fliter
8 August
9.30Master Class Prof. Tamás Ungár
16.00Piano recital Federico Colli
19.00Charity recital by participants in the Master Class
22.00NOCTURNE No tickets
9 August
9.30Master Class Prof. Soo Jung Shin
16.00Piano recital Yeol Eum Son
20.00Piano recital Alexander Gavrylyuk
10 August
9.30Master Class Prof. Soo Jung Shin
16.00Piano recital Dinara Klinton
20.00Recital Alena Baeva-violin  i Vadym Kholodenko-piano
11 August
9.30Master Class Prof. Soo Jung Shin
16.00Piano recital Hyuk Lee
20.00Piano recital Nikita Mndoyants
12 August
 9.30Master Class Prof. Soo Jung Shin
16.00Piano recital I prize, Van Cliburn 2017
20.00Final recital Vadym Kholodenko No tickets
All concerts will be held in the Chopin Manor
Master Class sessions and the charity concert on 8 August, at 19:00, will be held in the Jan Weber Chamber Music Hall, in the Foundation’s headquarters

Sadly Kate Liu has cancelled her recital to be replaced by Claire Huangci
* * * * * *

Details in English of artists' programmes and biographies can be obtained on this link:

Festival General Website Link 

This year is the 25th anniversary of Professor Piotr Paleczny's position as Artistic Director of the festival so it is bound to be remarkable. 
Make every effort to come!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

I had a particularly trouble-free drive from Warsaw on the new motorway connections to Wroclaw but the last 80 or so kilometers further on to Duszniki on International Route 8 is a bit of a nightmare with huge lorries heading or returning from the Czech frontier. The road is very slippery also and possibly quite dangerous in certain weather conditions. Managed in my 'new' 2010 Jaguar XKR to do the trip in around 5.5 hours. It used to take far longer years ago.

Opening ceremony of laying of the flowers at the memorial to Chopin

Inaugural recital

Chopin's Manor, Friday 4 August  20.00,  Nelson Freire

This recital by an artist, whose eminence requires scarcely any introduction, was rather a bitter-sweet experience for me. Audiences often expect an extraordinary experience from every great artist every time they perform - something that is an impossible expectation of course on any human level. The mood of the artist at the moment is dependent on so many unknowable personal factors but also the inner condition of individual members of the audience. Rubinstein said he always played to the female members of the audience because the men were thinking about their dinner to come or golf.

Nelson Freire opened his recital with Bach. The Prelude in G minor for organ BMV 535 (arranged by Siloti). Many tears ago I used to play a small Willis organ in the Mission Chapel on a Pacific island. I have nearly always been unconvinced by the nature of such organ transcription for the piano. For me this performance was a revelation that changed by mind completely. Freire extracted an astonishing range of organ registers, textures, colour and legato playing from the piano. The bass notes were inescapably reminiscent of a 16' organ stop. Deeply satisfying. Then a Busoni arrangement of the chorale 'Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesus Christ' BMV 639. For me these intimate  Busoni arrangements of these innererly spiritual works of Bach are by far the most satisfying musically of his transcriptions for me, as opposed to the monumental productions most listeners associate with Busoni and Bach. To conclude the transcription group the always affecting, despite its familiarity, the Myra Hess arrangement of 'Jesus bleibet meine Freunde'  BMV 147. This piece has always had deep significance for Freire, who performed it often as an encore. He presented it as a true meditation with superb cantabile and glowing polyphonic lines. Truly wonderful that brought to my mind nostalgia for the older school of Bach on the piano, not dry and highly articulated, often lacking emotion, but here pedaled judiciously into the warm and healing humanity of Bach.

A rare picture of Ferrucio Busoni playing a pedal harpsichord with a 16' stop, possibly an inspiration  for his Bach organ transcriptions that naturally were transformed into something  highly pianistic.

Freire then embarked on the that most challenging work, the Schumann Fantasy in C major Op. 17. Long before I came to the Duszniki Festival, his performance of this same work in 1989 has never been forgotten by those who heard it. Perhaps some members of that original audience were present this night. 

The composer's mercurial and whimsical nature is so difficult to grasp, the fluctuation in moods in the Fantasy (composed in the summer of 1836) contains even moments of visionary madness, a quality that escapes so many pianists. 

Liszt said of this piece 'It is a noble work, worthy of Beethoven, whose career, by the way, it is supposed to represent.' Freire captured much of the pathos within the piece and the explosions of passion. It is such a mercurial work and his familiarity with the immense, rather fragmented structure, was clear from the outset. Fine long lines of musical connections, notes inevitably leading one to another, harmonies evolving rationally. His fine range of tone and dynamic was perfectly suited to capture the febrile temperament of Schumann. And yet I felt something missing from this tremendously authoritative performance. Perhaps it was the communication of musical emotion to the audience I felt to be lacking. Next to Kreisleriana for me surely one of Schumann's greatest piano works. 

After the interval some Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasilieras No.4  (1941) Preludio. This is one of nine pieces that the composer wanted to establish musical links between Brazilian music and Bach. Written originally for piano and orchestra, the connections with Bach and the beginning of Freire's progammme were immediately obvious - then the Brazilian additions. This was followed by 3 pieces from 'A prole do bebê' No. 1.  Character pieces depicting dolls. 

Branquinha (A boneca de louça) a Little Light-skinned Girl (The Porcelain Doll)
A pobrezinha (A boneca de trapo) The Little Poor Girl (The Rag Doll)
Moreninha (A boneca de massa)/Little Dark-skinned Girl (The Papier-mâché Doll)

I was not very familiar with these pieces but his rendition seemed to me tremendously idiomatic and affecting.

His final work in the recital was the Chopin B minor Sonata Op. 58. This performance was surprisingly uneven, as if over familiarity with the work had bred a rather emotionally uncommunicative stance on the work without great immediacy. However as someone of my modest attainments, I must be cautious what I say concerning artists of his  stature. Yet that was my feeling and I must be true to it. His 1989 performance of the work is similarly remembered by all those who were present and I doubt this rendition would be remembered too fondly. The Allegro maestoso possessed great nobility of spirit and great virtuoso command (surely a truism with such an artist). However I would prefer to pass over the Scherzo and especially the Largo without comment. Let's just say there were some truly beautiful moments. The final movement, Finale. Presto non tanto, was the finest of all with great authority and command, tremendous tone and control of dynamic to suit the room. If only the entire sonata had been at that level of emotional commitment.

The encores were delightful. First a superb, poetic and deeply moving Chopin Mazurka (the sublime and deeply nostalgic work, replete with the pain of loss, Op. 17 No. 4). Fereira performed it with great rhythmical refinement (with echoes of South American dance rhythms) and emotional involvement. To conclude Grieg's Wedding Day at Troldhaugen performed with tremendous energy and panache.

In 1885 the Grieg family went to live in Troldhaugen near Bergen. Grieg was to live there for some twenty years. Wedding Day at Troldhaugen from Lyric Pieces, was written to commemorate the silver wedding anniversary with his wife Nina.

So as I said at the beginning of this recital, a rather bitter-sweet experience from one of the greatest of living pianists.

Chopin's Manor. Chamber Concert.  

Saturday, 5 August 16.00 Viviana Sofronitsky (piano) and Sergei Istomin (cello)

I was overjoyed that some Mendelssohn would be performed at Duszniki Zdroj! there is a very strong case to mount a festival here. For those who do not know of the connections I include some history.

Felix Mendelssohn at Duszniki Zdroj in 1823

I often walk to to what is now the rehabilitation centre of Stalowy Zdrój on the outskirts of Duszniki and familiarize myself with the Felix Mendelssohn connections with the spa. 

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

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

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

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

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

The commemorative plaque on the house

A rather run-down pavilion on the estate

Detail of the pavilion

Other buildings on the estate contemporary with Felix Mendelssohn

Viviana and Sergei first performed the Variations concertantes in D major Op. 17 for cello and piano (1829). When they began the contrast in piano sound between period and modern instruments was simply astonishing. The pianos were copies by Paul McNulty of a Graf and a Pleyel. Viviana explained many of the aspects of their sound production before they began. Such charming, uncomplicated summer music and with period instruments that fitted the size of the Dworek concert room perfectly. I truly felt a sense of the value of varied colour, texture, timbre and register of the early keyboard and the particularly rich sound and volume of the this particular cello - almost to the point where the dynamic balance was unsettled. Then as a solo work the familiar Rondo capriccioso in E major Op. 14 very well performed by Viviana with fine imaginative use of the various pedals attached to this instrument. Some of the musical material sounded like fairy cobwebs spinning in the breeze on the una corda - an absolutely unique effect and so charming and redolent of the character of another age of greater sensibility than ours. This was by followed by the very fine and eloquently melodic Sonata No 2 in D minor for cello and piano Op.58. Duszniki Zdroj is the perfect place to listen to Mendelssohn! 

