76th International Chopin Festival in Duszniki-Zdrój, 6-14 August 2021

Statement on the 76th Festival by the Artistic Director 
Piotr Paleczny

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I again have the honour to welcome all the magnificent and steadfast friends of the Duszniki Festival.

Today we inaugurate the Chopin Festival for the 76th time. Unfortunately, we again meet in Duszniki in conditions that only vaguely remind what we have become accustomed to over all these years. Just like a year ago, the festival we’ve prepared was ridden with massive uncertainty, amongst the dynamic changes of the pandemic, extreme emotions, and concerns, but also the hope that we will perhaps succeed with what we have found a highly risky task, at times downright unfeasible.

I hope that after a range of the necessary corrections of the previous assumptions, the festival will finally follow its final plan.

I would like to apologise for all the inconveniences, hindrances, and surprising situations that may occur due to the continuing pandemic. All the limitations and the necessary restrictions should and will be respected to guarantee complete safety for the audience, artists, and organisers. We count on your understanding and fully determined cooperation!

Despite a plethora of problems, I can assure you that the festival concerts will, as usually, be long remembered. It has become a tradition of the festival to open it, in the years of Chopin Competition, with the winner of its previous round. This year we will host the magnificent Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho for the opening, and Eric Lu, another winner of the competition, who has recently added the 1st Prize at the exceedingly prestigious Leeds Piano Competition to the collection of his accolades, for the closing. After a few years’ absence, we will again welcome to Duszniki Alexander Kobrin, winner of the 3rd Prize of the 14th Chopin Competition, winner of the Van Cliburn, Busoni, and Hamamatsu competitions. Alexander Kobrin will also conduct the Master Classes at the festival with Professor Zbigniew Raubo.

On the 20th anniversary of death of the unforgettable Halina Czerny-Stefańska, we will witness a particularly emotional concert, and welcome her daughter, the dazzling harpsichordist, Elżbieta Stefańska, to the Chopin Manor.

The recitals of artists whose previous concerts in Duszniki we hold in our fond memories are highly likely to raise great interest. Antonio Pompa-Baldi, the Genova & Dimitrov duo, Martin James Bartlett, Nikita Mndoyants, and Daniel Ciobanu are the artists of the highest assay, performing in the most prestigious concert halls on all continents. There are also four artists coming to Duszniki-Zdrój for the first time. May I welcome this bevy of consummate pianists – Nicolas Namoradze, Sofia Gulyak, Shiori Kuwahara, and Maria Eydman – especially enthusiastically and warmly!

This year, the programme of our festival cannot fail to include Polish pianists, instilling hope in us before the approaching Chopin Competition. Keeping our fingers firmly crossed, let us wish them sincerely and eagerly all the success and artistic satisfaction this October.

Words of my sincere gratitude for assistance and kind-heartedness go to the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and Sport, and my special thanks to the steadfastly unfailing Polish Radio 2, which will broadcast the festival as it always has.

For the time of the festival, the Duszniki Spa Park will again turn into a grand and beautiful concert hall, resounding with the music that will reach the furthest corners of the world thanks to the live online streams by Bydgoszcz-based Ros Media. I’d like to thank all the sponsors of the festival, the authorities of the city and the region, and the media, whose kindness and professionalism let us run our artistic and organisational tasks.

I thank all of you from the depth of my heart, Ladies and Gentlemen, for the kind smile and for the countless proofs of trust and support that the organisers of the festival have encountered, particularly in this especially difficult time!

May you experience the very best of health and the most beautiful emotions!

Piotr Paleczny

Most concerts will be streamed online and many broadcast by 
Polish Radio 2 (Dwojka)

Current List of Performers and their Programmes 

6 August 2021


time. 20.00

Seong-Jin CHO
Opening Concert

August 7, 2021


time. 4 p.m.



Polish participants of the 18th Chopin Competition

time. 20.00




time. 4 p.m.



Polish participants of the 18th Chopin Competition

time. 20.00

Elżbieta STEFAŃSKA harpsichord

(on the 20th anniversary of Halina Czerny-Stefańska's death)



time. 4 p.m.



Polish participants of the 18th Chopin Competition

time. 20.00

Martin James BARTLETT



time. 4 p.m.

Alexander KOBRIN

time. 19.00

Opening of the exhibition of Wojciech Siudmak's drawings:

″ Nocturnes - Hommage a Chopin ″

(prepared by prof. Irena Poniatowska)

time. 22.00

NOKTURN - The host of the evening: Róża Światczyńska

August 11, 2021


time. 4 p.m.


time. 20.00


August 12, 2021


time. 11.00 a.m.

Concert of the participants of the 20th National Master Course for Pianists

time. 4 p.m.


time. 20.00


August 13, 2021


time. 11.00 a.m.

Concert of the participants of the 20th National Master Course for Pianists

time. 4 p.m.


time. 20.00


August 14, 2021


time. 12.00

Lecture by prof. Irena Poniatowska: ″ Chopin in poetry ″

time. 4:00 p.m.


time. 20:00

Eric LU

Final concert

XX National Master Course for Pianists in Duszniki-Zdrój
 (Master Class)

August 7-10, 2021 - prof. Zbigniew RAUBO
11-14.08.2021 - prof. Alexander KOBRIN

Recital Reviews

Profile of the Reviewer Michael Moran : https://en.gravatar.c atom/mjcmoran#pic-0 

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I was unfortunately unable to attend the final recital by Eric Lu

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qH3a7atTVEY

Saturday August 14, 2021 4:00 p.m.


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) /Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924)

Chaconne from II Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin (BWV 1004) (1720)

You may read concerning the background to this work below, so I shall not repeat myself.

I found Gulyak's performance contained nobility of spirit, great pianistic authority and formidable command of the keyboard. This was an highly accomplished reading of this demanding work. However, if one considers the tragic inspiration of the original Bach Chaconne, I felt I needed something more spiritual, a deeper penetration of the melancholy which immures the work could have spoken more directly to my heart of a possibly more universal human grief in the face of the ultimate reality of death.  Certainly Busoni transforms, even inflates, the expressed emotion of Bach out of the baroque emotional universe into the world of a more personal romanticism and sense of tragic loss of a loved one.  

The American musicologist Dr. Michael Markham perceptively observes in an essay:

'There is no evidence that Bach himself considered the chaconne to encode an entire vista of the universe or to sound out his own emotional depths. Such Romantic notions would never have occurred to a court composer who had trained in the late 1600s as a Lutheran town organist. Creating art then and there was not an act of personal expression but one of civic or religious service. Of course emotions could be depicted and messages delivered. But musicians of Bach’s generation did not need to feel an emotion in order to depict it. It was the next generation, beginning with Bach’s own son Carl Philipp Emanuel, who began to demand that a musician express emotions in a way we would call ‘authentic’.'

Johannes Brahms (whose deeply moving, personal Romantic works follow this piece), wrote of the original Bach violin work in a letter to Clara Schumann:

'On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind. If one doesn’t have the greatest violinist around, then it is well the most beautiful pleasure to simply listen to its sound in one’s mind.'

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)

Six Pieces for Piano Op. 118 (1893)

No. 1 Intermezzo in A minor

No. 2 Intermezzo in A major

No. 3 Ballad in G minor

No. 6 Intermezzo in E flat minor

Brahms in his library 1895

Johannes Brahms (whose deeply moving, personal Romantic works follow this piece), wrote of the original Bach violin work in a letter to Clara Schumann:

'On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind. If one doesn’t have the greatest violinist around, then it is well the most beautiful pleasure to simply listen to its sound in one’s mind.'

The autumnal Brahms 6 Klavierstücke Op. 118 (1893) have always been close to my heart. In a letter to the conductor and composer Franz Lachner Brahms wrote (concerning the 1st Movement of the Second Symphony): 'I am, by and by, a severely melancholic person …black wings are constantly flapping above us'.

These are among the last compositions by Brahms and he seems to have conceived them as a coherent whole. It is hard to overlook the presence of the spectre of death that inhabits them. The group speaks volumes to me of the transient nature of human existence, but more of a proud philosophical resignation to the inevitability of destiny than a sensationalist expression of terror, despair and melancholy in the face of our mysterious journey to oblivion.

The passionate outbursts of the first Intermezzo in A minor, such an affirmation of life in those rich chords, then the fading away and decay. The second Intermezzo in A major marked Andante teneramente was played with deep feeling and sense of yearning. This ardent work, impossible for any musician  to perform superficially, has all the rhapsodic yearning and longing of a nocturne on the nature of mortality and lost or fading love.

Brahms wrote to Clara:

Jan 25, 1855: Most Honored Lady, I can do nothing but think of you . . . what have you done to me? Can’t you remove the spell you have cast over me?

June, 1855: My dearly Beloved Clara, I can no longer exist without you . . . please go on loving me as I shall go on loving you, always and forever.

There is an almost vengeful affirmation of life contained within the Ballade in G minor with its vigorous rhythms and a wonderful delineation of densely woven harmonies.

The valedictory final piece of this integrated meditation on the acceptance of destiny and fate, the Intermezzo in E-flat minor, begins with the theme of the Dies Irae of the Christian requiem. The spectre of death enters and recurs in the work in various guises. Here we begin to inhabit another world far beyond this one. A strenuous, heroic yet tragic averral of the force of life briefly emerges but the terminal expression of resignation in death concludes pianissimo.

Clara Schumann wrote in her diary after receiving the pieces Op. 118 and Op. 119

'It really is marvelous how things pour from him; it is wonderful how he combines passion and tenderness in the smallest of spaces.

                                       Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

Variations in B flat major on a theme from Ludovic by Hérold/Halévy

(“Je vends des scapulaires”) Op. 12 (1833)

Ferdinand Hérold (1791-1833)

In May 1833, the Opéra Comique in Paris presented the premiere of Ludovic, the last opera by Ferdinand Hérold (1791-1833). This unfinished opera was completed by Fromental Halévy (1799-1862) and is rather simple and charming with pleasant melodies. Chopin, an opera connoisseur, attended this premiere. Ludovic was rather a flop apart from one of the ariettas or cavatinas ‘Je vends des scapulaires’ (‘I sell scapulars’). Chopin wrote some variations on that cavatina. Rather like Hérold’s opera, Chopin's style brillante piece did not attract lasting attention.

Fromental Halévy (1799-1862)

The work is rarely performed today. In the opinion of Schumann, compared with the composer’s other works it does not justify a note. James Huneker considered the Op. 12 Variations ‘the weakest of Chopin’s muse’, describing it as ‘Chopin and water, and Gallic eau sucrée at that’. Yet there are defenders. The Polish historian of music, composer and professor at the Jagiellonian University, Zdzisław Jachimecki (1882-1953), even found places in it that anticipated the harmonic revolution within Wagner’s Tristan. The German-Jewish musicologist Hugo Leichtentritt (1874-1951) liked what he called the ‘languid dolcissimo’ of the last variation, that he felt led towards Impressionism. There is no disagreement that this composition is, as the Polish historian Ferdynand Hoesick (1867-1941) excellently described it, as ‘thoroughly distingué and salon’.

With her brilliant digital facility and refined touch in addition to an ear for scintillating tone and sound, Gulyak gave an entertaining and delightfully charming account of the work in a true style brillante rendition of transparent clarity and delight. 


César Franck (1822–1890)

Prelude, Fugue and Variations in B minor Op. 18 (1860–1862)

Prélude. Andantino


Fugue. Allegretto ma non troppo

Variation. Andantino

Rennes Cathedral, Ille-et-Vilaine, Bretagne, France. Cavaillé-Coll organ dating from 1874, totally rebuilt by Haerpfer-Erman in 1970. Instrument with 4 manual keyboards, 67 registers and 4953 pipes.

In an usual choice, Gulyak selected an organ work to perform on the piano. The Prelude, Fugue, and Variation Op. 18, originally for organ, was dedicated to the composer Camille Saint-Saëns, who was also an organist among his many music accomplishments.

During the second half of the 19th century, the geographical influence of music written for organ moved from Germany to France under the tutelage of the organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. He built some 5000 organs replete with many technical advances. His instruments inspired the  Belgian composer César Franck (1822-1890) who was the organist at churches that featured Cavaillé-Coll organs, even representing the company artistically. In 1858 he was appointed organist at the basilica of St. Clotilde in Paris with its outstanding Cavaillé-Coll instrument.

Franck loved to improvise, was highly popular in this activity. He even wrote some of his improvisations down and  published them as his Six pièces pour Grand Orgue.  This work is the third of these pieces that so deeply influenced the French organ school.

Gulyak's performance of this rarely heard Romantic work in a concert room on the piano was an attractive and moving example of balance, polyphonic transparency and clarity. 

Richard Wagner (1813–1883) / Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

Tristan und Isolde – Liebestod WWV 90 (1859)

Rogelio de Egusquiza (1845-1915) Tristan and Iseult (1910)

One must never forget the constraints of instruments that brought about such transcriptions and the extraordinary service the selfless Liszt performed for keyboard players in the nineteenth century who were without ready access to an organ or the services of an orchestra. We are indeed richly endowed today and tend to forget this when maligning the great Ferenc for his generous transcriptions of everything under the sun.

This was a fine, musical performance but on the level of the psyche, embracing the fulfillment or 'peaceful release' offered by death, carried unresistant on the cresting wave of metaphysical and passionate love, then I felt this dimension escaped Gulyak. Was she possibly innocent of the lacerations and joys of love inflicted by the tigers of experience? Highly unlikely. However, the building of the erotic curve in a smooth, sensually rising line to the orgasmic climacteric, the apotheosis of the metaphysical symbiosis of love/death that Wagner embraces, is a tremendously demanding pianistic task to express, to discipline and to communicate effectively. 

Wagner's debt to the harmonic adventurism of Liszt, the Tristan chord, is never in doubt to my mind. The work is a musical and personal challenge to depict this merging of the lovers in death, situated predominantly and 'deep darkly' in the mind of Wagner. An excellent performance nevertheless.

Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)

La Valse M 72 (1919–1920)


Dance in the public ballroom of the Imperial Palace, Vienna. Watercolor by Wilhelm Gause, 1900. Emperor Francis Joseph is on the far right

Diaghilev had requested a four-hand reduction of the original orchestral score. Reports say that Stravinsky when he heard Ravel perform this with Marcelle Meyer in this version, he quietly left the room without a word so amazed was he. Ravel however would not admit to the work being an expression of the profound disillusionment in Europe following the immeasurable human losses and cruel maiming of the Great War. However one must recall in Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus that the composer Adrian Leverkühn, although isolated from the clamour and destruction of the cannons of war, composed the most profound expression of it in his composition Apocalypsis cum Figuris by a type of metaphysical osmosis. Ravel’s note to the score gives one an insight to his intentions:

 'Through rifts in swirling clouds, couples are glimpsed waltzing. As the clouds disperse little by little, one sees an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene becomes progressively brighter. The light from chandeliers bursts forth at fortissimo (letter B in the score). An Imperial Court, around 1855.'

Ravel described his composition as a ‘whirl of destiny’ – his concept was that the work impressionistically begins with clouds that slowly disperse to reveal a whiling crowd of dancers in the Imperial Court of Vienna in 1855. The Houston Symphony Orchestra programme note for the orchestral version performed in 2018 poses the question: Is this a Dance of Death or Delight ? I feel the question encapsulates perfectly the ambiguity inherent in this disturbing work. A composer can sometimes be a barometer that unconsciously registers the movements of history.

An excellent performance of this magnificent work, for me just lacking the final feeling of abandoned, perhaps even insidious excitement that accompanies premonitions of disaster.

Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pVBMgqIFhU

Friday August 13, 2021 20.00


I remember so well the highly entertaining programme this duo presented at Duszniki in August 2015. On that occasion I wrote:

They opened their programme with the Chopin Rondo in C major Op. posth. for two pianos. This is a delightful and charming styl brillant piece to which they did full justice.

