Before the Grand Competition - Master Recitals - 1st October - 19th October 2020 Warsaw, Poland
Before the Grand Competition -
At the time when the 18th International Chopin Competition was to be held, (the competition has been
postponed to next year), will remain a celebration of Chopin's music and great
pianism. The Fryderyk Chopin Institute invites you to a series of piano
masters’ recitals and chamber concerts, which will include performances by the
most outstanding pianists of the previous editions of the Competition.
On 17 October, the anniversary of the death of Fryderyk Chopin, we
will traditionally invite you to the Basilica of the Holy Cross to listen this
time not to Mozart's Requiem, but to a concert of music and poetry, performed
Nehring (winner of a distinction in the 2015 Competition)
and Jan Englert in front of the composer's heart. The evening
is dedicated to the memory of the composer on the 171st anniversary of his
death and to Pope John Paul II, in the year of the 100th
anniversary of his birthday. The concert programme includes works by Fryderyk
Chopin and poetry by Cyprian Kamil Norwidand Czesław
The cycle of concerts of masters referring to the competition finals will be
concluded with the two Chopin's Piano concertos in the chamber version,
interpreted by Kevin
Kenner (winner of the 1990 Competition) accompanied by the Apollon
Musagète Quartet and Sławomir
Rozlach (double bass). It will also be a gala presentation of the
latest recording of the concertos by these artists.
The concerts, with the exception of Olli Mustonen's recital
and the recitals by Eric Lu and Kate Liu which
will take place at the Royal Castle. The concert on 17 October, will take place
in the National Philharmonic Concert Hall and all of them, except for the
concert in the Basilica of the Holy Cross, will be available for viewing and
A surely ironic, quintessentially Polish, individualistic and scientific view of a pandemic mask by an audience member
Paweł Zalejski (violin), Bartosz
Zachłod (violin), Piotr Szumieł (viola) and Piotr Skweres (Gennaro
Gagliano cello from 1741). One of the world’s finest string quartets, the
Apollon Musagète Quartet was founded by four Polish artists in 2006, in Vienna
Warsaw Panorama from Praga 1770 - Bernado Bellotto
Piano Concerto in F minor Op. 21
I have spoken
of the genesis of these two wonderful concertos many times in my reviews so
shall not repeat myself once again, save to make a few observations on these remarkable
alternative chamber transcriptions.
The first performance
of his first piano concerto took place for a group of friends in the Chopin family
drawing room at the Krasiński Palace on March 3, 1830. Karol Kurpiński, the Polish composer and
pedagogue, conducted a chamber
ensemble. One must remember that contemporary full orchestral forces were rare
in the performance of concertos in Warsaw in the early 19th century. Versions
for chamber ensemble, such as this evening, were easier to assemble, less
expensive and far more common. Our music world is comparatively overwhelmed
with riches in terms full orchestra availability and such a multiplicity of recordings. This consideration made this evening absolutely appropriate and even more enlightening.
The outer movements
revolve like two glittering, enchanted planets around the moonlit, sublime melody
of the central Larghetto movement, a love song inspired by the soprano Konstancja
Gładowska, Chopin's object of distant sensual fascination. Liszt regarded the
movement as 'absolute perfection'. Zdzisław
Jachimecki, a Polish historian of music, composer and professor at the
Jagiellonian University regarded it as 'oneof the most beautiful pages
of erotic poetry of the nineteenth century.'
In this transcription by Kevin
Kenner, the piano enters early as a gentle accompaniment. In the opening Maestoso,
full of agitated urgency, élan and the spirit of the polonaise, the
quintet presented an alluring seductive ensemble sound. From the outset, the
movement was expressive in ardent phrasing and replete with youthful energy.
The supportive string accompaniment to the piano was in perfect balance in terms
of tasteful counterpoint, dynamics, colour and timbre.
The Larghetto moved the
heart, as it inevitably does, in dramatic lyrical contrast to the more
superficial style brillant movement that preceded and followed it. The ensemble were
subtle, tenderly expressive and eschewed any sign of cloying sentimentality. Kenner blended the fiorituras
seamlessly into the melodic line, like a perfectly integrated interior decorative
scheme in the graceful and intimate surroundings of a maison de plaisance. Such
refinement in this aria moves beyond Mozart into the deeper poetic dimension of
nineteenth century romance. The brief emotional agitation of this illusioned
heart as it doubts and fears the travails of love, was movingly accomplished. Kenner's
eloquent phrasing and rubato together with an ardent, longing cello counterpoint, led to a
divine pianissimo conclusion.
The Allegro vivace was full
of the joyfulness of youth and glistening optimism of the style brillant. Joseph Conrad (Józef Korzeniowski), the Polish writer of genius who chose to write in English,exclaimed in a story'Youth! The glory of it!'
excited us with the exuberance of a dance of the kujawiak provenance.Kenner
and the ensemble accomplished this with a fine sense of sprung Polish rhythm, delightfully
light touch and brilliant articulation that cascaded over us like pearls on
glass, a true jeu perlé. The great Polish musicologist and pedagogue Mieczyław
A different kind of dance
character – swashbuckling and truculent – is presented by the episodes, which
are scored in a particularly interesting way. The first episode is bursting
with energy. The second, played scherzando and rubato, brings a
rustic aura. It is a cliché of merry-making in a country inn, or perhaps in
front of a manor house, at a harvest festival, when the young Chopin danced
till he dropped with the whole of the village. The striking of the strings with
the stick of the bow, the pizzicato and the open fifths of the basses appear to
show that Chopin preserved the atmosphere of those days in his memory.
The horn signal transcribed for
viola was brought off to perfection, as was the breathtaking coda. A
marvelous performance which made me feel as if the work had been written
specifically for this assemblage of forces.
Concerto in E minor Op.
no time in composing his next concerto. In many ways it too revolves around and
exalted Romanze. Larghetto central movement. He elucidated its inspiration
to his friend Tytus Woyciechowski: ‘Involuntarily,
something has entered my head through my eyes and I like to caress it’.
was clearly still emotionally preoccupied with the idealized young singer Konstancja Gładowska. ‘Little
is wanting in Gładkowska’s singing’, he wrote to his friend following her performance
in the Italian Ferdinando Paer’s opera Agnese, ‘She is better on stage that in a hall.
I shall say nothing of her excellent tragic acting, as nothing need be said,
whilst as for her singing, were it not for the F sharp and G, sometimes too
high, we should need nothing better’. In the same letter written to Tytus
in May 1830, Chopin describes the nature of the pivotal movement of this work. ‘The
Adagio for the new concerto is in E major. It is not intended to be powerful,
it is more romance-like, calm, melancholic, it should give the impression of a
pleasant glance at a place where a thousand fond memories come to mind.’ One
cannot help wondering about the source of these 'fond memories' and imagining
the romantic nature and occurrences that may have given rise to them.
The authentically Allegro
maestoso opening was highlighted by the fine musicianship of Paweł Zalejski, the singing first violin of the quartet. The
voicing was finely controlled as was the timbre of the ensemble and the transparent
polyphony with an obbligato piano gently replacing some of the missing orchestration.
Piotr Skweres playing the Gennaro Gagliano cello from 1741, Piotr Szumieł on the viola and Słowomir
Rozlach playing the double bass were all movingly poignant and musically
refined in the long poetic opening to the concerto.
The subtle dynamic
gradations were most affecting emotionally. Kenner produced long, legato and seamless
arcs of Chopin's rapturous melodies. In this chamber transcription the interplay
of instrumental voices was alluringly prominent and persuasive. Again Kenner
integrated the roulades and fioraturas organically into the melodic line
without blemish or any sense of artificial decorative attachment. The style
brillant was quite thrilling and once more, the violin of Paweł Zalejski and cello of Piotr Skweres
were deeply musical and touching in their gloriously placed and sung counterpoint.
Here we were gifted a perfect balance of instrumentation. Clearly this was to
be a special, perhaps transcendental night for the audience.
The Romance. Larghetto opened
in a superbly eloquent, sensitive and nocturnal mood with phrasing expressing
the most profound nostalgia. We were carried into an ambiance of tender,
intimate, yet on occasion, sensual reflection and emotional disturbance. Kenner took us on
a love flight of both dream and reality, flowing unencumbered like an improvisation,
unhindered. One is reminded of a skylark joyfully ascending into the azure, gliding in the currents of the upper air. The
cello counterpoint was lyrically radiant. Two themes embrace like true lovers, simply
at first and then increasingly embellished as is the way with such matters of
the heart. Calm and elation danced. Yet there were broken agitato moments
of fear, anxiety and disquiet, moments that yet passed like threatening clouds.
Kenner achieved a true jeu perlé, the cascades of a high mountain
Far right: Piotr Skweres (Gennaro Gagliano cello from 1741)
The Rondo. Vivace erupted
with the joyful krakowiak dance, expressed with great animation and enthusiasm.
Such energy inspired us here, the audience quite carried away by the irresistible
forward momentum of Kenner's style brillant and rubato enhanced rhythm. Music
was transformed into meaningful speech with glorious ensemble moments and a
The Warsaw premiere audience numbered around 700. ‘Yesterday’s concert was a success’, wrote
Chopin on 12 October 1830 to Tytus ‘A full house!’ Two young female singers also performed at the
concert conducted by that controversial figure in Warsaw musical life, Carlo
Soliva. Contemporary programming was unimaginably different to 2020. After the
Allegro had been played to ‘a thunderous ovation’, Chopin sacrificed the stage
to a singer [‘dressed like an angel, in blue’], Anna Wołkow. Typical of
the pressing personality of Soliva, she sang an aria he had composed.
young singer was Konstancja Gładkowska. Chopin wrote as descriptively as always:
‘Dressed becomingly in white, with
roses in her hair, she sang the cavatina from [Rossini’s] La donna del
lago as she had never sung anything, except for the aria in (Paer’s) Agnese.
You know that “Oh, quante lagrime per te versai”. She uttered "tutto
desto” to the bottom B in such a way that Zieliński (an acquaintance) held
that single B to be worth a thousand ducats’.
This 'farewell' concert was only
three weeks before Chopin left Warsaw and the subsequent November 1830 uprising
burst upon the city. ‘The trunk for the journey is bought, scores corrected,
handkerchiefs hemmed… Nothing left but to bid farewell, and most sadly’. Konstancja
and Frycek exchanged rings. She had packed an album in which she had written
the words ‘while others may better appraise and reward you, they certainly
can’t love you better than we’. Only two years later, Chopin added: ‘they
can’ which speaks volumes.
conclusion of our concert an immediate standing ovation. At the time I remembered
a remark at a Masterclass given by Professor Dang Thai Song at the Duszniki Zdój
Chopin Festival long ago: 'The sign of a great performance is that at the
conclusion there should be nothing left to say.'
This was such
an exhilarating concert....nothing left to say.
A fine new recording of these
concertos by the same performers is available from the National Fryderyk Chopin
I have often been
put in a trance by the playing of Kate Liu and this evening was no exception.
