73rd. International Chopin Piano Festival 3-11 August 2017, Duszniki Zdroj, Poland




The Chopin Bench in Havana, Cuba



The Dworek Chopina where the piano recitals take place

Full English details of the programmes, biographies of Artists and Professors as well as Masterclasses are available using this link:
Concerts 
From the Reviewer's Notebook 


TUESDAY, AUGUST 7 CHOPIN’S MANOR 4:00 PM ALEXANDER ULLMAN

A little under a year ago Alexander Ullman won the First prize at the 11th Liszt International Competition in Utrecht. In 2011 he had also won the First Prize at the Liszt Competition in Budapest. He has been guided by many eminent professors, made numerous award-winning recordings and appeared as a soloist with prestigious international orchestras. So it was with some excitement and anticipation I looked forward to this piano recital.

The first half of his recital was dominated by late works of Liszt, a few of which I was unfamiliar with.  He opened his recital with En rêve (Dreaming) Nocturne S 207 (1885). In his old age Liszt became quite economical and abstract in expression, quite the opposite to the profligacy of imagination of his youth. Although brief this piece not only foreshadows harmonic compositional procedures of the future but is alluring in itself. Ullman played this piece in a soft flourishes at the keyboard. The lyrical melodic line is affectingly embellished in this almost metaphysical two minute fragment. Then to Schlaflos! Frage und Antwort (Sleepless! Question and Answer) Nocturne, S 203 (1883). The question is in E minor and the answer is in E major perhaps with some biblical reference. Ullman approached this piece in much the same restrained style.

These two works are fascinating harmonically and seemed to naturally lead into Harmonies poétiques et religieuses No. 3 Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, S 173 (1845–1852). Much of the inspiration for this piece lies in the fraught relationship between Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein and Liszt. Both fervent Catholics sharing a mystical bond they were attempting to win an annulment of her marriage. Ullman created some beautiful meditative moments but resorted to surprisingly heavy dynamics, rather rough in sound quality, which was surprising in view of the ardent religious and spiritual nature of this piece.

We then moved to Csárdás macabre Allegro, S 225/1 (1884). The great Liszt scholar Alan Walker wonders if it is a parody of the Dies Irae where death lurks below a dance with the devil. Or a quotation from a popular Hungarian song? Liszt does not clarify matters himself for us although he did scribble on the work 'May one write or listen to such a thing?' I felt Ullman began to be taken over rather by the music and threw caution to the winds in terms of his dynamic range. This became far more pronounced in the Mephisto Waltz No. 2 S 515 (1880–1881). Originally written for orchestra in 1881, Liszt made a piano version of the work after completing it. It is a significantly different to the first Mephisto Waltz and I felt far harsher without the same imaginative 'programme' for the listener to follow. I was astounded by Ullman's virtuosity in this work but his neglect of tonal and dynamic gradation and actual quality of tone seemed to become rather unpleasant. The tornado of a conclusion and the tritone symbolism of the devil seemed almost too much to be accommodated  in this small hall,  let us say the manner in which Ullmann neglected the acoustic of the 'local environment'. Agreed Liszt was a man of extremes and became ant-social in old age but...


After the interval the Mikhail Pletnev arrangement of Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker Suite Op. 71a (1892)  March; Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy; Tarantella; Intermezzo; Russian dance – Trepak; Chinese dance; Ullman performed this familiar music with refinement, finesse, delicacy and marvellous dance rhythms. I felt his imitation of orchestral instruments, particularly and including the celeste, very charming and idiomatic.


    (Jillian Vanstone as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. Photo by Karolina Kuras)


I fear that the three sections of Stravinsky's ballet – Petroushka (1882–1971) - Russian Dance; Petrushka’s Room; The Shrovetide Fair, despite being played with absolute theatrical keyboard wizardry, colourful imagined choreography and complete command, this work did not fare well dynamically in the Dworek. On many occasions the tone verged on the harsh and broke through the sound ceiling of the instrument. The interpretation possessed a rather relentless dynamic with scarcely any gradation in tone or colour, a hectic flush to the tempi and rhythm. Hard to say these things when the work is clearly a spectacular showpiece for the pianist which he brought off pianistically in awesome fashion with finger dexterity to marvel at. Owing to what I consider to be the inflated dynamics and overt virtuosity,  I never felt I was watching even in my imaginative mind's eye, something as modest as puppets or hand held marionettes enacting a story. A pity as it was otherwise a magnificent account of the orchestral transcription.


   Petrushka's Room by Alexandre Benois

As encores more ballet transcriptions for piano - the Russian fairytale ballet The Firebird also by Stravinsky. A convincing performance of rhythmic complexity and charm. A final ballet scored for piano Cinderella by Prokofiev was an elegant account with finesse.

  
Monday, August 6 CHOPIN’S MANOR 10:00 PM
Meeting with the audience Guest:
Professor LIDIA GRYCHTOŁÓWNA
Hosted by: ADAM ROZLACH

And every voice sang under her fingers, all was song...


Lidia Grychtołówna counts Zbigniew Drzewiecki and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli among her renowned mentors. She was a laureate in the 5th Fryderyk Chopin International Competition in Warsaw in 1955. With her wide repertoire she travelled the world giving concerts, taking part in festivals and making numerous recordings. She has been a juror many times on the most prestigious piano competitions in the world.

However none of this accounts for the profoundly musical and moving recital she gave this evening at the age of 90. Vladimir Horowitz once commented that what one expects of a great pianist is 'heart, intelligence and technique.' In Grychtołówna all this became apparent from the first moment she touched the Steinway in the second of the three Schubert Impromptus Op.90 she would play. The glowing tone, refined touch and superb cantabile spoke to us all of a world of sensibility, grace and suggestion that seems to have vanished forever from piano playing. The two Brahms Intermezzi played at a moderate tempo where all the harmonies could unfold like a flower were ardent with yearning and love. Everything she touched became a luminous bel canto song, everything sang.

Much of the seductive charm and personal  style of the great pianists who performed Chopin before the Second World War has been sacrificed on the altar of an increasingly esoteric musicology. As one of the French pianists on a competition jury said to me in frustration, ‘Where is la poésie and le bon goût so prized by Chopin?’ The world young artists have inherited  is loud, cruel and violent, a world dominated  by technology that prizes physical power, speed and the body above intelligence, morality and the soul. Many are simply  too  young  for the pain and mystery of Chopin and Schubert. C.P.E. Bach put it well in his Versuch  über  die wahre  Art  das Klavier  zu  spielen 1753 (Essay on  the  True  Art  of Playing Keyboard Instruments): ‘They overwhelm  our hearing without satisfying it and stun the mind without moving it . . .’  ‘Facilement, facilement,’ Chopin often warned. ‘Caress the key, never bash it!’ he would admonish his students.

More cantabile beauties were offered in her glorious Schumann Kinderszenen. For me each piece was a gem and taken at this moderate tempo, the singing polyphony that lies within all Schumann miraculously took wing, each voice answering another in a magical bel canto conversation of moving sentiment and childish innocence.