Then onto the Romantic music of the Russian composer, pianist and professor Anton Arensky (1861-1906). We heard the Suite No.3 Op.33, Variations for two pianos. I would highlight the charming and elegant Variation 4 Valse; Variation 5 Menuet rather like a children's music box; Variation 6 Gavotte - a childlike, innocent piece in the baroque style; Variation 7 Scherzo - a true joke quite unlike a darkly dramatic Chopin Scherzo;Variation 9 Nocturne a gentle and elegiac piece that followed Variation 8 Marche Funebre. An absolute pleasure.

After the interval the Grieg Peer Gynt Suite Op.46 for piano and four hands. Anitra's Dance was especially memorable for the terrific rhythmic impetus.

The Borodin Polovtsian Dances from the opera Prince Igor arranged for two pianos by Victor Babin was absolutely splendid outpouring of physical energy and bubbling joy.

Finally the Liszt Reminiscences de Norma de Bellini arranged for two pianos. Of course Liszt performed  a marvelous service with such works. Without the record industry as we know it, music lovers would only be likely to hear the opera perhaps once in their lives if at all. Providing piano versions and transcriptions of such works Liszt with infinite labour provided pianists and the domestic environment with opportunities of endless hours of uplifting delight. I must say I found this work rather overblown for my taste verging on the humourous at some of the wonderfully excessive Lisztian moments.

The Rachmaninoff programme they designed on this occasion reflected significant thought. The first half of the recital was devoted to works written or transcribed for four hands by the youthful composer. The second half was entirely devoted to his final major work for the piano written for four hands.

”Rachmaninoff Happening”

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)

Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1892 at the age of 19

The Rock, Tone poem, Op. 7, for piano four hands (1893)

This work is a fantasia or symphonic poem for orchestra written by Rachmaninoff in the summer of 1893 and dedicated to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. It is an atmospheric work, inspired by Russian literature, specifically two lines by the poet Lermontov. Despite having been composed during Rachmaninoff’s young years, The Rock already shows a large spectrum of the Russian composer’s musical sensitivity and ability to depict highly dramatic narratives.

It is easy to underestimate in our time of social media, an era of short texts and even shorter attention spans, the profound influence of poetry and novels on nineteenth century composers. Poetry was regarded by some as a higher art than music. This was not the case in this highly poetic and allusive performance.

Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841)  

The Rock

 A gold cloud rested the whole night

Upon the breast of a huge rock;

And cheerfully at dawn it dashed

Into the blue not to come back


Wet traces in the crevices

Of ancient stone like tears remained;

And deep in thought alone it stands

And weeps into the distant void.

 (trans. Don Mager)                                                            

This poem also inspired Anton Chekhov to write his short story On the Road that depicts an older man staying at an inn where he meets a younger woman. He tells her about all the tragedies that affected his long life. A blizzard rages outside. Using the imagery of Chekhov and Lermontov, Rachmaninoff created this atmospheric work.

A Troika in a Blizzard (1881)

Nikolai Sverchkov (1817-1898) was a Russian painter who focused on outdoor scenes, mostly in winter. 

From Anton Chekov On the Road

'Outside a storm was raging. Something frantic and wrathful, but profoundly unhappy, seemed to be flinging itself about the tavern with the ferocity of a wild beast and trying to break in. Banging at the doors, knocking at the windows and on the roof, scratching at the walls, it alternately threatened and besought, then subsided for a brief interval, and then with a gleeful, treacherous howl burst into the chimney, but the wood flared up, and the fire, like a chained dog, flew wrathfully to meet its foe, a battle began, and after it -- sobs, shrieks, howls of wrath. In all of this there was the sound of angry misery and unsatisfied hate, and the mortified impatience of something accustomed to triumph.'

Rachmaninoff introduces a theme that is a metaphor for the desire connecting the two characters during the night. In the morning the woman leaves the inn and we are left with this dark theme, which we can identify with solitude and sorrow.

'"Well, God help you," muttered Liharev, tucking her into the sledge. "Don't remember evil against me . . . ."

She was silent. When the sledge started, and had to go round a huge snowdrift, she looked back at Liharev with an expression as though she wanted to say something to him. He ran up to her, but she did not say a word to him, she only looked at him through her long eyelashes with little specks of snow on them.

Whether his finely intuitive soul were really able to read that look, or whether his imagination deceived him, it suddenly began to seem to him that with another touch or two that girl would have forgiven him his failures, his age, his desolate position, and would have followed him without question or reasonings. He stood a long while as though rooted to the spot, gazing at the tracks left by the sledge runners. The snowflakes greedily settled on his hair, his beard, his shoulders. . . . Soon the track of the runners had vanished, and he himself covered with snow, began to look like a white rock, but still his eyes kept seeking something in the clouds of snow.'

Six Morceaux Op. 11, for piano four hands (1893–1894)

Composed in 1894, the Six Morceaux Op. 11 for piano four-hands is a fine composition following Rachmaninoff’s youthful studies at the Moscow Conservatory.

This highly entertaining work was performed with enormous panache and style by the duo.

The opening Barcarolle is dark and mysterious, its gently rocking rhythms depicting a gondolier navigating the Venetian canals beneath a moonlit sky. Eloquently performed.

The Scherzo is vivacious and brilliant composition with irresistible rhythm. This was brought off with intense authority and elan.

The Chanson Russe is a set of variations on an unknown folk song. A terrific idiomatic Russian piece to my mind whose essence the duo had no trouble in capturing! The duo have a formidable control over the tonal balance, coherence and co-ordination. 

 The Valse is reminiscent of Chopin but not really as graceful and elegant a waltz rhythm as our Polish composer in its combination of different waltz tunes 

 The Romance is passionate and expressive with an atmosphere of dark, mahogany grief. 

Finally the highly familiar Slava! (Glory). This is a set of variations based on a Russian chant used by Mussorgsky in Boris Godunov. A triumphal conclusion by the duo to this highly entertaining set of pieces.


Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)

Symphonic Dances Op. 45, for 2 pianos (1940)

Non Allegro

Andante con moto. (Tempo di valse)

Lento assai – Allegro vivace

Rachmaninoff wrote his last major work, the Symphonic Dances, on vacation at his Long Island summer house in the summer and autumn of 1940.

The first movement Non Allegro is built upon a traditional sonata form and muscular, sometimes whimsical themes but infused with Rachmaninoff’s unique and particularly soulful nostalgia. Genova and Dimitrov are strikingly symbiotic in their interpretation of music for four hands or two pianos and play as if they had become one reactive and expressive organism. Listening to them is an uncanny experience to say the least.

The second movement Andante con moto. (Tempo di valse) is an extended waltz, although the Viennese 3/4 waltz rhythm is notably absent. The music reflects shadows of regret and painful melancholic memories.

The final movement Lento assai – Allegro vivace is rather percussive and tremendously stimulating. Some sections are derived from Spanish dances such as the jota and the seguidilla. The chromatic middle section is nostalgic and poignant. The Dies irae chant from the Gregorian Requiem Mass makes an appearance emphasising that disillusion and death are always lurking and haunting the musical shadows of this Russian composer. Rachmaninoff first used this lugubrious chant in the First Symphony of 1895. In a sudden access of almost forced optimism he introduces a new motif in the coda marked 'Alliluya' to end the work on a brilliant note.

This was a scintillating and atmospheric performance of this demanding work.

Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1940, the year of the Symphonic Dances

Their first encore was an exciting performance of an arrangement for four hands and two pianos of the famous Rachmaninoff Prelude in C-sharp minor Op.3 No:2

Their second encore was the rather touching and romantic Romance in G major for four hands on one piano also by Rachmaninoff. Surely chosen to reflect certainly their musical and perhaps personal intimacy too!

A deeply satisfying recital on every musical level.

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8E-nPU8XVQ4

Friday August 13, 2021 4 p.m.


This was without doubt the most impressive, riveting and startling recitals of the entire Duszniki Festival so far this year. Magnificent musicianship and pianistic command. 

A formidable Japanese pianist unlike any other I have ever heard. An individual voice.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

Piano sonata in A flat major Op. 110 (1821)

Moderato cantabile molto espressivo

Allegro molto

Adagio ma non troppo

Arioso dolente

Fuga. Allegro ma non troppo

Moonlight Landscape (before 1808) Caspar David Friedrich
(The Morgan Library&Museum, New York) 

The painter should not paint merely what he sees in front of him, but also what he sees within himself. If he sees nothing within, he should not paint what he sees before him. 
Caspar David Friedrich

The great musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen (sadly no longer with us) in his book on the Beethoven piano sonatas notes that Beethoven in this work does not ‘simply represent the return to life, but persuades us physically of the process.’ The work is an ambitious choice to open a recital for any young spirit, although here we have a mature pianist. There was deep maturity in this interpretation which was evident to me from her very first notes.

Kuwahara gave the opening Moderato cantabile molto espressivo the nature of a contemplative   consideration of a tumultuous life with gathering shadows of depression. Such feelings are common during the travails of serious illness.She began with a pleasant, rather blithe, observance of the instruction con amabilità. Donald Tovey compared the artful melodic simplicity of the development with the entasis of the Parthenon's columns. Structurally adventurous, its features scarcely resemble those of any of his previous sonata movements. Musicologists have called the following Allegro molto robust and humorous but is this truly so? The movement is supposedly based on popular songs of which Beethoven was not particularly fond: 'Our cat has just had kittens' and even more typically Beethovinian and roughly hewn 'I'm dissolute, you're dissolute'.

His extreme temperament passes rather dramatically into yet another phase in this 'Anatomy of Melancholy' in the Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro ma non troppo. Composed in 1821, it becomes clear as it progresses that this sonata is the most personally reflective of the Beethoven sonatas. He was by this time profoundly deaf and was communicating using the depressing conversation books. It is well to remember a passage from the Heiligenstadt Testament of 1802:

My misfortune is doubly painful to me because I am bound to be misunderstood; for me there can be no relaxation with my fellow men, no refined conversations, no mutual exchange of ideas. I must live almost alone, like one who has been banished; I can mix with society only as much as true necessity demands. If I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me, and I fear being exposed to the danger that my condition might be noticed. Thus it has been during the last six months which I have spent in the country. By ordering me to spare my hearing as much as possible, my intelligent doctor almost fell in with my own present frame of mind, though sometimes I ran counter to it by yielding to my desire for companionship. But what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone standing next to me heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life - it was only my art that held me back. (A passage from the Heiligenstadt Testament © Translation John V. Gilbert)

There is such pain and exhaustion here. The composer was recovering from the debilitation of a crippling illness and the great human attempt to rise above it, resistance heroism in a word. This movement is one of Beethoven’s most anguished and embattled utterances. The third movement's structure alternates two slow arioso sections with two faster fugues. In Alfred Brendel's analysis, there are six sections – recitative, arioso, first fugue, arioso, fugue inversion, homophonic conclusion. In contrast, Martin Cooper describes the structure as a 'double movement' (an Adagio and a Finale). The arioso is marked Klagender Gesang (Song of Lamentation).

The initial Fugue is by driven an existential anger that Kuwahara made impressively expressive and anguished. Yet this fugue is irresolute and unfinished in its impetus. The second fugue emerges after a second arioso (rare in instrumental music except Bach). Donald Tovey describes the broken rhythm of this second arioso as being 'through sobs'. The subject of the second fugue is that of the first inverted, marked wieder auflebend (again reviving) and poi a poi di nuovo vivente (little by little with renewed vigour – written in the traditional Italian). A painful return to life is evolving and grows irresistibly in strength.

The emotions remain raw and conflicted. Here was a man as well as composer of genius who cared little for the state of his pianos (food left inside, full chamber pots underneath, legs sawn off) sacrificing all physical comfort and luxury to his cosmic spiritual conceptions, even overlooking the difficulties executants may have had to face performing his music.

A splendid and satisfying idiomatic performance of Beethoven, quite unlike any Japanese pianist I have previously encountered.

Ferenc Liszt (1811-1886)

Sonata in B minor S.178 (1852–53)

We had all expected Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy when the ominous opening G octaves sotto voce instantly announced the Liszt B minor Sonata. This was a superbly dramatic imagined conceit by Kuwahara, as the Schubert Fantasy had deeply influenced the form of the sonata. Talk about spontaneity! Liszt not only introduced the Wanderer Fantasy to the public, but also transcribed it for piano and orchestra in 1851, shortly before writing his sonata. He also transcribed for piano solo the song on which Schubert based his Fantasy. 

This famous Sonata was published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1854 and first performed on January 27, 1857 in Berlin by Hans von Bülow. It was attacked by the German Bohemian music critic Eduard Hanslick who said rather colourfully ‘anyone who has heard it and finds it beautiful is beyond help’. Among the many divergent theories of  the meaning of this masterpiece we find that perhaps:

The Sonata is a musical portrait of the Faust legend, with 'Faust,' 'Gretchen,' and 'Mephistopheles' themes symbolizing the main characters. (Ott, 1981; Whitelaw, 2017)

  • The Sonata is spiritually autobiographical; its musical contrasts spring from the conflicts within Liszt’s own personality. (Raabe, 1931)
  • The Sonata is about the divine and the diabolical; it is based on the Bible and on John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Szász, 1984)
  • The Sonata is an allegory set in the Garden of Eden; it deals with the Fall of Man and contains 'God,' 'Lucifer,' 'Serpent,' 'Adam,' and 'Eve' themes. (Merrick, 1987)
  • The Sonata has no programmatic allusions; it is a piece of expressive form with no meaning beyond itself. (Winklhofer, 1980)
  • Could Liszt have been inspired by the words of the the poem by Schmidt von Lübeck that inspired Schubert to write his song and the Fantasy? Perhaps the sonata is a variety of programme music, a genre which always appealed to Liszt the spiritually isolated  'Wanderer'. A man who was not only a theatrical virtuoso pianist but within a solitary religious man, a composer-explorer and creator of new harmonic worlds. 
Faust-Mephisto Salvador Dali etching 1969

The manner in which a pianist opens this masterpiece tells you everything about the conception that will evolve. The haunted repeated notes Pietraszak produced  were of an eloquent duration (a terrible battle lies in wait for pianists here - Krystian Zimerman drove his recording engineers mad repeating it hundreds of times before finally being satisfied). Her duration and dynamic boded well for the outcome of the sonata. She created from the outset an atmosphere of ominous presentiment and premonition, a kernel seed from which the sonata would organically flower.

What did Kuwahara have to say about this work ? This is a profound piece, too often played as some type of hectic fantasy or impassioned dream fantasy, although that was not the case here.

The sonata is actually in many respects a philosophical dialogue between different fundamental aspects of the human spirit as symbolized by Faust, Mephistopheles and Gretchen. Liszt was tremendously influenced by literature and poetry in his compositions and in particular Goethe’s Faust, the dramatic spiritual battle between Faust and Mephistopheles with Gretchen hovering about as a seductive, lyrical feminine interlude. And the whole is a highly complex musical and structural argument.

Kuwahara gave an emotionally moving, impassioned, idiomatic and dramatic account of this formidable sonata with complete command of the keyboard in addition to penetrating musicality. A great opera of life unfolded under her fingers. Her silences were perfectly judged to touch the nervous system with haunting phrasing that encompassed the tragic Romantic temperament in its concentrated essence. The mighty Fugue was polyphonically transparent and noble in dimension and tempo.

I experienced the smell of sulphur and the diabolical in this performance. Religiosity, passion, hell, introspection, love - an entire man's life held up to inspection and then the quite heavenly conclusion. Her pianissimo was ravishing. I imagined angels carrying the soul aloft into the ether. Her approach to Liszt surely indicated a reading or at least deep awareness of the of the Byronic literature of the period that reflected the fraught evolution of this remarkable life narrative.

Kuwahara communicated a magnificently well-integrated conception of this mighty edifice. One of the finest performances I have heard and I repeat, a splendid monumental interpretation quite unlike any Japanese pianist I have previously encountered.

An instant standing ovation. A rare occurrence at Duszniki especially before the intermission.