The only barrier to achieving the full dream was the extravagant acoustic of a
Steinway Concert Grand in the opulent, high-ceilinged ballroom of the Royal
Castle. It was almost frighteningly resonant on occasion. I suggest, if you
attended live, that you listen to the Youtube recording of the recital where
this difficult acoustic problem has been eradicated by technology. Her superb articulation,
phrasing, expressiveness, touch and tone can be enjoyed to the full. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64C4nL2VNKA
Suite in E
major, HWV 430 'The Harmonius Blacksmith'
Air con Variazioni ("The Harmonious
This most popular
of the Handel suites is of the same musical status as the harpsichord suites of
Bach. This work was published by the composer himself
in London in 1720. The famous theme of the Variations is touchingly based on
the English folk song 'Four Days Drunk' but better known by the famous
title The Harmonious Blacksmith, an air and five variations. Even on the piano, Liu
expressed the lyrical and virtuosic character of the work with panache, poetic
expressiveness and élan. On occasion one did feel the presence of the harpsichord, but this interpretation was both convincing and uplifting.
Here we were drawn into her
enchanted world of Chopin's nostalgic and poetic dreams in an affecting rendition
of these ‘most beautiful sounds that it is possible to produce from the
piano’ (Ludwig Bronarski). Let me allow Mieczyslaw
Tomaszewski to describe the third of these Mazurkas in F sharp minor which
'drags one into the whirl of a Mazurian dance from the very first bars, with
its sweeping, unconstrained gestures, its verve, élan, exuberance, and also,
more importantly, the occasional suppressing of that vigour and momentum, in
order to yield up music that is tender, subtle, delicate...'
Liu accomplished all of this. In many ways I feel her to be a Chopin savant. As well as being awarded the Third Prize in
the17th International Fryderyk Chopin
Competition, Warsaw, 1-23 October 2015, she was also awarded the Mazurka Prize.
Kate Liu perform these two works during the 74th Duszniki Zdrój International
Chopin Piano Festival, 2 - 10 August 2019 I felt so similarly once again, I
have little need to alter what I wrote on that enchanted evening except to add
further reflections on her deepening flights within her spirit.
with the Schumann Arabesque Op. 18. When Schumann wrote the work 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.
Liu's first sound emerged
diaphanously, materialising out of the ether of a dream already begun, perhaps
already lived. Superb cantabile and childish simplicity began
to carry us melodically aloft. She gently allowed the emergence and release of
Schumann's two 'best friends', the extrovert Florestan and the more poetic
Eusebius, the curious doppelgänger personalities that flowered
directly from his literary obsessions.
She adopted a
particularly slow and internally reflective tempo but the music breathed. So
poetically and emotionally reflective. Her cantabile languished
seamlessly and polyphonically transparent and expressive.The breath of
young, idealistic, still illusioned love facing the obstacles of separation.
Once Liu spoke self-effacingly in an interview of 'love on a summer's day in
grassy fields' referring to the Chopin E
minor concertoduring the 2015 Chopin competition. Here,
by the coda of the Arabesque, she had cast some sort of spell of
sensibility over us with this delicate work, preparing an enchanted atmosphere
for the entryof the monumental Fantasy.
C major, Op. 17
is in loose sonata form. Its three movements are captioned:
Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich
vorzutragen; Im Legenden-Ton - Quite fantastic and passionate to deliver; In the
This work originated in the desire
to create a monument to Beethoven in Bonn. Schumann thought that by composing a
work that he could sell, he could financially assist in the construction of
this memorial to his beloved composer. Although he abandoned any such title
such as 'sonata', the work is close to being one. However, an important air of
improvisation hovers over the form which Kate Liu fully exploited.
Rather than analyze this
performance in any musicological sense, I will try and paint a picture of the
ebb and flow of my own waves of rhapsodic emotion as the piece progressed, a
picture of the sea of my own response as it undulated in the currents. The
great Augustan English poet Alexander Pope spoke of 'the moving toyshop of
the heart' which I felt strongly as this great theatre and drama of imagery,
such varied landscapes in sound opened out before us. Liu cultivated a
deeply introspective lyricism from the outset interrupted by darkest night, emotional
anguish carrying her away. However,
she never inflated her dynamic or exceeded the boundaries of 'good taste' even
in her significant slowing of the tempo and hesitations pregnant with poetic
implications and meaning. Someone knowledgeable I spoke to later objected
to this approach, feeling that Schumann belongs to the world of German
metaphysicians and should not be approached as if he were a romantic Chopin.
References to Clara abound in this
work despite the Beethovenian intentions. Robert cannot help himself. He uses a line from a Beethoven song where the
original text reads 'Then accept these songs, beloved, which l
sang for you alone.' Clearly a musical love token for Clara. The Fantasy score
is actually headed with a literary reference, a motto from Schlegel’s
poetry: 'Through all the tones in Earth's many-colored dream, there
sounds one soft long-drawn note for the secret listener.' Schumann
admitted as much in a letter to Clara.
In Liu one
senses a passionate mind approaching the music - mercurial, labile,
intellectual emotions - in short, she depicted the conflicted and preoccupied
thoughts of Schumann in love. A wave of passionate, solitary fantasy by the
shores of a lake. Her silences are as pregnant with meaning as sound. We were
taken on an emotional journey immersed in a series of intense revelations and
admissions, the work drifting away from conventional imprisoning form and
becoming in the end a type of philosophical, intellectual and emotional
meditation. 'Resonances of the heart' describes it well, especially when one
felt compelled to sing in the final 'movement'. I imagined sensual passions rising from a lyrical
dream world, even dominating it in occasions, the slow ignition of desire. The
work faded away into the ether of imagination...
Great art and great performances should disturb the surface of conventional life, be subversive, not confirm its comfortable, conventional
nature. All It should make you question your values and perceptions, enable you to
see familiar things differently, reveal new previously hidden joys through
another pair of uniquely gifted eyes - or mind, ears and fingers as in this
As an encore another
excursion into the reflective, poetic realm Schubert painted creatively for us
as a landscape in eloquent, evocative sound, the Hungarian Melody in B minor
This was a particularly
moving and deeply poetic commemoration of the death of Chopin to replace the
Mozart Requiem usually performed on October 17th. Much needed at this time, spiritually uplifting poetry written by
national poets was read and music composed by Fryderyk Chopin was performed in alternation.
In such a soulful commemoration, I feel it is
not appropriate to approach the event in a critical mien. Suffice to say we were listening to the outstanding Polish pianist Szymon Nehring and Jan Englert, the distinguished Polish film actor and Director of the National Theatre in Warsaw.
The almost sacred atmosphere of this ceremony, containing as it does all the perfumes of Sarmatia, is beyond such worldly trifles as my artistic criticism.
This was also a concert on the
171st anniversary of the death of Fryderyk Chopin and commemorated the 100th
anniversary of the birth of John Paul II.
01. Cyprian Kamil Norwid Moja ojczyzna
02. Fryderyk Chopin Etude in C sharp minor Op. 25 No. 7 (Lento) 03. Cyprian Kamil Norwid Moja piosnka II
04. Fryderyk Chopin Nocturne in F sharp minor Op. 48 No. 2
05. Cyprian Kamil Norwid Coś ty Atenom zrobił Sokratesie
06. Fryderyk Chopin Sonata 3 Op. 58 B minor (1844) 1. Allegro maestoso 07. CypraiCyprian Kamil Norwid Pióro
08. Fryderyk Chopin Sonata 3 Op. 58 B minor (1844) Scherzo. Molto vivace 09. Cyprian Kamil Norwid Fortepian Szopena
Cyprian Norwid (1821-1883)
Cyprian Norwidwas a nationally esteemed Polish poet, dramatist, painter and sculptor. He was born in the Mazovian village of Laskowo-Głuchy not far from Warsaw. A maternal ancestor was the Polish King John III Sobieski.
Chopin's Grand Piano
To Antoni C... La musique est une chose étrange! Lord Byron
L'arte? ... c'est l'art - et puis,Voilà tout. Pierre-Jean de Béranger
In those near-final days I visited you -
Filled with elusive theme -
Complete as Myth,
Pale as the mist...
When dissipation whispers to the issue of life's stream:
"I shall not tangle you - I shall but sublimate you..."
I visited you in those near-final days
When you were growing - from beat to beat -
More like Orpheus' forsaken lyre,
In which still-striking force and song compete
And four still twanging strings inquire,
And faintly chime,
Two a time - two a time
Whisper telling -
"Did he begin
To strike the string...
Or can his Genius play - whilst repelling?"
In those days I visited you, Frederic,
Whose hand - for all its mastery
And alabaster pallor - unique
Hand stroking softly, quivering, ostrich-plumed -
To be - I all too hastily assumed
The keyboard ivory...
Like yon noble statue - you -
Whom - before Pygmalion hewed
Out of its marble womb -
The stamp of Genius stained!
And then, when you played - what? said the tones -
what? will they say,
Though stand the echoes might in different array
Than when your own hand's benediction made
Quiver each chord your fingers played -
And when you played, there was such simplicity -
Periclean - perfection - sublime
As if some Virtue from Antiquity
Stepped into a country cottage's confine
And on the simple threshold swore:
"This day in Heaven I was reborn:
The cottage door - a harp to me;
My ribbons - the winding lane;
The Holy Host - in the corn I venerate
And Emmanuel will reign
On Tabor incarnate!"
And therein was Poland - to the crown
Of Omniperfection's reign restored.
Dazzled - in delights that drown
Despair - Poland - the Wheelwright's House transformed!
The same dear Poland
(I could ne'er mistake her - though at life's brow...)
And now - your hymn complete - your music mute -
No more I'll see you - but what? is that there
I hear ... as if a child's dispute - -
No more, but just the keys still chatter,
About the uncompleted rhyme
Shuffling final echoes spell
- Five a time - eight a time -
Rustling, "Did he begin? To play or to repel?"
O You! In whom Love's Profile chooses to abide
And Art's Perfection is your name -
You! who assemble in the ranks of Style
And fashion stone, penetrate the song's refrain...
O You! in History's course confirmed as Age;
Though Spirit and Letter surpass History's crest,
Yet wedded inscribe into her page
Your nomen: Consummatum est...
O You! - Perfection - attained -
Whatever - wherever - your mark may be
In Phidias? In David? In Chopin's hand recumbent?
Or in Aeschylus' amphitheater abundant?
Avenged - always - by the spite of INSUFFICIENCY!
The wretched birthmark of this world is Lack
Him? ... Perfection irks -
Prefers - to undo Perfection's works -
Arrests the germination of Art's Act...
- One? ... who ripened like a golden comet-sheaf,
Let once the astral-wind contact his train,
Soon stream away his tears of grain:
Perfection makes his glory brief.
For look - look now, Frederic... This is Warsaw
Under a star ablaze -
Strange gaudy eyesore
Look, the Parish organs! Look! Where you were raised!
There - the patricians' houses - old
As the Publica Res;
Pavements of the squares grey and cold,
And Zygmunt's sword in its cloudy crest.
Look! From street to street
Charge Caucasian steeds
Like a storm-spurned starling fleet
Charging the horses speed -
A hundred a time - a hundred a time,
Flames swelling the building, - then dying down
Blazing again - and then - look now!
I see rifle butts pointing at the brow
Of bereaved widows -
And then I see, though through a wall of
Blinding smoke, at the porch, colonnade
A tumbrel-like object swayed
To and fro... to and fro... - fallen! Your piano has fallen!
He!... who proclaimed Poland from the height
Of Omniperfection's eternal form
And wrought with a hymn of delight -
A Poland of the Wheelwright's House transformed -
He - has fallen - into the mud-bespattered night!
And now, like the wise saying of the Sage,
He lies trampled by the people's wrath,
Or like all that which - from age
To age - shall summon forth!
