53rd Nohant Chopin Festival - 'Chopin and the Romantic Exile' - Reviews of recitals from 17th July - 24 July 2019

I had read books, correspondence and seen many films dealing with the highly creative romantic relationship between the great French writer and polemicist George Sand and the composer Fyrderyk Chopin at Nohant-Vic in the Berry region of central France. He wrote many of his immortal pieces there. I felt I must make the effort to attend at least once, despite the rather complex journey from Warsaw. 

Sand adored Nature, her beautiful maison and the entire Berry region, in particular the charming and picturesque nearby town of  La Châtre. For many music lovers (even obsessives), the works of Chopin have rather eclipsed the extraordinary position George Sand occupied in the France of the day. She was an exceptionally prolific writer, polemicist and political activist - in addition possessed of an extraordinary insight into human romantic psychology with an incisive sense of humour and esprit.

Click on photographs to enlarge - far superior rendition

Le maison de George Sand
The bust of Chopin outside the entrance to the Bergerie Courtyard

Carrara marble statue of George Sand by Aimé Millet in the park dedicated to her at 
La Châtre.
It was unveiled in 1884 in the presence of Ferdinand de Lesseps (of Suez canal fame) who lived in the region, Maurice Sand (son of George Sand), Paul Meurice (friend of Victor Hugo and George Sand) and her two editors Calmann and Lévy

Bergerie-Auditorium du Domaine de George Sand à Nohant where the recitals take place

One variety of superb landscape surrounding the festival - harvest time now

Wednesday 17 July 20.30 - Akiko Ebi

The first noticeable and joyful visual matter for me was the presence of a magnificent new C. Bechstein 9' Concert Grand piano on the stage! What a rare sight this is with the ubiquitous Steinway in so many world concert halls. An inspired choice. We miss a great deal of variety of tonal colour and sonic palette now that the instruments of so many once great makers, once common on concert stages, have almost vanished.

I was familiar and highly impressed with this Japanese pianist from her period recording of the Chopin Preludes on the NIFC Black label. She is a great favourite here in Nohant after a legendary concert with Martha Argerich two years ago and on other occasions. She opened with that great integrated sculpture in sound, the Chopin B-flat minor sonata Op. 35 (1837-39). Chopin completed this work at Nohant while living with George Sand. Sonatas were rather surprising at this time and had fallen away in popularity.

In a letter on 8 August 1839, addressed to Julius Fontana, Chopin wrote:

I am writing here a Sonata in B flat minor which will contain my March which you already know. There is an Allegro, then a Scherzo in E flat minor, the March and a short Finale about three pages of my manuscript-paper. The left hand and the right hand gossip in unison after the March. ... My father has written to say that my old sonata [in C minor, Op. 4] has been published and that the German critics praise it. Including the ones in your hands I now have six manuscripts. I'll see the publishers damned before they get them for nothing.

The Grave opening had the nobility of a tragic Greek utterance and the Doppio movimento  that followed was replete with unexpectedly powerful masculine strength and conviction. The powerful and almost demented rhythms of the Scherzo Ebi brought off with the intense communication of a passionate utterance. A few 'technical' solecisms crept in during this live performance, understandable whenever any pianist takes the risk of playing at their absolute limit. Live performances always involve a metaphysical communication dimension to my mind - absent from studio recordings - a view shared by Arthur Rubinstein. One  immediately overlooked them (as one did with Cortot, Arrau, Schnabel and other immortals) as one responded to her fine tone colour, touch, articulation, phrasing and absolute personal commitment to the spirit  of this often inaccessible composer. 

The Marche funèbre had a chequered compositional history to say the least but like many choices of genius, this music subliminally expresses the grief and anguish of death. The central lyrical section transports us into a mood of melancholic reminiscence of the departed, an experience common to all humanity at funerals. Ebi accomplished this introspection movingly. Much is made of the image of 'wind over the graves' in the final Presto but in light of Chopin's view cited above as 'gossip' have we invested too much melancholy and grief here? Of course after any funeral there is much chatter usually of an uplifting kind, concerning the deceased and reminiscences of their life. Then again composers are often unaware of the associations and connotations their music is calling up in the mind of the listener. A work of genius has manifold interpretations.

This was followed by a subtle and poetic Berceuse Op. 57 (composed in the summer of 1843 at Nohant for Louise, the baby daughter of Pauline Viardot). Her interpretation contained a deeply moving tenderness, refinement and and poetry that was most affecting.  It is well known Chopin loved children and they loved him. For me this work speaks of a haunted yearning for his own child, a lullaby performed in his sublimely imaginative mind, isolated and alone. No, not a common feeling about the work and possibly over-interpreted on my part.

The Barcarolle I felt did not quite emerge as she had anticipated but a relatively satisfying performance nevertheless. The Scherzo No 3 in C-sharp minor Op.39 was at once a fine and noble account approaching some grandeur at the conclusion. Dedicated to his pupil Adolf Gutman, this was last work the composer sketched during the Majorca sojourn and in the atmosphere of Valldemossa. Chopin was ill at the time which interrupted and perhaps affected the writing. ‘…questions or cries are hurled into an empty, hollow space – presto con fuoco.’ (Tomaszewski).

The two Nocturnes Op. 62 suited her refinement and delicacy to perfection and were affecting in this place we associate so much with love during summer nights, alive with stars and moths. 

Then the four mazurkas Op. 41. George Sand wrote of the first in E minor, composed and first played on Majorca, that it transported us into ‘a land more lovely than the one we behold’. This piece is special. In the E minor Mazurka, we hear a distinct Polish echo: the melody of a song about an uhlan and his girl, ‘Tam na błoniu błyszczy kwiecie’ [Flowers sparkling on the common] (written by Count Wenzel Gallenberg, with words by Franciszek Kowalski) – a song that during the insurrection in Poland had been among the most popular. Chopin quoted it almost literally, at the same time heightening the drama, giving it a nostalgic, and ultimately all but tragic, tone. 

The second in the set in B major was most probably composed at Nohant but there are Majorcan folk elements here. Clearly Ebi chose the mazurkas carefully. The simplicity of the folk elements from the Kuyavia region of north-central Poland were made much of in this interpretation. The fourth Mazurka in C-sharp minor was composed during Chopin's first summer at Nohant. The Hungarian composer Stephen Heller described this most beautiful of Chopin mazurkas lyrically: What with others was a refined embellishment, with him was a colourful bloom; what with others was technical fluency, with him resembled the flight of a swallow’. Ebi gave is a beautiful interpretation surely reflecting Chopin's absolute happiness during that first Nohant summer.

She completed her recital with a fine and eloquent performance of the third Ballade Op. 47.  The Chopin Ballades are rather like small operas and intensely reflect the fluctuating 'moving toy-shop of the heart'. Again composed at Nohant this radiant Ballade fluctuates in its moods and of course has attracted many suppositions of a programmatic content despite Chopin's intense dislike of this idea applied to his music. Schumann wrote of the ‘breath of poetry’ breathing from this great work. The German violinist and critic Friedrich Niecks heard in the Ballade ‘a quiver of excitement’. ‘Insinuation and persuasion cannot be more irresistible,’ he wrote, ‘grace and affection more seductive’. For the Polish pedagogue and pianist Jan Kleczynski, it is ‘evidently inspired by [Adam Mickiewicz’s tale of] Undine. A supremely romantic inspiration flows like a country stream through beds of summer wild-flowers.' Ebi gave us a truly Romantic performance which for me balanced Chopin's masculine strength and feminine sensibility - surely so characteristic of his music in general.

Jean-Paul Gasparian  Thursday  18th July 20.30

This accomplished young pianist has played at Nohant before and is featured on the Aldo Ciccolini 2014 archive recording - a performance of the Schumann Sonata No: 2 Op.22. He has just recorded an all Chopin CD for the Evidence label. Gasparian studied with outstandingly brilliant teachers and is much in demand at many prestigious music festivals in renowned musical venues  throughout Europe.

He opened his recital with the Chopin Nocturne in C minor Op.48 No 1 composed at Nohant in the summer of 1841. He adopted a tempo of what one might call mournful, majestic despair that permeates this piece. The great bass notes in the first section fell like statements of paradise lost, the central section a nostalgic and yearning chorale leading into the passionate utterance and agitation of the final section with an almost abnegation of life and final resignation to fate. A fine performance that touched many of these rare domains of emotion. 