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) / Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924)

Chaconne from Partita No. 2 for solo violin in D minor BWV 1004 (1720)

It is a well known fact that in his writing for the pianoforte Busoni shows an inexhaustible resource of color effect.... This preoccupation with color effects on the pianoforte began to make itself evident after Busoni had began to devote himself to the serious study of Liszt, but it remained to dominate his mind up to the end of his life. 

              [Edward J. Dent, Ferruccio Busoni. A biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), pp. 145-146]

I have always liked this work transcribed by Busoni 1891-2. Bach occupied and inspired the composer for his entire life. 'Bach is the foundation of pianoforte playing,' he wrote, 'Liszt the summit. The two make Beethoven possible.' It is not surprising then that the grandeur, invention and monumentality of the Chaconne from this Partita attracted his imaginative mind. Bach himself, he notes, was a prolific arranger of his own music and that of other composers. 

'Notation is itself the transcription of an abstract idea. The moment the pen takes possession of it the thought loses its original form.'

Bach had composed it after learning in 1720 of the death of his beloved wife Maria Barbara, the mother of his first seven children. Bach had been in Karlsbad with his patron, the highly musical Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. When Bach returned to Cöthen after three months he discovered his young wife of 35, who was in excellent health when he departed, had died during his absence and even worse, been buried. His grief-stricken response resulted in this composition for violin full of pain, suffering and melancholic nostalgia, even anger, at the indiscriminate nature of destiny.  

Kuwahara opened the work with the greatest nobility of utterance and poise. Sheer virtuosity did not tempt her as it might have many lesser pianists. Busoni was as concerned with degrees of expressiveness as any Romantic composer. 

The transparent polyphony of the twenty-nine variations of the work was impressive. Her pedalling was superbly artful which gave intense colours within the soundscape. The melodic lines and the weight and significance of chords was always in grand aesthetic conception. Much of the music was intended to reflect the sound of a magnificent seventeenth century Thuringian organ and its 16' stop which she accomplished. Kuwahara gave the work a noble and triumphal concluding resolution and completion. 

I felt I had nothing left to say after this authoritative and imposing performance.  

A rare picture of Ferrucio Busoni playing a pedal harpsichord with a 16' stop, possibly an inspiration  for his Bach organ transcriptions that naturally were transformed into something  highly pianistic.

Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924)

Elegies: No. 7 “Lullaby” (1909)

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

Petrushka K 12 (1910–1911)

Russian dance

Petrushka’s Room

The Shrovetide Fair

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

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

The Shrove-Tide Fair set design by Alexandre Benois
Scene I

1. The Shrove-Tide Fair 2. Russian Dance

Scene II

3. Petrushka

Scene III

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

Scene IV

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

In 1921, Stravinsky transcribed a piano arrangement for Arthur Rubinstein entitled Trois mouvements de Petrouchka. This three movement piano work has recently particularly become popular among young pianists. I must confess I am personally not so fond of this work and tire of the unyielding dynamics within his arrangement. How is one to conceive of this piece expressively with poetry? However, this does no alter one jot my appreciation of this spectacular performance.

Kuwahara gave an energetic, exuberant, enthusiastic and overwhelmingly powerful account of great virtuosity and communicative power. 'Youth! Ah the joy of it!' as Joseph Conrad once said.  The audience was simply dumbfounded by this account - the scintillating articulation, rhythmic excitement, colour and penetrating yet never crude tonal dynamics. Another standing ovation ensued. Do watch the Youtube link once again.

As I said at the beginning of this review, this was without doubt the most impressive, riveting and startling recital of the entire Duszniki Festival so far this year. A display of magnificent musicianship and pianistic command. A formidable Japanese pianist like no other I have ever heard. A true discovery.

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMNVJFZmsiI

Thursday August 12, 2021 20.00


Robert Schumann (1810–1856)

Kreisleriana Op. 16 (1838)

Äusserst bewegt

Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch

Sehr aufgeregt

Sehr langsam

Sehr lebhaft

Sehr langsam

Sehr rasch

Schnell und spielend

Ciobanu opened his recital with one of my favourite works of romantic piano literature Kreisleriana Op. 16 by Robert Schumann. Please excuse me if you have read this introduction before but I can see no point in endlessly recasting established history.

Madness or insanity was a notion that throughout the composer's time on earth, simultaneously attracted and repelled Schumann. At the end of his life he was cruelly to fall victim to it. Kriesleriana was presented publicly as eight sketches of the fictional character Kapellmeister Kreisler, a rather crazy conductor-composer who was a literary figure created by the marvellous German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffman. The piece is actually based on the Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier and also the form of an inventive grotesque satirical novel Hoffmann wrote with the remarkable, translated title: Growler the Cat’s Philosophy of Life Together with Fragments of the Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler from Random Sheets of the Printer’s Waste. 

The fictional author of this novel, Kater Murr (Growler the Cat), is actually a caricature of the German petit bourgeois class. In a theme rather appropriate in our times of gross financial inequalities, Growler advises the reader how to become a ‘fat cat’. This advice is interrupted by fragments of Kreisler’s impassioned biography. The bizarre explanation for this is that Growler tore up a copy of Kreisler’s biography to use as rough note paper. When he sent the manuscript of his own book to the printers, the two got inexplicably mixed up when the book was published. Such devices remind one of Laurence Sterne in that great experimental novel Tristram Shandy.

С 28 апреля по 23 мая: Выставка «Кот Мурр – источник вдохновения» |  TVOYBRO.COM

Schumann was particularly fond of Kreisleriana. He was attracted to composing works in ‘fragmented’ form in the structural manner of this Sterne novel. The use of the device of interrelated ‘fragments’ (as the nineteenth century termed what we might refer to as 'miniatures') was employed by the Romantic Movement in poetry, prose and music. 

Kreisler is a type of Doppelgänger for Schumann. This was a favourite concept for the composer, who divided his own creative personality between the created characters of Florestan and Eusebius. With the unpredictable Kreisler as his alter ego, Schumann was able to indulge the dualities of his own personality. The music swings violently and suddenly between agitation (Florestan) and lyrical calm (Eusebius), between dread and elation. The episodes in the piece describe Schumann's emotional passions, his divided personality and his creative art. His tortured soul alternates with lyrical love passages expressing the composer’s love for Clara Wieck. He used and transformed one of her musical themes in the work. 

1838 was a disturbed time for Schumann. His marriage to this 'inaccessible love', the piano virtuoso Clara Wieck, was a year ahead. At this time they were painfully petitioning the courts for permission to marry and ignore her father's cruel social class objections to the connection. They had known each other for ten years before their eventual marriage in 1840. During this turbulent period of frustration, Schumann’s compositions evolved in complexity. Their unbridled emotionalism and adventurous structure confused musicians, audience and critics alike.

He originally intended to dedicate the work to Clara, but wishing to avoid more calamitous situations with her father he eventually dedicated it to his friend Fryderyk Chopin. The polyphonic nature of the piece may have reflected a deep understanding of Chopin's own polyphonic style. The Polish composer merely commented on the cover design of the score left on his piano. Even Clara, on first acquaintance with the work, wrote: 'Sometimes your music actually frightens me, and I wonder: is it really true that the creator of such things is going to be my husband?' Even Franz Liszt was challenged finding the work 'too difficult for the public to digest.'

This great masterpiece  of emotional and structural complexity, expresses much of the quixotic mercurial temperament of Schumann's personality and the literary elements of the story. The French literary theorist and Schumann-lover Roland Barthes interestingly observed that Schumann composed music in discrete, intense 'images' rather than as an evolving musical 'language', like a succession of frames in a film. The composer was experimenting with the timbre of piano sound. Without wishing to appear a 'crank', I feel it necessary to say that on a piano of Schumann's period (he loved Clara's Viennese Conrad Graf of 1838) the varied colours, timbre and textures of the different registers suited the contrapuntal nature of composition. This would have been rather more obvious on the older instrument than on the modern, homogenized Steinway.

I felt Ciobanu oddly 'off-form' in this work. He produced an ardent cantabile tone, true love poems with some very sensitive, lyrical and nuanced moments. However, I felt the contrast of the two sides of Schumann's Doppelgänger nature was not sufficiently integrated.  Such a temperamental and capricious work by Schumann (and the bizarre background story by E.T.A.Hoffmann) is immensely difficult to present with conviction and lucidity. I felt this unpredictable, spontaneous, quick-silver moody aspect of the composer escaped Ciobanu rather.  The energetic, fragmented driving, almost pathological qualities of Florestan were not coherently organic with his feeling for the lyrical Eusebius qualities of the piece. These matters are  a delicate question of balance in this challenging work.


Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

Scherzo in B flat minor Op. 31 (1836–1837)

The opening repeated triplet group gives a perfect indication of the pianist's conception of this popular work.

 This apparently so simple phrase could never be played to Chopin's satisfaction. 'It must be a question.' taught Chopin; and it was never played questioningly enough, never soft enough, never round enough (tombé), as he said, never sufficiently weighted (important). 'It must be the house of the dead,' he once said [...in his lessons] I saw Chopin dwell at length on this bar and at each of its reappearances. 'That's 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.' (Russian writer Wilhelm von Lenz 1809-1883).

I felt that Ciobanu failed to understand the existential significance of the key triplet figure which gives such gravity and the atmosphere of darker philosophical intent to the entire work that develops. I felt we did not receive a sufficiently threatening and ominous vision of this much maligned and often performed  work, known informally and possibly pejoratively as the 'governess scherzo' (every musically accomplished governess of aristocratic children played it).

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

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

Dan Dediu (b. 1967)

Les barricades mysterieuses (ed. 2006)

I was unfamilar with the life and work of this modern Romanian composer but this work was pleasing with its nod to the superb harpsichord piece by Francois Couperin


Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953)

Piano sonata No. 7 B flat major Op. 83 “Stalingrad” (1939–1942)

Allegro inquieto

Andante caloroso


This is one of the three great Prokofiev 'War Sonatas'. The percussive anger of the Allegro inquieto was expressed with great energy as was the lyrical contrast of the emotional and romantic Andante caloroso. That plaintive repeated note that for me expresses all the intense loneliness and isolation of the human soul and psyche in the firmament confronted by the cruelty of war in Stalingrad. Ciobanu captured this bleakness well. The Precipitato final movement was as driven and powerful as I expected from this historical painting in sound. The movement is of great cumulative power leading to an overwhelming resolution and harmonic climacteric.

The Soviets regain control of Stalingrad in February 1943. (SVF2/UIG via Getty Images)

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Internet broadcast link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKWzxWXijso

Thursday August 12, 2021 4 p.m.


Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

Étude in F major Op. 10 No. 8 (1829–1832)

The sparkling dispatch of this Etude by this young, multiple first prize-winning artist, gave us a foretaste of the future recital accomplishments we might expect. The control of the transparent internal polyphony and articulation, particularly in the left hand, was a revelation to me at least. 

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

Piano sonata in F major Op. 10 No. 2 (1796–1798)




This is not a sonata where, as Alfred Brendel observes, the audience should expect 'the celebration of religious rights'. The opening Allegro is quite humorous, whimsical and full unanticipated twists and turns of harmony. Eydman expressed this light-hearted consciousness to a modest degree. This opening movement was balanced by the seriousness of the Allegretto in F minor which she made a suitable contrast in mood. The Presto was certainly energetic but I felt rather too heavy in tone and tempo to take me away with on a flight of light, joyful laughter.   

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770‒1827)

32 Variations in C minor on an original theme WoO 80 (1806)

This work dates from the end of 1806, the year of the ‘Razumovsky’ quartets, the fourth symphony and the violin concerto. It is a quite remarkable homage to the Baroque era and is a fine example of Beethoven's veritable obsession with variation form. These are elaborations on the chaconne dance form which fully evolved under the reign of Louis XIV.

This was an impressive pianistic exegesis, full of winning articulation and variety of tone, colour and touch. However, I felt in some variations an excess of virtuosity and falling prey to the temptations of keyboard fluency and exaggeration, only possible to this extent with the streamlined action and rather homogenized sound of the Steinway. Is this a bad thing? 

I am not a crank advising sole performance on say Beethoven's Graf. However, playing occasionally on the earlier instrument one can learn a great deal when listening closely to the extraordinary variety Beethoven conceived possible for each variation in dynamics, colour, texture, mood and timbre. The modern pianist should make some attempt to express and transfer this contextual knowledge to the modern instrument. I found this an impressive but rather unapologetic Lisztian approach to Beethoven which created all manner of period contradictions in my mind.

Béla Bartók (1881–1945)

Sonata Sz.80 (1926)

Allegro moderato

Sostenuto e pesante

Allegro molto

Despite 1926 being 'the year of the piano' for Bartok, I am simply unable to react to this sonata in any positive personal way. I love the 'Out of Doors Suite' of the same period for example and the piano concerto. The first two movements of the sonata I find relentless, brutal and bleak - not at all the way I choose to see the world. Yes the folk dance elements in the final movement are somewhat of a relief, but I felt Eydman could have invested the declamatory dynamics of the work with at least some poetic expressive elements. It can be done!

György Ligeti (1923–2006)

Études, Book 1 (1985)

No. 6 “Autumn in Warsaw”

I had never heard this work before although naturally I knew of the contemporary Warsaw Autumn music festival. It is the only contemporary music festival in Poland on an international scale and with an international status. For many years, it was the only event of this type in Central and Eastern Europe.

My ignorance causes me to quote directly from the Hyperion CD liner note written by the pianist Danny Driver.

Automne à Varsovie (‘Autumn in Warsaw’), dedicated ‘à mes amis Polonais’ at a time of political struggle in Poland, is an extended étude where Johannes Ockeghem’s prolation technique (a single motif proceeding simultaneously at different speeds in different voices), pulsating African polyrhythm and Ligeti’s characteristic lamento motif (inspired by the Romanian bocet—a funeral lament chanted by professional mourners) combine in a nostalgic and ultimately tragically ruptured musical canvas.

Certainly Eydman produced arresting musical timbres, extraordinary sound quality and colour, often laid upon a glittering canvas that I attempted to connect with the liner notes. After the Bartok, I found this work was quite a task to tolerate aurally, despite my own studies of contemporary piano music and the so-called avant-garde.


Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)

Études – Tableaux Op. 39 (1916–1917)

No. 1 in C minor Allegro agitato

No. 2 in A minor Lento assai

No. 4 in B minor Allegro assai

No. 8 in D minor Allegro moderato

No. 3 in F sharp minor Allegro molto

These 'study-pictures' reveal to a haunting degree Rachmaninoff's internal psyche like few other works he wrote. However we are not given a guide to the 'pictures' which is rather in the spirit of Chopin's remark concerning his own work 'I merely indicate, the listener must complete the picture'

I felt this highly talented young pianist could have given us more of an indication of painting in sound. She could have made much more of the painterly and suggestive qualities of these works (as much as one can visualize 'a story' in imagination from the music), their colour palette, rather than simply revelling in the virtuoso elements. She cultivates on occasion a rather, almost metallic, hard-edged percussive sound palette, not the quality of impressionist painting which is surely far softer and suggestive rather than declamatory and wildly virtuosic. This performance only occasionally expressed the inner emotionally eloquent heart of Rachmaninoff.

What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love! Music is the Sister of Poetry and her Mother is sorrow! (Sergei Rachmaninoff)

A youthful Scriabin

Alexander Scriabin (1871–1915)

Sonata No. 2, Op. 19 (1898)



The Scriabin Piano Sonata-Fantasy No. 2 in G-sharp minor took the composer five years to write and was published in 1898. This alluring piece is in two movements and is particularly popular. The piece is widely appreciated and is one of Scriabin's most accessible pieces.

The programme note he wrote reads: 'The first section (Andante) represents the quiet of a southern night on the seashore; the development is the dark agitation of the deep, deep sea. The E major middle section shows caressing moonlight coming up after the first darkness of night. The second movement (Presto) represents the vast expanse of ocean in stormy agitation.'