The recordings  of the giants of late Romantic  pianism such as Josef Lhévinne, Sergei Rachmaninov, Moritz  Rosenthal, Josef Hofman, Vladimir Horowitz and Leopold Godowsky give at least some indication of the pianistic values of her time. They possessed exquisite beauty of tone with absolute delicacy and evenness of touch which scarcely any pianist today achieves with the same consistency. Above all they possessed great sensibility, heart, poetry and  charm.  

These qualities became clearly evident in her Debussy miniatures. A deeply affecting and incandescent Claire de Lune. All the period charm, elegance, manners and refinement before the conflagration of the Great War carried away the cream of Europe's youth and civilization was contained in her exquisite Le plus que lente. This was heartbreaking in its period nostalgia and an expression of what has been lost to us through the ravages of time.

Her poignant valedictory gesture was a most elegant and refined performance of the Chopin A flat major Waltz Op. 34. Tears were inevitable as this ageless 90 year old artist seemed to be bidding us farewell from the enchanted groves of music.

A truly unfathomable musical evening. This recital was a most instructive evening and a useful corrective. So many young tyros of the piano today could learn much from her  attitude to music, glorious tone, refined velvet touch, seamless legato, moderate tempi, luminous cantabile in everything she touched and finally her engagement of the heart in communicating the truest feelings to an audience. The memory of her radiant bel canto will eternally transport me into the azure...






MONDAY, AUGUST 6 CHOPIN’S MANOR 7:00 PM

Chamber music concert by the MULTI TRIO
EWA POBŁOCKA – piano
EWA LESZCZYŃSKA – soprano
MARIA LESZCZYŃSKA - cello

Even with my knowledge of Polish modern and contemporary music (absorbed by osmosis if you live in concert-going Poland) I found tonight's programme rather demanding because of  its unfamiliar nature. However I have remained curious throughout my life and there were some treasures to be found here.  

The Multi Trio opened with a rather lugubrious work by Roxanna Panufnik (b. 1968) entitled Summer to Winter (2016). I found it scarcely uplifting but clearly the Trio have mastered such a rather emotionally remote piece to my mind. I would much have preferred the idea of Winter to Summer!

Then Ewa Pobłocka (piano) and Ewa Leszczyńska (soprano) presented a really charming work by Karol Szymanowski – Children’s Rhymes to words by Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna – highlights (1922–1923). Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna (1892–1983) was a Polish poet, prose writer, playwright and translator. She was one of the most acclaimed and celebrated poets during Poland's interwar period. 


                                                  Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna (1892–1983)
                                                                                
Ewa Leszczyńska has a beautiful voice and a charming theatrical manner that brought these innocent childhood excursion to life. The Duckling’s Lullaby - so delightful ; Mice - revealed a theatrical actress and a personality of great sensibility as well as outstanding voice with perfect intonation; Saint Christina; Bullfinch and Magpie -  I found this so affecting in its innocence and harmonies; A Visit to Mrs Cow - so witty; Villainous Starling - gave Ewa Leszczyńska an opportunity to display once again her fine voice and theatrical, expressive talents. Ewa Pobłocka (piano) was always thoughtful, sensitive and unobtrusive accompanist.


                                                                                  Witold Lutosławski

They then moved forward in time to Witold Lutosławski – Two Children’s Songs to words by the great Polish poet Julian Tuwim (1953) The Overdue Nightingale - a witty piece about Mr. Nightingale who is late home and being interrogated by his increasingly hysterical wife as to why he is late. He replies that he simply walked home rather than flew as it was such a lovely eveningMost amusing. About Mr Tralala  The meaning escaped me rather as a 'foreigner'.
Maria Leszczyńska then played the Witold Lutosławski Sacher Variation for unaccompanied cello. I found this piece a rather lugubrious demanding choice for such a young talented  player.

Ewa Pobłocka and Ewa Leszczyńska then performed a  delightful set of 5 Paderewski songs Op.7 to words by the Polish pet and dramatist Adam Asnyk (1860–1941) The Days of Roses are Vanished; To My Faithful Steed; The Birch Tree and the Maiden; My Love is Sent Away; Lily of the Valley. I was not aware that Paderewski had written songs but of course one must assume he would have. Ewa Leszczyńska showed rare theatrical expression in these sometimes winsome, charming period gems. Her sweet yet strong soprano suits the tessitura  perfectly. The most affecting for me was My Love is Sent Away and To My Faithful Steed.

After the interval  Ewa Leszczyńska and Maria Leszczyńska combined forces Mieczysław Karłowicz – Six Songs Op. 1 (1895–1896) (1876–1909)/ No. 1 To the Saddened /Maria Leszczyńska No. 3 In the Snow (arr. for voice and cello) and Song With the New Spring (1895). I found these songs to be touching but rather a confirmation of sadness as part of the national Polish psyche. The Song With the New Spring was with Ewa Leszczyńska at the piano and her sister Maria Leszczyńska on the cello. A dark work to represent the arrival of Spring as was the Witold Lutosławski  Grave for Cello and Piano.

Ewa Pobłocka then played the 4 Mazurkas Op. 24 (1833–1835) by Chopin
No. 1 in G minor
No. 2 in C major
No. 3 in A-flat major
No. 4 in B-flat minor

Without the slightest shame I would wish to quote my own review of the superb manner in which Ewa Pobłocka plays Chopin mazurkas as I wrote in the 70th Duszniki Zdrój Festival. My observations have not changed concerning the sensitivity and sensibility of this true artist.

'Pobłocka played the mazurkas, and in fact the entire programme, with charm, grace and the fullest understanding of Chopin. She has a refined tone and touch perfectly suited to the composer. The mazurkas had the ‘correct’ rhythm and the cantabile melodic lines beautifully presented with a pure lyricism. They certainly contained ‘the Polish element’ as Chopin was fond of observing was singularly lacking in otherwise excellent performances of his music in Paris.
Chopin’s pupil Karol Mikuli described the playing of the composer as expressing ‘energy without roughness’ and ‘delicacy without affectation’, while his best pupil Princess Marcelina Czartoryska advised the performer to intuitively immerse himself ‘au climat de Chopin’. This was exactly the feeling created this evening. Here there was no hysteria, no search for cunningly hidden voices in the polyphony, no desire to impress with virtuosity. The recital was a personal and private invitation to share Chopin’s music and spiritual life with a pianist who had clearly lived and breathed Chopin all her life.'



The concert concluded with the Multi Trio performing the Sonata lamentosa (2016) by Mikołaj Górecki. Rather a melancholic conclusion to a remarkable recital of Polish music that would have been somewhat obscure to most listeners.


MONDAY, AUGUST 6 CHOPIN’S MANOR 4:00 PM
Three Generations of Polish Pianism
TYMOTEUSZ BIES

I remember hearing this young pianist at past Duszniki Zdroj master classes. 

He opened his short recital with a delicate Chopin Berceuse performed with finesse and affecting nuance.  