For the next Nocturne in D flat major Op.27 No: 2 I can do no better than turn to André Gide where in his Notes on Chopin he writes of Chopin with a view that can be illuminatingly applied to this supremely romantic Nocturne. ‘[Chopin] seemed to be constantly seeking, inventing, discovering his thought little by little. This kind of charming hesitation, of surprise and delight, ceases to be possible if the work is presented to us, no longer in a state of successive formation, but as an already perfect, precise and objective whole.’ Gasparian 'sang' the moving cantilena with a yearning solo voice that always remained affectingly beautiful. 

Then the Ballade in A-flat major Op.47 No 3 composed at Nohant in the summer of 1841. The Chopin Ballades are rather like small operas and should intensely reflect the fluctuating 'moving toy-shop of the heart'. Again composed at Nohant this radiant Ballade fluctuates in its moods and of course has attracted many suppositions of a programmatic content, despite Chopin's intense dislike of this idea applied to his music. Schumann wrote of the ‘breath of poetry’ flowing from this great work. The German violinist and critic Friedrich Niecks heard in the Ballade ‘a quiver of excitement’. ‘Insinuation and persuasion cannot be more irresistible,’ he wrote, ‘grace and affection more seductive’. For the Polish pedagogue and pianist Jan Kleczynski it is ‘evidently inspired by [Adam Mickiewicz’s tale of] Undine. A supremely romantic inspiration flows like a country stream through beds of summer wild-flowers.' Gasparin too gave us a truly Romantic performance which for me balanced Chopin's masculine strength and feminine sensibility - surely so characteristic of his music in general.

He then approached that great masterwork of the Chopin oeuvre, the Polonaise-Fantaisie composed at Nohant in the summer of 1845. His approach indicated an almost complete grasp of the complexities of this late work. Chopin experienced much compositional grief and torment during its gestation and birth. Gasparian's strong left hand on the Bechstein brought out much of the usually concealed counterpoint (of which Chopin was one of the greatest masters since Bach) and polyphony. He conveyed a sense of żal, a Polish word in this context meaning regret leading to a mixture of resentment and anger in the face of unavoidable fate. A deeply moving performance for me of a complex work written when Chopin was moving towards the cold embrace of death. 

Written at Nohant in the summer of 1842, the beautiful 'innocent' childlike opening to the 'life opera' which is the Ballade in F minor Op.52 gently and tenderly caressed usThis was a fine performance of this masterpiece with well drawn internal cantabile lines and the bel canto eloquent. The musical narrative was musically coherent and unfolded like the wings of a moth at dusk. So much detail and nuance were organically revealed here, growing from within not merely applied to the surface. He wound up the drama like a tight watch spring to the passionate coda and then the relaxation and final triumphant statement chord of faith suffused with resignation which concludes the work. The Polish poet, prose writer, dramatist and translator Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz compared the F minor Ballade’s mysterious, enigmatic character to the inscrutable, elliptical canvases of Caspar David Friedrich and felt that its message transcended the perfection of the music itself, transporting us into another dimension, another realm.

After the interval we heard some quite magnificent Rachmaninoff. One does not expect a French pianist to have a deep, idiomatic understanding of Rachmaninoff, but we were in for a surprise!

Prelude Op. 23 No.4 in D major. This famous Prélude flowers slowly and possesses a rather Nocturne-like atmosphere. It rises to a climacteric demonstrating Rachmaninoff's melodic gift in all its glorious and grand spaciousness. Gasparian rose to the climax in intense and rhapsodic motion, the revelation of its heart revealed, yet at a passionate and considered tempo. 

Prelude Op. 23 No.7 in C minor. This Prélude is a glittering study with elaborate running figuration transporting a slow , fluctuating melody divided between the hands. Gasparian suspended the beautiful and intensely passionate cantabile melodies over a left hand and then the right that flowed like a mountain stream in flood beneath. 

The epic third Prelude Op. 32 No.10 in B minor is one of the greatest of Rachmaninoff's in this form. A reflective elegy builds to a punishing contrasting climacteric with the melody hammered out. The ecstasy fades inexorably to resignation in the quiet conclusion. Gasparian express these anxious and rather tortured emotions with great understanding and fine shades of pianistic colour, phrasing, tone and touch. 

Completed not long after the Third Piano Concerto when the composer had moved to Rome, the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor Op. 36 No.2 is a showcase of those qualities that make Rachmaninoff's music so accessible and attractive. However, because his two daughters had contracted typhoid fever, he could not finish the composition in Rome and moved to Berlin to consult physicians. When the girls had improved, Rachmaninoff returned to his Ivanovka country estate, where he finally finished the second piano sonata. Its premiere took place in Kursk on 18 October 1913.

Gasparian made the most of these characteristic Rachmaninoff qualities with idiomatic understanding. His grasp of the polyphonic nature of much of this music was an inspiring surprise. The Allegro agitato immediately took hold of the imagination with its arpeggiated plunge to the bass and rhapsodic 'waves of kinetic nervosité' 'It is the entrance of a great actor' commented the music critic Adrian Corleonis. We heard Rachmaninoff's 1931 revision. The second movement following immediately is a melancholic, nostalgic elegy before another precipitous fall in an arpeggiated descent to the psychologically, somewhat unstable, formidable finale with its surging melodies and compelling triumphal close.

Gasparian took this sonata as if in the talons of an eagle and presented it to us in a magnificently noble, impassioned, coherent yet transparent fashion. The entire complex of moods and shifts, like sun and shadow in a landscape painting, passionately played as if over the Russian steppe. One was simply carried away unresisting on an emotional journey like no other.

The orchard in the garden of George Sand. Delacroix wrote some deeply poetic descriptions of  her garden
Louis SCHWIZGEBEL, piano  Friday  19th July 20.30

This pianist was born in 1987 into a family of artists from Switzerland and China. Louis Schwizgebel’s performances are steeped in imagination, rich in colour and musical insight. A refined pianist, Louis is hailed repeatedly for the clarity of his playing and his exceptional fingerwork. At the age of seventeen, he won the Geneva International Music Competition and, two years later, the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York. In 2012 he won second prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition and between 2013-2015 he was a BBC New Generation Artist.

Frédéric CHOPIN 24 Préludes, Op. 28

n° 1 en ut majeur (Agitato)
n° 2 en la mineur (Lento)
n° 3 en sol majeur (Vivace)
n° 4 en mi mineur (Largo)
n° 5 en ré majeur (Allegro molto)
n° 6 en si mineur (Lento assai)
n° 7 en la majeur (Andantino)
n° 8 en fa dièse mineur (Molto agitato)
n° 9 en mi majeur (Largo)
n° 10 en do dièse mineur (Allegro molto)
n° 11 en si majeur (Vivace)
n° 12 en sol dièse mineur (Presto)
n° 13 en fa dièse majeur (Lento)
n° 14 en mi bémol mineur (Allegro)
n° 15 en ré bémol majeur (Sostenuto)
n° 16 en si bémol mineur (Presto con fuoco)
n° 17 en la bémol majeur (Allegretto)
n° 18 en fa mineur (Allegro molto)
n° 19 en mi bémol majeur (Vivace)
n° 20 en ut mineur (Largo)
n° 21 en si bémol majeur (Cantabile)
n° 22 en sol mineur (Molto agitato)
n° 23 en fa majeur (Moderato)
n° 24 en ré mineur (Allegro appasionnato)

I cannot go into the detail of his rather disappointingly straightforward approach to each Prelude, save to say he gave a finely balanced, fluently virtuosic and emotional account of the cycle. His tone and touch are perfectly honed for Chopin.

It would of course have been impossible for Chopin to have ever considered performing this complete radical cycle in his musical and cultural environment (not least because of the brevity of many of the pieces). It is unlikely ever to have even occurred to him the way programmes were designed piecemeal at the time. I tend to feel the performance of them as a cycle is of course possible but not justified. In some of his programmes and others of the period, a few preludes are scattered randomly  through them like diamond dust. Each piece contains within it entire worlds and destinies of the human spirit

It is now well established by structuralists as a complete work, a masterpiece of integrated yet unrelated ‘fragments’ (in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century sense of that aesthetic term). Each prelude can of course stand on its own as a perfect miniature landscape of emotional feeling and tonal climate. Chopin said himself that emotion was the overriding, most important factor in musical appreciation. Specific emotions were associated with specific keys at the time. But ‘Why Preludes? Preludes to what?’ André Gide asked. One explanation is that the idea of 'preluding' as an improvisational activity in the same key for a short time before a large keyboard work was to be performed was well established in Chopin's day but has been abandoned in modern times.

