75th Duszniki Zdrój International Chopin Festival. 7-15 August 2020
SATURDAY, 15 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR
FINAL PIANO RECITAL
Ned Rorem (b.1923)
Kevin Kenner began his recital with a composition by an American composer little known in Poland or to me. Ned Rorem studied at Northwestern University and at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, later serving as secretary and copyist to Virgil Thomson and completing his musical studies at the Juilliard Institute. He spent 1949 to 1958 in France and came to know all the cultural luminaries of the day, befriending many of them. He returned the US and held various academic positions, teaching at the Curtis Institute from 1980. He was also an excellent writer of straightforward, sometimes shocking opinions. His notoriously intimate Paris Diary published in 1966 caused a significant degree of scandal concerning sexual orientation.
Ned Rorem at 95 (New York Times)
Rorem was a composer of vocal music - some 400 songs - settings of Robert Frost, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Edith Sitwell, Roethke, O’Hara, Carlos Williams, Auden, Whitman, Cocteau, Gide and Colette. His operatic works range from A Childhood Miracle (based on Nathaniel Hawthorne) to Miss Julie (after Strindberg) and Three Sisters Who are Not Sisters (with a text by Gertrude Stein). He also wrote orchestral works (three symphonies and concertos) in addition to piano and chamber works.
Kenner chose his Barcarolle No. 2 (1949). This is a rather charming, mellifluous piece written in conventional diatonic harmony. He wrote many articles in opposition to the contemporary musical avant-garde of say Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Kenner then rather seamlessly moved onto the Romance in F sharp major Op. 28 No. 2 (1839) of Robert Schumann. Perhaps he designed the programme to reflect Rorem's love of Schumann.
In 1839 , Clara Wieck received Three Romances Op 28 from her fiancé as a Christmas gift. Robert did not consider them to be ‘good or worthy enough’ to be dedicated to her. In opposition to this judgement, Clara wrote to him on 1st January 1840 ‘… as your bride, you must indeed dedicate something further to me, and I know of nothing more tender than these 3 Romances, in particular the middle one, which is the most beautiful love duet.' Clara suggested that he revise them before publication in October 1840. Schumann later believed the Romances to be among his most successful works. The marriage however was never to be the ideal romantic marriage as conventionally depicted. There were to be many marital tensions and resentments between these two creatively different personalities.
The Romance No. 2 (Einfach), which translates from German as 'simply' or 'plainly' . This character is reflected by a straightforward melody with simple harmonies and restricted harmonic range. This piece, with its memorable cantabile melody, became rather popular. Kenner brought sensitivity, love and lyricism to his beautifully nuanced interpretation.
He then performed the remarkable masterpiece Davidsbündlertänze (Dances of the League of David), Op. 6 (1837). This is a set of 18 pieces and one of the great works of Western Romantic piano literature. The Davidsbündler (League of David) was a music society founded by Schumann in his literary musings. The League itself was inspired by real or imagined literary societies such as those created by E.T.A Hoffmann. The major theme was based on a mazurka by Clara Wieck and was inspired by his love of her and hope for their union ('many wedding thoughts') which permeates all the works of this period. Her presence is rather subliminal throughout the whole cycle.
Literature and music had a symbiotic relationship for Schumann and was a source of the unique qualities of his genius. He was famous at this time as a perceptive music critic, even over knowledge of him as a composer. He considered music criticism, extra-musical criticism, to be an art form. In this work it is clear he was gaining in musical self-confidence as a composer with his increasing attraction to the public. The masks of Carnaval are stripped away and the poet's face here revealed.
The pieces are not really dances but musical 'dialogues' concerning contemporary music that take place between Florestan (rasch - quick or hasty) and Eusebius (innig - intimate). Schumann created these characters to represent the active and passive aspects of his personality. The enigmatic description of No.9 reads 'Here Florestan stopped, and his lips trembled sorrowfully.' I cannot analyse here each of the eighteen movements of the work, although I would dearly love to do this. Save to say, Kenner gave a marvellously energetic, electrical performance of Florestan, together with the other side of the human coin, the tender cantabile that depicted the gentle lyricism of Eusibius. En passant he captured so much of the poetic, mercurial, impetuous, whimsical and lyrical aspects of Schumann's nature. He carefully preserved the unity of this cycle that allows us to experience ‘music as landscape’ (Charles Rosen).
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Kevin Kenner planned the second half of his programme to emphasis the extraordinary achievements of the young Chopin and how the seeds of his future development were planted and began to bud. This is joyful music, a delight of youthful energy and genius, as yet unclouded by the tigers of experience.
Nocturne in E minor Op. 72 No. 1 (1827)
There is some debate concerning the chronology of this nocturne as it shows many of the hallmarks of maturity despite its early date. Zdzisław Jachimecki (1882 –1953), the Polish music historian, composer and professor, thought the piece reflected the 'melancholic state of the soul'. I have always loved the simplicity of this Nocturne, its sense of bleak longing and aspects of rather hopeless aspiration. It was published by Julius Fontana after Chopin's death. Kenner played it with sensitivity, sensibility and understanding of the psyche of this complex composer. I might have wished it even more 'disembodied', like a wraith of passing regret, scarcely material. Perhaps though as a young man, Chopin could not have imagined such a conception with the rarefied poetry of bitter experience at its core.
Mazurkas Op. 7 (1830–31)
No. 2 in A minor
No. 1 in B flat major
Mazurka in C sharp minor Op. 6 No. 2 (1830–31)
Mazurka in D major Op. 33 No. 3 (1837–38)
Mazurka in C major Op. 6 No. 5 (1830-31)
The mazurka is the quintessential expression of the Polish national and ethnic identity. Any approach to them is bound to cause comment, sometimes dismissive, sometimes abrasive but never indifferent or detached.
Interestingly I think Kenner played the original version of this mazurka found in the album of his teacher Elsner's daughter Emilia. He played the introductory ritornel in the key of A major, taken from the music of a village band, and defined by Chopin with the word Duda. He concluded with the same phrase. A fascinating idea, played in quite a different mood to what we are accustomed to with this mazurka with much spontaneous improvisation. May displease the purists but it started me thinking...
To understand what I think Kenner was attempting in this group of mazurkas (I am not sure mind you - just an hypothesis!), one has to examine the nature of dancing in Warsaw during the time of Chopin. Almost half of his music is actually dance music of one sort or another and a large proportion of the rest of his compositions contain dances.
Dancing was a passion especially during carnival from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. It was an opulent time, generating a great deal of commercial business, no less than in Vienna or Paris. Dancing - waltzes, polonaises, mazurkas - were a vital part of Warsaw social life, closely woven into the fabric of the city. There was veritable 'Mazurka Fever' in Europe and Russia at this time. The dancers were not restricted to noble families - the intelligentsia and bourgeoisie also took part in the passion.
Chopin's experience of dance, as a refined gentleman of exquisite manners, would have been predominantly urban ballroom dancing with some experience of peasant hijinks during his summer holidays in Żelazowa Wola, Szafania and elsewhere. Poland was mainly an agricultural society in the early nineteenth century. At this time Warsaw was an extraordinary melange of cultures. Magnificent magnate palaces shared muddy unpaved streets with dilapidated townhouses, szlachta farms, filthy hovels and teeming markets. By 1812 the Napoleonic campaigns had financially crippled the Duchy of Warsaw. Chopin spent his formative years during this turbulent political period and the family often escaped the capital to the refuge of the Mazovian countryside at Żelazowa Wola. Here the fields are alive with birdsong, butterflies and wildflowers. On summer nights the piano was placed in the garden and Chopin would improvise eloquent melodies that floated through the orchards and across the river to the listening villagers gathered beyond.
Of course he was a perfect mimic, actor, practical joker and enthusiastic dancer as a young man, tremendously high-spirited. He once wrote a verse describing how he spent a wild night, half of which was dancing and the other half playing pranks and dances on the piano for his friends. They had great fun! One of his friends took to the floor pretending to be a sheep! On one occasion he even sprained his ankle he was dancing so vigorously! He would play with gusto and 'start thundering out mazurkas, waltzes and polkas'. When tired and wanting to dance, he would pass the piano over to 'a humbler replacement'. Is it surprising his teacher Józef Elzner and his doctors advised a period of 'rehab' at Duszniki Zdrój to preserve his health which had already begun to show the first signs of failing? This advice may not have been the best for him, his sister Emilia and Ludwika Skarbek, as reinfection was always a strong possibility there. Both were dead not long after their return form the 'cure'.
Many of his mazurkas would have come to life on the dance floor as improvisations. Perhaps only later were they committed to the more permanent art form on paper under the influence and advice of the Polish folklorist and composer Oskar Kolberg. Chopin floated between popular and art music quite effortlessly.
By running the mazurkas together attacca, changing the rhythm slightly, adopting variants and introducing spontaneous improvised embellishments, Kenner engaged us in the sheer fun and unruly exuberance of Chopin as a vibrant, musically improvising young pianist. After all he was a master of this domain of performance and the mazurka is particularly predisposed to improvisation. This Kenner imaginatively did rather than interpreting these early mazurkas with the 'holy concentration' of the Urtext. I really have no idea if I am on the right track here, pure conjecture, but found the approach lively, fresh, unique, instructive and entertaining. This speculation is merely my 'halfpennyworth'. George Sand wrote in Les Maîtres Sonneurs (The Master Pipers) 'He gave us the finest dances in the world....so attractive and easy to dance to that we seemed to fly through the air.'
Rondo à la Mazur in F major Op. 5 (1825–26)
Written when Chopin was 16. He dedicated it to the Countess Alexandrine de Moriolles, the daughter of the Comte de Moriolles, who was the tutor to the adopted son of the Grand Duke Constantine, Governor of Warsaw. The rather unpleasant individual often requested Chopin to play for him at the Belvedere Palace. Unable to sleep, on winter nights he would ostentatiously send a sleigh drawn by four-horses harnessed abreast in the Russian style to collect the young pianist from his home. Schumann first heard the Rondo à la mazur in 1836, and he called it 'lovely, enthusiastic and full of grace. He who does not yet know Chopin had best begin the acquaintance with this piece'.
Kenner gave a truly uplifting joyful, unbuttoned, style brilliant interpretation of this work, so therapeutic during this ghastly pandemic which has leached so much carefree pleasure from our lives. The articulation and sense of dance was also infectious, but in the very best way!
Polonaise in D minor Op. 71 No. 1 (1824–27)
The early polonaises of Chopin are unjustly neglected. He was only around 15 when he composed this one. I found the mood rather playful which seemed to indicate Kenner's mood on this occasion!
Variations in B flat major on 'Là ci darem la mano' from Mozart’s Don Giovanni Op. 2 (1827–28)
'Là ci darem la mano' Walter Richard Sickert (1860–1942) (National Trust, Fenton House)
Chopin composed the ‘Là ci darem’ Variations in 1827. As a student of the Main School of Music, he had received from Elsner another compositional task: to write a set of variations for piano with orchestral accompaniment. As his theme, he chose the famous duet between Zerlina and Don Giovanni from the first act of Mozart’s opera Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni. In this opera overwhelming power and faultless seduction meet maidenly naivety and barely controlled fascination. (Tomaszewski)
In his famous first review of Chopin's variations on Mozart’s 'Là ci darem la mano', Schumann gives us a striking description:
“Eusebius quietly opened the door the other day. You know the ironic smile on his pale face, with which he invites attention. I was sitting at the piano with Florestan. As you know, he is one of those rare musical personalities who seem to anticipate everything that is new, extraordinary, and meant for the future. But today he was in for a surprise. Eusebius showed us a piece of music and exclaimed: ‘Hats off, gentlemen, a genius! Eusebius laid a piece of music on the piano rack. […] Chopin – I have never heard the name – who can he be? […] every measure betrays his genius!’”
Chopin’s ‘Là ci darem’ variations are classical in form with an introduction, theme, five variations and finale. They are a marvellous example of the style brillant and clearly influenced by Hummel and Moscheles. Kenner observed the correctly indicated and deliberate tempo Largo that opens the work without the over-declamatory energy many pianists adopt. It is well-known Chopin was obsessed with opera all his life, a fascination that began early.
The first statement of 'Là ci darem la mano' was genuinely expressive of the mood of the opera but perhaps slightly lacking in an undertone of beguiling seduction. Kenner brought an effortless style brillant introduction to this fiendishly difficult work followed by developments that were light, elegant and stylish. Each variation was carefully delineated in character and had the feeling of carefree and enjoyable improvisation. The songlines had a winning cantabile with the right jaunty rhythm.
Clara Wieck loved this work and performed it often making it popular in Germany. Her notorious father, who had forbidden her marriage to Robert Schumann, wrote perceptively and rather ironically of this work: ‘In his Variations, Chopin brought out all the wildness and impertinence of the Don’s life and deeds, filled with danger and amorous adventures. And he did so in the most bold and brilliant way’.
Kenner brought a definite feeling of the late 18th century to its style and artfulness. He approached the work rather in the spirit of a virtuoso display piece, clearly enjoying himself immensely, which was surely Chopin's intention. Waterfalls of glittering notes cascaded around us as in the original descriptions of jeu perlé.
And so came to a conclusion a carefully planned experience of the carefree youth of Fryderyk Chopin. This before the suffering of exile, chronic ill-health and the travails of love took hold of his body, heart and soul.
A standing ovation from the Duszniki audience, the sole encore being the beautiful simplicity of the Chopin song Wiosna (Spring).
SATURDAY 15 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 4:00 pm
Winner of many Polish Chopin National and International Prizes including the Gold Medal at the 1st International Music Competition in Vienna. Last year he won the Silver Medal at the International Music Competition in Berlin.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) – Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo Violin BWV 1004 (1720)/Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924)
He began his recital with this work.
It is a well known fact that in his writing for the pianoforte Busoni shows an inexhaustible resource of color effect.... This preoccupation with color effects on the pianoforte began to make itself evident after Busoni had began to devote himself to the serious study of Liszt, but it remained to dominate his mind up to the end of his life.
[Edward J. Dent, Ferruccio Busoni. A biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), pp. 145-146]
I have always liked this work transcribed by Busoni 1891-2. Bach occupied and inspired the composer for his entire life. 'Bach is the foundation of pianoforte playing,' he wrote, 'Liszt the summit. The two make Beethoven possible.' It is not surprising then that the grandeur, invention and monumentality of the Chaconne from this Partita attracted his imaginative mind. Bach himself, he notes, was a prolific arranger of his own music and that of other composers.
'Notation is itself the transcription of an abstract idea. The moment the pen takes possession of it the thought loses its original form.'
Bach had composed it after learning in 1720 of the death of his beloved wife Maria Barbara, the mother of his first seven children. Bach had been in Karlsbad with his patron, the highly musical Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. When Bach returned to Cöthen after three months he discovered his young wife of 35, who was in excellent health when he departed, had died during his absence and even worse, been buried. His grief-stricken response resulted in this composition for violin full of pain, suffering and melancholic nostalgia, even anger, at the indiscriminate nature of destiny.
Wierciński began the work with arresting clarity and transparency at a tempo that gave it nobility of utterance. He is in command of a virtuoso piano technique. However, as it progressed I felt that many opportunities for deeper expressiveness were missed. A great shame as his dominance of the work digitally was total. The phrasing did not breathe sufficiently to give air, dynamic variety and colour to relieve the headlong tempo. Virtuosity tempted him as it might any pianist but one must not forget Busoni was as concerned with degrees of expressiveness as any Romantic composer.
I felt at times Wierciński overplayed the twenty-nine variations of the work without enough variety. The polyphony was impressive but a degree of over-pedalling lessened the subtle colours within the soundscape. The melodic lines and the weight and significance of chords, although stirring and exciting in their abandonment, tended to be dynamically overwrought. I feel Wierciński was genuinely attempting to create a magnificent seventeenth century Thuringian organ and its 16' stop but with limited success. He gave the work a noble and triumphal conclusion. Overall a very satisfying performance of a piece that makes immense demands on a pianist and requires time to properly mature in the mind to adequately rise to its musical challenges.