I felt  the Beethoven Piano Sonata in C minor Op. 111 rather an ambitious choice for  a young spirit. However I need not have worried. This was a remarkably satisfying performance in appropriate classical style, in perfect tempo with a finely controlled an affecting Arietta. I really could not fault this account that only now requires the personal and musical maturity of the inevitable passing years. 

I must confess to listening to the music rather than the pianist. After all the glittering virtuosic displays of the last few days I suddenly found myself immersed in one the greatest philosophical statements in Western piano music on the nature of life. It expresses our relation to death and the brief passage of time given to us here on earth. In the full-blooded Maestoso movement Allegro con brio et appassionato Bies presented Beethoven the titan. Then the destiny of that tiny Arietta theme took possession of me as it unfolds and grows in utmost variation and diversity, achieves an incandescent apotheosis and finally passes away. Bies managed to take me on this journey with great skill. I was rather beyond judging the pianism on this voyage as the music was the focus. Analysis of the actual playing, if fine enough, simply distracts from the spiritual impact of a work such as this. One of my most memorable musical experiences - there are only a few - was Richter playing Beethoven Op. 111 in Blythburgh parish church at the Alderburgh Festival by the light of a single tiny lamp so many years ago now.

Finally the Karol Szymanowski Variations in B-flat minor Op. 3. Again impressively idiomatic with a clear understanding of the composer's intentions. Fresh, inventive and expressive. The composition is in the late Romantic style, reminiscent of Schumann and Liszt.The variations are virtuosic and demonstrate the young Szymanowski’s complete understanding of the piano as an instrument. Such a contrast to his later piano music in almost every way, at least for this listener. Loved the work and this performance of it. A young pianist already building an enviable reputation and far further to go.


A wonderful photograph of the young 
Karol Szymanowski, Paweł Kochański and Grzegorz Fitelberg, 1910 
(Photograph with dedications to Zofia Bernstein-Meyer. From Igor Strojecki's collection)




[Internet problems have sadly prevented me from hearing PIOTR ALEXEWICZ who followed]

SUNDAY, AUGUST 5 CHOPIN’S MANOR 8:00 PM

In the 100th Anniversary Year of Poland Regaining Independence

JONATHAN PLOWRIGHT



This pianist is regarded as one the finest of our time. It is so refreshing to have a British pianist at the Duszniki Zdrój International Piano Chopin Festival. The last British pianist I remember was Freddy Kempf in 2006.



Johnathan Plowright is a Gold Medallist at the Royal Academy of Music and records widely for Hyperion. Many of his varied CDs are winners of the most prestigious international awards. His popularity in Poland is assured by his deep fascination with neglected Polish Romantic music especially that of Jan Ignacy Jan Paderewski. He has also recently recorded the complete Brahms solo piano works gathering numerous accolades. So it was a great sense of anticipation and excitement that I prepared to listen to tonight's piano recital.



He opened his programme with two fine works by the Polish pianist and composer Zygmunt Stojowski (1870-1946). I admit this composer was largely unknown to me especially his piano pieces. He had a distinguished career at the Paris Conservatoire and was a student of Paderewski. He preferred to work for 'The Polish Cause' from abroad and moved to the United States in 1905 where he died. His compositions were performed by all the great musicians of the day including Paderewski himself.






An adorable photograph of Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Zygmunt Stojowski



Plowright performed the Deux Pensees Musicales Op.1. Some may feel this music has dated but I felt exactly the opposite. Johnathan presented it with all the charm and civilized elegance of another age of sensibility, a domain where expressing the heart in music was paramount. Poles tend to wear their hearts on their sleeve I have noticed - usually patriotic. Then the brilliant highly virtuosic Caprice from Deux Orientales Op.10. I often wish such works were still played as they were part of the highly entertaining repertoire of all the great historic pianists, not only that great Oriental fantasy Islamey and the other 'warhorses' which have survived.

He then turned to the challenging and comparatively rarely performed  Chopin Ballade No:3 in  A-flat major Op. 47. Two aspects became immediately apparent. First of all Plowright's musical maturity compared to the young tyro pianists we have heard so far. Then the fine tone and refined, differentiated touch that Plowright has cultivated on the mellow registers of the Steinway. Incidentally this was the first time this instrument had been used in the Festival. Chopin's astonishing experimentation and reinterpretation of the conventional sonata form here is so fascinating. The three themes and their interaction create a remarkably 'mysterious tale' which Plowright understood well as the dramatic 'narrator' and presented it to us with authority and depth. Under some influence of the poetic ballad of the day, it is absolutely  clear  Chopin had by now established his distinct musical genre - the Ballade. The Berceuse was beautifully presented both rhythmically in its rocking lullaby and tonally.



Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) 
Piotr Betlej Op 10 N 1 2016 © Galerie Roi Doré


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



Naturally being a great patriot he writes many Polish mazurkas and polonaises but much of his solo piano music reminds me of a superb film score for say an intensely romantic French love affair set in Provence directed by Francois Truffaut. In our imaginations we could be bowling along a poplar lined route secondaire past hills of vineyards with Catherine Deneuve or Stephane Audran in the passenger seat of a Chapron Citroen cabriolet. Her hair is wonderfully awry in the wind as we head towards une belle gentilhommiere and nights of sophisticated sensual bliss, days of cultivated tastes, food and wine.  Ah…what we have lost of true civilization and culture in 2018…Paderewski had it all.



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



Ignacy Jan Paderewski – Miscellanea. Séries de Morceaux Op. 16 (1860–1941) No. 1 Légende in A-flat major No. 3 Thème varié in A major. I found Plowright's approach to the piano music of Paderewski idiomatic as he has the technical command and musicality to elevate these works to the status they fully merit. In the Légende there are reminiscences of Chopin’s Ballades  in  that Paderewski wrote patriotic music with a strong narrative element. Plowright emphasized this with great virtuosity. The final Theme varié in A major is also a demanding virtuoso work. He played it in rather the nineteenth-century spirit  with great élan and panache somewhat in the shadow of Theodor Leschetizky.



Humoresques de Concert Op. 14 (1877) No. 1 Minuet in G major No. 2 Sarabande in B minor No. 3 Caprice (genre Scarlatti) in G major. The Menuet had fine ‘period feel’ and charm. I always remember the wonderful scene in the film Moonlight Sonata that starred Paderewski himself  when he volunteers  at a children's party to play the Minuet when an inferior pianist has trouble with it. 'I think I may be able to manage to do something with it.' he says. A most amusing scene. All Paderewski lovers should see this film. The Caprice was lively and energetic executed again extremely well although at a tempo I felt obscured the Scarlatti element. Domenico is being taken faster and faster these days! The Sarabande was evocative of the period as a slow baroque dance.






          The scene mentioned above from the film 'Moonlight Sonata'  

(1937 directed by Lothar Mendes) 

starring Ignacy Jan Paderewski


After the interval an excellent performance of the Chopin Scherzo in B-flat minor Op.31. Building the inner dramatic tension is difficult in Chopin - much of his music contrasts what William Blake might have termed 'braces' and 'relaxes'. So important in this work. 