I think it unnecessary and superfluous to actually answer this question. We must to turn to Chopin’s love of Bach to at least partially understand them and hist structural ideal (he took an edition of the ‘48’ to Mallorca where he completed the Preludes). I think it was Anton Rubinstein who first performed them as a cycle but I stand to be corrected on this. Some performers of the cycle (Sokolov, Argerich, the greatest historically to my mind by Alfred Cortot) give one the impression of an integrated 'philosophy' or spiritual narrative which I felt was lacking here despite the virtuosity and clarity of voicing and polyphony. 

I like to consider the Preludes as 'Fragments' analogously placed in the architecture of say the English landscape garden, pregnant with unfinished meaning, repositories of implied emotional significance.  The notion was formed in the eighteenth century concerning the poetic significance of eloquent 'ruins' (a ruined castle tower, a nymph among the trees, a pond, an amphitheater) placed strategically in landscape gardens as embracing the 'picturesque' philosophy. An example would be the seminal garden of Rousham in Oxfordshire designed by William Kent. This was the beginning or birth of intellectual emotions. Here it is musical forms that are unfinished and catalyze emotional evocations.

The preludes surely extend the prescient Chopin remark 'I indicate, it's up to the listener to complete the picture'. Or in the words of Walter Benjamin, the fragment (the Prelude in this case) is full of potential, leaving unfinished the full statement - except in a few cases. The so-called 'Raindrop' Prelude is a self-consistent, complete work but even then this conception may be argued. For Benjamin, allegory (fragment or an individual prelude) was the “authentic way of dealing with the world, because it is not based on a premise of unity but accepts the world as fragmented, as failed.”


Modeste MOUSSORGSKY  Tableaux d’une exposition 
(Pictures at an Exhibition)

Le vieux château
Les Tuileries
Ballet des poussins dans leur coque
Samuel Goldenberg et Schmuyle
Le marché de Limoges
Cum mortuis in lingua mortua
La cabane sur des pattes de poule
La grande porte de Kiev
Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) at age 26

To conclude this excellent recital, Schwizgebel chose Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) by Mussorgsky. It was a proud performance full of nobility and colour. The rhythm he achieved in the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks was at once amusing and brilliant, the Hut on Fowl's Legs quite terrifying. Catacombe poetic and haunting. 

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

The art exhibition was of Hatmann's drawings and watercolours (not strong oil paintings) and I feel this should be considered when approaching the dynamic range of any performance in order to avoid undue heaviness. 

Viktor Hartmann's costumes for the ballet Trilby which Moussorgsky attended and inspired the 5th movement
The bass of this new Bechstein at Nohant is less resonant than a Steinway which prevents such a work from tempting the virtuoso pianist to overwhelm the audience with sound. 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 controlled monumental sound. I shall never forget the shattering performance at Duszniki Zdroj in Poland some years ago by the inspired Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin when we could distinctly hear the Orthodox bells tolling and see the Great Gate of Kiev before the mind's eye.

Viktor Hartmann - Plan for a City Gate at Kiev

I am finding it quite difficult to write my reviews of this festival in my normal way as there are so many extraordinary events, special invitations, receptions, interviews, masterclasses and recitals throughout the day and evening. 

I attended Masterclasses each day at 10.00am, conducted by that fine teacher and director of the festival, the French pianist and pedagogue, Yves Henry. There are three 'students' - one Pole (Mateusz Krzyzowski) and two Japanese of various levels of proficiency and experience (Sayoko Kobayashi and Hiroshi Tsuganezawa). 

In the elucidation of points in the score an excellent idea was to project the bars under discussion onto a screen above the audience. He usually used the annotated personal score of the student. Also at various moments the facsimile score was referred to if available. A facsimile of the Chopin Preludes in readily available and gives a profound insight into Chopin's psychological and musical thought, often quite different to an editor's interpretation of the score. This together with musical illustrations on the Pleyel instrument was an invaluable resource to assist the student in a contextual, historical understanding of these often musically inaccessible works.

Yves Henry examining the Chopin Preludes with Mateusz Krzyzowski

Yves Henry examining Chopin Mazurkas with Hiroshi Tsuganezawa. Notice the period Pleyel grand piano in the immediate foreground on the right

An excellent idea was to project the score under discussion on a screen above the audience
Yves Henry examining the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie with Sayoko Kobayashi

Yves Henry in analytical, meditational, even judgmental mode.....

This Masterclass was followed by an al fresco lunch in a picturesque estate in the country owned by the Vice-President of the festival, Sylviane Plantelin - all rather Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in character.

Saturday 20th July 18.00

At 6.00 pm in the superb courtyard of George Sand's maison, actors read from the correspondence between George Sand and Gustave Flaubert, each reading punctuated by Chopin mazurkas played on a period Pleyel of 1839. This took place in the enchanting garden. Georges Sand was a talented and wonderfully imaginative gardener with an extensive knowledge of plants. The windows of the maison had been thrown open and the music floated out from the interior in the most romantic manner conceivable, played by Yves Henry. Yes, as if the composer was playing himself - something I remember used to happen at his birthplace outside Warsaw at Żelazowa Wola.

Brigitte Fossey (comedienne) and Nicolas Vaude (comedien) reading the fascinating and often amusing correspondence between George  Sand and and Gustav Flaubert

....with Yves Henry at the conclusion...

Saturday 20th July     20.30     Béatrice RANA, piano

Beatrice Rana      (Marie Staggatt)

Frédéric CHOPIN   Etudes Op. 25

n° 1 en la bémol majeur
n° 2 en fa mineur
n° 3 en fa majeur
n° 4 en la mineur
n° 5 en mi mineur
n° 6 en sol dièse mineur
n° 7 en do dièse mineur
n° 8 en ré bémol majeur
n° 9 en sol bémol majeur
n° 10 en si mineur
n° 11 en la mineur
n° 12 en do mineur

I first heard Beatrice Rana 6 years ago in Duszniki Zdroj. This was what I wrote on that occasion:

And so we were waiting with great anticipation to hear the 2nd place winner of the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and audience award winner. So many I have spoken to here thought 'she should have won' - a refrain I often hear. Remember the audience adoration of Ingolf Wunder at the 2010 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw? Jury decisions remain in the world of the arcane far beyond the reach of we ordinary mortals.

She opened her recital with a near perfect rendition in pianoforte terms of the Bach Partita No. 1 in B-flat major BMV 825 (1726). It was truly divine and the Sarabande brought many close to tears. Her tone and touch are immaculate and her sparing and inspired use of the pedal accounts for much of the tone she is able to produce. Her sense of baroque style is slightly on the warm, emotional and romantic side for Bach but what of that? A question of personal taste after all. Your dear author is one of those who believe such pieces gain from performance on the harpsichord.  But isn't the piano in many way simply a giant clavichord (excepting  of course the finger's direct contact with the string via the metal 'tangent' allowing that soulful 'bebung' - vibrato effect.) Bach is beyond the medium of sound and her performance was musically ravishing and the finest thing we have heard or are possibly likely to hear at this festival.

She began her Nohant recital with the Chopin Op.25 Études. The beautiful cantabile she brought to the first in A-flat major over a left hand rustling like wind in the willows indicated something rather special interpretatively was soon to be offered in this set of so-called 'technical works'. Her rich, round tone, peerless authority and refinement of touch completed her formidable command of the keyboard. She had clearly rethought, nay redefined, every Étude as each was phrased in surprisingly unique and imaginative ways, varied in dynamic and inner tempi, polyphonically crystalline, coming together like a great enfilade of connected but different rooms in a palace. She seemed to have conceived them as an integrated architecture. 

