The 50th National Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, 1-9 February 2020, Warsaw, Poland




The National Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition took place for the first time in 1968 and currently is one of the most important piano competition in Poland. Organised by The Fryderyk Chopin Institute, it is dedicated to Polish young musicians: students of the Academies of Music as well as the Secondary Schools of Music. It is carried out every year (with the exception of the years that precede the International Chopin Competition) and it can be a ticket to the participation in the international competition (the 1st and 2nd prize allow to take part in the International Chopin Competition without the first preliminary stage); many prizewinners of the national competition were successful later in the International Chopin Competition (Janusz Olejniczak, Krystian Zimerman, Ewa Pobłocka, Krzysztof Jabłoński, Wojciech Świtała, Rafał Blechacz).
The upcoming edition of the National Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition will take place in Warsaw, on 1–9 February 2020. The programme of the competition will consist only of Fryderyk Chopin’s pieces; two first stages will be devoted to solo recitals, and in the final stage the pianists will perform the chosen piano concerto with the Symphonic Orchestra of the National Philharmonic under the baton of Marek Pijarowski.
The Jury of the Competition consists of outstanding pianists and pedagogues: Janusz Olejniczak, Piotr Paleczny, Ewa Pobłocka, Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń (Head), Marta Sosińska, Wojciech Świtała, Waldemar Wojtal i Paweł Zawadzki.  







National Fryderyk Chopin Institute website link for the Competition: 

https://konkursy.nifc.pl/en/ogolnopolski/o-konkursie/64/2

All the brilliant action photographs are by Wojciech GRZEDZINSKI

FINAL RESULTS

Main Prizes
1st   prize Piotr Alexewicz
2nd prize. ex aequo award by Adam Kałduński 2. ex aequo Piotr Pawlak 

3rd  prize was not awarded

4th  prize. Tomasz Marut
5th  prize ex aequo Viet Trung Nguyen 5. ex aequo Maciej Wota

6th  prize was not awarded

The first three laureates are admitted to the Preliminary Round of the 2020 International Fyderyk Chopin Piano Competition in October 2020 without further auditions.


I am in full agreement with the awarding of the first prize and second ex aequo awards.  

However, there are some surprises here, not least the way the prizes were divided. 

However, for a non-jury, 'outside' listener to the competition such as myself, the exclusion of Zuzanna Pietrzak from the list of awards is mysterious considering that she was a finalist and that no 3rd or 6th prizes were awarded.





Professor Artur Sklener, Director of the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute, presents the Diplomas to the Laureates
Piotr Alexewicz
Piotr Pawlak
 Adam Kałduński 
Tomasz Marut
Viet Trung Nguyen


Maciej Wota



Tremendous camaraderie prevailed among the participants. No sense of bitter competition in these friendships - just sheer joy and fun!



As a humble reviewer, who heard almost everything performed, may I offer my congratulations to all the talented pianists who took part in this demanding competition, especially of course the laureates. Also respect for the eminent jury given such grave responsibilities in their assessments. 



We as the audience (me as the unenviable reviewer) must never forget the extraordinary achievement of just passing the entry requirements for such competitions. The utter devotion which is required - the honing of pianistic skills through at least 15 years of hard, largely socially isolating and nerve debilitating training. Then there is the challenging reality of building a future career...They are all wonderful pianists !














































COMPETITION CALENDAR

6 February 2020

Rehearsals with the orchestra



FINAL STAGE
7–8 February 2020

Start of the auditions: 7:00 p.m.


PRIZEWINNERS’ CONCERT

9 February 2020 6:00 p.m.

THE SELECTED FINALISTS


1. Piotr Alexewicz
2. Adam Kałduński
3. Tomasz Marut
4. Viet Trung Nguyen
5. Piotr Pawlak
6. Zuzanna Pietrzak
7. Mateusz Tomica
8. Maciej Wota


Warsaw Philharmonia

Symphonic Orchestra of the National Philharmonic 
Marek Pijarowski.

Performance order Finals Friday 7 February (Concerto Stage)


19:00
Adam
Kałduński
19:40
Tomasz
Marut
20:40
Viet Trung
Nguyen
21:20
Piotr
Pawlak

Performance order Finals Saturday 8 February (Concerto Stage)


19:00
Zuzanna
Pietrzak
19:40
Maciej
Wota
20:40
Mateusz
Tomica
21:20
Piotr
Alexewicz


Portrait of the young Chopin by Ambroży Mieroszewski (1829)









First a few words about the E Minor Piano Concerto Op.11 and how I conceive of it. The review will then perhaps make a little more sense seen through the inescapable filter of my own life experience, that of just one listener. 


As is well known, although designated No.1, it is actually his second concerto. The first written was in F-minor Op.21. The issue is not of the greatest chronological significance because Chopin’s two piano concertos were composed within a year of each other. I am always amazed at the nature of true genius as it was written when Chopin was in his late teens. Perhaps this is why fine performances are often during the International Chopin Piano Competitions in Warsaw when performed by young pianists of much the same age as the composer. At its premiere in 1830, he played the piano part himself, and the concert marked his final public appearance as a pianist in Poland. Soon Chopin was to leave for Vienna and then Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life.



The opening Allegro movement has the character maestoso which we find in the noble and proud polonaises, a measured grandiosity that should be dispatched with èlan and poetry. The styl brillant of the period should be clear to hear in its animation and what in Chopin's day was termed 'enthusiasm'. Graceful rhapsodic sweeps remind me of eagles taking updrafts in the High Tatras. There are calm moments of reflection and fiorituras as delicate as Koniakowska lace. 



Attempts to transform musical experience into the very different language of words is fraught with difficulties.The Romance-Larghetto has always taken me on an imaginative poetic flight as it did Chopin himself when he wrote to his close friend. In this Larghetto (there is another in the F-minor concerto)– its character clarified in the score, following Mozart as a Romance (the sole occasion Chopin used this designation in a piece) – a type of poetic reverie. In a letter to Tytus Woyciechowski, the composer wrote 'It is not meant to create a powerful effect; it is rather a Romance, calm and melancholy, giving the impression of someone looking gently towards a spot that calls to mind a thousand happy memories. It is a kind of reverie in the moonlight on a beautiful spring evening.'



Bear with me as I fight to describe in concrete words the effect this movement has on me. 



The divine melody at this slow tempo is perfectly ardent, one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. Lethargy from dreams begins to awake in a slow movement of unblemished, illusioned rapture. I conceive of it in daylight. In sunlight-dappled groves, lovers lie in long grass by a stream among birches and willows as summer clouds drift hesitantly towards the horizon. The heart rises with the swallow as leaves fall and drift on a slight breeze. Gossamer spider webs glisten in the sun in this slow dance of the heart. A threatening shadow of doubt and a sudden cool chill in the air soon passes as dusk falls, the last pianissimo note of love thrown towards us by hand. 



The Rondo follows attacca, without a pause, rousing us from poetic dreams and reveries with robust dance rhythms vivace and rhapsodic gestures. Here we encounter the playfulness, dancing, acting and extreme good humor of Chopin the young man, a neglected aspect of his character in the received paradigm of the later consumptive melancholic. There is the character of the Polish krakowiak dance here, a syncopated, duple-time popular dance in contemporary Krakow. The characteristic rhythm, liveliness and amusement should be expressed with colour and verve. The theme of the episode – led in octave unison against the pizzicato of the strings – is all born of the virtuosic style brillant. The entire musical population of Warsaw was drawn to the National Theatre for the premiere. One young singer was Konstancja Gładkowska. ‘Dressed becomingly in white, with roses in her hair' as Chopin romantically described her. She sang the cavatina from Rossini’s La donna del lago.



Adam Kałduński







I was immediately struck by the rather heavy, dark orchestral sound of the Warsaw Philharmonic when the concerto opened - suitable for Brahms and Bruckner, but our more classically orientated Chopin ? The reason I love the elegance of the Orchestra of the 18th Century in these works. Kałduński adopted a fine maestoso character at an excellently judged tempo with a lovely singing tone in the poetic phrases which indicated an instinctive understanding of many aspects of the composer. However, I was looking for more energy, irresistible forward momentum and enthusiasm in the declamatory sections of the styl brillant and perhaps a little more youth exuberance. The huge orchestral tuttis with their military character were a bit overwhelming. 



The Romance. Larghetto emerged as a sensitive and beautiful love poem with its finely controlled rise and fall of ardent emotion and arabesques of affection. The pianist is truly musical and breathes his phrases without rushing. The fiorituras of Chopin's somewhat improvised style of writing in this movement were perfectly integrated into the melodic line. His tone and touch are graceful and refined. The Rondo.Vivace launched us into a well controlled joyful krakowiak rhythm of glittering styl brillant with revealing musical phrasing and some slight and most expressive decelerandos and accelerandos. I just missed a certain amount of joi de vivre in this movement however, a degree of infections brio and youthful exuberance that needs to be excavated and expressed. Overall an alluring performance in a restrained and poetic vein.