The Andante was an impressionistic picture certainly but not as seductive and romantic perhaps as Scriabin might have wished. It is a balmy southern night after all. Expressively harmonic interpretation was present in the main but Scriabin always sought the sensually inaccessible, always seeking a dimension deeper. Gentleness and colour with a rather fluctuating dreamlike tone quality were present but there is something too focused in the sound she produces often for an evocation of painting or tender atmospheric ambience. Velvet touch, poetry with  pianissimo moments is surely what we are searching for here...The Presto certainly gave one a painting of 'stormy agitation' on the vast ocean but the tempo and dynamic contrasts felt exaggerated on occasion and one simply marvelled at her extraordinary pianistic fluency and keyboard command rather than listen to the eloquent music and inspiring and passionate harmonic progressions and their emotional evocations.

Fryderyk Chopin (1810‒1849)

Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante in E flat major Op. 22 (1834-1835)

In the Andante spianato, Eydman was certainly ‘flowing and smooth’ with a beautiful rounded tone. Fine legato and cantabile. Chopin often used to perform this work as an isolated piece he loved it so much. She presented it understood as a nocturne and it was a lovely introduction although a little more poetry and sentiment may have been appropriate.

The essential nature of the style brilliant of which the Grand Polonaise Brillante is an essential and outstanding representative of Chopin’s early Varsovian style, seems rather a mystery to modern pianists outside of those living in Poland. Perhaps I am hopelessly wrong. 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. There are also vital expressive elements of charm, grace, taste and elegance.

One must not forget that Chopin astonished Vienna by his pianism but perhaps even more by the elegance of his princely appearance. The limpid, untroubled and joyful nature of the early polonaises, mazurkas, rondos,  sets of variations  on  Polish  themes  and  piano  concertos were written  in this virtuosic  style brillant fashionable  in Warsaw. Now decidedly out of fashion, this style was characterized by lightness, delicacy, charm, sonority, purity,  precision and a rippling execution resembling pearls. These works could only have been composed in a state of happiness and youthful ‘sweet sorrows’ living in his native land.

The ‘call to the floor’ for the polonaise was a successful declamation or announcement dancing was about to begin, a touch of the martial spirit in evidence. This was an instrumental custom well understood by Chopin who in his youth was mad about dancing, a fine dancer and also an excellent dance pianist into the small hours hence his need for rehab at Bad Reinherz – now Dusznki Zdroj.

However this interpretation was not entirely the style brillante as I understand it. The many fiorituras were not always presented as decorative Venetian lace, the hand and touch rather too focused on bravura than cultured refinement, charm and affected elegance. Even though brilliantly performed, the work was somewhat stylistically inaccurate for me.

Her encore was a brilliant rather ostentatiously grand Études de Paganini No.2 in E- flat major by Liszt S.141

What a remarkable career this young lady has before her, the sunny uplands of pianistic fame

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Internet broadcast link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_-spR-njC4

Wednesday August 11, 2021 20.00


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

15 Variations and Fugue (Eroica Variations) for Piano in E flat major, Op. 35 (1802)

Most enjoyable and penetrating exposition of Beethoven's obsession with variation form, in particular with his favorite theme which of course appears in the Eroica Symphony and elsewhere. Fine command of the classical style. Each variation had its own character, timbre and personality (often rather rough hewn). The dramatic fugue was powerful and polyphonically characterful.

Fryderyk Chopin (1810–49)

Ballade in F minor Op. 52 (1842–1843)

Penetrating the expressive core of the Chopin Ballades requires an understanding of the influence of a generalized view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material. I have always felt it helpful to consider the Chopin Ballades as miniature operas being played out in absolute music, forever exercising one's musical imagination. 

The brilliant Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski describes the musical landscape of this work far more graphically than I ever could. The narration is marked, to an incomparably higher degree than in the previous ballades, with lyrical expression and reflectiveness [...] Its plot grows entangled, turns back and stops. As in the tale of Odysseus, mysterious, weird and fascinating episodes appear [...] at the climactic point in the balladic narration, it is impossible to find the right words. This explosion of passion and emotion, expressed through swaying passages and chords steeped in harmonic content, is unparalleled. Here, Chopin seems to surpass even himself. This is expression of  ultimate power, without a hint of emphasis or pathos [...] For anyone who listens intently to this music, it becomes clear that there is no question of any anecdote, be it original or borrowed from literature. The music of this Ballade imitates nothing, illustrates nothing. It expresses a world that is experienced and represents a world that is possible, ideal and imagined.

Mndoyants gave us a highly dramatic, chiaroscuro rather pianistic interpretation of the work. He emphasized the strong narrative declamatory elements strongly and with emphatic passion. The balladic tale twisted and turned, expressing that characteristic Polish bitterness, passion and emotionally-laden disturbance of the psyche known as żal. There could have been more contrast I felt between the incandescent anger and lyrical refection. What a monumental story of shifting realities is displayed in this work!

This is a great opera of the human psyche and he concluded with a tempestuous coda to the work.

Il Cantastorie (The Ballad Singer) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo


Nikita MNDOYANTS (b. 1989)


It is well to be reminded that we seem to be modestly re-entering the world of composer pianists - Trifonov, Namoradze and Mndoyants to name only three. It opened with an exploration of sound and overtones, for the right hand alone. Reflective episodes follow also exploring what the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas referred to as 'the colour of saying.' A pianissimo left hand was punctuated by right hand crossing percussive harmonies. A nocturnal sleep with many disturbances of mind. Basically Mndoyants has created an impressionistic abstract sound world of freely associative meaning and great refinement. The work fades into the azure above us...

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)

Sonata No. 3 in F minor Op. 5 (1853)

Allegro maestoso

Andante espressivo

Scherzo. Allegro energico – Trio

Intermezzo. Andante molto

Finale. Allegro moderato ma rubato

The young, handsome Johannes Brahms

After his own work, the immense Brahms Sonata No.3 in F minor Op.5 (1853). Brahms composed this mighty sonata when he was barely 20 and when the sonata form itself was considered rather an outmoded. Of course Brahms idolized Beethoven and the personal expressiveness of his sonatas and perhaps was influenced by these grand conceptions. Brahms visited Schumann in Düsseldorf at the end of September 1853. Schumann was clearly overcome with admiration and wrote in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik :

“...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…”

Schumann was to commit suicide not long after in July 1856.

The young Brahms also met Berlioz at this time. In his role as inspired music critic, one can understand Schumann referring perceptively to the three early Brahms sonatas as veiled symphonies. 

The massive opening spans the entire keyboard – it was almost as if an entire symphony orchestra had entered the Dworek. The Allegro maestoso  was ‘majestic’ and a true Allegro rather than the Adagio maestoso many pianists adopt. The movement evolved with symphonic grandeur and noble passion. The essentially Romantic spirit of the sonata was clearly to be fused into a classical edifice, the architecture of which is truly awesome to behold over the approximately 40 minutes duration. He brought melodic sensitivity to the second Andante expressivo movement, but I was yearning for more of the poetry of love and heartfelt lyricism that culminates in the climax of passion. This is one of the greatest declarations of poetic love in music, the two lyrical themes merging symbolically into a passionate expression of sensual rapture. Brahms yearning for the 'impossible love' he felt for Clara Schumann ? The movement is prefaced by the Sternau poem:

The evening dims

The moonlight shines

There are two hearts

That join in love

And embrace in rapture

The third movement Scherzo was richly rhythmical. The introspective and mysterious Intermezzo. Andante molto with the term Rückblick (looking back) contained pregnant silences and recalled movingly at times elements of the previous three movements. The Finale. Allegro moderato ma rubato of this sonata with its orchestral sound palette, buoyant theme, captivating melodies, marches and pianistic fireworks was captured by Mndoyants with energy and powerful technique. By the end we were left with a finely honed conception of the stately architecture of this monumental work – one of the last great classical sonatas.

The tumultuous, enthusiastic reception of this performance was richly rewarded with four encores.

I.  A refined and emotionally serene Siloti/Bach Sheep May Safely Graze BWV 208

II. Prokofiev 10 Pieces for Piano Op.12, Scherzo No.10 - a splendid account from this brilliant Prokofiev interpreter.  

III. Rameau Les Sauvages from Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin. Since Grigory Sokolov pioneered this composer on the piano in such spectacular and inimitable fashion, his works have crept into the encore repertoire

IV. Schubert  Moment Musical in F minor Op.94 No.3  D780

A deeply rewarding recital from this brilliant artist.

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCxoyS3euJo

Wednesday August 11, 2021 4 p.m.

Nicolas Namoradze

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)

Contrapunctus VI, Die Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080 (1749)

This struck me from the outset as a most unusual programme design. The unfinished masterpiece of Bach's final years is an abstract demonstratio of the principles of contrapuntal composition. Bach suggests no instrumentation. 

I cannot quite understand why Namoradze chose to open his recital with this work, inflicting such an isolated intellectual challenge on the public. The work is surely an intensely private internal dialogue between God and Bach the composer. Professor Wilfrid Mellers in his magnificent book Bach and the Dance of God considers it an angelic concourse 'intellectually sounds in the ears of God' - to use the 17th century polymath, Sir Thomas Browne's, phrase. In the 'late' works of Bach, archaic medieval elements are reborn and the rhetoric of opera fades away to be replaced by a variety of mathematical, 'logical' mysticism. 

The performance of this isolated Contrapuntus had a distancing austerity in view of this, a type of willful human disconnection, the motivation hard for me to penetrate.

Nicolas Namoradze (b. 1992)

Études (selection, 2015–2017)

As his own austere polyphonic restless composition followed the Bach attacca, perhaps this explains this strange, immediate intellectual demands. His compositions are spectacularly effective and complex musical intellectual constructions in their way and require extraordinary transcendental keyboard command but apart from this demolishing sound effect what is the meaning of this music? I am not old-fashioned in the least and in my youth was deeply involved with the so-called avant-garde  and 'New Music' - Stockhausen, Kagel, Xenakis, Pousseur, Boulez, Berio, Messaien, the Kontarsky brothers ... so I am quite open to adventurous and exploratory sound landscapes.

Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

Berceuse in D flat major Op. 57 (1844)

This was a pleasant enough performance but where did it fit into this programme, apart from all of us being resident in the Chopin shrine of Duszniki

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) / Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924)

Das Orgel Büchlein

Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, Chorale prelude, BWV 639 (1708–1717)

The Bach chorales arranged by that magnificent composer Ferrucio Busoni are sublime to my mind. Here we were on more familiar expressive ground at least.

Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

Totentanz S.525

The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut, from the Nuremberg Chronicle of Hartmann Schedel

This was a work inspired by Liszt's obsession with death. In the spring of 1832 Paris was struck by cholera. Corpses in hessian sacks on carts were wheeled thought the city to the  cemeteries. Riots broke out in overcrowded Père-Lachaise cemetery. Carts were overturned and fallen coffins burst open disgorging the putrefying contents. Liszt stayed in Paris during the epidemic. He used to visit the home of Victor Hugo where he played the Marche funèbre  from the Beethoven Sonata in A-flat major 'while all the dead from cholera filed last to Notre Dame in their shrouds.' Liszt played the Dies Irae from dawn to dusk. It was in this dank and gloomy atmosphere he composed the Totentanz. The work, again best described by the Italian terribilità, was inspired by a fresco of the Last Judgement in Pisa.

Last Judgement fresco by Andrea Orcagna (now attributed to Buonamico Buffalmacco) in the Camposanto Monumental

We were given a pianistically impressive, rather intellectual performance of this work with much highlighting of the structural complexity I felt at the expense of the visceral horror that inspired Liszt.

Description of the Paris cholera epidemics



Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)

Contrapunctus VII, Die Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080 (1749)

Felt rather similar to Contrapunctus VI described above.

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)

Piano sonata No. 1 in D minor Op. 28 (1907)

Allegro moderato


Allegro molto

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 Rachmaninoff withdrew this reference to literature and certainly the music contains other associations.

The 'literature' he referred to is Goethe's Faust (possibly with elements of Lord Byron's Manfred). However, 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 Rachmaninoff 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 and Mephistopheles.'

Faust in the opening monologue of the play:

In me there are two souls, alas, and their
Division tears my life in two.
One loves the world, it clutches her, it binds
Itself to her, clinging with furious lust;
The other longs to soar beyond the dust
Into the realm of high ancestral minds.

A man whose soul is rent between the hedonistic pleasures of the earth and spiritual aspirations - Sacrum et Profanum. Exploring this all to human dichotomy, Rachmaninoff builds almost unbearable tension.

In the Allegro moderato as Faust wrestles with his soul and temptations Namoradze explored the polyphonic nature of the work without sufficient anguished expression to present a coherent narrative.  The dense polyphony of Rachmaninoff's writing was transparent but bereft of musical or literary meaning which seems to me essential in this work.

The Lento second movement could well be interpreted as a lyrical poem expressing the love of Gretchen for Faust. Namoradze was poetic here expressing the dense polyphony with  artistry. 

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 insidious and destructive nature of evil. It became rather an overwhelmingly virtuosic  wall of sound with Namarodze, yet without sufficient relieving expressiveness to contribute to narrative literary meaning. So important in Liszt. Were we exploring the darker significance of Walpurgis Night with Namarodze or simply the remarkable musical structure? 

Walpurgisnacht Kreling: Goethe's Faust. X. Walpurgisnacht, 1874 - 77

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Internet Broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5knhtXcJ_g

Tuesday 10/08/2021 4 p.m.

Alexander KOBRIN

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

Piano sonata in A flat major Op. 26 (1800–1801)

Andante con variazioni

Scherzo. Allegro molto

Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un eroe. Maestoso Andante


This was the preferred sonata of Beethoven that Chopin appreciated greatly and used to teach. I would love to have heard Beethoven played in a style inescapably performed by the Polish composer  à la Chopin, a reported experience of rare charm. Perhaps it was the funeral march in the third movement that attracted him. 

I felt Kobrin was rather too classically detached emotionally from the intensely lyrical and poetic opening of the Andante con variazioni. However, he made the contrast between variations very attractive in terms of rhythm and character. I was yearning for more poetry than objectivity, but again this depends so much on how you personally conceive of the performance style of the  early Beethoven piano sonatas. 

The Scherzo. Allegro molto I found such an attractive contrast in mood and robust energy! In the Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un eroe. Maestoso Andante  I could clearly hear a military element in the tympani and brass in the trio. I liked the forceful, pedantic, tragic tempo he adopted which was neither indulgently slow in the expression of grief nor too rapid to reflect deeply on the passing of a soul. In the Allegro he made much of the contrast between legato and detached sixteenth notes on which the movement hinges. Overall the sonata achieved an unaccustomed grandeur. The pianissimo 'abandonment' of the sound at the conclusion of he work, returning to the silence from which it emerged,  was so metaphysically appropriate.

Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

Mazurkas Op.24 Nos 1-4

This set possessed a classical, poetic poise and simplicity rarely heard in Chopin mazurkas. I liked his approach of recalled pleasures a great deal.

Kazimierz Brodziński, whose lectures at the University of Warsaw  were attended by Chopin, characterized the elegy genre (in his treatise O Elegii [On the elegy], from 1882) as follows: ‘An elegy conveys only tempered feelings: mirth, no longer present; sorrow, assuaged’. One might say that Chopin’s mazurkas adopted this idea. 

No 1 in G minor is based on a kujawiak melody. No 2 in C major was more rustic and folkloric and based on the bucolic oberek. No 3 in A flat major is another simple dance melody on the kujawiak. The last, No 4 in B flat minor, is a justly renowned mazurka containing much nostalgia and Romanticism. The great Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski wrote the most beautiful description of  how this mazurka evolves organically. I could not possibly approach this quality of literary musical description so quote it for your delectation and edification:

'It begins with a two-part search for a path or a thread. The opening theme, of distinctly kujawiak provenance, is shaped before our eyes, freeing itself from constraint and hesitation before growing to its full sound and attaining a moment of ecstasy or delight. The complementary idea, unfolding in the bright key of the relative D flat major, brings a moment of amusement or play, scherzando, closer to salon waltzes than to country mazurkas. And then suddenly, in the midst of this swirling ballroom, sotto voce, like a voice from a distant world, we hear a purely folk melody, distinguished by its Lydian fourth, clearly discernible in the unison texture. Then another dance derived from a kujawiak melody, though a different melody than before. The swinging and swaying reaches a peak. But perhaps the most memorable part of all is the finale – or more properly the epilogue. At first we hear a soft phrase, cast out against changing chords supported by a single note that lasts insistently and endlessly. And then the music softens, falls and dwindles. The accompaniment stops. The phrase is heard for the last time in the utmost silence and solitude.'