The Agitato marking of No 4 in A minor appeared existentially disconcerting in its rhythm. No 6 in G-sharp minor in thirds was a spectacular Swiss glacial waterfall driven by fingers that have the dexterity of giants of the past. Yet poetry was never absent. Only in the profoundly tragic No 7 in C-sharp minor did I feel her youth. The suspicion grew that beneath this fabulous command of the keyboard and the notes there was an ignorance of the 'darker secrets of life', that despairing żal that permeates even infects like a terminal disease, some of these extraordinary pieces. Her virtuosity occasionally interfered with the subtle expressiveness that can only emerge at more moderate tempi. The so-called 'Butterfly' study - No 9 in G-flat major is a case in point - a rather frightened yet splendidly variegated papillon. 

No 10 in B minor was a relentless thunderous utterance that was frightening in its intensity. A controlled, passionate outburst at the very dynamic limits of the Bechstein, yet never ugly or breaking the sound ceiling. The tender central section was deeply affecting in an absolute way but perhaps in too great a contrast to the preceding turbulence. Its luminous cantabile emerged lyrically before the relentless anger and resentment returned with vengeance. No 11 in A minor, the 'Winter Wind' was as tumultous and breathtaking as one might have anticipated with her technical command. It is interesting that the dramatic and theatrical Lento introduction was suggested to Chopin by a musician friend when he asked for an opinion of the piece. The final C minor Étude lived up to its name as the 'Ocean' with an overwhelmingly rhapsodic performance that swept one away on a tsunami of sound and passion.

A plea for personal maturity and experience is clearly a completely unfair demand of this massive youthful talent, so modest and physically undemonstrative. I apologize for my slightly restrained response to all the musical friends I know who are desperately in love with her playing. What a brilliant road still lies ahead for this wonderful and still so young an artist as she learns to reign in her virtuoso power in the service of the reflective insight and classical restraint that I feel these Études require. Of course everyone has their own Chopin.....and will defend it to the death. The audience were wildly enthusiastic. 


Maurice RAVEL 


Noctuelles (Night Moths)

Ravel dedicated this work to the poet Léon-Paul Fargue. Night Moths “Les Noctuelles des hangars partent, d’un vol gauche, Cravater d’autres poutres - The night moths launch themselves clumsily from their barnes, to settle on other perches”

Beatrice was superb in this fiendishly difficult piece. Her control and range of colour, nuance and articulated detail in this impressionistic work was glorious. The pianist must move from the rapid delicacy of fluttering wings to the expressive human emotions interwoven between them. In addition, dynamic indications in this piece move suddenly and quickly from one extreme to another. The pianist must indicate the mercurial unpredictability of the wings of night moths fluttering on a still summer night. 

Oiseaux tristes (Sad Birds)

In his autobiographical sketch Ravel said of this piece: “It evokes birds lost in the oppressiveness of a very dark forest during the hottest hours of summer” 

Ricardo Viñes initially performed this piece on January 6, 1906 and it was also dedicated to him. The work may have been inspired by a story that Viñes told Ravel about meeting Debussy, where he heard the composer say that he wished to write a piece in a form so free that it would feel like an improvisation. His initial epiphany for this piece came during a walk in the forest of Fontainebleau. There are two planes: in the first the birds are singing and below the threatening atmosphere of the dark forest.

Rana accomplished the difficult impressionistic eloquence and delicate resonance of the repeated figuration of the opening fingering to perfection on the Bechstein. Her colour was quite wonderful in the rainbow birdsong above the dark impenetrable green hovering below. The feeling of highly imaginative improvisation was always abundant.

Une barque sur l’océan (A Boat on the Ocean)

The depiction of water is the concern here. Ravel orchestrated the work but it is far more successful on the piano. Oliver Messiaen commented on this orchestration: “There exists an orchestral kind of piano writing which is more orchestral than the orchestra itself and which, with a real orchestra it is impossible to realize”. 

Beatrice's use of the pedal gave this a feeling of swells of the sea and breaking white caps in the wind as one sails and undulates over the surface in arabesques. Again her control and use of colour and nuance, sometimes harsh, sometimes calm and erotic was sensually so ravishing.

Alborada del gracioso (The Dawn of Graciousness)

This familiar musical movement was inspired of course by Spanish music. Guitar, castanet rhythms and repetitions. It is high in incandescent, passionate southern energy peculiar to the Iberian Peninsula. Rana's Italian background must have assisted in the passionate utterance with a true 'biting touch'! The middle section involves a lyrical, improvised song known as the cante jondo, or ‘deep song’. This Tzigane lamenting cante jondo originated in the Spanish Andalusian flamenco vocal tradition and she was formidable in her improvisations and decorative features. A wonderful performance as it wound up tension to the firework conclusion.

La vallée des cloches (The Valley of Bells)

Here we have an impressionistic sound painting depicting different bells sounding through a valley. Each bell has its particular color and register (brought out to perfection by Rana). Also characteristic dynamic levels which might distance from the source. Calm, tender and soothing - Ravel marked the score calme and doux. The piece opens and ends in the same material of the various sounding bells while it’s middle section contains a long and generous chant.



Danse russe
Chez Petrouchka
La semaine grasse

The puppets - The Moor, the Ballerina, Petrushka and the Charlatan
Photo © Dave Morgan

Petrushka tells the story of the loves and jealousies of three puppets. The burlesque ballet was composed by Igor Stravinsky in 1910–11 and revised in 1947.  The libretto was written together with the set and costume designer Alexandre Benois. Michael Fokine choreographed the ballet. The première of Petrushka was performed by the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 13 June 1911. Vaslav Nijinsky played Petrushka with Tamara Karsavina as the Ballerina,  Alexander Orlov the Moor and Enrico Cecchetti the Charlatan. 

Scene I
1. The Shrove-Tide Fair 2. Russian Dance

The Shrove-Tide Fair set design by Alexandre Benois
Scene II
3. Petrushka

Scene III
4. The Blackamoor 5. Waltz (Blackamoor and Ballerina)

Scene IV
6. The Shrove-Tide Fair (Towards Evening) 7. Wet-Nurses’ Dance 8. Peasant with Bear 9. Gypsies and a Rake Vendor 10. Dance of the Coachmen 11. Masqueraders 12. The Scuffle (Blackamoor and Petrushka) 13. Death of Petrushka 14. Police and the Juggler 15. Apparition of Petrushka’s Double

In 1921, Stravinsky transcribed a piano arrangement for Arthur Rubinstein entitled Trois mouvements de Petrouchka. This three movement piano work has recently particularly become popular among young pianists. Beatrice Rana gave an overwhelmingly powerful account of mind-bending virtuosity. I must confess however to tiring from the lack of sufficient dynamic variation in her conception of this work and felt rather aurally bruised and beaten by the conclusion.

Sunday 21 July  11.00 am

Andrei SCHYCHKO piano

This rather unknown young Russian professor and pianist from Moscow was presented by Jean-Yves Clement, the Music and Literature Artistic Adviser to the festival. A remarkable and rewarding discovery surely by the President of the festival, Yves Henry.

Frédéric Chopin
Scherzo No 4 in E major Op. 54

The Scherzo in E major Op. 54 dates from the summer of 1842-3 in Nohant and in many ways resembles a Ballade. The preceding scherzos fluctuate between the extremes of demonic possession and that of dreamy suspension hovering nostalgically above the strife of the world.  This is overall a far quieter scherzo.  

"Two categories of expression form this pianistic poem, which delights us with the immaculate beauty of its sound: the expression of play and the expression of love [...] is filled with thoughtful music, gazing at distant horizons, sounding like the expression of pure yet ardent love. Such music as Norwid called ‘the shape of love’ "                                                                                                                    (Mieczysław Tomaszewski)

The German poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) who idolized Chopin, once asked in a letter from Paris:
‘What is music?’

‘It is a marvel. It has a place between thought and what is seen; it is a dim mediator between spirit and matter, allied to and differing from both; it is spirit wanting the measure of time and matter which can dispense with space.’

[Heinrich Heine, ‘Ninth Letter’, in The Works of Heinrich Heine, iv: The Salon, tr. Charles Godfrey Leland (Hans Breitmann) (London, 1893), 242]

This was a fine idiomatic performance with refined touch and tone that unfolded like a story of sustained poetry. He understood the particular nature of the Chopin Scherzo (quite unlike others associated with the genre) and gave a deeply satisfying performance. 

