17th. Chopin and his Europe International Music Festival 'So Far Away, and Yet So Close'… 14-31 August 2021

17th. Chopin and his Europe International Music Festival

So far away, and yet so close…

14-31 August 2021

All photographs by Wojciech Grzędziński / NIFC

Tuesday 31.08.21 18:00

Moniuszko Hall of the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

Symphonic Concert

And so we arrive at the final concert of this remarkable Festival, Chopin and His Europe 2021. It has been a long and winding road of the most exquisite musical pleasures and some occasional bathos. The Artistic Director Stanisław Leszczyński is to be congratulated once again on his unstinting efforts to 'keep the show on the road', especially in the face of the pandemic which has so curtailed international travel for artists.

As a 'foreign critic' I find the international publicity restrictions in Poland a severely limiting cultural barrier of the most unfortunate kind, especially in view of the Polish musical renaissance now in progress. There is in progress a rich rediscovery of Polish Early Music, Baroque, Classical and Romantic - the reason I keep this Reviewer's Notebook in English. 

Other musical festivals in Poland suffer from the same fate of ignorance abroad of what is actually taking place here musically. The remarkable Actus Humanus in Gdańsk, the superb Wrocław Cantans, the Bach Festival in Świdnica, the International Chopin Festival in Duszniki Zdrój, the Warsaw Autumn Contemporary Music Festival to name only the most outstanding. Well, I do what I can...

Dorothee Mields soprano

Krešimir Stražanac baritone

Philippe Herreweghe conductor

Collegium Vocale Gent

The Orchestre des Champs-Élysées 

Gabriel Fauré

Requiem, Op. 48

Fauré wrote of the work:

'Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest.' He also said after many years as an organist accompanying funerals and requiems, he said his goal in this composition was was '...to stray from the established path after all those years accompanying funerals! I’d had them up to here. I wanted to do something different.'

These sentiments were encapsulated completely in this performance. This placid, meditative and contemplative mood was beautifully preserved by the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, and choir under Philippe Herreweghe. The Pie Jesu was eloquently and movingly sung by Dorothee Mields. Perhaps there could have been a touch more drama in the expressiveness .... Of the many versions he wrote, I am unsure which one was performed on this occasion.

 Johannes Brahms

Begräbnisgesang for mixed choir and wind instruments, Op. 13

I was unfamiliar with this early masterpiece of Brahms that is both tragic and mysteriously optimistic. A most unusual composition of 1858, two years after the death of Robert Schumann. One can assume fond memories of Schumann inspired this small Requiem.  He uses wind instruments to delineate the character of the work.  Brahms orchestrates with the mahogany colours of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trombones, and tuba not forgetting timpani. There is an absence of strings sections. The ancient, quasi-liturgical text gives the work an archaic character. One is reminded of Renaissance Gabrieli brass consorts in Venice and Bach cantatas.  This short piece was remarkably effective during this concert.

Igor Stravinsky

Symphony of Psalms

In the summer of 1929, the conductor Serge Koussevitzky commissioned a symphony from Igor Stravinsky to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Boston Symphony Orchestra. However, the composer by this time in his life had returned to religiosity and the Russian Orthodox faith of his childhood and youth, arguably the most authentically Russian of all cultural values.

The symphony for Koussevitzky would be transmuted into the Symphony of Psalms, a choral work based on the Latin bible. He chose the Catholic Latin text, as instrumental accompaniment was not permitted in liturgical Orthodox music. It was completed during August 1930 in Nice.

Stravinsky orchestrates the Symphony of Psalms an unusual concentration of flutes, trumpets, and pianos, omitting clarinets and high strings such as violins, violas as. Stravinsky chose verses from psalms 38, 39 and 150. The double fugal writing of the second movement  is monumental with architectural symbolism. The chorus intones that God 'heard my prayers, and brought me out of the pit of misery.' and the chorus sings 'And he put a new canticle into my mouth, a song to our God. Many shall see, and shall fear: and they shall hope in the Lord.'

Nothing resembling The Rite of Spring, this symphony reveals his novel neoclassical style of clarity and restraint.

The Finale is a setting of text of Psalm 150. Stravinsky wrote: “the allegro in the 150th Psalm was inspired by a vision of Elijah’s chariot climbing the heavens [11 Kings 2, 11]; I do not think I had ever written anything so literal as the triplets for horns and piano to suggest the horses and the chariot. The final hymn of praise must be thought of as issuing from the skies; agitation is followed by the calm of praise.” A feeling of rather  'heavenly tranquillity' concluded the work.

This fine performance was a fitting conclusion to the 50th anniversary of the death of Igor Stravinsky in New York on April 6th 1971. His funeral was held in Venice a little over a week later. He is buried on Isola de San Michele. 

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Monday 30.08.21 20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Music Hall

Piano recital

Chloe Jiyeong Mun piano


Fryderyk Chopin

Mazurka in B major Op. 56 No. 1

Mazurka in C major Op. 56 No. 2

Mazurka in C minor Op. 56 No. 3

Overall Mun played these mazurkas with great sensitiveness and expressively.

No. 1 in B major

Engaging nostalgia was expressed here by Mun within its harmonically adventurous and fragmented nature. The mazurka rhythm emerges clearly.

No. 2 in C major

Ferdynand Hoesick described this mazurka that has such a rustic dance feel as follows: ‘The basses bellow, the strings go hell for leather, the lads dance with the lasses and they all but wreck the inn’. I felt Mun was quite boisterous and rumbustious to satisfy the character of the work.

No. 3 in C minor

I always felt this mazurka as not based in reality but in nostalgic dream and memories. I felt Mun brought great fragility to this refined work which drifts over the Mazovian plain on a summer breeze, fading away to nothing as the first autumn leaves fall into a stream...

24 Preludes, Op. 28

I felt this to be a spectacular and formidable account of this popular cycle. However, for me was too overtly 'pianistic' in a virtuoso sense and rather predictably straightforward with what one might term, 'closely studied and learned expressive gestures', rather than spontaneous, organic expressions of emotional turmoil. There could have been far more contrast displayed in the distinct character of each prelude.The utter despair of No: 2 in A minor is a clear example. There was no hint of the haunted nature of some preludes, haunted by the ghosts of Valldemossa and the demons that inhabit our lives. I felt, however brilliant her execution (and it certainly was that), the approach lacked true personal individuality, audience communicative electricity and a characteristic 'voice' in its sheer perfectionism, unless one regards this quality as an individual characteristic in itself. The metaphysical underside of these works, the dark realities were buried far beneath the surface brilliance.

The slightly imperfect execution of a task in life has a curiously attractive human quality, especially in musical performance. I feel famous labels in the the recording industry, for quite understandable commercial reasons, insists on the 'perfect' account of any recorded work with no blemishes (pace Grigory Sokolov who only agrees to release carefully selected recordings of his live concerts). Oddly, a great pioneer of this perfectionist ideology was the great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. I tend to feel it is an unfortunate physical and cosmetic trait of our times in many areas of life. Mun gave a phenomenally virtuosic, not sufficiently expressive and on occasion, excessively emotional, account of the cycle, at least for my taste. Is not Chopin a master of understatement and suggestion in the Preludes?

It would of course have been impossible for Chopin to have ever considered performing this complete radical cycle in his own musical and cultural environment (not least because of the brevity of many of the pieces). It is unlikely ever to have even occurred to him to do this, the way programmes were designed piecemeal at the time. I tend to feel the performance of them as a cycle is of course possible but not entirely justified. In some of his programmes and others of the period, a few preludes are scattered randomly  through them like diamond dust. Each piece contains within it entire worlds and destinies of the human spirit and deserves individual attention rather than being a brick in a monumental edifice.

It is now well established by structuralists and Bach scholars as a complete and symmetrical work, a masterpiece of integrated yet unrelated ‘fragments’ (in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century sense of that aesthetic term). Each prelude can of course stand on its own as a perfect miniature landscape of emotional feeling and tonal climate. But ‘Why Preludes? Preludes to what?’ André Gide asked rather gratuitously. One possible explanation is that the idea of 'preluding' as an improvisational activity in the same key for a short time before a large keyboard work was to be performed was well established in Chopin's day but has been abandoned in modern times.

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

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Images I

Images II

Debussy wrote in a letter to Edgar Varèse: ‘I love pictures almost as much as music.’ The connections between creative arts has always preoccupied me. Robert Schumann in the mid-19th century wrote: ‘The painter can learn from a symphony by Beethoven, just as the musician can learn from a work by Goethe.’ Debussy painted pictures with tones and became associated with Impressionism in the manner of the French painter Monet.

Pebble thrown into Loch Katrine, Scotland

Mystery lies in the quiet opening of the Reflets dans l’eau. The pianist Marguerite Long, a contemporary of Debussy, said that the composer referred to the opening motif as ‘a little circle in water with a little pebble falling into it’. 