Tomasz Marut






This was a quite different approach temperamentally to the concerto by this interesting pianist which was more thoughtful, even analytical and less of a poetic conception to the previous. I felt the Allegro maestoso did not move forward with the irresistible, passionate impulse I think it requires, musical phrases slightly broken and not leading inexorably into one another like a mountain stream in the styl brillant which owes so much to the sparkling momentum of the concertos of Hummel. This gave a rather more static, less poetic character to the movement than I would have liked. The Romance. Larghetto was not quite authentically lyrical for me, emerging organically and poetically from the heart. However, his tone quality was far superior here to the Stage I heard in the Kameralna Hall. I was not as emotionally moved as I can be in this movement. The Rondo. Vivace seemed to me to embrace the krakowiak rhythms quite well and robustly but for me it failed to achieve energetic 'lift off' in what I might call le styl exuberant (to invent a French phrase). Certainly the concerto was well played as one would anticipate at this pianistic level but the mountain stream was now flowing down the valley to the plains rather than tumbling joyfully over the rocks at the alpine source.



Viet Trung Nguen







This sensitive pianist chose to play the Chopin F minor concerto. The concerto follows the Mozart model and was directly influenced by the style brillant of Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles or Ries. It is hard to reproduce this intimate yet fragile glittering tone on a Steinway or Yamaha but I felt tonally Nguen managed this internally iridescent style relatively well. Here in this early work Chopin magically transforms the Classical into the Romantic style. 



‘As I already have, perhaps unfortunately, my ideal, whom I faithfully serve, without having spoken to her for half a year already, of whom I dream, in remembrance of whom was created the adagio of my concerto’ (Chopin to his friend Tytus Woyciechowski, 3 October 1829). 



The work itself was written 1829-30. As we all know by now,  this concerto was inspired by Chopin’s infatuation, or was it youthful love, for the soprano Konstancja Gładkowska. Strangely it was published a few years later with a dedication to Delfina Potocka. Neguen's understanding of the styl brillant in the opening Maestoso movement and the Polish rhetorical gestures concealed within the work were not so well delineated. I began to feel that playing a concerto with orchestra was a supremely challenging experience for him. A number of unfortunate solecisms crept in at the side during the performance. 

However, the Larghetto love song was moving and full of considered poetry and lyricism but not quite as sensitive as I anticipated for this pianist from his excellent Stage I and Stage II recitals in the competition. Arguably the most beautiful love song ever written for piano and orchestra - this unrequited love of Chopin for Konstancja Gładkowska that he 'enjoyed' at inaccessible psychological and physical distance produced yearning lyrical melodies of an intense order.  As can be the way in life, it is said she preferred the attentions of the handsome uniformed Russian officers to our poetic genius! 

The testing Allegro vivace seemed to provide technical challenges that limited the unbridled youthful exuberance the movement requires. 

It thrills us with the exuberance of a dance of kujawiak provenance. It plays with two kinds of dance gesture. The first, defined by the composer as semplice ma graziosamente, characterizes the principal theme of the Rondo, namely the refrain. A different kind of dance character – swashbuckling and truculent – is presented by the episodes, which are scored in a particularly interesting way. The first episode is bursting with energy. The second, played scherzando and rubato, brings a rustic aura. It is a cliché of merry-making in a country inn, or perhaps in front of a manor house, at a harvest festival, when the young Chopin danced till he dropped with the whole of the village. The striking of the strings with the stick of the bow, the pizzicato and the open fifths of the basses appear to show that Chopin preserved the atmosphere of those days in his memory. (Tomaszewski) 

Neguen's touch and tone were charming, sensitive and sometimes authoritative but there was not a great variety of nuance and expression. The repetitions of styl brillant phrases of the kujawiak province (of which there are many) were played in exactly the same way in terms of dynamics and articulation when they beg for creative and imaginative contrasts, or at the very least, shadows of the slightly distorted reflections in a mirror. A fine performance but not quite as commanding as I had anticipated. 


Piotr Pawlak







The E minor concerto opened in a suitably Maestoso character and tempo with alluringly-toned cantabile melodies. His well-honed keyboard technique created a sparkling styl brillant and his committed youthful temperament gave us a movement full of nuance and variety. I was rather surprised that a few solecisms sidled in unannounced. I felt the energy he expended had power and drive, forward impetus but was unsettled by the conducting of this concerto movement. I felt a perfect synchronization of soloist and orchestra occasionally came into question. Pawlak brought color and expression to the movement and could be caressing as well as forthright in dealing with of the development of the various themes. The Romance. Larghetto was poetic and yearning. One could not really ask for a more ardent approach without verging on mannerism. The Rondo. Vivace sparkled and bounced along in a youthfully exuberant styl brillant manner of the krakowiak rhythms. His exciting articulation was full of external life and an extrovert desire to please. The forward impetus was infectious despite a few slips and he managed a brilliantly triumphal conclusion.  Again, even within this authoritative virtuoso display, I felt the distinct absence of the true, bubbling joi de vivre achieved in this movement during that tumultuous, electrical, intense and passionate volatility of Daniil Trifonov in the 2010 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw at the age of 19.


Zuzanna Pietrzak







The Allegro maestoso opened in a strong, noble and forceful manner yet in a moderate tempo. The melodic themes were expressive and sensitively yearning in mood. Her tone is rounded and full and her sensitive touch suits this concerto well. I have mentioned before the transparency of her articulation which was absolutely appropriate in this largely styl brillant work. I found the rhapsodic sweep of many of her phrases very convincing and moving as they often moved towards a dynamic culmination of emotion without tonal crudeness. Her cantabile has an alluring, poetic and rather understated quality. Phrasing, nuance and colours were so naturally musical in essence.

The Romance. Larghetto  opened with eloquent simplicity and the innocence of unrequited love (or was it infatuation), felt as a distant illusion. I found the meditative tempo and tone particularly romantic. The appropriate pastel colours of illusioned youth were laid before us before the harsh tigers of experience begin their feast. She brought to the movement a beautifully warm and affectionate rubato. Her sensitive and logical musicality created a charming and poetic dream.

The Rondo.Vivace was certainly well played with abundant styl brilliant character but the krakowiak to my taste lacked sufficient energy and rhythmic 'bite' to create the atmosphere of exuberant, youthful country dancing and high spirits Chopin experienced as a happy young man. We should be carried along unresistant with the energy of the momentum. There is an exuberance in this movement, a true joi de vivre, which I felt rather understated with perhaps excessive classical restraint although finely executed. One might say that a measured approach to this movement is not quite the characteristic intention of it. As so often with Chopin, perhaps this is purely a matter of personal taste. Overall an accurate and cohesive performance of the concerto, brought off with evident love of the composer.

Maciej Wota





He chose to perform the F-minor concerto Op. 21. Remember this was the first piano concerto Chopin wrote. The opening Maestoso movement maintained the character of this indication well but I felt a certain excessive dynamic contrast at times between the more reflective and the declamatory passages. His articulation for the styl brillant was attractive at times, but at others became unaccountably blurred as he emphasized certain passages of heightened emotion. His tone was attractive but often swamped by the orchestra under Marek Pijarowski who seemed not to consider the delicate dynamic balance between soloist and orchestral tutti that is of such great significance in Chopin's scoring of these concerti.

In the Larghetto  it is good to remember the Chopin letter ‘As I already have, perhaps unfortunately, my ideal, whom I faithfully serve, without having spoken to her for half a year already, of whom I dream, in remembrance of whom was created the adagio of my concerto’ (Chopin to his friend Tytus Woyciechowski, 3 October 1829). Sometimes the abundant fiorituras were rather rushed without instinctive and poetic rubato which made them sound perfunctory. I just felt a slight absence of nuance and subtlety although the more agitated phrases were successful. Again the Allegro.Vivace captured the kujawiak rhythms well but for me it did not sparkle enough with exuberance and youth. The movement could have been a great deal more expressive in the articulation, dynamics, and colour and rubato of the many repeated phrases which carry the shifting underlying moods in what can appear on the surface as a simple cascade of notes. The audience loved his performance!

Mateuz Tomica



If you have been reading my notes on this pianist in Stage I and Stage II you will realize I was greatly impressed with his performances and so happy he made the final. I was so looking forward to his concerto stage. He had chosen to play the E minor Op.11. The opening Allegro maestoso was a grand conception, stylish and full of nobility. This pianist has an alluring cantabile and most graceful phrasing. There was a sense of energy gathering momentum as we moved forward through the  work. His repeated phrases were always different in texture, dynamics, touch and articulation - highly imaginative. Orchestral balance again unfortunately disrupted any mood one may enter with the soloist. I felt the concerto was slightly beyond his grasp technically or he was somewhat nervous or unprepared as there were a number of serious solecisms. Such a pity as his penetrating and moving grasp of the Chopin idiom was so clear from previous stages and potentially award winning. 