And now, like Orpheus' body,
A thousand Passions dismember his corpse
Each one groaning, "Not me!
Not me!" through grinding jaws.
But you? - But I? Let us sound judgement tones,
Call forth: "Rejoice, late-coming posterity!
The vulgar street - screech muted stones -
The Ideal - has inherited."
10. Fryderyk Chopin Sonata No. 3 Op. 58 B minor (1844) Largo
11. Cyprian Kamil Norwid Pielgrzym 12. Fryderyk Chopin Sonata 3 Op. 58 B minor (1844) Finale. Presto ma non
tanto 13. Czesław Miłosz Oda na 80 urodziny Jana Pawła II
Czesław Miłosz ranks
among the most respected figures in 20th-century Polish literature, as well as
one of the most respected contemporary poets in the world: he was awarded the
Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. Born in Lithuania where his parents had
moved from Poland, he left due to the horrors of the Communist regime. He lived
in the United States from 1960 until his death in 2004. Apropos such an evening
as this evening he stated: 'I am searching for an answer as to what
will result from an internal erosion of religious beliefs.'
Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004)
the 80th birthday of John Paul II
We come to you, people of weak
That you might strengthen us with
the example of your life
And relieved from anxiety
For the next day and
year. Yours is the twentieth century
He became famous for the names of
And turning their powerful states
That it would be so, you
knew. You taught hope:
Because only Christ is the master
Foreigners did not guess where
the hidden strength came from
At a cleric from
Wadowice. Prayer, prophecy
Poets not recognized by progress
Though kings were equal, they
waited for you,
That you may declare urbi et orbi
That what is happening is not
confusion, but a broad order.
Shepherd given to us when the
And in the fog over the cities
shines the Golden Calf.
Helpless crowds run and make a
Of their own children, bloodied
with Moloch's screen.
And fear in the air, an unspoken
Because it is not enough to want
to believe, to be able to believe.
And suddenly it was like the
clear sound of a matting bell,
Your sign of objection is like a
To ask: how is it possible
That young people from
unbelieving countries adore you,
They gather in the backs, head to
Waiting for news from two
thousand years ago
And they fall at the feet of the
Who covered the human tribe with
You are with us, and from then on
you will always be with us.
When the powers of chaos call
And the holders of truth will
shut themselves up in churches,
And only the doubters will remain
Your portrait in our homes will
remind us every day,
What one man can, and how
14. Fryderyk Chopin Nocturne in E major Op. 62 No. 2
Friday 16th October 19:30
Ballroom of the Teatr
Wielki – Polish National Opera
Symposium(1894) by the Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931) Sibelius far Rt.
rarely performed works, which I never heard in live recital before, let alone
by a distinguished Finnish pianist. Sibelius studied and played the violin, not
the piano. One cannot find authentically idiomatic keyboard works until these impressive small productions. The three 1912 Sonatinas are particularly successful
piano works. Following the Fourth Symphony, they are pared down, minimalist
compositions in many ways. The miniature Sonatina No.1 opens with an economical,
effective statement. The small second movement is beautifully written for the instrument
and the finale contains an irrepressible, thrusting energy that suited
Mustonen's volatile temperament perfectly. The remaining two Sonatinas are
perhaps less splendid than the first. The three movements of the bright
Sonatina No.2 hover in or around E major. There are various happy exchanges in
canon in the first movement. The third Sonatina in B flat minor is greatly unified
in form and melodic content. Mustonen's obvious close familiarity with the orchestral
writing of Sibelius was much in evidence during the performance of these three
Sonatinas. A highly enjoyable encounter with the unfamiliar.
an individualistic pianist and musician with deeply held views of his own and 'how
a piece should go'. I found his rather uncommon, sometimes eccentric view of
these two sets of mazurkas, refreshing and uplifting, even if I could not agree
with his vision on occasion. I know he likes to communicate the impression of 'recreation
on the spot', a praiseworthy aim. Certainly this is a laudable intention as we
are now so far along the long and winding road from the original historical
source. His approach reminded me how far the multitude of interpretations have standardized
the interpretation of this music in so many recordings, competition performances
and recitals. Even so, in these mazurkas, I felt Mustonen never crossed that
invisible red line that separates a valid interpretative gesture from a
willful, and egocentric distortion of the score.
Rodion Shchedrin (b.1932)
Notebook for the Youth (1981)
Medieval chant: sostenuto
Let's play an opera by Rossini: Allegretto
Thirds: Allegro, ma non troppo
Song of praise: Maestoso
Chord inversion: Comodo
Village plaintiff: Andante
Conversations: Rubato, ma
Russian bells: Moderato
Song of Peter the Great: Allegro
Twelve notes: Andante
Etude in A: Allegro ben
I had never
heard this remarkable work of 15 pieces before and found it most impressive. I
really need time to study it and learn before giving an opinion of Mustonen's
performance. I do not usually provide Wikipedia entry links in my reviews but
in this case the biography and list of works of this prolific Russian composer is
so detailed and exhaustive and my knowledge so limited, I feel I must:
“Yes, we were children of our time and of our
country where we were born and where we lived. You cannot run away from that.
Time always leaves its mark.” says Rodion Shchedrin.
has dedicated two works to Mustonen
Piano Concerto No. 5 in three parts (1999).
Commissioned by SAVCOR (Hannu and Ulla Savisalo). First performance was
on 21 October 1999 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by
Esa-Pekka Salonen with Olli Mustonen as piano soloist.
Questions, eleven pieces for
piano (2003). First performance on 9 October 2004 in the Queen Elizabeth
Hall of London by Olli Mustonen.
I also notice
with interest that Radion Shchedrin in 2019 composed an opera based around Lolita,
the novel by Vladimir Nabokov.
Russian soprano Pelageya Kurennaya as Lolita - Estate Theatre Prague, October 2020
Sonata 'Jehkin Iivana'
Jehkin Iivana, originally composed
for guitar by Olli Mustonen, takes the listener into the legendary world of
Finnish myths and epics, when brave heroes led the fate of the north and a
people of magicians roamed the endless forests of the country.
The piece is named after Jehkin Iivana. Livana (1843-1911) was one
of the last great exponents of traditional rune singing and a master at
playing the kantele. As fascinating as Mustonen allows the guitar to
imitate the sound of the Finnish national instrument, the piano version is so
impressive and larger. It creates an atmosphere that makes the magic of
mythical worlds seem tangible. (Schott sheet music description)
Mustonen's technique and rather
percussive approach to the instrument suited this great Prokofiev 'War Sonata' (1939-42)
well. The anger of the Allegro inquieto was passionately
expressed as was the more poetic contrast of the emotional Andante
caloroso. That plaintive repeated note that for me expresses all the
intense loneliness and isolation of the human soul in the firmament, confronted
by the cruelty and waste of war, could have been still more plaintively
expressed. I expected the Precipitato final movement would be
spectacular and aggressive and so it was with an anger against the mindlessness
of bloody conflict scarcely repressed. Yet his tone never became harsh, just
rather more penetrating as the great highway of dynamic and tempo
augmentation opened before us.
Franz Liszt broke pianos - Olli Mustonen breaks piano stools - a diverting recital moment
reveal the poetic soul of Schumann with the greatest and most affecting
clarity. In the spring of 1838 Schumann was separated from Clara Wieck his
fiancée. Her father was horrified she might marry a mere composer of music with
no financial or social future. Schumann wrote to his great love:
been waiting for your letter and have in the meantime filled several books with
pieces.... You once said to me that I often seemed like a child, and I suddenly
got inspired and knocked off around 30 quaint little pieces.... I selected
several and titled them Kinderszenen. You
will enjoy them, though you will need to forget that you are a virtuoso when
you play them.'
deep nostalgia for childhood through the eyes of an adult. The titles are
merely afterthought suggestions to the pianist (according to Schumann).
fremden Ländern und Menschen
Of Foreign Lands and Peoples
lyrical evocation in the company of a
A Curious Story
energetic as desired
Blind Man’s Bluff
whimsical if a little rushed
rather robust and unsubtle. I felt it should have been more cantabile
An Important Event
Rather too declamatory
poetic, and sensitively phrased. Have you heard Horowitz play it too
often as an encore? As someone said to me recently apropos familiar musical
interpretations that unavoidably accumulate in the mind with musical
experience and recordings 'You have been drinking the same champagne for far
too long Michael!'
At the Fireside
Knight of the Hobbyhorse
for me with excessive pedal and dynamic
Almost Too Serious
thoughtful and attractively lyrical
given the title this piece could have been more expressive
Child Falling Asleep
but could have evoked this delicate idea more sensitively
The Poet Speaks
expressive with subtle tone that raised poetry in the heart with especially
moving pianissimo. Try and find
the astonishing Alfred Cortot b/w film where he demonstrates the 'opium' of
the piece to a pupil.
on her childhood scenes: 5 Venezuelan Memories
1. Morning in
Caracas Here Montero presented the dramatic
contrast between the chaotic urban life of this city, which lies in a deep
valley, and the beauty of Nature in Mt. Avila and the El Avila National Park that
2. The Drunk
Man Here she depicted a small, drunken
man she noticed who regularly wandered the streets of Caracas listening to a
radio on his shoulder. The music raised a touch of the melancholy of Charlie
Chaplin for me.
Destruction Here Montero depicted the economic
collapse and 'destruction' of her country, a lost nation. One was movingly
taken through an improvised landscape of passionate but lost love of this
massive country. I could not help but reflect how much the music of Chopin must
mean to Montero as the Polish composer similarly lamented and improvised in
exile on the loss of his beloved country, erased from the map of Europe.
Home Montero expressed the loss of home
and the unanswerable question 'Where is my home now?'
Mother's Lullaby Here she expressed the feeling
of the maternal embrace, the lament of losing that carefree and warm childhood of
affection and love. There were lyrical, heartfelt and moving melodies here, the
innocence of a mother's love for her infant.
This sonata is
relatively rarely played. It is a memorial work, dedicated to the piano
pedagogue and composer Leonid Nikolayev, who had died in Tashkent in October
1942 aged sixty-four. 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 but Montero presented a dynamically rather strident
interpretation. The powerful contrast of the Largo was soulfully
inturned, reflective with ominous LH repeats and an improvisatory feel. Montero
expressed an abstract anxiety of quite powerful magnitude. Could one say she expressed
the despair of a refined order ? The Moderato revealed spiritual
triumph with anxiety lying at the core of it. She gave marvelous life to this
movement, with the expression of deep anger and resentment (the 'destruction'
of Venezuela?). Montero depicted deep fluctuations of mood with moving resignation
at the conclusion.
This continually highly dramatic and declamatory interpretation of this Chopin Ballade
simply did not appeal to me. We all have our 'own Chopin' that can be quite
different yet consistent in character and a valid vision. This undoubtedly dynamic 2020 view of
the composer I felt only did him superficial justice.
As an encore she performed the
only piano work Krzysztof Penderecki composed for solo piano a year before his
death in March 2020. The Aria from Aria, Ciaccona & Vivace (2019), a composition compiled and adapted for piano by Venezuelan-German composer Sef
Albertz. An impressive and moving performance.
So often neglected by pianists, many
consider the Prelude in C-sharp Minor Op. 45, composed at Nohant during
the summer of 1841, as one of the most private and intimate compositions
Chopin ever wrote. It gives one the impression of a written down improvisation.
