Chopin i jego Europa 2017 - Chopin and his Europe 2017 - Bach...Chopin



40 Concerts most using original instruments especially period pianos

Artists include:

Martha Argerich; Nelson Freire; Mikhail Pletnev; Piotr Anderszewski; Garrick Ohlsson; Nicholas Angelich; Nelson Goerner; Jan Lisiecki; Dmitri Alexeev; Yulianna Avdeeva; Howard Shelley; Gabriela Montero; Seang-Jin Cho; Yundi; Vadym Kholodenko; Philippe Giusiano; Andreas Staier; Tobias Koch; Alexei Lubimov; Alexey Zuev; Alexander Melnikov ;Kristian Bezuidenhout; Lorenzo Coppola; Olga Pashchenko; Pawel Wakarecy; Julian Rachlin; Marcin Zdunik; Jakub Jakowicz; Charles-Richard Hamelin;

Conductors


Grzegorz Nowak; Jacek Kaspszyk; Gidon Kremer; Andrey Boreyko; Philippe Herreweghe; Fabio Biondi; Vaclav Luks; Gustavo Gimeno; Giovanni Antonini;

For the full list of artists (3 pages) : 

http://en.chopin.nifc.pl/festival/edition2017/artists/page/1 


Orchestras

Europa Galante; Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century; Collegium Vocale Ghent; Il Giardino Armonico; Collegium 1704; Freiburger Barockorchester; Kremerata Baltica; Sinfonia Varsovia; Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra; Culture Orchestra; Orchestra of the Beethoven Academy; Belcea Quartet; Apollon Musagete Quartett;



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

      *  *  *  *  *  *

The theme of this festival is singularly appropriate to Fryderyk Chopin. He admired Bach above all other composers save Mozart. In his teaching he insisted that pupils studied J.S.Bach's Suites and individual Preludes and Fugues from the "48" of  Das Wohltemperirte Clavier. Chopin told his pupil Madame Camille Dubois at her last meeting with him to 'toujours travailler Bach - ce sera votre meilleur moyen de progresser' [always practise Bach - this will be your best way of making progress]. Bach himself always emphasized cantabile playing as essential as did Chopin after him. The importance of singing was essential to both composers - Bach in his Cantatas and Masses and Chopin in the opera. There are certainly stylistic links between Chopin and the Baroque aesthetic which is not always obvious in modern performances. Even Chopin's legato fingering suggestions to pupils reflects his skill as an organist. When asked how he prepared for concerts by Wilhelm von Lenz the composer replied 'For a fortnight I shut myself up and play Bach. That's my preparation. I don't practise my own compositions.'

The 2017 program has been released by the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute. The Artistic Director of the festival, Stanisław Leszczyński, has excelled himself in assembling with his customary persuasive brilliance an absolutely spectacular array of the finest international artists for us this year in an extended festival lasting almost three weeks. I am rendered almost breathless by the depth, quality and variety of this particular festival.

If you are wondering whether to come to Warsaw for the Chopin i jego Europa [Chopin and His Europe] Festival do not hesitate. Book your air fare and buy tickets. The city is so beautiful in summer and crammed with fascinating history relating not only to Chopin but to many of the seminal events of the entire twentieth century...superb exploratory days to spend before the concerts.

Festival Program Link




I shall be reviewing many but not all concerts in this festival crowded as it is each day with wonderful occasions, some of which conflict with each other.





Piano Tension 
The modern conception (Steinway) vs a period piece (Erard

Warsaw Philharmonic - Szymon Nehring - 14 August  17.00

At Duszniki Zdroj 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 has recently won the 1st Prize at the 2017 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv.

The first half of the recital was performed on a period piano (an Erard). Last year at the CiJE I felt he had a natural affinity with the tone col0urs available on period pianos in the Chopin concerto. This was immediately obvious again this evening.  He opened with a Scarlatti Sonata - F Minor L 118. I felt as it was a cantabile sonata it suited the earlier instrument very well - after all Scarlatti had Cristofori instruments (with cylindrical papier mache hammers available at the court of Queen Maria Barbara at the Spanish Court at the Escorial. 

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cris/hd_cris.htm (fascinating scholarly article)



This was followed by the Mozart Sonata in F major KV 280. This instrument produced the sound I associate with Mozart sonatas. I found it most affecting, rather stylish, with great panache and elegance - superior to the Duszniki performance. The Chopin Nocturnes  (A-flat major Op.32 No. 2 and G major Op. 37 No.2) had a seductive and nostalgic sense of loss with the Erard sound but not as emotionally engaging at the tempo he chose as I had hoped. The Barcarolle was similarly lacking in the true sense of a fraught love story set on a Venetian lagoon.

The second half of the recital on the Steinway. In the Beethoven Sonata in G major Op. 31 No.1 he preserved some sense of the classical style I associate with this composer (bu not dry or articulated enough for me) and sometimes found his dynamic changes slightly exaggerated and the final Presto rather over-pedaled. He concluded his recital with the Chopin Sonata in B-flat minor Op. 35 in an interpretation that was a finely wrought, although a rather conventional performance - but that is hardly a criticism. He tends to lack finesse in his playing perhaps due to his youth. 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, terribly popular, communicative (two standing ovations) and again a tremendous future as a pianist can be predicted for him.

Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio

14 August    20.00   Vadym Kholodenko

I had also heard this pianist in a different programme in Duszniki Zdroj.

Throughout it was a recital of the utmost brilliance and left me speechless at the intense beauty, tonal qualities, colour spectrum, touch, tone and musical understanding of the entire performance. A very great pianist and musician indeed were we privileged to hear tonight.


The entire first half was devoted to Maurice Ravel's intense love of eighteenth century France and its classical elegance and refinement. Kholodenko opened with the Sonatine in three movements.  Ravel's inspiration for composing the Sonatine was a  competition in 1903 sponsored by a fine arts and literary magazine called Weekly Critical Review. The competition was cancelled as the magazine went bankrupt and Ravel took two more years to complete the delightful Sonatine. Kholodenko performed this work at a perfectly civilized level of dynamic with wonderful impressionist colour and understated elegance. 


Then wonderful for me (being both harpsichordist and pianist) Le tombeau de Couperin each movement of the Baroque style suite dedicated to friends massacred in the fetid horrors and stinking trenches of the Great War. Such a contrast within human nature is laid out for us. 'The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence' he commented in response to criticism. The music of Francois Couperin has always remained for me one of the great touchstones of a high point in human creative civilization. I play a great deal of it on the harpsichord. In this work Ravel fused his modern sensibility with the expressive gestures of 18th century France. He described the suite 'directed less in fact to Couperin himself than to French music of the 18th century.' Ravel melded rhythmic, melodic and cadential forms of the time of Couperin with modern times. The work expresses the present through the mirror of the past.

The elegance of the composer is surely expressed in the graphics of the cover Ravel designed for the music himself.


I was watching Kholodenko's beautiful hands during the performance and the extraordinary balletic and elegant movement of his fingers as he wove such a seductive, transparent web of impressionistic sound around our ears. Ravishing in tone colour, touch and utter refinement. Nothing left to say - the greatest criterion after a musical performance.

After the interval two Nocturnes by Chopin. Op.37 Nos. 1 and 2. Softly taken at what might be taken as a 'nocturnal tempo' around say 2.00am on a moonlit reflective evening of nostalgia and yet another on a sunshiny day. Beautiful certainly but perhaps just bordering on mannerism - the great creative temptation as Chopin seduces us melodically into his world of sentiment and yearning.


Then to the Scriabin. First of all his youthful five Preludes Op. 16. The resemblances in brevity to those of Chopin is clear from the outset. It seems to me Kholodenko has an ability to enter the strange metaphysical world of Scriabin and communicate it to us without any human filters being in place. This was evident in the eight Etudes that followed. No 5 in C sharp minor seemed to plumb the depths of incandescent passion in one concise, terrifying, concentrated emotional expression.  Magnificent monoliths under the spell-binding fingers of Kholodenko. 



The same was true of the most fantastical, mystically involving performance of the Piano Sonata No 5 op.53. This sonata was written 1907 in mere days as a tributary to the orchestral piece entitled  'Poem of Ecstasy’ . Scriabin provided a poem written for the orchestral work:

I call you to life, mysterious forces!
Drowned in the obscure depths
of the creative spirit, timid
Embryos of life, to you I bring audacity!

— surely a description of the power the subconscious mind required for the composition of such a work in mere days. The directions Scriabin indicates give some idea of its transcendental nature. Speaking to him at Duszniki, I know Kholodenko is deeply involved in the power of poetry. His playing reflects this preoccupation. The deep sensuality and eroticism of Scriabin's chromaticism was reflected in the shuddering and contrapposto body language of the pianist. More balletic dance of the fingers that seemed to grow into the keyboard and not play on top of it, as was described of Handel at the organ.


The encore was Vers la flamme  Op. 72, one of Sciabin's final piano works in the greatest performance I have ever heard. Far greater in emotional and metaphysical range and depth than Horowitz was ever capable of spiritually, although he loved the work. The sound quality Kholodenko gradually extracted from the instrument was luminous to the point of blindness. Scriabin was convinced that heat building up would eventually cause the destruction of the world. But I have always imagined it as insects or more likely human specimens being drawn by their unbridled and uncontainable passions closer and closer to the flame of sensual ecstasy where they are inevitably destroyed. Moths and other insects drawn to candle flames seemed to combust explosively at moments in the music. For Scriabin however the piece's title reflects the conflagration of the earth.


Possibly the greatest Scriabin playing I have ever heard. Crept away from the radio studio...

Warsaw Philharmonic  -  Tuesday 15 August  -  Seong-Jin Cho  - 18.00




Solitary, exposed and rather terrifying, the great machine awaits the pianist

I would first like to quote an edited version of what I wrote about his performances at Duszniki Zdroj in 2010 and 2012:


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


Piotr Paleczny, the Artistic Director of this festival and a member of the 2015 jury, is to be congratulated on his unfailing ability to give us outstanding pianistic experiences, particularly with prodigious young talents.

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


His natural musical gifts were immediately clear.


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

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

Cho opened his recital this evening with Beethoven - the popular so-called Pathetique sonata Op.13. Wilhelm von Lenz was a German-Baltic musicologist and member of the Imperial Russian Council of State who incidentally considered Chopin a 'political subversive'. He dealt mainly with Beethoven and wrote of the 'calm grandeur' of this sonata. It was Beethoven's first successful 'sublime' sonata and became popular even during his lifetime. I found the opening rather too deliberate for this dramatic movement and rather over emphatic in its expressive possibilities. Yes it is marked Grave  but I felt it was rather too slow. The Adagio cantabile was yearning but I thought lacking in a true cantabile singing legato. The Rondo. Allegro concluded in this dramatic piece in a fine exuberant and even romantic style.

I liked far more the Beethoven that followed - the Sonata in E major, Op. 109. The Adagio espressivo had a beautiful singing tone in such contrast to the previous sonata.  Cho in an interview with Róża Światczyńska of Polish Radio 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 was extremely affecting with superb tone and control of touch as the sonata seemed to drift off into the ether.


After the Intermission two fine impressionistic performances of the familiar Debussy La plus que Lente and L'Isle joyeuse written on the island of Jersey when in a state of heightened emotion - the composer was joyfully embracing a secret and passionate love affair in the summer of 1904 with Emma Bardac, the wife of a rich and prominent banker. The discovery of the affair caused an immense scandal. His wife, 'Lilly' attempted suicide. Much of La Mer was written on the island. Cho gave us a beautifully wrought impressionistic account of the pieces, maintaining an attractive quality of a summer afternoon's improvisation but also passionate eroticism. 