Paul McNulty kindly provided me with this fascinating description of the piano copies he constructed in use for this concert:

'Graf pursued a gradual thickening of soundboard and hammer through the late teens and early 1820's, translating a classic Viennese design into the more orchestra spectrum of effects increasingly to be heard in compositions. In this performance, the 1819 model of Graf is both incisive and full bodied, able to carry romantic tunes even of Mendelssohn's late cello works, but ideally suited to his Rondo Capriccioso of 1824. Ultimately Graf's acquaintance with Beethoven's Broadwood and its robust proportions gave Graf to adopt that doubling of thickness he observed, together with the English style wide flat ribs like barrel staves, in place of the narrow and deep Viennese ribs, their efficiency and effect carved to taste.

Pleyel in 1830 has an English mechanism, quite robust, on which he has installed extraordinarily delicate and flexible hammers, which quiver upon impact in such a way as to evoke Liszt's comment that Chopin's playing on his Pleyel revives the lost art of the German water harmonica, the marriage of crystal and water. '

The McNulty copies of an 1819 Graf (Lt.) and an 1830 Pleyel

[Of modern recordings I am particularly fond of that by Mischa Maisky and Sergio Tiempo].

After the interval, first the Chopin Introduction and Polonaise in C major Op.3 for piano and cello. The Polonaise was written between 20 and 28 October 1829 during a visit to the estate of Antoni Radziwill in Antonin who was a fine amateur cellist much respected by Chopin. This was a charming performance full of period grace and elegance in the dance rhythms adopted, although I felt the intonation of the cellist could have been improved a little on occasion. One felt one was at Antonin. Then as a solo piece on the Pleyel (Chopin's favourite instrument) the Nocturne in C Minor Op. 48 No.1 followed by the cello Sonata in G minor Op. 65. Viviana gave an illuminating introduction to the piece telling us that Chopin was close to death at the time of its composition. This was a good performance of one of Chopin's most emotionally moving works but I felt it lacked a certain forward momentum.

Chopin's Manor, Saturday 5 August 19.00

I had been anticipating this recital rather keenly as various extraordinarily glowing reports of Li's playing had filtered through to me. He opened his recital with the Liszt Les Jeux d'eaux a la Villa d'Este from the Troisieme annee of the Annees de pelerinage. Truly extraordinary virtuosity was on display here from the outset but for me the rendition failed to create an feeling of an impressionist sound picture which is what I am sure Liszt intended. The trills representing flowing water should surely have been unbroken...

Then onto the so-called Appassionata sonata. This was a performance of mind-blowing virtuosity and tempi with extreme dynamic contrasts (yes, I know Beethoven was fond of sudden dynamic contrasts, but this was excessive to my mind. He also did not like the nickname 'appassionata' given by the publisher). I felt the tragic nature of this work evident in the opening pages was strangely absent. The silences within the work's opening were not particularly eloquent. Some of the Beethoven pedalling indications were overlooked in this 'possessed' performance - but possessed by keyboard wizardry. I kept asking myself what the pianist was trying to say about the work? What was the meaning of this skyrocket interpretation? The final movement Allegro ma non troppo scarcely observed (Beethoven was actually very insistent on this tempo indication) making one hold one's breath as to how the pianist would cope with almost double the tempo in the Presto coda. He coped brilliantly. However, overall and despite the virtuoso panache with which the work was performed, I felt it not to be particularly Beethovenian or in the classical style or have sufficient serious meaning for that matter. I have never considered it to be a display piece.

After the interval, two further works by Liszt. First a rather fine performance of Petrarch's Sonnet from the Deuxieme annee of the Anees de pelerinage S. 161 This was followed by Reminiscences de Don Juan S. 418. I have always considered the 'reminiscence' to be as defined by the Oxford Dictionary as 'A story told about a past event remembered by the narrator.'  In this case the spectacular virtuosic display we heard was more a recreation of the opera itself than a past event remembered through the filter of time. Then again when the Russian critic Vladimir Stasov, attended a Liszt recital in St. Petersburg in 1839 he wrote:

'We had never in our lives heard anything like this; we had never been in the presence of such a brilliant, passionate, demonic temperament, at one moment rushing like a whirlwind, at another pouring forth cascades of tender beauty and grace. Liszt's playing was absolutely overwhelming...'

Certainly what I heard tonight was brilliant and the articulation and energy contained in the Champagne Aria quite magnificent, but the emotional content as indicated was present in the above quotation was lacking for me - but then this pianist is so young, he has plenty of time to evolve into emotional maturity. Being able to dominate the notes in this commanding way is a first step. Tremendous future ahead.

As encores by Gluck, and Chopin (an Etude and superbly performed and beautiful Nocturne with luminous sound and great sensibility - the finest piece of the recital as is so often the case with piano recitals)  

Chopin's Manor  5 August  22.00   Szymon Nehring

I was very interested to hear how this Polish pianist had developed since being awarded an Honourable Mention after reaching the finals of the 17th International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2015. He had just won the 1st Prize at the 2017 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv.

He opened with a Scarlatti Sonata - F Minor L 118. I felt although it was a cantabile sonata he could have been more judicious in his use of the pedal. This was followed by the Mozart Sonata in F major KV 280. Although not producing a modern sound I now generally associate with Mozart sonatas (derived I suppose from listening to Alfred Brendel, Francesco Piemontesi or Piotr Anderszewski) I found it rather stylish, with great panache and elegance. In the Beethoven Sonata in G major Op. 31 No.1 he presrved a fine sense of the classical style i associate with this composer but sometimes found his dynamic changes slightly exaggerated and the final Presto rather overpedalled. He concluded his recital with the Chopin Sonata in B-flat minor Op. 35 in an interpretation that was a finely wrought, although rather conventional performance - but that is hardly a criticism. I hope that as he matures his playing will develop in finesse and explore more variety of touch, tone colour and dynamic subtlety. Still young, again a tremendous future as a pianist can be predicted for him.

Chopin's Manor, 6 August, 1600  Claire Huangci

It is easy to underestimate the tension that must be involved in giving a Chopin recital at the Duszniki Zdroj Festival. The pianist is performing before music professors, musicologists, classical music broadcasters and a dedicated 'Famiglia' of regular festival attendees - all possibly over-familiar with the music of Chopin. This is what the young Claire Huangci was facing in her all Chopin recital.

She began with Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise in E major Op.22. The Andante was beautifully controlled and replete with nostalgia. The demanding Polonaise that followed demonstrated her extraordinary finger facility and dexterity with a good understanding of the period style brilliant. The Nocturne in C minor Op. 48 No. 1 was slightly too sentimental in vision for me but in Chopin this is really a question of personal, even national, taste. We all have our own Chopin! So few composers divide the sentiments of audiences as does the music of Fryderyk Chopin.The late and complex Polonaise Fantasy in A major Op. 61, written in the composer's 'late style', was invested with a great deal of emotion, a very dramatic reading and often convincing but perhaps in need of a degree of self-discipline.

After the interval, two Nocturnes Op. 27. The C-minor exhibited, for me at least, a degree of dynamic exaggeration that I felt was not entirely justified. The D-flat major Nocturne is so ardent in its nostalgia and yearning, the pianist becomes simply a channel for these beautiful musical emotions.

Her final piece was the Chopin Sonata in B minor Op. 58. In many ways this sonata (still classical in its formal structure) is the very essence of Romanticism in music. The first and last movements possess the character of a ballade, the second is a scherzo, and the third is a nocturne. Huangci adopted a powerfully wrought Allegro maestoso with significant dynamic contrasts and the release of pent-up emotions under her remarkable fingers was inspiring.
The light and airy Scherzo would have pleased Mendelssohn in its breathtaking velocity. I felt the Largo to be both emotionally moving and illuminating - it is so difficult to maintain interest and momentum in this movement over the long period it takes to perform. A nocturne by any other name. An 'aria of the night' indeed. 

The Finale is marked with the indication Presto non tanto. The conclusion was supremely virtuoisic and simply carried one away. The movement has the tone and nature of a ballade. So impassioned is this movement that it has stimulated the imagination of many interpreters. For Marcel Antoni, it brought to mind an image of the Cossack Hetman Mazepa on a wild steed chased by the wind. Iwaszkiewicz saw this music as a foretaste of the galloping of Wagner’s Valkyries. Both Jachimecki and Chominski heard in it an expression of a demonic nature. Certainly Huangci gave the movement all the excitement and adventure that a young pianist of great talents can give it.

As an encore she gave a dazzling performance of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A minor.

Chopin's Manor , Sunday 6 August  20.00  Katarzyna Popowa-Zydron
The eminence of this pianist as a teacher and pedagogue is rather unrivalled today. Her piano tuition has produced many fine prize winners in international piano competitions. But she is a fine and rather underestimated pianist in her own right. However giving a recital in front of her pedagogical peers at Duszniki Zdroj must remain one of life's great challenges.

She courageously opened her recital with the 6 Beethoven Bagatelles Op. 126. Rather overlooked in his opus, the name given this group of pieces (the last of a group of three sets of Bagatelles Beethoven wrote) is misleading - they are hardly trivial, frivolous or without serious emotional content. Beethoven probably intended them to be played as a single cycle or set of works. This was convincingly proven by this outstanding performance. 

