Szymon Nehring at the VI Arthur Rubinstein Piano Festival, Łódź , Poland 14-19 October 2019

I am here for only the last two days of this festival. How I regret not coming for the entire unique event! Considering the world eminence of the pianist and his pre-eminence in his matchless interpretation of the music of Chopin, the neglect of this festival is scarcely understandable. This impressive event, the ballet and the concurrent exhibitions in Łódź associated with it is held every two years. It has been single-handedly, imaginatively and indefatigably assembled since its inception by the Festival Director Mr. Wojciech Grochowalski. The event is held under the auspices of the organizer, the Culture and Business Foundation in co-operation with the Arthur Rubinstein International Music Foundation.

Introductory remarks on the evening were given by the host and Polish Radio presenter, and musicologist Adam Rozlach.

Official Website :,1

The highly cultured and legendary Arthur Rubinstein was born in Łódź in 1887.  This great Polish patriot was honored throughout the planet, as a pianist and immortal musician - and continues to be so honored. 

Related image
The young Arthur Rubinstein

Arthur Rubinstein, le grand seigneur, in regal regalia following his admission to the 
French Academy of Fine Arts   

Sketch of Arthur Rubinstein by Picasso

An intensely nostalgic attraction of this festival is the presence of his daughter, the brilliant photographer, Eva Rubinstein (there is a concurrent exhibition in the city of many of her eloquent photographs). Quite apart from the charm and culturally elevated civilization of another age that she brings to the festival, her very presence has recreated the metaphysical spirit of Rubinstein in his birthplace. Such a unique phenomenon. Being taken around the extraordinary museum rooms devoted to his memory and explaining and detailing the minutiae of relevance of photographs, letters, an Oscar for a film performance, paintings, pianos and sculptures (she has an undimmed memory) was a rare experience that floods the emotional life with waves of memory. 

Her voice and facial physiognomy bear such an uncanny resemblance to the maestro, the tour was a quite otherworldly and deeply moving experienceI remember  to this day as a young teenager listening in  wonderment to the recital he gave in the Sydney Town Hall  on his world tour in the 1960s. 

Eva Rubinstein talking about her father in the Arthur Rubinstein Music Gallery of the Łódź City Museum. 

In the foreground the Oscar awarded for 'The Best Documentary Feature' entitled L'Amour de la Vie (The Love of Life) where he performed as himself. As he eschewed the Oscar award ceremony itself, Gregory Peck came privately to his home on the Avenue Foch in Paris on 
July 1st 1970 to pass over the statuette to the great pianist

A cabinet containing some of the international decorations awarded to Rubinstein

Arthur Rubinstein's signature on a C. Bechstein grand piano in the Music Gallery played by him and also by Witold Małcużyński

A joyful picture of Arthur Rubinstein dancing a sevillana in the back yard of a tenement house at 78 Piotrowska Street Łódź where he lived his childhood. Taken on a visit to the city commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic.

The Museum of History of the City of Łodz opened in 1975 in the former residence of the Łodz-based manufacturer Izrael Kalmanowicz Poznanski. Poznanski and his sons built their French inspired neo-Baroque palace at the turn of the twentieth century at the height of the textile industry. Interestingly it was built adjacent to a large textile manufacturing complex in Łódź, thought of as the 'Polish Manchester' of the day.

The tour was followed by an ambitious recital in another grand room, the restored Mirror Hall of the Łódź City Museum, given by the eminent Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova, daughter of the renowned pianist and teacher Dimitri Bashkirov. She has had a distinguished career both as a soloist and chamber musician, founding as Artistic Director, the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival.

She opened her recital with the Mozart Piano Sonata No. 13 in B major KV 333 (1783?). This is the longest and perhaps most demanding of Mozart's piano sonatas. The opening Allegro movement was brought off well in the concerto style with its alternating bravura passage-work and filigree decorative episodes. However I felt a little more Viennese gemütlich and wit could have been in evidence. 

The Andante cantabile is reminiscent of a love duet in a Mozart opera and music that is emotionally moving and poetic. Perhaps something more emotional could have been made too of this lyric gift. In the final Allegretto graziozo I again felt that the passion could have been more playfully portrayed. Mozart after all was a great ironist and seldom indulged in heavier emotions in the Beethoven style - more like offering simply darker, rather threatening shadows that pass across the sunny gemütlichkeit of life.