Then to the four Chopin Ballades. The G-minor Op.23 evolved into a poetically expressed narrative of great intensity and power with superb phrasing and sense of rubato.  The presence of a large audience tempted him occasionally into emotional extremes and rushed lack of clarity especially in scale passages. Powerful coda. I found the F-major Op.38 rather uninvolving as much of it was played  at a rapid tempo which did little for the listener attempting to follow the evolving narrative through the harmonic and inner polyphonic, contrapuntal detail and progressions. Listeners need time to decode the music. Pianists over-familiar through hours of practice tend to forget we listeners are not as familiar with details as they are and need to be given time to unravel what the composer is saying. The A flat-major Op. 47 - such a beautiful work, seemed a blithely pastoral and seductive love story. The final great Ballade in F minor Op.52 (one of the enduring masterpieces of the Western piano canon) was magnificently wrought, an innocent opening of the greatest simplicity and refinement exercising inspired control over the musical narrative. I felt the Coda somewhat rushed however for no very good reason.  

As encores, a nuanced Mozart and a rather conventionally 'passionate' and 'angry' so-called 'Revolutionary' study.

I felt here now we have the beginnings of a true artist, a pianist much matured in the short time that has elapsed since his Chopin competition win.



Warsaw Philharmonia - Tuesday 15 August - 21.30


Claudio Monteverdi  Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610) on the 400th 

anniversary of his birth


Dorothee Mields


Dorothee Mields (soprano) - German soprano with wide-ranging repertoire comprising works of Monteverdi, Bach and Mozart to compositions by Pierre Boulez, Grisey and Beat Furrer. more »


 Barbora Kabátková (soprano) - Artistic director of the Tiburtina ensemble, she also plays mediaeval harp and psaltery. more »


William Knight (alt) - He is a permanent member of the Nederlands Kamerkoor and co-founder of the Windsor Consort. more »


Samuel Boden (tenor) - A British tenor who embarked on a musical career having previously trained and worked as a chef. He was introduced into the world of vocal performance by John Wakefield, as a student of Trinity Laban Conservatoire. more »


Peter Kooij (bass) - He began his musical studies in a violin class and continued his vocal education with Max van Egmond at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam, graduating with honours. more »


Wolf Matthias Friedrich (bass) - A bass-baritone. For three decades, he has been an admired performer of Baroque music in particular. more »


Collegium Vocale Gent Orchestra and Chorus



Philippe Herreweghe (conductor) - Founder of the Collegium Vocale and Orchestre des Champs-Élysées. more »


The Monteverdi Vespers is really a rather recent addition to the established canon of Western musical masterpieces (first modern performances in the 1930s and recordings in the 1950s). The increased importance of the Monteverdi Vespers is really the story of the post-war early music initiatives as it has became almost as iconic as Handel's Messiah or Bach's B-minor Mass. It sums up at a stroke most of the forms of liturgical and instrumental music he excelled at with the exception of his Madrigals for which he was most famous at the time.


Monteverdi wanted to escape the limitations of the Gonzagas in Mantua and find another position, hopefully at the Papal chapel. The publication almost certainly helped him gain a distinguished alternative, the post of maestro di cappella at St Mark’s in Venice, which he would retain until his death in 1643.


Although some aspects of the Vespers remain constant it is not really a 'work' in the way we say envisage nineteenth century symphonies but may well have been assembled depending on liturgical requirements and the forces available for performance - always unpredictable in the seventeenth century and well into the eighteenth. Monteverdi may well have been astounded that the piece is performed as an integrated whole in say a secular hall like the Warsaw Philharmonia or recently in the cavernous Albert Hall as part of the Proms.


I could not possibly go into the complexities of the Vespers here or the higher or lower points of performance in detail, suffice to say this was a beautiful, measured performance of the most sublime music, hovering somewhere in that celestial space between earth and heaven known in the seventeenth century theater as mezza la sena. During it I could not help reflecting on the decline of Christianity in its immanent sense in modern times.



The  famous and miraculous Black Madonna of  Częstochowa


Warsaw Philharmonia - Wednesday 16 August - 20.00

Il Giardino Armonico
Giovanni Antonini - Music Director

J.S.Bach -  6 Brandenburg Concertos

Autograph manuscript of J.S. Bach's 3rd Brandenburg Concerto

This was a rare opportunity to hear this increasingly famous band play works by Bach that need little introduction from me as they are familiar to all music lovers. I can remember that ever since the exciting and revolutionary days of the 1970s when the so-called 'Early Music' battles were raging, these works and the 'authentic' forces that should be involved were discussed with heat and passion. The debate has settled in recent times and authentic instruments have become the norm and in many cases small groups of instruments that Bach probably had in mind. This is a far cry, the furthest cry perhaps, from the large forces of Herbert von Karajan or Karl Richter.

One might say that this group live dangerously in the theatrical manner in which instruments are played (even accompanied by ballet dance movements in the body language of Antonini the music director and virtuoso recorder player). The first thing that struck me was the extraordinary sonority produced, particularly by the strident natural horns in the First Brandenburg Concerto. So arresting was this I thought something had gone terribly wrong within the ensemble. I find it hard to believe that Bach or his audience would have tolerated this but then who is to say in the justification of 'authenticity'. We are so far from the source of this music. Multifarious justifications for the instrumental forces used and the types of instruments themselves are now possible for Bach. The composer's own rather ad hoc approach to instrumental assemblies in many of his works allows great leeway in matters of taste.

Il Giardino Armonico are certainly exciting in these works and give one pause for much ruminative thought. The cohesiveness of the ensemble was not always evident with such characteristically individual tonal instruments. However I must admit to being significantly distracted from the music by the rather extreme theatrical body movements and 'conversational' gestures of friendly familiarity between the string players. Although clearly entertaining for the enthusiastic audience and possibly justified to a limited extent by the wind players and some historical sources, it was not to my perhaps over-reverential taste in Bach. But then if I closed my eyes....

Warsaw Philharmonia  - Thursday  17 August - 18.00

Charles Richard-Hamelin

I had always admired the playing of this pianist during the 2015 International Chopin Competition when he was awarded second prize. He began his recital with the familiar Mozart Fantasy in D-minor KV 397. He took it quite moderately with just a few hints of the darker meanings that the key of D-minor has for Mozart.  He continued with a group of Chopin Impromptus performed with excellent understanding of the idiom, although perhaps the general atmosphere could have been more impressionistic and nuanced. Perhaps the F sharp major Op.36 could have been rather more legato, the G flat major Op.51 performed more leggierezza but the Fantasy-Impromptu was a fine interpretation to my mind and far superior to most I have heard. All a matter of personal taste after all. We all have our own Chopin...and my observations are really minor quibbles. 




Arno Babadjanian

He then performed music by the modern Armenian composer Arno Babadjanian. First the Elegy to Aram Khachaturian. This charming music, influenced in ways by Armenian folklore, was entirely unfamiliar to me as was the life of this composer. The iron curtain may have prevented his music becoming familiar in the West - well for me anyway. This link may be of assistance to those similarly ignorant of a composer I shall certainly investigate further.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arno_Babajanian . The Prelude and Vagharshapat Dance was tremendously virtuosic and energetic. Then an Impromptu and Capriccio which I found tremendously interesting and so musically charming. Thank you for the introduction Mr. Richard-Hamelin!

After the interval the great first sonata in my favourite key of F-sharp minor Op.11 by Robert Schumann. Although a finely played and structured performance, for me the whimsical and mercurial nature of Schumann was not always present. This aspect of the composer is so hard to catch for pianists. The quicksilver changes of mood were rather missing except in the brilliant Scherzo which Richard-Hamelin brought off in fine style - light, elegant and full of energy.

Warsaw Philharmonia - Thursday 17 August - 21.00

Nelson Freire


This was the same programme Nelson gave us in Duszniki Zdroj. Some of my remarks  and judgments remain unchanged but others need to be modified in this performance.

He opened his recital with Bach. The Prelude in G minor for organ BMV 535 (arranged by Siloti). Many years 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 he 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. Schumann had written the first movement of the Fantasy in his depression at being separated from his great love, Clara Wieck. The final two movements were written to raise funds for a Beethoven monument in Bonn.

In fact, as always deeply influenced by literature, Schumann quoted Friedrich Schlegel in a preface to the work: 


Durch alle Töne tönet
Im bunten Erdentraum
Ein leiser Ton gezogen
Für den, der heimlich lauschet.


[Resounding through all the notes 
In the earth's colorful dream
There sounds a faint long-drawn note
For the one who listens in secret]

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. On this occasion in Warsaw I felt it as a tremendously authoritative performance which moved me deeply, especially in the final movement Langsam getragen. Durchweg leise zu halten. I had tears in my eyes as does Freire himself, admitted in an interview with the Polish radio presenter Róża Światczyńska. 

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 in Warsaw was also 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 hold 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 unsentimental, a feeling of zal with great virtuoso command (surely a truism with such an artist). Slightly rushed? However I would prefer to pass over the Scherzo which I found rather empty of emotion and especially the Largo which I felt lacked the poetry essential to Chopin. Let's just say there were some truly beautiful moments. The final movement, Finale. Presto non tanto, was rather rushed in this Warsaw performance. In many ways I felt the entire account of the sonata was presented to us as if from behind glass. But why? Classical detachment? If only the entire sonata had been at a higher level of emotional commitment.

The encores were delightful. First a superb, poetic and deeply moving Chopin Mazurka, different in emotional texture to the Duszniki peformance (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 he gave us 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 in Warsaw compared with Duszniki Zdroj, a rather more musically satisfying occasion from one of the greatest of living pianists.

Moniuszko Auditorium at the Teatr Wielki (National Opera)

Sunday 20 August -  20.00

Giuseppe Verdi

Macbeth 

(first version of the opera from 1847 in concert performance)




Giovanni Meoni
Giovanni Meoni - Baritone. As a boy, he learned piano, before later devoting himself to vocal studies, honing his skills with Leo Ferri in Rome. He has won many international competitions. more »

Nadja Michael
Nadja Michael - One of the most interesting and sought-after dramatic sopranos around. more »

Fabrizio Beggi
Fabrizio Beggi - Bas. Performed in such operas as Andrea Chenier, Don Carlo, Simon Boccanegra, William Tell (Canadian tour), Rigoletto and La Cenerentola. more »

Giuseppe Valentino Buzza
Giuseppe Valentino Buzza - Won prizes in many competitions, including an invitation to take part in a production of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore at the Teatro Politeama Greco in Lecce (Italy), where he sang the part of Nemorino. more »

Marco Ciaponi
Marco Ciaponi - Tenor. Ablaureate of many vocal competitions, winning first prizes in the Flaviano Labò International Competition in Piacenza and the ‘Voci Verdiane' Festival in Busetto (2015), among others. more »

Valentina Marghinotti
Valentina Marghinotti - Born in Cagliari, Italy, she studied Classics before turning to music. She is a graduate of the Palestrina Conservatory in Cagliari and the Hochschule für Musik in Basle. more »

Federico Benetti
Federico Benetti - On the operatic stage, he has performed in such works as Pergolesi's La serva padrona, Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne and Don Giovanni (as Masetto), Britten's The Little Sweep. more »




Fabio Biondi
Fabio Biondi (conductor) - Conductor and violinist. In 1990 Fabio Biondi founded Europa Galante - the most internationally renowned and awarded Italian ensemble of Baroque music. more »

Violetta Bielecka
Violetta Bielecka (conductor) - Conductor and artistic manager of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir in Białystok. more »



One might imagine that a concert version of Verdi's Macbeth is an unusual choice for a music festival. However as one examines the historical context of the gestation of the opera the rational nature of this choice becomes clearer. This evening it was the new version prepared from the original sources by Diego Procoli and Fabio Biondi. 

A letter from Verdi reads: ‘This [Shakespeare] tragedy is one of the greatest creations of the human spirit. If we can’t do something great with it, let us at least try to do something out of the ordinary.’ The Florence premiere in 1847, L’opera senza amore’ as Italians referred to it, was revised for performance in Paris in 1865. It was a great success and the composer received 38 curtain calls at the premiere. Macbeth is in many ways a masterpiece unique in Verdi both for its psychological analysis reflected in the libretto (by Francesco Piave)  and the refinement and brilliance of its orchestral coloring. Verdi took enormous pains with the detailed production of this opera. In some ways visionary, here the composer leaped ahead musically and Piave kept the drama at a high voltage. the opera flows like a river of despair , sexual and erotic forces as well as murderous calculation.