He proudly spoke to his amanuensis Julian Fontana of the piece being 'well
modulated'. It dreams and movingly explores the many harmonic colour and
timbral differences among the different keys it meanders through. This would
have been far clearer in the sensitively unequal temperament in which the Pleyels
of Chopin’s time were tuned. Equal Temperament was considered unachievable and
perhaps undesirable as it was during the Baroque and Classic periods.
Chopin wrote from Paris in 1848,
fourteen months before his death : 'All those with whom I was in the most
intimate harmony have died and left me.
Even Ennike, our best tuner, has gone and drowned himself; and so I have
not in the whole world a piano tuned to suit me.' Many different
temperaments were used in the Paris of the 1830s and 1840s. Equal temperament
remained a matter of speculation. This preoccupation continued well into the
1890s to preserve the emotional associative differences between keys.
Liszt wrote to Sébastian Erard
'When I play, I play to the galleries!' This is the diametrical opposite to the
Chopin aesthetic. Pianists such as Antoine de Kontski, Eduard Risler, Raoul
Koczalski and later even Vladimir de Pachmann were known for their intimate,
subtle, elegant Chopin of relatively
absolute dynamic range, delicately inflected rhythms, subdued tone and highly
artistic use of the pedals.
As the composer and his
contemporaries 'passed the veil invisible', the memory of the magic of Chopin,
that 'Ariel of pianists', and all the resources of the period piano and
performance practices at his disposal, were gradually swallowed up and almost
erased by the seductions of ostentatious, dynamic display on evolved
iron-framed instruments. [With
grateful acknowledgement to Jonathan Bellman who raises this point in his essay
Towards a Well-tempered Chopin] This is an
interesting and contentious subject, scarcely explored seriously in 2020, examination
Avdeeva brought an effulgent tone and sensitive touch that
expressed longing and loss in its suggestive plaintive, affective phrasing. Her
fine rubato was emotionally expressive of dream-like emotional reflections.
There was significant aristocratic poise in this interpretation and a feeling
of nocturnal improvisation. A fine opening to her recital of uplifting quality.
Scherzo in C sharp
minor Op. 39 (1839)
Chopin completed this work during a period of convalescence in Marseilles. It is 'one of Chopin's most
unusual and original works' (Jim Samson). Certainly it is the closest
Chopin came to the Lisztian idiom and in the bravura writing. The piece was dedicated
to his muscular favourite pupil Adolf Gutman. Wilhelm von Lenz wrote rather
waspishly in 1872 '... it was probably with his prize-fighter's fist in mind
that the bass chord was thought out, a chord that no left hand can take (sixth
measure, d sharp, f sharp, g, d sharp, f sharp),
least of all Chopin’s hand, which arpeggio’d over the easy-running, narrow-keyed
Pleyel. Only Gutmann could 'knock a hole in a table'
with that chord!’
This was last work the composer
sketched during the Majorca sojourn and in the fraught personal atmosphere of
Valldemossa. Chopin was ill at the time which interrupted and perhaps
influenced the writing. ‘…questions or cries are hurled into an empty,
hollow space – presto con fuoco.’ (Tomaszewski).
Avdeeva opened the
scherzo with just the right balance of agitated tempo and a noble mixed mood of
aggression, resistance and resentment. The work requires a powerful tone, but the
chorale could perhaps have been slightly more poetically, rather than
strenuously expressed with its glittering cascades of ornamental notes of such
delicacy and refinement. The melancholic piano transition to E
minor was particularly poignant. The close was a triumph of the spirit over
adversity. Lisztian grandeur was summoned in her powerful and dramatic
transition from C-sharp minor to the victorious C-sharp major conclusion.
Yulianna Avdeeva plays with tremendous pianistic authority and security -
something I noticed from her Stage I performance during the Chopin Competition
in 2010 and deduced right then she would emerge the victor.
The Debs Ball (Warszawski Bal Debiutantow) September 2010 'An Invitation from Fryderyk Chopin' dancing a splendid Mazur - one of a number of spirited Polish dances during the evening which included an oberek and a krakowiak as well as innumerable Viennese waltzes
Mazurka in E minor Op. 41
No. 1 (1838)
This mazurka was composed at Son Vent on Majorca
shortly after the arrival of the immortal party. I will offer the great Polish
musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski's comment as far more illuminating to Poles
than I could present. '...we hear a
distinct Polish echo: the melody of a song about an uhlan and his girl, ‘Tam na
błoniu błyszczy kwiecie’ [Flowers sparkling on the common] (written by Count Wenzel
Gallenberg, with words by Franciszek Kowalski) – a song that during the
insurrection in Poland had been among the most popular. Chopin quoted it almost
literally, at the same time heightening the drama, giving it a nostalgic, and
ultimately all but tragic, tone' Avdeeva accomplished the song in a
beautiful legato, melancholic arabesque and the touching fading away at the
conclusion was particularly ethereal.
Mazurka in B major Op. 41
No. 2 (1838)
Possibly composed at Nohant but
with Majorcan influences. Chopin's other favorite instrument was the guitar and
here we are given a depiction of guitar chords. ‘The
first four bars and their repetitions’, said Chopin, ‘are to be played in the
style of a guitar prelude, progressively quickening the tempo’. Avdeeva gave a
perfectly conceived ''rural' countryside performance of the work as if by a
strolling guitar player.
Mazurka in A flat
major Op. 41 No. 3 (1838)
Avdeeva brought a beguiling
simplicity and sense of improvisation to
this mazurka with its rhythms from the Cuiavia region
Mazurka in C sharp
minor Op. 41 No. 4 (1838)
Composed during the first summer
at Nohant in 1839. The Hungarian pianist 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’. With fine tone and controlled Polish idiomatic mazur rhythms, Avdeeva
took us through many different Polish landscapes in this beautiful mazurka, just
as Liszt referred to them as tableaux de chevalet (paintings
on the easel). A bucolic and rumbustious conclusion that fades away to
nothingness....like a carriage carrying memories, passing by over the brow of
the hill and then out of reach.
Ballade in A flat
major Op. 47 (1841)
I think one key to understanding and unlocking the
mysteries of the Ballades as a group of works is a remark
Chopin once made in 1842 to his pupil Wilhelm von Lenz concerning a lesson on
the Variations contained within his favorite Beethoven Sonata in A-flat
major Op.28 : 'I indicate. It's up to the listener to complete
Chopin wrote this Ballade in the summer of 1841. The
mood of this work is rather bright and glitters with optimism that shines
through chiaroscuro shadows. There are strong elements of dance and even
flirtatious gestures. The Polish writer and theatre director Zygmunt Noskowski
wrote in 1902 ‘Those close and contemporary to Chopin maintained that the
Ballade in A flat major was supposed to represent Heine's tale of the Lorelei
– a supposition that may well be credited when one listens attentively to that
wonderful rolling melody, full of charm, alluring and coquettish. Such was
surely the song of the enchantress on the banks of the River Rhine, lying in
wait for an unwary sailor – a sailor who, bewitched by the seductress’s song,
perishes in the river’s treacherous waters’. One however must always remember
Chopin's dislike of any 'programme' being applied to his music.
Avdeeva has matured as an artist enormously since the
competition. She gave a fine performance of this work from a convincing opening
statement of 'narrative expectation' through the 'storey-telling' body of the
work, with a rich rounded tone of expressive passion and refined sentiment. Her
rhapsodic, emotional abandonment can occasionally cross the border of
Chopinesque poetry and lyrical containment, but this is surely a personal
consideration of interpretation and taste. Each historical era perceives in
Chopin reflections of its own preoccupations. 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 in shifting soundscapes. Again her authoritative stance as a
pianist, her deep conviction and understanding of balance in this complex
musical structure was paramount.
Andante spianato and Grande
Polonaise Brillante in E flat major Op. 22
The polonaise breathes and paints the whole national character; the music of this dance, while admitting
much art, combines something martial with
a sweetness marked by the simplicity of manners of an agricultural people . . . Our
fathers danced it with a marvellous ability
and a gravity full of nobleness; the dancer,
making gliding steps with energy, but without skips, and caressing his moustache,
varied his movements by the position of his
sabre, of his cap, and of his tucked-up coat sleeves, distinctive signs of a
free man and a warlike citizen.
The difficulties concealed in
this work 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. 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 and polonaises are not meant to be
danced but the idiom of the genres 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.
Avdeeva played the Andante
spianato certainly 'smoothly' and with expressiveness. Was I looking for more
poetry and grace? It is well known that Chopin often performed this as a separate
piece, so suitable in an intimate setting on a Pleyel instrument. The Grande
Polonaise began with lightness and elements of the styl brillant as
described above but although dynamically varied, became increasingly declamatory
and powerful in tone and approach. Although she possesses fine articulation,
the form lost some of its overall charm, elegance and freshness which comes from
the brilliant, glittering lightness of this style. This is all rather personal
as it remained an accomplished performance of great verve and panache which the
The work is a fascinating piece
of theatre which it 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.
Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953)
Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat major Op. 84 (1939–1944)
She concluded her recital with a
work by Prokofiev, the last of the so-called 'War Sonatas'. Mira Mendelson, who
was Prokofiev’s partner for some twelve years and to whom he dedicated this
sonata, wrote of these sonatas: 'In 1939 Prokofiev began to write three
piano sonatas…working on all ten movements at once, and only later did he lay
aside the Seventh and Eighth and concentrated on the Sixth.' Prokofiev
spent five years (1939-1944) completing this set of sonatas expressing his
Some of the material for the sonata
came from incidental music he composed for Eugene Onegin Op.
71 and for a cinema production of The Queen of Spades Op.
70. In the opening movement Andante dolce Avdeeva expressed in
dark tones the isolation, desolation and melancholy of the sensitive individual
confronting the forces of armed conflict he cannot influence or control. The rising
waves of resentment and anger felt at this emasculated position was also perfectly
convincing. The subterranean agitation was appropriately disturbing to the
The indication to the second movement is the curious Andante
sognando (dream-like) which is predominantly lyrical,
harmonically predictable and rather like seeing a waltz in a distant
ballroom from a garden though shifting mists, lovers fitfully passing the
golden illuminated windows of a mansion. Avdeedva captured completely my imagined poetic imagery. The
final Vivace was triumphant but on occasion rather over heavy in
its unrelenting anger at the nature of war, but brilliant in articulation and shifting
tone colours. She maintained the fatalistic, inexorable forward movement
of the movement that finally celebrates the unconquerable within the human spirit.
Her encore, the Nocturne in
B-major Op.62 No.1 Interestingly in the
Anglo-Saxon world, this 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’. Avdeeva
was sensitive and poignant, which created a dreamlike ambience. There is great
variety in the mood and writing of this rather untypical Chopin nocturne. which
Avdeeva captured perfectly to my mind in a caressing, seductive tone and phrasing
that faded into the ether like a ghost.
A fine recital that indicated the immense distance
Yulianna Avdeeva has travelled musically in her development since her win in
the 2010 International Fryderyk Chopin Competition. One musical commentator I respect
exclaimed with enthusiasm 'She has begun to fly!'
of the other pianists, the French pianist Marc Laforêt had the commanding musical presence of a mature
artist when he walked onto the stage. This set us at our ease for some reason
best known to the psyche. His Chopin programme indicated this recital was not to be an
unrelieved excursion into the dark night of the soul, but an extremely pleasant
outing with a person of refinement and taste. And so it was, with the leavening
addition of a familiar dramatic Ballade and Scherzo. Themajority
of pieces in the carefully designed, philosophically undemanding but delightful
programme, were written by Chopin in Paris in the 1830s.