To conclude the immense and formidable Brahms Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel Op.24. This climax of his variation form for the piano (25 variations) is dedicated to Clara Schumann and is based on a melody is the Air from the third movement of the first suite in B flat major of Handel's Suites de pièces de clavecin of 1733. It was clear throughout that Plowright loves playing Variations. It was a massively cohesive 'Romantic' interpretation with the contrapuntal nature of the formidable Fugue sculptured in stone like the facade of Rheims Cathedral. After any fine performance of a work of this magnitude, nothing left to say...

As encores the Paderewski Nocturne which I always find deeply affecting and to conclude ina festive, even bucolic, mood Plowright gave us the Jack Fina Bumble Boogie played with a final flourish of virtuoso style, panache and élan. 

Plowright is a man who obviously loves the instrument and plays it with maturity, finesse, fine tone, facility, command, and virtuosity. It clearly gives him the greatest happiness to communicate the creative ideas of a composer in a self-effacing manner as an open channel of musical inspiration.


SUNDAY, AUGUST 5 CHOPIN’S MANOR 4:00 PM ANDREY GUGNIN

This pianist has been a laureate in many prestigious international piano competitions and is in great demand from conductors of the stature of Valery Gergiev and in the great concert halls of Europe and the US.



He opened his recital with the monumental Bach – Busoni Prelude and Fugue in D major BWV 532. The Prelude was expressed with nobility and grace and revealed his great authority over the instrument. I felt however the organ polyphony could have been more clearly delineated. The Fugue was built in this performance into an intimidating cathedral of sound but again the polyphonic bass voices of the organ 16' stop, so vital in Bach-Busoni transcriptions, could have been give more weight. Only some organ registers, textures, colour and legato playing were extracted from the piano. Many years ago I used to play a small Willis organ in the Melanesian Mission Chapel on a remote Pacific island. I had nearly always been unconvinced by the nature of such Busoni organ transcription for the piano (preferring the Bach-Busoni Chorales) until I heard Nelson Freire play in overwhelming fashion the Bach Prelude in G minor for organ BMV 535 (arranged by Siloti) last year in Duszniki. This was a firm statement of Gugnin's outstanding musical credentials nevertheless. 




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

He then embarked on the Beethoven Piano Sonata in A major Op.101. This emotionally affecting work is Beethoven at his most intimate and sensitive. Beethoven (according to Schindler) described the first movement as containing 'impressions and reveries.' A calm movement certainly (Allegretto ma non troppo), and Gugnin expressed the emotional content in this way. In German this short movement is described by Beethoven as 'Etwas lebhaft, und mit der innigsten Empfindung' (rather lively with the most ardent perception). This feeling of some sadness was rather in the background. The second movement, 'Lebhaft, marschmässig' (Lively, a restrained march), is marked in Italian Vivace alla marcia and I felt Gugnin captured this contrasting mood and catchy rhythm very effectively. The Adagio ma non troppo, con affetto, bears the German description 'Langsam und sehnsuchtvoll (Slowly and yearningly). Gugnin made this a little too mannered for my taste, emphasizing and drawing out the mournful, meditative mood in overlong phrases which could have been rather more serene if shorter. The finale Allegro has such a spirited main theme - joyfulness and even understated humour on display. This movement carries the odd description 'Geschwinddoch nicht zu sehr und mit Entschlossenheit' (Quickly, but not rushed and with determination). The development contains a brilliant fugue which I felt Gugnin could have explored polyphonically in more detail. This sonata was composed just before the far more famous Piano Sonata No. 29, the 'Hammerklavier' and is unaccountably neglected as a masterpiece. 

After the interval Kinderszenen Op.15 by Schumann. These pieces reveal the poetic soul of Schumann with the greatest and most affecting clarity. In the spring of 1838 Schumann was separated from Clara Wieck his fiancée. Her father was horrified she might marry a mere composer of music with no financial or social future. Schumann wrote to his great love:



'I have been waiting for your letter and have in the meantime filled several books with pieces.... You once said to me that I often seemed like a child, and I suddenly got inspired and knocked off around 30 quaint little pieces.... I selected several and titled them Kinderszenen. You will enjoy them, though you will need to forget that you are a virtuoso when you play them.' 



They express deep nostalgia for childhood through the eyes of an adult. The titles are merely afterthought suggestions to the pianist (according to Schumann) and Gugnin seemed to understand the characterfulness well and brought variety to his interpretation. However I would have appreciated more childish energy and spirit overall. A few observations: The seventh scene, the famous 'Träumerei' (Reverie), I felt was rather mannered in arch sentimental phrasing and drawn out tempo but perhaps I have heard Horowitz play it too often as an encore! As someone said to me recently apropos those familiar interpretations that unavoidably accumulate in the mind with musical experience 'You have been drinking the same champagne for far too long Michael!' The eighth 'Am Camin' (At the Fireside) was most charming. The last two poetically sensitive pieces I have always loved and often played when down at heart: the twelfth 'Kind im Einschlummern' (Child Falling Asleep) and thirteenth and last 'Der Dichter spricht' (The Poet Speaks). Gugnin calmed us all into a somnambulistic state here with his delicate and moving pianissimos.



Finally in the Chopin Sonata in B minor Op. 58 sonata Gugnin showed great technical command and that full characteristic 'Russian' rounded tone but at the tempo he adopted in the Allegro maestoso much fascinating polyphonic writing by Chopin was glossed over. The urge to be expressive and poetic was certainly there but his sheer facility in playing this demanding music led him into the familiar traps of virtuosity (would that with my mediocre talent I could be led into them too!). The Scherzo was splendid with all the light fleetness required and much Mendelssohnian charm and reflection during the more lyrical cantabile episode. I suppose I was least content with the long demanding Largo which I felt escaped him and became disjointed in phrasing and simply lacked organic cohesion or narrative direction which is vital in a movement of this extraordinarily introspective and meditative length. So few pianists manage the movement convincingly - Martha Argerich, Maria João Pires and Evgeni Bozhanov in the 2010 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw are modern examples.



If only the movements surrounding this could have been scaled down somewhat in dynamic and tempo, balancing one movement against the other in order that the structure of the sonata could become a more cohesive vision. Again he seemed to me to overlook the 'non tanto' indication of the Presto which Chopin indicated for a good reason I am sure. He was a brilliant teacher and must have been aware of the temptation to virtuoso exaggeration that his music sometimes leads pianists into, particularly on the comparatively light action of a Pleyel or Erard instrument. 



As an encore Gugnin gave us his view of the Precipitato final movement of the Piano Sonata No. 7 in B♭ major Op. 83 by Prokofiev. I found its virtuosity painfully overwrought in the excitement of the moment, removing it from its context as an 'encore' uncomfortable and have a completely different musical conception of this movement of such a serious'War Sonata'. 


A fine pianist of enormous talent and musical gifts. The Duszniki Festival raises the level of pianistic judgement to such great heights, the personal view of performances becomes tantamount and unavoidable. 