This orchestral version gave the listener the rare opportunity to hear to internal detail of Verdi's visionary score without the visual 'distraction' if you like, of the staging. My imagination was given some much needed exercise in a world where every stimulus appears prepackaged for sale. I found this richly a rewarding experience in musical terms. 


Europa Galante under Biondi were very fine indeed as were the choir. The voices were a rather mixed group in terms of quality. Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth was inappropriately cast I felt and tended to exaggerate the role in an overly dramatic manner. She should be a seductive (certainly true), beautiful but also rather civilized (what I hear you cry - ah yes - that too) a charming lady (but fatally charming for her husband enthralled, emotionally entrapped in the sticky erotic web as he is). A woman who however, despite all these attractive qualities, is packed with evil intentions. Presenting such a complex character is far from easy. I also felt her intonation needs some work as it was unstable at times. As for Macbeth himself, Giovanni Meoni, although an excellent and clearly superb voice....well,  I was looking for more emotional commitment in the delivery of this tormented man. By far the most convincing was the bass Fabrizio Beggi as Banquo (or Banco which sounds rather like an after dinner game). A magnificent voice who unfortunately met his sticky end far too early in the opera! The smaller roles were all well managed.

I very much enjoyed this rare concert version of one of Verdi's more adventurous scores for reasons that are not immediately obvious to the casual opera goer.


Ballroom of the Royal Castle in Warsaw - Monday 21 August - 17.00


Andreas Staier (period piano - Erard )  Lorenzo Coppola (clarinet)


This is always a beautiful venue to hear a chamber concert. The ballroom was magnificently restored. The artists Domenico Merlini and Jan Christian Kamsetzer are responsible for the magnificence. Reconstructed from pre-war photographs many original features were rescued from the rubble of Warsaw and reinstated (the statues of Apollo and Minerva for example). The room is decorated with golden stucco columns, superb candelabra, chandeliers and gilded walls. During the reign of the aesthete King Stanislaus Augustus, the room was used for the court, banquets, balls, concerts and theatrical performances.



The artists opened with the Sonata in F-minor Op. 120 No.1 for clarinet and piano by Brahms. The period sonority was immediately apparent which gave rather a salon atmosphere to this work. Brahms himself regarded the work as 'undemanding'. However I felt it was a rather serious work and would have benefited from a richer, deeper piano than the rather lightweight Erard. 



Just out of interest, some years ago the Brahms Museum, Murzzuschlag/Semmering, issued an interesting recording of the Brahms-Flugel, which was an instrument by W. Bachmann, Vienna, 1850. The recording was issued 'In Memoriam Claudio Arrau'. The distinguished pianist Jorg Demus performs many Brahms pieces on the recording and this is contrasted with the same works performed on a modern Steinway. This piano is of much the same period as the Erard but has a different timbre and depth to the French instrument. I felt it more suitable for these late works.



The clarinet for the Brahms is a copy of an instrument originally made by Georg Ottensteiner in 1864 specially for Richard Muhlfeld from the Meiningen orchestra - a close friend of Brahms for whom he had written both his clarinet sonatas. The original instrument (and the copy) are made of bamboo instead of the ebony clarinets commonly used at the time Brahms was composing these pieces. The bamboo clarinet had a warmer and more lyrical timbre which was the sound Brahms had in mind.






The next work on the face of it may seem an unusual on a period instrument but it was in fact successful in unexpected ways. The Arnold Schoenberg 6 Klavierstucke Op. 19. These beautiful miniatures gained immeasurably from the refined sound of the Erard. 

Then the rather joyful and untroubled music of Schumann's 3 Fantasiestucke for clarinet and piano Op. 73. Each of the pieces expresses a different mood or feeling but together they form a harmonically unified work. The first two pieces are rather blithe, joyful and charming music while the third has far more energy, demanding a degree of virtuosity and fire - Rasch und mit Feuer. Schumann also indicated that the clarinet part could be replaced by violin or cello. The clarinet used for Schumann was slightly different to that of the Brahms. It was an original one from the composer's time with the more simple valve system to differentiate the registers as much as possible. 

Then another remarkable modern work that benefited from the Erard. The Alban Berg 4 Stucke for clarinet and piano Op.5. These miniatures were influenced by the 6 Schoenberg pieces and actually Schoenberg criticized Berg for attempting such small scale compositions. These brief pieces, complex in referential context, are rather Romantic in texture, and timbre. The Erard enhanced their fragility.

Finally the Brahms Sonata in E-flat major for clarinet and piano Op. 120 No.2. The charming indication Allegro amabile was beautifully realized in this harmonically rich sonata. The main theme is a seductive, ingratiating, winning melody. The Allegro appassionato was certainly a passionate theme on the clarinet. The Andante con moto. Allegro concluded a work that may have achieved a far more Brahmsian gravitas on a larger deeper-toned piano. 



Basilica of the Holy Cross Warsaw - Monday 21 August


Oratorio concert


Johann Sebastian Bach

  • Ich habe genug, BWV 82

Jan Dismas Zelenka

  • Requiem in D major, ZWV46 (for King Augustus II the Strong of Poland)
  • Invitatorium: Antiphona et Psalmus „Regem cui omnia vivunt” from Officium defunctorum ZWV 47 (1733)

news Kateřina Kněžíková (soprano)

Luciana ManciniLuciana Mancini (alt) - Mezzo-soprano. Born into a Chilean-Swedish family, she is a graduate of the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. more »

Aneta  Petrasová Aneta Petrasová (alt) - A young Czech mezzo-soprano, she learned flute and then operatic singing with Christine Kluge at music school in Prague. more »

news Václav Čížek (tenor)

Yannis  François Yannis François (bass) - Bass-baritone. Born in Guadeloupe, he began his career as a dancer; he is a graduate of the Ecole-Atelier Rudra Béjart in Lausanne and belonged to the Béjart Ballet. At the same time, he studied on the vocal department of the Lausanne Conservatoire with Gary Magby. more »

Michał  Dembiński Michał Dembiński (bass) - Bass. Born in 1988, in Tarnów, he studied in the class of Włodzimierz Zalewski at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw. more »

Jan  Martiník Jan Martiník (bass) - A young Czech bass, he studied at the Conservatory and University in Ostrava and at the Accademia Rossiniana in Pesaro. more »



Václav LuksVáclav Luks (conductor) - The Czech conductor, harpsichordist and French horn player. more »


This was an extraordinary, spiritually uplifting and visionary concert. 

This Bach Cantata, composed for the Feast of the Purification of Mary, is rather bleak in its outlook and text and was given a suitably restrained but exquisitely phrased and sung performance. 

'With joy I greet my death; would that it were here already; then I shall escape the distress which afflicts me here on earth.'



It concluded with what might even be called 'a dance of death'. 



In keeping with the almost joyful mood this rare Requiem followed the work.



The Bohemian Baroque composer Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) is beginning to take his rightful place among such immortal composers as Handel and Bach. If he is new to you:






This was clearly evident in this liturgical work, a Requiem Mass, entirely unknown to me before this performance. The work was overwhelmingly beautiful in its enriching harmony and counterpoint, spiritually uplifting and in a word 'Divine'. I cannot hope to examine the details here without research. Suffice to say that Collegium 1704 came to terms with this Czech composer in an intimate and idiomatic way that defies analysis.  The sections with the soprano chalumeau, originally a folk woodwind instrument and predecessor of the clarinet, were profoundly moving in its counterpoint dialogue with the more conventional glorious liturgical harmonies. Zelenka was a master of compositions for woodwind. 



Here we had a heart-stopping all too human commentary or depiction of the innocent dimension of life in the face of the Divine in death. I was reduced to tears at this final juxtaposition of God, the Divine and simple living humanity - unforgettable and utterly unique in Western musical literature to my knowledge. An acceptance of the mysterious fate and destiny of us all, almost a celebration of it.  One of the truly great musical performances of the festival.






A soprano chalumeau










Warsaw Philharmonia - Tuesday 22 August  18.00

Nelson Goerner



Europa Galante

Fabio Biondi



The concert opened with a quite brilliant juvenile work by Chopin's fellow student Feliks Dobrzynski entitled in French Ouverture de Concert a grand Orchestre (in D major Op.1) and composed when he was 17. Clearly he was a highly accomplished student - Jozef Elsner, teacher of both composers and Chopin's teacher, referred to him as an 'uncommon talent'. A charming period work with far too many identically repeated phrases (a fault in many 'minor' composers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries). Certainly he had a command of the orchestra that Chopin may have envied but then he did not have Chopin's genius for melody and intense and profound understanding of the piano which puts him rather in the shade - as it does many other, even great composers. 







Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński (15 February 1807 – 9 October 1867) 
 Maksymilian Fajans



I have always admired Nelson Goerner during this festival during past years in the two Chopin piano concertos. In this concert he gave dare I say, rather predictable accounts. I felt the E minor Op. 11 rather lacking in imaginative response and as if the pianist was 'going through the motions'. He seemed to approach it as simply a virtuoso work with no deeper content. In the Romance. Larghetto was far too 'straight' an interpretation for me in a concerto that leaves so much about adolescent love unsaid, merely implied in the world of emotional yearning, longing and dreams. This must be communicated by the pianist as the entire work hinges on this movement. Chopin himself said 'I only indicate. The listener must complete the picture.' or words to that effect. On this occasion Goerner rather failed to extract much from a score he must be terribly familiar with by now. 


The orchestra seemed to me rather under-rehearsed and at times unsure of the score, especially the brass. Biondi approached the works in his usual infectious ebullient style as 'jolly japes in Warsaw' but these works demand a far more serious approach even though youthful compositions.



The F minor Op. 21 after intermission was superior with more energy but again I felt the Larghetto spoke little of unrequited love and yearning. Considering the order of composition (the F minor is the earlier work) I wondered why the works were not reversed in the programme. The Larghettos are quite different in character and reflect different experiences of the nature of young love I feel.



A brilliant pianist certainly but not in a particularly creative mood on this occasion.


Warsaw Philharmonia - Tuesday 22 August - 21.00



Mikhail Pletnev



This recital was absolutely overwhelming musically and pianistically. I am loathe to say anything at all about it that could possibly be taken seriously as criticism with an artist of this calibre. Certainly the idea of approaching individual criticism in this journal of the many works in this all Rachmaninoff recital would contribute nothing to the accumulated power of the recital.



Pletnev sat poised, almost immobile, introspective at the instrument and played as if recreating these works within his mind - Preludes Op.23, Preludes Op. 32, the Barcarolle in C-minor Op.10, Morceaux de fantaisie Op.3, and to conclude his recital after the interval the monumental Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 28. He appeared almost static at the instrument, interned, almost introverted and not at all exhibitionist or declamatory, recreating these works at the very moment, at times seemingly improvising them before us, feeling his way around the sometimes congested and anguished harmonies. 



This was Rachmaninoff  as I had never heard him performed before. The charisma Pletnev generated cast a spell over the audience, mesmerizing them with his sound. He adopted an almost sphinx-like posture and under his fingers a superb glowing tone and refined touch, at once chiaroscuro and then impressionist in colour, enormous variation of articulation, command of structure - especially of the sonata - all this was nothing short of awe-inspiring. He was playing his own Kawai piano which he had brought to Warsaw for the recital. 



As listeners we have become so accustomed to the 'accepted' manner of playing this composer on recordings and in the concert hall, with all the familiar theatrical and rhetorical gestures, this fundamentally re-creative, almost self-communing approach, entirely rethinking every detail of the Rachmaninoff scores, was an extraordinary and spiritually elevating experience of the first order. A recital I will add to the small handful of great musical experiences of my life.