It is hard to
reconcile that the Mozart piano sonatas were considered trivial confections by
the concert-going public before the Second World War. Perhaps because their
'undemanding simplicity' appealed to amateurs and young students of the clavier.
Many early sonatas were disarmingly written out improvisations. The sonata
K.330 is one of the most endearing sonatas he ever wrote.
rendered the Allegro moderato with style and elegant affectation, his
phrasing being outstandingly musical. Each repeated phrase was executed
differently - rather rare in 2020 performances. His articulation, lightness and
balance of hands, agility and verve were quite seductive and quintessentially
Mozartian. The Andante cantabile was a controlled legato song produced
with finesse and feeling. The clouds that drifted across this untroubled sky
hinted only at a fluctuation in mood and were not suggestive of deep tragedy.
The melancholic excursion in the minor key only made the blithe return of the
final Allegretto all the more refreshing. I found it slightly heavy in
touch but enchantingly stylish and intensely musical. Overall a marvelous
performance of Mozart, embracing just the right 18th century Viennese gemütlichkeit.
Heinrich Heine wrote of Chopin in
the Allegemeine Theater-Revue of 1837 '...his fame is aristocratic in
nature, his fame is perfumed with the praise of his society, it is
distinguished as his person. Chopin is the child of French parents [actually
only his father Nicholas was French], born in Poland, and educated partly in
Germany. The influences of these three nations have moulded a personality
worthy of the greatest attention. Poland has given him chivalry and the
dolorous stamp of her history, France has given him a delicate charm, his grace
and Germany - romantic reflection. Heine mentions that when improvising '
...he comes from the land of Mozart, Raphael and Goethe; his true homeland is
the kingdom of Poetry.'
La Cité et le Pont Neuf, vus du quai du Louvre by Giuseppe Canella, 1832
Vue de Boulevard Montmartre à Paris by Giuseppe Canella, 1830
As the pianist is French, a
nationality who have a particular approach to the music of Chopin, I felt it
useful and instructive to briefly examine the cultural reception of the composer
in Paris in the 1830s. In the Chopin critical language of the time, in such
musical journals as Le pianiste, one encounters such evocative
adjectives as 'gracieux', 'naïf' or
'délicat'. The composer is referred in the Bolero Op.19 as 'neuve
et gracieuse' and his ideas 'originales
et gracieuses'. One of the finest and most elevated compliments paid to any
creative artist in Romantic Paris at the time of Chopin and the lyric poet Alphonse
de Lamartine, was to be deemed 'poetic'. Such men possessed a 'calling', a sign
of cultural freedom and aristocratic distinction in comparison with the social
limitations of a mere professional métier.
Chopin was regarded in this manner
almost from the outset of his arrival in the French capital. His musical
creations were often compared with the lyric poetry of the ode and ballade.
They presented themselves as 'veiled' and 'mysterious' musical conceptions. One
Le pianiste reviewer even referred to Chopin's 'études
lamartiniennes'. Liszt referred to Lamartine in his description of the Préludes
Op.28: 'ce sont des préludes poétiques. analogues à ceux d'un grande
David Kasunic, Associate Professor
of Music History at Occidental College, in an essay makes a fascinating connection between the nostalgic
attractions of Chopin mazurkas and the evocation of the lost landscapes of
Poland. Chopin's teacher Józef Elsner referred to certain of his compositions,
especially the mazurkas, as 'illuminated engravings'. This sentiment was shared
in France by similar elegiac reflections concerning the art of landscape poetry
and landscape painting. The art of Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot always contained
an atmosphere of loss in addition to a personal pensée as did the
landscape paintings of the English artist John Constable, introduced in the
Parisian Salon of 1824. Liszt even referred to the mazurkas as tableaux de
chevalet (paintings on the easel).
Forêt de Fontainebleau (1834) Jean-Baptisite Camille Corot
Is the girl perhaps reading Le Lac by Lamartine or an ode or ballade ?
For the French, the composer did
not simply represent Poland but wasPoland to the adoring
Parisian musical public, well aware of the fraught partitions, uprisings,
resistance and occupation of the suffering but valiant nation. There was tremendous
sympathy in artistic circles for the plight of Poland at that time. Lamartine's
Méditations poétiques of 1820 utilized landscape to express a profound
sense of loss. His masterpiece Le Lac of 1817 brought a formerly
unknown musicality to French verse but
also the new intense subjectivity and personal 'raw emotion of gut-wrenching
loss' through the loss of his lover Julie Charles to tuberculosis.
Lines from Le Lac (trans. Peter Shor)
Oh lake, the year has scarce run once more round its
And by these waves she had to see again,
Look! I have come alone to sit upon this rock
You saw her sit on then.
Beneath those towering cliffs, your waters murmur still,
And on their ragged flanks, your waves still beat,
The wind still flings those drops of spray, that last year fell
On her beloved feet.
* * * * * * * * * * *
“Just a few more moments, I ask — in vain, for time
Eludes me and takes flight.
I tell the night to pass more slowly, and dawn comes
To chase away the night.
“Then let us love! Then let us fill each fleeting hour
With joy and ecstasy!
Man does not have a port; time does not have a shore.
It passes, and so do we.”
The French instinctively
identified with and conceived of Chopin as primarily a musical poet in such
The Leaping Horse (1825) John Constable
Nostalgic love for the county of Suffolk
in G minor Op. 23
I repeat below
the historical section of my review which appears elsewhere as it remains
unaffected by the performance in question.
I think one
key to understanding and unlocking the mysteries of the Ballades as
a group of works is a remark Chopin once made in 1842 to his pupil Wilhelm von
Lenz concerning a lesson on the Variations contained within his favorite
Beethoven Sonata in A-flat major Op.28 : 'I indicate.
It's up to the listener to complete the picture'.
It has become
a truism that the narrative nationalistic poem by the national poet Adam
Mickiewicz depicting the heroic spy of tragic destiny, Konrad
Wallenrod, inspired Chopin to write this Ballade. This
theory has since lost currency as 'programme music' and has been replaced with
modern considerations of 'structure' and our unlikely and rather escapist term
'absolute music'. Such a term would have meant little to Chopin. I feel the
focus could still well have been the ballad poem form in literature and poetic
sensibilities that suggested an expressive route the music might take. I feel
the direction of balladic poetry of the day (story telling) suggested, but only
suggested not dictated, these musical directions. Such expressive gestures in
music would have been quite familiar to literate contemporary Polish listeners
without any suggested narrative, literal or illustrative programme.
Just as in
balladic poems of the day, the drama builds to a climax though various musical
vicissitudes. This organic growth emerges from musical phrases that indicate a
'narrative expectation' from the very opening of the work. This work has become
an over-familiar 'warhorse' in so many Chopin recitals - a deserved fate for
such a masterpiece. However, one should remember that, when written, this Ballade was
revolutionary music, received with mixed feelings. We cannot now resuscitate
this feeling of novelty with the innumerable performances and recordings that
have taken place since it was written. We are very far from the source of this
music, so all the more reason we should imaginatively try to explore what it
may have meant to Chopin's contemporary audience.
it musically or termed Ballade had been heard or written as
music before. There is no connection in this form or genre with the more readily
understood and acceptably inherited sonata form of distinct movements. The
direction of poetry and the Ballade as a poem in music is more
informative than considering the Ballade as a new
musical structural form. Chopin never wrote an opera but surely the
clear nationalist narrative spirit, sense of resistance and defiant żal, that
imbue his masterpieces must have contributed to the pressure he was placed
under to write one.
created a feeling of 'narrative expectation' from the opening and continued in
a well practiced exposition of the poetic history and narrative. I am sure an
audience of the day would have recognized the 'balladic emotions of the poetry'.
He built to the rhapsodic climacteric of the piece effectively to an apotheosis
despite some unusual moments of emphasis. The coda was dramatically wrestled.
It is so hard for a modern audience from 2020 to imaginatively recreate this
turbulent period in French history when this Ballade first appeared. A fine
performance overall but perhaps without the individuality I had expected.
Mazurkas Op.30 (1837)
In this set
of mazurkas or 'illuminated engravings', I felt Laforêt had captured the Polish
idiom or element well although the pedal could have been used more judiciously.
The harmonies were sometimes slightly blurred in transition. Without doing
his fine playing a disservice, Laforêt carefully maintained a rare, intimate and charming 'Salon'
atmosphere with these remarkable pieces.
C minor Op. 30 No. 1
B minor Op. 30 No. 2
D flat major Op. 30 No. 3
C sharp minor Op. 30 No.
We can consider
the Chopin waltzes as a true interpretative challenge and deceptively simple to
perform. Chopin is a composer of easy melodic accessibility and yet can remain
tantalizingly out of reach. I expected rather more elegance in rhythm and style
of phrase from Laforêt being French. The 'lilt' of the waltz rhythm seemed to
escape him on occasion but nostalgic reminiscence and creative phrasing
compensated for this.
Waltz in A
flat major Op. 34 No. 1
Waltz in A
minor Op. 34 No. 2 (1831)
This was a
delightful interpretation that created just the correct degree of remembrance
and nostalgia of recalled past joys and balls.
Waltz in C
sharp minor Op. 64 No. 2
centre of the piece was most affectingly expressed with graceful legato and
Waltz in D
flat major Op. 64 No. 1
in D flat major Op. 27
No. 2 (1836)
and pleasant performance of touching expressiveness and beautiful cantabile tone
B flat minor Op. 31
Friedrich Niecks, the German
musical scholar and author, found the trio evocative of the Mona
Lisa’s thoughtfulness, a mood full of longing and wondering.The
brilliant Polish musicologist Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski writes of this scherzo:
'The new style, all Chopin’s own, which might be called a specifically
Chopinian dynamic romanticism, not only revealed itself, but established
itself. It manifested itself à la Janus, with two faces: the deep-felt lyricism
of the Nocturnes Op.27 and the concentrated drama of the Scherzo in B flat
thought about the work’s ecstatic lyricism, before concluding in a way
even more appropriate today in the age of recording: ‘Excessive
performance may have dimmed the brightness of this work, but should not blind
us to its merits as thrilling and convincing music.’
something rather remarkable in Laforêt's opening of the Scherzo.
Eigeldinger in the Chopin 'bible' Chopin - Pianist and Teacher as seen by his pupils mentions on p.84-85:
triplet group that appears so simple and innocent could scarcely ever be played
to Chopin's satisfaction. 'It must be a question' taught Chopin. He felt it
never played questioningly enough, never soft enough, never round enough (tombé),
as he said, never sufficiently weighted (important). 'It must be a house
of the dead', he once said [...in his lessons] I saw Chopin dwell at length on
this bar and again at each of its appearances. 'That is the key to the whole
piece,' he would say yet the triplet group is generally snatched or swallowed.
Chopin was just as exacting over the simple quaver accompaniment of the cantilena
as well as the cantilena itself. 'You should think of [the singer]
Pasta, of Italian song! - not of French Vaudeville.' he said one day with more
than a touch of irony.' [Wilhelm von Lenz]
Laforêt captured this idea of existential questioning effectively if a little
fast. A rare feeling for me. I wonder how many pianists have any idea of
Chopin's serious feelings on this matter, which appears so insignificant on the
face of it. Openings were a vital emotional setting for Chopin, as in the often misunderstood Barcarolle.