Fantasy in F minor Op. 49 (1841)

A powerful and expressive performance certainly but seemed to lack a little the feeling of improvised fantasy playing like globes of mercury in the composer's mind, sometimes merging and sometimes autonomous but never controllable. This being said the account was fluent, effortless and authoritative as you might expect from such an accomplished artist. The devotionals and reflective chorale was most affectingly played followed by a passionate spontaneous eruption of emotion like a volcano of pent up energy released. There was a noble majesty in this performance, like a sculptor hewing a statue from granite.


Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881)

Pictures at an Exhibition (1847)

This was without doubt one of the most remarkable, subtle and atmospheric performances of this much tormented work I have ever heard. Usually I prepare for the physical assault with dread. This was not the case with such artistic and superb painting in sound by Alexander Kobrin. The only comparable riveting and idiomatic account was by Denis Kozhukhin at Duszniki in 2010 

BBC Radio 3 - Composer of the Week, Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881), Musical  Portraits and Self-Portraits

 Modest Mussorgsky by Victor Hartmann

This piece is a portrait of a man walking around an art exhibition (the pictures painted by Mussorgsky’s friend, the artist and architect Viktor Hartmann). The composer is reminiscing on this past friendship now suddenly and tragically cut short when the young artist died suddenly of an aneurysm. The visitor walks at a fairly regular pace but perhaps not always as his mood fluctuates between grief and elated remembrance of happy times spent together. The Russian critic Vladimir Stasov (1769-1848), to whom the work is dedicated, commented: 'In this piece Mussorgsky depicts himself "roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly in order to come close to a picture that had attracted his attention, and at times sadly, thinking of his departed friend.' 

The Russian poet Arseny Goleníshchev-Kutúzov, who wrote the texts for Mussorgsky's two song cycles, wrote of its reception: There was no end to the enthusiasm shown by his devotees; but many of Mussorgsky's friends, on the other hand, and especially the comrade composers, were seriously puzzled and, listening to the 'novelty,' shook their heads in bewilderment. Naturally, Mussorgsky noticed their bewilderment and seemed to feel that he 'had gone too far.' He set the illustrations aside without even trying to publish them.

The suite of pictures begins at the art exhibition, but the viewer and the pictures he views dissolves at the Catacombs when the journey changes its nature. To decide on the tempo for the Promenade is always a challenge for the pianist. I personally wander far more slowly around art galleries or rove in my imagination, than some pianists. The art exhibition was of Hatmann's drawings and watercolours (not strong oil paintings) and I feel this should be considered when approaching the dynamic range of any performance in order to avoid undue, declamatory heaviness. 


The first statement of he theme was taken at just the right moderate tempo. It is not a march of triumph as many pianists seem to consider.

The Gnome

A sudden and marvellous characterization of this grotesque fellow. Much colour and dynamic variation as well as rhythmic fragmentation and abrupt articulation to create his ghastly movement. One can actually visualize the ugly gnome in sound...and yet tragedy underpins his plasticity.


A far more thoughtful and reflective amble through the gallery. I thought this a marvellous journey into the cogitating mind confronted by the alternative idealized reality of paintings, as we are in art galleries. Superb tone and touch by the pianist.

The Old Castle

The dark colours Kobrin produced of the implacable, weathered stone and the crushing pain and pleasure that once inhabited these fortress ruins. His haunting, pulsating left hand emerges from the world of dreams to underscore irresistible passing time. One could see Kobrin seeing this vision on his mind's eye as he painted it in sound. Magical. 

I was put in mind of Wordsworth contemplating Tintern Abbey when he wrote the evocative poem contemplating the passing years of the ruin and the parallels in his own life Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey. Length prevents me from  quoting it here but do read it. In the Lyrical Ballads he defines poetry: 

'Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.'


After this reflection on the passing of time and its disintegrating effects, a promenade of almost forced, yet brief optimism in the face of the inevitable human entropy.


After the depression of his contemplation of time, the gallery wanderer sees a painting of a beautiful, and aesthetic French garden. The hiatus of infinitesimal silence that Kobrin produced to begin the transition to another realm of feeling was magic dust scattered beneath his feet. His mood lifts the listener to the arcadian realms of delight and calm joy. Kobrin plays such 'Glass Bead Games' with these fluctuating harmonies.


After the sparkling aesthetic delights, we have the reverse of the coin with the heaviness of slower beings in life and thought with just a hint of unreflective, 'bovine' stupidity and stubbornness.


Such an almost contrived, celestial contrast to begin yet there are traces of the heavy animal remaining in us all. One chromosome is all it takes.

Ballet of Unhatched Chicks

A curious, fantastical idea and part of the human capacity for wit, humour and irrational play. Kobrin did not exaggerate and therefor this unhinged idea became a living part pf the human imaginative psyche. He was able to brilliantly bring out the clucking of chickens even if still unhatched! the conclusion and close an absolute delight!

“Samuel” Goldenberg and ”Schmuÿle”



Kobrin seemed to me to emphasize and contrast the immovable, cruel, granite nature of established 'capital' and the seductive glint of gold coins falling into the hat of a beggar. An element of pleading entered the characterization. Even more difficult to achieve today without offense.


More feeling of assumed faith in himself, bolstered up, even artificially inflated after contemplating those worse or better off financially. An almost triumphal progression after contemplating these alternative realities in art.


HereKobrin successfully created the tumultuous atmosphere in a French market town, perhaps on a Saturday morning. Famous with tourists of course because of its porcelain.

Catacombs – With the Dead in a Dead Language

What greater contrast could we have to the vibrant life of Limoges that the serious presence of death in the Roman Catacombs with Latin as the dead language. Kobrin gave us a glimpse of Lisztian celestial redemption above the grim tread of death awaiting the wanderer through this life of paintings, symbolizing his journey through life. An extraordinarily eloquent passage in piano sound. I remember visiting the terrifying Catacombs myself when living as a child in Rome many years ago.

Hartmann, Vasily Kenel, and a guide in the catacombs holding the lantern

On a lighter note, at school after Latin lessons I joined in the schoolboy chants of 'Latin is a dead language, as dead as dead can be, it killed the ancient Romans and now it's killing me!'

The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba Yaga)

Kobrin his brilliant technique, painted the threatening, rather dramatically alive, terrifying, supernatural and violent portrait of an unpleasant fantasy creature. Hartmann's drawing depicted a clock in the form of the ghastly Baba Yaga's hut perched  on fowl's legs.

The ghastly witch Baba Yaga

The Bogatyr Gates (In the Capital in Kiev)

The witch seems to be defeated and power transformed into religious belief, the power of the Russian Orthodox Church, the most characteristically Russian cultural manifestation. The bells peal as Kobrin erects a formidable gate of power and majesty. His tonal weight is without harshness and his phrasing gave a massiveness that created a fine background to Orthodox carillons. Kobrin brought the work to a triumphal and magnificent national conclusion.

As a first encore Kobrin the played the lyrical Debussy piece The Girl with the Flaxen Hair - such a contrast!

For his second encore a fine and sensitive performance of the Rachmaninoff Prelude in G sharp minor Op.32 No 12

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTmTt61gucE

Monday 9/08/2021 20.00

 Martin James BARTLETT

This was an extraordinarily varied programme which only went to endorse even more strongly my previous lyrical opinion of this outstanding artist three years ago. 

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) / Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924)

Das Orgel Büchlein

Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, Chorale prelude, BWV 639 (1708–1717)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) / Myra Hess (1890–1965)

Chorale from Cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben BWV 147 (1723)

A perfect way to begin a recital. The Bach Chorales were superb and the singing cantabile tone he produced and refined touch, quite sublime. 

Here we have a complete musician and pianist that is almost faultless surely, except perhaps to the ears of most accomplished and experienced professors of music. BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2014, he has now performed with many prestigious orchestras at home in the greatest British concert venues and internationally. He has also taken part in masterclasses with the most eminent of musicians. He recently gave a universally praised performance of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with the conductor K. Karabits and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Ulster Orchestra at the BBC Last Night at the Proms was also a great success. [...] 

This young pianist is a true musical and pianistic discovery at a remarkable level of sophisticated musicianship scarcely ever achieved in youth. Just watch this meteor continue to rise. That is of course if audiences have the discrimination to listen to a truly profound, hugely gifted musician in the Dinu Lipatti mould rather than a mere thunderous entertainer.

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764)

Suite in A minor RCT 5 – Gavotte et six doubles (first published in 1727)

Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)

Piano sonata No. 31 in As major Hob XVI:46 (1767–1770)

Allegro moderato


Finale. Presto

The finest Haydn sonata I have ever heard. A complete understanding of the period style, so full of life, wit, freshness, conversational gambits and cultivated exuberance! An absolute delight! He smiled and laughed during a performance he clearly enjoyed immensely - and so did we! Bartlett is a natural communicator and establishes a natural, rather intimate and sympathetic connection with the audience. he becomes a conduit for the musical inspiraion of the composer - a rare quality.


Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)

Preludes Op. 32 (1910)

No. 10 in B minor

No. 5 in G major

No. 12 in G sharp minor

Here we were given a lyrical, poetic and tender side to Rachmaninoff that is seldom explored by the ubiquitous overwhelmingly muscular and virtuosic performances. In the G major lyrical melody soared above the floating accompaniment textures. In the G-sharp minor the same fine balance between a singing legato melodic line and passionate accompaniment was maintained throughout.

Fryderyk Chopin (1810–49)

Nocturne in D flat major Op. 27 No. 2 (1835)

A perfect rendition of the romance variety of Chopin nocturne. Tender, a stroll on a summer night dreaming together in love gazing into the starry and moonlit sky, yet not sentimental. In his Notes on ChopinAndré Gide captured this kind of music in words with  penetrating intuition: ‘[Chopin] seemed to be constantly seeking, inventing, discovering his thought little by little. This kind of charming hesitation, of surprise and delight, ceases to be possible if the work is presented to us, no longer in a state of successive formation, but as an already perfect, precise and objective whole.’  Bartlett achieved and communicated this feeling in a deeply affecting way.

Richard Wagner (1813–1883) / Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

Tristan und Isolde – Liebestod WWV 90 (1859)

A fine, musical performance but on the level of the psyche, embracing the fulfillment offered by death, carried on the cresting waves of metaphysical and passionate love, I felt this beyond one so young and still possibly innocent of the lacerations inflicted by the tigers of experience.

Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)

La Valse M 72 (1919–1920)

This was a performance the like of which I have never heard before except possibly Seong-Jin Cho at Duszniki in 2012. Yet Bartlett brought a visceral quality to La Valse that contained all the suffering of the Great War, a conflagration burnt out by the time of composition but premonitions must have inspired its creation.

There are three versions of this mysterious and deeply sensual work – a ballet score, a version for piano duo and a solo piano version. Although Ravel denied the work was a panoramic description of the decay of civilization following the horrors of the Great War in 1919, I feel the implications are inescapable. I felt that the passion and intense, even fieresome drive that Bartlett brought to the work completely convincing. His technique flawless in executing these  rhythms quite inspiring.

Diaghilev had requested a four-hand reduction of the original orchestral score. Reports say that Stravinsky when he heard Ravel perform this with Marcelle Meyer in this version, he quietly left the room without a word so amazed was he. Ravel however would not admit to the work being an expression of the profound disillusionment in Europe following the immeasurable human losses and cruel maiming of the Great War. However one must recall in Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus that the composer Adrian Leverkühn, although isolated from the clamour and destruction of the cannons of war, composed the most profound expression of it in his composition Apocalypsis cum Figuris by a type of metaphysical osmosis. Ravel’s note to the score gives one an insight to his intentions:

“Through rifts in swirling clouds, couples are glimpsed waltzing. As the clouds disperse little by little, one sees an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene becomes progressively brighter. The light from chandeliers bursts forth at fortissimo (letter B in the score). An Imperial Court, around 1855.”

Ravel described his composition as a ‘whirl of destiny’ – his concept was that the work impressionistically begins with clouds that slowly disperse to reveal a whiling crowd of dancers in the Imperial Court of Vienna in 1855. The Houston Symphony Orchestra programme note for the orchestral version performed in 2018 poses the question; Is this a Dance of Death or Delight? I feel the question encapsulates perfectly the ambiguity inherent in this disturbing work. A composer can sometimes be a barometer that unconsciously registers the movements of history. 

This might well be the case here and such ambiguities were clearly expressed in this absolutely magnificent and passionate performance. Highly enjoyable and rewarded with wild cheering and an instant standing ovation - rare at Duszniki.

I was unsure of the identity of the first encore. 

The second was an ardent performance of the Schumann-Liszt Widmung ('My most favorite piece in the entire world' Bartlett told us with winning and loving candour). Written by Robert Schumann in 1840 (this piece was from a set of Lieder called Myrthen, Op.25) and later arranged for piano solo by Franz Liszt. Myrthen was dedicated to Clara Wieck as a wedding gift. The composer finally married Clara in September, despite the cruel opposition from Clara’s father, ironically Schumann's piano teacher.

The loving text of Widmung, written by the German poet Friedrich Rückert:

You my soul, you my heart,

You my rapture, O you my pain,

You my world in which I live,

My heaven you, to which I aspire,

O you my grave, into which

My grief forever I’ve consigned!

You are repose, you are peace,

You are bestowed on me from heaven.

Your love for me gives me my worth,

Your eyes transfigure me in mine,

You raise me lovingly above myself,

My guardian angel, my better self!

His third encore was an tender and sensitive, lyrical and presented in superb tone and velvet touch, the opening piece from Schumann's Kinderszenen - 'Von fremden Ländern und Menschen (Of Foreign Lands and Peoples).

A truly wonderful and uplifting recital!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCik1ebXPfY

Monday 9/08/2021 4 p.m.

Polish participants of the 18th Chopin Competition


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

Bagatelles Op. 126 (1824)

Andante con moto, Cantabile e con piacevole


Andante, Cantabile ed espressivo


Quasi allegretto

Presto – amabile e con moto

Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

Sonata in B flat minor Op. 35 (1839)

Grave – Doppio movimento


Marche funèbre

Finale. Presto

I have always been impressed by this young accomplished pianist, his expressiveness and subtlety. However before the Chopin Competition I feel it is inappropriate to comment on his performance in any detail.



Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

Mazurkas Op. 24 (1833–1835)

in G minor

in C major

in A flat major

in B flat minor

Ballad in F minor Op. 52 (1842–1843)

Sonata in B minor Op. 58 (1844)

Allegro maestoso

Scherzo molto vivace


Finale presto non tanto

I have always been impressed by this young accomplished pianist, his expressiveness and subtlety. However before the Chopin Competition I feel it is inappropriate to comment on his performance in any detail.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqeXBL0dHy0

Sunday/08/2021 20.00 

Elżbieta STEFAŃSKA harpsichord

(on the 20th anniversary of Halina Czerny-Stefańska's death)

Appartements de mesdames au château de Versailles

Francois Couperin (1668–1733)

Piéces de Clavecin 11 Ordre: (1716)

– Les Fastes de la grande et ancienne Mxnxstrxndxsx

– Premier Acte. Les Notables et Jurés-Mxnxstrxndxsx

– Second Acte: Premier Air de Viele Les Viéleux, et les Gueux. Second Aire de Viele

– Troisième Acte: Les Jongleurs, Sauteurs et Saltimbanques: avec les Ours et les Singes

– Quatrième Acte: Les Invalides: ou gens Estropiés au service de la grande Mxnxstrxndxsx

– Cinquième Acte: Désordre, et déroute de toute la troupe: causés par les Yvrognes, les

Siges, et les Ours

Antoine Forqueray (1672–1745)

Suite No. 5 (first published in 1747)

La Rameau

La Guignon

La Léon. Sarabande

La Boisson

La Montigni

La Sylva


Claude-Bénigne Balbastre (1724–1799)

17 Pièces de Clavecin (first published in 1759)

No. 2 La d’Hericourt

No. 12 La Suzanne

No. 14 La Malesherbe. Ariette Gracieuse


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)

Prelude in C minor BWV 921 (1713)

Fantasia in G minor BWV 917 (1710)

Prelude in B minor BWV 923 (1725)

Fantasia in A minor BWV 922 (1710–1714)

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710–1784)

12 Polonaises (1765–1775)

Polonaise No. 4 in D minor

Polonaise No. 9 in F major

Wojciech Żywny (1756–1842)

Polonaise in C major No. 3

Michał Kleofas Ogiński (1765–1833)

Polonaise in F minor

Polonaise in D minor

Polonaise in A minor “Farewell to My Homeland” (1794)

Mariusz Dubaj (b. 1959)

Polonaise in A minor “Welcoming My Homeland” (2019)

dedicated to Elżbieta Stefańska

Józef Elsner (1769–1854)

Rondo à la Krakowiak in B flat major (1803)

I was rather disappointed on many levels by this much anticipated recital. Rather than overload my remarks with unconstructive negativity, it may be better to simply say I admire Elżbieta Stefańska greatly, her command of the instrument and repertoire. I would just have done things rather differently in view of an audience who were possibly unfamilar with the harpsichord, especially the choice of programme. There is much nobility, grace and seriousness in the French classical tradition ..... many great works of Western keyboard literature such as the magnificent François Couperin Passacaille. However, the instrument looked aesthetically alluring (despite the rather colourless sound of this Taskin copy). The placement was so suitable in the historic Dworek, perhaps even more than a huge black Steinway concert grand.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VronzEh_Cg

Sunday 8/08/2021 4 p.m.  



Polish participants of the 18th Chopin Competition


Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

Fantasy in F minor Op. 49 (1841)

Mazurkas Op. 30 (1836–1837)

No. 1 in C minor

No. 2 in B minor

No. 3 in D flat major

No. 4 in C sharp minor

Nocturne in E major Op. 62 No. 2 (1846)

Polonaise in F sharp minor Op. 44 (1840–1841)

I have always been impressed by this young accomplished pianist and his expressiveness.  However before the Chopin Competition I feel it is inappropriate to comment on his performance in any detail.



Fryderyk Chopin (1810‒1849)

Rondo in E flat major Op. 16 (1833)

Mazurkas Op. 30 (1836–1837)

No. 1 in C minor

No. 2 in B minor

No. 3 in D flat major

No. 4 in C sharp minor

Nocturne in D flat major Op. 27 No. 2 (1835)

Waltzes Op. 64 (1847)

No. 1 in D flat major

No. 2 in C sharp minor

No. 3 in A flat major

Scherzo in B flat minor Op. 31 (1836–1837)

I have always been impressed by this young accomplished pianist, his expressiveness and subtlety. However before the Chopin Competition I feel it is inappropriate to comment on his performance or any of the other Polish competitors in any detail.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Internet Link to recital: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yMjvkckb2k

Saturday August 7, 2021 20.00


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

Piano sonata in C major Op. 53 “Waldstein” (1803–1804)

Allegro con brio

Introduzione: Adagio molto

Rondo. Allegretto Moderato-Prestissimo

A pianist must have great courage and temerity to open his recital with this monumental sonata. The work was published in Vienna in May 1805 with a dedication to Beethoven’s early friend and patron Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel, Count von Waldstein (1762-1823). 

In 1791 the young Beethoven composed the music for a ballet Count Waldstein was producing, entitled Ritterballet (WoO 1) and allowed the Count to appear as the author of it (this was established in the late nineteenth century). When Beethoven was introduced to the Count as a young prodigy, Waldstein wrote: 'May you receive the spirit of Mozart through the hands of Haydn.' 

Count Waldstein himself led a rather unhappy life after Beethoven departed Bonn. He was obsessed with the mission Austria had to defeat Napoleon's Revolutionary Army. The En mperor fnally baished him from Vienna for his efforts. Waldstein attempted to raise a private army to fight the French which resulted in his bankruptcy. In 1805 he was seen in Vienna in secret disguise to avoid pressing creditors. At this time Beethoven dedicated the Op. 53 Piano Sonata to him. He married into wealth but was profligate, overcome by his obsession.

Count Waldstein died in a home for paupers outside Vienna. With a grim irony that Beethoven would certainly have appreciated, on the day of his death a letter arrived informing him of the passing of his elder brother and that he was about to inherit the family fortune.

Count von Waldstein (1762-1863)

There are many approaches to the grandeur of this mighty work. It was a revolution in piano composition, pushing the period instrument and the technical demands on the pianist to the very limits. This trying the limits can be heard to a remarkable extent if one is fortunate enough to hear it performed on say a period Graf instrument, Beethoven's preferred piano. One cannot help but feel this was Beethoven's own philosophy, to live life to the full, drinking the cup of existence to its absolute capacity.  

The middle period Waldstein is prophetic of what was to become visionary in his late sonatas. There is a remarkable air of partially unfulfilled expectancy in the work. A fine pianist such as Pompa-Baldi had clearly given much thought and analysis to his conception of the watershed work as would an Italian intellectual (in the best sense). This was a more sensual, even Romantic Waldstein rather than a monumental spiritual quest or a play of metaphysical musical ideas. We all have our own Beethoven and our own Waldstein at this level of pianism.

The pianissimo opening of the Allegro con brio first movement is deeply mysterious and materializes from the ether of empty space to become a more tangible innocence in the course of the development, a pendulum swinging between tonic and dominant, never quite fulfilled. I felt the nascent metaphysical element of internal personal exploration, never absent from Beethoven, could have been more pronounced rather than this warm overly poetic Romantic ambiance. A phrase from Immanuel Kant was close to Beethoven's heart: 'Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.' The slow movement Introduzione: Adagio molto was warmly Romantic and then that magical, almost miraculous transition to the Rondo. Always so profoundly moving no matter who is playing. Pompa-Baldi brought great joy to the final trill-laden conclusion, bells pealing, hinting at what will become the Voice of God  in the Arietta of the final C minor sonata.

I thought about our concept of Beethoven as a man and whether he really was, as so many superb pianists such as Brendel and Backhaus, presented him - an immaculate classicist cascading into Romanticism. I considered Furtwangler's glorious pushing of the limits of acceptance in his unfettered account of the symphonies. I remember visiting the Beethoven birthplace house in Bonn where as a young man I was astonished to see that the keys of one of his pianos had been worn through the ivory capping down to the wood beneath. Yes, Beethoven was going deaf later in life but this really gave me pause for thought if considered in addition to the wild nature of his written manuscripts.

The worn keyboard of Beethoven's last grand piano.

The pianoforte was built by the Viennese piano manufacturer Conrad Graf.
Graf placed the instrument with quadruple stringing at Beethoven's disposal in January 1826. It originally had an additional sounding board to increase the sound. The piano was added to the Beethoven-Haus collection in 1889 [Photos Beethoven-Haus, Bonn]

Whenever I hear a Beethoven sonata at Duszniki (a relatively rare event among the Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Liszt, Ravel, Schubert) I am transported into a musical world one dimension deeper.....I find myself listening to the astonishingly human penetration of my psyche by the music itself rather than judging the performer.....

Facsimile of Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata in C major Op.53

Fryderyk Chopin (1810‒1849)

Piano sonata in B flat minor Op. 35 (1839)

Grave doppio movimento


Marche funebre

Finale Presto

The disturbing opening of this sonata is again mysteriously vital to establish the focus of this funereal utterance - Grave. Doppio movimento (twice as fast as the preceding). From the outset I felt this was going to be a uniquely personal existentialist vision of the entire work from an expressive mature artist, a vision that had engaged much thought and analysis. Chopin created a work that is considered to be one of the greatest masterworks of the nineteenth century. 

‘His creativity was spontaneous, miraculous’, wrote Sand in The Story of My Life ‘He found it without seeking it, without expecting it. It arrived at his piano suddenly, completely, sublimely, or it sang in his head during a walk, and he would hasten to hear it again by recreating it on his instrument.’


‘But then would begin the most heartbreaking labor I have ever witnessed. […] He would shut himself up in his room for days at a time, weeping, pacing, breaking his pens, repeating or changing a single measure a hundred times, writing it and erasing it with equal frequency [here the writer seems to have got carried away], and beginning again the next day with desperate perseverance. He would spend six weeks on a page, only to end up writing it just as he had done in his first outpouring.’

The trio of the Scherzo after the 'demonic' opening, did truly sing under the fingers of this Italian pianist as if it was an aria lifted from an opera - a genre of which Chopin was passionately fond, especially Bellini. The trio that interrupts the leaden tread of the Marche funébre brings a great lyrical contrast of poignant reflection. Again Pompa-Baldi conceived it as a superb operatic yet tender bel canto aria, a simple and naive utterance until the inevitable fatalistic, inevitable return of crushing boots of the Great Reaper. The Presto seemed appropriately unhinged with grief, the polyphony highlighted this complexity within the fragmented, besieged mind of death's witness. 

A personal view of this work that indicated a remarkably evolved and surely unique view this Chopin sonata. It did not chime with my view but we all hear through the filter of our persoanl life and musical experience, even conditioning of musical expectations.


Roberto Piana (b. 1971)


Glances on the Divine Comedy (2021)


I. Mosé

II. Cleopatra

III. Cerbero

IV. Fortuna

V. Messo Celeste

VI. Epicuro

VII. Arpie

VIII. Penelope

IX. Lucifero

This work was commissioned I expect for the 700th anniversary this year of the death of the immortal Italian poet Dante Alighieri. It was interesting in its varied, textures, rhythms and colours but scarcely roused images in my mind of the strong medieval emotions of the Divina Commedia (1308-1320).

Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

Annees le pelerinage. Deuxieeme annee – Italie (1849)

“Apres une lecture du Dante” Fantasia quasi Sonata (S 161/7)

This work nearly always makes my hair stand on end no matter how it is played, however not on this occasion. For me it is the absolute apex of Romantic expression, a magnificent musical structure second only to his Sonata in B minor expressing a true fear of death and the Christian horror of losing the throw of dice and being thrown into the Inferno. 

One of the most remarkable productions of romantic art. Written at Bellagio on the shore of Lake Como at much the same time as the birth of his daughter Cosima. Liszt was obsessed with Dante and set the poem by Victor Hugo entitled D'après une lecture de DanteHowever perhaps one must be a true believer to enter this piece and have at home a skull on the mantle as a momento mori of what is in store for all of us. Dante and Milton combine here in a terrifying substance. Sacheverell Sitwell writes 'The air of damnation hangs over it and the images are of the Vortex and the Whirlwind'. He amusingly continues that '...it belongs to that class of Liszt's works which seem calculated to leave the executant paralyzed, or struck down with tetanus, at the close of his performance. This was a completely new direction in music. Liszt's early studies of Paganini and the demonic violinist's personality and musical possession, created within him a fearsome atmosphere perfectly described by the Italian word terribilità. Liszt discovered the Mephistophelean side of his nature. This must be expressed with conviction by the pianist.

I felt this interpretation by Pompa-Baldi was nowhere near emotionally tempestuous and sufficiently desperate, not ‘possessed’ by the haunted passion and understanding of the terror and celestial redemption Liszt conceived, that savage drama and that lies within Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Saturday August 7, 2021 4 p.m.

Live broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxlXhf9Y-FY

Polish participants of the 18th Chopin Competition


Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

Polonaise in F sharp minor Op. 44 (1840–1841)

Waltz in F major Op. 34 No. 3 (1838)

Waltz in A flat major Op. 64 No. 3 (1847)

Rondo a la mazur in F major Op. 5 (1825-1826)

Ballad in F minor Op. 52 (1842–1843)

Rather than comment on each work individually and pianist himself, I feel I would like to make a more general observations prompted by on this impressive, committed recital. 

When considering the music of Fryderyk Chopin, cultivated at present behind the mask of ubiquitous Polish nationalism, it is well to remember the French  element in the development of this composer's youthful personality in the aristocratic circles in Warsaw. French taste and language possessed great prestige despite the Russian political and military hegemony. Consider the literature of Tolstoy, Turgenev and Chekov that are peppered with French, the  preferred language of diplomacy to this day. 

One cannot underestimate the influence of French taste, language and aesthetic culture in the aristocratic ambiance of all European royal courts in the first half of the nineteenth century - the influence of Napoleon and the echoes of the Duchy of Warsaw remained long after the Congress of Vienna brutally partitioned Poland yet again in 1815. 

Although completely polonized, his well-educated  father Mikołaj (Nicholas)  was born in the French  province  of Lorraine in 1771 although  the family ‘Chapin’ originated in the Alps, changing their name to ‘Chopin’ to avert an alleged family scandal involving smuggling. Father and son corresponded in French.

A fervent  nationalist  political  debate  erupted  in the  late nineteenth century  concerning the spelling of Chopin’s name. Many right-wing  commentators believed in the polonization of his name to Szopen so that he would  more purely  represent  the ‘Polish race’ in music. His distant  amour Maria Wodzińska wrote in a letter to him in Paris from Dresden in 1835, ‘We do not cease to regret that you are not called Chopinski: or that there are no other signs that you are a Pole because – as it is – Frenchmen may argue with us for the honor of being your compatriots.’ The discussion of his predominantly ‘French’ or ‘Polish’ musical aesthetic rumbles on. Both nationalities defined him. In reality he reflected a mixture of the Polish 'żal ' and the French 'bon usage et bonne manière'.

Young Polish pianists tend to neglect the charm, elegance, style, refinement, poetry and grace of the undeniable French salon ingredient in the curious amalgam of European musical styles and condiments that are contained in Chopin's complex music, its emotional connotations and references (consider the differing reception attitudes to his music throughout the European nations). Franz Liszt invented the piano recital as we know it today. The muscular, masculine element of Chopin's nature tends to be emphasized and predominate in young pianists' interpretations at the expense of his beautifully balanced feminine predispositions.  

Chopin once with his characteristic barbed irony confided to Liszt:

I am not suited to public appearances – the auditorium saps my courage, I suffocate in the exhalation of the crowd, I am paralysed by curious glances . . . but you, you can, since if you should fail to win over the audience you at least have the possibility of murdering them.

His popularity in Paris was described by Antoni Orłowski: ‘turning the heads of all the French women, and arousing the envy of the men. He is currently in fashion, and soon the world will see gloves à la Chopin’. The youthful concertos, variations, waltzes, some mazurkas (many danced by his friends), rondos, some nocturnes, the Barcarolle, the Tarantella, the Bolero are not anguished statements ..... his entire output does not only contain fierce defensive patriotism, defiance, resistance and the melancholy of resignation contained in the scherzi, ballades, fantasias, sonatas ...... 

These Polish national elements are vital to express in interpretation but are only part of this complex musical figure of Fryderyk (Frédéric) Chopin. He lived so much of his life in Paris and Nohant quite apart from his musically fertile fraught love affair with Aurore Dupin (the distinguished French author George Sand). 

I can only emphasize once more that the young should examine the period context of his work - musical antecedents (par example Bach, Mozart, Hummel), history, instruments, literature, art, architecture ..... assemble the complete picture of time and place like an alluring mosaic. 

There are no French pianists in the International Chopin Competition this year. Have they lost interest in the competition itself or were their interpretations not of an acceptable standard ? A question difficult of answer. The formative influences of social media on the young and their teachers are much the same internationally today, a phenomenon unknown in the recent past where distinct national cultural differences and individuality of personality and expression in music were celebrated.



Unfortunately I was unable to hear his recital. However I have reviewed his playing often in the past and in many respects he overturns this opinion.