Although perhaps grossly unfair to this young man, I have the temerity to recommend listening to the recording of Mikhail Pletnev live at Carnegie Hall in November 2000. Another possibly unfair suggestion, is the performance given by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli given in Warsaw in March 1955. Not to imitate of course but to fertilize further musical thought.
A rare picture of Ferrucio Busoni playing a pedal harpsichord with a 16' stop, possibly an inspiration for his Bach organ transcriptions that naturally were transformed into something highly pianistic.
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Nocturne in B flat major Op. 62 No. 1 (1846)
A Tuberose at night
Interestingly in the Anglo-Saxon world, the B major Nocturne has been given the name of an exotic greenhouse flower: ‘Tuberose’. The American art, book, music, and theatre critic James Huneker explains why: ‘the chief tune has charm, a fruity charm’, and its return in the reprise ‘is faint with a sick, rich odor’. Wierciński performed this work with the sensitivity it deserves and created quite an hypnotic atmosphere. There is great variety in the mood and writing of this rather untypical Chopin nocturne. I felt occasionally his phrasing verged on the mannered but this is always difficult to judge accurately in works that rely on deep emotive expression.
Ballade in F minor Op. 52 (1842–43)
Penetrating the expressive core of the Chopin Ballades requires an understanding of the influence of a generalized view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material. I have always felt it helpful to consider the Chopin Ballades as miniature operas being played out in absolute music, forever exercising one's musical imagination.
The brilliant Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski describes the musical landscape of this work far more graphically than I ever could. The narration is marked, to an incomparably higher degree than in the previous ballades, with lyrical expression and reflectiveness [...] Its plot grows entangled, turns back and stops. As in the tale of Odysseus, mysterious, weird and fascinating episodes appear [...] at the climactic point in the balladic narration, it is impossible to find the right words. This explosion of passion and emotion, expressed through swaying passages and chords steeped in harmonic content, is unparalleled. Here, Chopin seems to surpass even himself. This is expression of ultimate power, without a hint of emphasis or pathos [...] For anyone who listens intently to this music, it becomes clear that there is no question of any anecdote, be it original or borrowed from literature. The music of this Ballade imitates nothing, illustrates nothing. It expresses a world that is experienced and represents a world that is possible, ideal and imagined.
Il Cantastorie (The Ballad Singer) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Wierciński gave us a dramatic interpretation overlaid with lyricism with periods of reflection. This he managed with a warm tone, clarity and articulation that he had already indicated in the Bach. I thought he emphasized the strong narrative declamatory elements and expressive polyphony in a musically satisfying manner. The balladic tale twists and turns were most expressively delineated if slightly mannered on occasion. At one moment passionately lyrical, then introspective, then expressing that characteristic Polish bitterness, passion and emotionally-laden disturbance of the psyche known as żal. There were moments when I felt rushed by his phrasing, reluctantly taken quickly up the knotted rope of passion. What a monumental story of shifting realities is displayed in this work!
Wierciński took us on a satisfying and moving journey in this great opera of the human psyche. His ability to build dramatic tension followed by lyrical relaxation was managed with great skill. He gave us a passionate coda to the work.
Mazurkas Op. 24 (1833–35)
No. 1 in G minor
This popular slightly rural mazurka I found expressive with much variety and often affecting rubato. The loss of happiness irrevocably. Occasionally with Wierciński, I feel slightly uneasy at what one might call rather 'cultivated' sentiments.
No. 2 in C major
Here I found delightful contrasts of mood brought a decidedly colorful personality to this Polish performance. Certainly I felt present in the imaginative dream of a possibly remembered rustic dance (an oberek).
No. 3 in A flat major
I would describe the character Wierciński brought to this mazurka as one of 'blithe rurality', the dance melody derived from a kujawiak.
No. 4 in B flat minor
This masterpiece in the mazurka genre is beloved by everyone! Many pianists through history have had it in their repertoire. This mazurka has even been nicknamed the ‘Rubinstein’, as Anton Rubinstein was supremely fond of playing it. It can be considered a 'lyrical dance poem'. Here I felt Wierciński achieved his own voice and understood the direction of the harmonies. I noticed judicious and skillful pedaling in this mazurka which augmented his winning tone and touch.
Scherzo in E major Op. 54 (1842–43)
Then he performed the rarely performed Scherzo in E major Op.54. This scherzo is not dramatic in the demonic sense of the three previous scherzi, but lighter in ambience. The outer sections are a strange exercise in rather joke-filled fun with a darkly concealed centre of passionate grotesquerie. The work mysteriously encloses a deeply felt and ardent nocturne in the form of a longing love poem, suffused with a sense of loss. Wierciński was able to express the complexity of these emotions with conviction, even if slightly lost in the labyrinth at times. He delighted us with the beauty of tone and lightness of articulation.
Playfulness with hints of seriousness and gravity underlie the exuberant mood of this scherzo. Wierciński maintained this expressive balance very well, only slightly missing the emotional ambiguities that run like a vein though the work. The central section (lento, then sostenuto) in place of the Trio, gives one the impression so often with Chopin, the ardent, reflective nature of distant love. Wierciński was rather moving in this beautiful cantabile. He yet brought a sense of triumph and the will to carry on with life in the passionate last chords that close the work.
Heinrich Heine, a German poet who idolized Chopin, asked himself in a letter from Paris: ‘What is music?’ He answered ‘It is a marvel. It has a place between thought and what is seen; it is a dim mediator between spirit and matter, allied to and differing from both; it is spirit wanting the measure of time and matter which can dispense with space.’
As an encore a powerful performance of the A-flat major Polonaise Op.53
His second encore was a moving and poignant Siloti arrangement of the Bach Prelude in B minor
His third encore was a Chopin piece I had never before heard. The attractive and delightful Introduction and Variations in B flat major On A Theme from Herold's 'Ludovic' Op.12 ('Variations Brillantes')
FRIDAY, 14 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 8:00 pm
This Italian pianist was born in Verona in 1979. He has won a veritable bouquet of world laureates. In the year 2000 Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw he achieved fifth place, the year it was won by Yundi Li. I had heard him at Duszniki in 2006 and 2012 from which this extract of my review is taken:
On this occasion he chose the same Beethoven Sonata in E flat major ‘quasi una fantasia’ Op. 27 No. 1 that he played in 2006. From the opening bars I realized I was in the presence of a refined and accomplished artist with a complete command of the Beethovenian aesthetic and style. Each movement felt as if it existed alone but at the same time the movements ran together (attacca subito) absolutely intelligibly. His touch highlighted the different textures perfectly of each movement (legato and staccato contrasts for example). This was a deeply satisfying performance but not perhaps as philosophical as the deeply considered Claudio Arrau view.
He followed this with a rather tempestuous even ‘possessed’ performance of Liszt’s Dante-Sonata. Fantasia quasi sonata ‘Après une lecture du Dante’. His interpretation had all the haunted passion and understanding of Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso as a source one could wish for (the pianist is a Northern Italian after all). His technique was awesome in this work.
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
– Polonaise in C sharp minor Op. 26 No. 1 (1835)
Such sensitive phrasing and fine tone - full of sensibility, expression and dynamic variation. The cantalina is one of the most beautiful Bellini -influenced arias Chopin ever wrote, full of nostalgic longing for both personal love and his homeland. Nosè was quite superb in this with its flickers of żal like a Polish electrical summer storm.
– Mazurkas Op. 56 (1843–4)
No. 1 in B major
Beautiful nostalgia expressed here by Nosè within its harmonically adventurous and fragmented nature. The mazurka rhythm emerges triumphant.
No. 2 in C major
Ferdynand Hoesick described this mazurka that has such a rustic dance feel as follows: ‘The basses bellow, the strings go hell for leather, the lads dance with the lasses and they all but wreck the inn’. I felt Nosè could have been more boisterous and rumbustious!
No. 3 in C minor
I always felt this mazurka as not based in reality but in nostalgic dream and memories. I felt Nosè brought slightly too much Latin passion and reality to this fragile, refined work which drifts over the Mazovian plain on a summer breeze fading away to nothing as an autumn leaf falls into a stream...
– Ballade in G minor Op. 23 (1835–36)
‘I have received from Chopin a Ballade’, Schumann informed his friend Heinrich Dorn in the autumn of 1836. ‘It seems to me to be the work closest to his genius (though not the most brilliant). I told him that of everything he has created thus far it appeals to my heart the most. After a lengthy silence, Chopin replied with emphasis: “I am glad, because I too like it the best, it is my dearest work”.’
Mieczysław Tomaszewski paints the background to this work best: It was during those two years that what was original, individual and distinctive in Chopin spoke through his music with great urgency and violence, expressing the composer’s inner world spontaneously and without constraint – a world of real experiences and traumas, sentimental memories and dreams, romantic notions and fancies. Life did not spare him such experiences and traumas in those years, be it in the sphere of patriotic or of intimate feelings. [...] For everyone, the ballad was an epic work, in which what had been rejected in Classical high poetry now came to the fore: a world of extraordinary, inexplicable, mysterious, fantastical and irrational events inspired by the popular imagination. In Romantic poetry, the ballad became a ‘programmatic’ genre. It was here that the real met the surreal. Mickiewicz gave his own definition: ‘The ballad is a tale spun from the incidents of everyday (that is, real) life or from chivalrous stories, animated by the strangeness of the Romantic world, sung in a melancholy tone, in a serious style, simple and natural in its expressions’. And there is no doubt that in creating the first of his piano ballades, Chopin allowed himself to be inspired by just such a vision of this highly Romantic genre. What he produced was an epic work telling of something that once occurred, ‘animated by strangeness’, suffused with a ‘melancholy tone’, couched in a serious style, expressed in a natural way, and so closer to an instrumental song than to an elaborate aria.
Nosè gave us an impressive, virtuosic and rhapsodic account of this great work. It did emerge as a narrative drama, but his dynamic phrasing could perhaps have been more graduated and expressive as this emotional history of a tormented soul unfolded. The fiery emotional passions Chopin unleashes tempt the pianist to be carried away.
– Nocturne in C minor Op. 48 No. 1 (1841)
This monumental, tragically majestic composition is a triumph of passion battling against constraint. The chorale opening is desperately moving in its dark nostalgia. Nosè began reflectively and at a considered tempo which permitted great sensibility of nuance. He controlled the tremendous growth of sound with sensitive rubato and oceanic waves of driven harmonies before the mighty winds subside into a type of spiritual resignation. His contrasts of mood were deeply affecting.
– Scherzo in B flat minor Op. 31 (1836–37)
Here we have another great narrative drama, an eruption of dramatic force that leads almost to its own destruction. A perfect example of 'Chopinian dynamic romanticism'. Nosè offered a tremendously exciting, high voltage performance of the work with irresistible momentum and irrepressible sensuality. He was playing right on the edge of his formidable technique, to the point where slips crept in. However, these were slips of entirely the right kind, driven by a virtuoso pianist operating on the ragged edge of full control, flirting with danger. Perhaps this attraction was what Michelangeli found in driving his Ferrari at speed but not in his fiercely controlled playing. For me this tension simply elevated the intense feeling of emotional commitment and listener involvement brought to the work by Nosè. His lyrical and singing cantabile Trio transported us to a dreamlike Arcadian garden from which were almost brutally dragged away until the demolishing power of the mighty coda. Again, this was performed by Nosè on the very edge of control. He fully deserved the enthusiastic audience reception.
Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)
Modest Mussorgsky by Victor Hartmann
This piece is a portrait of a man walking around an art exhibition (the pictures painted by Mussorgsky’s friend, the artist and architect Viktor Hartmann). The composer is reminiscing on this past friendship now suddenly and tragically cut short when the young artist died suddenly of an aneurysm. The visitor walks at a fairly regular pace but perhaps not always as his mood fluctuates between grief and elated remembrance of happy times spent together. The Russian critic Vladimir Stasov (1769-1848), to whom the work is dedicated, commented: 'In this piece Mussorgsky depicts himself "roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly in order to come close to a picture that had attracted his attention, and at times sadly, thinking of his departed friend.'
The Russian poet Arseny Goleníshchev-Kutúzov, who wrote the texts for Mussorgsky's two song cycles, wrote of its reception: There was no end to the enthusiasm shown by his devotees; but many of Mussorgsky's friends, on the other hand, and especially the comrade composers, were seriously puzzled and, listening to the 'novelty,' shook their heads in bewilderment. Naturally, Mussorgsky noticed their bewilderment and seemed to feel that he 'had gone too far.' He set the illustrations aside without even trying to publish them.
The suite of pictures begins at the art exhibition, but the viewer and the pictures he views dissolves at the Catacombs when the journey changes its nature. To decide on the tempo for the Promenade is always a challenge for the pianist. I personally wander far more slowly around art galleries or rove in my imagination, than some pianists. The art exhibition was of Hatmann's drawings and watercolours (not strong oil paintings) and I feel this should be considered when approaching the dynamic range of any performance in order to avoid undue, declamatory heaviness.
Suite of Movements
Promenade The tempo I felt not considered enough for a man walking elegiacally around an art gallery, wandering in scenes that flooded his memory
The Gnome Nosè presented the gnome expressively as rather an insidious and unpredictable character
Promenade Sensitively performed to match entry the following painting
The Old Castle Nosè presented a tender, lyrical, and reflectively nostalgic song sung by a troubadour
Tuileries (Children's Quarrel after Games) I very much liked the innocence Nosè brought to this movement
Cattle Nosè was not entirely successful in creating a picture in the mind of oxen pulling a cart or heavy, slow-moving cattle of any kind
Promenade a thoughtful, dynamically graded transition
Ballet of Unhatched Chicks
Nosè presented a suitably agitated depiction of Hartmann's design for the ballet Trilby - the nervous movements of canary chicks. A Light, highly articulated touch suited this movement well.
"Samuel" Goldenberg and "Schmuÿle" Two Polish Jews, Rich and Poor - Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle - were depicted rather graphically
Promenade Walking with some nervous anxiety
Limoges. The Market (The Great News) Nosè painted an excitable, argumentative provincial market life scene.
Catacombs (Roman Tomb) - With the Dead in a Dead Language
Nosè presented the catacombs with a rather over-heavy, predictably mournful atmosphere. I remember visiting them myself when living as a child in Rome many years ago
Hartmann, Vasily Kenel, and a guide holding the lantern
'Catacombae' and 'Cum mortuis in lingua mortua' from Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition'
The Hut on Hen's Legs (Baba Yaga) Nosè with his formidable technique, painted the threatening, rather dramatically alive portrait of an unpleasant fantasy creature. Hartmann's drawing depicted a clock in the form of the ghastly Baba Yaga's hut perched on fowl's legs.
The ghastly witch Baba Yaga
The Bogatyr Gates (In the Capital in Kiev) or 'The Great Gate of Kiev' Nosè constructed a formidable gate of power and majesty for us. His tonal weight is without harshness and his phrasing gave a massiveness that created a fine background to Orthodox carillons. He brought off this challenging sculpture in sound completely convincingly.
His performance was very enthusiastically received by the 'distanced' audience.
Before his encore he gave an address thanking Piotr Paleczny for the opportunity to play in this historic venue especially during the pandemic and reminded us of his enormous contribution as Artistic Director over twenty-five years.
He offered the first encore to him - I did not recognize it and perhaps it was a piece of his own composition.
The second encore was a tender, warm and longing interpretation of Brahms deeply affecting Intermezzo in A major - Andante teneramente Op.118
His third a delicate and brief Prelude by Ravel
His fourth encore was the heart-wrenching Schubert Impromptu No.3 in G-flat major: Andante D.899 performed with all the velvet touch, refined tone, great sensibility and love this fine pianist is so capable of .....