The Romance.Larghetto was poetic but I felt he may have been a little emotionally disturbed by his challenges in the first movement which affected the loving cantabile which is one of his true strengths. The moving, yearning emotions of unrequited love did not emerge as strongly or movingly as they might.  The Rondo.Vivace had a great deal of the energy and youthful vitality, the phrasing and colour of the styl brillant but was unfortunately marred by these occasional slips. 

The large forms in competitions  are so terribly demanding on young, inexperienced pianists - we as the audience must never forget the extraordinary achievement of just passing the entry requirements for such competitions. The utter devotion which is required - the honing of pianistic skill - at least 15 years of hard, largely socially isolated and nerve debilitating training. I know as I tried in London for years and failed. They are all wonderful pianists compared to Michael here, who still manages some Couperin, Scarlatti, Bach and a few Chopin Mazurkas, Waltzes and Nocturnes. The deeply expressive photograph above of Tomica is desperately moving for me and says it all....so sympathetic and so respectful of his courage to complete the task tonight.

Piotr Alexewicz






After his impressive Stage II Preludes  I was much anticipating this concerto. He chose to play the F minor Op.21. The opening was truly Maestoso with a fine introductory phrase that was noble and considered. the Concerto began in a most expressive manner with an attractive styl brillant glittering tone. Alexewicz moulded the phrases eloquently rather unlike the conductor who is emotionally committed certainly,loves Chopin but neglects subtle gestures. In this movement there was a fine sense of youthful excitement and sheer keyboard exhibitionism, just as Hummel laid the groundwork for this type of entertaining wizardry. The concerto follows the Mozart model and was directly influenced by the style brillant of Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles or Ries. His runs in thirds are spine tingling! I found him technically immaculate and exciting as well as gifted musically in phrasing, nuance, expression and color. A marvellous sense of youthful urgency pervaded the movement.

The Larghetto had a most refined and elegant opening with unsentimental melodic lines. Was true poetry being expressed ? I felt the movement slightly mannered but there were authentic feelings of yearning for an inaccessible love here, a sensitive sense of longing. There were moments when I could hear the chiming of bells and many emotionally warm fiorituras. Dynamic variations were moving and persuasive, particularly when the longing begins to urn to resentment but subsides again in nuances of pianissimo resignation to reality. 

In many ways you could say that the whole work revolves around this movement. I always think of the sentiments contained in the 1820 poem by John Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci when I hear this music with its passionate interjections

I met a lady in the meads,
       Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
       And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
       And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
       And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
       And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
       A faery’s song.


That final forty-note fioritura of longing played molto con delicatezza always carries me away into Chopin's dreamy Romantic poetical world.

The Allegro.Vivace final movement was immediately possessed of bright, electrical articulation with a true virtuoso sound. He allows air to breathe into his phrases to vivify the sensual expression of the styl brillant. There was joy, energy and drive in this Rondo final movement composed in the exuberant style of a kujawiak dance. 

How Chopin must have loved the bucolic nature of the Polish countryside and its music! The Chopin extension of the Hummel piano concerto was here fully realized. Melody and bravura figuration (F minor to the relative major A flat for instance) wonderfully and authoritatively brought off with great balance of formal structure. This composition that lies between Mozart and the styl brillant was very promisingly executed as were the masculine gestures towards the concertos of Weber (following the horn cor de signal for example whose uniqueness always causes a smile). There were moments when I found its mountain stream of notes somewhat unrelieved. However, overall a satisfying performance of bouncing dance rhythms and a technique clearly superior in every to the other competition participants in almost every way expressing the dreams and exuberance of youth. A fine performance of this early Chopin work that will add to his already outstanding Stage I and Stage II to give him the laurels of the competition.






STAGE II
4–5 February 2020

Auditions - from 10.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. / 4.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.

These participants have been selected to pass into Stage II of the competition 


Piotr
Alexewicz
Joanna
Goranko
Adam
Goździewski
Adam
Kałduński
Cezary
Karwowski
Mateusz
Krzyżowski
Julia
Łozowska
Robert
Maciejowski
Tomasz
Marut
Krzysztof
Moskalewicz
Viet Trung
Nguyen
Piotr
Pawlak
Zuzanna
Pietrzak
Bartosz
Skłodowski
Mateusz
Tomica
Maciej
Zuzanna 
Wota
Pietrzak

STAGE I
1–3 February 2020

Saturday, 1 February 2020


Through lack of time, I cannot possibly review each piece performed by each participant even though I realize the time spent on the preparation of every bar of every piece is considerable...I have concentrated on particular, individual elements and musical qualities that struck me during the recitals.

10.00 a.m. – Kamil Borkowski



10:40 a.m. - Joanna Goranko



STAGE I

The Nocturne in B major Op. 62 No.1 I found slightly mannered with quite a deliberate tempo which made it rather too dreamlike for me. The G Minor Ballade Op.23 could have had more inner tension and narrative drama but overall it was an excellent performance with a strong counterpoint in the left hand. Like the majority of the participants, her grasp of the period sensibility that created the Chopin waltzes was rather weak. Obviously a fine pianist, as indicated by her Etudes and Scherzo, I felt that under competition pressure her performance left something to be desired. 

STAGE II


This was a well prepared recital. Her Op.59 Mazurkas were charmingly expressive, both the A minor and A major. She produced a beautiful tone and refined touch in these works. The Sonata in  B minor Op.35 lacked a certain driven urgency in the Grave. Doppio movimento  without a great deal of dynamic variation to express the shifting, mercurial moods of this possible romantic separation of lovers, the urgency and ominous passage of a rider, occasionally even in a reflective even nostalgic mood, yet galloping inexorably towards his doom. The Scherzo remained neurotically agitated but I felt the gloriously introspective Trio was not sufficiently cantabile or legato. I feel this should be sculpted as a poem, a questioning of oneself. The Marche funèbre was unavoidably moving of course but possibly not as tragic as it could be with such large dynamic contrasts. The intensely introspective cantabile Trio could have been more the lyrical operatic aria that is its true nature. Chopin was essentially a cantabile composer which must remain uppermost in the mind performing his music. The Presto was well brought off although the conclusion was rather heavy.

The Ballade in F minor Op. 52 remained a challenge in the emotional direction it should follow in the narrative. the tragic agitation had little inevitability. In the A flat major Polonaise I look for a sense of defiance and resistance. 

11:20 a.m. - Adam Goździewski



STAGE I

I also found his Nocturne in E-major Op.62 N0.2 also rather mannered and verging on the sentimental rather than replete with sentiment which is quite a different matter. In the Rondo a la Mazur in F-major Op.5  his developed technique matched the demands of the work digitally certainly but was this a true styl brillant in the Chopinesque sense? The Etudes were dispatched with tremendous authority and keyboard command. The Polonaise-Fantaisie I felt was slightly beyond him in terms of internal development. Chopin wrote this rather philosophical, meditative work during a period of great unhappiness and suffering. There is so much to discover within which was rather left unexplored.

STAGE II

The Polonaise in F sharp minor Op.44 had a strong sense of anger, defiance and threat from the outset which was absolutely appropriate to this great expression of the Polish mood known as żal. However as all too often in this competition, the cantabile was not in sufficient poetic contrast to the powerful physicality that permeates the piece. The Op. 41 Mazurkas were robust and had a winning air of provincialism about them but little of the subtle nostalgia of reminiscence with which Chopin infuses them. The Sonata in B minor Op.58 is in many ways still classical in its formal structure yet is the very essence of Romanticism in music. The first and last movements possess the character of a ballade, the second is a scherzo, and the third is a nocturne. I am afraid that the dominance of physical passions and absence of poetic meditation or sense of the metaphysical, especially in the Largo, is not really the way I conceive of this work.
Break

12: 30 p.m. - Anna Hajduk-Rynkowicz



I felt the tension of playing in competition put the result slightly outside her full grasp. The Nocturne in C-minor Op.27 No.1 and the Nocturne in D-flat Major Op.27 No.2 were particularly attractive and successful.

1:10 p.m. - Adam Kałduński




STAGE I

The C-sharp minor Scherzo Op. 39 showed an excellent understanding of this work, the wild madness of the last work composed in Majorca after the tempestuous Valldemossa episode in  Chopin's life. The Etudes were well executed and I found the Waltz  in A flat major  Op.64 No.3 very touching and refined. 