Laforêt's cantilena certainly
sang with poignant phrasing and emotional reflectivity. The narrative drama of
this piece (which I see as a type of Ballade) he built powerfully and
convincingly through tensions and relaxations and into well integrated conception
of exciting narrative dynamic.
was a sensitive rendition of the Mazurka No.3 in F minor Op.7
Awarded Second Prize in the 2010 International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition
‘Oberek’ byJózef Chełmoński, 1878
I think I am gradually beginning
to grasp the mysteries of Chopin's Polish mazurkas, which variety of Mazovian dance (Mazur, Kujawiak and Oberek),
which rhythm and mood, be it nostalgic, rumbustious or otherwise. I cannot
comment in detail on all ten mazurkas performed this evening but I will say
something about ones I found more striking.
A little info
about the Mazurkas was included in the “Chopin Express”, Issue 13 (October
2010) by its editor Krzysztof Komarnicki :
A trap called
Mazurkas are a mixture of simplicity and subtlety. They are drawn from a folk
pattern but are full of nuances that must be executed properly, or else
artistic disaster is just round the corner. What are the dangers, then?
properly play a dance you have never danced. You need to know where a leap and
when a landing is, and you must remember that a dancer can’t stop in mid air.
“Mazurka” actually describes the group of dances consisting of Mazur, Kujawiak
and Oberek. Each species has different steps, tempos and accents. You need to
know and recognize each one, as Chopin often makes use of all of them within a
notated in 3/4 time, like waltzes, but you play them in a different way – the
trick is to put the accents in the right places. Rhythm is another trap: Chopin
notates similar rhythms with or without rests, and you play those differently:
the dancers have their feet on ground where there are no rests, and they jump
if the rests are present.
music knows no polyphony. Chopin was well aware of that, but sometimes there
are several melodies sounding at the same time, as if his mind was teeming with
musical thoughts. It is not counterpoint in the sense of Bach.
in F minor Op. 7 No. 3
A 'rural' dance
quality was certainly preserved rather than a recollection or sublimation of it.
in B flat major Op. 17 No. 1
in C sharp minor Op. 30 No. 4
account certainly but not particularly poetic
in G sharp minor Op. 33 No. 1
nostalgic as a remembered dance perhaps? Music emerged as coherent speech.
in C major Op. 33 No.2
Blithe and uncomplicated
in mood - Chopin always adored simplicity
in D major Op. 33 No. 3
rural contrasts replete with bucolic life. Excellent performance.
in B major Op. 63 No. 1
attractive but verging on the rough
in F minor Op. 63 No. 2
in C sharp minor Op. 63 No. 3
I felt this
could have been far more expressive
in A minor [Op. 68 No. 2] (WN 14)
performance with the most finesse of the group
in G minor Op. 23
I think one
key to understanding and unlocking the mysteries of the Ballades as a
group of works is a remark Chopin once made in 1842 to his pupil Wilhelm von Lenz
concerning a lesson on the Variations contained within his favorite Beethoven Sonata
in A-flat major Op.28 : 'I indicate. It's up to the listener to complete
It has become
a truism that the narrative nationalistic poem by the national poet Adam Mickiewicz depicting the
heroic spy of tragic destiny, Konrad Wallenrod, inspired Chopin to write
this Ballade. This theory has since lost currency as 'programme music'
and has been replaced with modern considerations of 'structure' and our unlikely and
rather escapist term 'absolute music'. Such a term would have meant little to
Chopin. I feel the focus could still well have been the ballad poem form in literature
and poetic sensibilities that suggested an expressive route the music might
take. I feel the direction of balladic poetry of the day (story telling) suggested,
but only suggested not dictated, these musical directions. Such expressive
gestures in music would have been quite familiar to literate contemporary
Polish listeners without any suggested narrative, literal or illustrative
Just as in
balladic poems of the day, the drama builds to a climax though various musical vicissitudes.
This organic growth emerges from musical phrases that indicate a 'narrative
expectation' from the very opening of the work. This work has become an
over-familiar 'warhorse' in so many Chopin recitals - a deserved fate for such
a masterpiece. However, one should remember that, when written, this Ballade was
revolutionary music, received with mixed feelings. We cannot now resuscitate
this feeling of novelty with the innumerable performances and recordings that
have taken place since it was written. We are very far from the source of this
music, so all the more reason we should imaginatively try to explore what it may have meant
to Chopin's contemporary audience.
Nothing like it
musically or termed Ballade had been heard or written as music before. There
is no connection in this form or genre with the more readily understood and
acceptably inherited sonata form of distinct movements. The direction of poetry and the Ballade as
a poem in music is more informative than considering the Ballade as a new musical structural form. Chopin never wrote an opera but surely the clear nationalist narrative spirit, sense of resistance and defiant żal, that imbue his masterpieces must
have contributed to the pressure he was placed under to write one.
us a straightforward interpretation without a great deal of committed emotional
intensity. As a narrative musical poem it certainly had some coherence and was virtuosically
and pianistically accomplished. However, that indefinable electricity and excitement
of a penetrating vision of passionate Polish suffering, victimhood, resistance
and żal was missing on this night. I kept asking myself, have I heard
this work too often to be excited by it or is it simply the performance? Probably
as always a mixture of both imperatives by executant and listener.
Rachmaninov in 1906 close to the time he wrote the Piano Sonata No: 1 in D Minor
Sonata No. 1 in D
minor, Op. 28
Rachmaninoff wrote to his friend
Nikita Morozov on 8 May 1907:
‘The Sonata is without any doubt
wild and endlessly long. I think about 45 minutes. I was drawn into such
dimensions by a programme or rather by some leading idea. It is three
contrasting characters from a work of world literature. Of course, no programme
will be given to the public, although I am beginning to think that if I were to
reveal the programme, the Sonata would become much more comprehensible. No one
will ever play this composition because of its difficulty and length but also,
and maybe more importantly, because of its dubious musical merit. At some point
I thought to re-work this Sonata into a symphony, but that proved to be
impossible due to the purely pianistic nature of writing’.
It is said that Rachmaninov withdrew this reference to literature and certainly the music contains other
The ‘literature’ he referred to is
Goethe’s Faust (possibly with elements of Lord Byron’s Manfred) and there is
convincing evidence to believe that this plan to write a sonata around Faust,
Gretchen and Mephistopheles was never entirely abandoned. Of course there are
other musical elements present as it is not programme music. The pianist
Konstantin Igumnov, who gave its premiere performance in Moscow, Leipzig and
Berlin, visited Rachmaninov in November 1908. After the Leipzig recital, the
composer told him that ‘when composing it, he had in mind Goethe’s “Faust” and
that the 1st movement related to Faust, the 2nd one to Gretchen and the 3rd was
the flight to the Brocken mountains and Mephistopheles.’
Faust admits in the opening
monologue of the play:
In me there are two souls, alas,
Division tears my life in two.
One loves the world, it clutches
her, it binds
Itself to her, clinging with
The other longs to soar beyond the
Into the realm of high ancestral
A man whose soul is rent between
the hedonistic pleasures of the earth and spiritual aspirations – Sacrum et
Profanum. Exploring this ‘human all too human’ dichotomy, Rachmaninov builds
almost unbearable tension in this sonata.
In the Allegro moderato, as Faust
wrestles with his soul and its temptations, I felt that Geniusas could have
been more passionately and emotionally engaged in this crucible of sin. He
seemed only to communicate general expression and did not penetrate the
tormented spiritual core of this movement. Although his keyboard technique and actual
volume of sound produced left nothing to be desired (although rather harsh in
fortissimo passages) I wished for a more conflicted spiritual intention.
The Lento second movement could
well be interpreted as a lyrical poem expressing the love of Gretchen for
Faust. I felt a distinct want of poetic lyricism and improvisation here. I felt
it rather wandering in approach and harmonically without direction. I was searching for the
slow rhapsodic accumulation of romantic
passion. I did not quite receive the impression of a fervent and impassioned
love song which is what I yearned for here.
The wildness of the immense final
movement, Allegro molto with its references to the terrifying Dies Irae and death, can well associate this massive declamation to Mephistopheles and his insidious and
destructive evil. Here Geniusas seemed to require that deep Rachmaninov resonance with which we are all so familiar. His tone again became harsh and
overdone in abandoned fortissimo passages with not a great deal of dynamic
variation. Were we exploring the darker significance of Walpurgis Night?
Walpurgis Night - Mariano Barbasán Lagueruela
There is so much expressively one may do with
this dense and eloquent music. The lyrical reminiscences had a seductive cantabile
and the piano passages in the movement were movingly poetic. I asked, what was Geniusas
trying to tell us about this monumental work and its inspiration? The
conclusion was impressively rhapsodic but I found myself yearning for more spiritual depth overall.
No encore. Geniusas wiped his brow (as well he might) as if exhausted and excused himself. I wondered at the time whether he may not have been well which could have explained his reticence at times.
Capriccio: The Lagoon, VeniceBernardo Bellotto(c. 1743)
Barcarolle in F sharp major Op. 60
He opened his recital
with the Chopin Barcarolle. One must not forget 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 and fluctuations
of romantic emotion. Most of the piece oscillates gently between forte, piano and pianissimo with
only subtle degrees of heightened emotion throughout. Although clearly
a good performance, for me Goerner opened it rather perfunctorily in a way that
did not sensitively set the tonal mood. There were degrees
of heightened emotion during this outing on the lagoon but I found
his approach lacking in evocative atmosphere, rather too straightforward in its
poetry. Although he did not exaggerate the dynamics as many pianists do,
my heart was not moved as I felt it should have been.
Scherzo in C sharp minorOp. 39 (1839)
The Scherzo No 3 in C-sharp minor Op.39 Chopin completed this work during a period of convalescence in Marseilles. It is 'one of Chopin's most unusual and original works' (Jim Samson). Certainly it is the closest Chopin came to the Lisztian idiom and in the bravura writing. Dedicated to his pupil Adolf Gutman, this was last work the composer sketched during the Majorca sojourn and in the fraught personal atmosphere of Valldemossa. Chopin was ill at the time which interrupted and perhaps influenced the writing. ‘…questions or cries are hurled into an empty, hollow space – presto con fuoco.’ (Tomaszewski). The chorale was sensitively expressed and the melancholic piano transition to E minor particularly moving. Goerner gave us a superior and noble account of the scherzo approaching Lisztian grandeur with the power, articulation and drama in the transition from C-sharp minor to the victorious C-sharp major conclusion.
Berceuse in D flat major Op. 57 (1844)
The manuscript of this cradle-song masterpiece belonged to Chopin's close friend Pauline Viardot, the French mezzo-soprano and composer. Perhaps this innocent, delicate and tender music was inspired by his concern with her infant daughter Louisette. Perhaps the baby caused Chopin to become nostalgic for his own family or even reflected on a child of his own that could only ever remain an occupant of his imagination. The Berceuse, composed at Nohant, appears to constitute a distant echo of a song that Chopin’s mother sang to him: the romance of Laura and Philo, ‘Już miesiąc zeszedł, psy się uśpily’ [The moon now has risen, the dogs are asleep]. (Tomaszewski).
Goerner did not manage to create a dreamlike lullaby to my mind on this occasion, although the piece was attractively approached. I was searching for more expressive refinement, tenderness, delicacy, and the vulnerability of infancy in those divine lullaby variations over the rocking basso ostinato. I recently heard an exquisite performance of this work by the gifted Romanian pianist Mihaela Ursuleasa (1978–2012) taken from the International Chopin Competition of 2000. She died suddenly and so tragically of a cerebral hemorrhage in Vienna aged only 33.