In a similar way to the Chopin Preludes, I have always thought they were highly charged and concentrated fragments of immense significance and perfectly Beethovenian. The first Andante con moto, cantabile e con piacevole was played gracefully and agreeably as the indications demand. A convincingly energetic and passionate Allegro, a beautifully reflective, tranquil and serene Andante. Cantabile ed espressivo. Popowa-Zydron unleashed a storm of anxiety and angst that subsided finally into something like acceptance in the Presto. The Quasi allegretto was a such a contrast with its dreamy charm. The final Presto. Andante amabile e con moto contained within it a mixture of heroism (reminiscent of the opening of the Ninth Symphony) and serenity. The passion of the opening returns to close the piece. I thought this a tremendously committed and successful performance elevating these works into minor mountain peaks in Beethoven's oeuvre.

Then to two of Schubert's Drei Klavierstucke D 946. No.1 in E flat-minor was taken at rather too robust a dynamic for my taste in Schubert, but this may have had something to do with the Steinway in the hall. 

I found she played No.2 in E-flat major in a profoundly sensitive and acutely moving way. At this moment I received the distinct impression that Popowa-Zydron was less of a performing artist but had become or had been transformed into a perfect conduit or channel for the spirit and music of Schubert speaking directly through her. I think this conviction remained with me then throughout the remainder of her recital. For me in the way she performed this piece, so tenderly and so solicitous, so yearning, the piece expressed then for me so many of the shifting moods, fluctuations and emotional transitions in the nature of romantic love. Moved as rarely in a piano recital. Perhaps I was simply in a particularly receptive condition this moonlit night...

After the interval I noticed a change in pianos to the Yamaha. Then came the eagerly anticipated Chopin group of pieces. First the Ballade in G minor Op.23. A profound and deeply affecting musical narrative was unfolded before us like slowly unrolling painted scenery at the theater. A truly grand performance of this often hysterically performed work that elevated it to a quite monumental stature. The 'story' as she presented it contained a concentration of żal , that curious Polish emotion that occurs so often in Chopin, in fact he seems almost addicted to it. Liszt wrote of Chopin's conception of it:

"Zal! Strange substantive, embracing a strange diversity, a strange philosophy! Susceptible of different regimens, it includes all the tenderness, all the humility of a regret borne with resignation and without a murmur, while bowing before the fiat of necessity, the inscrutable decrees of Providence: but, changing its character, and assuming the regimen indirect as soon as it is addressed to man, it signifies excitement, agitation, rancor, revolt full of reproach, premeditated vengeance, menace never ceasing to threaten if retaliation should become possible, feeding itself, meanwhile with a bitter, if sterile, hatred."

Then the Nocturnes Op. 37. Popowa-Zydron in No.1 in G minor created a wonderfully ardent central section that was strongly reminiscent of a Christian chorale subsumed into a narrative meditation on the nature of passing time and the fading of life. A meditation on mortality and the Creator. Even Rubinstein did not create this association in his recording of the work. An inspired reading. Again it was as if she was channeling Chopin and not presenting herself as a pianist....quite wonderful and desperately moving. She then transitioned seamlessly into a beautifully wrought No.2 in G major which in many ways carried with the same meditative mood on the transience of life but perhaps with a fraction more resilience in the face of the inevitable crossing of the dark river. 

The Mazurka in C minor Op. 30 No.1 was replete with tender nostalgia, refinement and delicate reminiscences of the danced rhythms of the composer's homeland. The extreme eloquence of the brief duration of the final note in this performance was extremely affecting. The silence that followed remained for momentary seconds an intrinsic part of the piece as if the silence had uttered the words 'and now for me there is nothing', as if his human mind had been precipitously stopped in its reflections. I found this astonishing as most pianists draw out the final notes of a piece to enhance the effect on the audience. How powerful and meaningful was this abrupt truncation of the sound. Quite magical and moving. Then the wonderful colours, emotional range and expressiveness of the Mazurka in A-flat major Op. 17 No.3. The emotions pass like shadows cast by the sun from behind clouds. Again that short concluding note, the ever so brief duration carrying with it a deep expressiveness of loss and unrecoverable transience.

Finally the Ballade in A-flat major Op. 47. A magnificent narrative began here. The beginning of the piece so calm, the phrases breathing naturally, no hysteria. A great harmonic narrative began to unfold before us like a butterfly slowly emerging from its chrysalis. This great drama evolved with a deep musical and philosophical narrative, so much to say, so full of inner meaning until the great opera concluded, the tremendous coda a final unfurling of this monumental musical narrative scena. My God this was a wonderful interpretation, internally envisioned in a sublime and superbly structured and controlled manner. The accumulation of endless considered musical details displayed before us as the cathedral of the work rose above this limited earth. A revelation...

As encores a tender and refined Chopin Mazurka Op.17 No.4 and a Schubert Impromptu.

And so concluded one of the finest Duszniki recitals I can remember. How young pianists should learn from this great yet affectingly modest pianist and teacher - to become a conduit or channel for the musical inspirations of the composer and not, as all too commonly, use music simply as a platform for personal display. Essentially the final analysis after technical command has been accomplished, being a great musician comes down to the nature of one's character and what you bring to the unenviable task of recreation of musical masterpieces...

For those readers who are interested in my comments on the performances (of course you are able to make up your own minds now the entire festival is streamed on the internet) I suspended my internet journal owing to some differences that arose due to the use or not of English during the event known as the Nokturn. A language issue. Problems have been resolved for the future, so I return to my much delayed reviews. Apologies if you are kind enough to read my personal opinions after forming your own and agree or more likely disagree with them! 

Chopin's Manor, Monday 7 August  16.00  Pavel Kolesnikov

Kolesnikov opened his recital with a set of 5 Waltzes by Schubert from the 12 German Dances D 145. they were most charmingly played with good period feel. This was not really the case with the opening of the next work the Schubert Sonata in A minor D 537 which was highly declamatory and at an excessive dynamic for my idea of Schubert the composer. I felt that Kolesnikov had been lured into a more Beethovenian sound world. Unfortunately although of course commandingly played I felt he had little to say and his tone colours rather brash for Schubert with rather sudden rather aggressive sforzandos

Although the audience were highly enthusiastic, this rather over-emphatic approach continued with one of my favourite Schumann works Faschingsschwank aus Wien op. 26. This was really not an interpretation for me but it clearly appealed to many members of the audience, perhaps even yourselves if watching the live internet stream. My benchmark for this work is the considered, immaculate performance and rhapsodic conception of the Italian pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli - the Intermezzo he conceived is to die for - a quite unfair comparison for a pianist of Kolesnikov's relative youth.

After the interval an excellently performed Chopin Impromptu in A-flat major Op. 29 was followed by a rather 'tempo-adventurous' (my invented word) Waltz in C-sharp minor Op. 64 No. 2. It was radically conceived of as far slower than normal and I am unsure if this was successful or not. Certainly an interesting alternative reading. This small group concluded with a very fine Fantasie Impromptu in C sharp minor Op. 66 - one of the very best renditions of this work I have heard. Then a group of 5 Mazurkas which I found affecting and satisfying except for the F minor Op. 68 No. 4 which I felt to be far too slow in tempo which rendered it too sentimental to my mind. The Fantasie in F minor Op. 49 was replete with fresh ideas and fresh thinking even if some of the ideas did not come back together properly as a conceived integrated whole after the piece had been clearly taken apart and examined in depth. The Grand Waltz Brillante in E-flat major Op. 18 although brought off in some style, slightly lacked a true feeling for that dance in terms of its rhythm and the 'call to the floor' at the beginning. Reading a book on ballroom dancing to the period is very instructive indeed on how to approach Chopin waltzes. I can recommend The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances: Outrage at Couple Dancing in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries by Mark Knowles and From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace and Folly in Nineteenth-Century Dance by Elizabeth Aldrich.

As one of his encores (which speaks volumes about this pianist and his rather avant garde adventurous approach to the standard repertoire), he decided to play the Tombeau de Monsieur Blanrocher by the seventeenth century French clavecin composer Louis Couperin - from an iPad on the music desk. Contrast in technology of our time! This famous lutenist fell down the stairs while rather drunk and it is said died in the arms of the composer Froberger. Being a harpsichordist as well as pianist I loved this remarkable and marvelous choice, but the audience did become slightly restless at such unaccustomed fare on the piano.

Chopin's Manor  Monday 7 August  20.00  Ingrid Fliter

This was a rather keenly anticipated recital owing to the Argentinian pianist's success in the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2000 when she was awarded the second prize.

She opened her recital with two Beethoven sonatas. I rather liked the Piano Sonata in E flat major Op. 31 No.3 as I thought she adopted quite an exhilarating tempo and pulse. I lalso appreciated her rather dry pedalling and command of the classical style. Flashes of lightning but unfortunately a few branches snapped and there were a couple of small accidents. I was not at all keen on her rather exaggerated sforzandos which would surely have broken strings on a piano of Beethoven's day. The word denotes emphasis, if you like a strengthening of sound, not a sudden unexplained heavy dynamic accent which is too often the case and interrupts the forward momentum of the music. Yes, Beethoven was an abrupt character in real life (witness his aggressive behavior to other customers in taverns where he would stare at one he may have disliked aggressively if they came too close or even spit on the floor if they did not move away!) However this is his piano music...not so extreme, limitations of his instrument? I have similar observations to the above on the next piece, the Piano Sonata in D minor p. 31 No.2.