SATURDAY, AUGUST 4 CHOPIN’S MANOR 8:00 PM  DANIEL CIOBANU


When the Romanian pianist Daniel Ciobanu mounted the stage at Duszniki, his rather 'alternative' appearance and sensational international reputation to date presaged what would be an individualistic possibly charismatic recital. So it came to be with all the feelings that accompany a strong point of view of familiar works on the part of an artist.

He began with a work entirely unfamiliar to me that seemed to explore the nature of sound on that somtime percussive instrument, the pianoforte. It also established the type of 'sound identity' and possibly statement of what we might expect from him - Romanian composer George Enescu's Piano Suite No. 3  Op.18  Carillon Nocturne (1913-16). Here we had church bells echoing enharmonically through the Romanian summer night with extraordinary effect.

This was followed by Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. 



Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) at age 26



















This was an idiomatic, highly individual interpretation of the work with interesting moments of pianistic colour and detail. He created a vivid and vibrant impressionist picture with a magnificently grotesque Gnome (enhanced by his rather extreme body language) and amusing Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks (Балет невылупившихся птенцов)The tempo he adopted for the Promenade sequences at the beginning was encouragingly moderate. One must bear in mind that this is a portrait of a man walking around an art exhibition (the pictures painted by Mussorgsky's friend, the artist and architect Viktor Hartmann). The composer is reminiscing on this past friendship now suddenly and tragically cut short when the young artist died suddenly of an aneurysm. The visitor walks at a fairly regular pace but perhaps not always as his mood fluctuates between grief and elated remembrance of happy times spent together. This is always a challenge for the pianist but for me this Promenade seemed at the proper tempo although it seems I personally wander far more slowly and less heavily around art galleries. 


The art exhibition was of Hartmann's drawings and watercolours (not strong oil paintings) and I feel this and the subject of the paintings should be considered when approaching the dynamic range of any performance in order to avoid undue heaviness. I felt with Ciobanu the portraits were rather exaggerated rhythmically and performed at extreme tempi by ultra-virtuoso execution mainly for the clear delight of the audience and for rather extra-musical reasons dictated by the personality of the pianist. Kalkbrenner and Thalberg have been largely forgotten and Chopin and Liszt were hailed in their time as pianists of quite a different stamp. The poets as opposed to the thunderers.



This naturally  raised in my mind the age old question of the pianist as an individualistic interpreter or servant and conduit of communication of the composer's music. A question that cannot be answered affirmatively either way. I feel we are on the cusp of change historically here where international success seems depend more on entertainment and shock value than let's say the modest deportment of a Michelangeli, Richter, Schnabel, Schiff or Sokolov approach to the piano repertoire where removal of the ego is of tantamount importance. Or for that matter the great Romanian pianist and immortal Chopin interpreter Dinu Lipatti. What a different man this is!


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

The the temptation to overwhelm the audience with sound proves irresistible to many young virtuosi. Particularly in this work the final movement Богатырские ворота (В стольном городе во Киеве) The Bogatyr Gates which depicts the Great Gate of Kiev begs for a monumental sound. This we received not unflinchingly. I shall never forget the shattering performance here some years ago by the inspired Russian pianist  Denis Kozhukhin when we could distinctly hear the Orthodox bells tolling.

 


Viktor Hartmann - Plan for a City Gate at Kiev 



After the interval a late change in the programme. Instead of the Stravinsky Firebird  a tempestuous performance of  Bacchanale by the Romanian conductor Constantin Silvestri (1913-1969). I had not heard this impressively virtuosic work before but felt its paramount display nature would have been more suitable as an encore piece than within a serious recital programme. We then had an interesting interweaving of Preludes by Chopin and Scriabin. The Russian composer was deeply influenced by Chopin.

Chopin – Prelude in E major Op. 28 No. 9 (1838–1839)
Scriabin – Prelude in E major Op. 11 No. 9 Andantino (1888–1896)
Chopin – Prelude in C-sharp minor Op. 28 No. 10
Scriabin – Prelude in C-sharp minor Op. 11 No. 10, Andante
Chopin – Prelude in B major Op. 28 No. 11
Scriabin – Prelude in B major Op. 11 No. 11 Allegro assai

Although this is an interesting and thought provoking historical idea, I felt torn between the different psyches of the composers. Perhaps this is a personal matter in that I like to immerse myself in the musical world of a single composer for a significant period and these brief exposures in Preludes did not permit this. Having listen so often to Chopin cycles of all the Preludes my inner ear anticipated something else more familiar to follow - another Chopin Prelude. The cycle has become an entire and complete organism in my mind by now. I did not want interruptions by Scriabin. I also wondered if this programming may have been symptomatic of the way technology has accustomed listeners to short attention spans in music. At all events I remained emotionally unmoved by either composer arranged in this manner, although clearly Ciobani played the works perfectly competently.

Finally Prokofiev Sonata in D minor No. 2 Op. 14. He brought his customary ostentatious energy and virtuosity to the Prokofiev Sonata in D minor No. 2 Op. 14. I found the Scherzo particularly enjoyable. The Andante was rather sensitive and reflective. He responded well to the musical content but for me failed to communicate the mercurial, percussive even tragic nature of this Prokofiev sonata very well. Prokofiev dedicated this sonata to his friend and fellow student at the St. Petersburg Conservatorium, Maaximilian Schmidthof, who committed suicide in 1913.

He gave a type of extraordinary theatrical encore made up of glissandi of various types which drove the audience wild. Also a fantasically virtuosic jazz encore which although utterly brilliant had no natural 'swing' jazz elements or veiled blues elements of say an Art Tatum or an Oscar Peterson.

A sensational recital that clearly will bring him in the future hordes of adoring fans. He was recently invited to perform alongside Lang Lang at the Royal Festival Hall and won the Audience Prize at the latest Artur Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv. perhaps audiences have become bored with correctness and prefer entertainment. We are moving in this 'theatrical virtuosity and fireworks' direction exponentially at present. 

Unforunately for me much of his present playing can be described in the words of C.P.E Bach in his Versuch über die wahre Art das Klavier zu spielen 1753 (Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments) : 

'They overwhelm  our hearing without satisfying it and stun the mind 
without moving it . . .’  

Spectacular in pianistic terms as this recital was, individualistic and charismatic, full of a unique personality but I would say musically speaking, all in all, I prefer to be moved rather than astonished.


SATURDAY, AUGUST 4 CHOPIN’S MANOR 4:00 PM LUIGI CARROCCIA



The programme Carroccia ambitiously chose to perform contained two works that require a high degree of musical and personal maturity, one by Chopin, the Polonaise Fantasie and one by Schubert, the late Sonata in B flat major D 960.

He opened his recital with the Chopin Barcarolle, the charming gondolier's folk song sung to the swish of oars on the historic Venetian Lagoon or a romantic canal, often concerning the travails of love. Most of the piece oscillates gently between forte, piano and pianissimo with only subtle degrees of heightened emotion throughout.  He opened it well and set the tonal mood. This handsome Italian seemed to understand the Ialianate nature of this love song, imagining himself in a gondola (his facial expressions indicated this) and a curiously authentic feeling of Italy and Venice inexplicably overlaid the performance of the work.