Debussy greatly admired French culture of the 18th century, so the choice of inspiration being Jean Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) is not unexpected. I would however have thought the clavecin pieces of François Couperin and paintings by Watteau closer to Debussy’s temperament but obviously he considered not. Another misconception of mine perhaps. The Hommage à Rameau  is ‘in the style of a Sarabande’ a slow, stately 18th-century dance with a deeply affecting melody. I found her account expressively attractive but the different colours and voices can be brought forward with more subtlety and judicious use of the pedal.

Mouvement is pure piano virtuosity of breathtaking difficulty by Debussy, as if it was an endless etude. Mun with her extraordinary finger dexterity, performed this impressively. However, greater lightness would have created the agitated impressionistic effect of leaves in the wind that develops into the gusts of a storm, with prominent internal voices, as Debussy surely intended. 

In one's soul, one needs that curious, almost pantheistic feeling for nature and Impressionism that is so embedded in the music of Debussy. The reason I love Polish trees is their leaves vibrate in the breeze like a Monet painting. The Poissons d'or from Images II was exceptionally impressionistic and ravishing. In performing Debussy on the piano, one should aspire to be a seductive performer ….. these works are not virtuosic showpieces.

Again, these compositions, which are in reality glorious paintings in sound, should give the listener a feeling of searching improvisation and a diffuse impressionistic quality of pianistic colour, in much the same way as an 'image' magically coalesces under the brushstrokes of an artist on a canvas placed on an easel. Mun achieved this creative ambiance only in part. Her indispensable technical brilliance tended to overshadow the creation of the wonderfully, luminous atmosphere Debussy intends for us. One needs to rise some way above keyboard facility, exploring the intangible realm of lyric poetry. A more creative use of the pedal would have created this diaphanous filter through which we hear and see in the mind's eye some of these alluring 'Images'

Aleksander Skriabin

Piano Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp major, Op. 30

This young Korean pianist now tried valiantly to take us into the realms of magic, the mystical and the metaphysical. For this work Scriabin wrote a programme: a poem describing flight to a distant star, which partly reads:

Thinly veiled in transparent cloud

A star shines softly, far and lonely.

How beautiful! The azure secret

Of its radiance beckons, lulls me …

Vehement desire, sensual, insane, sweet …

Now! Joyfully I fly upward toward you,

Freely I take wing.

Mad dance, godlike play …

I draw near in my longing …

Drink you in, sea of light, you light of my own self …

The poem works with the music in symbiosis. The notion of flight is ever present in his extraordinary mind - Prestissimo volando is the indication. In the first movement the 'Tristan' yearning of love and desire follows without a break to a movement of which Scriabin demanded ‘I want it even faster, as fast as possible, on the verge of the possible … it must be a flight at the speed of light, straight towards the sun, into the sun!’

The sonata ends in triumphal joy. Scriabin once wrote:  ‘To become an optimist in the true sense of the word, one must have been prey to despair and surmounted it.’ The pianism here was formidable but one must also possess a deep neurosis to penetrate Scriabin and his uncommon psyche.  The expression of Vehement desire, sensual, insane, sweet … requires the possession of an almost decadent and certainly singular imaginationDespite her brilliant fingers, I never felt Mun passed with us into one metaphysical dimension deeper, a creation which the visionary poetry surely demands.

An exceptionally promising recital by this young artist. More attention to the context in which any great work is conceived may allow a more emotional and expressive spiritual depth to emerge from this astonishing keyboard mastery.

As an encore, a sensitive and subtly moving Claire de Lune .... the 'perfect' choice.

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Sunday 29.08.21 18:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert 

Nelson Goerner period piano

Philippe Herreweghe conductor

The Orchestre des Champs-Élysées

Perhaps living in Warsaw and examining the youth of Chopin in detail, walking in his footsteps, has made me particularly aware of the genesis and gestation of his two youthful piano concertos. 

The renowned Orchestre des Champs-Élysées period instrument orchestra assembled exceptionally large forces this evening for the Classical rather than Romantic orchestra of Chopin's period (five double basses!). I felt the resultant dynamic inflation rather overwhelmed the superb National Chopin Institute 1849 Erard piano in the fine rendition by Nelson Goerner, a master pianist of these concerti. The concertos were originally conceived in a chamber style and for far smaller forces than these that would allow the reduced instrumental counterpoint, polyphony, rubato and phrasing to expressively shine in balanced symbiosis with the period piano. 

Portrait of the young Chopin by Ambroży Mieroszewski (1829)

 Fryderyk Chopin

Piano Concerto in E minor Op. 11

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

As is well known, although designated No.1, it is actually his second concerto. The first written was in F-minor Op.21. The issue is not of the greatest chronological significance because Chopin’s two piano concertos were composed within a year of each other although different in essential character. Chopin always chose the E minor to impress at his rare concerts. I am always amazed at the nature of true genius displayed when Chopin was in his late teens. At its premiere in 1830, he played the piano part himself, and the concert marked his final public appearance as a pianist in Poland. Soon Chopin was to leave for Vienna and then Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life.

The opening Allegro movement has the character maestoso which we find in the noble and proud polonaises, a measured grandiosity that should be dispatched with èlan and poetry. The styl brillant of the period should be clear to hear in its animation and what in Chopin's day was termed 'enthusiasm'. I felt the Allegro maestoso did not move forward with the irresistible, passionate impulse I think it requires, musical phrases slightly broken and not leading inexorably into one another like a mountain stream in the styl brillant. 

The style owes so much to the sparkling momentum of the concertos of Hummel. Graceful rhapsodic sweeps remind me of eagles taking updrafts in the High Tatras. There are calm moments of reflection and fiorituras as delicate as Koniakowska lace. Nelson Goerner accomplished this in fine style, even if the orchestra was rather weighty and the Bach inspired polyphony unclear.

Attempts to transform musical experience into the very different language of my words is fraught with difficulties. Forgive the hyperbole not so popular in 2021! 

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

The divine melody at this slow tempo is perfectly ardent, one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. Lethargy from dreams begins to awake in a slow movement of unblemished, illusioned rapture. 

I conceive of it in daylight. In a sun-dappled grove, lovers lie in long grass by a stream among birches and willows as summer clouds drift towards the horizon. The heart rises with the swallow as leaves fall and drift on a slight breeze. Spider webs glisten in the sun in this slow dance of the heart. A threatening shadow of doubt and a sudden chill soon passes as dusk falls, the last pianissimo note of love thrown towards us by hand. 

This creation of atmosphere was alluring and Goerner was as always subtle, refined and of delicate poetic sensibility. I felt however the orchestra did little to augment these feelings in any particularly idiomatic or creative way, although there were beautiful  impressionistic episodes.

The Rondo follows attacca, without a pause, rousing us from poetic dreams and reveries with robust dance rhythms vivace and rhapsodic gestures. Here we encounter the playfulness, dancing, acting and extreme good humor of Chopin the young man, a neglected aspect of his character in the received paradigm of the later consumptive melancholic. 

The character of the exuberant Polish krakowiak dance is present here, a syncopated, duple-time popular dance in contemporary Kraków. The characteristic rhythm, liveliness and amusement should be expressed with colour and verve. However, I felt the orchestra had not yet quite grasped what Chopin described as the 'Polish element' of the work in an otherwise reasonable performance. The movement seemed to me to embrace the krakowiak rhythms quite well and robustly but for me it failed to achieve energetic 'lift off' in what I might call le styl exuberant (to invent a French phrase).The theme of the episode – led in octave unison against the pizzicato of the strings – is all born of this virtuosic style brillant

The entire musical population of Warsaw was drawn to the National Theatre for the premiere. One young singer was Konstancja Gładkowska. ‘Dressed becomingly in white, with roses in her hair' as Chopin romantically described her. She sang the cavatina from Rossini’s La donna del lago.

Piano Concerto in F minor Op. 21

The Chopin F minor concerto follows the Mozart model and was directly influenced by the style brillant of Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles or Ries.  Goerner expressed this internally iridescent style outstandingly well. Here in this early work Chopin magically transforms the Classical into the Romantic style. 

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

The work itself was written 1829-30. As we all know by now,  this concerto was inspired by Chopin’s infatuation, or was it youthful love, for the soprano Konstancja Gładkowska. Strangely, it was published a few years later with a dedication to Delfina Potocka. I felt again that the orchestra had not yet grasped nor well delineated the Polish rhetorical gestures concealed within the work.

However, the Larghetto love song was moving and full of considered poetry and lyricism. The movement contains, together with the E minor concerto Romanza, arguably the most beautiful love song ever written for piano and orchestra. This unrequited love of Chopin for Konstancja Gładkowska that he 'enjoyed' at an inaccessible psychological and physical distance, produced yearning lyrical melodies of an intense order.  As can be the way in life, it is said she preferred the attentions of the handsome, uniformed Russian officers to our poetic genius. 

The testing Allegro vivace seemed to provide technical challenges for everyone, especially in orchestral and soloist co-ordination.