As an encore, the greatest performances of the Chopin Nocturne in C -sharp minor Op. posth. Lento con gran espressione I have ever heard. A desperately moving account, clearly excavated from a life of great suffering by a musical soul of acute sensitivity....the outpouring of a wounded heart...overwhelming in its aesthetic intensity...

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here

                                                                      (Shakespeare Henry V)
                                


Warsaw Philharmonia - Tuesday 23 August - 20.00
Alexander Melnikov (period piano)
Andreas Staier (period piano)
Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century 

I had anticipated a rather extraordinary concert with two of the major figures performing on period pianos today. The concert opened with an extraordinary Beethoven work I had never heard before. Entitled the Name Day Overture Op. 115, it was dedicated to Prince Antoni Henryk Radziwill but originally intended for the the name day of the Emperor. The Namensfeier never became popular. Although well constructed it has no memorable theme and is rather grandiose and pompous to my taste. The orchestra managed it well.

This rather festive introduction was followed by the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major Op.15. This was actually the second of Beethoven’s mature piano concertos composed in 1798. The work was published first because as public concert music it is on a grander scale than the earlier No.2. From the practical point of view with pianist as conductor,  I think it was a mistake to position the piano with the tail pointing towards the audience. It meant that the pianist Melnikov (if he chose to conduct) could not maintain eye contact with many of the orchestral players. 

Of the contemporary view of the concerto itself, the young composer and also pianist, Jan Václav Tomášek, heard the concert, writing revealingly of it at the time:


I admired his powerful, brilliant playing, but his frequent daring changes from one melody to another, putting aside the organic, gradual development of ideas, did not escape me. Evils of this nature frequently weaken his greatest compositions, those which sprang from a too exuberant conception. The listener is often rudely awakened... The singular and original seemed to be his chief aim...

Aspects of the concerto are Haydnesque in many respects, especially the ebullient comic life and quirky humour of the final Rondo. Allegro movement. Certainly Mozartian in the beautiful vocally expressive, lyrical Largo. However it is good to remember just how adventurous, possibly unacceptable, perhaps revolutionary, Beethoven must have sounded to his harmonically conventionally schooled audiences, even in this early work. Our modern ears find it difficult to recreate the conventional musical circumstances of late eighteenth Vienna. 

I must admit to being somewhat disappointed by the brilliant Melnikov, in particular his almost complete lack of creative dialogue with the orchestra. Synchronization of soloist and orchestra was not all it could have been by any means. Dare I say I felt him under-prepared? I felt he did not have a great deal to say, humorous or poetic, about a concerto which lies on the cusp of change between the classical and the budding of the romantic temperaments. Beethoven's own voice rises before us. Identification of the enormous first movement cadenza Melnikov played (which rather unbalanced the classical form), still eludes me.

Andreas Staier then embarked on my favourite Beethoven piano concerto, No.4 in G major Op. 58. Concerning the conducting of the orchestra my remarks as above also rather apply - rather minimal for the practical reasons outlined above. Incidentally, the piece was neglected until 1836, when it was revived by our much neglected friend in Poland, Felix Mendelssohn. Now thanks to Felix it is considered one of the most important piano concertos in the repertoire. 

I did not warm to this rather under-rehearsed and frayed account (the orchestra is, shall we say, 'unstable' since the death of Bruggen). I felt that many of the characteristics of the period instrument were lost in the Filharmonia as the lid of the Erard had been removed in addition to its unfortunate positioning. The varied tone colours, different registral timbres so characteristic of earlier instruments, so clearly heard in smaller rooms, seemed rather lost in space. 

This is so important in the revolutionary and unique opening of the concerto with that, so challenging for a pianist, sweet and soft G major chord. With Beethoven on period instruments, I like to feel the unbearable tension of the inadequate nature that the dynamically limited instrument posed for Beethoven's fertile imaginative mind. One can be aware of his passion of attempting to stretch the response of his instrument. Added to this instrumental limitation, one must consider his increasing deafness. His favourite instruments were by Broadwood, Streicher and Graf.


Beethoven's Broadwood in the Magyar Nemzeti Muzeum (Hungarian National Museum) in Budapest. Once owned by Liszt, it was restored by the hugely talented David Winston who restored my modest Pleyel pianino.


On Dec. 27, 1817, the following entry was made in the Broadwood records: 



Taken today from our London warehouse, a 6-octave grande pianoforte, number 7362, tin and deal case. Beneficiary: Mr. Ludwig van Beethoven, master composer of music in Vienna. To be shipped to his residence at Mödling, near Vienna Austria, via Trieste.


I remember seeing worn ivories on Beethoven's pianos on my pilgrimages through his locations, sometimes the wood of the key showing through the ivory. This says a great deal about his robust style as a pianist and the effect of his increasing affliction.

What Beethoven wanted from pianos, as he wanted from everything, was more: more robust build, more fullness of sound, a bigger range of volume, a wider range of notes. As soon as new notes were added to either end of the keyboard, he used them, making them necessary to anyone wanting to play his work. From early on, piano makers asked for Beethoven’s opinion, and they listened to what he said. (Jan Swafford  Beethoven : Anguish and Triumph London 2015) p. 194.

The Broadwood provided many of these qualities and he was overjoyed at the gift.

A great pity (for me at least) as Staier is one of the great performers on earlier instruments today.


Concert Studio of Polish Radio - Thursday 24 August - 17.00



Alexander Melnikov  (period piano)

Alexey Zuev (period piano)

Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century

Kenneth Montgomery (conductor)



The concert opened with the so-called Beethoven Concerto No 5 in E flat major - the 'Emperor'. 



I listened to this on the radio as a type of experiment in sound and found the balance of period piano and orchestra quite different to the concert hall. In the opening Allegro I felt the less considered rather too lively tempo adopted was not sufficiently 'noble' for my taste. A fine line certainly. Although Beethoven did not name this concerto (it was his English publisher Cramer who did so - English publishers had a passion for naming works, also many by Chopin, most of which he loathed) Beethoven did dedicate it to the Archduke Rudolph, the Austrian patron of the arts, clergyman and noble. The composer dedicated 14 rather serious works to this remarkable individual, including the Hammerklavier Sonata and the Missa Solemnis. 

The divine Adagio un poco moto dialogue, a nocturne really, between piano and orchestra was moving and very sensitively accomplished. Again I came to the conclusion that Melnikov's expressive range on this instrument seemed rather limited dynamically, either pianissimo or forte and not a great deal of graduation in between. Perhaps it is again a question of taste but in this concerto I prefer less overtly 'virtuosic' Allegros.  This indication in Italian has a range of expressive possibilities and is not always a race to the finish. However his performance was certainly superior to the  previous evening. Kenneth Montgomery seemed rather in awe of this distinguished orchestra.



We then had an almost willfully eccentric account of the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor  Op. 54, one of the greatest works in the romantic concerto repertoire. I was put in mind of a fairy tale I read once where a boy finds a magical and beautiful crystal toy in the forest and decides to take it apart to examine how it works. Then to his horror he cannot reassemble the toy in any meaningful manner to once again contemplate its beauty. I felt this interpretation an analogous case where this great work had been deconstructed to examine the workings in detail but then it could not be reassembled to resemble anything like its previous cohesive, coherent and beautiful form. There is a fine line in interpretation between an individual performer's interpretation and a distortion of the composer's intentions. I felt this line had been crossed here (and I imagine so did the orchestra from their evident discomposure attempting to follow the pianist). 



I find I cannot speak meaningfully of this interpretation of a much loved work by a much loved composer. In such a case I resort to quote Ludwig Wittgenstein in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus '....what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.' 

Warsaw Philharmonia - Thursday 24 August - 20.00

Sergey Kasprov (period piano)
Krzysztof Jablonski (period piano)
Mikhail Pletnev (period piano)

Sinfonia Varsovia  conducted by Grzegorz Nowak

Everyone associates Mily Balakirev with that great nineteenth century piano warhorse , the oriental fantasy Islamey. It is a magnificent confection that eclipses all others, so perhaps not surprisingly I was completely unfamiliar with his Piano Concerto in F sharp minor Op.1 which opened this evening's programme. Written when he was 19, it was Balakirev's debut work in St.  Petersburg in February 1856. The work evidences the influence of Glinka and Chopin. Incidentally, the Russian Balakirev was the prime mover in the establishment of the memorial at Chopin's birthplace at Zelazowa Wola near Warsaw for which all Chopinists should be eternally grateful. A Russian musical nationalist he brought together a group of composers known as The Mighty Handful (Могучая кучка) who were five distinguished 19th-century Russian composers who created Russian classical music. Mily Balakirev led the group (also known as The Five), Cesar Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin. They all lived in St. Petersburg and worked creatively together from 1856 to 1870.

The piece had nationalist feeling certainly. Perhaps the ubiquitous presence of the military in the landscape of nineteenth century Russia (and Poland) led to the opening on kettle drums. Chopin also used them prominently in his concertos. However unlike Chopin, there was no genius for melody was present here and for me the use of identical repeated phrases finally become tiresome (a fault in many an uninspired minor composer's writing at the time). The main theme was pleasant enough but no more than that. I also felt the orchestration rather uninvolving. A charming period piece from the composer given a good account by the pianist Sergey Kasprov whom I expect would have to have had to learn this obscure rather short piece unexpectedly.



Then to the Chopin F minor Piano Concerto Op. 21 with Krzysztof Jablonski as soloist. I found this to be a very competent performance but without great individuality or flair. In the Maestoso opening I was hoping for more dynamic variation and emotional range, in the Larghetto there was for me none of the yearning of illusioned youth for distant and unrequited, perhaps infatuated love, the anger at rejection or indifference. I found little finesse or subtlety in the Allegro vivace final movement. A popular performer that roused the audience to great enthusiasm so perhaps I am missing something!

Finally the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2 with Mikhail Pletnev as soloist. This was a deeply committed, emotionally intense performance from the outset. One could feel instinctively in this performance that the piece had emerged from the composer's clinical depression which had descended over him for several years after his First Symphony was met with critical derision in 1897. The concerto was dedicated to Nikolai Dahl, a doctor who had assisted the composer through these dark years when he was so lacking in self confidence as a composer.

Pletnev utilizes tremendous dynamic range to express the crescendo of arching pain and loss with superb tone, nuance and poetry. Phrasing that speaks volumes of sensibility and expressive pianistic finesse. The Adagio sostenuto uttered a deeply moving yearning filled with emotional agitation. Very meditative in mood these dreams of love were accompanied by such a delicate pianissimo touch and varied articulation of the greatest refinement. 

Again, as in his recital, one received the uncanny impression Pletnev was improvising the work or recreating it at the keyboard. The over-loud insensitive brass and percussion orchestral sections sometimes completely covered the piano part  with the highlighting  of some banal counterpoint phrase, undisciplined by the ear of the conductor Grzegorz Nowak. However the notorious horn call in the final movement was played with accuracy and tremendous self-confidence! I felt at times Pletnev was playing in competition with the orchestra dynamically which is most unfortunate with this most subtle of great pianists. There was some communication between pianist and conductor, but as Pletnev is also a fine conductor I wonder what he made of Mr. Nowak. Pletnev gave no encore.


A beautiful, soulful picture of Rachmaninoff in the early 1900s

 Warsaw Philharmonia - Friday 25 August - 17.00

Garrick Ohlsson

This always smiling and genial pianist has been adored in Poland since he won the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1970. All I can say of this recital is that it was a long time ago and time has wrought some changes on the pianist and his approach to Chopin.

He opened his recital with my favourite among the Bach English Suites, No:3 in G minor. The English Suites, despite their name, closely resemble  the form of the French Suites that followed them in time of composition. He encouragingly performed the entire suite without resorting to the pedal yet maintained a fine legato throughout. 

I felt the tempo he adopted in the Prelude denied this suite the sprightly forward momentum it possesses, its internal energy. The counterpoint was clear and articulation attractive for Bach on the piano. His phrasing in the Allemande was exemplary as it was in the moving and soulful Sarabande but as the work progressed I felt he was tantalizingly missing the essential rhythmic nature of the French dance suite on which the composition is based. This was especially true of the two Gavottes that had pastoral innocence in abundance but lacked a rhythmically convincing French dance character. I also felt the marvelous Gigue that concludes the suite could have also had a great deal more internal energy driving it along, despite the excellent independence of his hands.