After the interval a group of Chopin Nocturnes. In these I admired the beautiful tone and touch she commands at the instrument, her rubato and cantabile. Again I felt this unpleasant dynamic exaggeration which tended to disrupt, even spoil, any beautifully phrased or constructed tonal and mood picture. In the B major Op. 9 No.3 I found a winning tenderness and loving thoughts in the C sharp minor Op. 27 No. 1. The E major Op. 62 No.2 I found movingly rhapsodic and throughout the occasional appearance of true zal (see above in Liszt).

However we are not in Carnegie Hall in the Dworek and so few pianists seem to consider the bright acoustic of this small hall when they play - such a pity as it upsets and unbalances many a fine recital here.

Perhaps the most satisfying overall was her encore (how often this is true in recitals) of the 3 Ecossaises, Op. 72 no. 3 (Three Scottish Dances) by Chopin. Not at all an oblique back -handed compliment - a truly lovely and delightful idiomatic interpretation.

Master Class with Professor Tamás Ungár

As a general impression I have never encountered a professor with such a warm, creative and engaging personality with his students nor one so ready to impart such useful advice of both a practical and culturally contextual nature. He gives the students the benefit completely of his long and profound experience of music and the full flight of his charismatic personality.

Professor Tamás Ungár working with Kamil Pacholec on the Chopin Scherzo No 1 in B Minor op. 20. He taught the complex rhythms in theatrical and academically persuasive as well as entertaining fashion!

Chopin's Manor, Tuesday 8 August  16.00  Federico Colli

I always look forward tremendously to a recital by this vibrant and intensely alive Italian pianist. Today was no exception. He opened his recital with 6 Scarlatti Sonatas that I found in turn exhilarating and moving. His pedaling is always rather dry (perfectly correct) and the articulation imaginative and inventive which gives great froward impetus to some sonatas as well as a beautifully controlled cantabile legato with seductive tone. The F minor K 19  and G minor K 450 mainly cantabile and melodic. D major K 492 was energetic, detache, fiery and in a state of high emotion. Beautiful cantabile in D minor K 396 and an astonishing, exhilarating performance of the A major K 39. Again one is reminded of the Cristofori instruments described above.

I very much appreciated the Beethoven Sonata in E major op. 109 . Again excellent pedaling and a beautifully controlled and poetic Adagio espressivo. In the final movement tremendous energy contained within the Fugue and an incredibly strong and expressively prominent long trill in the left hand.

After the interval, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. He created a vivid and vibrant impressionist picture with a magnificently grotesque Gnome and highly amusing Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks.

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 Federico! 

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. As already mentioned I found the Балет невылупившихся птенцов (Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks) as perfromed by Colli  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. 

More Scarlatti please! Colli has made a Scarlatti recording for Chandos - a must buy when released! 

Chopin's Manor Tuesday 8 August -  NOCTURNE

This event was hosted by the internationally well-known Polish conductor Maestro Professor Antoni Wit. He approached the musical programme by interspersing it with anecdotal stories about famous and not so famous musicians encountered in his long and distinguished career. As the entire Nocturne was in Polish I was left rather at sea with the idiomatic humour of some stories.

The NOCTURNE musical programme with my hastily scribbled impressions

The inspiring violinist Alena Baeva performing the Waltz-Scherzo Op.34 by Tchaikovsky at the NOCTURN

On Lt. Dwojka  presenter Klaudia Baranowska (Polish Classical Radio 2) 

Chopin's Manor - Wednesday 9 August - 16.00   Yeol Eum Son

Her unique sound has captured the ears of audiences around the globe since her Second Prize at the 2011 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition. 

Sets of variations dominated the first half of her recital. She began with a work I had never heard before, Chopin's Variations in E major on the German Air "Der Schweizerbub' Op. posth.
 This first composition in the variation genre was written at the request of a general’s wife, Katarzyna Sowińska, née Schröder. Pani Sowińska had been captivated by this popular German song about a Swiss yodelling boy in a version by a singer visiting Warsaw. The theme is rather simple and varied in a very predictable, elegant, graceful and delicate way by the 16 year old composer. The introduction is rather theatrical and superficial with fast passages played brillante, leggierissimo and delicato. He concludes the work with a glittering waltz. In a short a musical jewel for the Warsaw salons.

She then moved on to a particularly charming work I also had never heard before, Federico Mompou's Variations on a Theme of Chopin. An imaginative and beautiful set of variations elegantly brought off by this fine pianist. 

She concluded the first part of her recital with the Busoni Variations and Fugue on Chopin's Prelude in C Minor Op. 22. She used her fierce virtuosity to great effect in this remarkably effective piece. The variations are almost small etudes that build to a virtuosic climax. I am always rather unsettled by the manner in which Busoni transforms, even monumentalizing Chopin in this work. 

The cultural ideas of his age of overtly expressing the 'manliness' in Chopin seems to dominate Busoni thinking. He abhorred the 'sentimental' Chopin and being rather obsessed with gender roles, deformed works by the sensitive Pole. Here he clearly wanted a more robust, perhaps more realistic approach to Chopin the composer than the sickly effeminacy that had previously prevailed. In this work the great, but now almost forgotten, magnificent English pianist John Ogdon, presents the work utterly convincingly as music. Ogdon possessed a rare insight into Busoni denied many interpreters.
Ferrucio Busoni

After the interval the Chopin Preludes Op.28 as a complete cycle. Recent studies by Ruth Tatlow reveal an extraordinary symmetry in the planning of this work which could well justify their presentation as a integrated set. I could not possibly analyse each Prelude here but will offer some remarks as the series progressed. 

After a rather conventional opening in C major I began to receive the impression that they were to be presented mainly as a set of virtuoso exercises. Brilliant execution and articulation, 'technically' breathtaking but the emotion somewhat applique and mannered rather than growing organically from within each compressed fragment of human experience. Many beautiful harmonies were expressively neglected and cantabile and implied song overlooked.  And yet at the pianistic surface level absolutely satisfying and brilliant. It was just that I was searching for some meaning, what did the pianist want to say about this cycle? I wanted her to go one dimension deeper. We all have our own Chopin as I have said many times in these reviews....

Chopin's Manor - Wednesday 9 August - 20.00 - Alexander Gavrylyuk

This pianist has always been a great favourite in the many times he has appeared here and certainly has a fondness for the small Polish spa town. The faithful audience has watched his development into an international concert artist of stature with the greatest interest over the years.

He opened his recital with the Busoni arrangement of the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor BMV 565.  This performance had great nobility and power yet never broke the sound ceiling of the instrument. A rendition of grandeur that reminded one of the work performed on the organ itself, a piece of '
fantastic drive and energy that simply makes it irresistible' (Hans Fagius)

He then turned to Haydn. The Sonata in B Minor  Hob. XVI:32 . The Allegro moderato was full of contrasting moods and quite wonderfully illuminating in classical style. The Menuetto - Trio possessed a childish innocence and the Finale. Presto  was superb. Nothing left to say...

Then to Chopin. I cannot say Gavrylyuk hails Chopin as his strongest suit, yet I found the Fantasie in F minor Op. 49 a convincing and really quite magnificent account even at rather an unacceptable dynamic level in this small hall.

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

His early biographer Marceli Antoni Szulc wrote of his compositions, ‘they are native, immaculate and purely Polish’. The Counsellor of State to the Russian Imperial Court, Wilhelm von Lenz, wrote of ‘his soul’s journey through . . . his Sarmatian dream- world’, and that ‘Chopin was the only political pianist of the time. Through his music he incarnated Poland, he set Poland to music!’

The great pianist and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski, in an eloquent address given at the Chopin Centenary Festival at L’viv (Lemberg, Lwów) in 1910, said ‘he gave all back to us, mingled with the prayers of broken hearts, the revolt of fettered souls, the pains of slavery, lost freedom’s ache, the cursing of tyrants, the exultant songs of victory.’ He felt the entire Polish nation moved in the rhythm of tempo rubato. Finally Chopin himself wrote to his editor Julian Fontana in April 1848 with the hand of death already at his shoulder ‘There is no way horrifying events can be averted but in the end of it all is a splendid, great Poland; in a word: Poland.’ Nearly a hundred years later, the Nazis understood his patriotic power; they banned his music.

The January Uprising (powstanie styczniowe)

 Polonia (Poland) 1863 by Jan Matejko

Russian officers and soldiers supervise a blacksmith placing shackles on a woman (Polonia) The blonde girl next to her represents Lithuania

Then Gavrylyuk gave us a tumultuous performance of the ultimate Polish patriotic work, the Polonaise in A-flat major Op.53. There were wild, rather possessed contrasts here including a cavalry charge in demented flight. Despite being emotionally a white hot rather than a noble and majestic rebellion, dynamically over-inflated, it convinced me completely in its way. I also could not help reflecting how this polonaise as art survives endless repetitions, constantly renewing desire for itself.