This was followed by Schumann Humoreske B major Op. 20. The composer himself concerning this piano cycle wrote in a letter to Clara Wieck 

'The whole week I sat at the piano in a state and composed, wrote, laughed, and cried; now you can find all this beautifully painted in my Opus 20, the great Humoreske.'

In another letter to Ernst Becker

'The Humoreske, I think, will please you; it is, however, a little funny and perhaps my most melancholy work.'

In another letter to Simon de Sire 

'Everything comes to me on its own, and it even seems to me sometimes that I could play forever and never come to an end.'

During the composition of this work he suffered intense psychological struggles. 

The work consists of a series of interlinked 'humours' or 'moods' that express various human states. The German music writer Carl Kossmaly (1812-1893) describes Humoresque in these terms: 

'..the great variety of content and form, the continual and quick, although always natural and unforced succession of the most varied images, imaginary ideas and sentiments, fantastic and dreamlike phenomena swell and fade into one another, and not only maintain but continually increase one’s interest from beginning to end.'

And further: 

'[Humoreske] gradually communicates itself to the listener and fills him with a feeling of satisfaction that is as perfect, blissful, and profound as can be elicited only by those melodies that spring from the deepest, most secret source of the heart and from that genuine enthusiasm which transcends earthly bounds – then we believe that we shall not have missed the truth but instead come rather close to it, even if in our own way.'
(quotes above from James Andrew Naumann, B.M., M.M Ohio State University Thesis).

Certainly this was a fine virtuoso performance. However, I was only occasionally emotionally moved by this complex interwoven work of many shades, colours and moods. The philosophy of composition and reception indicated above may explain why a full-on virtuoso approach, although very impressive, is not entirely appropriate to this work. More heartfelt emotion and understanding of the fraught and fluctuating emotions of the love and delicate memories exchanged between Clara and Robert is required. 

During the interval we were treated to an utterly charming ballet presentation by the Feliks Parnell Ballet School Łódź in the Ballroom of the mansion. The first fragments were danced to the Chopin Waltz in C-sharp minor Op.64 No.2. 

Eva Rubinstein watching with the utmost pleasure and joy the ballet performance

Eva Rubinstein as a young ballerina

Then a performance of a Chopin mazurka from their ballet suite In the Garden

After the interval, the Dvorak Poetic Tone Pictures Op. 85 B. 161: Nächtlicher Weg, Fruhlingslied, Koboldstanz, Serenade, Bacchanal. Dvorak wrote a good deal of music for solo piano, very little of which has undeservedly never really entered the popular concert repertoire. I had never heard thee works before and found them an absolute delight as intellectually undemanding but musically sophisticated works. I found Bashkirova affecting and convincing in these works and am so pleased she introduced me to them. There was a degree of seriousness in some but an appealing lightness imbued the others. 

Finally the Bartok Piano Sonata Sz 80 (BB 88). This Piano Sonata is an example of Bartók's rethinking of his piano compositional style. Frequently dissonant, the motif 'cells' are subjected to much variation, it demonstrates the composer's interest in Hungarian and Romanian folk music. The power Bashkirova brought to the opening was almost fearsomely convincing with its strong, hammering rhythms. She projected the colours within the opening of the work significantly well as atonality tends to dominate. 

The second movement, Sostenuto e pesante gave one the impression of 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' in its ultimately tormented dissonances. Bartók in the concluding rondo returns to the folkloric elements of peasant singing, flutes, and Romanian fiddle players. The conclusion was almost alarmingly and emphatically driven forward by Bashkirova. 

As an encore she gave a most poetic performance of the Schumann Des Abends from his Fantasiestucke Op.12, that perfect and intimate Schumann piano miniature. A uniquely memorable tour, recital and dance sequence that will undoubtedly stay with me for a long period of time.