He then embarked upon (and I use the word advisedly) the fiendishly difficult Szymanowski Third Piano Sonata Op. 36. This one movement work is the last of Szymanowski’s piano works from his second creative period. He dedicated it to Alexander Siloti, Director of the St. Petersburg Concert Society. 

Throughout it is delineated by the influence of Impressionism and Expressionism, and also remarkably inspired by ancient and oriental cultures. Although in fact returning to classical sonata form (it is possible to isolate four distinct sections despite its one movement structure), the work utilizes completely original and avant-garde harmonic language, based on the twelve tone scale. A work of the greatest genius, it is saturated in impressionist orientalisms, intensely demanding chromaticisms, almost a scherzo followed by a stupendous polyphonic Fugue which concludes the work. I have rarely heard this in concert as it is so demanding many pianists will  not even approach it. Ohlsson courageously gave it (in what seemed to me as a novice of the sonata), a convincing account.


Karol Szymanowski by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz ('Witkacy')

After the interval, Chopin. I am loathe to say this but must confess to being rather disappointed. The soft touch and rounded tone were still present but some subtlety, refinement and finesse seem to have been lost with the passing years. Am I being unfair to a great pianist? Possibly. Quite probably....the jaded palate?

The Scherzo No 4 in E major Op.54 lacked the electrical energy, capriciousness, whimsicality, lightness and sometimes insidious sparkle of this curious musical dialogue. The Nocturne in F minor Op.55 No:1 was pleasant enough but not particularly moving. Although once as a young man having taken dancing lessons to improve his understanding of Mazurka rhythm, this appears to have been lost along the long road of life in the A-flat major Op. 59 No:2 and the B-flat minor Op. 24 No:4. These ventured into Waltz rather than Mazurka territory. He concluded his recital with the Ballade in G minor Op. 23 which seemed to have become a series of rather disjointed dramatic episodes than a coherent musical narrative in what is sometimes obscurely but usefully termed 'absolute music'. I felt much was exaggerated purely for the theatrical effect of isolated dramatic episodes. 

The audience loved his matured Chopin and Ohlssohn was given wild applause and a standing ovation.

The encores were: Chopin Nocturne in F sharp major Op. 15 No 2 (refined and agonizingly beautiful, possibly the finest part of the recital), the Rachmaninoff  C-sharp minor Prelude (a harsh tone playing to the audience dynamic predilections) and to conclude the brief Scriabin Etude F sharp major Op 42 No 3  which was a delightful confection for the audience but is it meant to be?


Warsaw Philharmonia  -  Friday 25 August - 20.30

Yulianna Avdeeva

Kremata Baltica

I had not heard Avdeeva in maturity for quite some time and was anxious to hear how she had developed. This excellent ensemble play with tremendous commitment

However the first item on the programme was a Symphony for Strings and Percussion (1998) by the renowned Estonian composer Lepo Sumera (1950-2000). 'Estonia's musical torchbearer' This I found a fascinating piece with an extraordinary otherworldly atmosphere hovering about it. He wrote of his final works, one of his last symphonies:

In my latest symphonies, hope and hopelessness were intertwined. Happiness and the renunciation of happiness are to one another so close that they are like one in the same.



Then Avdeeva gave a quite brilliant performance of the Chopin Piano Concerto in F minor Op.21 with the work impressively arranged for piano and string orchestra by Evgeny Sharlat. He is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches composition and music theory. This arrangement was new to me and a supremely beautiful ensemble for the Chopin concerti.

Avdeeva betrayed enormous authority at the keyboard, more than during the Fryderyk Chopin International Chopin Competition in 2010. Without a conductor she was intimately and passionately involved with the orchestra. I would like to quote verbatim what I wrote of her Concerto in E minor Op.11 performance then, as it applies more to her approach to this concerto this evening, perhaps even more accurately now than seven years ago.


*  *  *  *  *  *



Yulianna Avdeeva (Russia)

Fryderyk Chopin - Concerto E minor op. 11 (wording slightly modified to apply to the F-minor Piano Concerto Op.21 performed in Warsaw on 25/08/2017)


To be honest I could not wait to hear one of the most mature, stylish and musically perceptive pianist of the competition, she who presents Chopin as a grand maitre of the keyboard. I anticipated a rather 'symphonic' approach and was satisfied in this expectation when the first movement opened in an exalted Maestoso statement of regal proportions. She plays in a truly aristocratic manner with superbly expressive, blue-blooded tone of great self-confidence and pride. Her rubato is affecting and just the sheer number of subtle pianistic 'things' she does at the keyboard is so imaginative - a complete piano technique - all degrees of staccato up to staccatissimo, a wide dynamic range, cantabile, a detached presto or a caressing legato, the correct durations of notes carefully observed - she can do anything with those marvellous fingers.  Avdeeva is also tremendously intense emotionally and utterly convincing. Without a conductor, simply the brilliant leader of this orchestra, she maintained a close connection with the orchestra. She saw the work as a proper cohesive structure.

The Larghetto was similarly aristocratically poised, full of noble sentiment, majestic phrasing with a fine bel canto and cantabile.  So much detail and variation of tone - a 'thinking at the keyboard' quality gave it an improvisatory mood of elegiac reflection on unrequited love coupled with a mood that contained all the grace and charm of fatalistic resignation.  Full of sentiment and expressive rubato of great nobility and deep poetry. One sensed passion restrained and a strain against the leash. Repeated phrases were always given a unique character and not repeated identically which can be so tiresome.

The Allegro vivace expressed throughout the movement the true rhythmic nature of a Polish mazur with reminiscences of the Rondo a la mazur. Her superb articulation and astonishing degrees of detache playing exhibited tremendous authority and control of the styl brillant. The rhythm was infectious with again much inner detail, variation of attack and imaginative thinking. Great forward drive, impetus and momentum. Exciting and dangerous tempi, not exaggerated but operating at the very limits of her control - communicating the adrenalin of 'risky business' - as it should be in any great performance. Even the notorious horn call in the final movement was more or less successfully transferred to the cello.

I found this a view of Chopin's concerto that was utterly convincing, balanced in sentiment but hewn in granite, yet never rough or crude. Her view of this composer is powerful yet never harsh or offensive. There were moments of great fragility here. One must not forget her ravishing Nocturnes in Stage I and Stage III, the most elegant, emotionally moving and refined I have heard for many, many years.

This seductive and distinguished pianist brings a potent sexual energy, passionate restraint and projection to her playing which I personally find irresistible. Is it 'authentic' Chopin? Certainly it is one Chopin, an  entirely convincing and consistent view of him as a composer. However certainly not to everyone's taste as a Chopinist but the force of her musical integrity and vision carried all before it. 

Considering the quality of  everything she has performed through all the stages of this entire gruelling competition, if she is not highly placed or more likely win, I withdraw from further musical commentary.


*  *  *  *  *  *

After the interval, she then joined the orchestra for a performance of the Piano Quintet in F minor Op. 18 by the astounding Polish-Jewish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996)  and written when the composer was a mere 24, arranged for piano, string orchestra and percussion by Gidon Kremer and Andrei Pushkarov. 

For Gidon Kremer 


'Weinberg has become a source of unlimited inspiration. No other composer has entered my own and Kremerata Baltica’s repertoire and programme concepts with such intensity. 

Kremer considers Weinberg’s chamber symphonies:

'the most personal reflections of a great composer on his own life and his generation, like a diary of the most dramatic period of the 20th century'.

I found the work astounding which took me back to my youth when I listened obsessively to contemporary compositions by Messiaen, Xenakis, Boulez, Pousseur, Stockhausen, Berio, Kagel, Cage...

Written in five movements, the work contains reminiscences of the Shostakovich Piano Quintet, but to my mind is a far superior composition steeped in the deepest disillusionment and bitterness.

The first two scherzos of the work project us through debilitating anguish. The first movement, Moderato con moto, possesses a terribly unsettling power in its melancholy. The first scherzo,  Allegretto, is overflowing with turbulent trauma, rhythmic echoes of trains crossing points and rattling towards Auschwitz-Birkenau. Reminders of the humanity of folk tunes run like a golden thread through the composition. The Presto movement that follows is a type of grotesque lament,  reminding me of Bartok. Avdeeva coped with the fiendish keyboard diatonics as the strings waltzed and tangoed in a drunken spree shadowing murderously evil overtones. A type of virtuosic cadenza erupted from Avdeeva, spectacular in symphonic effect when joined by the entire string section.

The profound Largo, the fulchrum of this work, is one of the deepest pieces of tragic humanist utterance in Western music to my mind. No lyricism to illuminate the other side of humanity's unrelieved tragic coin. An extraordinary militaristic melody emerges, suitably grave and dark. A long cantilena melody on the violin is followed by a canon. Avdeeva was formidable in a tragically eloquent jazz improvisation in her long solo. Complex string interactions of all formal types and attacks flashed by. 

Perhaps Weinberg does remains a faint optimist of humanist faith after this dark night of the soul as the concluding Allegro agitato fifth movement moves into F Major. The opening however expresses a sense of premonitory doom with pressing percussive effects and a bizarre dance. A wild Irish or possibly Scottish Jig erupts for the violin, viola, and piano in canon. Avdeeva was spectacular in the martellato piano section, hammering out Prokofiev-like scales. The work concludes in some degree repose from this maelstrom of musical, unashamedly autobiographical, intensely emotional response to Weinberg's tragic life. Remember the genius was 24 years old when he wrote this work.

I gave this overwhelming musical experience an instant standing ovation. Avdeeva was magnificent throughout. One of the great festival moments.




Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996)

Concert Studio of Polish Radio - Saturday 26 August - 17.00


Howard Shelley (period piano)

Eric Hoeprich (clarinet)
Teunis van der Zwart (natural horn)
Albert Bruggen (cello)


Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century

Kenneth Montgomery (conductor)


Such an entertaining, lightweight concert! And no shame in that welcome change from  any musical analogy to 'Rodin's Thinker' you might like to mention!

First of all the charming Mozart Horn Concerto in E flat major K.495. What a delightful account of this enjoyable and civilized piece of music composed in 1786 in perfectly balanced classical taste. Teunis van der Zwart is possibly the greatest virtuoso of the instrument known as the 'natural horn'. It is fiendishly difficult to play with no valves or holes, just hand stopping in the bell of his beautifully decorated instrument. Superb golden tone, not one note out of place or with poor intonation. Brilliant and perfectly in style. No conductor, the orchestra led my the horn player. Nothing more I wish to say.





This was followed by the Haydn Cello Concerto in D major Hob. VIIb:2  I did not enjoy this as I felt that although the cellist had been engaged at terribly short notice, his intonation and command of the work was rather uncertain at times. The conducting by Kenneth Montgomery was lackluster and betrayed no great knowledge of the Viennese eighteenth century classical music tradition which gloriously combined energy, classical restraint,conversational style and taste.


After the interval the charming, witty and humorous first movement (the only movement to survive) of the Clarinet Concerto in B major by the Polish composer Karol Kurpinski. He made full use of the contemporary improvements in the design of the clarinet holes which covered them in leather or the air bladder of fish to make them more securely sealed than previously with felt. The writing was really so amusingly witty I almost laughed aloud - which was probably possible when this was composition was completed in Paris in 1823. Eric Hoeprich did full justice to the carefree nature of the music.



To conclude the concert the equally naive and entertaining Piano Concerto in E major by Jozef Krogulski with Howard Shelley as the accommodating soloist. Krogulski was a younger school chum of Chopin and used the styl brillant idiom with a vengeance. He was 15 when he wrote this work - an astonishing achievement when one thinks on it seriously. Virtuoso passages, unashamed but tiresomely repeated passages as ever, a genuine degree of pathos in the Adagio (yes, alright, possibly limited in imagination as was the sometimes simplistic orchestration, but consider his age). However this young engaging genius suffered from severe ill health and his composing ceased.