After the interval some much anticipated Rachmaninoff. First the Prelude in G-sharp minor Op. 32 No.12. Gavrylyuk achieved the swirling, agitated figure in the right hand beneath which the melancholy theme is played, in virtuoso style. The music grows increasingly unsettled until an emotional outpouring when the theme is played at a faster tempo yet the work ending without resolution. This was followed by the ever popular Prelude in G minor Op.23 No. 5. The militaristic beginning was uncompromising under his fingers, followed by the lyrical middle section so like in its theme to one of the concerti. To complete this group a deeply reflective and poetic Andante cantabile in the Moment Musicaux Op. 16 No 3 in B minor.

The young, soulful Sergei Rachmaninoff - unquestionably the face of the composer of the profoundly introspective Moment Musicaux Op. 16 No 3 in B minor with its atmosphere if futility

(A revelatory performance by the composer)

There were a few whispered objections to the fact Gavrylyuk had chosen to play the Rachmaninoff Sonata in B-flat minor op.36 (1931 version) for possibly the fourth time at Duszniki. I found his beginning overwhelming in impact but the unsettled passion of love embedded expressively in the Allegro agitato tended finally to suffocate me at the unrelieved dynamic level he often chose in this small hall. I felt his approach could have been more transparent and open in texture as the tender and occasionally lyrical moods which relieve us from the passionate and at time tragic embraces. The Non Allegro - Lento was soulful and ardent, yearning and fiercely nostalgic. The rising song terribly moving.  The L'istesso tempo - Allegro molto was impetuous and turbulent but again the sound quality slightly 'clogged' dynamically and would have benefited from less pedal and more open articulation. The dynamic of the rhapsodic entry into the brilliant coda (harmonic progressions that bring me close to tears on every occasion) did not leave leave much space to raise the volume for the triumphant close in B major.

Chopin's Manor - Thursday 10 August - 16.00 - Dinara Klinton

Ever since hearing her for the first time in Bydgoszcz I have entertained high hopes for the career of this young pianist. The Duszniki recital simply confirmed these hopes in the strongest way possible.

She opened her tremendously ambitious recital with the Chopin Barcarolle in F-sharp major Op.60. This was marred a little by nervousness perhaps. Playing Chopin before this informed audience of students, professors and Chopinists at Duszniki is no mean trial. This difficult work was finely and expressively played apart from some unfortunate moments, but what of that? 

This was followed by the Chopin Sonata in B-flat minor Op.35. The opening Grave. Doppio movimento possessed great expressiveness, tremendous energy and forward momentum which gave the approach to this movement a type of fatalistic inevitability. Threat and tragedy hovered above this entire reading. A rider, occasionally in a reflective even nostalgic mood, yet galloping inexorably towards his doom.  

I loved her phrasing and chiaroscuro painterly effects as we moved into the Scherzo. This danced with excellent rhythm and again, a moving and deeply expressive middle section nocturne of heart-warming cantabile. The tremendous energy of a briefly resuscitated life. 

This was also true of the contrasting middle section of the Marche funebre which I always feel in the face of this profound grief has a touch of the  unhinged mind as in Act III of Lucia de Lammermoor. A properly eloquent tempo and dynamic is so difficult to achieve. So many people seem to think it ought to accompany an imaginary military band with a heavy dull tread lacking in poetry. I felt a deep and haunting melancholy here, a forlorn cry of the soul facing its inevitable destiny. Played piano to pianissimo with great poetry and a singing tone. 

The polyphony and desperation of the grieving mind and heart depicted in the Presto perhaps could have been slightly more emotional in view of the Marche funebre that preceded it, but her marvelous tone and touch swept all before it. A very fine performance, a reading suffused with a variety of melancholy, dare I say in 2017, restricted to the Slavic soul.

Caspar David Friedrich Chalk Cliffs on Rügen, 1818

 After the interval, the Douze Études d’exécution Transcendante (12 Transcendental Studies) S. 139 by Liszt. How any young pianist can contemplate scaling such an Everest after the Chopin sonata has my deepest admiration.

     Nine of the twelve Études of the 1851 version were given titles by the composer. One is forced as an interpreter to assess the significance of the titles, assuming as given a command of the extreme keyboard virtuosity demanded by them. We are forced in a way to ‘focus’ on the poetic idea inherent in the title taking us as listeners into the musical ‘programme’, something seemingly at odds with the pedagogical associations of the nature of the piano Étude. 

     Dinara Klinton has few peers, if any, among young pianists in expressive playing of Liszt excepting shall we say the breathtaking Daniil Trifonov. That the comparison can be made at all says much for her great talent. I found his recent recording for DGG  rather 'driven' and almost merciless in comparison to her expressive version, lighter in touch and tone quality than his 'high voltage' playing. His version is overwhelming in a word, agreed, but that is actually the point - too much at the maximum and each individual piece conceived separately rather than cohesively with the others as a set which I feel Klinton managed insightfully. Certainly the titles given by Liszt influences the listener and possibly the approach of the pianist to these demanding works. 

     In his Gesammelte Schriften Liszt writes ‘In programme music…the return, change, modification, and modulation of the motives are conditioned by their relation to a poetic idea.’ Certainly it cannot be denied that the titles are a significant part of the aesthetic nature of these works. The German musicologist and author Frederick Niecks considered the titles ‘fanciful afterthoughts’ but is there not more to the titles than this? Chopin in his two sets of Études eschewed, in fact militated against giving his works titles by poetically inclined publishers and their close attention to the agenda of sheet music sales. 

     However quite unlike the ‘absolute’ music of Chopin (pace possibly one or two of the Ballades) one must never forget the literary dimension of so much of Liszt’s thought and inspiration, the profound effect of the life and poetry of Byron and Victor Hugo on the evolution of the musical Romantic movement in Europe. This was when poetry had the power to influence behaviour – seldom experienced today. We are far in 2017 from the definition of the poet by Shelley as ‘the acknowledged legislator of the world.’ Liszt was an excellent writer himself. Poetry was of immense importance and inspiration to artists in all the artistic disciplines, something contemporary artists have largely lost. All his life the great painter J.M.W. Turner attached poetic quotations, sometimes his own verse, to his paintings in addition to the title as an ‘extra dimension’ for the soul to inhabit. 

     One of the great achievements of Klinton’s performance is to rescue Liszt from the persistent image of being merely a keyboard ‘wizard’. He is still being consigned to the margins of serious composition by far too many listeners, critics and musicologists. Under her fingers each Étude becomes a moving, on occasion humanistic and noble, symphonic poem that speaks poetic volumes. In her introduction to her CD of these studies she perceptively and quite accurately refers to them as ‘emotional soundscapes’. Her interpretations are achievements of sensibility that are far more than excuses for tremendous virtuosic display (although they are partly of course as is sometimes the case of versions by the great Lazar Berman and György Cziffra). 

     Here an inquiring, analytical intelligence and sensibility underpins an astonishing sound palette and mastery of the keyboard. Klinton writes further ‘…Liszt explores the infinite variety of human life via feelings of joy, sorrow, love, anger, dignity and defeat. Each study has its own unique expressive profile, which makes unifying the cycle especially challenging.’ Such expressive depth and musical aspiration is most uncommon among young virtuoso pianists, especially in their conception of Liszt. I cannot help feeling this true spiritual depth may well have grown organically from her personal background of comparative deprivation and struggle.

   The opening Preludio functions not essentially as poetry but as an introduction, immediately attracting our attention to the depth and richness of her tone quality, touch, dynamic range and finger dexterity. Similar observations could be made for the untitled second étude which in many ways is also a virtuosic Prélude in the manner of Paganini or perhaps even a premonition of the dramas to come. 

     The far more substantial and atmospheric third entitled Paysage transports us into the nineteenth century concept of the pastoral. ‘Nature’ in the early nineteenth century had abandoned the eighteenth century bucolic idea of the rococo pastoral and Watteauesque fêtes galantes and gathered about itself connotations of Nature as a powerful yet humanly indifferent ‘force’, a threat and stormy turbulence interspersed with lyrical, reflective episodes. Klinton captures this unified mood of subdued reflection, perfectly in keeping with its vague pantheistic pastoral ‘programme’ or rather associative idea. Although there is no orage (storm) common to this genre, she captures the central emotional agitation and passion of a ‘human figure in the landscape’ and then allows its presence to subside in a beautiful rocking motion, fading away as evening gathers into dusk.

Casper David Friedrich   Sunset (Brothers) 1830-5

     The cruelty of Mazeppa then suddenly erupts over us, the fourth and arguably most tempestuous of the Grandes Études. Was Liszt inspired by the Victor Hugo poem taken from Les Orientales or possibly Byron’s poem Mazeppa? The story itself is well known. The Ukrainian nobleman Ivan Mazepa has an adulterous love affair with a Countess Theresa while serving as a page at the Court of the Polish King Jan II Kazimierz Waza. When all is revealed (as is usually the case in 'adventures' of the 'secret' romantic variety) the Count punishes Mazeppa by tying him backwards and naked to a wild horse and setting the horse bolting across the steppes, through woods, forests and across freezing rivers until it expires through exhaustion. Mazeppa survives the ordeal, emerges triumphant and is elevated to a Cossack Hetman. 