FRIDAY, 14 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 4.00 pm
X International Paderewski Piano Competition, Bydgoszcz – Poland 6th-20th November 2016
Jakub Kuszlik courageously and generously took the place of Alexander Gavrylyuk at very short notice. He is to be congratulated on his courage in the face of this pandemic.
This extract is from a review of the Mozart Concerto phase of the outstanding X International Paderewski Piano Competition, Bydgoszcz – Poland 6th-20th November 2016 where he was awarded the Second Prize
Mozart Piano Concerto No 17 in G major K. 453
Mozart wrote this work for his pupil Barbara Ployer in 1784. The two themes that open the work are rather gentle in nature. The Andante was expressive and charmingly played. In the spring of 1784 Mozart jotted down in his notebook the song of a starling that he heard that was for sale. ‘That was beautiful’ he allegedly commented. He purchased the dear bird and when it died he actually buried it in the garden with a poetic epitaph. The final happy Allegretto movement suggests so strongly Papageno in Die Zauberflöte. The coda as the rumbustious excitement of the final act of a Mozart opera. A very good performance. The jury became quite animated during this movement all tapping away silently with their fingers, denied their opportunity to shine as soloists. How Mozart is loved!
Kreisleriana Op.16 subtitled Phantasien für das Pianoforte (1838)
He opened his recital with one of my favourite works of romantic piano literature Kreisleriana Op. 16 by Robert Schumann.
Madness or insanity was a notion that throughout the composer's time on earth, simultaneously attracted and repelled Schumann. At the end of his life he was cruelly to fall victim to it. Kriesleriana was presented publicly as eight sketches of the fictional character Kapellmeister Kreisler, a rather crazy conductor-composer who was a literary figure created by the marvellous German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffman. The piece is actually based on the Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier and also the form of an inventive grotesque satirical novel Hoffmann wrote with the remarkable, translated title: Growler the Cat’s Philosophy of Life Together with Fragments of the Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler from Random Sheets of the Printer’s Waste.
The fictional author of this novel Kater Murr (Growler the Cat) is actually a caricature of the German petit bourgeois class. In a theme rather appropriate in our times of gross financial inequalities, Growler advises the reader how to become a ‘fat cat’. This advice is interrupted by fragments of Kreisler’s impassioned biography. The bizarre explanation for this is that Growler tore up a copy of Kreisler’s biography to use as rough note paper. When he sent the manuscript of his own book to the printers, the two got inexplicably mixed up when the book was published. Such devices remind one of Laurence Sterne in that great experimental novel Tristram Shandy.
Schumann was particularly fond of Kreisleriana. He was attracted to composing a works in ‘fragmented’ form in the structural manner of this novel. The use of the device of interrelated ‘fragments’ (as the nineteenth century termed what we might refer to as 'miniatures') was employed by the Romantic Movement in poetry, prose and music. Kreisler is a type of Doppelgänger for Schumann. This was a favourite concept for the composer, who divided his own creative personality between the created characters of Florestan and Eusebius. With the unpredictable Kreisler as his alter ego, Schumann was able to indulge the dualities of his own personality. The music swings violently and suddenly between agitation (Florestan) and lyrical calm (Eusebius), between dread and elation. The episodes in the piece describe Schumann's emotional passions, his divided personality and his creative art. His tortured soul alternates with lyrical love passages expressing the composer’s love for Clara Wieck. He used and transformed one of her musical themes in the work.
1838 was a disturbed time for Schumann. His marriage to this 'inaccessible love', the piano virtuoso Clara Wieck, was a year ahead. At this time they were painfully petitioning the courts for permission to marry and ignore her father's cruel social class objections to the connection. They had known each other for ten years before their eventual marriage in 1840. During this turbulent period of frustration, Schumann’s compositions evolved in complexity. Their unbridled emotionalism and adventurous structure confused musicians, audience and critics alike.
He originally intended to dedicate the work to Clara, but wishing to avoid more calamitous situations with her father, eventually dedicated it to his friend Fryderyk Chopin. The polyphonic nature of the piece may have reflected a deep understanding of Chopin's own style. The Polish composer merely commented on the cover design of the score left on his piano. Even Clara, on first acquaintance with the work, wrote: 'Sometimes your music actually frightens me, and I wonder: is it really true that the creator of such things is going to be my husband?' Even Franz Liszt was challenged finding the work 'too difficult for the public to digest.'
This great masterpiece of emotional and structural complexity, expresses much of the quixotic mercurial temperament of Schumann's personality and the literary elements of the story. The French literary theorist and Schumann-lover Roland Barthes interestingly observed that Schumann composed music in discrete, intense 'images' rather than as an evolving musical 'language', like a succession of frames in a film. The composer was experimenting with the timbre of piano sound. Without wishing to appear a 'crank', I feel it necessary to say that on a piano of Schumann's period (he loved Clara's Conrad Graf of 1838 from Vienna) the varied colours, timbre and textures of the different registers suited the contrapuntal nature of composition. This would have been rather more obvious on the older instrument than on the modern homogenized Steinway.
Kuszlik produced a beautiful cantabile tone with some very sensitive, poetical nuanced moments from his sensitive touch. His attractive technique was well able to deal with the extensive keyboard demands. He grasped the emotional and structural complexity of this piece well enough to give it much of the challenging coherence it requires. However, such a temperamental and capricious work by Schumann (and the bizarre background story by E.T.A.Hoffmann) is difficult to present with great conviction and lucidity. I felt this unpredictable, spontaneous, quick-silver moody aspect of the composer escaped him somewhat in his feeling for the lyrical Eusebius qualities of the piece at the expense of the more energetic, fragmented driving, almost pathological qualities of Florestan. These matters are so often a question of balance.
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58
The transition to the Largo is deceptively easy to manage but was not sufficiently expressive. Here we begin an exquisite extended nocturne-like musical voyage taken through a night of meditation and introspective thought. This great musical narrative of extended and challenging harmonic structure must be presented as a poem of the reflective heart and spirit. I felt although tonally refined, Kuszlik could have brought a more introspective quality with more direction rather than enveloping us in a mellifluous dream world, however attractive, of little directional focus. The Finale. Presto ma non tanto was certainly powerful in its headlong rush. He approached this movement as rather a virtuoso piano work than a rhapsodic narrative Ballade in character. Throughout the sonata, although of course finely played, I kept wondering what Kuszlik was trying to tell me about this work in any individual sense.
Tomaszewski again who cannot be bettered:
Thereafter, in a constant Presto (ma non troppo) tempo and with the expression of emotional perturbation (agitato), this frenzied, electrifying music, inspired (perhaps) by the finale of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony…’
As an encore he played the Chopin Mazurka in C minor Op.30 No. 1 in an affectingly idiomatic and sensitive manner.
THURSDAY, 13 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 4:00 pm
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 45 (1841)
I found the tempo hew adopted was rather on the slow side and deliberate, bordering on the mannered and self-conscious. Am certain this is all a matter of taste.
Impromptu in A flat major Op. 29 (1837)
Impromptu in F sharp major Op. 36 (1839)
Impromptu in G flat major Op. 51 (1842)
Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor Op. 66 (1834)
Pawlak then performed the three Impromptus opused for print by Chopin. Andre Gide wrote of them: The impromptus are among Chopin's most enchanting works. The great Polish musicologist and Chopin specialist Mieczysław Tomaszewski wrote of them: The impromptus offer us music without shade, a series of musical landscapes prefiguring impressionism.
The autonomous Impromptu genre was not that well established, even for Schubert, when Chopin composed his first but as the years passed he gave the form his own particular identity. Pawlak gave a fine performance with subtle fluctuations of mood, a feeling of improvisation. They seemed to arise from internal meditation. Lacking in any exaggeration or hysteria, the Fantaisie Impromptu in C sharp minor Op. 66 (1834) requires a high degree of virtuosity to make it into a charming and convincing work. Pawlak began in a highly finished style. The middle section with the famous slow, reflective nocturne I felt again Pawlak took expressively but just occasionally slowly enough to verge on the mannered with added pleasant expressive flourishes. It flows at a moderato cantabile tempo, weaving a sotto voce melody in D flat major. A virtuosic conclusion with nostalgic reminiscences.
Prelude B minor Op. 28 No. 6 (1838–39)
In a favourite prelude of mine, I felt he rendered the left hand melancholic cantabile most affectingly in its singing legato under the pulsing, repetitions in the right hand.
César Franck (1822-1890)
Prélude, Choral et Fugue, FWV 21 (1884)
Choral. Poco più lento – Poco Allegro
Fugue. Tempo I
This Franck work was well described by Adrian Corleonis as ‘an elaborately figured, chromatically inflected, and texturally rich essay in which doubt and faith, darkness and light, oscillate until a final ecstatic resolution.’
After hearing a piece by Emmanuel Chabrier in April 1880, the Dix pièces pittoresques, Franck observed 'We have just heard something quite extraordinary -- music which links our era with that of Couperin and Rameau.' The forms Prélude, Choral and Fugue here are clearly symbolic of their Bach inspired counterparts. The motives are obviously related to the Bach Cantata 'Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen', and also the 'Crucifixus' from the B minor Mass. César Franck transforms these with his own unique solutions and cyclical form.
The influence of the organ and his many years composing sacred texts are obvious here. The pianist Stephen Hough in a note remarked "Alfred Cortot described the Fugue in the context of the whole work as 'emanating from a psychological necessity rather than from a principle of musical composition' (La musique française de piano; PUF, 1930)." The work was finally premiered in January 1885.
Pawlak gave an ambitious, tremendously virtuosic performance leading directly into it from the Chopin Prelude. The performance indicated he was coming to serious terms with this great work. However, I missed the opulent organ timbre, texture and density from the piano although there was great expressiveness when required. The work must be commanded with a tone and touch that are appropriately noble, tragic and grand in all conceptual respects, raising deep spiritual emotions from this secular musical construction.
The nervously agitated toccata-like Prelude needed deeper emotions of anguish and pain which would lead to true personal redemption in the Choral. This work is a great spiritual journey from darkness into the light of dawn. Finally in the complex and embattled Fugue, suffering is resolved into the triumphant Choral theme once again – like a great chiming of bells. Certain musical goals cannot be achieved by technique alone. These profound emotional and spiritual musical demands (quite apart from the keyboard challenges) are a tall order for any young heart to encompass, untrammeled as it likely is by the tigers of experience.
Leopold Godowski (1870-1938)
Passacaglia in B minor (1927)
Even to approach the study of this work, committing it to memory, expresses the powerful character mettle of this young pianist. The immense, Passacaglia, hewn from intimidating musical granite, was written in 1927 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the death of Franz Schubert. The work is subtitled '44 Variations, Cadenza and Fugue on the opening theme of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony'. The piece has earned a reputation as being among the most difficult in the repertoire, perhaps because of a passing ironic reference by the pianist Vladimir Horowitz that it required six hands to play it and he would give up! Pawlak gave a commanding, passionate and breathtaking performance of this immense work of supreme difficulty which surely cements his reputation as one of the most promising of the young generation of Polish pianists. Do listen to the overwhelming Youtube recording of this Mont Blanc musical edifice once again!
As an encore he brilliantly played the third movement, Allegro con brio ma non leggiere, of the Prokofiev 4th Piano Sonata in C minor Op. 20
WEDNESDAY, 12 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 8:00 pm
Chopin (1810-1849) – Nocturnes Op. 48 (1841)
No. 1 in C minor
Tadeusz Zieliński felt the melody of this Nocturne ‘sounds like a lofty, inspired song filled with the gravity of its message, genuine pathos and a tragic majesty’. With every bar, the melody moves closer to the point of culmination, before plummeting downwards in a tense, expressively rhapsodic recitative and immersing itself in the contemplative sounds of a chorale. The chorale grows in strength, despite the fact that the violent music of double octaves forces its way in between its chords. André Gide spoke of ‘the sudden irruption of […] wind-blasts’ and ‘a triumph of the spiritual element over the elements unleashed at the beginning’.
No. 2 in F sharp minor
The atmosphere is created by the first two bars followed by the most affecting melody. Tomaszewski writes 'the impression might be that it will last forever.'
‘What is most exquisite and most individual in Chopin’s art, wherein it differs most wonderfully from all others,’ noted André Gide ‘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.’ A characteristic of Chopin during the 1840s, in his last, reflective, post-Romantic phase. This is the source of Wagner’s unendliche Melodie Tomaszewski reveals with his unparalleled Chopinesque perceptions.
Guisiano brought these Nocturnes off persuasively well but I felt his 'classical' restraint rendered them to be occasionally lacking in gestures of true depth and character. The F sharp minor endless cantabile song could have been more romantically ardent and poetic rather than carefully eschewing any hint of sentimentality. Yet the conclusion was as tender and eloquent as a dream.
I am afraid I was not sufficiently moved by the depth of expression in this performance of the Barcarolle in F sharp major Op. 60 (1845–46). The work is a charming gondolier's folk song sung to the swish of oars on the historic Venetian Lagoon or a romantic canal, often concerning the travails of love. I understand that Guisiano restrains the romanticism of his expressive capabilities but in this case....
The Fantaisie Impromptu in C sharp minor Op. 66 (1834) requires a very high degree of virtuosity to make it into a charming and convincing work. The middle section that is so famous is reminiscent of a slow, reflective nocturne. It flows at a moderato cantabile tempo, weaving a sotto voce melody in D flat major. Again this somewhat patrician detached expressiveness prevailed which is not really the way I conceive of this work. As I have said so many times 'We all have our own Chopin!'
The difficulties concealed in the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise in E flat major Op. 22 (1834–5) are easy to underestimate. Chopin often performed the Andante spianato (smoothly without anxious tension) as a separate piece in his rare recitals. It has both the character of a nocturne and a lullaby and as such the tender expressiveness could have been more dwelt upon I think than the sentiment Guisiano adopted. His cantabile tone was attractive but I felt there is a deeply affecting simplicity here which can surely be explored with more yearning phrasing.
The Grande polonaise brillante with its opening 'Call to the Floor' as if on horns and its super glittering style brillante is such a dramatic gesture. Hardly anyone playing Chopin waltzes has any idea of ballroom dancing in the nineteenth century. Chopin in his youth was mad about dancing, a fine dancer and also an excellent dance pianist playing into the small hours, hence his need for 'rehab' at Bad Reinherz – now Dusznki Zdrój. Certainly Chopin waltzes are not meant to be danced but the sublimated idiom remains. Chopin waltzes nearly always open, except say the Valse triste, with an energetic and declamatory fanfare or 'call to the floor' for the dancers. A slight pause and then the scandalous Waltz begins.
The essential nature of the style brilliant, of which the Grand Polonaise Brillante Op.22 is an essential and outstanding representative of Chopin’s early Varsovian style, seems rather a mystery to modern pianists who are not Polish. Jan Kleczyński writes of this work: ‘There is no composition stamped with greater elegance, freedom and freshness’. The style involves a bright, light touch and glistening tone, varied shimmering colours, supreme clarity of articulation, in fact much like what was referred to in French as the renowned jeu perlé. Giusiano came quite some way along that road certainly - but there are also vital expressive elements of charm, grace, taste, affectation and elegance to be considered too. The work is a fascinating piece of theatre which perhaps is as this work should be considered in many respects. It is not deeply philosophical but an utterly enjoyable brilliant confection written by a high-spirited young Pole named Fryderyk Chopin, a lover of dancing and acting. One must not forget that Chopin astonished Vienna by his pianism but perhaps even more by the elegance of his princely appearance.