Alexander Scriabin
Sonata-Fantaisie in G-sharp minor No 2, Op. 19

I must confess to being unfamiliar with this work. Schychko with his profound musical insights is clearly intimately familiar with the complex psyche of Scriabin. A moving and emotionally uplifting performance. 

The composer wrote a short ‘programme’ for this work composed in 1892-7 and inspired by the sea:

The first part evokes the calm of a night by the seashore in the South; in the development we hear the sombre agitation of the depths. The section in E major represents the tender moonlight which comes after the first dark of the night. The second movement, presto, shows the stormy agitation of the vast expanse of ocean.

'The sea is an ancient symbol for the psyche, and the Sonata represents an early example of Scriabin’s later tendency to equate the phenomena around him with his own interior life. The piano writing has done away with the bombast of the First Sonata and returned to the delicacy and filigree of its youthful predecessor. The brooding opening makes use of a motive, rhythmically the reverse of that in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which dominates the movement. At the move to B major the music has a subtlety and spontaneity of rhythmic articulation rarely heard before in Scriabin’s music, and the second subject is one of Scriabin’s happiest inspirations, a soaring melody placed in the middle of the texture, with glittering figuration around it like sunlight or moonlight playing on dancing waves. Scriabin saw colours when he heard music and erected an elaborate synaesthetic system on this basis.' (Simon Nicholls © 1996)

Franz Liszt
Réminiscences de Don Juan, S 418

I have always considered the 'reminiscence' to be as defined by the Oxford Dictionary as 'A story told about a past event remembered by the narrator.'  In this case the spectacular virtuosic display we heard was more a recreation of the opera itself than a past event remembered through the filter of time. Then again when the Russian critic Vladimir Stasov, attended a Liszt recital in St. Petersburg in 1839 he wrote:

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

Certainly what I heard this morning from Schychko was brilliant and the articulation and energy contained in the Champagne Aria were quite magnificent and humorous, but the emotional content as indicated in the above quotation was somewhat lacking for me. Listening or watching the Mozart opera performed by a great company of singers is immensely instructive of the different layers of meaning and significance invested in these tuneful arias.Maturity and experience will bring everything more sophisticated, worldly, and witty (as here). Terrifically entertaining nevertheless!

Frédéric Chopin
2 Nocturnes

The two Nocturnes were poetic and eloquent of le climat de Chopin in every possible way.

Mily Balakirev

Islamey: Oriental Fantasy (Исламей: Восточная фантазия) Op. 18

Balakirev was inspired to write the piece (composed in one month in 1869) after a trip to the Caucasus, as he relates in a letter:
...the majestic beauty of luxuriant nature there and the beauty of the inhabitants that harmonizes with it – all these things together made a deep impression on me... Since I interested myself in the vocal music there, I made the acquaintance of a Circassian prince, who frequently came to me and played folk tunes on his instrument, that was something like a violin. One of them, called Islamey, a dance-tune, pleased me extraordinarily and with a view to the work I had in mind on Tamara I began to arrange it for the piano. The second theme was communicated to me in Moscow by an Armenian actor, who came from the Crimea and is, as he assured me, well known among the Crimean Tatars. (Letter to Eduard Reiss (1851–1911), 1892)
The work became a great 19th century 'warhorse' performed by all the great virtuosi - Josef Lhévinne,  Simon Barere, Julius Katchen, György Cziffra, Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Pletnev, Emil Gilels, Vladimir Horowitz, and Ivo Pogorelić. I adore this influential piece. Musicologists have recently shown that the melodies that Balakirev preserved in this work are still present in folk music in the former USSR. 

Schychko gave a splendid account of this three movement work. His tremendous complete keyboard technique swept the terrifying demands before it like a whirlwind. Idiomatically he understood the oriental emotional life of the work and its passionate, unrestrained utterance brilliantly.

I hope this young oh so musical pianist and artist becomes far better known in the West....he certainly deserves to be!

[One of the greatest and most magnificent performances I have ever heard of this work was not by a famous artist but during the IX International Paderewski Competition in Bydgoszcz in November 2013 by the Georgian pianist Nino Bakradze (semifinalist in the 2016 Olga Kern Piano Competition)I spoke to her briefly afterwards. She is such a modest person and simply said it was her favorite piece and that she had played it and thought about it for many years - and brought the wild and uncompromising spirit of Georgia straight into the hall!]

After this I was offered a very pleasant al fresco lunch in George Sand's garden before the next recital.

George Sand was a keen horticulturalist as is evident in her garden at the west side of the house

Sunday 21st July 14.30   Janusz Olejniczak

I hope you will forgive a digression. As Yves Henry is devoted to the instructive comparison of the sound palette, touch, action and pedalling of Pleyel instruments during his masterclasses, I have a few considerations of my own to offer.
My Pleyel  pianino of 1844 No: 11151. Bellini, Mme. Sand, Delacroix, Franchomme and Balzac's mistress Mme. Hanska all owned these superb domestic instruments. This is the type of instrument he had sent to Valdemossa. Of course one cannot build a concert career on such an instrument but one can learn something of the intimacy that Chopin, unlike Liszt, strove to achieve in performance

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 Poznan. 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. They were customarily equipped with ormolu handles on either side of the case and castors for the purpose.

If you would like to further your understanding of the sound world inhabited by Chopin himself (if not vital the historical context) I suggest listening to two contrasting pieces (the Mazurka in B flat minor Op. 24 No. 4  and the so-called 'Revolutionary'  Etude Op. 10, No. 12 in C minor) via this link below. They are performed on an 1831 Pleyel in this now rare recording by perhaps the most poetic and soulful of the Polish pianists playing today - Janusz Olejniczak 

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This rare man and gifted musician certainly inhabits the climat de Chopin and understands the potential of earlier instruments to give it dramatic and poetic voiceCertainly not all pianists trained on modern concert instruments have the sensitivity to transfer their digital dexterity and expression to the difficult single escapement mechanism of the 
Pleyel. Olejniczak was awarded sixth prize in the 8th International Fryderyk Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1970. He was up against some brilliant competition in this particularly great year. Garrick Ohlsson was awarded first prize, Mitsuko Uchida the second  prize and Piotr Paleczny third prize.

I feel Janusz has retained the essentially Polish melancholy of this composer. The Etude erupts from the instrument with a potent anger sweeping all before it while the mazurka is a miracle of intimacy, poetry and tone colour. None of these sound qualities are any longer possible on modern instruments, however great the player. Even brilliant musicians can only resort to inspired approximations and brilliant over-pedalled fudges. It is the very limitations of the period instrument that adds so much to the subtle feminine intimacy and sudden contrast of  flaring of masculine anger so characteristic of the complex personality of this composer.

The completely physical and percussive treatment of the instrument in Chopin interpretation today is beginning to depress me inordinately. Many young pianists possess such fabulous technique that has required enormous work and personal sacrifice to achieve. Why waste it thundering away? Is Chopin's music only to be offered up on the altar of egotistical virtuosic display, competition career building and monetary gain? 'Technique is money' a noted Asian musical academician and pianist once observed to me rather perceptively at a Masterclass. 

There is no relation between Chopin's fastidious personality and this deformed augmentation of his masculine side at the expense of the feminine side of his nature, a man who abhorred 'the exhalation of the crowd'. A curious reversal seems to have taken place from Chopin the composer for schoolgirls (his initial reception in England) to a Chopin who seems to be considered as only occasionally sensitive (particularly at night in Nocturnes), and now a violent revolutionary alpha male with a soft side.

If one owns a Ferrari or Bugatti Veyron one does not drive it flat out all the time. However the tension lies in knowing that the reserve power is there even if not utilized. One can feel the reserve even at lower speeds. I feel that with the Steinway or Yamaha concert grand it is much the same - the enormous bass of these instruments does not need to be pounded out in Chopin for the audience to be aware of the underlying immensity of the sound and its harmonic significance. For Prokofiev, Scriabin, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff and Liszt one might use the full resources of the giant percussive instrument effectively, even terrifyingly. 

However in Chopin the restraint of passion is far more powerful than the full expression of everything one has in mind. Chopin understood this principle to perfection. 'I only indicate. It is up to the listener to complete the picture.Why do not young pianists take this statement of his to heart? And naturally the teachers are riding the wave of the potential fame of their students so they encourage this type of extreme behaviour in Chopin. He was a great teacher himself and concentrated on the production of a beautiful touch and tone with his students - these aspects of playing seem to be neglected in academies in favour of structure and technical facility.