Disturbing yet civilized degrees of heightened passion occur during this outing on the lagoon. Towards the conclusion I felt he tended to overdo the ecstasy as do most pianists. 
I will never believe this is an explosive virtuoso work and it is almost invariably presented as such. 


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

Berlioz once described Chopin's own playing 

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

Are we simply to ignore these contemporary descriptions convinced that 'we moderns must know better'? Of course I would never suggest imitating this type of thing in a modern concert hall but I feel these are all important considerations in terms of dynamic scale when considering this great masterpiece. Certainly in the Dworek so few pianists modify their dynamic range for the small resonant room with its barrel-vaulted ceiling. 





                           
   Watercolour of Venice by Turner

He then followed with a group of carefully chosen Chopin Mazurkas. How lovely to hear a pianist return in recital to these too often neglected extraordinary masterpieces of concentrated sometimes revolutionary harmonic invention.

Mazurkas: in C minor Op. 56 No. 3 (1844) in A-flat major Op. 41 No. 3 (1839) in F minor Op. 63 No. 2 (1846) in D-flat major Op. 30 No. 3 (1836/37) in C-sharp minor Op. 50 No. 3 (1841/42) in F minor Op. 68 No. 4 (1849).

I would like to examine each in turn given the clear preparation of them by this pianist but I would be here all night! I have noted two general ways that I feel pianists approach these pieces. One approaches them as if composed in the glow of romantic nostalgia for past joys of the dance Chopin certainly experienced abroad after he left Warsaw where he was known to be a passionate dancer as a young man. The other general approach concentrates, it seems to me, more on a recreation through the filter of time, the folkloric and rural elements, the lively rhythm and 'snap' of many mazurkas, the sometimes strange countrified harmonic relations he explores, basically as Chopin would have experienced the rather energetic, even rough, folk dancing in Mazovia (often Polish pianists approach them in this manner). Both conceptions have their virtues. Here we had the more legato, sentimental, perhaps romantic approach which occasionally neglected to emphasise the arresting and in some cases revolutionary harmonic shifts that occur in every Chopin mazurka. The rhythms could have had more of a rough 'bite', but I was often won over by the genuine soft sentiments and yearning expressed here.



The first half he closed with the Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat major Op. 61 (1846). It became apparent fairly early on in this half that Chopin was posing some difficulties for this musician. This unsettled me greatly. He seemed unable to grasp what various musicologists for better or worse have termed Chopin’s ‘Late Style’. The composers mental and physical state were fractured at the time of composition and this is ever present in this complex, highly demanding work – his last extended composition for the piano. James Huneker referred to the 'hectic flush' of the work, 'tainted by the tomb' and composed only three years before Chopin's death. He struggled with the formal design in a final attempt at musical renewal and forging a new aesthetic. I felt Carroccia failed to penetrate the surface of this work as let’s say did Grigory Sokolov when he performed it at Duszniki some years ago – overwhelming in its philosophical, even metaphysical, impact. But that is Sokolov… and a terribly unfair comparison.



After the interval, the Schubert late Sonata in B-flat major D 960. For any pianist to choose this sonata, particularly a young pianist, requires courage, a high degree personal and musical maturity and the simple temerity to enter the doom laden world of late Schubert. Sir Andras Schiff once said of the trill in the eighth measure of the Sonata. 'It’s the most extraordinary trill in the history of music.' Schubert completed this work only two months before his death and one feels he is speaking to us from the 'The Beyond' a domain of uncanny and otherworldly resonance. This trill is the shudder of doom, the dark cloud of death. What follows is a desperate attempt to regain at least the memory, however etiolated, of the joys of experienced in Nature and of life itself. Life through a glass darkly. The silence that follows that trill is as pregnant with existential meaning as the sound itself. Is this dreadful murmur the approach of death over the horizon ? Something demonic lurks in the human caverns of this sonata. In the movements of this sonata, particularly the heart-wrenching Andante sostenuto, we lurch between extremes in the human spirit.



Not unnaturally and quite understandably, I felt this young pianist failed to penetrate these depths of the soul, those emergent brief suns from behind the dark clouds of existence. Well, he now has the command of the notes and a general sense of 'applied expression' in all the right places. But the internal otherworldly life of a human soul in torment at it faces the profound mysteries and fears of death, so deeply reflected here, will only come later. Leave it alone for now Luigi. Hopefully your life will continue to flower in joy and you can explore the glorious garden youth offers you ('Oh, the glory of it!') before the dark inevitability of the transcendent beyond, that domain glimpsed in this sonata, comes upon you and a full realization of the transience of life.

Friday 3 August 20.00 Wojciech Świtała 



Inauguration recital dedicated to the memory of the President of the Foundation 

Andrzej Merkur 


To give a greatly anticipated memorial recital of Chopin to the Duszniki Famiglia dedicated to the memory of Andrzej Merkur, one of the fondly remembered Founders of the Festival and President of the Foundation, is a significant emotional and musical challenge and must cause unconscionable stress. 


Wojciech Świtała opened his recital with two painfully reflective and sensitive Op. 48 Nocturnes avoiding the temptations of over-sentimentalization that must have tempted him in these sad circumstances. The gravity and pathos of the chorale interrupted by funereal blasts of anger in the C minor. In the F sharp minor the uninterrupted flow of melody challenged by a certain relentless and restless reflections on the nature of life being what it is in the face of death. Strangely unmoved by this performance apart from his clear mastery of the instrument, beautiful sound and touch.



The rush of energy and melodiousness in the so familiar Waltzes of Op.34 and Op.64 was perhaps in many ways a welcome breath of optimism but was it excessive in contrast? Quite likely it would have been welcomed by Andrzej as he would not have wished that his death would depress us to such an extent that a lugubrious Chopin ruled the evening. I felt however that the waltzes lacked finesse, elegance, panache and lightness of touch with that curious nostalgia for past joys and civilized frivolity that is latent in them. At the time Chopin wrote these waltzes, although not intended for dancing, the perfume of the illicit and the morally questionable activity of touching your partner was still rather novel (especially if not your husband or wife - quelle horreur!). I feel however that Chopin was no stranger to sensual pleasures and joi de vivre (read his exuberant letters) but not a deep sensualist if you catch my discriminative meaning.



The first half of the programme ended with the B flat minor Scherzo Op. 31. In the past it was known as 'The Governess Scherzo' as many a governess played this favourite work. This was far superior to what one might imagine of this description. I felt this to be a perfectly competent performance with some fine bravura flourishes but as a dramatic narrative I am rather more uncertain. I did not feel the work flowered organically or beautifully from those dark, sepulchral, terrible questioning tombé triplets that open the work. For me it is a Byronic poem 'so tender, so bold, so full of love as of scorn' as Robert Schumann wrote. When the triplets return it strikes us in a different mood as all varieties of sweet lyricism and fierce anger soaked in Polish żal have passed like storm waters rushing under a bridge over a stream. Little of this internal life of the work was present for me.