STAGE II

Quite unexpectedly the Op.53 so-called 'Heroic' Polonaise was one of the best I have heard for a very long time - packed full of raw defiance, anger and brimming with that curious Polish emotion known as żal  that occurs so often in Chopin, in fact the composer seems almost addicted to it. Such an exciting performance, majestic and aristocratic with a type of direct volatility, slightly out of civilized control. Exactly as it should be...

Liszt wrote of Chopin's conception of żal:

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

The Mazurkas Op.33  were subtle and satisfying. The G sharp minor was gently introverted and introspective. The C major revealed a fine tone and sensitive touch at the instrument to call up the elegiac mood. The D major was nicely energetic with 'bounce' and infectious rhythm. He seemed to imagine the dance in his own body. The B minor, the 'tragic' key, was expressively regretful rather like the sun coming from behind rapidly scudding clouds. This performance was most moving on occasion. 

The Ballade in F minor Op.52 was possessed of a good sense of musical narrative and full of emotion. There was poetry aplenty here but also regret, anger and resignation. Passionate outbursts followed by almost immediate regret at losing control but then the agitated mood inevitably returns as in life. 

In the opening movement Grave. Doppio movimento Sonata in B-flat minor Op.35  I began to feel certain limitations. The great Polish musicologist Tomaszewski describes the general mood perceptively: ‘The Sonata was written in the atmosphere of a passion newly manifest, but frozen by the threat of death.’ A deep existential dilemma for Chopin speaks from these pages written in Nohant in 1839. The pianist, like all of us, must go one dimension deeper to plumb the terrifying abyss this sonata opens at our feet. The Scherzo was sufficiently unhinged but the Trio could have had far more cantabile as a profound contrast. He dealt with the Marche funèbre in a suitably sombre mood with dark colours washing over us. Then a type of rising of the spirit in a fruitless attempt to change the doom-laden mood but an inevitable reversion to the overall depression followed. The cantabile in the Trio was beautifully wrought at just the right tempo to move one, musical and very sensitive. The Presto was not too fast as to obscure the fascinating internal counterpoint and implied polyphony. Waves of the grief-stricken mind remembering the optimistic past...

Excellent recital that should put him in the final.  

Break between sessions

4 p.m. - Cezary Karwowski



STAGE I 


I felt he captured the idiom and rhythm of the Waltz in A Major Op. 34 No. 1 better than most participants. Again his Nocturne in C  Minor Op. 48 No.1 bordered on the slow and sentimental. A greater musical penetration of that great masterpiece of Western music, the Ballade in F minor Op. 52 will hopefully come with time and the maturity of experience.

STAGE II

The Polonaise in F-sharp minor Op.44 was certainly rebellious and defiant but posed a few challenges along the way. The Mazurkas Op.59 could have more idiomatic interest for me, but as a 'foreigner' I expected some soft nostalgic elements scattered among the strong coiuntry rhythms. I also felt some dramatic and lyrical limitations in the Sonata in B minor Op.58

4:40 p.m. - Małgorzata Kruczek




I  found the three Waltzes of Op.34 very charming indeed as was the affecting atmosphere created in the Nocturne in F-sharp major Op.15 No. 2. The G minor Ballade Op.23 seemed slightly exaggerated in its musical narrative. "I got a ballad from Chopin"  Schumann informed one of his friends, Henryk Dorn in the autumn of 1836. - I seem to be closest to his genius (though not: the most brilliant) his work. I told him (Schumann wrote these words the day after meeting Chopin) that of everything he had created so far, it came to my heart. After a long silence, Chopin replied emphatically: "This makes me happy, because I like her the most, she is the dearest to me."

5:20 p.m. - Mateusz Krzyżowski




STAGE I

A participant clearly more musically mature than many in this competition. I found his Nocturne in F-sharp minor Op. 48 No.2  a very beautiful example of Chopin's reflective, introspective and  post romantic phase of composition, bordering on grandeur.  In the Etude in E minor Op.25/5  I found the cantilena most moving, the manner in which it emerged in such an expressive manner was magical. In the A minor Etude Op. 25 No.11 his skillful pedaling and control of counterpoint was fine as was the clarity of his articulation. Oddly I found his conception of the G-minor Ballade Op.23 rather too intellectual and almost metaphysical in its Salvator Rosa style of excessive drama. It became a series  of passionate dramatic chiaroscuro landscapes which I felt did not capture the more subtle and integrated emotional moods of this great work.  Certainly Tomaszewski writes of it: 'At that time, Chopin's music spoke with great suddenness and violence what was his own, individual, separate - expressing the composer's internal world spontaneously and without resistance. A world of real experiences and shocks, sentimental memories and dreams, romantic imaginations and fantasies. In those years, he did not spare these experiences and shocks. Neither in the sphere of patriotic feelings, nor in the sphere of intimate feelings.' Balance of emotion is always the operative word in approaching the Ballades.

STAGE II

I found the Mazurkas Op.56 very rewarding, idiomatic and deeply satisfying. 

The set of Preludes Op.28 I found rather uneven. I cannot go into the detail of this rather disappointing, almost too straightforward approach to each Prelude, save to say he gave a fluently virtuosic and emotional account of the cycle. There were a few solecisms I am afraid to note.

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. 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.

The preludes surely extend the prescient Chopin remark 'I indicate, it's up to the listener to complete the picture'.  

The Polonaise Op.53 had all the fine qualities one associated with this majestic,  emotional rebellion.

Break 

6:30 p.m. - Martyna Kubik





I felt that deeply felt expressiveness was occasionally absent in an otherwise well executed recital. Again the French elegance and finesse that Dinu Lipatti understood so well could have been more accentuated in the three Waltzes of Op.34. It should not be forgotten that Chopin was at least partly French as well as Polish. In his personal dress and the decoration of his apartment in Paris, he presents as a most fastidious even demanding gentleman (read his directive letters to Julian Fontana).

7:10 p.m. - Julia Łozowska




STAGE I

I liked this entire recital very much indeed. Her G minor Ballade achieved just the right balance of dreamy introspective reflection and passionate tension of emotional ungoverned utterance in a purely musical narrative. The Etudes  in B minor Op. 25/10 and G flat major Op. 10/5 were surprisingly rather blurred in articulation, perhaps ad a result of excessive velocity 

But it was her brilliant Scherzo in B minor Op.20 that captivated me and was by far the finest performance of any work of the day. I quote from Tomaszewski which describes better than me the effect of this work under her fingers :  'When did this piano 'thunderbolt' take place, this record of an explosion of emotion with strength previously unheard of? When was the concept of the song born, which seems to anticipate that Tolstoy's formula, circulated for a well-constructed drama: start fortissimo and then just lead the crescendo to the end? Chopin wrote these measures at the turn of 1830 and  1831 in Vienna, in an aura of overwhelming loneliness, when he made a confession to one of his friends in Warsaw: "If I could, I would move all the tones, what would only blind, furious, furious feeling arouse me ..."? Or a few years later, in Paris, when in white gloves and a brilliant mood , "torn apart in all directions" - as he confided to another of his friends - he entered the first company, because from there, as he wrote, "good taste comes, and you have more talent now, if the Duchess of Vandemont was supporting ... ?'

STAGE II

She elected to play two polonaises Op.26, No.1 in C-sharp minor and No.2 in E-flat minor. The cantilena of the Trio which lies at the heart of No.1 is surely one of the most affecting melodies Chopin ever wrote, especially lying at the centre of such emotional turbulence. It is a true operatic aria and I felt she could have made far more of this evidence of the composer's love of Bellini. I felt similarly about No.2 , but she created an ominous opening which was very atmospheric. I was overjoyed she chose the Bolero in A minor Op.19 as it speaks to the other side of my nature, the hedonistic side. A stylish and spirited performance of this rarely performed but rhythmically exciting and youthful work of Chopin. She seemed happy with it too and really enjoyed playing it. However she should give herself time to breathe the melodic phrase. It all seemed rather rushed. The bolero was originally a lively Spanish dance in triple metre originating in the 18th century and popular in the 19th. It bears a resemblance to the polonaise which is perhaps why Chopin wrote one.

A Bolero Dancer is a painting by Antonio Cabral Bejarano 
I appreciated her approach to the Mazurkas Op.30. The B minor was on the heavy side and rather too strenuous  but the D-flat major was expressive and most alluring. I liked her lilting rhythm in the C-sharp minor which gave the piece such a nostalgic air.

Then  onto the large form on her programme, the Sonata in B-flat minor Op.35. The opening Grave. Doppio movimento possessed great expressiveness, tremendous energy and forward momentum which gave the approach to this movement, with its lyrical reflections, a type of fatalistic inevitability. Moving and expressive even though the tempo could have been restrained somewhat from the bolting horse pace she adopted. Moving nevertheless. She allowed personal keyboard passion to distort the Scherzo and carry her away on a wave of nervous energy. The beautiful cantalina of the Trio is such a contrast but it was not played sufficiently as a considered operatic aria. The Marche funebre was fatalistic and tragic. This was also true of the contrasting cantabile of the Trio which I always feel, in the face of this profound grief, has a touch of the unhinged mind as in Act III of Lucia de Lammermoor. 