     The music follows this ‘programme’ possibly more literally than others in the set. Klinton captures the panicked, uneven, relentless almost hysterical galloping rhythm of the horse frighteningly well (if you have ever ridden it is possible to imagine the frightful torture for the animal as well as the man tied as he was in that grotesque position). Exhaustion. Death. The survival of Mazeppa. Ultimate triumph – the sub-textual allegory of the artistic life of Ferenc Liszt perfectly delineated. Her judicious use of the pedal in this work assisted the rhythmic articulation and inexorable forward drive brilliantly. A ‘warhorse’ of distinction.

Louis Boulanger, The Torture of Mazeppa, 1827

    Klinton is already well known for her astonishing account of Feux Follets. Emanuel Ax laughed in astonished pleasure on hearing her in this work. Still present from her teenage years is that virtuosic feathery lightness, velocity, articulation, charm and finger dexterity of a generation of pianists I thought had passed forever. Present too in these Will-o’-the-Wisps or Jack o’Lantern is the ominous atmosphere of ghostly light and phosphorescence, possibly fire-flies, that hover over swamps, boggy ground and marshes leading wayfarers to their doom (her glittering, evanescent tone palette here is extraordinary). Few pianists can achieve the light scherzo, Queen Mab character as strongly in this work, possibly inspired by Goethe’s Faust. A quick-silver phantasmagoria of impressionism as bewildering as the Will-o’-the-Wisps themselves. Far lighter and ethereal than Trifonov.

Feux Follets over Marshes (Cafleurbon perfumes)

     With Liszt we are quite often in the presence of meditations on death – well it was a closer companion in the mid nineteenth century. With Visions Klinton captures the grim psychological reality of death with the heavy tread of a fantasy Liszt constructed around the Dies Irae together with a tumult of church bells. Was the piece composed in memory of Napoleon as some have speculated? Was it inspired by an ode of Victor Hugo? Does this matter? Certainly the work possesses an heroic mien of inevitability, the tragedy of a Miltonic vision together with intimations of immortality. The title itself reeks of metaphysicality. So much is apparent from the way Klinton creates this ominous atmosphere with immense weight and depth of piano sound in the chordal/choral passages as we approach the gathering darkness, a destiny we must all face with defiance. Such an excellent recording of the instrument by the Genuin technicians.

    In the remarkably interesting book Programme Music in the Last Four Centuries (London and New York 1907), the author Frederick Niecks expostulates ‘What vast subjects, for instance, are indicated by single words such as Faust, Hamlet, Manfred, Hebrides, Eroica, Hungaria!’ It is impossible when reading the Lisztian title of number seven, ‘Eroica’, to escape a flurry of Beethovenian associations, the myth of Prometheus or once again connotations of the heroic Napoleon. 

     The composer was fascinated by heroes and epic historical achievements although not as obsessed by this as Wagner. Here we have expressed in music Byronic individuality, the impulse to action, defiance, to fight the fate we have been handed at birth. There is clearly no literal ‘programme’ in this Étude but the mythical atmosphere of noble military resistance is inescapable. Jim Samson (to whom I am greatly indebted in this review and his book Virtuosity and the Musical Work - Cambridge 2003) sees affinities with the first of the similarly titled Douze Études de salon Op.5 similarly named Eroica by the unjustly neglected German composer Adolf von Henselt. It is difficult for the modern sensibility to immerse itself in the unfamiliar atmosphere of conduct and emotion pertaining to military matters before the defining ignoble tragedy and irreversible sea-change of the Great War. Klinton gives this work the appropriate military stature.

     She literally erupts into the Presto Furioso of Wilde Jagd with an unsettling vengeance and demonic force. Such ‘wild demented horse rides’ through forest and across plains were an integral part of the Romantic Gothic imagination. A modern equivalent might be a wild drive in a Ferrari (the prancing horse) through the Black Forest pursued not by demons but the police. The smell of sulphur pervades this supernatural ride as it does the B minor Sonata or Dante Sonata. The grotesque, possessed associations of a ‘Witches’ Sabbath’ inspired many composers from Weber through Berlioz to Ravel. The baleful atmosphere of the paintings of Henry Fuseli rightfully invest the interpretation.

     The ninth in the series entitled Ricordanza is an intensely personal, self-communing piece by Liszt. Busoni called it ‘a bundle of faded love letters’. I felt Klinton managed the transition from the clearly delineated physical wildness of the former ride into this diffuse, soft focus, poetic meditation as if it were the Adagio of a classical sonata – quite brilliant and a seemingly inevitable and welcome respite after the emotional storm that preceded it. This enabled her to demonstrate her fine control of cantabile tone and long, sung legato line, the piece being essentially a song of ‘emotions recollected in tranquility’ as Wordsworth expressed such feelings so accurately in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads. 

     The tenth is a tremendously powerful and emotional work despite not having the support of a title. But then F-minor and F-sharp minor are my favourite keys. Here Liszt embraces Chopin. His respect for the Chopin Études is as well known as Chopin’s admiration of Liszt’s performance of them. At times Liszt lays his own composition over the Chopin Étude Op. 10 No.9, borrowing and augmenting the idiom of the Pole. Klinton is an intuitive Chopin interpreter of great stature, qualities that are rare in the young and not given to many of any age despite the popularity of this deceptively accessible composer. Her instinctive rubato in this commanding and movingly passionate virtuoso interpretation comes directly from her penetration of the soul of the Chopin Études. 

     There is little doubt that the Harmonies du Soir is one of the great masterpieces of the declaration and yearnings of Romantic love in nineteenth century piano literature. The titles of these pieces leave open many possible interpretations to the listener. This is merely my own. I find in this work the presage of the passions that inspire that sublime arc of tension and release contained in the Liebestod of Tristan und Isolde. Wagner’s debt to the harmonic adventurism of Liszt is never in doubt to my mind. The difference here is that life and not death inhabits this particular panorama of love. 

      Softly the bells toll at dusk as the lover wanders in a pastoral reverie, perhaps in a park in Weimar, passing by Goethe’s summer house, wood smoke in the air and the burble of the nearby Ilm river. He begins to dwell on his feelings for the seductive other who has captured his heart in a net. We begin to inexorably move into his ‘human, all to human’ mind as he imagines his beloved, we feel his fears and apprehensions, experience his almost coarse desire, his passions rising and falling in waves of increasing ecstasy, finally reaching an apotheosis. These debilitating emotions slowly fade as he returns to the calm of evening, ‘calm again now my heart’ as if the soft wings of a night moth had settled over him. Klinton’s instinctive rubato and tone colour manages the transition from pastoral idyll to rhapsodic oceanic waves of sound with perfect control and judgement and then the elegiac return to the calm reflective soul as the night harmonies close over us in a dream. A wonderful performance.

     A return to the power and threat of nature in a form envisaged by J.M.W. Turner rather than its ability to lead us to the world of lyrical dreams suffuses the final Étude entitled Chasse-neige (Snow-drift, Snow-storm, literally Snow-plough). One has no difficulty in envisioning a tumultuous winter scene as a snow storm begins to rage and inexorably buries all human life and civilization beneath it. 

  Klinton gives a fine atmospheric, impressionistic interpretation of the work with superb use of the pedal. She accomplishes this soft focus yet powerful snowstorm in a Debussyian sense rather than taking the opportunity to display sheer declamatory virtuosic power, tempting as that may be in such a piece. Interestingly her approach shifts the emphasis from amazement at the performer to the work itself and its meaning as a painting in sound. Lazar Berman in his 1963 Melodiya recording of the Études gives such a simply astounding performance of finger dexterity and sheer visceral excitement that it distracts one from what I imagine to be the essential Lisztian poetic intention of Chasse-neige. But then Liszt himself, although a great and extraordinarily generous man as well as revolutionary composer, was a mass of contradictions as is any pianist overburdened with supreme technical facility at the keyboard. 

   This is one reason I admire Klinton so much – the restraint and discipline of her extraordinary technical abilities which she places  fully at the service of inner musical meaning in her searching interpretations of these Janus-faced works. Rare in one so young in our current atmosphere of theatrical, narcissistic fireworks and physical gymnastics, often ‘full of sound and fury signifying nothing.’ C.P.E. Bach put it well in his Versuch über die wahre Art das Klavier zu spielen (Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments) of 1753: ‘They overwhelm our hearing without satisfying it and stun the mind without moving it . . .’ 

    Dinara Klinton is never tempted by ego-driven superficial display as she moves towards becoming not ‘merely’ a fine pianist but a truly distinguished artist. Her recording of the work on the GENUIN label was chosen as BBC Music Magazine as Record of the Month in May 2016. 

A series of pictures illustrating Professor Soo-Jung Shin working with Kamil Pacholec emphasising sound production and use of the pedals in the Chopin Scherzo No 1 in B Minor op. 20

Chopin's Manor - Thursday 10 August - 20.00

Alena Baeva (violin)

Vadym Kholodenko (piano)

We had had a taste of their artistry during the NOCTURNE and were eagerly awaiting this recital. It did not disappoint.