Now for some rarely performed works. Ignacy F. Dobrzyński (1807-1867) was born on former Polish territory in Romanów, in former Volhynia in the Russian Empire, but now known as Romaniv, Zhytomyr Oblast in Ukraine. He first studied music with his father Ignacy, a violinist, composer and music director. In 1825 he studied in Warsaw with Józef Elsner privately, then in 1826–28 at the Warsaw Conservatory, where he was a fellow pupil of Fryderyk Chopin. Elsner commented on the two : 'Chopin - a remarkable talent [szczegolna zdolnosc] genius etc....Dobrzynski - an uncommon talent...much talent [zdolnosc niepospolita...wiele zdolnosci].' A committed Polish patriot he composed the arrangement of the Dąbrowski Mazurka which has since become the Polish national anthem. In 1835, he won second prize in a composition competition for his Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 15. This symphony was later called 'Symphony in the Characteristic Spirit of Polish Music' and movements were conducted by Mendelssohn. Dobrzyński toured Germany as a pianist, wrote piano pieces and also conducted opera.
A remarkable challenge for Giusiano to learn these piano pieces, all quite unfamiliar to me. These are piano miniatures in the style of Maria Szymanowska. I can only give my subjective impressions of what I discovered to be not particularly inspired pieces but pleasant on the ear for the salon. The Introduction, Thème original varié in B flat major Op. 22 (1833) I found pleasant enough in typical late classical variation form of the period. Some of the variations I found charming and ingenious. The Nocturne in G minor Op. 21 No. 1 (1833) I felt to be particularly delicate and affectingly poetic, pleasantly reflective of tender romantic emotions. Of the two Mazurkas Op. 37 (1840) No. 1 in F major was distantly reminiscent of Chopin as was No. 2 in A minor. I began to be aware of the canyon that yawns between musical talent and genius, that between Dobrzyński and Chopin. This was confirmed by the Hommage à Mozart – Fantaisie sur des thèmes de l’opéra Don Giovanni de W.A. Mozart in A major Op. 59 (1850). Both in structure and utilization I was of course reminded of the brilliant Chopin Variations in B flat major on ‘Là ci darem la mano’, Op. 2 - Chopin’s reaction to Mozart's Don Giovanni. Thanks to these Variations, Chopin’s fame spread across central Europe.
As a student of the Main School of Music, Dobrzyński had received a compositional task from Elsner to write variations for piano with orchestral accompaniment. Guisiano could have approached this with a great deal more sense of theatrical and operatic fun with his styl brillant, engaging the audience in its humorous twists and turns. To quote Schumann as an analogous case 'Almost Too Serious,' (Fast Zu Ernst) from Kinderszenen.
His encores were at first a refined and most expressive Chopin Nocturne in C-sharp minor Op.posth. His second encore was a delightful and sensitive rendition of the Chopin Impromptu in A-flat major Op.29. His final encore for this highly enthusiastic audience was the Polonaise in A-flat major Op. posth.
Clearly from the warm reception of this pianist by Duszniki audience, this is a style of playing Chopin that appeals greatly. The introduction of unfamiliar works by his fellow pupil and Polish patriot Dobrzyński added to the enthusiastic response.
WEDNESDAY, 12 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 4:00 pm
Sonata-Fantasy in G sharp minor Op. 19 (1898)
The Scriabin Piano Sonata-Fantasy No. 2 in G-sharp minor took the composer five years to write and published in 1898. This alluring piece is in two movements and is particularly popular. The piece is widely appreciated and is one of Scriabin's most popular pieces.
The programme reads: 'The first section (Andante) represents the quiet of a southern night on the seashore; the development is the dark agitation of the deep, deep sea. The E major middle section shows caressing moonlight coming up after the first darkness of night. The second movement (Presto) represents the vast expanse of ocean in stormy agitation.'
The Andante was an impressionistic, expressively harmonic interpretation. Gentleness and colour with a rather fluctuating dreamlike tone quality although occasionally a heavy touch. The Presto certainly gave one a painting of 'stormy agitation' on the ocean but the tempo felt slightly rushed on occasion.
The Chopin Nocturne in E minor Op. 72 No. 1 (1827) is not dated with certainty. It has the rather melancholy characteristics of E minor which Pietrzak expressed feelingly - of sighs accompanied by only a few tears. There has been speculation that it may be the last of his nocturnes as it possesses the characteristics of Chopin's so-called 'late style'.
Mazurkas Op. 41 (1838–39)
No. 1 in E minor
Chopin composed mazurkas all his life. The great Polish musicologist Tomaszewski tells us that In the E minor Mazurka we hear a distinct Polish echo: the melody of a song about an uhlan (cavalry) and his girl, ‘Tam na błoniu błyszczy kwiecie’ [Flowers sparkling on the common] (written by Count Wenzel Gallenberg, with words by Franciszek Kowalski) – a song that during the insurrection in Poland had been among the most popular. Chopin quoted it almost literally. Pietrzak captured the nostalgia of remembrance successfully but when Chopin heightens the drama to the tragic, I felt emotions dominated and her tone became rather too weighted in contrast before returning to melodiousness of the close.
No. 2 in B major
The Mazurka in B major was most likely composed at Nohant, although bears a feeling of the period on Majorca. ‘The first four bars and their repetitions’, said Chopin, ‘are to be played in the style of a guitar prelude, progressively quickening the tempo’. Next to the piano, the guitar was Chopin's favourite instrument and the one that his teacher Elsner chose to serenade him when he left Warsaw by the Wola gate in 1830. If one thinks of the sound and timbre of the guitar a different approach may have offered itself.
No. 3 in A flat major
She brought the euphonious intonations and rhythms and heard undoubtedly in the Cuyavia region, in north-central Poland, situated on the left bank of Vistula. The work opens piano which would have given her more contrast and room to expand into forte less stridently.
No. 4 in C sharp minor was composed during the first summer at Nohant. It is one of the most beautiful mazurkas, resembling a miniature dance poem. It seems to arise out of nothing, and ends the same way. Stephen Heller noted: ‘What with others was a refined embellishment, with him was a colourful bloom; what with others was technical fluency, with him resembled the flight of a swallow.' Although attractive, the poetry of the reminiscence of Chopin could have been caressed more lovingly at a slower tempo and yet allow the strong mazurka rhythm to develop in definition as memory does, in contrast. The conclusion then returns us to the dream from which the piece originally materialized.
Liszt in his Atelier at Weimar
Ferenc Liszt – Sonata in B minor S.178 (1852–53)
The second half of the recital was devoted entirely to the Liszt B minor Sonata. The performance of this sonata is an extraordinarily bold and courageous choice for any young pianist.
This famous Sonata was published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1854 and first performed on January 27, 1857 in Berlin by Hans von Bülow. It was attacked by the German Bohemian music critic Eduard Hanslick who said rather colourfully ‘anyone who has heard it and finds it beautiful is beyond help’. Among the many divergent theories of the meaning of this masterpiece we find that:
- The Sonata is a musical portrait of the Faust legend, with “Faust,” “Gretchen,” and “Mephistopheles” themes symbolizing the main characters. (Ott, 1981; Whitelaw, 2017)
- The Sonata is autobiographical; its musical contrasts spring from the conflicts within Liszt’s own personality. (Raabe, 1931)
- The Sonata is about the divine and the diabolical; it is based on the Bible and on John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Szász, 1984)
- The Sonata is an allegory set in the Garden of Eden; it deals with the Fall of Man and contains “God,” “Lucifer,” “Serpent,” “Adam,” and “Eve” themes. (Merrick, 1987)
- The Sonata has no programmatic allusions; it is a piece of “expressive form” with no meaning beyond itself. (Winklhofer, 1980)
The manner in which a pianist opens this masterpiece tells you everything about the conception that will evolve. The haunted repeated notes Pietraszak produced were of an eloquent duration (a terrible battle lies in wait for pianists here - Krystian Zimerman drove his recording engineers mad repeating it hundreds of times before finally being satisfied). Her duration and dynamic boded well for the outcome of the sonata. It is inevitable with a young artist that virtuosity (getting around the fiendish notes of Liszt) comes sometimes at the expense of expression.
Just to have this vast work in your fingers is a massive achievement but what you do with this is another matter altogether, what you have to say about this work. This is a profound piece, too often played as some type of hectic fantasy or impassioned dream fantasy although that was not the case here.
The sonata is actually in many respects a philosophical dialogue between different fundamental aspects of the human spirit as symbolized by Faust, Mephistopheles and Gretchen. Liszt was tremendously influenced by literature and poetry in his compositions and in particular Goethe’s Faust, the dramatic spiritual battle between Faust and Mephistopheles with Gretchen hovering about as a seductive, lyrical feminine interlude. And the whole is a far more complex musical and structural argument than my rather trite account would indicate.
Pietraszak gave an at times emotionally moving, idiomatic and dramatic account of this formidable sonata. She allowed her phrases expressively to breathe and flower. Her tone tended to became rather heavy in the more emotionally impassioned passages, but there was moving poetry in lento passages here too. The mighty Fugue was polyphonically transparent and noble in dimension. The pianissimo conclusion took us into a dimension beyond. To begin analyzing her approach in detail here, would be to diminish the communication of her well integrated conception of this mighty edifice.
However, where was the smell of sulphur and the diabolical? Reading Byronic literature of the period that reflects the evolution of this remarkable life narrative, would greatly enhance the pianistic vision through subtle stimulation of the musical imagination.
A notably promising young pianist with a significant future ahead.
Encores were a sensitively performed Bach Largo from the Harpsichord Concerto No.5 in F minor BWV 1056 . This was followed by a movingly phrased and poetic Paderewski Nocturne.
TUESDAY, 11 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 8:00 pm
JAN JIRACEK VON ARNIM
I have been aware of this pianist and professor for some years and have always been full of admiration for his knowledge, friendliness and wit. Last time I heard him play was in 2007 in Duszniki Zdrój when he gave a particularly fine performance of Schumann's Faschingsschwank aus Wien and we discussed Michelangeli and his interpretation. He took Masterclasses in Duszniki in 2011 and then was a jury member for two weeks at the Paderewski Competition in Bydgoszcz in 2013.
He opened his carefully planned recital with the first two of Schubert's Drei Klavierstücke D 946 (1828). These are such revelations of his soul and such intimate works from the last year of his life (1828). They are lyrical pieces where the expressiveness has been extremely concentrated. I felt von Arnim approached them as an affirmation of life and the energy he brought was transparent and polyphonic. No. 1 in E flat minor had the character of a lyric song and I felt even witty and ironic in parts. I felt he had a great deal to tell us in these works with a significant degree of dynamic variation. His tone and touch were refined, elegant and classical - so suitable for Schubert. In No. 2 in E flat major again his variation in touch and tone were captivating. The emotional disturbance within the piece was rather threatening in character and the eloquent phrasing and sense of structure spoke volumes concerning the fluctuating nature of Schubert's inner emotional life. Von Arnim predominantly allows the music to speak with modest contrasts and subsumes his own personality to be in complete service to the music itself. This is welcome in a celebrity straining world.
The one of my favourite Beethoven sonatas. Many of his piano sonatas have 'titles'. However the rather revolutionary E-flat major Op. 81a is the only one inspired by a solid historical event. This was the flight from Vienna of his patron the Archduke Rudolph and the nobility as the Napoleonic pantechnikon irresistibly approached the defences of Vienna.
Beethoven began the first movement in May 1809, following the departure of the Archduke and just days before Vienna was placed under siege by Napoleon. Beethoven sheltered in a cellar with a pillow over his head to protect his hearing. The remaining two movements were written in January 1810, after the Archduke returned.
The dedication reads: 'On the departure of his Imperial Highness, for the Archduke Rudolph in admiration' although he privately he wrote 'written from the heart'. In the light of the political situation, one can readily understand how angry Beethoven was when his publisher, for reason of sales, gave it the French title Les Adieux rather than his own German Lebewohl . In his following sonata (Op. 90) he rejected Italian tempo markings as Napoleonic, and later even replaced the Italian word pianoforte with the German Hammerklavier.
Von Arnim approached the Beethoven Sonata in E flat major Op. 81a “Les Adieux” (1809-10) with much sensibility and interpreted the Adagio – Allegro (Lebewohl) with all the melancholy that the situation demanded, dwelling on the lamenting three note melody, a horn call symbolizing in poetry the pain of distance, solitariness and memory. The Allegro (begun without pause) was expressed with a great variety of articulation and it was clear he listened and savoured the evolving harmonies. His tone and touch were slightly restrained and captured the 'classical' rather 'dry' ambiance of the keyboard sound of the period. Judicious pedaling was of great assistance here. This meant transparency which revealed many 'hidden' details in the writing. The coda gave one a sense of separation and departure. His surges of dynamic indicated Beethoven as a composer on the cusp of Romanticism, perhaps even forging it.
I felt the Andante espressivo (Abwesenheit) was rather too positive in tone to be deeply poetic and yearning, cultivated with a deep sense of loss. I wanted to feel more of the heart aching after the parting. Yet there was much sensibility here and even the strong emotion of resentment and anger at such an unfolding of destiny. The Vivacissimamente (Das Wiedersehn) began with a sudden explosion of the joy of return (slightly too sudden?). Here in this movement we were given the full Beethovenian exuberant energy by von Arnim. Huge gestures of simple happiness without complex sentiment. The quiet development seems to indicate feelings beyond words as did the slightly melancholic conclusion. A completely satisfying performance, possibly understandable as it was given by a fine Viennese pianist. Given the universality of Beethoven and our distance from the historical source, one can still easily apply the sentiments within this great sonata to one's modern private life.
The careful planning of this recital then began to reveal itself in the key relations and their extra-musical associations. The Schubert Impromptu in A flat major D 899 (1827) would be followed by the Chopin Ballade in A flat major Op. 47 (1841). In the nineteenth century this was considered a rather melancholic key. There are many emotional links I feel between the sensibility of Schubert and Chopin. I found this familiar Impromptu possessed of an alluring, rippling tone with fine articulation.
This was a fine performance of the Chopin Ballade in A flat major Op. 47 with 'narrative' musical force. Penetrating the expressive core of the Chopin Ballades requires an understanding of the influence of a generalized view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time, something von Arnim understands well. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material. I have always felt it helpful to consider the Chopin Ballades as miniature operas being played out in absolute music, forever exercising one's musical imagination. The work contains some of the most magical passages in Chopin, some of the greatest moments of passionate fervour culminating in other periods of shattering climatic tension.
Now we were treated to two works written in the key of C-sharp minor which for some in the nineteenth century was associated with the fraught sighs of disappointed friendship and love. One can certainly read this into the Chopin Étude in C sharp minor Op. 25 No. 7 (1835–37). Von Arnim gave an expressive and moving performance of this deeply reflective Étude.
However something utterly magical was about to occur at the conclusion. Von Arnim seamlessly joined the tender pianissimo conclusion of the Chopin Étude to the Adagio sostenuto pianissimo opening of the revolutionary and renowned Beethoven Sonata quasi una fantasia in C sharp minor Op. 27 No. 2 'Moonlight' (1802). What a glorious musical moment this was and so richly imaginative. The first movement then flowered in the most impressionistic manner I have ever heard. I think the sound and expressiveness he produced was the result of delicate touch and particularly sensitive pedaling. He seemed to be acquainted with the different sound quality that Beethoven would have heard as a young man on an older instrument with a different damping mechanism.. Berlioz writes of this movement:
'The left hand softly displays large chords of a solemn, sad character and the length of these allows the vibrations of the piano to extend gradually over each one of them.'
Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840)
I felt this had been solved in a way by von Arnim which may be the reason we were so moved by the sound of the Adagio. He also gave me the impression of free improvisation. The Allegretto played attacca emerged as light and playful with a tinge of melancholy. The Presto agitato in contrast is pure, unrestrained emotional expression, and written at length. The ferocity and passion are remarkable even today, especially on a modern instrument. One cannot help feeling that Beethoven's intentions and perhaps imagined soundscape can only be fully realized on a modern concert instrument. The contrast with the opening movement must have seemed formidable at the time on the older instrument, Beethoven struggling with the limitations both of musical form and instrumental sound. Von Arnim adopted a fast Presto with impressive and exciting dynamic expression and phrasing. The Left Hand 'voice' was more prominent than usual and added to the splendid momentum he generated in this movement.