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

The repetitions of styl brillant phrases of the kujawiak province (of which there are many) were not yet properly understood by the orchestra, although Goerner surely by now has it flowing in his bloodstream. The phrases  were played in almost exactly the same way in terms of dynamics and articulation when they beg for creative and imaginative contrasts, or at the very least, shadows of the slightly distorted reflections in a mirror. A fine performance but not quite as commanding as I had anticipated from this exceptional period orchestra. 

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Saturday 28.08.21 20:00 

Royal Castle Concert Hall 

Piano recital 

Alexandre Tharaud piano

I unfortunately did not share a musical affinity with this esteemed musician and pianist, so would prefer not to comment my personal impressions of the performance. Occasionally this can happen, life and musical art often being of such an ephemeral and individual nature.

Franz Schubert/ Alexandre Tharaud

‘Rosamunde’ Overture (D. 797) 

Franz Schubert

Four Impromptus, D. 899

Ferenc Liszt

Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S. 173 No. 7 Funérailles

Fryderyk Chopin

Sonata in B flat minor Op. 35

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Saturday 28.08.21 17:00

Royal Castle Concert Hall

Guitar recital

Mateusz Kowalski guitar

I make no apology for including part of my CD review of this remarkable artist as many of the works in the live performance tonight were the same as on the recording. However, as we all realize, a live performance is always superior to a recording (the electromagnetic emanations of a live musician affect the audience) and so it was tonight.

This recital was a unique and ultra-rare aesthetic treat - the opportunity to hear this guitar recital in the magnificent, yet intimate ambiance of the Ballroom of the Royal Castle in Warsaw.

Marek Konrad Sokołowski

Diligènza postale 

Marek Konrad Sokołowski (1818-1883) possessed the moniker 'Byron of the guitar' and was lauded to the skies in Europe but particularly in Russia. Born in 1818 near Berdyczów in present day Ukraine, he was largely self-taught from childhood. During the 1860s he made distinguished tours of Paris, London, Vienna, Milan, Berlin, Hamburg, Brussels, Vilnius, Leipzig, Poznań, Krakow, Warsaw, Lviv before highly distinguished aristocratic audiences. As a man, although earning high fees, he was outstandingly generous towards his impoverished family, especially his ill mother. An artist of the highest refinement he was deeply affected by the January Uprising (22 January 1863 – 18 June 1864) which resulted in Poles and Lithuanians being persecuted, undergoing arrest, suffering execution and or deported to Siberia. 

This sadness of internal reflection bordering on despair, expressively and emotionally overlays his Etude in D major. A poignant piece ...

A Farewell to Europe Aleksander Sochaczewski (Independence Museum in Warsaw)

Not many of his works survive to give any idea of his consummate art. This Etude entitled The Post: A Musical Image is rather evocative.

A Mail Coach around 1850

Feliks Horecki

Fantasy in D major Op. 40

Felix Horecki (1796-1870) was a sparkling pupil of the great Italian guitarist Mauro Giulani (1781-1829) who had conquered Europe with his art. Horecki tragically injured his hand which resulted in his teaching the guitar in Edinburgh and composing pedagogical miniatures. In the Fantasy in D major Op.40 we have a perfect example of the entertaining and undemanding style brillant embraced by Chopin but performed on the guitar with great style and delicacy by Kowalski.

Jan Nepomucen Bobrowicz (1805-1881) was known as 'the Chopin of the guitar'. He was also one of the most renowned Polish performer-composers of the day and his original compositions on this recording support this contention. Also a publisher of literary works in Polish, he significantly aided the preservation of the language during the brutal Partitions of the country by smuggling hundreds of works across the frontier. 

He produced some ravishing, idiomatic transcriptions of Chopin Mazurkas for the guitar. The Op.6 and Op.7 Chopin mazurkas, transcribed so musically for the guitar, although familiar, opened a window onto a different landscape of musical interpretation and content for me. The loving, slow tempo and gentleness of the finger-plucked sonority, the caressed melodies, transported me into an atmosphere of intimacy, colour and refinement rarely encountered on the percussive piano in a modern concert hall, except perhaps by pianists of great stature. Of course the folk element, and perhaps surprisingly a Sarmatian feel of the plucked Oud, were heightened on this modest instrument so popular with ordinary folk and Chopin himself. Sarmatian traits were cultivated in the Polish character in the eighteenth century.

On 2nd November 1830, Chopin left Poland for Vienna, never to return. He travelled in the coach with his teacher Józef Elsner and some friends as far as the Wola gate, not so distant from the old election field for Polish kings. In a typically protracted Polish farewell they alighted shortly after leaving the city, the coach was suddenly surrounded by a group of men. His old teacher had written a cantata which the assembled choir sang accompanied by a guitar, the instrument he particularly loved. The words implored Chopin to remember Poland and to hold the harmonies of the country close in his soul wherever he might be. When listening to these transcriptions for the expressive guitar, one cannot help but reflect on this poetic, melancholic image of tearful departure, the sorrows of exile and the inherent intense nostalgia of both sadness and remembered joys.

The mazurkas were not performed in this order as an integrated group but scattered throughout for variety like precious gems from a profligate Polish Countess. 

Fryderyk Chopin

Mazurka in B flat major Op. 7 No. 1

Mazurka in A minor Op. 7 No. 2

Mazurka in E major Op. 6 No. 3

Mazurka in F minor Op. 7 No. 3

Mazurka in A flat major Op. 7 No. 4

Mazurka in C sharp minor Op. 6 No. 2

Mazurka in F sharp minor Op. 6 No. 1

I also greatly enjoyed his Variations in A major on ‘Là ci darem la mano’ from Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ Op. 6. An infectiously musical performance by Kowalski.

In his delightful Distraction (amusement) Rondeau brillant et facile, Op.17, Bobrowicz presents the instrumentalist with great technical challenges of polyphony and lightness of execution in a concert rondo. Kowalski copes with these demands with both panache and elan.

Stanisław Szczepanowski

Introduction et variations brillantes sur un air national

Une Larme. Morceau expresif

Stanisław Szczepanowski (1811?-1877), known as 'the king of the guitar', was considered the foremost guitar virtuoso of the day. He was named court guitarist by Queen Victoria and court soloist by Queen Isabella II of Spain. Also favored by the Kings of Belgium, he performed in Dresden, London, Russia, Poland, Turkey and of course Spain. A courageous man, he was awarded the Order of Virtuti Militari for distinction in the November Uprising of 1830. As might be imagined in light of this, he improvised at an important concert in Paris on the patriotic song, which became the official national anthem in 1927, Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła [Poland has not yet perished]. This was at a reception organized for the great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz on Christmas Eve 1840. The Polish émigrés at the Paris Salon were deeply moved.

He committed this short set of Variations to paper. One can imagine this being performed on the guitar in partisan and soldier camps around the evening bivouac fire during the cruel partitions of the country. A miniature by this composer was also included entitled Une Larme Morceau expresif ('A Tear') originally for cello and piano but affectingly arranged for guitar by the modern American guitarist Matanya Ophee. 

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It is scarcely known that next to the piano, Chopin's favourite instrument was the guitar. The poet Bogdan Zaleski (1802-1886), whose verses he often set to music, wrote in his poem To the Guitar

Companion to the spring of life!
Confidant of a tender soul,
May your plaintive sounding strings
Drown out my listless sighs.

The distinguished Polish organologist and musicologist, Benjamin Vogel, informs us that among the early nineteenth century instrument workshops of Warsaw, there were around ten luthiers. They continued the long and renowned history of violin production in Poland. As pointed out in a previous review, we now enjoy rather luxurious circumstances concerning musical instruments. During Chopin's youth only wealthy households could afford a piano, so the popular instrument was the metal-stringed English guitar. 

An English Guitar by W. Gibson / 1772 with a spruce soundboard. The original bridge is of ebony with an ivory saddle (University of Edinburgh)

This was supplanted after 1808 for men by the familiar Spanish guitar, although women tended to favour the more delicate English version so Łukasz Gołębiowski tells us in Games and Amusements of Various Classes (1831)

I managed to find a rare recording of the English Guitar with 18th century guitar music written expressly for it by Handel and Geminiani including a charming piece by J.C.Bach for English Guitar and Violin accompaniment. Taro Takeuchi plays with a seductive tenderness. The instrument should be used far more often in recital !

'The quiet tones, lower tuning and lush chords of the Spanish guitar accompany singing and satisfactorily support the human voice: the English guitar plays more substantial pieces.'

The finest craftsman was Henryk Rudert I. His instruments with gut strings were carved and inlaid with wood, silver and ivory. They were acclaimed for their rich tone. 

I had no idea how highly Polish guitarists and their compositions were regarded in nineteenth century Europe - this is sure to be a surprise for many. 