Students should be encouraged to listen to Lipatti who places expressiveness, spirituality and musical poetry far above virtuoso display. Glenn Gould never counted himself among the pianists he amusingly and accurately categorised as 'a typical triceps terror'. A delicacy and refinement of touch coupled with a richness and fullness of tone when required avoided using the piano solely as a percussion instrument. Digital dexterity and power, however awesome, is no substitute for profound musical imagination.

All piano students should be required to at least try out pianos of the period in which the music they are performing was composed. Placing music in its proper full cultural and historical context in order to understand what the composer was trying to achieve gives it life. It is not the hand of the deathly historicity. Beethoven sonatas are magnificent and fully realized in sound on  modern Steinway concert instrument in a large hall. However when performed on an instrument of his period in smaller salons one can additionally feel the tremendous tension and excitement of a revolutionary composer trying to break through the sound restrictions of his limited instrument.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Tonight Janusz generously played the following superbly accessible Chopin programme. Too many pianists forget the often limited musical experience of the majority of the audience and make excessive demands.

For me this was the finest recital of all the concerts I attended at the festival. Janusz Olejniczak at the top of his form! All of my observations above apply (he has learned to perfectly transfer his knowledge of the Pleyel or Erard to the Bechstein, Steinway or Yamaha). However I would like to add a few individual comments to pieces that particularly affected me. Janusz engaged the audience in delightful banter during his recital which gave a warm and friendly intimacy to the entire recital. "What am I playing next?' was one question he asked us during the first half. 'I cannot remember!' with a finger to his temple and a despairing shake of the head. He speaks fluent French. 


Frédéric CHOPIN

Nocturne in C-sharp minor Op. posth.

Set the intimate, reflective, refined and nostalgic tone of the recital perfectly. Such a masterpiece and so moving with the luminous tone, perfect rubato and velvet touch of this pianist.

Nocturne in E minor Op. posth. 72 No 1

The melancholic cantilena was deeply moving in tone and sensitivity. Janusz had us in the palm of his hand as we were moved by the music rather than astonished - surely preferable in all of Chopin.

Polonaise in A major ('Military') Op. 40 No 1 (1839)

I have always been particularity fond of the polonaise as I learned it at the age of 12 sailing with my family on an Italian ship of the Lloyd Triestino line from Australia to Genoa in Italy in the mid 1960s. Chopin seems to have taken this Polonaise with him from Majorca to Paris. In 1837, Heinrich Heine spoke of Chopin: ‘Poland gave him a chivalrous soul and the suffering of its history’. The A major Polonaise might be said to express that ‘chivalrous soul’, and the C minor Polonaise the historical suffering of the Polish nation.

5 Mazurkas

The carefully chosen mazurkas were simply divine....nothing left to say. His rubato is so marvellously idiomatic...

Scherzo No 2 in B-flat minor Op. 31 (1835-37)

A tremendously dramatic, brilliantly passionate, intense yet lyrical reading of irresistible forward momentum, rather like a Ballade. 

Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski writes of this scherzo: 'The new style, all Chopin’s own, which might be called a specifically Chopinian dynamic romanticism, not only revealed itself, but established itself. It manifested itself à la Janus, with two faces: the deep-felt lyricism of the Nocturnes Op.27 and the concentrated drama of the Scherzo in B flat minor.' 

Arthur Hedley thought about the work’s ecstatic lyricism, before concluding in a way even more appropriate today in the age of recording: ‘Excessive performance may have dimmed the brightness of this work, but should not blind us to its merits as thrilling and convincing music.’


Nocturne in C minor no. 1, Op. 48 No 1 (1841)

This Nocturne was composed at Nohant in the summer of 1841. Olejniczak adopted a tempo of what one might call mournful, majestic despair that permeates this piece. The great bass notes in the first section fell like statements of paradise lost, the central section a nostalgic and yearning chorale leading into the passionate utterance and agitation of the final section with an almost abnegation of life and final resignation to fate. His rubato is organically generated from within his heart, replete with refinement,  instinctive taste and idiomatic understanding of le climat de Chopin.

3 waltzes

Just perfect Chopin, reminiscent of Dinu Lipatti yet possessing his own voice. In the A-flat major Op. 69 No 1, in some editions marked dolente, the deep, haunting nostalgia for the dance and his joyful youth in Warsaw seemed to fade into the dusk of memory, age and recollection. Absolutely magical rubato and an expression of universal yearning as time passes and  time erases touch...'L'Adieu'...

Ballade No 1 in G minor, Op. 23 (1831 or 1834/5)

A magnificent reading of this tumultuous work. The atmosphere, character and style of the G minor Ballade position it so closely to the B minor Scherzo above the choice was inspired I felt.  One of the finest accounts I had ever heard. 

A profound essay on the gestation and significance of this Ballade by Mieczyslaw Tomeszewski can be found here: 


2 waltzes

So few pianists have any idea how to play a Chopin waltz with period feel and more importantly early nineteenth century sensibility in 2019. Here we had divine understanding of the Chopin waltz...enough said.

Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major ('Heroic') Op. 53 (1842)

Composed at Nohant in the summer of 1842. 

This was an imperious, majestic and dramatic account by Olejniczak, not unlike a Ballade in this interpretation. It contained in the words of Hugo Leichtentritt, a German musicologist and composer ‘everything that the polonaise contains in terms of sparkle, distinction, strength and enthusiasm was expressed in this masterpiece in the most exhilarating way possible’.

His approach also justified the view of the modern Polish musicologist,  music critic and composer Jan Zdzisław Jachimecki who considered it ‘the most perfect work in the history of the genre’.

The Scale of Love (1717-1718) - Jean-Antoine Watteau   (National Gallery, London)

Janusz then turned to us mentioning in soft and charming French how Nohant was the domain of love between Chopin and the great French writer George Sand. His appropriate encore would be Le Rossignol en Amour (The Nightingale in Love) from Pièces de clavecin Book III of Francois Couperin. Thus did he open another window on an area of musical exploration I have often examined on the harpsichord with intense pleasure, the surprisingly close poetic relationship between the music of Francois Couperin and Fryderyk Chopin. 

Wanda Landowska in her book Musique ancienne  (1909, p. 213) writes of Chopin 'le Couperin du dix-neuvième siecle' ou encore in 'Interpretation de Chopin' 'ce Couperin teinté de romantisme' . This aspect of Chopin is examined in detail in a fascinating essay by Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger entitled Chopin et Couperin : affinités sélectives  [Buchet/Chastel  Société Française de Musicologie 1997 p. 175-193]

Yves Henry wittily refers to Janusz Olejniczak as 'Le papa de Chopin'.....

Sunday 21st July 20.30  

You love literature too much, it will kill you 
(Letter from George Sand to Gustav Flaubert)

Further readings from the George Sand-Flaubert correspondence by Brigitte Fossey (comedienne) and Nicolas Vaude (comedien) took place in the Bergerie.

Piano interludes were played by the 19 year old Moroccan pianist Nour Adayi, winner of the 2019 Le Prix Cortot. This brilliant pianist is the first woman to win the prize since its inception in 1919. She was also awarded the highest graduate diploma of concert music from the Alfred Cortot Ecole Normale.

Afterwards the audience was invited to wander in the darkness through Le Domaine de George Sand for further readings and viewing of tableau vivants led by a Berrichon band of Les Vielles à Roue (hurdy-gurdies) and Les Cornemuses (bagpipes).

This was a remarkable and utterly unique evening the like of which I have never experienced in my life. Certainly it taxed my 'O Level' French from my schooldays in Rome so many years ago. The Sand-Flaubert correspondence is amusing, sophisticated, affectionate, learned, poetic and moving at once. I have shamefully ordered it in English!

From a personal viewpoint, this event emphasized the symbiotic relationship between music and literature, the music of Chopin hovering like a spectre over the readings. For the first time I realized the deep literary significance of this remarkable woman George Sand and came to a more substantial recognition of her stature in the world of French letters and life. The very fact that Chopin experienced and maintained an intimate relationship  over many years with her told me much more about his own character, surely far more complicated and sophisticated than we are led to believe. 