As encores - first of all the Chopin Prelude Op.28 No.15 with its repeated A-flat (another key link?). I found his view of this not sufficiently haunting or threatening. In her Histoire de ma Vie George Sand wrote:
He [Chopin] saw himself drowned in a lake. Heavy drops of icy water fell in a regular rhythm on his breast, and when I made him listen to the sound of the drops of water indeed falling in rhythm on the roof, he denied having heard it. He was even angry that I should interpret this in terms of imitative sounds. He protested with all his might – and he was right to – against the childishness of such aural imitations. His genius was filled with the mysterious sounds of nature, but transformed into sublime equivalents in musical thought, and not through slavish imitation of the actual external sounds.
His second encore was a poetic and sensibility-considered performance of Danzas Españolas No:2 'Oriental' - a charming conclusion to a musically highly rewarding recital.
Jan Jiracek von Arnim taking a Masterclass with Piotr Pawlak
TUESDAY, 11 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 4:00 pm
During the 11th International Paderewski Piano Competition in Bydgoszcz in November 2019, where Pacholec was awarded Second Prize, he performed the Mozart Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467. For this performance he was awarded a Special Prize for the best performance of a Mozart piano concerto. I wrote on that occasion: There was affecting good humor in the Allegro maestoso with variations in tempi which made it most expressive. Tone, articulation and touch possessed great finesse. The cadenza was graceful and refined as well as inventive. This affinity with Mozart showed itself in the elegant expressiveness and improvisatory fantasy of the Fantasia in D minor K. 397 (1782).
In the above competition he was also given the Paderewski Music Society of Los Angeles opportunity to give a piano recital in the Paderewski Music Society Recital Series in the artistic season 2020/2021. He also was awarded the Paderewski Pomeranian Philharmonic in Bydgoszcz Prize for the best performance of Paderewski for a Finalist in the Competition. I also was particularly fond of his interpretations where he showed that he had a far more idiomatic feeling for this music than most of the other contestants.
In the Paderewski Miscellanea. Sèrie de moreceaux Op. 16 No. 3 Thème varié in A major (1885–87) he displayed the perfect Paderewskian sentiment.
You know, Paderewski is such an underestimated composer of affecting lyrical and poetic piano music which speaks directly to the heart and sensibility, rather than burdening the intellect with high seriousness.
Naturally, being a great patriot he writes many Polish mazurkas and polonaises but much of his solo piano music reminds me of a superb film score for say an intensely romantic French love affair set in Provence directed by say Francois Truffaut. In our imaginations we could be bowling along a poplar lined route secondaire past hills of vineyards with Catherine Deneuve or Stephane Audran in the passenger seat of a Chapron Citroen DS 3 cabriolet. Her hair is wonderfully awry in the wind as we head towards une belle gentilhommiere and nights of sophisticated sensual bliss, days of cultivated tastes, food and wine. Ah…what we have lost of true civilization and culture in 2020…and now this ghastly pandemic ..... Paderewski had all the greatness that civilization could offer and then came the Great War.
The music of Paderewski wears its learning lightly with poetry, charm, elegance and refinement of a high order. Pacholec understands this perfectly and I loved the glittering tone he brought to all the Paderewski he performed with such elective affinity. The Humoresques de concert Op. 14 [Book 1 à l’antique] No. 2 , the eloquent and moving Sarabande in B minor (1887) and finally the Danses polonaises Op. 9 (1882), No. 2 Mazurka in A minor and the more robust No. 3 Mazurka in A major.
Pacholec then embraced the four Chopin Mazurkas Op. 30 (1836-37). No. 1 in C minor I found sensitive, idiomatic and deeply expressive. The key of C-Minor in the nineteenth century associated with the sighing of a love-sick soul. No. 2 in B minor was idiomatic but the contrast was rather strong for my sensibility. No. 3 in D flat major appeared to lack finesse in execution for me but I appreciated greatly No. 4 in C sharp minor which was a fine performance of a truly magnificent mazurka.
I found the Barcarolle in F sharp major Op. 60 (1845–46) rather lacking in sensibility and expressiveness. As mentioned during the Alexeev interpretation, remember this is a charming gondolier's folk song sung to the swish of oars on the historic Venetian Lagoon or a romantic canal, often concerning the travails of love. Most of the piece oscillates gently between forte, piano and pianissimo with only subtle degrees of heightened emotion throughout.
Artur Bielecki writes illuminatingly of the Impromptu in F sharp major Op. 36 (1839). 'The most mysterious piece is the archly refined Impromptu in F sharp major Op.36. Its form is more complex than that of the other three, its narrative somewhat capricious and surprising. It is a work that is strikingly distinctive. Firstly, it begins, not in lively motion, but contrarily with a quasi-nocturnal, slow-moving theme. Secondly, the middle section (in the key of D major) is marked by a wholly unexpected and gradually heightening heroic tone. Thirdly, the heroic episode breaks off quite suddenly, and by means of an extraordinary modulation-perhaps the "oddest" in the whole of Chopin.'
A fine performance of the Polonaise in F sharp minor Op. 44 (1840–41). Like many of Chopin's 'heroic' polonaises, the work conveys a strong sense of żal, a Polish word in this context meaning melancholic regret leading to a mixture of passionate resistance, resentment and anger in the face of unavoidable fate. Yet here also with Pacholec were the martial qualities of nobility, grace, resistance, élan, the glitter of the sabre, the proud stroking of the Sarmatian moustache valiantly facing the enemy.
Charming expressive and elegant encores of first the so-called 'Minute' or more correctly "Miniature' Waltz in D-flat major Op.64 No.1. There is a perhaps an apocryphal story that Chopin was inspired by a little dog owned by George Sands at Nohant that was fond of chasing its own tail. This was followed, perhaps predictably, by the similarly elegant and refined Waltz in C-sharp minor Op.64 No.2.
For more on Pacholec and his Second Prize, here is the link to my complete coverage of the 11th International Paderewski Piano Competition in Bydgoszcz in November 2019 :
MONDAY, 10 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 8:00 pm
This great pianist and pedagogue scarcely needs any introduction to audiences - his musical maturity and eminence is renowned and celebrated.
He began is programme with a lyrical and approachable piece - Schumann's Arabesque in C major Op. 18 (1838-39)
When Schumann wrote the Arabesque in 1839, he was still cruelly separated from his future wife Clara. Her father violently opposed the relationship with Schumann and the risks he felt this posed to her career as an outstanding pianist. Robert was only able to communicate with her through letters and 'concealed' musical harmonies in his compositions. Any music he wrote at this time would have been drenched in frustrated longing. This work fluctuates between lyrical dream and militant anger.
His phrasing was sensitive, reflective and nuanced, emotionally touching the sensibility from the outset. He presented Schumann's two 'best friends', the extrovert Florestan and the more poetic Eusebius, the curious doppelgänger personalities that flowered directly from his literary obsessions. Such an appropriate Romantic atmosphere was created for the arrival of the Symphonic Etudes Op. 13 and Op. posth. (1834).
The composer began work in 1834 on a theme written by Baron von Fricken and sixteen variations on it by Schumann, together with a further variation on an entirely different theme by Heinrich Marschner. There is a romantic personal element here as at one point Schumann was engaged to Baron von Fricken’s ward and possibly illegitimate daughter, Ernestine von Fricken. Schumann met her in 1834 and fell in love with her. They met at Friedrich Wieck’s house (the father of Clara Wieck), where Ernestine had lived since April as a piano student and house guest. For unclear reasons Schumann broke off this engagement.
The gestation of the work in its final published form is highly complex and I am unable to briefly chronicle it here. Let me just say the work evolved over eighteen years from the composition in 1834 to second published version in 1852. Schumann gave the work eight different titles! One was Etüden im Orchestercharakter für Pianoforte von Florestan und Eusebius (Studies in Orchestral Style for Piano by Florestan and Eusebius) which indicates a certain character contrast within the music between the extrovert, dynamic Florestan and the more poetic, melancholic Eusebius (1835 version). The work was dedicated to his friend, the unjustly neglected English composer and pianist William Sterndale Bennett, also a friend and highly respected by Mendelssohn. Bennett performed the work with tremendous success in England. Over this present long interval of some one hundred and eight-six years, pianists have had to wrestle with many editorial and performance issues.
Alexeev opened with the tragic in character theme in the key of C Sharp Minor. This moved into the dirgelike march of the first étude which immediately revealed the pianist's deep emotional commitment to this performance. As the work progressed it became clear that these concert pieces gave Alexeev the opportunity to demonstrate the breathtaking possibilities of piano technique and his range of keyboard colour (being one of the most difficult and challenging keyboard works in piano literature). His intimate knowledge of the work was indicated by his interpolation of the beautiful five op. posth. studies.
But Schumann was also experimenting with the timbre of piano sound. Without wishing to appear a 'crank', I feel it necessary to say that on a piano of Schumann's period (he loved Clara's Conrad Graf of 1838 from Vienna) the varied colours, timbre and textures of the different registers and the contrapuntal nature, even the faux baroque character of some of the writing in some variations, would have been rather more obvious on the older instrument than on the modern homogenized Steinway. Such discoveries of colour and timbre can enlighten modern interpretations.
This was clearly a grand performance by a grand maître of the instrument but I think this aspect of period sound is worthy of consideration when examining the contrasting timbres and overall comparative dynamic range of Schumann's writing for his instrument which went far in the direction of even 'experimental research'.
Certainly the piano tonight under Alexeev became an overwhelming 'orchestra' ('im Orchestercharakter') with rich complexity of colour but occasionally harsh dynamic impact. Too often perhaps I was looking for a greater difference in character between the variations and taking more conceptual breaths between them. I need time to absorb the density of this characterful piano writing before moving on immediately to another emotional soundscape. The performance was tremendously passionate in the full Romantic sense of the emotional torrent that Alexeev unleashed in the work. Yet I continued to search for the more expressive poetic subtlety of Eusebius than the constant strident nature of Florestan which is undoubtedly dominant in this edition of the work.
Alexeev adopted a rather different approach to the customary performance style this Chopin Rondo in C minor Op. 1 (1825) is interpreted. He played it much as a charming and highly expressive salon piece with variations in tempo and rubato rather than as a glittering styl brillant virtuoso work from Chopin's youth. Of course we are now so distant from the source of this music one can only speculate how Chopin himself would have approached the performance and one might ask, is the question so relevant?
I am afraid I did not warm to this performance of the Barcarolle in F
sharp major Op. 60 (1845–46) the charming gondolier's folk song sung to the
swish of oars on the historic Venetian Lagoon or a romantic canal, often
concerning the travails of love. Most of the piece oscillates gently between forte, piano and pianissimo with
only subtle degrees of heightened emotion throughout. The opening tonal
mood Alexeev set well but poetically his view seemed rather dry than romantic
and authentically heartfelt. Disturbing yet civilized degrees
of heightened passion occur during this outing on the
lagoon. Towards the conclusion I felt he tended to overdo
the ecstasy as do so many pianists. I will never believe this is an explosive virtuoso work and it is almost
invariably presented as such.
It was often observed that Chopin played with a much lower relative dynamic than were are used to today i.e. forte for him was perhaps mezzo-forte for us or even softer. This together with and as a result of the limitations of the instruments of the day means the dynamic scale of the work is not gigantic. Pianissimo on a Pleyel is the barest perceptible whisper. Berlioz once described Chopin's own playing
'....the utmost degree of softness, piano to the extreme, the hammers merely brushing the strings, so much so that one is tempted to go close to the instrument and put one's ear to it as if to a concert of sylphs or elves.' (Quoted in Rink, Sampson ,Chopin Studies 2 p.51).
Are we simply to ignore these contemporary descriptions convinced that 'we moderns must know better'? Of course I would never suggest imitating this type of thing in a modern concert hall but I feel these are all important considerations in terms of dynamic scale when considering this great masterpiece. Certainly in the Dworek so few pianists modify their dynamic range for the small resonant room with its barrel-vaulted ceiling.
In August 1897, Scriabin married the young pianist Vera Ivanovna Isakovich. By the winter of 1904, Scriabin and his wife had relocated to Switzerland, where he began work on the composition of his Symphony No. 3. While living in Switzerland, Scriabin was separated legally from his wife, with whom he had had four children. Scriabin's second wife was Tatiana Fyodorovna Schlözer with whom he lived 'in sin' for some time. An extraordinary love story. He wrote to her:
I am breathless, I feel blessed, I compose wonderfully. From time to time I feel torn from my work to think about you and to mentally communicate my thoughts to you. […] I write for you, my dearest joy! You will understand all, you will apprehend all! Like nobody else! You will understand every turn of my mad fantasy. (Letter by Alexander N. Scriabin to Tatiana F. Schloezer dated 24th November (7th December) 1904.
Alexander Scriabin and Tatiana Schloezer on the banks of the Oka River, the largest right tributary of the Volga
Alexeev then turned to Scriabin Alexander Scriabin – 4 Preludes Op. 22 (1897) There 'fragments' of no more than a minute long in most performances and are reminiscent of course of the briefest Chopin Preludes. 1897 was the year of Scriabin’s marriage and of the Preludes, Op 22. I found them played by Alexeev in an affecting and characteristically improvisatory manner - metaphysically untroubled, lyrical, and euphonious. They perhaps reflect the happiness he was experiencing.
No. 1 Andante in C sharp minor
No. 2 Andante in C sharp minor
No. 3 Allegretto in B major
No. 4 Andantino in B minor
Hard for me to say but I was not as seduced by the glorious Valse Op. 38 (1903) as I had hoped to be. I have always seen this tender and ravishing work of haunted yet delicate sensibility, a type of dream waltz whose harmonies absorb into the night with perhaps, as time passes, agitated intimations or premonitions of the coming Great War that would destroy this languishing, civilized world. Alexeev gave my lyrical dream rather more turbulent flavour but in gestures of total emotional commitment.
Alexeev allowed the harmonies of the Deux poèmes, Op 69 (1913) to create dreamy, whimsical, and capricious moods. The second Allegretto, whose ‘wild arabesques’ were described by a Times critic when Scriabin played it in London the following year in 1914. The work recalls the mocking tone of Étrangeté Op.63.
No. 1 Allegretto
No. 2 Allegretto
Now we approach a work that has fascinated me nearly all my life. One can apply the associations created by that incandescent and fiery simple melody, wrought in small steps within the work, to any growing, personal psychic torment. The claws of destiny appear to be uncontrovertibly dragging one to destruction. Vers la flamme Op. 72 (1914) was written on the verge of war, accurately predicting the conflagration that was to come, a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. According to the pianist Vladimir Horowitz, the piece was inspired by Scriabin's prescient conviction that a constant accumulation of heat would ultimately cause the destruction of the earth (an s early vision of 'global warming'?).The title reflects the fiery destruction of the planet through a constant and irresistible, scarcely bearable, emotional crescendo that leads, like a moth fascinated to destruction, 'toward the flame'.
Alexeev gave us a highly emotional account of many extra musical associations. However, I missed the metaphysical dimension of the work. The tremendously physical virtuosic pianism tended to cloud that atmosphere of desperate attraction that sometimes unavoidable catastrophe psychically possesses in human life, that irresistible magnetic attraction towards consciously inescapable, disaster. For me the work is deeply metaphysical and psychic and requires little external help to convey its sobering existential message.
Standing ovation and great enthusiasm from the 'socially-distanced' audience. As exuberantly received encores he first played a Scriabin Mazurka. As it was his birthday there followed a moving moment when the entire audience sang 'Sto Lat' (may you live one hundred years) the traditional Polish birthday song. This was followed by the rousing, highly melodic and rhythmic Liszt transcription of two Polish songs by Chopin - wildly received with cheers by this audience. Finally to calmly close, a moving rendition of the Chopin Mazurka in F minor Op.63 No.2.