Schumann in the role of music critic (an occupation he considered a literary art and elevated it for a period into such a rarefied region - I agree). He wrote a famous description of the performance in Düsseldorf of Brahms piano sonatas or 'veiled symphonies' composed by the young 20 year old composer in the Leipzig Neue Zeitschrift für Musik of October 1853:
'...sooner or later … someone would and must appear, fated to give us the ideal expression of times, one who would not gain his mastery by gradual stages, but rather spring fully armed like Minerva from the head of Jove. And he has come, a young blood at whose cradle graces and heroes mounted guard. His name is Johannes Brahms…seated at the piano he began to reveal wondrous regions. We were drawn into ever more magical spheres. And the playing was absolutely inspired, transforming the piano into an orchestra of lamenting and jubilant voices.'
Brahms met Hector Berlioz in Leipzig, who was impressed with the young genius and his music. 'I am grateful to you for having let me make the acquaintance of this diffident, audacious young man who has taken it into his head to make a new music. He will suffer greatly,' Berlioz wrote to the great violinist Joseph Joachim whom Brahms had recently befriended.
The Sonata in F-minor Op.5 is in five movements:
Lake Geneva and the Dents du Midi in
the distance from Glion above Montreux. The Chateau of Chillon so beloved of
Lord Byron is in the bottom left-hand corner.
This early sonata was not well received, even considered a 'failure', the first movement as 'stiff and clumsy'. It is hard for me to credit such early descriptions of the imperial and noble theme of the opening. The grandeur of this soundscape is depicted for me like a panorama of the monumental timelessness of the Dents du Midi in the Chablais Alps of the Swiss canton of Valais beyond Lake Geneva. I felt Goerner captured this well with a rich, deep tonal palette, gravitas and forward driving urgent tempo and enviable mastery of the complex rhythms. The romantic intensity could perhaps have possessed more shades of growing expressiveness as we moved towards the exaltation of the conclusion.
Andante. Andante espressivo — Andante molto
This deeply affecting romantic movement of the sonata is headed by a poementitled Junge Liebe (Young Love) by Otto Inkermann who wrote under the pseudonym C.O. Sternau. The second movement was conceived with this quotation above the music and seems to follow the imagery, meaning and mood of the poem.
Der Abend dämmert, das Mondlicht scheint, da sind zwei Herzen in Liebe vereint und halten sich selig umfangen
Through evening's shade, the pale moon gleams While rapt in love's ecstatic dreams Two hearts are fondly beating.
Goerner embraced the adorable melody of two illusioned lovers in an imagined song with a feeling of innocent, warm affection. His cantabile tone and refined touch were alluringly appropriate. His beautiful phrasing created a heartfelt romantic yearning together with most affecting counterpoint. The compositionally unprecedented 'symphonic' exaltation and emotional resignation from the Nachtstück song at the conclusion was emotionally very moving.
Such surges of pure longing, romantic emotion by Brahms must indicate something about his unrequited love for Clara Schumann. 'I would gladly write to you only by means of music, but I have things to say to you to-day which music could not express.' he wrote in 1854.
By 1855 this had blossomed into: 'I wish I could write to you as tenderly as I love you and tell you all the good things that I wish you. You are so infinitely dear to me, dearer than I can say. I should like to spend the whole day calling you endearing names and paying you compliments without ever being satisfied.'
Scherzo. Allegro energico avec trio
Goerner brought great rhythmic and joyful energy and drive to this movement. The central melody was expressive with much sensitivity in its legato phrasing.
Intermezzo (Rückblick - Retrospect) Andante molto
There is deep Brahmsian gravitas in this movement full of nostalgic reminiscence and resignation. I see this movement as not funereal but the melancholic, even resentful reflections of enforced separation that follow any dwelling on the nature of love's passionate and tender utterances, imagined or otherwise. The Beethoven fate motif Brahms evokes is inescapable. Goerner brought a thoughtful depth to his interpretation which painted a submerged cathedral of feeling in my mind, both at once eloquent and haunting.
Finale. Allegro moderato ma rubato
This movement (a rondo) searches for its resolution almost in an improvisatory manner. Within it is embedded a musical cryptogram which was a personal musical motto of his close friend the violinist Joseph Joachim, the F–A–E theme, which translates into the thought-provoking Frei aber einsam (Free but lonely). Goerner seemed to me to lose his way somewhat as this movement winds up into its triumphal close, but that could just be pandemic confusion on my part. How this virus has diminished the ability to concentrate. The audience applause after every movement did not assist a coherent conception of the sonata. Goerner neatly eschewed further disruption this by an attacca transition to the final movement. Overall a deeply satisfying interpretation of this monumental masterpiece, Brahms last sonata and his longest piano work.
As an encore a poetic and deeply felt, sensitive performance of the Brahms Intermezzo in A major Op.118 Andante teneramente.
Love Story - The Young Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann
Thursday 1st October 2020 19.30
1st Prize, 2015 International Chopin Competition, Warsaw
Cho is one of the most sought-after pianists in the world today. His
performances in South Korea attract crowds and, especially among young female fans,
evoke emotions associated with K-pop rather than classical music. Cho treats
his popularity with detachment and a sense of humor. He constantly emphasizes
that the most important thing for him is the music itself, which he loves with
Cho's great career began with winning the 1st prize and Gold Medal at the 2015
"Since the victory in Warsaw," the artist said recently in one of his interviews, "I
am actually constantly traveling. It is rare for me to be home for more than
two weeks. Coronavirus at home changed all that. However, I quickly began to
worry about both my musician friends and myself. I tried to practice but found
I couldn't focus. "
return to the stage was therefore associated with great emotion:
"It was great. I realized how badly I needed
concerts. How badly I need an audience. Because the audience gives the artist
energy. Joy. The meaning of life. Especially when someone is as used to being
on stage as I am. "
* * * * * * * * * *
This is what I wrote of his performance of the Chopin 'Heroic' Polonaise in A-flat major at Duszniki Zdrój International Chopin Festival in 2010:
His Chopin 'Heroic' Polonaise in A-flat major Op. 53 was one of the grandest and most magnificent performances I have ever heard - the predominantly Polish audience leapt to their feet with a shout at the concluding chord. No bashing or hysteria just glorious tone and musical accomplishment. What a future this young man has ahead of him! He was so perfectly prepared in all aspects of concert pianism, technique and musical understanding - watch out you Europeans!
And of his performance of the E minor concerto Op.11 in the Final Round of the 2015 International Chopin Competition which he won:
As you might
imagine from my previous commentary I keenly anticipated this final statement
from Seong-Jin Cho in the competition. It was an immaculate performance from
first note to last, the music superbly prepared as I have noticed from his
previous stages. An truly outstanding example in every sense of the styl
brillant of the period as composed by the quite wonderful Johann
Nepomuk Hummel, Franciszek Lessel, John Field and Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński- all contemporaries of Chopin but of course lacking his
the performance was absolutely as it should be - elegantly phrased, graceful
with aristocratic poise, perfectly accurate dynamically matched notes (not
one wrong note or even slight 'smudge'), glowing tone produced with the finest taste,
finesse, colour and bel canto in the melodic
lines especially in the Romance. Larghetto. He played
with such ease and control it was enthralling to watch and hear. Such musical
gifts this man possesses!
* * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * *
The first thing that struck me
when Cho opened his recital was the superior refinement of his tone, touch and artful pedal. This remained during
the Schumann but became increasingly unpredictable as time passed through the
recital up to the Liszt sonata.
The Ruined Tower of Heidelberg Castle 1830 Carl Blechen (1798-1840)
Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
HumoresqueOp. 20 (1839)
Einfach und zart
Mit einigem Pomp
Especially in such an imagist
composition as Schumann's Humoresque, the imagination of the listener
and the imagination of the executant somehow have to achieve a comfortable
symbiosis for the true value of the interpretation to be assessed. Both their
moods and psychological condition also significantly affect the depth of presentation and
reception at the time. The writer E.T.A.
Hoffmann, who constantly inspired Schumann, stated that '[Music] is the
most romantic of all the arts… for its sole subject is the infinite.' We
have moved a long distance philosophically from the source of this music,
a condition which offers formidable challenges for both parties.
The composer wrote
concerning this piano cycle, Humoreske Op. 20 in a letter to Clara
'The whole week I sat at the piano in a state and composed, wrote,
laughed, and cried; now you can find all this beautifully painted in my Opus
20, the great Humoreske.' In another letter to Ernst Becker 'The
Humoreske, I think, will please you; it is, however, a little funny and perhaps
my most melancholy work.' In another letter to Simon de Sire 'Everything
comes to me on its own, and it even seems to me sometimes that I could play
forever and never come to an end.' During the composition of this work
he suffered intense psychological struggles.
consists of a series of interlinked 'humours' or 'moods' that express various
human states. The German music writer Carl Kossmaly (1812-1893)
describes Humoresque in these terms:
great variety of content and form, the continual and quick, although always
natural and unforced succession of the most varied images, imaginary ideas and
sentiments, fantastic and dreamlike phenomena swell and fade into one another,
and not only maintain but continually increase one’s interest from beginning to
And further: [Humoreske] gradually communicates itself to
the listener and fills him with a feeling of satisfaction that is as perfect,
blissful, and profound as can be elicited only by those melodies that spring
from the deepest, most secret source of the heart and from that genuine
enthusiasm which transcends earthly bounds – then we believe that we shall not
have missed the truth but instead come rather close to it, even if in our own
from James Andrew Naumann, B.M., M.M Ohio State University THESIS).
This was a fine performance of the
Schumann Humoresque. The affecting cantabile lyricism of the opening
melody or song Einfach was poignant yet at times winningly joyful. Cho
gave alluring expression to these
fluctuating moods. The Mit einigem Pomp was splendidly inflated in its expression.
Oddly perhaps, I still felt rather emotionally unmoved by this complex interwoven work of many shades,
colours and moods. The polyphonic nature of Schumann's obsession with Bach in
the musical writing could perhaps have been more prominent.
the work was radiantly brought off, however I felt the unpredictable
meteorological changes within the composer's mind, the quotation of fractured nostalgic
memories of past feelings and works, did not touch my heart sufficiently. Florestan
often overly dominated Eusebius. Schumann referred to
this work in a letter to Ernst Becker in August 1839 as his most melancholy
composition. Perhaps the title is meant ironically after all.
These are eloquent, interconnected
fragments performed attacca, the type of varied architecture one might
find in a landscape garden constructed in le style anglais, pieces
scattered, yet integrated as a whole, in a park like Rousham designed by the
18th century English artist William Kent - a ruined Gothic tower, a grove of
Venus, rustic seat or picturesque pond - all raising pensive thoughts of the
transience of time.
of composition and reception indicated above may explain why a full virtuoso
approach is not appropriate to this work, however glittering. A more mercurial
fluctuation of psychic emotion, reflection and melancholy is required, especially
in this Schumann of varied character sketches and fantasy explorations that lie within this
remarkable and complex composition.