To my great pleasure and satisfaction Howard Shelley, who had dealt so empathetically with the creation of this juvenile Polish composer, gave us an encore of a Mendelssohn Song Without Words. I am not sure which one but it was emotionally uncomplicated, civilized, lyrical and moving as is so much of Mendelssohn's seemingly neglected solo piano music.



A highly enjoyable respite from the dark night of the soul!



Warsaw Philharmonia - Saturday 26 August - 20.00



Piotr Anderszewski



Apollon Musagete Quartett



Pawel Zalejski (violin)

Bartosz Zachlod (violin)

Piotr Szumiel (viola)

Piotr Skweres (cello)



Slawomir Rozlach (double bass)




This young Polish quartet was formed in 2006 and already has an enviable reputation in major concert halls throughout Europe and America.

The recital opened with the String Quartet No: 2 'Messages' by Andrzej Panufnik. The subtitle ‘Messages’ refers to the mysterious sounds of telegraph poles vibrating in the wind. The work is notable for its motivic coherence and emotional intensity. The opening is an extreme pianissimo of mysterious atmosphere. The ensuing performance was tremendously assured. Panufnik's life makes fascinating reading:





Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991)

Piotr Anderszewski opened his recital with perhaps one of the most ambitious works by Chopin, the Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major Op. 61 - a work beginning to be regarded by musicologists as being  in the composer's 'late style'. He commented 'I’d like to finish something that I don’t yet know what to call’. He completed it in August 1846. Anderszewski certainly presented an effective opening Maestoso with 'dignity and pride' which gave me high hopes for the remainder of the work. A contemplative mood prevailed and the polonaise theme entered gently. Stanisław Tarnowski once compared the situation in this work to situations from a Byron poem, to those shifting ‘dream images’ that anticipate the poetic of Buñuelian cinema.  

Anderszewski led us through the dream world of this work, its associations and memories through a succession of keys with insight, poetry and occasional harshness. It was in the coda that his tone and touch betrayed perhaps the understandable nervousness that undoubtedly had accompanied him throughout the work (playing an extended Chopin work in Poland before a critical audience). Many distinguished musicians and critics failed to penetrate the greatness of the Polonaise-Fantasy. An extreme view was by the German violinist and music critic Friedrich Niecks that the Polonaise-Fantasy ‘stands, on account of its pathological contents, outside the sphere of art’. The English musicologist and collector Arthur Hedley on the other hand wrote far more accurately of  ‘pride in the past, lamentation for the present, hope for the future’. Piotr Anderszewski convinced us of its greatness in a slightly uneven performance.

After the interval, Anderszewski gave us a group of works based on Slavic melodies by Leos Janacek entitled On an Overgrown Path II (1900-1911) of which I was unfamiliar. Interesting works that seemed to me both melancholic and defiant at his lack of recognition as a composer.

Finally we were treated to the Mozart Piano Concerto in A major K.414 in the chamber version. I very much liked Anderszewski's approach to Mozart, his tone and grasp of classical style. Did I hear an ironical reference somewhere in a cadenza to the notorious horn call in the F minor Piano Concerto of Chopin? The Andante was particularly affecting, and sensitive, presented with a touch and tone of great refinement. 

Warsaw Philharmonia - Sunday 27 August - 20.00

Kristian Bezuidenhout (harpsichord)

Garrick Ohlsson (period piano)

Freiburger Barockorchester

Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century with Grzegorz Nowak (conductor)

I was unfortunately unable to attend the first half of this concert as I was otherwise engaged.


In the second half Garrick Ohlsson performed the Chopin Piano Concerto in F minor Op. 21 with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century with Grzegorz Nowak (conductor). This was an authoritative, comfortable performance that reflected many years of familiarity with the score. I was surprised that the volume of the Erard with the lid attached easily filled the hall. 

However I did feel that Ohlsson did not fully utilize the varied colours and timbres that period pianos offer the performer and played rather as if it was a modern instrument. Another reservation I had was with the conductor who, despite period orchestral instruments, allowed the orchestra too often to dominate the piano dynamically, particular the brass. A fertile balance should be achieved between soloist and orchestra in any period performance. The concerto was received by the packed house with wild enthusiasm as Ohlsson is wildly popular in Poland. 

As encores he offered the Mazurka in C-sharp minor Op.30 No.4 and a particularly sensitive and innocently nostalgic account of the brief Chopin  Prelude No 7 in A major. 








Warsaw Philharmonia - Monday 28 August -  17.00

Gabriela Montero (piano)


Being rather a Mezzo addict I had watched Montero's improvisations at the past Lugano Festival organised by Martha Argerich. I was absolutely in awe of her abilities in this area of keyboard music and could not possibly have missed this recital where she had promised improvisations on themes offered by the audience.



She opened her recital with the Busoni arrangement of the Chaconne from the Partita No 2 in D Minor by J.S.Bach. Fancifully I may have imagined this as being as close as might be to Busoni himself improvising on Bach in 2017 but I did find the performance rather heavy handed and dynamically inflated. There seemed to be not a great deal of dynamic variation, tensions followed by relaxations or concentration on polyphonic voices. 

The Chopin Ballade in A major Op.47 was certainly an excellent account of the surface of the score, but of course I was looking for a deeper penetration of the musical fabric, an inner sense of narrative so vital to this genre in Chopin's hand. 

Any performance of the Liszt B-minor Sonata  S.178  is a deep statement of a pianist's musicianship in one of the most significant piano sonatas in the Western canon. I have always felt that in a similar way to the Chopin Ballades, the work can be considered as an autobiographical opera by Liszt. Technically the work is extremely advanced and demanding. 

The manner in which a pianist opens this masterpiece tells you everything about how the conception the will evolve. The haunted repeated chords Montero produced  were of just the right duration (a terrible battle lies in wait for pianists here - Krystian Zimerman drove his recording engineers mad repeating it hundreds of times before being satisfied). Her duration and dynamic boded well for the outcome.  

Just to have this vast work in your fingers is a massive achievement but what you do with this is another matter altogether, what you have to say about this work. Unfortunately for me Montero tended to treat the work predominantly as purely a virtuoso piece - but it is far more. I felt her account dramatic, spectacular even, but one dimensional. Her tone in forte and fortissimo passages often verged on the harsh and uncoloured. 

This is a profound piece, too often played as some type of hectic fantasy or dream fantasy when it is actually in many respects a philosophical dialogue between different fundamental aspects of the human spirit (possibly Liszt depicting himself autobiographically) as symbolized by Faust, Mephistopheles and Gretchen.  I found her 'Gretchen' interlude seductive, lyrical and feminine - really quite impressionistic and poetic. Liszt was tremendously influenced by literature and poetry in his compositions (Byron) and was a froend of many of the great composers of the day and their compositions. In particular he knew Goethe’s Faust, the dramatic spiritual battle between Faust and Mephistopheles with Gretchen hovering about tantalizingly. And it is a far more complex musical and structural argument than my rather trite account here would indicate. Rather mixed feelings about this  rather monochromatic, virtuoso account.




We then moved onto the Improvisations which was really the main reason  I had come to the recital. The Polish audience seemed to have some difficulty in coming up with suitable themes, but one from Bach was offered superbly and polyphonically improvised upon, another from Beethoven (the opening of the 5th Symphony) which wavered between a Parisian Waltz and some South American dance rhythms. Then a quite unexpected and often amusing, always supremely inventive and skillful, set of virtuoso variations and improvisations on the popular song Macarena. To conclude an affecting, lyrical and subdued set of improvisations on a popular Polish folk tune.

Wild applause for these improvisations and a standing ovation.


Warsaw Philharmonia - Monday 28 August - 8.30

Kristian Bezuidenhout (harpsichord)

Freiburger Barockorchester

My heart always sinks when I see a beautiful harpsichord used for Bach keyboard concertos in a large concert hall. So few people have heard this instrument in the circumstances that were normal for its use - more or less 'salon' environments. Unfortunately the general musical public are always exposed to an emasculated sound that gives no indication of the rich harmonic overtones, the temperament of the tuning or the national character of the instrument itself - Italian, Flemish, French or German - all remarkably different. Certainly this instrument makes an absurdity of the British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham's remark that 'the sound of the harpsichord is like two skeletons copulating on a tin roof'.



The modest proportions of the Music Room at Sanssouci where J.S. Bach played for the Court of Frederick the Great






The superb harpsichord made by Titus Crijnen 

RUCKERS 1624 grand ravalement
‣double manual
‣range: FF - f3
‣2 x 8´ plus 1 x 4´ / lute stop
‣keyboards: ebony naturals, bone covered sharps
‣length: 2,27 m. for double manual
‣possibility to transpose a1: 392-415-440 Hz.


They performed three harpsichord concerti by J.S. Bach - the G Minor BMV 1058, A major BMV 1055, and E major BMV 1053. The level of the performance was relatively high given my reservations concerning the volume of the harpsichord which made it rather difficult to judge in detail what Beszuidenhout was achieving. He had a close relationship musically with the orchestra and audience.



Another pressing engagement kept me from the second half of this concert.



Ballroom of the Royal Castle in Warsaw - Monday 28 August - 23.00

Angela Hewitt (piano)

J. S. Bach Goldberg Variations BMV 988

Why I did not go to hear Angela Hewitt...




Here in Poland the recent release of a recording of passionate Chopin during her participation in the 1980 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw has come as rather a shock. Much detail of the 10th competition has been forgotten in light of the scandal that erupted concerning Martha Argerich and Ivo Pogorelich. Hewitt was excluded after the third round of the competition but her Chopin of that time, in view of her present musical concerns and development, comes as something of a revelation. (National Fryderyk Chopin Institute Blue Series No: NIFCCD 631)


I imagine for most musically informed people (especially English melomanes) it would appear as almost a crime to forego an opportunity to hear the brilliant Angela Hewitt play Bach on the piano, especially the Goldberg Variations, late at night in the opulent gilt Neo-classical ballroom of the Zamek Królewski (the King's Castle) in Warsaw. 



I shall attempt a justification... 


This set of 'Variations' (not melodic in an eighteenth or nineteenth century sense but more like a monumental passacaglia) as everyone knows was commissioned not by church or state but by Count Kaiserling, former Russian ambassador to the court of the Elector of Saxony. He employed a Gdańsk harpsichordist named Johann Goldberg as a household musician. The Count appears to have been rather of a sleepless melancholic character and 'would like to have some clavier pieces for his Goldberg, which should be of such a soft and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered by them in his sleepless nights.' He asked Bach to fulfill the commission.[Incidentally, just out of interest, the practical family man Bach was rather well paid with a golden goblet filled with a hundred Louis d'or].


Of the greatest importance when choosing an instrument to perform them, is to consider that these variations were composed for a single set of ears with a therapeutic intention. Bach however at this late stage in his life, 'composed them to his God; and their mathematically preordained features encourage us to hear them in an eternal silence.' (Wilfrid Mellers). They were eventually published as Volume IV of Bach's immense Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice).


There are many reasons why I prefer them to be performed on a two-manual harpsichord as Bach designated than on the piano. The explanation is not only that of the different sound world, yet that is vital too. The harpsichord sound operates predominantly on the nervous system effortlessly creating intellectual emotions. The piano works at the blood and eloquent emotional level. Both reflect the overreaching sensibilities of their historical periods. A vital difference recognized by few listeners. 


The two 8' stops on any harpsichord (each stop available separately on a different keyboard) sound differently and will interact, blend and augment each other from the point of overtones and harmonics in a unique textural way particular to this instrument yet at the same time retain aurally a clear single polyphonic line for each voice. The central registers of the harpsichord, where Bach places much of this music, is at times dissonant, then luminous and lustrous in a way impossible to reproduce on the piano however skillful the executant. If one adds the 4' stop the glittering beat of angels' wings enters the proceedings. The accumulation of effects when the repeats are observed and ornamented is substantial. The harpsichord offers the repeats a textural and timbral opportunity for variation the piano can only dream of in its homogenization (despite the Glen Gould revolution).