A properly eloquent tempo and dynamic is so difficult to achieve in this movement. So many people seem to think it ought to accompany an imaginary military band approaching or departing a cemetery with a heavy dull tread lacking in poetry. I felt a deep and haunting melancholy here, a forlorn cry of the soul facing its inevitable destiny. She played piano to pianissimo with great poetry and a singing tone.  Of the Presto (which she joined to the Marche funebre) and which concludes the work, Chopin wrote characteristically with intentional irony of the ‘chattering after the march’ leaving Schumann to write in philosophical and literary frustration: ‘The Sonata ends as it began, with a riddle, like a Sphinx – with a mocking smile on its lips’. 

Sunday, 2 February 2020

10:00 a.m.- Robert Maciejowski








STAGE I

Here we experienced a highly emotional and passionate pianist with an individual and highly imaginative approach to his entire programme. However I found his Nocturnes Op. 55 verged on the sentimental and almost indulgent with their slow tempi and overly cultivated silences.  The four Etudes he chose from Op.25 Nos. 5,6,10 and 11 certainly betrayed individuality of imaginative conception and execution but on occasion I did question, was this my personal view of Chopin? We all have our own view of this composer and tend to defend it to the death! The great F minor Ballade Op. 52 could perhaps have been somewhat more coherent in its narrative sweep but without doubt the individuality of his conceptions made a significant impression on us all as did his entire recital.

STAGE II

I was unfortunately unable to attend this recital as I had other commitments.

10:40 a.m.- Tomasz Marut



STAGE I


In a pianistically competent and impressive competition performance. However, I yearned for a great deal more emotional expressiveness in his recital. The Rondo in E-flat major Op.16 was his most successful piece to my mind which emphasizes the styl brillant.

STAGE II

I was unfortunately unable to attend this recital as I had other commitments.

11:20 a.m.- Marian Michalski




I felt rather similar response to that in the preceding recital. Certainly the notes are all there under the fingers but the penetration of Chopin's cultural milieu and the cultivated sensibility of his day reflected in the phrasing, rubato, dynamic variation, nuance, use of emotionally pregnant silences and so on is seldom present in far too many of these young pianists. They really must immerse themselves far more deeply in what Marcelina Czartoryska, Chopin's favorite pupil, referred to as le climat de Chopin.

 Break

12:30 p.m. - Mateusz Mikołajczak



This is a very promising pianist whose main blemish is to rush musical matters more than is necessary. This was clear in the fine Nocturne in C minor Op.48 No.1. His Waltz in E-flat Major Op.18 captured the idiom better than most so far in the competition. The Ballade in F minor Op. 52 could have been more considered and the Fantasia in F minor showed a very fine basis on which much further work is needed.

1:10 p.m. - Maria Moliszewska



Although this was a most charming recital, she tended to suffer the same problem as above in rather rushing phrases more than was necessary. In the competition I wish participants would breathe the phrases far more which would enable more detail and inner polyphony, so important in Chopin, to emerge. Her Nocturne in E-flat major Op.55 No.2 was particularly graceful and alluring.

Break between sessions

4 p.m. - Krzysztof Moskalewicz




STAGE I

This was an outstandingly fine and impressive musical recital. The Etude in C-sharp minor Op.25 No.7 was far more expressive than other participants. The Barcarolle was a considered, atmospheric and emotionally expressive performance which illustrated so well his high level of musical competence and penetration of the spirit of this demanding score. Balance and control without excessive dynamic contrast, colour, well judged rubato and alluring nuances. The Scherzo in C-sharp minor Op.39 began excellently with a striking emotionally moving change to the minor key and a passionate coda. I felt it to be rather dynamically invariable however and the tone quality was not always attractive. The Waltz in A flat major Op. 34 No.1 could have possessed more elegance, charm and finesse rather than an air of triumphalism (a common observation in this competition). He was in complete command of the remaining two Chopin Etudes, especially the E-minor Op.25 No.5 and an excellent C minor Op.10 No. 12.

STAGE II


Certainly there was a good narrative sense in the G minor Ballade Op.23 but his tone does tend to harshness in forte passages and a few solecisms crept in through the front door. The Polish defiant mood and żal was not quite captured in the A-flat major polonaise Op.53 and I felt the cantabile reflective legato section did not lyrically sing sufficiently as it can. The Mazurkas Op.59 were pleasantly played as a group but perhaps a deeper approach to these remarkable small forms (many Polish musicologists consider them the distilled essence of Chopin) may be attempted. 

Although clearly this is an advanced and sensitive pianist, I felt a more searching musical and philosophical approach was required in the Sonata in B minor Op.58. In many ways this great sonata (still classical in its formal structure) is the very essence of Romanticism in music. The first and last movements possess the character of a ballade, the second is a scherzo, and the third is a nocturne. I waited for an impassioned internal drama, meditation and reflection (in the Largo) which failed to materialize. It is so difficult to maintain interest and momentum in this Largo movement over the long period it takes to perform. A nocturne by any other name, the movement requires a complete mastery of legato. An 'aria of the night' indeed. The Finale is marked with the indication Presto non tanto. The movement has the tone and nature of a ballade however I did not feel this irresistible impetus or narrative force. There were some unfortunate lapses, perhaps due to competition stress, during the sonata. 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. 

I felt so disappointed that the Moskalewicz STAGE II was not as impressive as his STAGE I.

Break

4:40 p.m. - Viet Trung Nguyen 




STAGE I

I was impressed with this subtle and deeply musical recital. The Nocturne in C minor Op.48 No.1 was deeply expressive and seductive in tone. The familiar  Ballade in G minor Op.53 was an impressive, dramatic, theatrical and organic narration that emerged as a noble and passionate, balanced performance without exaggeration.  The articulation in the LH of the  G flat major Etude ('Black Keys') was fine indeed as was the transparent, glittering articulation in the Etude in B minor Op.25 No.10. My usual objection to the Waltz as misunderstanding the period idiom unfortunately  pertain here. The gentle opening of the Barcarolle set the tone, colour palette and waterscape mood perfectly as dreamy love set out on a Venetian lagoon. The conclusion and coda tended however to an exaggeration in dynamic (such a common fault in this work among young pianists). A recital that showed great musical refinement.

STAGE II

He opened with the attractive Op.17 set of Mazurkas. The B major had a most pleasant central section. The E minor was ardent, seductive with fine phrasing. The A-flat major had attractive nuance and a sensitive and refined tone and touch.  It was most expressive and possessed a convincing emotional lability from physical remembrance transformed into nostalgia. The A minor, a favourite of mine, a rather untypical mazurka, was an extremely sensitive and fine performance with just the right touch of anger and resentment before subsiding once again into the regrets of lost,  irreplaceable memory.

The Ballade in F minor Op.52 opened with a tender innocence which revealed the instinctive musicality of this pianist. All of the narrative harmonic developments carried  musical meaning. However he is prone to excessive dynamic inflection, excessive dynamic contrasts, as are so many participants perhaps as a result of youth, inexperience or simply not listening to oneself.  Yet there were alluring colours here, attractive shifting moods, landscapes of sound and yearning for the absolute which permeates this Ballade with the resultant  disappointment which inevitably accompanies such aspirations in human life. The cantabile within the work and a rhapsodic left hand were extraordinarily fine. Fine, transparent articulation and a tremendous coda. A formidable conception of this late work by such a young talent.

Then to the Sonata in B-flat minor Op.35. I felt he began this funereal work far too virtuosically and up tempo to set the introspective and deeply angry discontent with  the nature of mortality that suffuses the work. The opening Grave. Doppio movemento possessed a degree of tragedy and menace but not quite enough for me. I felt it not sufficiently impassioned but simply exaggerated and a prey to the youthful energy of the pianist. I realize this is unforgivably unfair, but he (they all) should listen to the 1961 Rubinstein recording of Op.35 on RCA. The moderation of tempo effortlessly supplants exaggerated tempi in expressed passion. Expression emerges from other adjustments than higher or lower dynamic and faster or slower tempi. One must allow the music to breathe. Music is a language that must retain meaning. 