Vienna viewed from the Belvedere Palace - Bernado Bellotto (1722-1780) aka 'Canaletto'
B Minor Op.20 (1831-1834)
Although the date of composition
of this work is unknown, during the first Christmas that Chopin had spent in
Vienna, far from home, he was in a quandary, extremely anxious about his loved
ones and about the fate of events in Warsaw. The work is turbulent and agitated, interrupted
by the soft nostalgia and remembrance of a fireside Christmas carol. Chopin
wrote in a state of high emotion to his family:
‘I curse the moment I left… In
the salon I pretend to be calm, but on returning home I fulminate at the piano…
I return, play, cry, laugh, go to bed, put out the light and dream always of
you… Everything I’ve seen thus far abroad seems to me […] unbearable and only
makes me long for home, for those blissful moments which I couldn’t appreciate…
It seems like a dream, a stupor, that I’m with you – and what I hear is just a
I sometimes worry about the declamatory
direction in which Cho seems to be developing in his Chopin interpretations.
Certainly his beginning was suitably wild and unconstrained but rather too
furious and declamatory in tempo and dynamic. The sound of silence? Some of the musical meaning and
dramatic impact is lost under a mighty cloud of virtuosity. Following a
firestorm of anger or żal, we were transported back to the Poland Chopin
had left in a recollected childhood memory. The affecting Christmas carol, the simple
lullaby ‘Lulajże Jezuniu’ (Hush little Jesus), evokes absent family
love on Christmas Eve. The emotional response to this is the outpouring of a
moving lyrical melody. Cho was most successful here with a seductive, yearning
tone and emotional phrasing that emphasized the sense of personal loss and separation. Then he
spectacularly returned with the 'fraught, wild, incredible, demonic' mood until
the conclusion (although somewhat overdone in tempo and psychic 'possession').
A critic in the Gazette musicale de Paris wrote in 1835: ‘the
scherzo is of a completely new kind, and it seems to us that it offers, to a
high degree, the impression of the author’s intimate sensations’.
I quote from Tomaszewski who
describes the work far better than I ever could: 'When did this
piano 'thunderbolt' take place, this record of an explosion of emotion with
strength previously unheard of? When was the concept of the song born,
which seems to anticipate that Tolstoy's formula, circulated for a
well-constructed drama: start fortissimo and then just lead
the crescendo to the end?
Chopin wrote these measures at
the turn of 1830 and 1831 in Vienna, in an aura of overwhelming
loneliness, when he made a confession to one of his friends in Warsaw: "If
I could, I would move all the tones that would only arouse in me blind, furious
feelings..."? Or a few years later, in Paris, when in white gloves
and a brilliant mood , 'torn apart in all directions' - as he
confided to another of his friends - he entered aristocratic company, because
from there, as he wrote, 'good taste comes, and you appear to have more talent if the Duchess of Vandemont is supporting you
Scherzo in B-flat minor Op.31 (1835-1837)
Cho gave us a
dramatic, passionate, possibly over-intense rendering of tremendous technical
assurance and power. The Arcadian trio was a lyrical, idyllic and attractive cantabile
reading of fine tonal control and sentiment. Friedrich Niecks, the German
musical scholar and author, found the trio evocative of
the Mona Lisa’s thoughtfulness, a mood full of longing and
wondering.This gave us some respite
from the hurtling forward momentum of this explosion of romanticism.
see this scherzo as an increasingly dramatic narrative of historical Polish
suffering and nostalgic reflection, rather like a Ballade. This was
not readily apparent in this spectacularly pianistic, breathtakingly accurate,
high voltage account. The presence of an audience appears
to have begun to lead Cho occasionally into emotional extremes and rushed lack of
clarity, especially in scale passages. Tensions and relaxations need to be balanced. Much of the scherzo was played at such
a rapid tempo. This rather exaggerated choice did little for the listener attempting to
follow the evolving narrative through the inner polyphonic, contrapuntal
detail and emotive harmonic progressions. Listeners need time to decode
the music. Pianists over-familiar through hours of practice tend to forget listeners such as myself are in many ways amateurs, not as familiar with details as
they are as professionals. One needs to be given time to breathe and unravel
what the composer is saying.
Tomaszewski writes of this scherzo: 'The new style, all Chopin’s own, which
might be called a specifically Chopinian dynamic romanticism, not only revealed
itself, but established itself. It manifested itself à la Janus, with two
faces: the deep-felt lyricism of the Nocturnes Op.27 and the concentrated
drama of the Scherzo in B flat minor.'
thought about the work’s ecstatic lyricism, before concluding in a way
even more appropriate today in the age of recording: ‘Excessive
performance may have dimmed the brightness of this work, but should not blind
us to its merits as thrilling and convincing music.’
The young Alban Berg
This sonata represents a major
stylistic advance for Alban Berg. His earlier piano music reflected the
romantic harmonic sound palette of say Brahms, Schumann and Chopin. This sonata
breaks formerly untrodden ground for the composer, a new idiom
influenced by his revolutionary mentor Arnold Schoenberg. There are even traces
of Wagner in its unresolved harmonic suspensions.
Berg writes the work in traditional
sonata form. The single movement consists of an exposition that possesses two
contrasting themes, a development where the themes expand and a recapitulation
of restatement. The atonal language is deeply Schoenbergian. The sonata utilizes
a three-note motivic cell of the perfect fourth, augmented fourth and spanning
a major seventh. One can find such elements in the atonal music of Schoenberg,
Berg and Webern.
I found Cho's approach to this structurally demanding work extremely satisfying and idiomatic, possibly the best item in his recital. He
clearly intended us to dwell on the huge developmental musical ground traversed
by serial and atonal composition beyond the romantic. Cho sculpted this sound
abstraction with fine grace, refinement and tone colour. He announced the romantic/atonal
contrast of musical intention by joining the conclusion of this sonata to the
beginning of the Liszt B-minor Sonata. Was this connection successful ? Well it
was certainly interesting, unique but inescapably didactic. If you are acute in
observation, you will notice Berg was born one year before the death of Liszt.
Liszt in his atelier in Weimar
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Sonata in B minor S 178 (1853)
La Terra Trema - Luchino Visconti
Arnold Schoenberg wrote a
rarely-read excellent short essay entitled Franz Liszt - His Work
and Being published in the interesting collection of his
writings Style and Idea. In it he highlights aspects of Liszt:
'Normal men possess a
conviction; the great man is possessed by a faith.[...] he was in
contact with his instinctive life, was in touch with the primal source of his
personality, and so he possessed the capacity to believe.' (Faber and Faber,
London 1975, p. 442)
I feel these remarks express the
inner core of the sonata which to me has always been autobiographical, an
expression of the great opera of the life of Franz Liszt, from his conception
(the haunting minimalism of the opening) to his death (the celestial harmonies
of the conclusion). All the greatest pianists the world has seen have played this work. The
performance of this sonata is an extraordinarily bold and courageous choice for
any young pianist. It is the manner in
which Liszt is played that can be so misleading as to the quality of the music.
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’.
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) Liszt may
well have felt the presence these personalities imagined by Goethe lying within
his own sublimated psyche and life experience (Moran, 2020).
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,
in which a pianist opens this masterpiece tells you everything about
the conception that will evolve. The haunted repeated notes Cho produced
were eloquent but this dramatic impact of the 'overture' to the opera was
lessened I felt by connecting it to the conclusion of the Berg Sonata. A terrible battle lies in wait for pianists here - Krystian
Zimerman drove his recording engineers mad repeating the opening hundreds of
times before finally being satisfied. It is inevitable with a young artist
that virtuosity (physically getting around the fiendish notes of Liszt) emerges
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, and I felt Cho performed it as some type of hectic fantasy or
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 here would
impression did the pianist give me in terms of musical landscape? What did I give to him in terms of my own
imaginative musical visualization? He achieved extraordinary 'technical'
dominance of this monumental masterpiece without one wrong note. Astounding.
Cho gave at times an emotionally impassioned, sometimes
physically harsh and impulsive interpretation of extreme dynamic contrasts. However
this fiercely dramatic account of this formidable sonata was periodically lyrically
affecting and moving. His was a deeply romantic, theatrical and convincing individual view,
sometimes frighteningly intense, virtuosic and Gothic, but an approach which remained on
rather limited levels of philosophical comprehension.
His tone tended to become rather aggressive and crude in the more formidably
difficult fortissimo sections, but there was moving poetry and seductive
cantabile in the lento passages. The tremolo passages
glittered like ice crystals. The mighty Fugue was agitated but could have been
more polyphonically transparent and expressively noble in dimension. The pianissimo conclusion
of the work took us into a religious dimension beyond our secular world to readily conceive, a vision Liszt must have created in his own mind.
Where was the
smell of sulphur and the diabolical? Where the malevolence as Liszt examined
his troubled conscience? Reading Byronic literature of the period that reflects the
evolution of this remarkable life narrative, the biography of this great man, would
greatly enhance the pianistic vision through subtle stimulation of the musical
overwhelmingly impressive pianistically and 'technically', for me Cho could
have communicated a more integrated, expressive conception of this mighty
edifice. But this is just one individual's artistic judgment and what of others?
The audience gave the exhausted young man a standing ovation of great enthusiasm.
His encore was a calming and poetic rendering of the Liszt Consolation No.3 in D-flat
The Dworek Chopina and the Chopin Monument in Duzniki Zdroj (then known as Bad Reinerz in Silesia) circa 1897 Chopin statue in Havana, Cuba Biographical details of performers and their programmes are available here https://festival.pl/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Chopin-2020-eng.pdf Note These reviews are now complete. I also reviewed the extensive and demanding Chopin i jego Europa Festival (Chopin and his Europe Festival) 15-31 August 2020 Warsaw https://festiwal.nifc.pl/en Profile of the Reviewer Michael Moran https://en.gravatar.com/mjcmoran#pic-0 SATURDAY, 15 AUGUST CHOPIN MANOR 8:00 pm FINAL PIANO RECITAL KEVIN KENNER Kevin Kenner 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
'Chopin and His Europe’ Festival Warsaw, Poland 15-31 August 2020 Chopin and his Europe Festival Website https://festiwal.nifc.pl/en Programme and Programme Notes https://festiwal.nifc.pl/en/2020/kalendarium We regret to announce that due to the progress of the pandemic in North America, pianists Garrick Ohlsson and Charles Richard-Hamelin have been obliged to withdraw from the 16th Chopin and His Europe Festival. As the festival programme (link above) now has full and informative online background historical notes on the genesis of works to be performed by eminent musicologists, this aspect of my reviewing is no longer necessary. I shall restrict myself mainly to personal assessment of performances Profile of the Reviewer Michael Moran https://en.gravatar.com/mjcmoran#pic-0 The pandemic and seat distancing in the audience, all wearing masks of various hues and patterns, has created a rather melancholic although occasionally lighthearted vista of depriva
So late at night but enthusiasm has taken over tact. A few rough notes! I have been listening to the new Alexei Lubimov CD recorded on the 1843 Pleyel pianino Serial No: 10112 by that Polish genius of sound recording of Lech Dudzic and Gabriela Blicharz. The instrument was restored and donated to the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute in 2018 by the pianist Alex Szilasi. The notes on the instrument that accompany the disc are fascinating and written by the renowned Polish authority on period pianos, Benjamin Vogel. It is absolutely wonderful..... the sound of this instrument is intimate, varied in seductive sound coloration, a delicacy that touches the sensibility in an utterly unique manner. Pianissimo is barely there like wraith drifting across the room. The polyphony of the Bach is astonishingly beautiful and the fugal voices so clear and transparent. Ravishingly eloquent. The Barcarolle is remarkable as the instrument limits the dynamic range possible, avoiding the crazy e