Symbolically represented, bliss as being indissoluble from the experience of pain. The desolation of Golgotha contrasted with the glory of the Resurrection. Suffering as inseparable from the Divine. This alteration of dissonance and harmony in unequal temperament would have been of immense religious as well as sonic significance to Bach the organist.


The Baroque had an obsession with unity (two in one) which is sonically, expressively, symbolically and physically possible in this way only on the two manual harpsichord. The keyboards can be symbolically coupled. Earthy dances and physically exciting toccatas on two keyboards. The spiritual meditation of a canon on one. The right and left hands are often inverted on two keyboards - virtuosic hand crossings - a symbolic mirror effect in the writing so clear on two but 'muddied' on the single keyboard piano (however brilliantly inventive the executant).


Bach's fascination with numerology is regarded as only of superficial or cosmetic interest today when choosing an instrument, yet he determines, for example, that every third variation is a metaphysical canon, vocal in texture, to be played on one keyboard ('oneness' in a spiritual sense). The great Wifrid Mellers in his forgotten but seminal work Bach and the Dance of God writes 'The Goldberg Variations are poised between being and becoming'. He writes of their timeless circularity, that Unity is 'God' and of Nature founded profoundly in numbers.


Such alternating function of intention between one and two keyboards is simply not possible on the homogenized single keyboard piano and considered to be of no intrinsic significance anyway by modern audiences. Generally speaking a modern audience is interested only in the sound and the performer's virtuoso reputation and avoiding like the plague the complex intellectual world and inescapable numerological, 'mathematical' and religious significance of Bach's writing, instrumentation and development.


Were two keyboards only utilized to facilitate writing that would be inconvenient or impossible physically to perform on one keyboard? I feel the significance was far greater. In their utilization we can reconcile and rationalize the fusion of physical and spiritual grace.


Are these mere fanciful musings by a harpsichord crank? Possibly, yet I believe the significance of the two keyboards and Bach's division of variations between them goes far deeper than physical convenience and enters the arcane worlds of numerology and metaphysics which can only be compromised on the piano. Late in his life Bach, although an immensely practical musician, was deeply and increasingly inspired by metaphysical and mystical religious belief rather than expressiveness in music until we arrive at the disembodied and absolute 'music' of the Musical Offering and the Art of Fugue (was it intended to be performed at all?). In 2017 it is difficult to fully realize the overriding importance of religious belief and mysticism in the lives of eighteenth century citizens of the Baroque period. It scarcely impinges on or influences our choice of instrument or even the venues in which his works are performed. Today the godless golden calf rules. 



[I would recommend the recordings of Gustav Leonhardt, Andreas Staier and Steven Devine to experience the full potential of the harpsichord in the Goldberg Variations in a more intimate venue outside of the cavernous modern concert hall.]








My copy of a Flemish eighteenth century  instrument (1745) by Johannes Daniel Dulcken   
by
David Rubio, Duns Tew, nr. Oxford 1978
(copied from that in Washington, Smithsonian Institution
Compass 5 octaves; 2x8', 1x4', lute, harp) 



Warsaw Philharmonia - Tuesday 29 August - 17.00

Szymon Nehring (period piano)
Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century
Gustavo Gimeno

This concert began with the Symphony No 3 in A minor Op. 56 ('Scottish') by Mendelssohn. 
He first conceived the idea for his final symphony during his visit to Britain in 1829. Mendelssohn set off on a walking tour of Scotland with his friend Karl Klingemann. On 30 July, Mendelssohn visited the ruins of Holyrood Chapel at Holyrood in Edinburgh, where as he said in a letter, he received the inspiration for the symphony:

'In the deep twilight we went today to the palace where Queen Mary lived and loved...The chapel below is now roofless. Grass and ivy thrive there and at the broken altar where Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything is ruined, decayed, and the clear heavens pour in. I think I have found there the beginning of my 'Scottish' Symphony.'

A few days later Mendelssohn and his companion visited the western coast of Scotland and the island of Staffa which inspired the composition of The Hebrides. The symphony has forever been thought to inspire the wild and rugged landscapes of the north of the British Isles. After a successful performance of the symphony in England in 1842, he received permission to dedicate it to Queen Victoria.

The movements are directed to be performed without a break. Mendelssohn added comments reflecting the character of the music and the connections with Scottish landscape to the tempo markings. Does this mean any conductor and perhaps orchestra needs visit to Scotland in order to fully appreciate Mendessohn's intentions? Quite possibly to fully enter the pictorial spirit of the symphony just as one must visit the Malvern Hills to fully understand Elgar. 

This lack of pictorial imagination seemed to be the case in this performance which was otherwise excellent. For me throughout it lacked the Scottish character of oceanic wave movement, bleak moorland, floods of flowing music, inexorable forward movement of Nature in wild seascapes, crashing waves against rocks and the rugged coast that is so musically clear in shall we say the Hebrides. This should be so clear in the opening Andante con moto — Allegro un poco agitatoThe folk music (bagpipes) derived dancing Vivace non troppo seemed fine and full of earthy energy. The opposition of love and destiny in the thoughtful Beethovinian Adagio was also well brought off. I think the final movement Allegro vivacissimo — Allegro maestoso assai. Mendelssohn additionally directs this movement to be played Allegro guerriero (Fast and warlike) undoubtedly to depict not too seriously the warlike Picts always at 'war' and rivalry with the English just over the border. Do listen to Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in this work.



Annotated drawing by Mendelssohn from his visit to Scotland in 1829 which inspired his Scottish Symphony

After the interval Szymon Nehring in the E Minor Concerto Op. 11 of 1830, although the first to be published, was the second that Chopin wrote after the F Minor Concerto Op. 21. His rapidly increasing compositional skill is evident. The period of its composition was a period of chronic indecision for Chopin. He discussed endlessly with his family if he should venture out from musically relatively provincial Warsaw to the sophisticated worlds of Paris or Vienna. He wrote with uncanny prescience 

‘I’m still sitting here – I don’t have the strength to decide on the day […] I think that I’m leaving to die’


The concerto was premiered in Warsaw three weeks before Chopin left Poland forever. I speak often in this journal of historical context. Surprisingly, even incomprehensibly for us, there was an intermezzo after the first movement of the concerto ('thunderous applause' Chopin wrote) when a singer, one Anna Wołkow, sang an aria by Soliva (a nineteenth century Swiss-Italian composer of opera, chamber music, and sacred choral works appropriately from a family of Swiss chocolatiers). Only then was Chopin able to play the final two movements. 


A second singer after the conclusion, the very source of his romantic yearning, was Konstancja Gładkowska.


Such poetic moments and reflections transport one out of this blighted world of ours into a more civilized realm of human endeavour than the destruction of Palmyra.
I thought Nehring extracted much colour from the Erard with great refinement of touch, articulation and nuance too – I was most impressed with his adaption to the period instrument. His control of pianissimo was subtle and moving, perfectly in keeping with the descriptions of Chopin’s own playing which Berlioz described as soft as ‘the playing of elves’ even requiring one to place one’s ear against the instrument to hear him!

The Romance. Larghetto was exquisite with rubato of great sensibility. The Rondo.Vivace was spirited and I really felt Nehring is a natural player of such period instruments. He had excellent rappport with the orchestra who are certainly the finest to ever accompany the Chopin concerti. The inaccessible ‘Polish element’ Chopin spoke of was present in abundance. A far superior performance of this concerto to the one he gave during the Chopin competition in 2015 – a curious thing music ‘this cabbalistic craft’.


Warsaw Philharmonia - Tuesday 29 August - 22.oo


Gabriela MonteroGabriela Montero (piano) - 3rd Prize winner, 13th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. more »

Szymon NehringSzymon Nehring (piano) - Recipient of a distinction in the XVII International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition (2015). more »

Angela HewittAngela Hewitt (piano) - Among the foremost pianists in the world today, she has performed in major concert halls around the world, both in solo recitals and with leading orchestras. more »

Alexey ZuevAlexey Zuev (piano) - Russian pianist, winner of Second Prize in the 3rd International Prokofiev Competition. more »

Robert CohenRobert Cohen (cello) - British cellist, winner of the Piatigorsky and UNESCO international competitions. more »

Sławomir RozlachSławomir Rozlach (double bass) - Polish double bass player. more »


Apollon Musagète Quartett
Apollon Musagète Quartet


Belcea QuartetBelcea Quartet




This remarkable programme opened with compelling Belcea Quartet performing the String Quintet in C major Op. 163 D. 956 by Schubert. He composed this work in September 1828 the last few weeks of his life. This is sublime music, one of the greatest compositions in the Western musical canon. Arthur Rubinstein said he would like to hear it on his deathbed. The addition of the extra cello gave the work an arrestingly rich and tragically dark mahogany sonority rarely heard in chamber music, almost symphonic in scale (prominently the second theme in the opening movement). Emotionally ambiguous, chiaroscuro alternations of colour, serenity and agitation. This together with the fierce commitment the Belcea bring to their playing made for for an utterly unforgettable performance. 



Their dynamics and tempo were almost neurotically urgent but perfectly judged remaining within the bounds of taste (if one can use such a word in this tragic context), to give an overwhelming emotional charge to the music. Their ensemble playing is immaculate. The Adagio will remain one of the high points in my life's musical experience - radiant and serene, diaphanous, ethereal, magical in the authentic sense of that word, hypnotic and haunting – the sound of the two cellos in the string quintet is simply unforgettable. Grand gestures combined with refinement of detail. Tremendous energy in the passionate Scherzo. A magnificent  performance altogether.




 I am always reminded by this piece of  a painting by the Dutch artist Jan van Goyen entitled Landscape with two oak trees



Following the interval, the Apollon Musagete Quartet with Gabriela Montero in the Schumann Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44. This piece was written for the composer's young bride Clara Wieck not long after they overcame many family obstacles to be married in 1840. It acknowledges her virtuoso piano playing and their mutual love of Bach. In the opening Allegro brillant the lyrical themes - such a wonderful 'song' rises for the cello - are simple and full of the expression of young ardent love and affection. It is clear that the quartet loves playing chamber music and was joyful, spirited, sensitive and energetic in this performance. I was reminded by one of the jury of the wonderful Swedish film Fanny and Alexander (1982) where this work featured. Absolute, unadulterated Romanticism infuses the piece. 



However I felt Montero could have blended more sensitively with the members of the quartet but I presume matters would have improved with more rehearsal time, always at a premium with professional musicians at festivals, a concert just one appointment in a busy schedule. There was not a sufficiently intimate dialogue and shared phrasing between pianist and string players in this passionate music. 




The Robert Schumann House Museum in Zwickau, Germany



The final piece in this concert was an ambitious assemblage of pianos. J.S Bach's Concerto in A minor for four pianos (well, originally harpsichords) BMV 1065. It took some time to gather these friends together on the stage and arrange them. The four pianists were Angela Hewitt, Szymon Nehring, Gabriela Montero and Lev Zuev. It was a lively enough performance but the homogenized sound of four equally tempered pianos was less arresting than what one might have expected but visually entertaining and interesting enough in sound if you like Bach concerti on the piano. My feelings are rather different and less severe to Bach on the piano in this type of public performance material and the very different late Goldberg Variations. 



If you want to hear the magnificent ensemble of four unequally tempered harpsichords listen to the Gustav Leonhardt Consort on period instruments with Edward Muller, Gustav Leonhardt, Janny van Wering and Anneke Uittenbosch as keyboard players. I bought the original vinyl set on Telefunken in 1976 and still love it. The experience is rather like listening and watching a grove of aspen trees rustling their leaves in a polyphonic summer breeze - a quite wonderful complexity of eloquent visual and aural harmonics. 