Tumultuous, thunderous applause and a standing ovation concluded this fine festival highlight recital.
MONDAY, 10 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 4:00 pm
In the 50th National Chopin Competition in February 2020 he was awarded 2nd prize. ex aequo with Piotr Pawlak
One needs to remember when approaching the Chopin Études Op. 25 (1835–37) or the Op.10 that each has, what one might term, a dual nature. Each one is a self-contained work of art where the musical ideas are embodied within the technical challenges so that the music is the technique. I cannot analyze each of the Kałduński Études save to say there were many outstanding moments although as a set their quality was variable. I feel this pianist is more at home in deeply poetic works rather than bravura display which was validated by an outstanding performance of No.7 in C sharp minor (a key which in the 19th century could represent sighs of disappointed friendship and love). The conclusion to the set was a fitting triumphal No.12 in C minor. The seductive magic of Chopin carried all before it as always, music 'that cabbalistic craft' as Thomas Mann referred to it in Dr. Faustus.
The Ballade in A flat major Op. 47 (1841) was well executed by Kałduński and possessed some 'narrative' musical force and the feeling of a miniature opera being played out in absolute music. The work contains some of the most magical passages in Chopin, some of the greatest moments of passionate fervour culminating in other periods of shattering climatic tension. Penetrating the expressive core of the Chopin Ballades requires an understanding of the influence of a generalised view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time - no mean task. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material.
The Scherzo in C sharp minor Op. 39 (1839) was a fine account which approached grandeur at the conclusion. That soul-lurching masterstroke of Chopin, the change to the minor key was moving and atmospheric, forcing us into poetic reflection, something for which this pianist is particularly gifted. Dedicated to his pupil Adolf Gutman, this was the last work the composer sketched during the Majorca sojourn and in the fraught atmosphere of Valldemossa. Chopin was ill at the time which interrupted and perhaps affected the writing. ‘…questions or cries are hurled into an empty, hollow space – presto con fuoco.’ (Tomaszewski).
A computer version of the figure of Fryderyk Chopin, which was created, among others based on two photos and a tuft of hair from the Warsaw museum by Hadi Karim
Finally Kałduński approached the tremendously demanding Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major Op. 61 (1845–46). Again I make no apology for repeating my introduction above to the work as such background facts do not change although the interpretative approach is always completely different.
This work contained all the troubled emotion and desire for strength in the face of the multiple adversities that beset the composer at this late stage in his life. This work, the first in the so-called ‘late style’ of the composer, was written during a period of great suffering and unhappiness. He laboured over its composition. What emerged is one of his most complex of his works both pianistically and emotionally. Chopin produced many sketches for the Polonaise-Fantaisie and wrestled with the title. He had written: ‘I’d like to finish something that I don’t yet know what to call’. This uncertainty indicates surely he was embarking on a journey of compositional exploration along untrodden paths. Even Bartok one hundred years later was shocked at its revolutionary nature. The work is an extraordinary mélange of genres and styles in a type of inspired improvisation that yet maintains a magical absolute musical coherence and logic. He completed it in August 1846.
The opening tempo is marked maestoso (as with his two concerti) which indicates ‘with dignity and pride’. I was impressed with the gravitas and nobility in Kałduński's deliberate phrasing of the opening, the dreamlike, poetic fantasy of his opening phrases of considered expressive emotion contrasted with passionate expression which immediately sets the atmosphere. However, I did not receive the feeling that the piece was being searched for and discovered as a type of improvisation which I feel it needs. The invention fluctuates as if with the irregular circulation of the heart and the blood. I very much like the unique dream aesthetic created and cultivated by this pianist in this work and others even if his bravura playing may suffer technical limitations and solecisms. There is much rich counterpoint and polyphony to be explored here (of which Chopin was one of the greatest masters since Bach). This work also conveys a strong sense of żal, a Polish word in this context meaning melancholic regret leading to a mixture of passionate resistance, resentment and anger in the face of unavoidable fate. Kałduński achieved this most convincingly at times. Yes, a complex work for a young man to master, written when Chopin was moving towards the cold embrace of death.
Encores were a charming and rather stylish interpretation of the so-called 'Minute' Waltz. I confess to be unable to identify the second encore. Oh dear .....perhaps someone could enlighten me?
SUNDAY 9th AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 8.00 pm
I have followed this young pianist's burgeoning career for some years now and have always been impressed by his development. He won 1st Prize at the 2017 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition Tel Aviv. As mentioned I wrote about this fine pianist at the VI Arthur Rubinstein Piano Festival, Łódź , Poland 14-19 October 2019. A nostalgic and infinitely moving festival in the company of Ewa Rubinstein.
He opened his ambitious recital with the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major Op. 61 (1845–46). I am often fearful of beginning a recital with such a complex and demanding piece as it does not allow the audience to ease their way gently into the music that will be presented. I make no apology for repeating my introduction to the work as such background facts do not change although the interpretative approach is always different.
This work contained all the troubled emotion and desire for strength in the face of the multiple adversities that beset the composer at this late stage in his life. This piece, the first in the so-called ‘late style’ of the composer, was written during a period of great suffering and unhappiness. He laboured over its composition. What emerged is one of his most complex of his works both pianistically and emotionally. Chopin produced many sketches for the Polonaise-Fantaisie and wrestled with the title. He had written: ‘I’d like to finish something that I don’t yet know what to call’. This uncertainty indicates surely he was embarking on a journey of compositional exploration along untrodden paths. Even Bartok one hundred years later was shocked at its revolutionary nature. The work is an extraordinary mélange of genres and styles in a type of inspired improvisation that yet maintains a magical absolute musical coherence and logic. He completed it in August 1846.
The opening tempo is marked maestoso (as with his two concerti) which indicates ‘with dignity and pride’. I was impressed with the gravitas and nobility, the concrete seriousness contrasted with dreamlike fantasy of his opening phrase which immediately sets the atmosphere of how the work will develop in the mind of the pianist. I also received from the outset a strong sense of inspired improvisation which the piece demands, a desperate search for emotional security in life. Of course with increased experience of this dense emotional landscape he will learn to make even more of the remarkable musical associations and passionate turmoil that follow as the work develops. There is much counterpoint (of which Chopin was one of the greatest masters since Bach) and polyphony. This work conveys a strong sense of żal, a Polish word in this context meaning melancholic regret leading to a mixture of passionate resistance, resentment and anger in the face of unavoidable fate. A complex work written when Chopin was moving towards the cold embrace of death.
Certainly Nehring has a technical command of the score, the keyboard and the structure of the piece which is an achievement that cannot be underestimated - now he needs to go one dimension deeper - passing time will generate these opportunities.
Next the Impromptu in G flat major Op. 51 (1842). 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. Nehring has now captured this elegance and refinement in such a superior way as to when I last heard him perform the work in 2019. The whimsical shifting moods (albeit of a restrained type) and invention 'on the spot' (the choice of title 'Impromptu' surely indicates such an aspect of interpretation) were far more in evidence. A charming performance.
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.’
I very much enjoyed his Chopin Mazurkas Op. 56 (1843–44). No. 1 in B major captured the shifting internal life of Chopin's nostalgic and melancholic reminiscences, fertile sublimated fragments of his past with flashes of remembered dancing, the joy and boldness of the mazur. No. 2 in C major had an affecting rumbustious rural energy contrasted with more, not terribly serious, romantic moments of reminiscence. Quite unlike No. 3 in C minor, a deep poem replete with nostalgia and recall. Chopin's harmonic adventurism in this mazurka is so arresting. Ferdynand Hoesick, writer and musicologist historian of literature, musicographer and publisher, wrote ‘rather the music of memories than of reality’ and Zdzisław Jachimecki saw in its tonal boldness ‘the foundations for the music of future times’.
Nehring I felt understood this Mazovian landscape well and painted it for us with great confidence.
Then onto the Polonaise in F sharp minor op. 44 It is not laziness that prompts me to reproduce my remarks made in 2019 when he performed this polonaise. He has made some detailed, creative additions which improve it even more, but the drive and understanding of the heroic polonaise spirit remain. This favorite of mine is 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. Here were the martial qualities of nobility, grace, resistance, élan, the glitter of the sabre, the proud stroking of the Sarmartian moustache valiantly facing the enemy. The conclusion was particularly redolent of granite lying within the soul. An outstanding performance once again.
I am full of admiration of the courage and perseverance of such a young pianist to approach the Brahms Sonata No. 1 in C major Op. 1 (1852–53) in recital.
three piano sonatas, this early work as a young man in Hamburg in
1853. He had already composed his impressive second piano sonata by this
time but chose to publish this piece first because he felt that it was
superior. Schumann was impressed by the virtuosic character and loved both
early sonatas. In the opening Allegro theme I felt Nehring although
sufficiently tempestuous and 'orchestral', failed to achieve the Beethovenian
grandeur, the nobility the movement dictates, even demands, which
is so reminiscent of the Hammerklavier Sonata. However, the lyrical
contrasts of 'unrequited love' were beautifully achieved. There were many moments
of true conceptual grandeur here but achieving a coherent musical structure in
this enormous movement is a challenge to any pianist. The Andante was warm
with its Theme and Variations on the courtly love song Verstohlen geht der
The moon rises stealthily .
He climbs through the blue air ,
look, moon, through the little window !
Although spectacularly pianistic, the Scherzo. Allegro molto e con fuoco and Finale. Allegro con fuoco certainly displayed Nehring's virtuosity and keyboard command but not his ability to deeply communicate his undoubted emotional range. If one begins an increasingly forte passage at too great a dynamic, one has nowhere to go. In order to communicate the dense polarities within this work, he needs to rise, if possible, above the fiendish technical challenges and breathe more openly, phrase somewhat less frenetically. The fierce movements of the work often require far broader phrases of Brahmsian ampleness and scope. Then he could create more forcibly the eloquent expressiveness of the turbulent passions of 'unrequited love' vibrating in the heart of the young Brahms at this time.
Nevertheless, a magnificent effort on the part of Nehring to command this work to such a high pianistic degree. His trajectory of expressive interpretation in this work can only lead upward to which I greatly look forward.
Two delightful Szymanowski Mazurkas as encores, a composer he clearly adores.
Szymon Nehring in Łódź :
SUNDAY, 9 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 4:00
I must say at the outset that I am astonished at the ambition and keyboard command of these promising young pianists who have the temerity to tackle such demanding works as appear on this programme.
Opening a recital with such a demanding piece as the Chopin Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major Op. 61 (1845–46) I felt was rather ambitious. This work contained all the troubled emotion and desire for strength in the face of the multiple adversities that beset the composer at this late stage in his life. This work, the first in the so-called ‘late style’ of the composer, was written during a period of great suffering and unhappiness. He laboured over its composition. What emerged is one of his most complex of his works both pianistically and emotionally. Chopin produced many sketches for the Polonaise-Fantaisie and wrestled with the title. He had written: ‘I’d like to finish something that I don’t yet know what to call’. This uncertainty indicates surely he was embarking on a journey of compositional exploration along untrodden paths. Even Bartok one hundred years later was shocked at its revolutionary nature. The work is an extraordinary mélange of genres and styles in a type of inspired improvisation that yet maintains a magical absolute musical coherence and logic. He completed it in August 1846.
Just a few observations on a confident performance. The opening tempo is marked maestoso (as with his two concerti) which means ‘with dignity and pride’. I felt Bies could have cultivated and set this atmosphere more expressively. In the Polonaise-Fantaisie, the dignified élan of the polonaise is accompanied by the melancholy reflection of the fantasy.
Bies had flourishes of 'heroic' emotion that led to rather inflated dynamics in the polonaise sections and did not sit well, tending to unbalance the meditative poetic fantasy elements of the piece. His forte tone could become uncomfortable on occasion. However, I feel this highly talented young man now has the work under his fingers which can form the basis for an exceptional interpretation which should mature in time if he gives the work due amount of thought, analysis of its gestation and is guided in the right direction with it by his teachers.
Chopin playing at the Paris Hôtel Lambert. The vaulting (background) is temporary stage scenery. Watercolour and gouache by Teofil Kwiatkowski
We then heard the Mazurkas, Op. 17 (1830–33) which although expressively played with idiomatic Polish spirit, fell short on a true subtle feeling of poetic nostalgia. No. 1 in B flat major was effectively robust. No. 2 in E minor suffered from precipitate rushes of emotion which tended to interrupt too strongly the reverie and gentle sublimated recall of past joys. No. 3 in A flat major was presented as more a painting in oils than a watercolor, tinted reflection on past pleasures. The affectingly nostalgic No. 4 in A minor was by far the most emotionally successful of the set.
Bies was far more at home with Karol Szymanowski and his two Mazurkas, Op. 62 (1933–34). One might be tempted to ask are they true mazurkas in the Chopinesque sense as they lack any obvious folk element or recalled rural atmosphere. Writing to Zofia Kochańska on 22 February 1933 of the first piece Szymanowski commented: “I have written a very pleasant and cheerful mazurka, and I enjoy playing it very much. It’s funny but as I get old the music I write gets more and more cheerful!!”
No. 1 Allegretto grazioso from Bies was as blithe and untroubled in its opening as one could wish. I felt he possessed a good control and understanding of more 'abstract' modern piano texture, dynamics and timbre. This became even clearer in No. 2 Moderato. This rather dynamically tempestuous mazurka owes its existence to a commission received by Szymanowski from a London music lover, Sir Victor Cazalet, during the composer’s stay in England during the autumn of 1934. Both mazurkas were performed for the first time by the composer himself at a private concert in London on 4 November 1934.
Finally that great piano work Masques, Op. 34 (1915–16). Was there an intended irony to present this work in the midst of the pandemic? If so it was appropriate and amusing. The audience certainly all wore masks in keeping with the spirit of the piece!
There is a variety of allusive 'programme' attached to the work. It is based on different literary characters. Queen Scheherazade, the narrator of the Arabian tales from One Thousand and One Nights; Tristan, the hero of the Celtic legend Tristan and Iseult, and finally Don Juan arguably greatest seducer and decadent in modern European culture. The three movements are entitled Scheherazade, Tantris the Buffoon and Don Juan’s Serenade.
Bies in time and with deeper acquaintance with the literary references, connotations and associations will come more to terms with mastering the panalopy of emotional tensions and expressive contrasts within the work. Scheherazade requires one to take an imaginative leap into the legendary past and perhaps listen to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The sarcastic irony of Tantris the Buffoon (dedicated to the great piano pedagogue Henryk Neuhaus) tended to escape his expressive grasp. Of Don Juan's Serenade (dedicated to Artur Rubinstein) Szymanowski wrote to Stefan Spiess on 7 November 1915: “I have just fully completed my Don Juan and I am emormously pleased with it! In spite of its parody-like style, it is worth a lot more than those Odyssean tricks.”
Throughout this performance I had the greatest admiration for such a young pianist having the courage to master so brilliantly the notes of this fiendishly difficult score and present it in concert. Maturity in dealing with the highly sophisticated expressive musical and personal ideas of Szmanowski (that we all wear misleading masks of one sort or another in life) will surely come with experience.
I have heard Federico Colli on many occasions during the Duszniki Zdrój Festival and all have been outstanding examples of penetrating and brilliant musicianship. I briefly heard the Italian pianist on the radio during the 2012 Leeds Piano Competition which he won. Held every three years, previous winners include Andras Schiff, Radu Lupu and Artur Pizarro. Colli, a native of Brescia, is instantly recognizable by his curly hair and his luxuriant cravats. He admits that his pianistic god is Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and assured me he was born in a house in the same street exactly opposite to that in which Michelangeli was born! He has previously also won the 2011 Salzburg International Mozart Competition. In an interview on BBC Radio 3 the pianist Kathryn Stott called him ‘totally amazing’ and a pianist who ‘completely reinvented The Emperor Concerto. It was fresh. He's a superb pianist.’