They began with the Stravinsky  Divertimento for violin and piano (1932) which is actually an offshoot of the ballet Le baiser de la fée (The Fairy's Kiss) of 1928. The ballet itself is based on songs by Tchaikovsky. There are four movements: Sinfonia, Danses suisses, Scherzo, and Pas de deux: Adagio, Variation, Coda. From the moment they began to play we knew we had taken an upward step in artistry from the music we had heard previously in the festival.This is an extraordinarily mercurial piece. It is in turn violent and lyrical. Baeva produced a full and rounded violin tone and both were absolutely committed in their playing with a passionate intensity rare to hear. 

The first half concluded with the Schubert  Fantaisie for violin and piano in C major D 934 (1827). The work was written soon after the final twelve songs of Winterreise. It was not received by Viennese audiences enthusiastically. The violin wings in a graceful arc above an agitated piano followed by an Hungarian-style canon for both instruments in a delightful Allegretto. The fulcrum of the work is a set of four variations on Schubert's popular song, his 1822 setting of Friedrich Rückert’s Sei mir gegrüsst! (‘I greet you!’) with its beautiful melody and waltz. Baeva's virtuosity was on full display here in these Paganini-like variations. A splendid march concludes the piece which they both brought off with great panache and style.

Antonie Brentano (1780-1869), Beethoven's probable muse for his later works

After the interval the Beethoven Sonata for violin and piano in G major Op.96. This serene work was the last of Beethoven's ten violin sonatas. Although not dedicated to her (far too obvious an admission) the dialogue between the piano and violin in the opening Allegro moderato probably refers in an oblique way to the 'immortal beloved', unhappily married Antonie Brentano, the woman addressed in a passionate love letter found among Beethoven’s papers after his death in 1827. It certainly enhances any imaginative picture whilst listening. The Adagio espressivo is rather solemn but is followed by a brisk lively Scherzo. The final set of marvelous variations, Poco allegretto, are written on a rather light and pretty theme and were superbly interpreted by the two musicians, especially the fifth variation, an intense Adagio and the final one, a dark fugue.

Tumultuous applause and standing ovation for these two great artists.

Chopin's Manor - Friday 11 August - 16.00 -  Hyuk Lee

Unfortunately I was only able to join this recital at the conclusion of the first half of the recital. 

The final work before the interval was the fiendishly difficult Alkan Etude Op. 39 N0. 12  Le festin d'Esope (Aesop's Feast). The work is based on all the technical difficulties of the studies that preceded it and consists of 25 variations based on an original theme. From the formidable technical skills it requires to master this piece, it was clear Hyuk Lee loves playing the piano, obvious from the evident delight he took in surmounting these massive keyboard challenges of this rarely performed work. 

Alkan was a mysterious, reclusive figure who chose the children's 'counting' nursery song 'Ten Green Bottles' seemingly to travel through every permutation and variation possible. I found a number of variations terribly and intentionally amusing and I think Hyuk Lee did also.

After the interval, the Chopin Polonaise in A-flat major Op.53. This was an adequate and surprisingly conventional performance. The Ballade in G minor Op. 23 that followed was on the other hand possessed of great narrative, forward drive and I could not help reflecting on the mastery of this work in one so young. The Mazurka in A minor Op. 17 No 4 was not moving and rather over-pedalled to my taste. The Mazurka in D major Op. 33 No 2  I felt opened poorly. Lee has developed a seductive tone and touch which stood him in good stead when he won the 10th Paderewski International Piano Competition in Bydgoszcz in November 2016. I remember it well.

The final work in his programme was the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 S 244, This was a surprising interpretation with a fine tone, touch and articulation. The work was not 'overplayed' as it often is or over-pedaled. His phrasing was particularly sensitive in this popular work. Towards the conclusion I think he may have strayed into the Horowitz-Volodos virtuoso arrangement of the work. This is massive talent for one so young and managed properly and thoughtfully he will realize his great promise as a pianist.

As encores the Mélodie in G-flat major, Op. 16 No. 2  by Paderewski and the piano arrangement of the Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite.

Chopin's Manor - Friday 11 August - 20.00 - Nikita Mndoyants

I had been greatly anticipating this recital from the winner of the 2016 Cleveland International Piano Competition, winner of the 2007 Paderewski International Piano Competition with which I am particularly familiar and a finalist in the 2013 Van Cliburn International Competition. Here we have a rare combination of composer and executant in an irresistible combination.

He opened his programme with the Chopin Nocturne in B major Op.62 No 1. I simply found it not sufficiently seductive, the perfumes of Sarmatia did not hover about it drawing me in, slightly too heavy but of course finely wrought in its way. 

Then to the great late Schubert Piano Sonata in C minor  D 958 written three months before his death. Again how do you like the composer's personality to be presented? In pastels or oils? The opening was at far too aggressive a dynamic for me. I feel it is a recollection of Beethoven (the deeply expressive Arrau understands this) and not an imitation or attempted recreation of that Force of Nature.  The movement then fortunately began to settle to its stark conclusion. The Adagio lacked sufficient serenity, refinement and tenderness - also some cantabile elements of inescapable Schubertian song. The Menuetto - Trio  were however presented with great sensitivity. Was the fatalistic question of the continuance or interruption of life sufficiently eloquent? In his magnificent control of the relentless 'horse-gallop' rhythm I did feel more dynamic alterations, far more expressive contrasts, would have relieved the psycholgical pressure.  

Portrait of the composer Sergei Prokofiev, 1934 - Pyotr Konchalovsky

After the interval a unique work I had never heard before - his own transcription at the age of 15 of the joyful, lively and energetic Prokofiev Scherzo from Symphony No 5  Op.100, Movement II, Allegro marcato. I found this a simply breathtaking approach to Prokofiev in terms of articulation and sheer energy. This was not a headache-producing Prokofiev which is all too common, the audience beaten into submission. Instead we were lured there by the colour of his dynamic spectrum and not simply assaulted by mindless percussion. 

He concluded his recital with another work by Prokofiev, the last of the so-called 'War Sonatas', that masterpiece, the Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat major Op.84. Mira Mendelson, who was Prokofiev’s partner for some twelve years and to whom he dedicated this sonata, wrote of these sonatas: 'In 1939 Prokofiev began to write three piano sonatas…working on all ten movements at once, and only later did he lay aside the Seventh and Eighth and concentrated on the Sixth.' Prokofiev spent five years (1939-1944) completing this set of sonatas. 

Some of the material for the sonata came from incidental music he composed for Eugene Onegin Op. 71 and for a cinema production of The Queen of Spades Op. 70. Mndoyants captured the melancholy, that suppressed and not so suppressed suffering, the desolation of war which suffuses the opening movement Andante dolce. A deeply moving account. The indication to the second movement is curious Andante sognando (dream-like) which is predominantly lyrical, harmonically predictable and rather like seeing a waltz in a distant ballroom from a garden though shifting mists, lovers fitfully passing the golden illuminated windows of a mansion. Perfect poetic imagery with this pianist. The final Vivace was an absolute triumph of feathery lightness, glorious tonal quality, timbre and pointillist articulation - brilliant in a word with unrelenting forward movement. Quite fantastic this movement and unlike any Prokofiev I have ever heard. Tumultuous applause and an instant standing ovation.

Among the very greatest Prokofiev I have ever heard in a concert hall. A true 'Duszniki Moment' - we had waited a long time for this one. 

Encores by Rameau, Schubert, Prokofiev and Purcell.

One of the greatest recitals at Duszniki Zdroj for years.

Chopin's Manor - Saturday 12 August - 16.00 - Yekwon Sunwoo

At Duszniki Zdroj we often hear prize winners at the very beginning of their artistic careers. One would like to emphasize the word beginning. Not yet artists. Certainly a competition win is a triumphant end point of the single-minded utilization of fantastic natural musical gifts allied with utter devotion and unrelenting dedication to dominating 'the great machine'. Once this is done the results become a question of the development character, personality, the contextual knowledge and extension of repertoire. 

Yekwon Sunwoo won 1st Prize at the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. So much of this recital was utterly brilliant 'technically' posing no problems but for me, possibly because of his lack of emotional range and maturity, the interpretations often lacked a deeper spiritual and historical cultural penetration. I think as a listener today, one becomes overwhelmed by what is spectacularly achievable digitally at the keyboard. The stunning fireworks of many young pianists on modern instruments, seduces, even carries one quite away from searching for deeper meanings, analogies and narratives in the interpretation. 

There are now so many 'learned interpretative gestures' from modern recordings, parameters of competition 'acceptability' and professors intent on producing prize winners, that we rarely hear truly recreated, organic interpretations that have clearly been the result of deep, original musical thought within the heart of the executant. 

Is it unfair on such young talent to direct them towards the originality of Sokolov, Richter, Gilels, Michelangeli, Arrau, magnificent Pletnev, Argerich, Brendel and further back in time, Rubinstein, Friedman, Vladimir de Pachmann, Cortot, Solomon, Curzon, Schnabel, Horowitz....no, I do not think it is unfair. I think it is in the nature of 'constructive criticism' and has to be seriously addressed by young pianists and on occasion their professors.

He began his recital with the Haydn Sonata in C major  Hob. XVI:48.  The Andante con espressione first movement is crammed with fantasy in variation form. There could have been a greater sense of improvisation rather than overt expression of romantic passion. Brilliant certainly but lacking, for me at least, that charming Viennese Gemütlichkeit and humour so vital in Haydn's chamber music and many of his piano sonatas. Clouds pass only fitfully across the sun in Haydn. The Rondo. Presto is fine example of Haydn's sparkling musical wit.