Saturday , 19 October 2019

18.15-18.45, Museum of the City of Łódź, arcade room, lecture on Rubinstein interpretation of polonaises by Adam Rozlach

19.00 Museum of the City of Łódź, Mirror Hall

Final concert

Szymon Nehring 

1st Prize at the 2017 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition Tel Aviv

I was very interested to hear how this Polish pianist has developed since being awarded an Honourable Mention after reaching the finals of the 17th International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2015 and winning the 1st Prize at the 2017 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv. Of course, Szymon has become a national hero since then. 

In his concerto performance at the Chopin and his Europe Festival that same year I had written 'The inaccessible ‘Polish element Chopin spoke of was present in abundance.' The last time I had heard him play was in the same festival in August 2018. Then I had written '

He has matured a great deal since I last heard him in the previous festival and gave a fine account of this concerto in all respects - naturally his command of the notes is faultless but also his understanding of the styl brillant and Polish rhetorical gestures concealed within the work were well delineated.' 


Mazurkas Op. 56

Professor Mieczysław Tomaszewski wrote of this set of mazurkas: 

'In 1843 Chopin composed three new mazurkas and set them together as Op. 56. Each one of them can be listened to with rapt attention. Each is capable of both delighting and astonishing. They are imbued with a nostalgic tone, though also a certain audacity and strangeness. They seem to bring echoes of moments very different from one another. Fragments of memories bound together.' 

In the first in B major, Nehring captured the predominant vivid, vigorous nature of the mazur in an uplifting style that left no questions to be asked of it. He expressed better than most pianists I know, the rustic, robust and bucolic country character of the second in C major. His view of it was exciting and almost shocking in the energy of its rough vivacity. The folk music of the Culavia region was bought convincingly into this rather civilized ballroom in Łódź and contrasted with two forms of the kujawiak in its middle section. Ferdynand Hoesick described this mazurka 

The basses bellow, the strings go hell for leather, the lads dance with the lasses and they all but wreck the inn’.

This mazurka was the favourite of the highly talented Chopinist Princess Marcelina Czartoryska, she who coined the eloquent advisory interpretative phrase le climat de Chopin and who imitated the composer in the interpretation of this mazurka. 

 The third mazurka in C minor, as one might imagine from its key signature, is imbued with melancholic nostalgia and is restrained in its polyphonic mood. The theme of this mazurka grows from within organically as Chopin explores an extraordinary number of complex and distant harmonic relations. The work ends mysteriously as if a reminiscent thought had come to an unresolved conclusion. 

Nocturne op. 55 No. 2

The Chopin nocturnes (as opposed to those of their inspiration by John Field) have seduced and fascinated listeners since their composition. The Paris critic Hippolyte Barbedette wrote of them: 

‘Chopin’s nocturnes are perhaps his greatest claim to fame; they are his most perfect works’. 

That is how they were seen in Paris during the mid nineteenth century. 

That loftiness of ideas, purity of form and almost invariably that stamp of dreamy melancholy’. 

Nehring sought the dreamy interplay of rising and falling emotional tension in this unique nocturne. However, I felt he could have communicated more effectively the feeling of an internal meditation but this is a desire of a high order from a young man and a possibly unrealistic expectation.

Impromptu in G flat major, Op. 51 

I feel this work carries an atmosphere of elegance, refinement and grace of another age, possibly that of the Parisian salons Chopin inhabited - yet is not in the slightest degree superficial. Perhaps Nehring could have introduced with a slightly faster tempo more of a feeling of spontaneity and whimsical shifting moods (albeit of a restrained type) and invention 'on the spot' rather than the atmosphere of a considered, finished work (the choice of title 'Impromptu' surely indicates such an aspect of interpretation). 

André Gide wrote affectingly of the impromptus in his Notes on Chopin :

 ‘What is most exquisite and most individual in Chopin’s art, wherein it differs most wonderfully from all others, I see in just that non-interruption of the phrase; the insensible, the imperceptible gliding from one melodic proposition to another, which leaves or gives to a number of his compositions the fluid appearance of streams.’ 

Polonaise in F sharp minor op. 44

This was a powerful, courageous, masculine and magisterial account of this magnificent polonaise. The unusual mazurka embedded within was finely expressed. Nehring communicated unequivocally the ferocious emotion of national defiance in the face of oppression and valiant resistance to invasion in a manner that left one with nothing further to say. The conclusion was particularly redolent of granite lying within the soul. An outstanding performance.