Over the intervening years since I first heard him play at Duszniki Zdrój in 2013, I feel, as was clear in this magnificent and philosophically profound recital, that he has matured immensely personally both as an artist and pianist. Not a great deal has changed in his outward appearance except possibly the quieter tone colour of his foulard. The Renaissance principe of yore has certainly matured. I had written in 2013: A great evening given to us by a great artist with tremendous personality, individuality, charisma, pianistic and musical brilliance. Tonight I have no reason to alter this judgement.
His recital was both musically interesting and emotionally deeply moving in design. For me it was assembled thoughtfully and compassionately, perhaps in response to the pandemic and the tragic deaths of many of his friends in Brescia, in Lombardy. He courageously gave an in memoriam recital in the city recently.
In a suitably Italian style he opened with the Bach Italian Concerto in F major, BWV 971 (1735). Vivaldi’s concertos inspired Bach to make arrangements of the new genre and write his own contributions to it. Throughout his life, Bach copied and transcribed scores by Vivaldi, Albinoni, Corelli and Marcello for the keyboard. An aesthetic was prevalent at the time known as the goûts réunis which encouraged composers to embrace the prestigious and courtly French tradition while respecting Italian keyboard virtuosity, harmonic language, and form. An outstanding example is this ‘Italian’ concerto, BWV 971. Bach had perhaps absorbed Christian Pezold’s Recueil des XXV Concerts pour le Clavecin (1729). He combined in one edition, the Clavier-Übung II, the Ouvertüre nach Französischer Art BWV 831 together with the Concerto nach Italienischen Gusto (Concerto in the Italian taste) BWV 971.
Bach wrote the concerto for a two manual harpsichord in order to contrast full orchestral and solo passages, attracted as he was to the concerto grosso form. Writing for a two-manual harpsichord gave him the opportunity to distinguish between tutti (full orchestra) and solo passages. A pianist has only one keyboard so must achieve this by skillfully changing dynamic levels, articulation, tone colour and the dynamic balance of the counterpoint between the right and left hands. The diamond of the piece is the Andante slow movement.
In every movement Colli grasped all these expressive, poetic and formal qualities in the most artistic and musical way imaginable. I had never before heard the counterpoint in the left hand articulated so clearly in dynamic and throughout employing such a wide variety of duration, touch, dynamic, texture and colour. His judicious employment of the pedal was masterly. The lyrical Andante was possessed of a superb cantabile not possible on a harpsichord but perhaps on a clavichord. A spectacular uptempo and highly articulated Presto concluded this masterpiece. I play the harpsichord and for me his interpretation of the work was a ravishing and deeply considered transition from the plucked to the percussive instrument.
In choosing the Shostakovich Sonata in B minor No. 2, Op. 61 (1942), Colli had chosen piano music that is relatively rarely played. The sonata is a memorial work, dedicated to the piano pedagogue and composer Leonid Nikolayev, who had died in Tashkent in October 1942 aged sixty-four. The loss of his own friends in the pandemic may well have contributed to Colli's choice. Nikolayev was one of Shostakovich’s early teachers at the Petrograd Conservatory. Shostakovich "admired him as a first-class musician and a man of great wisdom and learning" and also said of him: "He trained not simply pianists, but in the first place thinking musicians. He didn't create a school in the specific sense of some single narrow professional direction. He shaped and nurtured a broad aesthetic trend in the sphere of pianistic art."
The agony and tragedy of war is not expressed here as in say the 1941 'Leningrad' Symphony or the 1943 Symphony No.8. The Sonata No. 2 consists of three movements. The first Allegretto movement is fairly lightweight and Colli expressively brought out its mischievousness, anger and busy intensity. The sound of his opening was unforgettable. Colli extracted a mesmerizing quality from it with an hypnotic texture, dynamics and colour. The tempo on occasion almost reached stasis and came within a fraction of halting altogether. The powerful contrast of the Largo aroused in us the deep melancholy of human loss. Philosophical conclusions on death, meditative moods carried on gossamer wings, a true breath of the mind. The Moderato revealed Colli's supreme, what one might term 'abstract virtuosity' and sense of musical coherence. Again this hypnotic stasis emerged and a powerful philosophical atmosphere was created until the final scarcely bearable flicker of life. I found his entire approach to this work profoundly philosophical and emotionally deeply moving.
Alfred Brendel wrote of Schubert: 'Schubert may well be the most astonishing phenomenon in musical history. The richness of what he accomplished in a life of merely thirty-one years defies comparison.’
It has not always been the case that the sonatas of Schubert were considered close in expressiveness and depth to the sonatas of his God Beethoven. However Schubert uses different means and structure in what emerges as a pattern of Romantic 'psychological symbolism'. So much is clear in his songs based on the associative power of literature and poetry. In his sonatas too the seductive, vulnerable lyricism of dreams and the imaginative flights of the artistic temperament are at moments brutally interrupted by the emergence of the grim, inflexible and brutal reality of the world. The tenderness of a pastel drawing or watercolour suddenly contrasted with the concrete, forceful depiction of an oil painting
The rarely performed Schubert sonata Colli chose, the posthumously published Sonata in A minor, D 784 (1823), illustrates this aesthetic pattern well. The composer at the time had been placed in hospital for the disease that would eventually kill him. The sonata contains only three movements and lacks the conventional scherzo which gives the work unusual emotional concentration. Colli created a tangible atmosphere of melancholy from the beautiful, yet desolate, pianissimo A minor opening phrase of the Allegro giusto. Alfred Einstein in his book Schubert (London 1951, p.245) draws our attention to the second subjects in the major of the two outer movements as 'visions of paradise', lyrical and frail dreams of departed love or lost love reminiscent of the yearning mood of the song cycle Winterreise (a penetrating observation from the American author William Kinderman). The artist's dreams are ruptured by dark, ungovernable and tumultuous minor mode forces. There was a charming insouciance to the Andante until the mercurial Allegro vivace. Then dance rhythms and a brief hypnotic and momentary return to the secret despair of the opening bareness. The sonata concluded with a gesture of angry defiance in the face of mortality. Colli made much of these all these contrasts and expressive, almost agonizing lurches of psychological mood using his fine control of dynamics, tone and refinement of touch together with inspired pedalling. He effectively hypnotized the audience with this profound existential utterance from Schubert.
Colli concluded his recital in 'Italianate fashion' with that masterpiece, Bach/Busoni – Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo Violin BWV 1004 (1720). He began his recital with the Johann Sebastian Bach Chaconne, the fifth movement from the Partita for solo violin (1685–1750) in D minor BWV 1004 (1720) transcribed for piano by Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924).
It is a well known fact that in his writing for the pianoforte Busoni shows an inexhaustible resource of color effect.... This preoccupation with color effects on the pianoforte began to make itself evident after Busoni had began to devote himself to the serious study of Liszt, but it remained to dominate his mind up to the end of his life. [Edward J. Dent, Ferruccio Busoni. A biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), pp. 145-146]
I have always liked this work transcribed by Busoni 1891-2. Bach occupied and inspired the composer for his entire life. 'Bach is the foundation of pianoforte playing,' Busoni wrote, 'Liszt the summit. The two make Beethoven possible.' It is not surprising then that the grandeur, invention and monumentality of the Chaconne from this Partita attracted his imaginative mind. Bach himself, he notes, was a prolific arranger of his own music and that of other composers.
'Notation is itself the transcription of an abstract idea. The moment the pen takes possession of it the thought loses its original form.'
Again the musical consolation in the face of death was clear in Colli's choice. Bach had composed it after learning in 1720 of the death of his beloved wife Maria Barbara, the mother of his first seven children. Bach had been in Karlsbad with his patron, the highly musical Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. When Bach returned to Cöthen after three months he discovered his young wife of 35, who was in excellent health when he departed, had died during his absence and even worse, been buried. His grief-stricken response resulted in this composition for violin full of pain, suffering and melancholic nostalgia, even anger, at the indiscriminate nature of destiny.
Colli gave the work a monumental high seriousness from the very opening and at the right tempo, so vital to this work. His pianistic virtuosity and deep musicality became clear throughout the sixty-four variations of the work as this great opera he constructed unfolded. The subtle colouristic organ-stop effects in the long legato melodic lines and the weight and significance of single notes in chords, so important in Busoni, were well understood by Colli. We did feel the piano being transformed into a great seventeenth century Thuringian organ although at times the small hall must have limited his dynamic extravagances and imitation of the 16' organ stop. Overall a monumental and satisfying performance of a piece too often abused.
A rare picture of Ferrucio Busoni playing a pedal harpsichord with a 16' stop, possibly an inspiration for his Bach organ transcriptions that naturally were transformed into something highly pianistic in a nineteenth century sense with engaging flashes of the Baroque
A most memorable recital both philosophically and musically. He received an immediate standing ovation from the audience, not common at Duszniki.
As an encore he played a piano transcription of the famous Handel soprano aria, the deeply moving Lascia ch'io pianga ('Let me weep over...') from his opera Rinaldo. How appropriate a choice in response to this devastating pandemic, especially in Lombardy.
His second encore was a Scarlatti sonata, his interpretations of which have become deservedly world famous.
SATURDAY, 8 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 4.00 pm
This young, brilliant pianist recently won First Prize in the 50th National Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, 1-9 February 2020, Warsaw, Poland. Expectations were running rather high in consequence.
|Franz Schubert (1797-1828)|
Schubert's Moments Musicaux originated in a tradition that grew with the Bohemian composer Václav Tomášek and was brought to Vienna by his pupil Jan Voříšek around 1818. The term described rather easy and light characterful pieces, many written in the last two years of the composer's life, for cultivated amateurs to perform. The Moments Musicaux justify their title by their conciseness, especially the third and fifth, both in F minor. These pieces are so fresh in atmosphere and rather innocent in associations such as the first in C major with its feeling of alpine horns and only the slightest of reflective Shubertian shadows. The intensely poetic lyrical second in A-flat major which for me evokes love on a close summer evening across which float mists of melancholic sorrow and loss, sometimes ungoverned anger, so characteristic of this composer.
I felt Alexewicz, although playing these works with musical insight, missed evoking a great deal of the delicately nuanced, seductive poetry contained in these Schubert gems. I was searching for more Viennese lightness and elegance in the dancing third in F minor. The fifth Allegro vivace of the fifth in F minor with its rhythmic, wild 'galloping rider' passion and anger suited the more straightforward approach of Alexewicz. I again searched for more sensibility and poetry from him in the final sublime Allegretto in A flat major tenderness and harmonic refinement that the Belgian musicologist Harry Halbreich in his book referred to as lying between smiles and tears, 'here we are in the depths of the Schubertian mystery, and this music from the heart speaks to us with incomparable spontaneity and delicacy.'
Next he approached the Chopin Nocturne in E flat major Op. 55, No. 2 (1842–44)
The Paris critic Hippolyte Barbedette, one of Chopin’s first biographers, wrote of 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. Barbedette explained the reason for their success as follows: ‘That loftiness of ideas, purity of form and almost invariably that stamp of dreamy melancholy’. There are inspired long legato lines in this 'meditation' based on the rise and fall of ardent emotion. Although well played and expressed, perhaps he could show a deeper insight into the fluctuation of sentiments reflected in these subtle waves of melody.
There is an important literary background to La Vallée d'Obermann from the Années de pèlerinage I (Suisse), S.160. his next piece.
I adore this work, Liszt inspired by the novel Obermann by Étienne Pivert de Senancour.
‘The vast consciousness of Nature, everywhere overwhelming and
everywhere unfathomable, universal love, indifference, ripe wisdom, sensuous
ease – all that the mortal heart can contain of desire and profound sorrow, I
felt them all.’
(Obermann from Letter 4)
One should never underestimate the influence of literature on Liszt (he was a brilliant writer himself) and the profound influence throughout artistic and creative Europe of the poems of Lord Byron.
I have been in love with the work since my teens. Alexewicz gave an impressive, muscular and rather heavily dynamic impression of the grand Swiss landscape which one could imagine in one’s mind’s eye. However there was not enough of the emotions that Liszt transcribed from Senancour into this great composition. Liszt himself wept on hearing it again later in his life – the memories it evoked for him were so strong. Pianists should read the literary inspiration as it was massively popular at the time and describes a unique frame of mind and vision on the part of the author Senancour.
|Lake Geneva and the Alps from Glion above Montreux taken on my recent research trip to Switzerland. The Chateau of Chillon, so beloved of Lord Byron, that great influence on Liszt, is in the bottom left-hand corner|
|Prokofiev as a young man|
Finally the Prokofiev Sonata No. 3 in A minor, Op. 28 (1907, rev. 1917)
The year 1917 saw Prokofiev compose the glorious Classical Symphony, First Violin Concerto, and Visions fugitives. He also decided to reconsider some youthful compositions. As a music student in St. Petersburg, Prokofiev had written some piano sonatas he kept in manuscript. Now, but rather older, he found the music rather attractive and a Third and Fourth sonata emerged “From Old Notebooks.”
This is one of Prokofiev’s most popular keyboard works in only one movement. The opening Allegro tempestoso suited the more declamatory style of Alexewicz at this stage of his pianistic development. The contrasting Moderato, tranquillo, pianissimo, legato, and semplice e dolce second idea was well handled and did sing before the furious return and massive climax marked fortissimo and con elevazione. The extensive coda grew from a rumbling to a massive cadence. This was perhaps the most successful work in his programme.
FRIDAY, 7 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 8:00 pm
INAUGURAL PIANO RECITAL YULIANNA AVDEEVA
Joseph Haydn – Variations in F minor, Hob XVII:6 (1732-1809) “Un piccolo divertimento” (1793)
The pandemic has affected us all and I am sure that one of her first concerts since March was an added stress. As she opened the Haydn Andante & Variations in F minor Hob. XVII:6 one was struck by the refined clarity of sound and sensitivity of this playing. She showed understanding of the classical period and how to transpose it from the 18th century instruments of Graf, Walter or Stein to the modern behemoth Steinway. The melancholy of the opening Andante had a most affecting cantabile with finely controlled legato. The title 'a little entertainment' that Haydn gave to this 'sonata' does not describe the chiaroscuro nature of the work oscillating as it does between contrasting F minor and F major. The F minor theme and subsequent variations are dark and introspective, with intimations of the night and even premonitions of Sturm und Drang (at least on the modern instrument). The major key variations are like civilised conversation on a sunny day strolling in the Vienna woods. Avdeeva controlled the mood and atmosphere of the haunting returns of the dotted minor motif (the hovering darker side of life) in a particularly moving way.
This was followed with keen anticipation with music by Fryderyk Chopin – firstly the Ballade in F major, Op. 38 (1839). Chopin was working on the F major Ballade in Majorca. In January 1839, after his Pleyel pianino had arrived from Paris, he wrote to Fontana ‘You’ll soon receive the Preludes and the Ballade’. And a few days after, when sending the manuscript of the Preludes: ‘In a couple of weeks, you’ll receive the Ballade, Polonaises and Scherzo.' So the conception took place in the atmosphere of a haunted monastery, threatened by untamed nature. Here was conceived the idea of contrasting a gentle and melodic siciliana with a demonic presto con fuoco – the music of those ‘impassioned episodes’, as Schumann referred to them.
Avdeeva gave us a well turned, poetic and passionate performance of the work that expressed the narrative of its imaginative drive and her conception of Chopin as a grand maître. The Leipzig encounter with Chopin Schumann experienced in 1840 is instructive. 'A new Chopin Ballade has appeared’, he noted in his diary. ‘It is dedicated to me and gives me greater joy than if I’d received an order from some ruler’. He remembered a conversation with Chopin: ‘At that time he also mentioned that certain poems of Mickiewicz had suggested his ballade to him.’ So the narrative balladic tradition did underlie this conception but naturally not in any programmatic way. Avdeeva achieved this difficult transition most effectively with her convincing narrative drive. I did feel on occasion her fortissimos became rather harsh.This was followed by the Mazurkas, Op. 41 (1838–39).