My opinion on many of the younger Polish pianists performing this year and taking part in the Chopin Competition in October can be found here, when they took part in the highly entertaining 50th National Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, 1-9 February 2020, Warsaw. Great photographs! 

Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

Mazurkas Op. 50 (1841–1842)

No. 1 in G major

No. 2 in A flat major

No. 3 in C sharp minor

Barcarolle in F sharp major Op. 60 (1845–1846)

Ballade in F minor Op. 52 (1842–1843)

Polonaise in A flat major Op. 53 (1842–1843)

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Friday 6 August 2021 - Chopin's Manor 20.00

Seong-Jin CHO

Opening Concert

Leoš Janaček (1854–1928) 

Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 in E flat minor (1905–1906)

Předtucha (Foreboding)

Smrt (Death)

Leoš Janaček (1854–1928) 

Cho began with the 1905 Sonata by Leoš Janaček (1854–1928),  a rarely performed work I have only heard in concert once before. As it stands now it has two movements - Foreboding and Death. One might think this work was certainly not 'a laugh a minute' but actually the sound palette is so adventurous, so restless and the sense of anger so strong one tends to overlook the titles of the movements.

There are some interesting reasons behind its composition, in a literary sense perhaps even more interesting than the inspired music  Janacek wrote the work as a fierce protest against the murder of a carpenter, Frantisek Pavlik, who had been killed with the thrust of a bayonet on the steps of the main Meeting House in Brno. He was supporting a proposed new seat of learning, a university in the Czech city. A furious Janacek immediately wrote this as a three movement work but destroyed the third movement, a funeral march. Sometime after the premiere he tried to destroy the rest by throwing it into the Vltava River, likening the manuscript to white swans as it floated away. Fortunately a pianist familiar with his volatile temperament had made a copy.

The work established an atmosphere of theatrical and dramatic poetry. Cho brought the piece an exciting freshness of conception. I notice many young pianists have begun to select rarely performed works by known and unknown composers. At time I felt we had moved into the inner workings of Janaček's mind as these fierce emotions of anger and grief played out their tumultuous lives. A singularly alive and vibrant performance.  

Karol Szymanowski (1882–1937)

Masques Op. 34 (1915–1916)


Tantris le bouffon

Sérénade de Don Juan 

Then that great piano work Masques, Op. 34 (1915–16). Was there an intended irony to present this work in the midst of a pandemic where the entire audience were wearing masks? If so it was appropriate and amusing. The audience certainly all kept masks in place in keeping with the spirit of the piece!

There is a variety of allusive 'programme' attached to the work. It is based on different literary characters. Queen Scheherazade, the narrator of the Arabian tales from One Thousand and One NightsTristan, the hero of the Celtic legend Tristan and Iseult, and finally Don Juan arguably greatest seducer and decadent in modern European culture. The three movements are entitled Scheherazade, Tantris the Buffoon and Don Juan’s Serenade.  

This was a brilliant performance of this work with revelations of colour and sound. A glowing tone and refinement of touch. Dramatic, theatrical and a kaleidoscope of harmonic colours. Cho seemed to have given himself time to explore context, a deeper acquaintance with the literary references, connotations and associations in terms of mastering the panalopy of emotional tensions and expressive contrasts within the work. 

Scheherazade (the first  movement dedicated to Alexander (Sasha) Dubyansky who would premiere Masques in St Petersburg on 12th October 1916) requires one to take an imaginative leap into the legendary past and perhaps listen to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The sarcastic irony of Tantris the Buffoon (dedicated to the great piano pedagogue Henryk Neuhaus) exposed both the public face of the mask and the inner tumult of emotions behind it. Of Don Juan's Serenade (dedicated so appropriately to Artur Rubinstein - read his autobiographical  My Early Years and the accounts of the red light Parisian crawls accompanied by the great Russian basso profundo Feodor Chaliapin) Szymanowski wrote to Stefan Spiess on 7 November 1915: “I have just fully completed my Don Juan and I am emormously pleased with it! In spite of its parody-like style, it is worth a lot more than those Odyssean tricks.”  Cho understood the parody perfectly and again the two faces of the Janus-like Don Juan were revealedSuggestive ambiguity was always in evidence.

This is a fiendishly difficult score and present it in concert. I could not help reflecting on the increased maturity of this artist in dealing with the highly sophisticated expressive musical material and personal philosophical ideas of Szymanowski, namely that in life we all wear misleading masks of one sort or another. The composer's personal life illustrated this concern graphically.


Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849) 

Scherzo in B minor Op. 20 (1834–1835)

Cho began the Chopin Scherzo with great nervous agitation and achieved the necessary magnificently articulated clarity of running passages to create the atmospheric 'infernal banquet' required by this dark 'joke' (as the word  'scherzo' is supposed to mean in Italian). The lyrical central section (based on the Polish Christmas Carol  Lulajze Jezuniu) however was perhaps not quite understood deeply and ardently enough in its Polish national significance. However the return for me of 'the infernal' was agitated but not quite demented enough for me. The extreme contrasts in mood are extraordinary in this almost psychotically revealing work of Chopin. Musical appreciation is transformed into such a personal matter at this astonishing level of pianism!

Scherzo in B flat minor Op. 31 (1836–1837)

Here we had a great narrative drama, an eruption of dramatic force that leads almost to its own destruction. A perfect example of 'Chopinian dynamic romanticism'. Chopin as a teacher was rarely satisfied with the opening triplet 'question' as he felt it should be uttered. Is this a question by Hamlet with a tempestuous but ambiguous answer ? Cho offered us a tremendously exciting performance of the work with great forward momentum and sensuality. The lyrical and singing cantabile Trio transported us to a dreamlike Arcadian garden from which were dragged away into the demolishing power of the mighty coda. 

Scherzo in C sharp minor Op. 39 (1839)

This scherzo opened in a 'Gothic', almost grotesque manner to become a fine and noble account approaching immense grandeur. Dedicated to his muscular pupil Adolf Gutman, this was last work the composer sketched during the Majorca sojourn and in the fraught atmosphere of the monastery at Valldemossa. The religiosity of the chorale was deeply affecting with its jeu perlé cascades of notes, diamonds falling on crystal. The sotto voce transition to the minor was deeply affecting and existentially tragic in the face of the abyss of death. Chopin was ill at the time which interrupted and perhaps affected the writing. ‘…questions or cries are hurled into an empty, hollow space – presto con fuoco.’ (Tomaszewski).

Scherzo in E major Op. 54 (1842–1843)

Cho finally performed this rarely presented scherzo. This work is not dramatic in the demonic sense of the three previous scherzi, but lighter in ambience. The outer sections are a strange exercise in rather joke-filled fun with a darkly concealed centre of passionate grotesquerie dependent on the accentuation of rhythmic detail. The work mysteriously encloses a deeply felt and ardent nocturne in the form of a longing love poem, suffused with a sense of loss. Cho explored this dream world and movingly expressed the complexity of these labyrinthine emotions. His refined tone and alluring touch were much in evidence.

Playfulness with hints of seriousness and gravity underlie the exuberant mood of this scherzo. The emotional ambiguities that run like a vein though the work were given heartfelt expression. The central section (lento, then sostenuto) in place of the Trio, gives one the impression so often with Chopin, of the ardent, reflective nature of distant love. Cho was poignant in the beautiful cantabile. The 'triumph and the will' infused the passionate last chords that close the work.

Heinrich Heine, a German poet who idolized Chopin, asked himself in a letter from Paris: ‘What is music?’ He answered  ‘It is a marvel. It has a place between thought and what is seen; it is a dim mediator between spirit and matter, allied to and differing from both; it is spirit wanting the measure of time and matter which can dispense with space.’

Tumultuous cheering and applause followed the recital. His first encore was a rather reflective and haunting account of the tender Einsame Blumen (Lonely Flowers) from Schumann's Waldszenen (Forest Scenes). Then a sigh of recognition for a sensitive, expressive account of the Chopin Nocturne No.2 in E-flat major Op.9.

A carefully designed programme of eloquent, emotional music brought to a fitting poetic conclusion like the a moth gently opening its wings at dusk.

Complete Programme Book Download Link [PDF file]

Polish and English


Duszniki Festival Facebook Link

Brief Introduction to some of the Pianists

Seong-Jin Cho

Here is what I wrote on Friday 5 August 2016    20.00            

[1st Prize 17th International Chopin Piano Competition Warsaw 2015]

A superlative artist I first heard at Duszniki then at the 2015 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. One of the fascinating aspects of this festival is how one can follow the development of artists if they return to play. It is a tradition that the winner of the Chopin Competition of any given year opens the Duszniki Festival and so it was this evening with Seong-Jin Cho, winner of the 17th International Chopin Competition in 2015. 

I would also like to quote an edited version of what I wrote about his performances at Duszniki Zdroj in 2010 and 2012:

"Ah, Youth - the glory of it!" so wrote Joseph Conrad.
Piotr Paleczny, the Artistic Director of this festival and a member of the 2015 jury, is to be congratulated on his unfailing ability to give us outstanding pianistic experiences, particularly with prodigious young talents.

Every once in a while a Wunderkind actually lives up to the hype in performance. This is certainly the case with the South Korean Seong-Jin Cho who this afternoon gave one of the most outstanding recitals I have ever heard from a young pianist - 'prodigious' scarcely describes the effect. Of all the musically talented Asian nations, South Korea has always seemed to me to produce the most musically gifted pianists by far. Perhaps the fraught and tragic history of this country enables its musicians to more readily identify with the psyche of composers such as Chopin. 

His natural musical gifts were immediately clear.

I have never seen the Professors at Duszniki so animated. Many were shouting 'Bravo' - a standing ovation - two weeping with the emotion of it. Remarkable scenes indeed in this super-critical musical environment.

This recital was like the electric green of early spring growth as the trees are coming into leaf, a shimmering vibrancy of new colour and new life, pulsating with the force of nature that will inevitably last but a short time, miraculous to experience in its unique energy and delight.

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My opinion on many of the younger Polish pianists this year can be found here when they took part in the highly entertaining 50th National Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, 1-9 February 2020, Warsaw, Poland

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The opening concert at the 69th Duszniki Festival in 2014 was by the fine Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi who is a distinguished prize-winner, teacher and recording artist. He writes on his website:

My proudest moments are always whenever I realize I've touched someone with my playing. Every time my music gets to someone's heart. It can happen at any time and place. And it is the best feeling in the world.

I wrote:

'This was a very satisfying recital by a mature artist who has gone well beyond the urge to bombard us with overt virtuosity and keyboard pyrotechnics for their own sake. Almost everything was most heartfelt, romantic and full of warm, dare I say Italian unashamed emotional expression never cloying but subtle and suffused with love of the music he chose to give us. certainly with this chilly and damp beginning to the festival we needed the embrace of some warm Italian sun on the proceedings!'

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Elżbieta STEFAŃSKA harpsichord

(On the 20th anniversary of the great Polish Pianist Halina Czerny-Stefańska's death. She was joint winner of the 1949 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw alongside Bella Davidovich)

I am very much looking forward to this harpsichord recital by such a fine magician and instrumentalist. So rarely does one hear a harpsichord in a room that suits the limited dynamic power and subtle effect to stimulate the nervous system that this the instrument possesses. My 'pet theory' is that the harpsichord works at the nerve level whilst the piano at the level of the blood.The programme looks fascinating. I last heard both mother and daughter give a quite extraordinary recital many years ago in the Old Orangery Theatre in the Royal Lazienki Park.

Miraculously this 18th century Court Theatre, the sole surviving one of its kind in Europe, escaped the systematic destruction of Warsaw by the Nazis. The seating is of refined simplicity and the decoration is superb with a magnificent ceiling painted by Jan Bogumil Plersch representing Apollo driving a quadriga surrounded by Geniuses. It is a perfect example of the unique Stanislawian aesthetic in art and architecture evolved by that extraordinarily gifted but somewhat unpopular King of Poland, Stanislaw Augustus Poniatowski. Four medallions in each corner represent the world's greatest dramatists - Sophocles, Moliere, Racine and Shakespeare.

For me the most wonderful feature however is the trompe l'oeil paintings a la Veronese above the cornice which give one the impression of boxes filled with happy and festive spectators looking down at the stage and auditorium dressed in XVIIIth century Polish costume (that wonderfully decorative combination of the Sarmatian and the French rococo).

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Martin James Bartlett

I wrote at the Duszniki Festival on Wednesday, August 8, 2018 
Chopin's Manor 4:00 PM

This was without doubt one of the most extraordinary recitals ever to have taken place in the Dworek. The musical range of this ambitious programme was remarkable - from Bach to Scriabin. Here we have a complete musician and pianist that is almost faultless surely, except perhaps to the ears of most accomplished and experienced professors of music. BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2014, he has now performed with many prestigious orchestras at home in the greatest British concert venues and internationally. He has also taken part in masterclasses with the most eminent of musicians. He recently gave a universally praised performance of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with the conductor K. Karabits and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Ulster Orchestra at the BBC Last Night at the Proms was also a great success. [...] This young pianist is a true musical and pianistic discovery at a remarkable level of sophisticated musicianship scarcely ever achieved in youth. Just watch this meteor rise. That is of course if audiences have the discrimination to listen to a truly profound, hugely gifted musician in the Dinu Lipatti mould rather than a mere thunderous entertainer.

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On 12 August 2015 I wrote of a recital given at Duszniki by Alexander Kobrin

I have admired this pianist enormously ever since I first heard him at Duszniki Zdroj many years ago. A greater contrast with Bozhanov could scarcely be imagined. Every note in this recital was perfectly weighted and 'in its place', each had been carefully considered in terms of dynamic, articulation, colour and timbre. The chosen tempi were never exaggerated and gave no cause for concern. There was complete command of the historical style of the work in question throughout with scarcely any invasion of what one might call the 'privacy of the composer'. All this founded on a flawless and complete virtuoso piano technique. 

This recital was a truly magnificent achievement of objective interpretation where the pianist really did seem to be merely a conduit for the composer, his own personality impinging scarcely at all on the interpretation. A perfect model of the contemporary aesthetic of absolute faithfulness to the published score. 

But is this enough? 

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Nikita Mndoyants

I wrote of this recital at Chopin's Manor - Friday 11 August 2017 - 20.00 

I had been greatly anticipating this recital from the winner of the 2016 Cleveland International Piano Competition, winner of the 2007 Paderewski International Piano Competition with which I am particularly familiar and a finalist in the 2013 Van Cliburn International Competition. Here we have a rare combination of composer and executant in an irresistible combination. [...]After the interval a unique work I had never heard before - his own transcription at the age of 15 of the joyful, lively and energetic Prokofiev Scherzo from Symphony No 5  Op.100, Movement II, Allegro marcato. I found this a simply breathtaking approach to Prokofiev in terms of articulation and sheer energy. This was not a headache-producing Prokofiev which is all too common, the audience beaten into submission. Instead we were lured there by the colour of his dynamic spectrum and not simply assaulted by mindless percussion. [...]Quite fantastic this movement and unlike any Prokofiev I have ever heard. Tumultuous applause and an instant standing ovation.

Among the very greatest Prokofiev I have ever heard in a concert hall. A true 'Duszniki Moment' - we had waited a long time for this one. 

One of the greatest recitals at Duszniki Zdroj for years.

Daniel Ciobanu

Saturday August 4, 2018 Chopin's Manor  8:00 pm  

When the Romanian pianist Daniel Ciobanu mounted the stage at Duszniki, his rather 'alternative' appearance and sensational international reputation to date presaged what would be an individualistic possibly charismatic recital. So it came to be with all the feelings that accompany a strong point of view of familiar works on the part of an artist. [...]A sensational recital that clearly will bring him in the future hordes of adoring fans. He was recently invited to perform alongside Lang Lang at the Royal Festival Hall and won the Audience Prize at the latest Artur Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv.

Aglika Genova and Liuben Dimitrov 

They are one of the finest piano duos in the world.