The Scherzo began forcefully but the Trio failed to have a sufficiently alluring, seductive cantabile tone and touch owing to this lack of control. We as listeners must be able to hear the internal complexity and polyphony that Chopin utilizes under the influence of Bach. The Marche  funèbre was most impressive with the funeral bell tolling lugubriously in the left hand. He begun at an impressive moderate, dignified tempo that grew out of the pessimistic conclusion to the Scherzo. The innocence of the Trio was as ever with such movements, movingly expressed  with sensitive cantabile  in tone colour and touch. It truly sang as an aria, replete with profoundly despairing nostalgia (this gloriously soaring aria would be next to impossible to spoil, however one played - it remains sublime Chopin). The fragility of life and the ruthless pendulum of fate and death needs to be feelingly communicated to us, as was so done. The brief return of the gloomy theme was unsettling until the Presto erupted in a virtuoso style, the baroque counterpoint and harmonic complexities clearly indicated yet for my rather Gothic imagination, not quite emotional enough in its sweeping fatalism, the grief of an unhinged mind or a wind blowing autumn leaves over the grave. 

The Polonaise Op.53 did not really express that Polish defiant and valiant spirit so suffused with żal. Rather simply a fine exercise in virtuoso pianism.

5:20 p.m. - Piotr Pawlak 




STAGE I

The Ballade in F-major  Op. 38 was a convincingly musical performance although I felt he tended to rush things which is somewhat of a strain on the attentive listener. The Etudes (A minor Op.25 No.11; A minor Op.10 No.2) were simply brilliant and full of thoughtful expression even if highly virtuosic. The Impromptu  had an improvised quality but although a fine performance it lacked the lyricism I seek in this work. His E-flat major Waltz Op.18 was delightful and charming with all the energy of youth. Perhaps it could have been slightly lighter and more elegantly French but this was an interpretation of shifting moods which was marvellous. I found the introspection and sensitive meditative approach to the Etude in E flat minor rather philosophical in a deeper sense and as such particularly satisfying. The Ballade in F minor Op.53 was also had a musically penetrating grasp of this remarkable 'opera of life'. A rewarding recital on every musical level.

STAGE II

He opened with the Polonaise in A-flat major Op.53. I am afraid I felt that despite its forceful dynamic and anger it did not quite touch me as a noble expression of Polish resistance and valiant defiance. Just seemed to slip away through the virtuosity. The group of Preludes  from Op.28 (Nos. 17-24) were strongly and musically performed. No. 20 in C minor  was most effective in its dynamic range and characteristic diminuendo but the others were accomplished rather than inspired by an individual vision. I felt the four Mazurkas from Op.17 expressed a good grasp of the shadows of provincialism that are sublimated by Chopin into these high art works. Again I liked so much the A minor which was a highly refined performance and particularly communicative of a nostalgic  atmosphere of disillusioned yearning

The Sonata in B-flat minor Op.35 in the opening Doppio movimento tended on occasion to be exaggerated into the over -urgent and intense. However the drama built convincingly and was impassioned to a high degree which did not obscure the polyphony. His cantabile was reflective but I would have liked to be more aware of the legato character of song. The Scherzo put me in mind of the great Polish musicologist Tomaszewski who commented: ‘…one might say that it combines Beethovenian vigour with the wildness of Goya’s Caprichos.' I felt it could have been more balanced in mood and dynamic with the reminiscence contained within the cantabile Trio. This beautiful Trio took us singing into the further dimension of ardent dreams which makes the Marche  funèbre such a shocking emotional jolt from the force of destiny. The reflective trio of the Marche is a contrast of innocence, love and purity blighted by the reality of death (Chopin was terrified of being buried alive – often horrifyingly possible in those primitive medical times). Tomaszewski continues perceptively: ‘The Sonata was written in the atmosphere of a passion newly manifest, but frozen by the threat of death.’  The polyphonic transparency of the Presto was created most effectively with minimal use of the pedal.

Overall a satisfying recital of an accomplished musician and pianist which should secure him a place in the final.


6:30 p.m. - Zuzanna Pietrzak




STAGE I 

She literally exploded onto the stage with her huge dynamic in the Etude in C minor Op.10 No. 4 and B minor Op.25 No. 10. I for one almost flew out the room through a window with the unleashing of this power. This mood calmed into Nocturne in D-flat major, a beautiful and unsentimental but deeply sensitive approach. The Impromptu in F sharp major Op.36 was charming with all the understated musical qualities I look for in these marvelous, rather inaccessible works by Chopin. In the A flat major Waltz Op. 64 No.3 however, I was again forced to ask 'Where is le bon gout, the poetry and the style?' I felt the inner complexity of the Fantasy in F minor escaped her rather as she did not seem to be able to fully penetrate the demanding musical and philosophical depth of this work.

STAGE II

She opened her recital with the Sonata in B minor Op.58. Her fine, transparent technique and especially refined articulation was immediately obvious. This Sonata gives us the essence of Romantic music. The first and last movements are marked by the character of a ballade, the second a scherzo, and the third a nocturne. Turbulence and terror contrasted with reflective calm were well characterized in the opening Allegro maestoso movement. Her brilliant articulation brought the Scherzo to galvanic life as its bizarre, even modernist nature, unfolded reminiscent of a lightness more from the realm of A Midsummer Night’s Dream than from the real world. The Trio was superbly nostalgic from a lost world of remembrance until the Scherzo led us into the Largo third movement. This emerged as a true internal meditation on past experience, an attempt to make sense of the past, essentially introspective in its existential engagement of moods and fluctuations of memory. She understood, unlike many, where this extraordinary abstraction was ultimately heading. The melody made complete musical sense as it appeared and subsided rather like some metaphysical entity with a life of its own.

The entrance to the Finale. Presto non tanto demonstrated her command of the keyboard and the inner passions expressed in this turbulent music. She built a magnificent conclusion with a slight decelerando to the triumphant conclusion. 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. 

The Nocturne in E-minor WN 23 inhabited a gentle and seductive world of night landscape, touched by the flutter of moth wings. Memories on an emotional climacteric subside into dreams within a resigned present.

The group of Mazurkas Op. 41 were brilliantly delineated in their different characters. The No.1 in E-minor was a sad reminiscence of happier times indeed. All these fluctuating moods are made clear by this deeply expressive pianist, a mistress of nuance and colour. No.2 in B major is possessed of a provincial nature brilliantly presented here as a robust peasant dance. Such adventurous harmonies Chopin explored here - risk-taking is an essential aspect of the nature of  genius. No.3 in A major is a dance on the sunny pastures of Mazowsze dotted with willows by a gentle-flowing reedy stream. No.4 in C minor was full of deeply musical phrasing and insight.

Finally her Op.53 Polonaise  was noble, majestic, valiant, fearless and rousing to political and social rebellion. What more could one ask of the politically subversive Chopin ?

7:10 p.m. - Jan Porzuczek


 


Overall I felt this promising young pianist to somewhat out of his depth in this competition. However I was full of admiration for his choice of the early G sharp minor Polonaise WN 4 which he played delightfully with full idiomatic understanding of the noble dance. The Ballade in F major Op.38 needs a great deal more mature work to come to terms with this demanding musical narrative.

Monday, 3 February 2020

10:00 a.m.- Matthew Rettner




His Ballade in A-flat major Op.47 opened in a way that did nor really announce a narrative. Dramatic certainly but limited in expressiveness, rather a syndrome in this competition. It is as if participants are afraid to be individually expressive and if they are it leads to uncomfortable exaggeration or eccentricity. The Waltz in A flat major Op.64 No.3 was subject to the same problematic limitations of style we have encountered before. The Nocturne in E-flat major Op.55 No.2 was not sufficiently seductive or tender. The Etudes he chose (E minor Op.25/5 and C minor Op.10/4 ) although well played, in many ways presented certain keyboard issues as did the Fantasy in F minor.

10:40 a.m.- Bartosz Skłodowski




STAGE I 

Concerning the Fantasy in F minor  I think  it is high time I quoted the great Polish musicologist Tomaszewski on this work:
'I finished the Fantasy today - and the sky is beautiful. My heart is sad - but it doesn't matter. If it were otherwise, maybe my existence would be of no use to anyone. " [letter to  J. Fontana from Chopin , October 1841]
Fryderyk Niecks , in a quite critical Chopin monograph, called the Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49 "a masterpiece built of strength and passion." Gerald Abraham - "the crown of Chopin's work". Among the statements about the song are full of superlatives: "one of the highest revelations of the human spirit" ( Ashton Johnson ), "one of the greatest works in piano literature" ( Ludwik Bronarski ), 
"a piece that should be played only by great pianists ... . "John Fielder Porte ).



There is no doubt: the Fantasy in F minor has the momentum and gesture of the highest matters, it also has concentration and reflection on the deepest matters. Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno had so much intuition to capture the unexpectedly accurate. He said, quite abruptly, "You have to have your ears clogged so that you do not hear in Chopin 's F minor Fantasy what you have to say to us through tragically triumphant music: that Poland has not died and that one day it will rise again.'



I felt that none of the young pianists who chose this work, through unavoidably limited experience of life, came close to expressing its true essence. 