I reviewed his recent outstanding recording for the National Chopin Institute here:


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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxDwOIJp5p4

Friday 27.08.21 21:00 

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Dolcissima mia vita - Choral music concert

Philippe Herreweghe conductor

Thomas Boysen lute

 Vocale Ghent

Pietro Antonio Melli

„Il Carlino”. Capriccio Cromatico

Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa

Madrigali a 5 voci, libro Quinto

Don Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613)

Donna Maria d'Avalos (1562-1590)

Art Nouveau Illustration by Léon Lebègue (1863-1944) from the "Histoire de dona Maria d'Avalos et duc d'Andria" by Anatole France (1902)

The life and work of the composer Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) has fascinated me all my musical life.

'How much ruin lust has brought to the world is evident for the pages of writers filled with it, and there is no doubt whatsoever that it brings along with it all sorts of evils and discords, and weakness the body and does harm to all the virtues and goodness of the soul.'  This is the opening sentence of the colourful tale of intrigue and murder of the year 1590 that transpired in Naples and detailed among the chroniques scandaleuses of the Corona MS. The story may be well known, but the language continues to entertain in our more secular and possibly tolerant age. 'Seeing her approach, he came without wasting time, and taking her in his arms, kissed her a thousand times - as she did him - and with the greatest ardour they were moved to enjoy together the ultimate amorous delight.'

Such were the first intimacies of the handsome cavaliere, Don Fabrizio Carafa, Duke of Andria, and Donna Maria d'Avalos, the intensely beautiful wife of the later immortal madrigal composer, Don Carlo Gesualdo. The affair was inevitably discovered, and Gesualdo planned his revenge with the complicity of his acolytes.

The subsequent investigation  by the Grand Court of the Vicaria revealed among many tawdry details: '...at around six hours of the night...' Don Carlo asked his valet for some water and unexpectedly dressed. When his valet asked him where he was going at such an hour he replied 'hunting'. Further surprise evidenced by the hour elicited the remark: 'You will see the kind of hunting I am going to do!' Don Carlo gathered a sword, a dirk, a dagger and a small arquebus (a long gun similar to a rifle). He told his valet 'I am going to slay the Duke of Andria and that whore, Donna Maria.' 

Together with three accomplices (servants) armed with halberds, he made towards Donna Maria's room. He smashed down the already weakened door shouting 'Kill that scoundrel along with this harlot! Shall a Gesualdo be made a cuckold?' The lovers were murdered in flagrante with firearm and sword and their bodies mutilated with deep wounds, puncturing even the wooden floor. Oddly, the Duke was reported to be wearing the Lady's night shirt. Don Carlo emerged from the bedchamber, 'his hands covered in blood', Even then he  re-entered the room to inflict several more dagger thrusts, all the while muttering 'I do not believe she is dead.' Laconically, the record comments 'Little was seen of Gesualdo for a considerable period.'

Gesualdo was condemned by some for the crime but there was also a great deal of sympathy for the handsome lovers. Many poems by Tasso express a conflict of loyalties - the poet loved all the parties involved and was given immense emotional conflict by these understandable events, understandable given the Italian temperament of the time. According to the prevailing codes of aristocratic honour of the day, Don Carlo had little choice but to take some violent revenge.

As might be imagined, knowledge of these tragic and passionate events overlay any appreciation of his madrigals. It is next to impossible to consider the music entirely objectively out of this dramatic and violent context unless one is a musicologist. They deal with him exhaustively and extensively. As a listener, the task is near impossible, certainly considering the harmonically revolutionary and deeply expressive madrigals of Book V which we heard this evening.

The Period between the High Renaissance and the Baroque (1520-1620) can be considered the Age of Mannerism. The music of these last two books of madrigals by Gesualdo (Books V and VI) were considered, until modern times, as the effusions of severe neurosis but in hindsight, are among the greatest of avant garde musical compositions.

The performance tonight moved us into the enchanted realms of the highest in art and exerted an incontestable atmosphere of magic. One can of course analyse musicologically what the composer contrives with language, his novel and revolutionary word-splitting, the harmonic adventurism. Gesualdo, the writer of the texts, makes concentrated use of words such as 'joy', 'death and to die', 'to love', 'to sigh', 'to breathe', 'to weep' and other symbolic eroticism. He makes unmistakable reference, in one's possibly fervid imagination, to regrets of the tragic events of his marriage to the sensual and apparently libidinous Donna Maria. 

One can trace the profound influence of the madrigalist Luzzasco Luzzaschi (1545-1607) in his compositions. However, this does not explain his 'alchemical' (my word) use of dissonance, counterpoint, bizarre melodic intervals, suspensions, chromaticism, enharmonic changes - all of which result in breathtaking emotional expressiveness.

The Vocale Ghent under Philippe Herreweghe transported us into another world of Mannerist force and power with their superb clarity of intonation and sureness of enunciating sublime micro-pitches. The enharmonic progressions were quite otherworldly. Emotional relief during 'rests' from this intensity, provided by the lutenist Thomas Boysen, were remarkable, welcome and profoundly affecting as a catalyst of time travel.

It was sensitive, musical and perceptive to mount this concert during the 50th anniversary of the death of Igor Stravinsky. The Russian was one of Gesualdo's greatest admirers in the 20th century. In 1960 he dedicated the Monumentum pro Gesualdo to him, an instrumental arrangement of three of Gesualdo’s madrigals. He wrote a highly amusing Preface to the brilliant book I am indebted to: Gesualdo The man and his music by Glenn Watkins (Oxford 1973). Stravinsky overturns the many misunderstandings of Gesualdo's music, referring to his mode of expression as dramatic and highly intimate with much dynamic shading. He visited the dilapidated castle at Gesualdo and with his poor Italian managed to alarm the tenants by apparently admitting publicly that he was the murderer of his first wife!

A quite extraordinary concert of the highest art and for me the uncontested highlight of the entire festival.

Alessandro Piccinini (1566-1638)

Ricercare Primo

Toccata Cromatica III & VI


Girl with a Lute - Michelangelo Caravaggio

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKng6zhtgL0 

Wednesday 25.08.21 21:00 

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Yulianna Avdeeva piano

I always anticipate recitals by Yulianna Avdeeva since I first heard her perform at the 2010 XVI International Chopin Competition in Warsaw when I predicted she would win from her first stage. I wrote at the time:

Yulianna Avdeeva has a formidable and regal stage presence, magnificent technique and mature musicality as well as a great spirit - a true 'soul' in the old Russian sense. [...] She plays in a truly aristocratic manner with superbly expressive, blue-blooded tone of great self-confidence and pride. Her rubato is affecting and just the sheer number of subtle pianistic 'things' she does at the keyboard is so imaginative - a complete piano technique - all degrees of staccato up to staccatissimo, a wide dynamic range, cantabile, a detached presto or a caressing legato, the correct durations of notes carefully observed - she can do anything with those marvellous fingers.  Avdeeva is also tremendously intense emotionally and utterly convincing.

I have no reason to change my mind eleven years later except to observe that she has developed exponentially as a musician and pianist since those far off days. 

Fryderyk Chopin

Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major Op. 61

It is an ambitious choice even for a pianist of the stature Yulianna Avdeeva to open a recital with the immensely demanding Polonaise-Fantasie of Chopin. The work contains all the troubled emotion and desire for strength in the face of the multiple adversities that beset the composer at this late stage in his life. 

Avdeeva has developed greatly as an artist in recent years and was able to authoritatively grasp what various musicologists for better or worse have termed Chopin’s ‘Last Style’. The composers mental and physical state were fractured at the time of composition and this is ever present in this complex, highly demanding work – his last extended composition for the piano. He struggled with the formal design in a final attempt at musical renewal and forging a new aesthetic. Avdeeva sheer virtuosity and intimate understanding of the emotional landscape of the work mad for a fine performance.

Władysław Szpilman

Suite ‘The Life of the Machines’

Władysław Szpilman

Score manuscript for the piano suite "Life of the Machines", 1934

This highly enjoyable three movement suite by Władysław Szpilman, of all composers, a work entirely unknown to me, gives machines rather an attractive and affecting life of their own! Listening was rather like watching robots at work in a car assembly plant - fascinating, implacable but inexplicably carrying associative human emotions. Rather like automata that often reduced nineteenth century observers to tears. Not in this case! An explosion of virtuosic dance and amusement by Avdeeva. Imagine learning the work from memory!

Mieczysław Weinberg

Piano Sonata No. 4, Op. 56

This venerated Polish composer lived in exile for some 57 years of his life. Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) is a major composer of symphonies, chamber music, piano sonatas, operas and vocal works. His monumental Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies were appreciated and elevated internationally by the conductor Kirill Kondrashin, in addition to the support of Dimitry Shostakovich as well as the Borodin Quartet, Emil Gilels, Mstislav Rostropovich and Leonid Kogan. 

His fertile and significant output is being progressively adopted by star performers such as Avdeeva. In this sonata she brilliantly revealed his individualism, fierce ethical anger, drama and intimacy  His rediscovery is one of the great treasures of our musical times and Avdeeva is a penetrating and idiomatic interpreter and pioneer of this resuscitation of his sensibility.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Partita No. 2 in C minor (BWV 826)

A fine performance entirely without pedal which gave it arresting articulation and mavellous finger legato. Not a deeply individualistic and expressive performance (as say the recent Bach of Piotr Anderszewski) but far be it from me to criticize Avdeeva at this summit level of musicianship and pianism.