After the interval the Nocturne in E major Op. 62 No 2. In this work one can always sense beneath the calm exterior of the melody winding its gentle lento sostenuto arabesque, the need to erupt in agitation and the sudden expression of a previously contained emotional tension in the the central section. Often the case in Chopin nocturnes. And then the retorn to the gentle melody.... as James Huneker might have observed of it, the behaviour of Chopin ''a genius but a gentleman". Chopin the the dreamer armed with a sword. I felt only a modicum of this painted veil in the performance.



A group of Mazurkas Op. 67 (1830–1835) No. 1 in G major; No. 2 in G minor; No. 3 in C major; No. 4 in A minor – Mazurkas Op. 68 No. 1 in C major (1829/30); No. 2 in A minor (1826/27); No. 3 in F major (1829/30); No. 4 in F minor (1849). I felt such an absence of the rustic and folkloric nostalgia here in the rhythms that lacked associations beyond simple reminiscence. At the time of the G minor he wrote to Wojciech Grzymała 'I feel alone, alone, alone – though surrounded’. 1848 saw Chopin’s last concert in Paris at the Salle Pleyel and that notorious concert tour of England and Scotland arranged by that tainted invitation by Jane Stirling. Grzymała received these melancholy reflections: 'The world has somehow passed me by. Meanwhile, what has become of my art? And where did I squander my heart?’ In this interpretation of the set I felt the pianist did not sufficiently delineate the very different emotional life contained in this Op. 67 set. The Op. 68 group were similarly etiolated  yet on occasion the expression of a filtered nostalgic mood for the past joys of the rural dance (Chopin was a passionate dancer as a youth) did emerge.

Finally the Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante in E-flat major Op. 22 (1830–1835). I suppose it is unfair to impose high expectations on a pianist after hearing a recording made years before the recital one is attending. When I first came to Poland as a visitor in the early 1990s, I bought a cassette tape of Switała performing this very work recorded by Katowice Radio. I cannot remember the date. It was the most overwhelming performance of the work I have ever heard. The Andante spianato had all the tender qualities of an ardent lullaby, yet tonight I felt there was an absence of emotional reverie in this nocturne. A lover boating on a lake lit only by the stars reflecting on the nature of Venus as he gazes into the heavens.  Chopin often performed this work he was particularly fond of on its own, isolated from the Polonaise.

The dream, moonlight and soft waters parting are so strenuously and physically interrupted by the reality of the active life,  the triumphant announcement or 'call to the floor' for the great dance, the great Polonaise - so reminiscent of joyful rural scenes in Pan Tadeusz. This work has defeated so many pianists I have heard. They underestimate the difficulties of the style brilliant, the lightness and fleetness of the jeu perlé, the vital need for perfect accuracy and the stamina required to sustain this incandescent mood throughout. This fine pianist Switała did so to absolute perfection in that Katowice recording of his youth, giving the listener such a sense of exhilaration that any pianist could play with such glittering panache. Fabulous. A treasured recording (and to a slightly lesser extent in his finely expressed and eloquent 2007 Chopin Institute 'Black Series' recording on an 1849 Erard period instrument - NIFCCD 006. Is this the same pianist?).  But I fear not such delight on this occasion.....In sympathy I shall break off here and express empathy for these stressful trying circumstances he had the courage to accept.





This is a detail from the famous picture Chopin's Polonaise - a Ball at the Hotel Lambert in Paris  by Teofil Kwiatkowski now in the National Museum Poznań. This palace (the Hotel Lambert) was the Parisian home of the Polish magnate Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski and a centre for the volatile discussions of the 'Polish question' in the mid nineteenth century. There was an annual Polish Ball and Chopin is seen playing a small Pleyel instrument when the artist could easily have depicted him seated at a far grander instrument. These instruments were not played against a wall as uprights are today but wheeled into the open area of a drawing room thus freeing their marvellous sound. As is clear the pianist could feel in close contact with the dancers.They were customarily equipped with ormolu handles on either side of the case and castors for the purpose.



*  *  *  *  *  *                     


Welcome to the 73rd International Chopin Festival at the lovely Polish town of Duszniki Zdrój, a charming spa in Silesia on the mountainous Czech-Polish border not far from Wrocław.

This is the terribly sad commemorative year of the recent death of the Director of the Festival, and President of the Foundation, Andrzej Merkur (1950-2018). Unfortunately family health reasons prevent me from attending  in person at Duszniki in this difficult year, however I intend to review from the live internet stream from the Chopin Manor. This may well be the first time such an endeavor has been attempted. I assure you I have fine high-end high fidelity equipment in my home (German valve amplifier, Arcam rDAC, BBC studio monitor speakers) so will not miss essential musical details. Of course I well recognize the charismatic physical presence of a pianist is essential to a fuller picture, but the miracles of our technological age will permit this extraordinary and in many ways magical intimacy to survive to some extent.


In this 73rd year of the festival, the artistic director Piotr Paleczny has assembled an interesting array of famous, musically outstanding and charismatic pianists. Most of the greatest pianists playing on the international stage today have appeared at Duszniki Zdroj, many at the very beginnings of their pianistic careers or shortly after winning major international competitions.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sviatoslav Richter in the Chopin Etude Op.10 No:12. 
An irresistible force of Nature or as the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas may have put it: 
'The force that through the green fuse drives the flower'
But is it Chopin as one personally visualizes him? This is the fertile and constructive question one asks oneself so often at the Duszniki Festival. One can never remain indifferent...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hOKcdZJJFU