The Waltz in A flat major Op. 34 No.1 should not be performed as a full virtuoso piano piece but should be lighter and less serious. It is not an Etude! Skłodowski is in possession of a fine technique but needs to think beyond the notation far more as in say the Ballade in F minor Op. 52.

STAGE II

The Polonaise in F-sharp minor was well performed but for me lacked the essential Polish emotion of  żal and and angry defiance. I felt the lack of expressive dynamic variation rather relentless, especially in this polonaise. The Mazurkas Op. 56 were not sufficiently expressive for me either. This general lack of sufficient attractive expressiveness is a feature of far too many participants.  The Sonata in B minor Op.58 was perhaps better and he certainly has a command of the work. It is just that permeating a work sufficiently and perceiving what lies below the surface of the notes and beyond the bar lines is inherent in a convincing presentation. the lack of dynamic variation to note worked to the advantage of the Preso non tanto as it built up a formidable inertia.

11:20 a.m.- Dominik Stępiński




I must confess to being rather unimpressed with his recital as I felt he had failed to understand certain aspects of Chopin that are vital - one is tempo, the nuance of suggestion and colour, another the idea of an absolute musical narrative as in say his G minor Ballade, a sense of French lightness, elegance and affectation in the Waltz in E flat major Op.18. However I was captivated by the surprisingly meditative, contemplative and surprisingly poetic account of sections of the Polonaise-Fantaisie. A complete surprise....

Break

12:30 p.m. - Matthew Tomica






STAGE I

This was for me by far the most satisfying recital so far in the competition. He opened with the Ballade in F major Op.38. This was full of expression, colour and subtle nuance, well considered and accurate, never straying into exaggeration but maintaining equilibrium in the Mozartian sense - a feature of his entire recital. The musical phrasing was eloquent , passionate and committed. An exciting performance that communicated its essence effortlessly to the audience. The Waltz in A-flat major Op.32 No.1 showed an excellent grasp of this, now  so remote in time, vision. This was particularly musical and by far the best waltz of the competition. The Nocturne in C minor Op.27 No.1 opened with a quite marvelous, mysterious beginning which continued to grow organically with excellent musical logic and understanding. The Etudes were simply spectacular and among the finest we have heard here. Expressive with a commanding technique and powerful LH - very exciting performances of the C major Op.10/7 and the A minor Op.25/11. He concluded his recital with the G minor Ballade in a performance that in its narrative contained fine rubato, phrasing, nuance and passion.

STAGE II 

He began with the Sonata in B-flat minor  Op.35. The Grave. Doppio movimento was taken at rather too fast a tempo to engage me in the unfolding tragedy. For me the opening should possess great expressiveness, tremendous energy and forward momentum which gives the approach to this movement a type of fatalistic inevitability. A rider, occasionally in a reflective even nostalgic mood, may be galloping inexorably towards his doom.  We need some chiaroscuro painterly effects as we move into the energetic and faily bizarre Scherzo. This did not really move me sufficiently with proper jagged rhythms. The deeply expressive Trio within should be of caressing and heart-warming cantabile. Then again the tremendous energy of a briefly resuscitated life. 

This was also true of the contrasting, desperately moving cantabile Trio of the Marche funebre which I always feel in the face of this profound grief has a touch of the unhinged mind as in Act III of Lucia de Lammermoor. A properly eloquent tempo and dynamic is so difficult to achieve in this movement. So many people seem to think it ought to accompany an imaginary military band with a heavy dull tread lacking in poetry. I felt a deep and haunting melancholy here, a forlorn cry of the soul facing its inevitable destiny. In the Preso hew could have made more of the internal animation of this agitated polyphony and implied polyphony.

Then to the Mazurkas Op. 74. the No.1 in  G minor  had an engaging rhythm and tonal variety as well as attractive varied dynamically. No.2 in C major was possessed of very engaging mercurial moods and colour. No.3 in A-flat major had fine rubato, rhythm, colour and most affecting phrasing. No.4 in B minor  was most expressive in its articulation. He clearly adores the Chopin Mazurkas was was clear from his emotional  facial expressions and body posture.

Finally the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante. This was such a courageous choice for competition. The Andante was full of appropriate warm emotions and feeling,  a nocturne without anxiety on a soft, moonlit night, lyricism, colour of dreams all with a rounded glowing tone. His touch was refined and sensitive in a work Chopin loved himself and often performed it alone as a solo piece. 

We are then return dramatically to life. What happens in this work as the theme of the polonaise enters, has been described in various ways, but always with admiration. For Jan Kleczynski, it is ‘a real firework of wondrous passages and bold phrases’, for Zdzislaw Jachimecki ‘a wondrously shimmering play of lights and colours’, and for Tadeusz Zielinski ‘a wealth and magnificence of patterns in sound’.The Grande Polonaise Brillante in E major Op.22. had an excellent 'call to the floor' after which followed a change in Tomica's posture at the instrument to upright and rather noble for this dance. He has a full understanding of the styl brillant and his articulation, minimal use of the pedal, stylish phrasing and understanding of the affectations of the noble polonaise dance gestures was well near perfect apart from a few slips. This work hold traps for the unwary!  The principal theme of the Polonaise combines soaring flight with spirit and verve, bravura with elegance – all of those features that characterize a dance in the styl brillant. That opening (and principal) theme is at once developed by a complementary theme that is suffused with harmoniousness and given over to play. Played with the utmost fluency, subtlety and sensitivity to the beauty of the sound, it confirms the delight of Jan Kleczyński: ‘There is no composition stamped with greater elegance, freedom and freshness’. (Tomaszewski extracts)

1:10 p.m. - Jan Wachowski




Here we had a particularly correct and accurate player of undoubted abilities who did not  communicate his commitment to the music sufficiently, or so it seemed to me.  I liked his Etudes such as the C minor Op.10/12 , the B  minor Op.25/10 and a most expressive and poetic C minor Op. 25/7. The Scherzo Op.20 demonstrated his commanding technique, articulation and musicianship. However I felt the cantilena at the centre of this work was not truly legato. His tone could be harsh on occasion and touch somewhat unsubtle but overall an impressive, well planned and execute recital.

4 p.m. - Anna Lipiak




I liked this recital very much and found it both musical and artistic. The Ballade in F major Op.38 had an introduction of innocence from which she built the drama impressively even if her articulation was slightly 'blurred' on occasion. The Nocturne in E flat major Op.55 No.2 had a fine, cultivated tone and atmosphere that was not sentimental but contained winning and moving sentiment. I found the Etude in A minor op.10/2 elegant and light although some small errors crept in. She rather seduced us with the Etudes than beat us into submission which is all too common in competitions. Most pleasant for the listener. Her Waltz in F major  Op.34/3 was expressive, elegant, light, airy, refined and transparent as was the Rondo in E-flat major Op.16 where she used minimal pedal to achieve the appropriate styl brillant. The playing was fairly expressive with eloquent rubato, phrasing and articulation. However I felt she could have been more rhapsodic on occasion and not rushed matters. Chopin was young and amusing himself in hos Rondos. I liked the Ballade  in A-flat major Op.47 which had impressive rhetorical gestures and an understated narrative drive with alluring melody. She built the drama most convincingly.

4:40 p.m. - Maciej Wota 



STAGE I


Concerning the Fantasy in F minor I will simply repeat my quotation from the recital above from the great Polish musicologist Tomaszewski on this work:

'I finished the Fantasy today - and the sky is beautiful. My heart is sad - but it doesn't matter. If it were otherwise, maybe my existence would be of no use to anyone. " [letter to J. Fontana from Chopin , October 1841]

Fryderyk Niecks , in a quite critical Chopin monograph, called the Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49 "a masterpiece built of strength and passion." Gerald Abraham - "the crown of Chopin's work". Among the statements about the song are full of superlatives: "one of the highest revelations of the human spirit" ( Ashton Johnson ), "one of the greatest works in piano literature" ( Ludwik Bronarski ), 

"a piece that should be played only by great pianists ... . "( John Fielder Porte )

There is no doubt: the Fantasy in F minor has the momentum and gesture of the highest matters, it also has concentration and reflection on the deepest matters. Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno had so much intuition to capture the unexpectedly accurate. He said, quite abruptly, "You have to have your ears clogged so that you do not hear in Chopin 's F minor Fantasy what you have to say to us through tragically triumphant music: that Poland has not died and that one day it will rise again.'

I felt that none of the young pianists who chose this work, through unavoidably limited experience of life, came close to expressing its true essence. 

The Nocturne in E major Op.62 No.2 was rather to slow in tempo which caused it to border on the overly sentimental. Beautiful but slightly mannered. Excellent Etudes if blurred articulation on occasion (G sharp major Op.10 no.5 and A major Op.10/10). I thought the Scherzo in B flat minor Op.31 far too aggressive dynamically and played at such a fast tempo that he prevented the drama from building properly. I could not agree with such an exaggerated dynamic approach. Unfortunately the Waltz in E-flat major Op.18 also became simply a virtuoso exercise with little refinement, dynamic variation, expressiveness or French elegance - incidentally, observations not restricted to this participant.