During the interval there was a presentation of a wooden bust of Arthur Rubinstein carved as a thesis exercise at the Artistic School of Antoni Kenar in Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains in 2019 by the Gorale artist Paweł Stefaniak.

Eva Rubinstein talks to Pawel Stefaniak about his carved bust of Arthur Rubinstein

Impromptu in F sharp major, Op. 36

Professor Tomaszewski writes: 

'It combines several types and genres: impromptu, nocturne, ballade, and etude. The lack of a distinct form has even led observers to infer some hidden (literary) ‘plot’. An air of wonderment accompanies this notated improvisation till the very end.' 

I felt Nehring had not yet mastered the communication of the challenging atmosphere of harmonic exploration contained in this impromptu, this 'notated improvisation'. He presented us rather with a work, finely executed certainly, but somewhat 'finished in conception' rather than redolent with an air of tentative discovery. 

Composed during a recovery period at Nohant after the ill-fated Majorcan sojourn, Chopin himself rather wittily and ambiguously wrote of it, surprisingly to my mind:

‘The second Impromptu, which might be poor, I don’t know, as it’s too fresh. Yet it would be good if it were not too Orłowskian or Zimmermannian, or Karsko-Końskian, or Sowińskian, or swine-ian, or other-animalian [all allusions to composers of Parisian salon music], as it could, according to my reckoning, bring in at least 800 francs’.

Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58 

His final work was the Chopin Sonata in B minor Op. 58. In many ways this sonata (still classical in its formal structure) is the very essence of Romanticism in music. The first and last movements possess the character of ballades, the second is a scherzo, and the third is a nocturne. 

Nehring adopted a powerfully wrought Allegro maestoso with significant dynamic contrasts and the release of pent-up emotion. The light and airy Scherzo, with the delightful detached articulation Nehring adopted, would have pleased Mendelssohn in its velocity and lightness. I felt the Largo to be both emotionally moving and illuminating. It is so difficult to maintain interest and momentum in this movement over the long period it takes to perform. The movement is a nocturne by any other name. An 'aria of the night' indeed. Although satisfying in many ways, Nehring needs to give it a little more coherence, to bring it together more as a series of connected, interrelated yet distinct soundscapes as if one was smoothly passing over varied countryside in a glider. 

The Finale is marked with the indication Presto non tanto. The conclusion he brought was virtuosic and carried one away on an irresistible and wild career. As I mentioned above the movement has the tone and nature of a ballade. 

So impassioned is this movement that it has stimulated the imagination of many interpreters. For Marcel Antoni, it brought to mind an image of the Cossack Hetman Mazepa on a wild steed chased by the wind. Iwaszkiewicz saw this music as a foretaste of the galloping of Wagner’s Valkyries. Both Jachimecki and Chominski heard in it an expression of a demonic nature. Certainly Nehring gave the movement all the excitement and adventure that a young pianist of great talent can invest in it.

As encores he gave us two mazurkas by Szymanowski, thoughtfully chosen ones the composer dedicated to Rubinstein, one of his closest friends.

Eva Rubinstein is seated second from the left and the Festival Director Mr. Wojciech Grochowalski third as Szymon Nehring leaves the colourful C. Bechstein piano after his recital.

Eva Rubinstein beside the sketch by Picasso at the conclusion of the festival
One cannot help but notice the strong facial resemblance in this profile

This was a fine and satisfying recital that demonstrated once again the significant degree the young Polish pianist Szymon Nehring has developed, certainly since I last heard him in August 2018. He inspires great confidence in the future authority of youthful pianism in Poland as a distinguished representative of this phenomenon. 

And so this unique and spiritually uplifting Arthur Rubinstein festival under the imaginative artistic direction of Mr. Wojciech Grochowalski closed. The presence of Arthur Rubinstein's daughter Eva had revealed so much of the authentic soul of that supreme artist. He always believed that in live performance electrical emanations were communicated by some artists to members of the audience. Here they were immanent at one remove but incontrovertibly present. A rare musical and personal experience indeed.


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