I liked far more the Beethoven that followed - the Sonata in E major, Op. 109. This late sonata (1820) presents major musical, pianistic and spiritual challenges for a pianist. This is a deeply serious work and an ambitious choice. The late sonatas have a spiritual content absent from shall we say the Waldstein. So much of the first movement is marked piano. The difficult transition from the Vivace ma non troppo first movement to the Adagio espressivo and back again was rather well accomplished. The variations (the extraordinary fourth) that lead to the serious ending showed some understanding of the composer at this difficult stage in his life. The variety of sonority required for this sonata is indeed challenging. The serene almost heavenly Adagio espressivo had a beautiful singing tone. The superb South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho in an interview with Róża Światczyńska of Polish Radio Dwojka said he considered this work to be a depiction of the life of a man - childhood, youth, maturity and reflective old age. 

Certainly the final movement Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo is extremely affecting, refined and elegantly poetic music but here I felt there were too many aggressive dynamic contrasts (the dynamic indications only rarely rise above mezza voce). This is rather a gentle, introspective sonata dedicated to a young lady, Maximiliane Brentano, the daughter of Beethoven's close friend Antonie Brentano. Would she have been expected to perform it in such a declamatory almost aggressive fashion?  Schnabel is profoundly expressive in this sonata with deep understanding of the classical style and reflective spiritual content. God gently dims the lights on life, something not so evident here.

After the interval, a fascinating work by Percy Grainger - the paraphrase Ramble on the last love-duet from Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. Such a charming impressionistic work I had never heard before which also says a great deal optimistically about the future adventurous planning of repertoire by this pianist. Grainger wrote a curious footnote concerning his opinion of the music of Strauss: 'It is my theory to think nothing can come to pass without a pinch (or more than a punch) of vulgarity [...] Richard Strauss is a greater, grander genius than Maurice Ravel because he (Strauss) has so amply the vulgarity that Ravel lacks.' (from his first full-length essay written in Nordic English - a language largely of his own invention - entitled The Love Life of Helen and Paris 1927-1928).

Grainger had a most unusual and intense relationship with his mother Rose, as evidenced by the thousands of letters and notes they wrote to each other. They can be considered as spiritually one if decidedly not at all physically engaged. Feeling that she had become insane, Rose committed suicide early in 1922 by leaping from a window of the Aeolian Building in New York which understandably severely depressed the composer. 'My loneliness is overwhelming' he wrote to Roger Quilter. It was this suicide that drove him to complete this paraphrase on the subject 'Rose' and its clear reference.

Percy Grainger and his mother Rose 

Sunwoo continued his recital with the Rachmaninoff  Sonata in B-flat minor Op. 36 (1931 version).  I felt he approached the work purely as a virtuoso exercise. As such and as it is one of my favourite Rachmaninoff works, I would prefer to remain silent on this occasion. The Dworek is not Carnegie Hall and the general dynamic level became insupportable after a time for this listener.

Much the same observations I could apply to his performance of Ravel's La Valse. A lack of elegance and that suggestion of almost decadent destructive sensuality seemed to me absent, that 'fantastic and fatal whirling' Ravel spoke of. One must visualize this work:

Through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished. The clouds gradually scatter: one sees […] an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth […]. Set in an imperial court, about 1855.

After the beauty and delight of the Viennese waltz, its joyful and carefree nature is inexorably replaced by something with more ominous overtones, as if time is unraveling. A fatalistic atmosphere begins to prevail. La Valse for me is nothing more or less than a portrait of the collapse of European civilization as it existed before the Great War. This the cataclysm from which horrors continue to emerge and from which we have still not recovered. 

Ravel himself denied any programmatic element to the work. Remember however how Thomas Mann presents us in Dr. Faustus with the composer Adrian Leverkühn, a creative genius who expresses a profound portrait of the age in which he lived but remains personally oblivious of the true nature of what he is expressing. Leverkühn is composing the great expressive oratorio Apocalypsis cum figuris which prefigures the end of time. The work speaks eloquently of its era in a sort of self-imposed, unaware historical vacuum. This listener cannot escape feeling that Ravel performed a similarly expressive creative act, unaware that in La Valse he was essentially expressing the disintegration of European values after Great War. So as listeners are we to expect a performance of the work or an interpretation  of it ?  The choice is yours...

This brilliant young pianist has a tremendous future ahead of him if only he has the temerity and altruism to open himself to personally experience the seminal influence of European culture in Vienna or Paris on the music he chooses to perform.

Final Concert 
Chopin's Manor - Saturday 12 August - 20.00
Vadym Kholodenko

I was greatly looking forward to this recital by one of the most outstanding, if not the most outstanding, of the rising generation of pianists. If I do not say a great deal in this review it is because like all the finest performances there is nothing left to say after each work has been presented, so unique is the voice, the quality of the tone, the refinement of touch, the internal structural coherence of the work and persuasive the interpretation.

He opened his recital with Mozart's Piano Sonata in A minor KV 310. Complete understanding of the classical style, balanced restraint and the melancholic background to this rare sonata in the minor key. The sonata was written soon after the unexpected death in Paris of Mozart's mother, Anna Maria, in the summer of 1778. She was travelling with her son on a tour of France. The death caused Leopold Mozart to blame Wolfgang for her death but we do not know why this was the case. The sonata was written at a time of great emotional turbulence for the composer. 'Wolfgang loved and admired her to distraction' (Hermann Abert). Kholodenko moved me deeply in the Andante cantabile con espressione. Only the magical Gilels can compare in this sonata...

Anna Maria Mozart

Then to the Beethoven Piano Sonata in A major Op.2 No. 2. The three sonatas of Op. 2 are dedicated to Haydn and were premièred in the autumn of 1795 at the home of Prince Carl Lichnowksy. Haydn was present at this chamber concert. Even in this early work Beethoven is experimenting with form and we hear his unique voice beginning to break through the barriers of the classical canon. Kholodenko gave us an imaginative, charming and civilized version of this early Beethoven sonata with a most affecting Largo appasionato and a light and supremely elegant Scherzo. Allegretto third movement.

After the interval what can only be described as a 'perfect' Chopin Nocturnes Op.37 - No. 1 in G minor and No. 2 in G major. Tender with superb cantabile and rubato, truly ardent love songs.

Then to Scriabin 6 Preludes Op.13. Except for perhaps the rather Lisztian first, these Preludes are rather brief but intense 'fragments', irresistibly reminding one of the Chopin Preludes. Highly strung nervousness, nostalgic and melancholic dreams, elegance, the dark passionate night of a tumultuous soul finally coming to rest. 

Then to the 8 Etudes Op. 42. I cannot analyse his approach to each one here, save to say we were taken on in turn on an enchanted, nonchalant, proud, wistful, nostalgic, even playful but sometimes frighteningly sensual and passionate journey (No. 5 in C-sharp minorinto a transcendental sound world. I am constantly astounded by the magical and spiritually disturbing metaphysical nature of the tone and touch Kholodenko is able to produce in Scriabin which truly transports the listener into the composer's haunted and eerie universe of sound and poetic reference.  

This became disquietingly and spiritually perturbing in the Poème Satanique Op. 36. In this disturbing work I was reminded of the Mephisto Waltz No 1 of Liszt. But here we experience something far more disconcerting in the insinuating nature of evil. In his indications, the luxurious dolce appassionato, cantabile, amoroso even amorissimo of love is placed by Scriabin in bizarre and deeply unsettling counterpoint with riso ironico, the ironical laughter of Satan faced with the nature of romantic love and its disillusionments. Seamlessly Kholodenko merged a magnificently penetrating account of this confrontation with the protest and near anger at the nature of destiny and fate contained within the rhapsodic sweeping harmonies of the Poème Tragique Op. 34. 

Without doubt some of the most sublime and spiritually agitating Scriabin I have ever heard, penetrating the heart and soul with an incorporeal touch and tone at the piano that transports one into that discomforting yet ultimately uplifting alternative universe of musical experience.

Henry Fuseli Shakespeare: Macbeth, Act I, Scene III (1798)

The Mind Faces Fate in its Deepest Recesses

   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

And so another marvelous festival in this lovely Polish spa town comes to an end. I hope my observations, intensely personal as always, will not offend or demotivate - all are made in a spirit of constructive criticism and a deep admiration of all the pianists who are invited and have the courage to accept and perform Chopin especially, but other composers too, before this demanding audience.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction to the History of the Festival 


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

Stanisław Dybowski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past Festival Posts

The 71st Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2016

The 70th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2015

The 69th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2014  

The 68th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2013

The 67th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2012

The 66th. Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2011

The 65th. Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2010


Popular posts from this blog

Elisey Mysin recital - XVII International Piano Forum - Bieszczady Without Borders - Sanok, Poland

78th International Chopin Festival in Duszniki-Zdrój, Poland. August 4-12, 2023

The Polish Romantic Guitar - The Polish Musical Renaissance - National Chopin Institute Recording Review