STAGE II


The Mazurkas Op.24 emerged as a very sensitive performance, particularly the B-minor. The others were given rather a more robust 'Polish' rhythmic approach which suited them well as opposed to the overly poetic and sentimental. The followed the Sonata in B-minor Op.58. In the opening theme of the Allegro maestoso he adopted a rather heavily dynamic approach which suited the maestoso indication in some ways and the Steinway but was this Chopin's original conception, simply inflated in proportion. It is a moot point after a performance on a Pleyel of his period. The cantabile aria episodes were suitably beguiling and sensitive but could have 'sung' more strongly. The movement developed a muscular forward urgency, if not as light and expressive as one might wish. The Scherzo was well and airily articulated to achieve grace, charm and transparency. The sound quality and romantic sentiments of the cantabile were rather questionable. I dislike a pounded out entry to the Largo third movement. Such an immediate and precipitate fortissimo has always seemed inappropriate to me. However he performed this movement with great sensitivity and betrayed significant musical insight into the concealed musical fabric of this reflective labyrinth. Such a meditative and philosophical reverie. The Presto non tanto was well controlled and had great froward impetus but his normally attractive tone becomes harsh under duress. Rather an unremitting dynamic ff to fff. His rhapsodic gestures were emotionally moving but tonally rather crude under duress in a conventionally forceful way which rather spoilt an otherwise impressive conception and interpretation.

The Waltz in C-sharp minor Op.64 No.2 was pleasant but nothing remarkable to impress a jury in a competition. The individual notes in the opening chords of the Polonaise in A-flat major Op.53 were wrongly weighted for me. Again this unremitting forte yet this pianist is capable of such refinement! So many contradictions in his playing. I feel that the Polish emotion of żal is more appropriate than brute force. The cantabile reflective episode came off relatively well but couched in the environment of this ubiquitous physicality, had little lyrical impact or sense of inevitability.

5:20 p.m. - Tomasz Zają



The Nocturnes Op.55 were both well presented and revealed a musician of refinement and expressiveness. His Ballade in G minor was rather conventional in presentation but a coherent narrative without a great deal of dynamic variation. However overall it was a satisfyingly musical account of this often played work.

Break

6:30 p.m. - Piotr Alexewicz




STAGE I

He opened with an ambitious work, the Variations in B major on a Theme of Mozart Op.2. He expressed the opening with an attractive atmosphere of improvisation. Alexewicz is clearly a prodigious digital and 'technical' musical talent, however but I felt expressiveness was missing from this work which is such a mine of operatic arias of various moods and affectations. If he has not already done so, I would suggest he listen closely to many Mozart operas, especially Don Giovanni of course and imbibe their extraordinary variety of aria spirit, emotional range and song. Chopin was obsessed with opera, not only with Mozart but also Bellini. I felt this work was brilliantly executed with abundant and spectacular styl brilliant but essentially rather an empty display. 

The Waltz in E major Op.18 also suffered from an absence of period elegance and cultivated refinement. Played in this glittering manner it was however highly entertaining for the audience. In the Nocturne in E major Op.55 I had the uncanny feeling of sentiment being applied, sentiment appliqué, rather than growing authentically and organically from within the life experience of the pianist. Not surprising perhaps considering his abundant and exuberant youth (19). Again the Etudes in F major op.10 No 8 and A flat major Op.10 No.10 were a tour de force but were offered as spectacular virtuoso display pieces with only a modicum of expression. The Scherzo in B-flat minor op.31 suffered a similar fate as I searched fruitlessly for meaning and the unfolding of a true existential drama in this brilliantly presented content. 

Undoubtedly this approach will attract legions of admirers, but Chopin for me is a far more complex and introverted composer of almost inaccessible philosophical and sensual treasures - but as I have said so often, we all have our own Chopin. Alexewicz has a brilliant pianistic and musical basis on which to build as a deeper, more profound musician with increased life and musical experience.

STAGE II


His second stage opened with the ambitious Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante. The Andante was refined and delicate falling to pianissimo at last. It was presented as a nocturne on a moonlit lake that has no moments of perturbation or anxiety. 

In the Grand Polonaise Brillante I appreciated very much opening 'Call to the Floor' and super glittering styl brillante. Hardly anyone playing waltzes in the competition has any idea of ballroom dancing in the nineteenth century. Certainly Chopin waltzes, mazurkas or polonaises are not meant to be danced (although a few were) but the sublimated idiom remains. They nearly always open, except say the Valse triste, with an energetic and declamatory fanfare or 'call to the floor' for the dancers. Slight pause and the scandalous Waltz begins. The styl brillant pianistic aesthetic of the period was composed by the quite wonderful Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Franciszek Lessel, John Field and Ignacy Feliks Dobrzynski  - all contemporaries of Chopin but of course lacking his melodic genius.  

Yet I felt there was a certain lack here of sufficient elegance, playfulness and what one might term 'confectionery delight'. Even exuberant and youthful joy. The theme of the polonaise has been described in various ways, always with admiration. For Jan Kleczynski, it is ‘a real firework of wondrous passages and bold phrases’, for Zdzislaw Jachimecki ‘a wondrously shimmering play of lights and colours’, and for Tadeusz Zielinski ‘a wealth and magnificence of patterns in sound.' The principal theme of the Polonaise combines soaring flight with spirit and verve, bravura with elegance – all of those features that characterize a dance in the styl brillant. That opening (and principal) theme is at once developed by a complementary theme that is suffused with harmoniousness and given over to play. Played with the utmost fluency, subtlety and sensitivity to the beauty of the sound, it confirms the delight of Jan Kleczyński: ‘There is no composition stamped with greater elegance, freedom and freshness’. (Tomaszewski extracts)

Then onto the Mazurkas Op. 56. I felt oddly that Alexewicz did not have a particularly idiomatic feel for the mazurka except perhaps the C-minor which was impressively abstract but rather lacking in tragic yearning which I feel suffuses the piece.

Then onto one of the most startling and impressive renditions of the Op.28 Preludes I have heard. 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. Certainly Alexewicz recognized this.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.

The preludes surely extend the prescient Chopin remark 'I indicate, it's up to the listener to complete the picture'. Of course with Alexewicz they were not all of the same individuality of conception but it is rare when a young pianist rethinks the accepted view of a work, reinforced and even standardized in interpretation through recordings and concert performances. They came together well as a coherent and cohesive work I found exciting and inspiring. I will deal with a number of them individually that impressed me either positively or negatively.

No.1 C major A mysterious opening that expressed internally the difficult indication  agitato - not rather obvious. 
No.2 A minor  Deeply haunting in such a slow tempo with this lugubrious tone of death contemplated in those strange harmonies and chords.
No.8 F-sharp minor Brilliantly virtuosic but one should allow the underlying tragic, impassioned nature of the key of F-sharp minor to predominate
No.9 E major  He developed the emotional rise of this work most effectively
No.10 C-sharp minor  Suited his glittering styl brillant technique perfectly. I am always reminded of beautiful birds listening to this prelude
No.11 B major I found his performance stylish and elegant
No.12 G-sharp minor Rather unremitting dynamic. The score is only marked until the last two chords ff. One must scale down Chopin's dynamic marking on a Steinway to half what is indicated.
No.14 E-flat minor  Tended to become a 'roaring' which was effective but what the composer intended?
No. 15 D-flat major He tended to concentrate a great deal on the RH melody but there is great deal more happening in this prelude on an existential level than mere raindrops.
No.16 B-flat minor His performance had such incredible velocity one forgot about the music and marveled at what he was actually managing to do digitally on the keyboard. Incredible 'limping' (or should it be 'agogic') LH. Of course in Chopin's time the quality of virtuosity itself was regarded with pride as Liszt  and Thalberg demonstrated
No.17 A-flat major This was a superb, atmospheric and poetic performance, a quality one seldom associates with it. Indicated to one bar to conclude ppp. It was emotionally moving.
No.18 F minor This was highly fractured and violent performance, but then it is the key of  F-minor that Chopin favoured for such expressions of spiritual defiance
No.19 E-flat major The brilliance and clarity of his articulation made this a delight
No.21 B-flat major  His cantabile after Bellini was highly expressive and tonally seductive
No. 22  G minor  A tremendously violent view, almost frightening in its intense power, passion and anger - intense żal
No.23  F major  His view of this was tonally luminous and carried one onto alpine pastures dotted with birds and butterflies - blithe in a word.
No.24 D minor A highly passionate, fantastic account of this prelude with its rebellion of the soul. So powerful it would have reversed ageing in the Picture of Dorian Grey

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