The poetry of creative humanity expressed throughout this festival by its location and expressed in such a cultured, civilized and romantic manner was unique in my experience. As both a writer, deeply influenced by French Naturalism and Symbolism, but also as a musician, the theatrical nature of this extraordinary entertainment spoke to my very heart and soul.

Setting off...the first reading from la maison de George Sand

The Berrichon band of  Les Vielles à Roue (hurdy-gurdies) and Les Cornemuses (bagpipes)

Wandering along illuminated paths in the park to the reading rendezvous......

Tableau vivants scattered about the park....

The return to the Sand maison for the final reading around midnight. The windows to the salon overlooking the garden had been romantically thrown open and Yves Henry was playing Chopin mazurkas and waltzes romantically from within on a period Pleyel piano. The two cedars planted by Sand named after her children Maurice and Solange 
now reared gigantically  above us.

The area surrounding Nohant-Vic is attractively rural and the region of Berry is not at all a tourist destination. However I can never still my desire to explore, so I took myself off to explore the countryside in a limited way before the afternoon lecture and evening recital detailed below.

The imposing 14th century medieval Château de Sarzay near Nohant-Vic 
The castle was used as a setting by George Sand in her novel le Meunier d'Angibault (1845)

Fields of glorious sunflowers in the vicinity of Nohant-Vic

Monday 22 July  16.00   

Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, musicologist and writer, in conversation on the subject of the Chopin Preludes with the pianist and conductor 
Eugenio Jean-Francois Antonioli (Part II)

Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger and Eugenio Jean-Francois Antonioli
This was a particularly interesting lecture of the influence from the past on the conception and gestation of the Chopin Preludes and their profound influence on subsequent composers. 

They began with an examination of Bach and the influence of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier on the cycle of keys Chopin chose and the extraordinary symmetry of his design. They also examined Bach's seminal influence on the polyphony and counterpoint of Chopin. The influence of the German and French clavecinists and organists (Bach and Francois Couperin) in terms of legato fingering and phrasing was also mentioned. Connections were made for example between the Crucifixus in the Bach B minor Mass and Prelude No 4 in E minor Largo Op. 28 in terms of tempo and mood, illustrated on the piano by Antonioli.  

The melancholic, cello-like Prelude No 6 in B-minor Lento assai was played on the organ at Chopin's funeral. They referred to this key as possessing the Tristesse de Dieu. This led into an interesting discussion of the emotional significance of keys on the choices Chopin made for his compositions, The magnificent, serious grandeur Charpentier associated with the key of G minor for example (could Chopin have heard his music - unlikely - but the significance of the key is clear). The dark colours and intense emotions of resentment and discontent that lie at the heart of Prelude No 8 in F-sharp minor Molto agitato were associated with this key. 

The influence of the different musical modes on him were also analyzed. Modes have been a part of western musical thought since the Middle Ages, and were inspired by the theory of music in ancient Greece. They also discussed tonality and its fundamental importance in his compositions. More contemporaneously they looked into the influence of Hummel on the early stile brillant Chopin concerti and his other youthful works as well as the impact the visit of the devilish Paganini made to Warsaw had on the young composer. In addition they debated the possible stylistic influence on Chopin of the virtuoso pianist and composer Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831) with whom Goethe fell in love.

As for his manifold influence on composers after his death. Well, Andre Gide asked of the preludes 'Preludes to what?' which I think betrays a limited understanding of this genre. I have analysed above my own thinking concerning the preludes in my review of the pianist Louis Schwizgebel, so shall not repeat myself here but do refer back if you remain interested.

They brought to my attention the possible interesting lyrical cantabile influences on the Schubert Lieder of Prelude 6 in B minor Lento assai and No 13 in F-sharp major Lento (which Alfred Cortot felt evoked On foreign soil, under a night of stars, thinking of my beloved faraway - an emotion of the loss of love that much filled Schubert's own heart). Schubert spent time in Paris at the same time as Chopin and for these musicians his influence through the Preludes on Die Schöne Müllerin is clear. 

Liszt was influenced by the Prelude No 2 in A minor Lento in his composition Via Crucis (1878-9) based on the Stations of the Cross. A rather fast, yet profoundly haunting Alla breve tempo written by Chopin for this Prelude was uniquely chosen among pianists by the Pole Raoul Koczalski (1884-1948) who possessed direct pedagogical links to the composer. His 1938 recording of the complete Preludes is instructive to say the least. The impact on Maurice Ravel of the profound presentiments of death in Prelude No 2 in A minor Lento or even more that of No 20 in C minor Largo on Le Gibet from Gaspard de la Nuit is also incontrovertible.

Interestingly they also highlighted what they referred to as the doppelganger element in Prelude No 15 in D-flat major Sostenuto - the shadow of death accompanying us through life, hovering in the wings above and below us all. Something absolutely fascinating I had never considered. Nothing so innocent as raindrops.... This interpretation connects closely to the 'horrifying visions' the composer experienced while composing this work in the monastery in Valdemossa. The Hungarian pianist, teacher and composer Stephen Heller (1813-1888) was influenced by the virtuosity within Prelude No 19 in E-flat major Vivace. Professor Eigeldinger then quoted from a letter in the correspondence of the music publishers Breitkopf & Härtel which was discovered recently and offers a highly illuminating definition of the Chopin Preludes.

The composer Aleksander Scriabin was much affected and influenced by these works, as was Claude Debussy in Nuages influenced by Prelude No 2 in A minor Lento. They also highlighted influences on Moussorgsky, Rachmaninoff and even the Swiss composer Frank Martin. 

A fascinating and thought-provoking lecture on the wide ranging musical influence of this revolutionary musical genius.

Monday 23 July  20.30 

Nikolai Lugansky

Many years ago now, if memory serves me, in the 1990s, I first heard this artist in the Lutosławski Radio Studio in Warsaw. He performed the greatest, most poetic and sensitive performance of a 'minor' work one does not generally consider too deeply - the Myra Hess arrangement of Bach's  Jesus bleibet meine freude ('Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring') BWV 147. I have never forgotten the deep musicality this performance and thought at the time that this young man would become a great artist - which he has.


Prélude, Aria et Final, Op. 23

Allegro moderato ed maestoso
Allegro molto ed agitato

The Prélude, Aria et Final was written two years later than the Prélude, Choral et Fugue in 1886-7. They are rather similar in structure and show the influence the organ had on the piano keyboard writing of Franck. 

Lugansky brought enormous power, transparent polyphony and lyricism to the opening movement and especially the Aria. The spiritual seriousness of the work was always declaimed unhesitatingly with almost frightening inner dynamic strength leading to redemption and the triumph of good over evil. The magnificent monumentalism, authority and rhythmic energy Lugansky brought to the Allegro molto ed agitato carried all before it, culminating in the resignation and quiet acceptance of the conclusion. However on occasion during this work I felt his overwhelming virtuosity suffocated the singing humanist poetry drawn from within the dense writing obvious in say in the Alfred Cortot recording of 1932. 

Frédéric CHOPIN

Barcarolle in F-sharp major Op. 60

A fine, dominant performance of this difficult work but I felt no instinctive warmth of expressive feeling here, a 'voice' speaking to me of the travails of love or any great sympathy or affection for the piece itself. At this level of pianism and artistry I expected more individuality and expressive poetry.

Ballade No 4 in F minor Op. 52

Written at Nohant in the summer of 1842, the beautiful 'innocent' childlike opening to the 'life opera' which evolves as the Ballade in F minor Op.52 gently and tenderly caressed us before the developmentThis was a perfectly sculpted, coherent performance of this masterpiece with transparent internal polyphony and superbly controlled evolution of the musical narrative.  Detail and nuance were organically revealed here with the greatest authority and virtuosity, growing from within and not merely as applied expression. He wound up the drama like a tight rope into a passionate coda and then the relaxation and final statement of victory suffused and softened with resignation which concludes the work. 

Despite this 'pianistic perfection', again as with the Barcarolle, I felt an unaccustomed coolness in the air, perhaps coming from a concentration on structure and intellect at the expense of emotional warmth and tenderness. I felt a lack of the deepest expressive reactions, caresses and savouring love for Chopin's transitional and eloquent harmonies. No not cloying Romanticism at all, but at times I looked for a more seductive and feminine Chopin to balance the galvanic, dynamic, masculine strength. I searched vainly for a softer yielding touch that embraced me with poetic sensuality yet retained suggestiveness and restraint. Although this masterpiece can easily withstand many differing interpretations, can be hewn in granite with the greatest pianistic conviction, this fine performance remained tantalizingly out of reach and not quite 'my Chopin'. The entire audience appeared to disagree and went wild.