With Avdeeva, No.1 in E minor I found as wistful and nostalgic as a dream on a summer night full of passionate regrets. No.2 in B major she managed the infectious rhythms of this mazurka joyfully with humour and I once again marveled at the extraordinary harmonic adventurousness of Chopin. No.3 in A flat major emerged as a beautiful song but No.4 in C sharp minor became rather rough in its attempt to recapture the bucolic danced energy of the Mazovian village folk of the day with its unmistakeable elements of żal. It is so difficult to capture the 'Polish element' in the mazurkas Chopin wrote so succinctly about. The Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53 (1842–43) for me unfortunately lacked coherence of mood, that often inaccessible majestic defiance and angered resistance of an aristocratic noble kind that Chopin excelled at in many of his 'heroic' polonaises.
Avdeeva then followed with Beethoven. First, as possible a prologue to the 'Eroica Variations', the rarely heard Fantasia in G minor for piano, Op. 77 (1809). Beethoven’s powers of improvisation were legendary. As Czerny recalled: 'His improvisation was most brilliant and striking. In whatever company he might chance to be, he knew how to produce such an effect upon every hearer that frequently not an eye remained dry, while many would break out into loud sobs; for there was something wonderful in his expression in addition to the beauty and originality of his ideas and his spirited style of rendering them. After ending an improvisation of this kind he would burst into loud laughter and mock his listeners for the emotion he had caused in them. ‘You are fools!’, he would say.' This fantasia is a quite extraordinary cascade of glittering, virtuosic pianistic fragments one can imagine Beethoven tossing aloft and aside in an energetic improvisatory style. I once saw a piano of his in a museum, I think in Bonn, where some of the ivories on the keyboard had been worn down to the wood! An absolutely astonishing work I had never before heard till this evening. Avdeeva gave us a suitably rousing and spontaneous sense of improvisation as a prologue to the great work that followed.
Finally, the 15 Variations and a Fuge in E flat major on an Original Theme, Op. 35 “Eroica Variations” (1802).
One can only imagine the extraordinary impact on contemporary listeners of the opening fortissimo E-flat major chord (such a powerful identity statement of 'I compose therefore I am') followed immediately by pianissimo reveries on the Basso del Tema which organically grows into the theme proper.
The theme of the variations was also used in the Finale of Beethoven’s ballet The Creatures of Prometheus (1801), in the Contradanse, WoO 14 No. 7 for orchestra (1802) as well as of course, the Finale of the Third Symphony Op. 55, the 'Eroica' (1804) and its fraught gestation. The opening gesture in the First Movement of the 'Eroica' Symphony uses a chord that is almost the same as the opening chord of the piano variations. Leonard Bernstein referred to the Eroica Symphony’s opening as 'whiplashes that shattered the elegant formality of the 18th Century.'
The pianistic technical innovations in this pianoforte work make it quite revolutionary and uniquely demanding for the pianist, perhaps the reason it is not often performed in concert despite its iconic status. Avdeeva gave us an interpretation of 'heroic' masculine strength which ventured at times into the dynamically excessive. Each variation has its own identity and life in colour and sound which I felt could have been better delineated with colour, tone and articulation. The magnificent, energetic Fugue (tremendously difficult) which crowns the work was powerfully and convincingly expressed by Avdeeva. As Angela Hewitt notes of the conclusion of the piece, when the first four notes of the theme are condensed into increasingly short note values, 'One can imagine with what relish Beethoven himself would have played it!'
However for me it was the actual overwhelming nature of this music that preoccupied my mind and heart - surely all one can ask of a pianist as the conduit of the composer's musical intentions. Of course, as is far too often the case with me, and may I add, desperately unfair, I had brain echoes of a monumental performance of the work given in 1980 in the Royal Festival Hall in London by Emil Gilels. One of my greatest musical experiences.
I am full of admiration for Yulianna Avdeeva who ignored the risks of this frightful pandemic and made the journey after a long period 'off stage' to rather remote Duszniki Zdroj, purely out of love of the festival and the music and associations this small spa has with Fryderyk Chopin.
F. Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
L. van Beethoven Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 'Pastoral'
Antoni Wit - conductor
Kevin Kenner - piano
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. Kevin Kenner managed this effortlessly with his superb technique, glowing tone and utter familiarity with the Chopin idiom, 'le climat de Chopin' as the composer's pupil Marcelina Czartoryska remarked. The styl brillant of the period could be heard clearly under Kenner's considered articulation, in its animation and rubato, what in Chopin's day was termed 'enthusiasm'. Graceful rhapsodic sweeps reminded me of eagles taking updrafts in the High Tatras. There were 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 Romanze-Larghetto has always taken me on an imaginative poetic flight as it did Chopin himself when he wrote to his close friend Tytus Woyciechowski. 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 his friend 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.' On this occasion I felt Kevin Kenner approached the movement in a more 'classical' restrained style than I have heard him in a more overtly 'romantic' and meditative mood. Superbly eloquent playing nevertheless.
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. Kenner gave us an exuberant and full-blooded, delightful rendering of this joyful movement, full of adolescent vibrancy.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 which Kenner achieved absolutely convincingly. The theme of the episode – led in octave unison against the pizzicato of the strings – is all born of the virtuosic styl brillant. The entire musical population of Warsaw was drawn to the National Theatre for the premiere. One young singer who preoccupied Chopin's heart was a certain Konstancja Gładkowska. ‘Dressed becomingly in white, with roses in her hair' as he romantically described her. She sang the cavatina from Rossini’s La donna del lago.
Overall a deeply satisfying performance with sufficient, although not particularly inspiring, support from the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic under Antoni Wit.
The Beethoven Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 'Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life' stands apart from his other symphonies, and indeed from nearly all of Beethoven's instrumental and keyboard music. In a way it is programme music in its extramusical content. Beethoven famously noted that the 'Pastoral' contained 'more an expression of feeling than painting.' Comments that Beethoven made in his sketches for the Symphony are revealing: 'The hearers should be allowed to discover the situations / Sinfonia caracteristica—or recollection of country life / All painting in instrumental music is lost if it is pushed too far / Sinfonia pastorella. Anyone who has an idea of country life can make out for himself the intentions of the composer without many titles / Also without titles the whole will be recognized as a matter more of feeling than of painting in sounds.'
Beethoven loved walking in the outskirts of Vienna and spent nearly every summer in the country. When Napoleon’s second occupation of the city in 1809 meant that he could not leave, he wrote to his publisher: 'I still cannot enjoy life in the country, which is so indispensable to me.' One of Beethoven's letters is filled with declarations of the importance of nature to him. One from 1810: 'How delighted I will be to ramble for awhile through the bushes, woods, under trees, through grass, and around rocks. No one can love the country as much as I do. For surely woods, trees, and rocks produce the echo that man desires to hear.
This was a perfectly satisfying performance, although not outstanding, understandably much elevated by the enthusiastic audience reception overshadowed by the hovering curse of the pandemic. I felt the score could have been penetrated by Antoni Wit far more deeply and dare I say, pantheistically. However the performance of this symphony offered such welcome consolation, love and feeling for Nature during the difficult times we are experiencing.
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In the time of the dreaded coronavirus, the visit by this immortal composer to Duszniki Zdrój seems almost appropriate! Of course Chopin himself was no stranger to pandemics, as cholera took Paris twice by the throat during his time there.
If you wish to read about the pandemics that Chopin lived through in Paris, I have done some research and wrote:
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Most concerts will be streamed online and many broadcast by
75th International Chopin Festival in Duszniki-Zdrój, 7-15 August 2020
In this exceptional year, due to the epidemiological situation and organizational difficulties, we are giving up the traditional "Nocturne".
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Yulianna AVDEEVA - Inaugural Concert
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Jan JIRACEK von ARNIM
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Kevin KENNER - Final Concert
Many of the above names of outstanding international and brilliant young Polish pianists will not be familiar to international audiences. Below are some links which may assist as I have heard many but not all of them either in festivals or competitions.
Please excuse any alterations and omissions to the original line up and original printed programme book as the pandemic inevitably took its toll
I always look forward tremendously to a recital by this vibrant and intensely alive Italian pianist. Today was no exception. He opened his recital with 6 Scarlatti Sonatas that I found in turn exhilarating and moving. His pedaling is always rather dry (perfectly correct) and the articulation imaginative and inventive which gives great froward impetus to some sonatas as well as a beautifully controlled cantabile legato with seductive tone. The F minor K 19 and G minor K 450 mainly cantabile and melodic. D major K 492 was energetic, detache, fiery and in a state of high emotion. Beautiful cantabile in D minor K 396 and an astonishing, exhilarating performance of the A major K 39. Again one is reminded of the Cristofori instruments described above.
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.'
Taken from my review when he appeared at the Duszniki Festival in 2012:
Liszt adored Schubert and we next heard some beautifully executed, emotive and singing transcriptions of 4 of his songs. They seemed particularly suitable to the intimate atmosphere of the Dworek Chopina and were affecting in their emotional content.
Professor Dimitri Alexeev in 2012 making an important point to Artur Haftman during a Masterclass concerning Chopin's Scherzo in C-minor Op. 37
He will be taking Master Classes at Duszniki again this year
Scherzo. Allegro molto e con fuoco – Più mosso
Finale. Allegro con fuoco
Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21
anyone apart from Bach and Mozart. His status as a pianist and pianistic ‘devil’ was legendary in Europe (members of the audience would stand on their chairs to improve their view of his double trills). Born in Pressburg in Austro-Hungary (today Bratislava in Slovakia) he was a prodigy and so impressed Mozart that he gave him free tuition, board and lodging in Vienna for two years. A friend of Beethoven and Schubert, a pupil of Haydn, it is all too easy to underestimate his extraordinary contemporary fame. The styl brillant of Chopin’s piano concertos and variations was much influenced by the glittering style of Hummel’s piano concertos. When he visited Warsaw to give a concert, Hummel was greatly impressed by the young Chopin. Liszt’s dramatic power defeated Hummel the refined classicist, whose music fell out fashion. His piano music (and the famous trumpet concerto) is having a resurgence today but his output has been unaccountably neglected.
I have been listening to rather a lot of his chamber music lately with the greatest pleasure. Such energy and delight in life resides in the piano writing! The 'dark night of the soul' scarcely ever obscures the sunny picture of a fete galant. I once visited his grave in the cemetery in Weimar.
His programme for the festival on August 14th at 16.00 will be:
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Kreisleriana Op. 16 subtitled Phantasien für das Pianoforte (1838)
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op.
The last time I heard this phenomenal, world famous pianist in Duszniki was in 2008. I had not begun online reviewing at that stage but I shall never forget his Scriabin Sonata VII 'White Mass', the Ravel Valses nobles et sentimentales and an overwhelming Liszt Dante Sonata. In more recent years he has mellowed and produced sublime recordings of Brahms and Schubert. His legato is surely the envy of every living pianist!
Fryderyk Chopin Piano Concerto in F minor Op. 21
After the interval the chamber version of the Chopin F-minor Piano Concerto Op. 21 arranged by Kevin Kenner and Krzysztof Dombek. I always look forward to Kevin Kenner's immaculate performances of the two Chopin concertos as he understands the nature of early pianos so intimately and also the stylistic demands of the style brillante that dominated Chopin's early works. On this occasion he played the splendid Paul McNulty copy of the Polish Bucholtz instrument that Chopin used as a young man in Warsaw.
I do not wish to be drawn into detailed criticism of this familiar work played at the highest standard by Kevin Kenner. His phrasing was subtle and impeccably musical, maintaining the beautiful, seamless cantabile vocal lines that so obsessed Chopin through his love of opera. I find the fragility of the sound of the Bucholtz compared to the modern Steinway affecting as it always seems to indicate the vulnerability of the human spirit in attempting the uncompromising creation of the finest in art.
The quartet and excellent double bass Grzegorz Frankowski gave Kenner solid support, were well matched in balanced sound to the historical reproduction instrument, if not always performing at quite the same level of musical excellence as the soloist. They chose an excellent tempo to reveal all the inner polyphonic detail of the Chopin score. The fioraturas in the upper register of the Bucholtz instrument had all the delicacy and grace of Venetian lace from the island of Burano. The Larghetto as interpreted by Kenner is always deeply moving emotionally. His rubato and sense of bel canto transports the heart to unexpected domains in this most beautiful of love songs. The final Allegro vivace was overflowing with energy and refinement in his complete capturing of the inaccessible jeu perle, style brillante, radiant tone and light, tender touch. The audience gave him and the quartet a deserved rapturous ovation.
I feel it is a miracle that the festival is being staged at all in the face of this pandemic. Great courage and perseverance has been required.
Chopin sketched by Eliza Radziwill at Antonin en route to Duszniki Zdroj 1826.
Duszniki as a treatment centre has not greatly changed. Tuberculosis has however thankfully disappeared. The Spa Park and the town nestle in the peaceful mountain river valley of the tumbling Bystrzyca Dusznicka. Fresh pine woods flourish on the slopes and the moist micro-climate is wonderfully refreshing. Carefully stepping invalids negotiate the shaded walks that radiate across the park between flowering shrubs, fountains and lawns.
Many famous artists visited Duszniki in the nineteenth century including the composer Felix Mendelssohn. In times past the regimented cures began at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. when people gathered at the well heads. The waters at the Lau-Brunn (now the Pienawa Chopina or Chopin’s Spa) were dispensed by girls with jugs fastened to the ends of poles who also distributed gingerbread to take away the horrible taste (not surprisingly it was considered injurious to lean towards the spring and breathe in the carbon dioxide and methane exhalations).
Sviatoslav Richter (far left) on the steps of the Dworek Chopina
1965 Duszniki Zdroj Festival
The soulful young Russian Igor Levit is deeply involved with the music of Schumann. He movingly reminded the audience of the genesis of the Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations) written when the composer was on the brink of suicide in a mental institution. After completing the final variation Schumann fell forever silent. The great Liszt super-virtuoso Janina Fialkowska, a true inheritor of the nineteenth century late Romantic school of pianism, courageously returned to the platform here after her career was brought to a dramatic and terrifying halt by the discovery of a tumour in her left arm. Daniil Trifonov utterly possessed by the spirit of Mephistopheles in the greatest performance of the Liszt Mephisto Waltz No:1 I have ever heard. The moments continue...
One remarkable late evening event of the festival is called Nokturn and takes place by candlelight. The audience in evening dress are seated at candlelit tables with wine. A learned Polish professor and Chopin specialist such as the wonderful Polish musicologist Professor Irena Poniatowska might draw our attention to this or that ‘deep’ musical aspect of the Chopin Preludes or perhaps the influence of Mozart on the composer. Sometimes it is a famous actor, music critic, or journalist. The pianists ‘illustrate’ and perform on Steinways atmospherically lit by flickering candelabra.
Introduction to the History of the Festival
The iron ore deposits of what was known as Bad Reinerz (now Duszniki Zdroj) and its surroundings have been exploited since the beginning of the 15th century. Protestant miners emigrated here during the religious turmoil of the Thirty Years War when mining was established at the end of the 17th century. A molten iron and a hammer mill was established in 1822 by Nathan Mendelssohn (an instrument maker). With his brother Joseph Mendelssohn's financial help he revived the mining industry. I have often wondered if it was at this mill that the the tragedy occurred for which Chopin gave his charity concert.
The commemorative plaque on the house
The rather run-down pavilion on the estate
Detail of the pavilion
Other buildings on the estate contemporary with Felix Mendelssohn
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