Warsaw Philharmonia -  Wednesday 30 August - 17.00
Nelson Goerner (modern piano)

The Argentinean ambassador to Poland was present at this concert and during her address we learned that it was the 90th anniversary year of co-operation and agreements between the two countries. Many great Argentinean pianists were mentioned by name with close associations to Chopin and Poland. 'It takes two to tango' she wittily observed.

The Argentinean pianist Nelson Goerner began his solo recital with the Piano Sonata in A major Op. 120  D. 664 by Schubert. This blithe sonata was composed in 1819 at much the same time as the 'Trout' Quintet. The Allegro moderato opening has a song-like principal theme which has a sense of rural relaxation and  breathes the country air as if on a serene stroll through open fields along lanes and groves in leafy summer.  I found that Goerner did not really invest this with the untroubled emotional expressiveness I had hoped for. The poetic phrases of the Andante theme are rather ambiguous emotionally, expressing the twin emotive responses of affection and melancholy, two feelings that often accompany one another if one carries in one's heart a deep understanding of the transient nature of life. Goerner was poetic certainly but strangely this did not really communicate itself deeply. He was best in the delightful Allegro final movement investing it with a sense of playfulness and humour.



German School, 2nd half 18th century, Landscape with a Farmhouse and a View of a Town by a River


I was apprehensive when on the programme I saw the next work, the Symphonic metamorphoses on themes by Johann Strauss by Leopold Godowsky. One has to have a very specific personality qualities as a pianist, overwhelming technique, specific sensibility and terrific temperament to successfully bring off these highly virtuosic works of Godowsky. You only have to listen to the breathtaking historic recordings of the great man to be truly amazed.

At this period many great virtuoso pianists possessed a unique and exquisite beauty of tone with absolute delicacy and evenness of touch which scarcely any pianist today achieves with the same consistency, a true Fingerfertigkeit (finger dexterity) of velvet fullness, whilst retaining delicacy and velocity. Above all, they possessed great elegance, an innate Viennese sense of waltz rhythms, sensibility, poetry and charm. Goerner showed great courage tackling this formidable work and gave a sterling performance but as for possessing many of the qualities required and the charisma to project them, he was understandably lacking in this being unavoidably a child of our century.


Leopold Godowsky and an admirer...

After the interval, two idiomatic pieces by the foremost Argentinean composer Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000). With Bailecito and Tierra linda, Goerner had instinctively found two close national companions with these small treasures.

Finally the Chopin Sonata in B minor Op. 58. There was nobility in the opening Allegro maestoso but I think it would be mean-spirited of me to analyze in detail what followed save to say there were some very beautiful moments especially in the challenging tempo of the Largo. The Chopin tempo direction, the culmination of the entire forward movement of the sonata, Finale. Presto non tanto was rather overlooked in the 'non tanto' phrase and became rather a fast, not entirely meaningful hectic race to the finish, especially the coda. I wondered what Goerner was trying to tell me in this sonata. 

However he clearly communicated a great deal to the audience and received a great ovation. Perhaps they were prepared to overlook or were unaware of what for me was a curious lack of  a truly communicative personality blessed with his own unique voice, style and flair, the sine qua non surely of any truly outstanding pianist. Perhaps I was just having a bad night...


Warsaw Philharmonia - Final Concert - Wednesday 30 August - 20.30
Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
Magdalena Margańska (flute)
Beethoven Academy Orchestra
Grzegorz Nowak (conductor)

A curious mixture of elation and melancholy accompanied this final concert in the great series Chopin i jego Europa (Chopin and his Europe) 2017.

The programme opened with an interesting choice.

The Suite for String Orchestra using Orchestral Suites of J.S. Bach arranged and re-orchestrated by Gustav Mahler
Ouverture from Orchestral Suite II in B minor, BWV 1067
Rondeau and Badinerie from Orchestral Suite II in B minor, BWV 1067
Air on a G string from Orchestral Suite III in D major, BWV 1068
Gavottes I and II from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068

This could have been absolutely delightful and certainly was in parts because of the deep familiarity of music that has touched us at crucial moments throughout our lives. However I was desperate for a less 'glued together' legato and slightly more detaché  playing by the orchestra. The phrasing of the conductor did not betray a great deal of rehearsal or Baroque thought.  I quite realize Mahler was deeply immersed in the romantic view of Bach, is choice of works to re-orchestrate indicates as much. Perhaps this old-fashioned approach was perfectly accurate in what may be termed  'a period Mahlerian performance'  but could we not have had a little evidential knowledge of the Bach revolution in performance practice over the last forty years?

Then Garrick Ohlsson joined the orchestra for a performance of the delightful and charming Chopin Rondo á Krakowiak in F major, Op.14. Written in 1828 in the styl brillant the lightly written orchestral part cooperates with the piano in a distinct partnership. The piano virtuoso has the dominant role.

Krakowiak danced in the Rynek Główny,  Kraków 

The great Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski is so illuminating and fascinating in detail about Polish dance I feel I would like to directly quote in full from his [Cykl audycji "Fryderyka Chopina Dzieła Wszystkie"] Polish Radio, program II

The Krakowiak has the form of a rondo. Its principal theme – the refrain – is the most typical krakowiak: a lively dance, wilful (thanks to its numerous syncopations), pugnacious and full of panache. Its melody, though not a quotation, will seem familiar to anyone who knows ‘Albośmy to jacy tacy’ [That’s just how we are].
Against the melody of the refrain stands that of the episode (or couplet). It has the character of a dance of Ukrainian provenance and is close to a kolomyika. Interestingly, the first time it was heard in Warsaw, Maurycy Mochnacki had the impression that he was listening to a dance by Carpathian highlanders. In Jachimecki's opinion, an echo can be heard in the highland dances from Moniuszko’s Halka.

At the time Chopin composed his Rondo à la krakowiak, the titular dance was leading what might be termed a double life. Its folk provenance and rural vitality were obvious to all, yet since the end of the previous century, when it first entered the ballroom, raised to the status of a society dance, it had remained there, together with the polonaise and the mazur, forming a triple canon of national dances. In the very same year that Chopin placed the date beneath the last bar of the score of his Rondo à la krakowiak, Kazimierz Brodziński, in an essay entitled ‘O tańcach narodowych’ [On the national dances], gave a colourful description of the dance in question. A concise, concrete description of the krakowiak was provided a quarter of a century later by Oskar Kolberg: ‘The dance proceeds in accordance with a melody that is more often tender than gay, in a 2/4 measure, with the stress on the second and fourth, and so the weak beat in the bar, or on both crotchets’.

When listening to the Ronda à la krakowiak, we sense that it was written by someone not unfamiliar with the element of dance. It was first heard on a concert platform in Vienna. Chopin did not hide his joy and pride from his parents. In a letter of August 1829, he boasted: ‘With my Rondo, I won over all the professional musicians. From kapellmeister Lachner through to the piano-tuner, they marvel at the beauty of this composition. […] Gyrowetz [it was his concerto that the eight-year-old Fryderyk performed in his first public appearance in Warsaw]… Gyrowetz – standing close to Celiński – cried out and applauded. Only in the case of the Germans do I not know if I pleased them’.

That was in the second of his Viennese concerts. And in the first? Already in that first rendition of the Rondo, it was supposed to bring his performance to a close, but fate decreed otherwise. In a letter to his parents, we find what may amount to a terse explanation: ‘at the rehearsal, the orchestra accompanied so badly that I changed the Rondo into a Freie Fantasie’. Warsaw heard the Krakowiak in March the following year, in the second concert at the National Theatre. The reporter for the Kurier Warszawski related: ‘Yesterday again 900 people came. The virtuoso was greeted with tumultuous applause, which was constantly renewed, especially after the rendition of the Cracovian Rondo’.


Ohlsson opened the work with beautiful tone and velvet touch, very sensitively indeed. As he played with the music (unusual for him) I assumed he was not all that deeply familiar with the work  (as he is with other Chopin of the period such as the concerti). This made his commitment to the styl brilliant virtuosity ever so slightly restrained with few of the joyful spontaneous gestures and internal driving energy which this work begs for being based in expressive, lively dance rhythms. As a fun-loving young man Chopin himself enjoyed playing for dances until the small hours of the morning eventually needing to go into 'rehab' from exhaustion in Duszniki Zdrój - too many late nights!

After the interval the monumental Symphony No 4, Op.60 ('Symphonie concertante') by Karol Szymanowski.

Szymanowski was a supremely modern composer in  a period of turbulent artistic flux.  A man of many talents (poetry, prose, art and myth), an absorber of current trends and a sophisticated personality,  he was a true exotic. The Polish music critic Dorota Szwarcman perceptively entitled one her articles on the composer A Bird of Paradise in the Backwoods referring to his home in the tiny Polish village of Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains.

He knew famous musical artists of the day Paweł Kochański, Arthur Rubinstein and Harry Neuhaus and the young conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg. Despite extraordinary limitations (the country was partitioned and did not actually exist on maps) he recreated Polish music and the Polish idiom after Chopin. The fertile contemporary Polish compositional world that followed relies seminally on this remarkable creative figure.  

The Symphony No. 4  (Symphonie concertante) was composed in 1932 with the idea of Szymanowski himself as the piano soloist. He had always wanted to write a piano concerto although this is not really one in the accepted sense of that genre. The premiere took place in Poznań, also in 1932. The composer was the soloist and Grzegorz Fitelberg the conductor. It is a powerful nationalistic work celebrating in a way that Poland had regained independence after over a hundred years of foreign hegemony.

The composer's fascination with the music of Stravinsky is clear - his attempt to universalize national values - quite a task in Poland in all the arts I have noticed! Consider the magnificent paintings of Jan Matejko which are so hard to universalize in their detailed historical content and values. The 18th century Symphony concertante idea was popular with neo-classical composers in the 1920s and 1930s as a half-way house between symphony and concerto.  

This Symphony has three traditional movements. The first Moderato is in sonata form. The second Andante molto sostenuto  is poetic and lyrical (as was expected in the 18th century) and the third, with the unusual direction,  Allegro non troppo, ma agitato ad ausioso,  a type of rondo. The piano is the concertante instrument. The orchestration is brilliant, indeed magnificently clear, wonderful melodies and tremendous dynamic impact. Ohlssohn was a fine concertante pianist in this tumultuous work. The conductor Nowak may have lacked inspiration at times in phrasing and transparent cohesion but managed his forces well apart from the almost oppressive loudness in this hall. Superb musical impact overall, at least for me, deserving the wild scenes of adulation that followed.

The work is dedicated to Artur Rubinstein but the first pianist (apart from the composer) was the Polish-born English pianist Jan Smeterlin, who played the concertante role in London in 1934. This is an autograph signature of Szymanowski from that performance

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And so we concluded 2017 Chopin i jego Europa (Chopin and his Europe) with thanks and vast bunches of roses for the highly gifted Artistic Director Stanisław Leszczyński and the many staff who supported him through this music marathon. The festival has without doubt taken its deserved place as an authentic occasion of the highest musical quality and value on the European summer festival stage.


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Links to other Chopin i jego Europa Festivals covered in my internet journal


12th Chopin and His Europe Festival (Chopin i jego Europa) Warsaw, Poland. 
August 2016

9th Chopin and his Europe Festival (Chopin i jego Europa) Warsaw, Poland 
August 2013 

8th Chopin and his Europe Festival (Chopin i jego Europa) Warsaw, Poland
August 2012

7th Chopin and his Europe Festival (Chopin i jego Europa) Warsaw, Poland
August 2011

6th Chopin and His Europe Festival (Chopin i jego Europa) Warsaw, Poland
August 2010

Comments

  1. This is a remarkable piece of work for which Michael Moran should be acknowledged and thanked. It is very rare for a critic to have such a wide range of cultural reference points combined with the ability to utilised this knowledge, experience and understanding to fulfill the high and exacting role of a critic. This MM achieves admirably. Not only this. This document bears impartial, objective and unique witness to a supremely important event in Polish cultural life, with all its triumphs and flaws, for the present and for posterity, something few other commentators have the courage, perseverance or commitment to do.

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