Sergei Rachmaninow

Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 36

The recital closed with one of my favourite piano sonatas, the Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor Op. 36 by Rachmaninoff (original 1913 - revised 1931). I know this is a desperately unfair comparison but in May 1982 I queued for 8 hours in London in the freezing rain to buy a fabulously expensive ticket for Horowitz's last recital in the capital. The Prince of Wales had invited him to play at the Royal Festival Hall and among a number of works was this Rachmaninoff sonata. What a recital that was! A standing ovation before he even played a note.

I cannot listen to anyone playing this sonata without that experience haunting my musical memory, even though the great Ukrainian born in Kiev was past is best (b.1903 d.1989). His London 1968 recorded version is superior to my mind. Horowitz considered his meeting with Rachmaninoff the greatest musical experience and success of his life and adored the nineteenth century 'Russianess' of his music. He created a syncretic version of the original and reduced versions of this sonata with Rachmaninoff's permission but not being a musicologist I am unsure which version Avdeeva performed this evening.

I felt Avdeeva plumbed the spiritual depths of this (dare I say this today in the absurd world of PC censorship) profoundly Slavic, quintessentially Russian soul - the suffering, conflicting emotions, contraditions, intimate introspection, anger, despair, the Russian steppe in panoramic vision, the bells of the Russian Orthodox Church (Rachmaninoff's The Bells was conceived at the same time as this sonata), the Great Gate of Kiev and the passionate personal references the massive work entails. Rachmaninoff himself said in an interview that music should be the 'expression of a composer's complex personality, [..] the country of his birth, his love affairs, his religion, the books which have influenced him, the pictures he loves...'

Ah, and those fervent tunes of his that speak so to the heart...I am not ashamed to love them. With many echoes of Horowitz, Aveedva transported me unresistant along this monumental spiritual and sensual path of musical rapture. A standing ovation for this performance.

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_8LnIGMByE

Tuesday 24.08.21 21:00 

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall 

Early Music Concert 

Václav Luks conductor

Collegium Vocale 1704

Collegium 1704

Marcin Mielczewski

Triumphalis recurrit dies beati Martini

Missa Triumphalis 

Jan Dismas Zelenka

Missa (1724)

Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) 

Bartłomiej Pękiel

Missa a 14

This was a particularly uplifting concert in a spiritual sense especially if the echoes of one's past religiosity (as in my case) or present firm beliefs enable renewed confirmation of Christian faith - a need increasingly obvious with passing time and current events mirroring the past. 

The conductor Václav Luks arranged the chronology of the parts of the Tridentine Masses above according to his own plan rather than the given forms. This gave me some confusion but did not detract one iota from the immanent beauty of the performance. As always the work by that great Czech genius Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) carried me to the heights ....

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1coTRmhqPro

Tuesday 24.08.21 17:00

Royal Castle Concert Hall

Piano recital

Angela Hewitt piano

The Ballroom of the Royal Castle is a superb musical venue and an aesthetically overwhelming room. Domenico Merlini, the distinguished eighteenth century Italian architect from Brescia who brought Palladianism to Poland, designed it with the allegorical guidance of king Stanisław Augustus. New gold leaf glisters from every crevice in a blaze of mirrored chandeliers.The Steinway in this cavernous, opulent Ballroom, is always far louder than one might anticipate.

The online sound balance is far superior.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Prelude and Fugue in A minor (BWV 894)

With the renowned reputation Angela Hewitt has achieved for her performances of Bach on the piano, in concert and recordings, it would simply be mean-spirited, perhaps even clichéd of me, to indicate how I prefer Bach on the harpsichord. Her illustrious international career and many prestigious awards speaks for itself. Of course this composer of the greatest genius can be satisfyingly interpreted in almost any medium. However, the resonant acoustic of this remarkable room did rather inflate the dynamic and coarsen the texture of this fine performance. 

Bach was renowned, especially at the magnificent courts at Dresden and Berlin, for his talent at improvisation at the harpsichord. This work, although written down and , gives us an image of this ability. We continually hear as Johann Nikolaus Forkel described Bach’s early works in 1802 as 'walking or jumping up and down on the instrument'. In this magnificent Ballroom, one could imagine as this 'concerto' unfolded, a glittering, entertaining assembly of princes, courtiers and dignitaries, in addition to their fashionable wives and possibly mistresses. Bach was always keen to impress at court and reap any possible financial or rewards in social status Although perhaps not conceived at the standard of his more considered works, BWV 894 is a magnificent virtuoso composition to which Hewitt gave full reign.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Sonata in D major (K. 284) 

Hewitt chose another remarkable and unique work for her next item, this a sonata by Mozart astonishing among his clavier sonatas.  He composed this work in March 1777 in Munich for Baron Thaddäus von Dürnitz. Clearly the Count wanted something special, a 'French style' brilliant composition. He received what Albert Einstein referred to as 'a miracle'. 

I am sure performing at the Royal Castle in Warsaw prompted the choice of this sonata by Hewitt being governed by the Polonaise en Rondeau contained within it and for the first time a tema con variazione. Einstein continues concerning the second version of the first movement as 'having a sensuous richness and a concert-like animation, which is a perpetual source of wonder'. These variations show Mozart's remarkable range of fertile, creative imagination.

I have the same reservations concerning a Steinway in the acoustic of this sumptuous Ballroom tending to exaggerate dynamic, tone and touch of an otherwise impressive, virtuosic  and idiomatic performance by Angela Hewitt.

Fryderyk Chopin

Nocturne in F minor Op. 55 No. 1

Nocturne in E flat major Op. 55 No. 2

Scherzo in E major Op. 54

In many ways I perfectly understand the nostalgic temptation by Angela Hewitt to play Chopin in Warsaw once again, to rediscover her brilliant pianistic youth (ah, how I too feel this consuming need) , especially in this year of the International Chopin Competition. She took part in the scandal-plagued, 'Pogorelich', 10th International Fryderyk Chopin Competition in 1980, but was defeated in the third round (a phenomenal achievement in itself) by the extraordinary talents of that year. All prize winners went on to illustrious international careers. Ewa Pobocka has also even taken up the keyboard works of Bach in a profound and interpretatively deep manner.

Hewitt's remarkable but almost entirely forgotten performances during that competition is however available as a National Chopin Institute  recording which I heartily recommend. The F-sharp minor Polonaise alone possesses the greatest imaginable nobility, żal, moving cantilena and glorious tone. The same could be said of the prodigious Fantasy in F minor Op.49, so vehement and nationalistically driven an account. Magnificent.  

These performances, despite small musical solecisms, are  a truly passionate revelation by this brilliant teenager that completely overturned, nay eclipsed, many preconceptions I had perhaps unfairly harboured concerning the now emotionally more disciplined, mature artist. She has, in some ways, now profoundly adopted the mantle of Glenn Gould (in reputation as a Bach performer, not similarities in interpretation). 

This recording of Chopin by the young Angela Hewitt  is an utter revelation.


and the NIFC shop


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Monday 23.08.21 21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert


Nikola Hillebrand soprano

Giulia Semenzato soprano

Krystian Adam tenor

Luigi De Donato bass


Václav Luks conductor

Collegium 1704


Josef Mysliveček (1737-1781)

Sinfonia from the opera Ezio (1777)

Of course being an 'ignorant Westerner' concerning the golden age of Bohemian and Moravian musical life, I am unfamiliar with this composer. I know well the inspiring Czech music by Stamitz of the revolutionary Mannheim school,  as well as Zelenka and Benda who all supplied superb music for Dresden, London, Paris and Berlin. 

I am becoming, I assure you, (with the Polish Musical Renaissance now in progress and increasingly due to this remarkable festival) far more familiar with rare Polish baroque opera and orchestral music. From the remarkably informative and impressive programme book of the festival, I learn that the Czech Josef Mysliveček wrote an opera seria entitled Ezio with a libretto by no less a person than Metastasio on commission from the Munich electoral court. It was also a milestone in the astonishing European career of the castrato Luigi Marchesi. With this background in my mind I enjoyed the performance very much!

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 

Balletmusik z opery Idomeneo (K. 367)

What a treat to hear this ballet music, too often omitted in performances of Idomeneo, Re di Creta, one of my favourite Mozart operas. The contrast within Mozart here between the formality of the classical style and his inhabitation of the cusp of the full-blown romantic is fascinating for me. The actual position of this ballet music with its magnificent Chaconne in the actual opera is still unsure. One cannot help but recall the amusing silent ballet scene in Amadeus when a ballet is senselessly performed without the language of music. This was an Excellent idiomatic performance 'danced' by the physically agile conductor Václav Luks. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Der Schauspieldirektor (K. 486)

In 1786 by imperial command Mozart was ordered to compose an after-dinner entertainment for Joseph II and visiting dignitaries. At the time he was immersed in composing The Marriage of Figaro.