Sofya Gulyak from Russia, the first-ever female pianist to win the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition 

Eric Lu

My Notebook entry for Saturday, August 11, 2018

Chopin's Manor 4:00 PM

For such a young man Eric Lu has achieved great things which speaks volumes for his natural gifts, uncompromising attitude to work and the inherent poetry embedded within his musical appreciation. Lu was first brought to the world’s attention when he was a prizewinner at the 2015 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw at the age of 17, becoming one of the youngest laureates in the history of the prestigious competition. Subsequently he performed with famous orchestras in prestigious venues around the globe. Eric currently studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia with Profs. J. Biss and R. McDonald. He is also a pupil of the pianist Dang Thai Son.

Just to say how overjoyed I am that Eric Lu won the 2018 Leeds Piano Competition. Wonderful that all my predictions (and the remarkable musical foresight of the Duszniki Artistic Director, pianist Professor Piotr Paleczny) came true. The Beethoven Concerto No. 4 was magnificent...one of the finest I have heard and which earned him in addition the Terence Judd Orchestral Award.

Those of you who have read the above may know that he first came to my attention in Duszniki Zdrój in August 2015. If you scroll this link it leads to what I wrote extensively about his appearance in the 2015 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw and at Duszniki that same year:


  Past Festival Posts

The 75th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2020

The 74th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2019
The 73rd Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2018

The 72nd Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2017

The 71st Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2016

The 70th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2015

The 69th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2014  

The 68th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2013

The 67th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2012

The 66th. Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2011

The 65th. Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2010

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In the time of the dreaded Coronavirus, the visit by this immortal composer to Duszniki Zdrój (then Bad Reinerz in Silesia) seems almost appropriate! Of course Chopin himself was no stranger to pandemics, as cholera took Paris twice by the throat during his time there.

If you wish to read about the pandemics that Chopin lived through in Paris, I have done some research: 

Chopin in the Time of Cholera 

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A modicum of the 'ancient' history of Duszniki Zdrój

Part of the way through his studies Joseph Elsner recommended that Chopin ‘take the waters’ or 'go into rehab' not far from where Elsner was born in the small Silesian spa of Bad Reinerz (now Duszniki Zdrój). Originally on the Prussian-Bohemian frontier, the village is now in the south-west of Poland on the border with the Czech Republic. Frycek’s studies and intense partying into the small hours during his third and final year at the Liceum had begun to affect his health. He was a bit of a 'party animal' was Frycek! In his youth he was not the melancholic consumptive of popular myth at all. The virtuosic youthful exuberance of the concertos, rondos and variations reflect this freedom from care.
Headaches and swollen glands necessitated the application of leeches to his neck. The family doctors (there were a number) agreed his condition might possibly be serious. The idea gained in popularity with the Skarbeks of Żelazowa Wola (Countess Ludwika herself was suffering from tuberculosis) and three family groups set off at intervals on the arduous 450 km journey by carriage from Warsaw to Bad Reinerz over rough roads serviced by indifferent accommodation. The route they took through pine forests and agricultural country now passes through industrialized towns.

Frycek arrived at Duszniki Zdrój on 3 August 1826 spending a day en route at Antonin in the honey-coloured timber hunting lodge of Prince Antoni Radziwiłł, respected scion of one of the wealthiest Polish magnate families. He was a fine cellist, composer and singer. This delightful octagonal lodge is built in a beautiful region of forests and lakes. On a later visit he wrote ‘There were two young Eves in this paradise, the exceptionally courteous and good princesses, both musical and sensitive beings.’ Of Wanda Radziwiłł   ‘She was young, 17 years old, and truly pretty, and it was so nice to put her little fingers on the right notes.’ While a guest Chopin wrote a Polonaise for piano and cello - ‘brilliant passages, for the salon, for the ladies’.

Chopin sketched by Eliza Radziwill at Antonin en route to Duszniki Zdroj 1826.

Duszniki as a treatment centre has not greatly changed. Tuberculosis has however thankfully disappeared. The Spa Park and the town nestle in the peaceful mountain river valley of the tumbling Bystrzyca Dusznicka. Fresh pine woods flourish on the slopes and the moist micro-climate is wonderfully refreshing. Carefully stepping invalids negotiate the shaded walks that radiate across the park between flowering shrubs, fountains and lawns.
                                                                                     The Spa Park at Duszniki Zdrój

Many famous artists visited Duszniki in the nineteenth century including the composer Felix Mendelssohn. In times past the regimented cures began at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. when people gathered at the well heads. The waters at the Lau-Brunn (now the Pienawa Chopina or Chopin’s Spa) were dispensed by girls with jugs fastened to the ends of poles who also distributed gingerbread to take away the horrible taste (not surprisingly it was considered injurious to lean towards the spring and breathe in the carbon dioxide and methane exhalations).

In a possibly apochryphal story, Chopin was reputed to have developed an affection for a poor ‘girl of the spring’ named Libusza. One tragic day Lisbusza’s father was crushed to death by an iron roller (perhaps in the nearby Mendelssohn iron mill) and she and her brothers were made orphans. Most likely it was a charity concert for the orphaned children after the loss of their father to illness. In his generous way ‘Chopinek’ or 'Frycek' to his family (an affectionate Polish diminutive of his name) wanted to assist the family and his mother suggested giving a benefit recital. Despite the lack of a decent instrument he agreed and in August 1826 gave two of his first public concerts in a small hall in the town. 

Since 1946 this event has been celebrated every August in a week-long International Chopin Piano Festival, the oldest piano music festival in Poland and indeed the world. I have made a point of attending it as often as I can. An original building near where he played has been converted into the charming Dworek Chopina, an intimate concert room. Many of the finest pianists in the world, established artists and even child prodigies including past winners of the always controversial Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition have appeared in these Elysian surroundings.

The Duszniki festival attempts to maintain the intimate nature of the salon and the piano music is not restricted to Chopin. During the day there is time to walk in the peace of the surrounding pine-clad mountains, ‘take the waters’ if you dare or visit splendid castles in the nearby Czech lands. Eccentric characters regularly appear there: the ‘Texan’ Pole who wears cowboy boots, Florida belts and Stetson hats of leopard-skin or enameled in blue, maroon or green. ‘I jus’ love it here but I jus’ hate that goddam music!’ (recitals are broadcast through loudspeakers over the Spa Park); the ethereal girl with the swan neck who seems to have stepped directly from a fête galant by Antoine Watteau; an elderly musician with long grey hair and wearing a voluminous silk cravat materializes and then disappears. 

Sviatoslav Richter (far left) on the steps of the Dworek Chopina 
at the 
1965 Duszniki Zdroj Festival

In the past I have experienced many remarkable musical moments at Duszniki. Grigory Sokolov, arguably the greatest living pianist, gave a magisterial performance of that radical composition the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie. He profoundly recreated the tragic instability of Chopin’s disintegrating world during his final years. The Ukrainian pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk returned to the piano after an horrific car accident that threatened to leave him permanently incapacitated. He has gone on to great things internationally. His theatrical temperament, musical passion and truly astounding virtuosity never fail to astonish.

The soulful young Russian Igor Levit is deeply involved with the music of Schumann. He movingly reminded the audience of the genesis of the Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations) written when the composer was on the brink of suicide in a mental institution. After completing the final variation Schumann fell forever silent. The great Liszt super-virtuoso Janina Fialkowska, a true inheritor of the nineteenth century late Romantic school of pianism, courageously returned to the platform here after her career was brought to a dramatic and terrifying halt by the discovery of a tumour in her left arm. Daniil Trifonov utterly possessed by the spirit of Mephistopheles in the greatest performance of the Liszt Mephisto Waltz No:1 I have ever heard. The moments continue...

One remarkable late evening event of the festival is called Nokturn and takes place by candlelight. The audience in evening dress are seated at candlelit tables with wine. A learned Polish professor and Chopin specialist such as the wonderful Polish musicologist Professor Irena Poniatowska might draw our attention to this or that ‘deep’ musical aspect of the Chopin Preludes or perhaps the influence of Mozart on the composer. Sometimes it is a famous actor, music critic, or journalist. The pianists ‘illustrate’ and perform on Steinways atmospherically lit by flickering candelabra.

In spite of the immense popularity of Chopin, this festival manages to recapture the essentially private and esoteric experience of his music, an experience one might consider had been lost forever.

I will be keeping my detailed blog of the pianists as I normally do for this unique festival. I always keenly anticipate coming to the small Polish spa town. One can walk in the morning in the invigorating pine-forested mountains of the former Silesian spa Bad Reinerz or attend a Master Class followed by a late afternoon and evening recital. Of course each day one approaches in trepidation the Chopin Spring to take the smelly waters with a draught from the traditional spouted ceramic drinking cup.

The festival offers one rare moments of bliss and oblivion to escape the constant news of the unhinged, economically fraught and increasingly brutal violence and political trauma in this world of ours. Now the pandemic...

Detail from the wall decoration of the remarkable 17th century paper mill that survives in Duszniki Zdroj. This building is unique in Europe. It is a fascinating place to visit.

Introduction to the History of the Festival 


The much missed Polish musicologist, academic, music critic, music journalist and essayist who died on 25 March 2019 

Stanisław Dybowski

When, in 1946, Ignacy Potocki, a co-founder of the Lower Silesian Health Resorts, proposed that a music festival named after Frédéric Chopin be held in Duszniki-Zdrój, nobody thought that that annual event would continue for the next seventy-one years. It has, indeed, continued without interruptions until today, rendering famous the name of the Polish genius and his music, as well as the health resort, at the same time enlarging the output of the global musical culture. 

It all started very modestly, amid still strong memories of World War II that had ended only a year before. The two-day Chopin celebration was inaugurated with a solemn ceremony (25 August), during which a plaque commemorating Frédéric Chopin’s stay at the resort was un- veiled, followed by a recital by one of the greatest Polish female piano players, a magnificent Chopin expert, Zofia Rabcewiczowa (1870– 1947). In the interval during her concert Paulina Czernicka familiarised the present with the content of unknown letters sent by Chopin to Delfina Potocka, which twenty years later turned out to be … apocrypha. On the next day (26 August), at the concert hall of the Spa House, the audience listened to a performance by Henryk Sztompka (1901–1964), also one of the foremost Chopin experts. At the time Duszniki-Zdrój witnessed an encounter between two heirs of the great traditions of Ignacy Jan Paderewski (Sztompka) and Antoni Rubinstein (Rabcewiczowa). They performed exclusively compositions by the patron of the 1st festival. Interpretations of both pianists, including those, among other works, Sonata in H minor and selected études (Rabcewiczowa), as well as mazurkas, preludes and nocturnes (Sztompka), are now part of Chopin performance history. Those present at the concerts claim that they have never heard those works performed better… 

Initially, the festival programme included only Chopin’s music performed by Polish artists. With time, however, the repertoire began to be extended with works by other Polish composers of Chopin’s period. Gradually, in subsequent years, pieces by foreign artists were added and the performers began to include laureates, and then participants, of the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. Thus, the event was becoming a forum of the world piano performance. For many artists, even those renowned, performing Chopin’s music on the Duszniki-Zdrój stage is an important point in their musical career. 

The event has witnessed concerts by the greatest piano masters. The already dead ones include legendary Raul Koczalski, Witold Małcużyński, Stefan Askenazy, Władysław Kędra, Paweł Lewiecki, Stanisław Szpinalski, Zbigniew Drzewiecki, Jan Ekier, Halina Czerny-Stefańska, Regina Smendzianka, Zbigniew Szymonowicz, Barbara Hesse-Bukowska, Jerzy Lefeld, Klara Langer-Danecka, Tadeusz Żmudziński, Miłosz Magin and others, while the foreign ones  e.g. Louis Kentner, František Rauch, Malcolm Frager and Stanislav Neuhaus. Many have made their debut in Duszniki-Zdrój, where they embarked on their international careers, including Adam Harasiewicz, Piotr Paleczny, Janusz Olejniczak, Krystian Zimerman, Ewa Pobłocka or Wojciech Świtała. It is with great sentiment that we remember, until today, the magnificent recitals by Paul Badura-Skoda, Michael Ponti, Joaquin Achucarro, Philippe Entremont, Dang Thai Son, Fou Ts’ong, Eugen Indjic, Cyprien Katsaris, Christian Zacharias and Kevin Kenner, among others. It was also here that the Festival’s artistic director, Piotr Paleczny, had his great successes. 

Today the International Chopin Piano Festival in Duszniki-Zdrój is the world’s oldest Chopin festival and oldest piano festival. The originally modest event dedicated to Chopin has, after years of beautiful development, become a unique occasion. It is very often the centre of the world piano art, a place where aesthetical canons in music are built, performance trends are created and artistic careers are launched. 

Since 1993, i.e. the 48th Festival, the artistic supervision over the event is exercised by Professor Piotr Paleczny, who himself comes from a beautiful Chopin tradition. 

As is well known, Chopin’s favourite student was Karol Mikuli (1819–1897), whose outstanding pupils included Aleksander Michałowski (1851–1938). Aleksander Michałowski was, in turn, a professor of Stefania Allina (1895–1988), who taught Piotr Paleczny… 

The Chopin tradition does not end with Paleczny though. It is now continued by his students, who win prizes at international competitions and music reviews, and is further developed by the festival that it shapes. In Duszniki-Zdrój we have the opportunity to meet the most brilliant young pianists from around the world and, at the same time, experience the art of famous performers, whose names give prominence to every festival. It is often here that music lovers are able to listen to a laureate of an international piano competition that was concluded only a few days earlier!

The characteristic feature of Duszniki-Zdrój concerts is their high level and varied programme. Although Chopin’s music remains the core of the repertoire, it is supplemented with works by other composers, creating in various styles and various periods of history. Some pieces may be heard several times, which provides an excellent opportunity to compare their interpretations, ways in which the same text has been read, demonstrations of hitherto undiscovered layers in music… Even though piano music is still the main feature in Duszniki-Zdrój, Chopin’s chamber pieces are not neglected by Piotr Paleczny. Therefore, we are able to listen to his songs, cello works, a piano trio and transcriptions by various authors of the composer’s brilliant works.

A beautiful tradition, initiated by Paleczny, are open lectures and talks on Chopin’s piano art, delivered by outstanding Chopin experts and piano performance researchers, as well as master interpretation classes for selected, talented young musicians, conducted by world-re- nowned professors and famous pianists.

At the beginning of August every year Duszniki-Zdrój becomes the Chopin centre, attracting music lovers from around the world, young musicians, music critics, art critics and all those who care about Chopin. The multilingual noise in Spa Park clearly indicates where Chopin is being celebrated and where his beloved instrument is being played…
Felix Mendelssohn at Duszniki Zdró1823

I often walk to to what is now the rehabilitation centre of Stalowy Zdrój on the outskirts of Duszniki and familiarize myself with the Felix Mendelssohn connections with the spa.

The iron ore deposits of what was known as Bad Reinerz (now Duszniki Zdroj) and its surroundings have been exploited since the beginning of the 15th century. Protestant miners emigrated here during the religious turmoil of the Thirty Years War when mining was established at the end of the 17th century. A molten iron and a hammer mill was established in 1822 by Nathan Mendelssohn (an instrument maker). With his brother Joseph Mendelssohn's financial help he revived the mining industry. I have often wondered if it was at this mill that the the tragedy occurred for which Chopin gave his charity concert.

Joseph was a successful banker as well as being another uncle of the composer Felix Mendelssohn. The Mendelssohns were a wealthy and well-established Jewish family. However the iron company had no lasting success because of severe flood damage in 1827 and 1829. Nathan Mendelssohn abandoned the operation at the end of 1829. 

Felix Mendelssohn came to stay with his uncles in Duszniki in 1823 three years prior to Chopin's stay. A concert was held in Duszniki in which the main protagonist was the fourteen-year-old Mendelssohn. The young pianist did without the accompaniment of the semi-amateur ensemble that normally performed and decided to improvise solo on themes from Mozart and Weber to great acclaim.

I will leave you with some photographs of buildings still standing that resulted from my initial explorations.

The house stayed in by Felix Mendelssohn at Duszniki Zdroj in 1823

The commemorative plaque on the house






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