Alexander SCRIABIN
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F-sharp minor Op. 23 
« Etats d’âme » ('State of the Soul')

This, one of my favourite sonatas of Scriabin, was composed 1897-8. He devised it mainly in Paris and possessed as he was by synesthesia, considered it 'bright blue'.  He also wrote an extraordinary metaphysical programme for the four movements of the work.

 Drammàtico  The soul, free and wild, thrown into the whirlpool of suffering and strife

Allegretto  Apparent momentary and illusory respite; tired from suffering the soul wants to forget, wants to sing and flourish, in spite of everything. But the light rhythm, the fragrant harmonies are just a cover through which gleams the restless and languishing soul.

Andante A sea of feelings, tender and sorrowful: love, sorrow, vague desires, inexplicable thoughts, illusions of a delicate dream.

Presto con fuoco From the depth of being rises the fearsome voice of creative man whose victorious song resounds triumphantly. But too weak yet to reach the acme he plunges, temporarily defeated, into the abyss of non-being.

From the dramatic opening theme which so sets the nerves tingling up and down my spine, I was utterly captivated by Lugansky's instinctive understanding of the demanding spiritual and dynamic qualities of the often harmonically inaccessible Scriabin harmonic palette. Of course F-sharp minor is perhaps my favourite key. The opening movement was powerful and overwhelming in its urgency. The Lugansky transparency and rich tone and 'masculine' dynamic swept one away. The emotional agitation that permeates in the Allegretto and the contrasting lyrical episodes was deeply unsettling. The glorious Andante in its abstract expression of the yearning, dreams and perfumed aspirations of love, intangible, hovering just out reach, was movingly embraced. The seamless transition into the Presto con fuoco via just a brief recollection of the opening theme, was perfectly accomplished. Lugansky built this final movement into a monumental edifice. 

Yet at times I was looking for the affecting poetry that Daniil Trifonov brings to this sonata - the most musically profound account I have ever heard.

Nos 1, 3, 6, 7 Op. 23 
Nos 5, 12 Op. 32 
Nos 4, 5 Op. 23

It seems quite redundant for me to offer any quibbles at all at this level of  mastery of Rachmaninoff. After this overwhelming performance on every musical and pianistic level, I have nothing to say, just to leave the hall in contemplative silence carrying within me an unforgettable musical experience.

Tuesday 23 July  10.30 am  Guided Tour in English of the George Sand Maison

I was fortunate enough to be offered a long individual tour of the house in English by a talented and knowledgeable guide. I cannot of course go into details here but will present some of my photographs. There appear to be a number of misconceptions however concerning the Chopin-Sand relationship!

The north entrance to the George Sand maison 

The Main Staircase

The Drawing Room

Pleyel pianino No. 15025 purchased by George Sand through the intermediary Pauline Viardot 25 May 1849

The Dining Room

The place setting for Fryderyk Chopin

Chopin's Room (inhabited from 1839-1846) Actually only half of it with the original entrance doors. After his departure Sand divided it into two, the other half becoming a domestic library

George Sand's Bedroom from 1867 until her death in 1876 

The Bedroom of Aurore de Saxe. George slept here at the beginning of her marriage. It accommodated many guests who visited Sand such as Liszt and Marie d'Agoult, Pauline Viardot and Delacroix. It was the bedroom of the young Solange, then of Maurice and Lina. The room has retained its wood panelling, Louis XVI furniture and 'Polish-style' bed 

Aurores' Bedroom. George slept in this room from 1808-1822. 
Here she listened to Liszt downstairs and wrote of his piano making 
'those sounds that the whole universe would like to hear.'
Her granddaughter Gabrielle (who occupied the room from 1892-1909) introduced the bamboo furniture and Art Nouveau wallpaper with herons

In 1850 Sand built a fully equipped private theater for the performance of the plays she wrote

In 1854 the castelet des marionettes or puppet theater was added with hundreds of glove puppets and a battery of enormously varied sound effects

Maurice's Studio.  In 1852 Sand installed a studio in the attic in which her highly artistic son could paint and sculpt. This enormous room with its view over the countryside became home to all the varied interests of the Sand household - botany, painting, geology, wood sculpture, anatomical models, collections of insects, seashells and coins as well as theatrical costumes and puppets 

An extraordinary violinist puppet sculpted and painted by Maurice

Some costumes and stage paraphernalia used for theatricals
View over Nohant-Vic from Maurice's painting studio 

This is the technologically state-of-the-art bathroom and self contained water heater of the house. Sand was always at the cutting edge of new industrial methods which included a flushing lavatory (when commodes and chamber pots were ubiquitous). She also at vast expense constructed a concealed and ducted central heating system throughout the house

The Sand family cemetery at Nohant-Vic 
George Sand's grave above

Tuesday   23 July   15.00

Final concert of the young pianists who attended the Masterclasses

Mateusz KRZYZOWSKI (Poland)

Presented by the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw

Chopin 24 Preludes Op.28

I always felt this was an ambitious choice for a young pianist for all the reasons I have outlined above in my commentary on the Prelude cycle. The degree of preparation for these demanding works is formidable, even for the most accomplished of pianists. It was an excellent performance and indicated strongly just how much he has learned and more importantly applied from the inspiration of Yves Henry in the masterclasses. This applied most strongly I felt in terms of selection of the correct character and tempo for each self- contained universe within these so-called 'miniatures'. Time, thought and experience will mature this promising young pianist, giving increased authority to his playing, his own voice and develop his communicative ability. 

Hiroshi TSUGANEZAWA  (Japan)

Laureat of the Nohant Festival Chopin Competition in Japan 2018

I loved the open communicative temperament of this young man which carried all before it. His radiant smile spoke volumes and expressed his absolute joy at having been given the opportunity not only to come to Nohant masterclasses in faraway France but also to play Chopin!

I noticed he was a particularly fast learner in the Masterclasses. He accepted corrections with a self-effacing smile (Yves Henry is a gentle teacher but firm and insists on correctness) and simply got on with being correct. An excellent attitude in a young pupil temperamentally open to learn everything about Chopin.

The three mazurkas Op.33 were finely played but I felt lacked idiomatic phrasing and relied too much on the pedal to achieve a legato that is not always required in these demanding pieces. 

To perform the Sonata No 3 in B minor Op. 58 was ambitious indeed. This is one of the great masterworks of Western keyboard composition and as the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler once commented 'A great work of art is a king standing before us. One must permit the time to be addressed by him.’ I would like to leave this advice for Hiroshi

to ponder and allow his teachers to attend to more technical and interpretative matters rather than be tempted into invidious criticism. He has the work in his memory, fingers and mind - an enormous achievement in itself. Now he must develop his own voice.

Sayoko KOBAYASHI (Japan)

Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris Alfred Cortot

From the Masterclasses it was clear from the first notes that here was an accomplished young pianist with her own voice and unarguable authority at the keyboard. She adopted corrections and suggestions from Yves Henry instantly, but only after reflection. Her two Nocturnes Op. 48 were refined, elegant and moving with fine control of touch and tone. She also had the temerity to approach the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie. Her performance was cohesive, replete with the fluctuating, wildly contrasting emotions that are contained within this demanding piece. A tremendously impressive grasp of the work which I felt had creatively transcended, dare I say, the often encountered 'Japanese performance school' in Chopin. She left room for spontaneity and passion.....a most enjoyable recital.

Lt. to Rt. Hiroshi Tsuganezawa, Sayoko Kobayashi, Yves Henry, Mateusz Krzyzowski

Yves Henry at the conclusion of the festival, gave us another treat with the Berrichon band on stage. The audience then retired to the Bergerie courtyard garden for a festive glass of Vouvray and protracted fond farewells. 

Nohant was certainly the most enjoyable music festival I have ever attended. It combined charm, grace, intellectual content, true love of music and literature as well as being located in the idyllic, intimate atmosphere where one of the greatest creative love affairs in modern history evolved. 

Au revoir jusqu'à la prochaine fois!

The author of this post Michael Moran


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