Being a formidable wit, Mozart decided on a satirical and highly amusing look at backstage politics and egos. In merely two weeks he conceived the work to be performed before a scintillating crowd at the Schönnbrunn Palace, Vienna on  7 February 1786 and at the Kärntnertor Theater, Vienna, 11 February 1786. Among those present were the Governor-General of the Austrian Netherlands, Duke Albert of Sachsen-Techsen; his wife the Archduchess Marie Christine, Joseph II’s sister and the King of Poland’s nephew Prince Stanislas Poniatowski.

From the Wiener Zeitung (8 February 1786):

On Tuesday, His Majesty the Emperor gave a festival at Schönbrunn for Their Excellencies the Governors-General of the Imperial and Royal Netherlands, and a gathering of the local nobility.  Forty courtiers as well as Prince Poniatowski being invited, these escorted their own ladies, and at three o’clock set out from the Hofburg in pairs, travelling by both open and closed carriages.  His Imperial Majesty accompanied Her Serene Highness the Archduchess Christine.  The party alighted at the Orangery, which had been prepared most lavishly and attractively for luncheon for the guests.  The table, beneath the orange trees, was most prettily decorated with both local and exotic flowers, blossoms and fruits.  While His Majesty, the distinguished visitors and the guests partook of their meal, the Imperial and Royal Chamber Musicians performed on wind instruments.  After the banquet, a new play with arias, called Der Schauspieldirektor was performed by actors of the Imperial and Royal National Theatre on a stage especially erected at one end of the Orangery.  At its conclusion, an opera buffa, likewise newly composed for this occasion, and entitled Prima la musica e poi le parole, was given by the company of the Court Opera, on the Italian stage erected at the other end of the Orangery.  All this time, the Orangery was most gloriously illuminated with numerous lights from candelabra and wall-brackets.  After nine o’clock, the entire company returned to town in the same order, each coach being accompanied by two grooms with links. 

(The Complete Operas of Mozart Charles Osborne 1978)

Following the substantial overture, the scene opens as Frank, an impresario, and Buff, a comic actor, have received permission to open a theatre in Salzburg. Frank is skeptical about starting a company in this 'land of sausage,'  but Buff reassures him.  'Leave your good taste at home,' he insists, and think about selling tickets.  They must produce vulgar and popular works, not masterpieces; they must promise people fine tortes and pastries but give them dumplings and sauerkraut; hire the cheapest actors and singers but bribe the critics to write glowing reviews.  'The world wants to be deceived,' he says.  The high-minded Frank reluctantly consents to go along. 

They begin by hiring dramatic actresses.  Madame Pfeil is mediocre and vain, but her wealthy lover offers to contribute her fee.  Then they meet her rival, the tragedienne Madame Krone, who performs a dramatic scene together with her colleague Monsieur Herz, and they hire them both.  The comic actress, Madame Vogelsang, performs a scene with Buff, and she too is hired, but the tragedienne and the comedienne argue about their fees. 

Now that the company has several actors, they look for singers. Mme. Vogelsang and M. Herz recommend their spouses as opera singers.  M. Herz presents his wife, who sings a dramatic Ariette: Da schlägt die Abschiedsstunde (There tolls the hour of departure)  and Frank hires her.  Another soprano appears, a Mlle. Silberklang, who is certain that Frank 'must without a doubt know of my reputation'. She sings 'a small Rondeau' for him Bester Jüngling!  (Dearest youth) and she too is hired. 

Mme. Vogelsang returns to introduce her husband, but by now, the two divas, Mme. Herz and Mlle. Silberklang are bickering about their fees and about who is to receive top billing.  In the trio which follows Ich bin die erste Sängerin (I am the prima donna) M. Vogelsang attempts to mediate in vain.  Eventually the dramatic actresses too join in the fray, and Frank, in despair, threatens to cancel his plans to form a company.  At this, the women relent, and all is peaceful again -- until the next time.  In a final ensemble Jeder Künstler strebt nach Ehre (Every artist strives for glory), Mme. Herz, Mlle. Silberklang and M. Vogelsang agree that they must put their art above personality.  Nonetheless, the two divas cannot resist competing in a bit of vocal display, and the comedian Buff joins in with an ironic verse of his own. (Synopsis courtesy of Boston Baroque)

This was a highly entertaining, energetic and amusing performance of a rarely performed work by Mozart that reveals his highly witty imagination. Thank you!

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

Monday 23.08.21 17:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Kate Liu piano

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Piano Sonata in A minor (K. 310)

Kate Liu brought out the tragic, dramatic character of this dark sonata written in the tragic summer of 1778. Mozart's mother, Anna Maria, was fifty-seven and a uncomplicated woman who had sacrificed a great deal for her musical son. She became chronically ill but medical attention failed to save her despite the ministrations of Wolfgang Amadeus. She died on July 3, 1778. Mozart, at the age of twenty-two, was abandoned in Paris, a city he intensely disliked.

Liu opened the Allegro maestoso in a noble, declamatory style, giving this opening a constrained melodic impetus and great inner strength. Reflective, rather melancholic, even tragic thoughts sensitively brush over the the feeling of disillusionment that suffuses this work.  She gave the Andante cantabile con espressione a tender but disturbed personally interned, tender lyricism that was deeply moving. The Presto  also contained the atmosphere of personal despair that Mozart expressly reserved for the key of A minor. This is not a conversational and charming piano sonata but a deep emotional expression of loss which Liu instinctively seemed to understand.

Fryderyk Chopin 

Nocturne in G major Op. 37 No. 2 (1839)

This Nocturne is filled by Chopin with happiness and light, but also as is also the case with this composer, with soulful reflection. Romance is in the ascendant here, a sense of illusioned and illumined dreams. The distinguished American music critic James Huneker (1857-1921) had no hesitation in deeming the second theme to be ‘the most beautiful melody Chopin ever wrote’. Liu gave the nocturne perfect and eloquent expression that was deeply affecting.

Fryderyk Chopin

Ballade in G minor Op. 23 (1831-1835?)

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.

‘I have received from Chopin a Ballade’, Schumann informed his friend Heinrich Dorn in the autumn of 1836. ‘It seems to me to be the work closest to his genius (though not the most brilliant). I told him that of everything he has created thus far it appeals to my heart the most. After a lengthy silence, Chopin replied with emphasis: “I am glad, because I too like it the best, it is my dearest work”.’

Mieczysław Tomaszewski paints the background to this work best: 

It was during the 1830 years that what was original, individual and distinctive in Chopin spoke through his music with great urgency and violence, expressing the composer’s inner world spontaneously and without constraint – a world of real experiences and traumas, sentimental memories and dreams, romantic notions and fancies. Life did not spare him such experiences and traumas in those years, be it in the sphere of patriotic or of intimate feelings. [...] 

For everyone, the ballad was an epic work, in which what had been rejected in Classical high poetry now came to the fore: a world of extraordinary, inexplicable, mysterious, fantastical and irrational events inspired by the popular imagination. In Romantic poetry, the ballad became a ‘programmatic’ genre. It was here that the real met the surreal. Mickiewicz gave his own definition: ‘The ballad is a tale spun from the incidents of everyday (that is, real) life or from chivalrous stories, animated by the strangeness of the Romantic world, sung in a melancholy tone, in a serious style, simple and natural in its expressions’. And there is no doubt that in creating the first of his piano ballades, Chopin allowed himself to be inspired by just such a vision of this highly Romantic genre. What he produced was an epic work telling of something that once occurred, ‘animated by strangeness’, suffused with a ‘melancholy tone’, couched in a serious style, expressed in a natural way, and so closer to an instrumental song than to an elaborate aria.

I felt Liu captured the dramatic narrative more powerfully than most by adopting a rather moderate tempo, broad dramatic phrasing and poetic, highly emotional rubato. She carefully avoided the hysterical virtuosity which often tempts young pianists to become emotionally and meaninglessly carried away during this ballade at the expense of the deeply expressive narrative of the internal psyche and examination of emotional experience.

Johannes Brahms

Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5

Schumann in the role of music critic (an occupation he considered a literary art and elevated it for a period into such a rarefied region - I agree). He wrote a famous description of the performance in Düsseldorf of Brahms piano sonatas or  'veiled symphonies' composed by the young 20 year old composer in the Leipzig Neue Zeitschrift für Musik of October 1853:

'...sooner or later … someone would and must appear, fated to give us the ideal expression of times, one who would not gain his mastery by gradual stages, but rather spring fully armed like Minerva from the head of Jove. And he has come, a young blood at whose cradle graces and heroes mounted guard. His name is Johannes Brahms…seated at the piano he began to reveal wondrous regions. We were drawn into ever more magical spheres. And the playing was absolutely inspired, transforming the piano into an orchestra of lamenting and jubilant voices.'