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

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

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

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

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



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

73. Duszniki International Chopin Piano Festival

3 August
Friday
20.00Inauguration recital dedicated to the memory of Andrzej Merkur – President of the Foundation  – Wojciech Świtała
4 August
Saturday
9.30Master Class prof. Vanessa Latarche
11.00Promotional concert
16.00Piano recital Luigi Carroccia
20.00Piano recital Daniel CiobanuI prize – Rio de Janeiro 2016II prize A.Rubinstein – Tel Aviv 2017
5 AugustSunday9.30Master Class prof. Vanessa Latarche
11.00Promotional concert
16.00Piano recital Andrey GugninI prize – Sydney 2016
20.00Piano recital Jonathan Plowright On the 100th anniversary of  Independence
6 August
Monday
9.30Master Class prof. Vanessa Latarche
16.00Promotion of the Young 
Piotr Alexewicz, Tymoteusz Bies
19.00Chamber music concert MULTI TRIO – Ewa Pobłocka with daughters Ewa Leszczyńska – soprano and Maria Leszczyńska – cello
22.00Extraordinary recital – meeting with the audience – Lidia Grychtołówna
7 August
Tuesday
9.30Master Class prof. Vanessa Latarche
16.00Piano recital Alexander Ullman Ist prize – F.Liszt, Utrecht 2017
19.00Charity recital by participants in the Master Class
22.00NOCTURNE
8 August
Wednesday
9.30Master Class prof. Eugen Indjic
16.00Piano recital Martin James Bartlett 
20.00Piano recital Rachel Cheung Audience Award- Van Cliburn 2017
9 August
Thursday
9.30Master Class prof. Eugen Indjic
16.00Recital Jakub Jakowicz – violin and Bartosz Bednarczyk – piano
20.00Piano recital Boris Giltburg
10 August
Friday
9.30Master Class prof. Eugen Indjic
16.00Piano recital Rémi Geniet  II prize Queen Elisabeth – Brussels 2016
20.00Piano recital Alessio Bax  I prize – Leeds & Hamamatsu 
and Lucille Chung
 – Piano Duo
11 August
Saturday
 9.30Master Class prof. Eugen Indjic
11.00Promotional concert
16.00Piano recital Eric Lu  IV prize – Chopin competition, Warsaw 2015
20.00Final recital Sergei Babayan
All concerts will be held in the Chopin Manor.
Master Class sessions and the charity concert on 7 August, at 19:00, will be held in the Jan Weber Chamber Music Hall, in the Foundation’s headquarters.
Promotional concerts will be held at Hotel Impresja.

From the Artistic Director Piotr Paleczny:

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

We are pleased to announce the opening of the 73rd edition of the Festival. The situation is, however, quite different from that of previous inaugurations, as far as I remember them. In March, after suffering a severe illness, Mr. Andrzej Merkur passed away. He was the President of Chopin Festival Foundation and an integral part of the Festival for over 40 years, in fact all his professional life. It is hard to overestimate his vast experience, his calmness under pressure, his determination and his professionalism. We scarcely imagined ever facing such a dramatic, grim and unexpected situation. Being a friend of Andrzej Merkur and his artistic collaborator for 26 years, I would allow myself to express my and, I believe, your deepest sorrow. At the same time I would dearly like to thank Mr. Merkur for his “Life’s work” during the Duszniki-Zdrój International Chopin Piano Festival. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, our mission, our trademark and a widely known feature of our Festival is to promote and cultivate talented pianists of the younger generation. This year we intend to stay faithful to our principles. Besides acclaimed Artists, we will present some remarkable young pianists whose artistic careers are developing dramatically. There is little doubt that in the next few years they will become the most honoured guests in the most significant concert halls in the world. It is with the greatest joy and satisfaction that we welcome to Chopin’s Manor the “stars” of our festival. These are the Artists whose brilliant recitals and concerts have established the high level and reputation of the festival for many years. 

The audience will undoubtedly give a warm welcome to our long-awaited guests. Such renowned musicians as Sergei Babayan, Alessio Bax, Rachel Cheung, Boris Giltburg and Jonathan Plowright, Phot. Marek Grotowski 70 whose previous performances here in Duszniki are still engraved in our memory. In the Jubilee year, the 100th anniversary of the regaining of Polish Independence, we also welcome a number of illustrious Polish Artists: Ewa Pobłocka and the family band Multi Trio, Wojciech Świtała, Jakub Jakowicz, Tymoteusz Bies and Piotr Alexewicz. I am also honoured to give an especially warm welcome to the legendary Polish pianist Lidia Grychtołówna. We also welcome the excellent teachers who will give master classes during the Festival: Professor Vanessa Latarche from the London Royal College of Music and Professor Eugen Indijc, well known to all Polish music lovers, who lectures at the Schola Cantorum in Paris. 

Meeting such great teachers and working with them will be a priceless and very inspiring experience for all those who comprise the classes, the laureates of the latest edition of Polish Chopin Piano Competition. Ladies and Gentlemen – on behalf of all the organizers of the Festival and also on behalf of yourselves, I wish to thank our unfailing sponsors. It is thanks to them we can experience such profound artistic experiences. We are also grateful to our media representatives, especially to the Polish Radio Channel 2, for not permitting Polish music lovers forget the Duszniki Festival and for carrying out their difficult task with extensive professionalism and charm. 

Finally I would now like to wish all the very best to the new President of the Festival Foundation, Mr. Mariusz Fituch. All of us here present wish you the best of luck in working on the Festival in the future, as well as the determination and passion to carry it through to a brilliant conclusion. I am convinced that this year the Festival will give rise to many deep reflections and provide us with many beautiful, unforgettable moments and wonderful 71 

Mariusz Fituch 

President of The International Duszniki Chopin Festival Foundation, graduated from University of Science and Technology (AGH) in Kraków where he received a degree in “Geology and Mining” and in “Management”. He continued studies at Economical University in Wrocław. He was born in Radom but has lived in Duszniki for 25 years. He worked as manager in banks in Kłodzko and Kudowa-Zdrój and also in ZEM Sp. z o.o. in Duszniki-Zdrój. Mariusz Fituch has worked with The International Duszniki Chopin Festival Foundation since 2006, he co-worked with Andrzej Merkur at the very beginnings of the Festival. 


President of the Foundation, Andrzej Merkur (1950-2018)

From Róża Światczyńska Polish Dwojka (Radio 2):

Ladies and Gentlemen

The present, 73rd edition of the International Chopin Piano Festival, will be the first one for 46 years without Mr. Andrzej Merkur. The long-term Executive Director, an excellent manager and a truly good spirit of the Festival to which he had dedicated almost all his professional life. He was always at the core of events however preferred to stay in the shadow. Nevertheless, it would be extremely difficult to imagine the Festival without his tireless energy, passion and management skills. 

As a graduate of the Law and Administration Faculty of Wrocław University, he well knew the nature of organization. He had faced it first as the Secretary of the Festival Office, then as its Executive Manager and finally as the President of the Foundation Board of the International Chopin Piano Festival in Duszniki-Zdrój. In 1989 he co-founded the Foundation in order to raise the funds to mount the Festival. In time, its activity expanded into various areas such as the highly respected Piano Masterclasses, lectures and relevant exhibitions, the publication of books and concert recordings. 

It was owing to Mr. Merkur that the Festival could boast its own daily bulletin and a constantly increasing number of listeners. Especially for them he co-produced the popular open-air concerts. With the audience in mind he installed an outdoor screen in the festival tent. Quite recently he also set up the live internet broadcasts that enabled thousands of music lovers to follow the Duszniki concerts. 

To us, the radio journalists working at the Festival, Mr. Merkur was unfailingly helpful. His warm smile and openness to cooperation will always stay in my grateful memory. In our special programme on Dwojka, just a year ago, as we were sitting together in a radio tent, he remembered his 45 years spent with the Festival. He seemed to have conceived so many ideas for future... This year is the first time that he has not laid flowers at the Chopin monument. He died on March 24th, aged 67, living with the idea of the upcoming Festival until his very last days. 
Past Festival Posts

The 72nd Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2017
http://www.michael-moran.com/2017/07/72nd-international-chopin-piano.html

The 71st Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2016

The 70th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2015

The 69th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2014  

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

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

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

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

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