Brahms met Hector Berlioz in Leipzig, who was impressed with the young genius and his music. 'I am grateful to you for having let me make the acquaintance of this diffident, audacious young man who has taken it into his head to make a new music. He will suffer greatly,' Berlioz wrote to the great violinist Joseph Joachim whom Brahms had recently befriended.

The Sonata in F-minor Op.5 is in five movements:

  1. Allegro maestoso 

The nobility of Lake Geneva and the Dents du Midi in the distance from Glion above Montreux. The Chateau of Chillon so beloved of Lord Byron is in the bottom left-hand corner.

This early sonata was not well received, even considered a 'failure', the first movement as 'stiff and clumsy'. It is hard for me to credit such early descriptions of the imperial and noble theme of the opening. 

The grandeur of this soundscape is depicted for me like a panorama of the monumental timelessness of the Dents du Midi in the Chablais Alps of the Swiss canton of Valais beyond Lake Geneva. I felt Liu captured the opening nobility well and soulfully and with great sensitivity. From the outset I felt this was to be a lyrical and poetic interpretation of the  Brahms sonata, a romantic history of young love rather than a monumental philosophical expression of the darker conclusions of age.

  1. Andante. Andante espressivo — Andante molto

This deeply affecting romantic movement of the sonata is headed by a poem entitled Junge Liebe (Young Love) by Otto Inkermann who wrote under the pseudonym C.O. Sternau. The second movement was conceived with this quotation above the music and seems to follow the imagery, meaning and mood of the poem.

Der Abend dämmert, das Mondlicht scheint,
da sind zwei Herzen in Liebe vereint
und halten sich selig umfangen

Through evening's shade, the pale moon gleams
While rapt in love's ecstatic dreams
Two hearts are fondly beating.

Liu embraced the adorable melody of two illusioned lovers in an imagined song with a feeling of unsurpassed delicacy and tenderness.  Her cantabile tone and refined touch were affecting and plumbed such emotional depths. I felt an intense, heartfelt, romantic yearning as we moved towards the unprecedented 'symphonic' exaltation and emotional resignation that is expressed in the Nachtstück song at the conclusion. The sentiment aroused was poignant and desperately moving.

Such surges of pure longing, such romantic emotion by Brahms must indicate something about his unrequited love for Clara Schumann. 'I would gladly write to you only by means of music, but I have things to say to you to-day which music could not express.' he wrote in 1854. 

By 1855 this had blossomed into: 'I wish I could write to you as tenderly as I love you and tell you all the good things that I wish you. You are so infinitely dear to me, dearer than I can say. I should like to spend the whole day calling you endearing names and paying you compliments without ever being satisfied.'

  1. Scherzo. Allegro energico avec trio 

Liu brought rhythmic and effervescent energy and drive to this movement. The central melody was particularly expressive in its sensitive legato phrasing.

  1.  Intermezzo (Rückblick - Retrospect) Andante molto

There is deep Brahmsian gravitas in this movement, so full of nostalgic reminiscence and resignation. I see this movement  not as funereal but the melancholic, even resentful reflections of enforced separation that follow any dwelling on the nature of love's passionate and tender utterances, imagined or otherwise consummated. The Beethoven fate motif Brahms evokes is inescapable. 

Liu brought a thoughtful depth to her interpretation at once eloquent and rather haunting.  She created heartfelt nostalgia for past tender utterances between lovers with just a trace of resentful anger at the passing of now unattainable and possibly unrepeatable times.

  1. Finale. Allegro moderato ma rubato

This movement (a rondo) searches for its resolution almost in an improvisatory manner.  Within it is embedded a musical cryptogram which was a personal musical motto of his close friend the violinist Joseph Joachim, the F–A–E theme, which translates into the thought-provoking and lovelorn conundrum, Frei aber einsam (Free but lonely). Liu created a wonderful variety of dramatic romantic resolution as the movement moved towards its triumphal and rhapsodic close. 

This was a profoundly satisfying interpretation of bottomless romantic depth, a deeply satisfying interpretation of a monumental masterpiece that I shall always treasure in my memory of transcendent piano recitals. A priceless gem. There are not so many...

Love Story - The Young Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann

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Sunday 22.08.21 21:00 2022

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Jos van Immerseel piano

This was one of the most thought provoking, unique and individual recitals I have ever attended given by the Belgian harpsichordist, pianist and conductor Jos van Immerseel.

I quote from his biography as I feel it is necessary to gain an insight into his musical background before judging what I consider to be his revolutionary, rebellious and for many in Warsaw this night, entirely unacceptable performance of Chopin. 

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The Flemish harpsichordist, pianist and conductor, Jos van Immerseel studied organ, piano and harpsichord with Flor Peeters, Eugène Traey and harpsichordist and musicologist Kenneth Gilbert at the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp, where he won first prizes in piano, organ, and harpsichord between 1961 and 1971. During that period, he also won a number of competitions, culminating with the winning first prize at the inaugural Paris Forum International de Clavecin in 1973.

During his studies he founded the Collegium Musicum in Antwerp, conducting that ensemble and the Collegium Vocale to develop his interest in Renaissance and Baroque music, later expanding his activities to include the Classical and early Romantic eras. In 1985 (or 1987), he founded the orchestra Anima Eterna Bruge, a period instrument group, which he has conducted from the keyboard.

Jos Van Immerseel has gone on to establish a rare international career as a fortepianist and conductor specializing in music of the Baroque and Classical eras. A versatile musician who is accomplished on the organ and piano as well as harpsichord and fortepiano, he has in particular gained a reputation for his performances of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. He is in demand as a fortepianist in concert halls across Europe, where he is known for his refined sensitivity to the rhetorical aspects of music and for his skills in improvisation. Much of his performing is focused on music of the Classical and early Romantic eras. Vera Beths and Anner Bylsma regularly perform and record with him, as well, most notably in Schubert's chamber works. [Bach Cantatas Website].

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If one has closely read the 'bible' (originally published in French in Switzerland in 1970) Chopin Pianist and Teacher as Seen by his Pupils by Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger (Cambridge 1986) this arresting (and to some listeners arrestable) performance of Chopin, observed many of the first-hand accounts of Chopin's own playing and the general musical ambiance of the day. One must remember how far we are from the source of this music. These historical observations are often comprehensively ignored by modern 'virtuoso' performers on modern instruments in 2021 for entirely understandable musical, social, financial and career reasons.

Chopin once commented to his pupil Maria von Grewingk 'When you're at the piano, I give you full authority to do whatever you want; follow freely the ideal you have set for yourself and which you must feel within you;be bold and confident in your own powers and strength, and whatever you say will always be good.'  He also observed: 'I merely suggest. It is up to the listener to complete the picture.'

This instrument is a copy of a grand piano by Fryderyk Buchholtz of Warsaw from c.1825–1826, held in the Museum of Local History in Kremenets, Ukraine.

It was based on the Viennese model which was popular at that time (built by the leading Viennese maker Conrad Graf, among others, and also employed by Polish makers). It was characterized by a case with rounded corners, resting on three turned column legs. The copy made by Paul McNulty is pyramid rosewood veneered, straight double-triple strung, with a Viennese action, hammer heads covered with several layers of leather, wedge dampers and a 6½-octave keyboard with the compass C1–f4. This keyboard is broader than the original Buchholtz keyboard (6 octaves, F1–f4), with several additional notes in the bass, making it possible to perform the works Chopin was writing in the late 1830s. This piano also has four pedals operating following stops: una corda, moderator, double moderator and damper.

The Chopin was played on this outstanding copy of the type owned by the Chopin family. It was clear from the outset that van Immerseel was concentrating on creating a beautiful tone, touch and almost linguistic expressiveness (of occasional incoherence) at the expense of the customary, extrovert virtuosity in Chopin, a feature which was remarkably absent. The tempo was considered and slow, the phrasing and rubato when present, deliberate. I received the distinct impression he was reading through this remarkable music deconstructively at leisure for his own musical discoveries rather than performing it for an audience. I found this whole rethinking process fascinating, instructive and individualistic in the extreme, even if disturbing. I will make a few comments on the pieces below.

 Fryderyk Chopin

Ballade in F major Op. 38

Chopin was working on the F major Ballade in Majorca. In January 1839, after his Pleyel pianino had arrived from Paris, he wrote to Julian Fontana ‘You’ll soon receive the Preludes and the Ballade’. And a few days after, when sending the manuscript of the Preludes: ‘In a couple of weeks, you’ll receive the Ballade, Polonaises and Scherzo.' So the conception took place in the atmosphere of a haunted monastery, threatened by untamed nature. Here was conceived the idea of contrasting a gentle and melodic siciliana with a demonic presto con fuoco – the music of those ‘impassioned episodes’, as Schumann referred to them.

I felt van Immerseel gave us a definitely literary, narrative view of this work far more emphatically than most. There was a slow and deliberate unfolding of the 'opera'. The Leipzig encounter with Chopin Schumann experienced in 1840 is instructive. 'A new Chopin Ballade has appeared’, he noted  in his diary. ‘It is dedicated to me and gives me greater joy than if I’d received an order from some ruler’. He remembered a conversation with Chopin: ‘At that time he also mentioned that certain poems of Mickiewicz had suggested his ballade to him.’ So the narrative balladic tradition did underlie this conception but as an inspiration, naturally as an organic growth and not in any programmatic way. 

Waltz in A flat major Op. 34 No. 1

The first version of the A flat major Waltz, Op. 34 No. 1 was written in Dĕčín, Bohemia, at the castle of the Thun-Hohenstein princes. In the summer of 1835, returning from a meeting with his parents in Karlovy Vary, Chopin stopped with the family of three sibling pupils. One of them, Josefina, would become the dedicatee of this Waltz. This is not a virtuoso's waltz but flows along lyrically as if for a cultivated  amateur (the dedicatee) with a delicacy, tenderness, poetry and a waltz rhythm that Immerseel captured perfectly.

Berceuse in D flat major Op. 57

The lullaby delicacy of sonambulant touch, the fragile murmuring of a mother, that van Immerseel achieved on the Buchholtz was magical. It is impossible to achieve such an ultra-pianissimo on the modern Steinway. Chopin was often criticized for playing too softly - why Berlioz commented he needed to place his ear against the piano case to listen to the rustling of elves!

Nocturne in C minor Op. 48 No. 1

Marcel Antoni Szulc (1818-1898) worked as a teacher of classic languages and French in the St. Marie Magdalene high school and sporadically engaging himself as a sometime music critic. He conceived of this nocturne as ‘this magnificent hymn is proclaimed not by a feeble piano, but by a mighty organ – midst the sound of trombones and kettle drums’.

The fine Polish musicologist Tadeusz Andrzej Zieliński (1931-2012) felt that the melody of this Nocturne ‘sounds like a lofty, inspired song filled with the gravity of its message, genuine pathos and a tragic majesty’.

In this work I fear van Immerseel failed to achieve the monumental stature of this great work by adopting a rather soft dynamic. 

Scherzo in B flat minor Op. 31

There was one aspect of this scherzo that van Immerseel understood better than anyone I have ever heard. That is the opening repeated triplet group. 

'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 van Immerseel understood this existential significance of the key triplet figure perfectly which gave an unaccustomed gravity and atmosphere of darker philosophical intent to the entire work that followed. Alright, it may not have been performed with the ultra-virtuosity we have become accustomed to and with more than enough solecisms, but even so we received a worthwhile 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).

Ferenc Liszt

Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude; Funérailles from the cycle Harmonies poétiques et religieuses III S.173

Van Immerseel then changed to another period instrument, an Erard of 1849, for one of the most extraordinary and convincing performances of Liszt I have ever heard. The colours, timbre, dynamic variation, texture and character of registers he extracted from this instrument made me feel I had never heard it played before, despite hearing it so often not only in this festival but in piano competitions in Warsaw performed on period instruments.

The historical background to Funérailles is important in order to understand the inspiration and sound quality that illustrates the deep tragedy that moved Liszt to write this work. The revolution in France, especially Paris, in February 1848, roused the Magyar national spirit of Hungarians in imitation, those who had been suffering under the yoke of the Hapsburg empire. However, the many ethnic groups within this empire were much divided against each other which doomed the uprising from the outset. 

During the war that transpired between Hungary and Austria, great atrocities and cruelties were perpetrated. As Liszt and Carolyne set out for Weimar in April 1848, the darkness of war had begun to settle over the land. Liszt wrote in some skepticism : I can hardly see any prospect of a favorable outcome from that ardent passion for clannish patriotism, which sows the wind only to reap the whirlwind! 

He was greatly grieved over the outcome of the war especially when on October 6th 1849, the Hungarian Prime Minister Lajos Batthyány and thirteen Hungarian generals were summarily executed at Arad. This atrocity was the catalyst for Funérailles according to the convincing account offered by the great Liszt scholar and biographer Alan Walker.

The horrors van Immerseel extracted, that groaned from this Erard in a fractured, dark, growling timbre from the characteristically straight-strung lower register, produced an atmosphere  of overwhelming darkness and tragedy from the tomb of huge double octaves. My hair was set on end by the ethereal pianissimo tremolos during this performance. This sepulchral Gothic effect was created in a way impossible with the homogenized sound of a modern instrument.

Deux  légendes, S. 175, No. 1 François d’Assise: la prédication aux oiseaux

Giotto - Legend of St. Francis - Sermon to the Birds

The Deux Légendes of Liszt are two of the most original pieces in the entire piano repertoire. So rarely performed in recital - a unique experience. Sacheverell Sitwell, with great artistic perception, feels they belong to the art of the Jesuits, to the architecture and painting of the Seicento. We are reminded of the Italian Jesuit brother, Baroque painter, architect, decorator, stage designer, and art theoretician Padre Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709) and of the Baroque architect Baldassare Longhena (1598-1692).

Van Immerseel produced the most extraordinary ultra-pianissimo celestial, heavenly, disembodied ethereal sound of birdsong in the extreme upper register of the Erard I have ever encountered. It appeared to be a type of divine descent of the incorporeal. One could imagine the iridescent colours as the plumage of various species of birds was displayed when they alighted and fluttered their feathers. Their various calls and chirping in answer to the holy words of St. Francis was so clear, their 'conversation' theatrical and fluent. Beneath this vocal activity was laid the serious immanence of the sermon.

Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe, S. 512

From the Cradle to the Grave, after a drawing by Mihály Zichy depicts three stages of existence: birth, the struggle for being, and death. Liszt wrote his last symphonic poem in inspiration (here rarely performed in the solo piano version).

From the Cradle to the Grave Drawing by Mihály Zichy (1881)

Czárdás obstiné (S. 225)

The final two late works, van Immerseel revealed a different, less seductive, almost brutal side to the sound of the Erard, especially the Hungarian dance known as the Czárdás. The colours and rustic timbre he extracted added an bucolic atmosphere one could palpably feel - astonishing in a word that gave these works a unique and arresting character.

His encore was rather unfamiliar to me, but I think it was a sketch for an Hungarian Rhapsody. Perhaps from the Liszt Tasso Sketchbook, the Hungarian Rhapsody XII Prose des Morts. Incredibly effective whatever!

This remarkable recital was so individualistic it gave much ground for analytical thought and took one out of the common run of recitals with a vengeance. I felt in some way were were being given abstract, yet recognizable forms of familiar (and some unfamiliar) works like the reality dislocation of a late Turner  watercolour - recognizable in subject but viewed through a unique vision or prism. This recital was certainly not the usual standardization of approach to familiar works. I found my mind being removed in many ways from the vast virtuosic talents of the performer (our usual preoccupation in recitals in 2021) and being drawn unresistant into the depths of the music itself. 

This instrument (serial no. 21118) was built in Paris in 1849 and purchased in 2003 from the firm of Edwin Beunk & Johan Wennink. 

It is of identical construction to the instruments familiar to Fryderyk Chopin. Its composite frame comprises a hitch pin-block (the strings are stretched between the hitch pin-block and the wrest pin-block), six stress bars screwed to the hitch pin-block (counterbalancing the combined force of the taut strings, reaching up to 20 tonnes) and a bar brace in the treble. It is the predecessor of the cast iron piano frame used today. The keyboard covers 7 octaves (A2–a4), as on modern concert grand pianos. The instrument is straight-strung in single-, double- and triple-string unisons. It has an English action with double repetition and una corda and damper pedals, and the case is veneered with rosewood. The original, historical substance of the piano is preserved in its entirety, with the exception of the elements routinely changed with use. The instrument was restored using identical elements, made from the same raw materials and with the same technology, as in the mid nineteenth century. The piano was a gift for the Fryderyk Chopin Institute from the Ryszard Krauze Foundation.

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

Sunday 22.08.21 17:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Eric Lu piano

Franz Schubert

Allegretto in C Minor, D.915

Ferdinand Walcher (1799-1873), was a lawyer who worked for the Austrian War Office in the section devoted to Naval matters. He was a member of  the musical circle surrounding Schubert, becoming a close personal friend of the composer by 1827. He was an amateur singer, possessed of a low tenor voice and renowned for singing Schubert’s songs ‘most beautifully.’ In May 1827, Walcher was posted to Venice, where the Imperial Fleet had its base. A month or so before Schubert had been a torchbearer at Beethoven's funeral (Who can do anything after Beethoven? - Schubert wrote to Josef von Spaun). In many ways perhaps this farewell to Walcher may have been also an adieu to Beethoven,  

Walcher returned to Vienna regularly, attending a performance of Ständchen, D. 920 in January 1828. One audience member recalled that Walcher had to go and get Schubert from a nearby beer cellar, as he had forgotten all about the concert. Walcher developed under Archduke Karl and then his son, Archduke Albrecht, eventually being knighted in 1865. (grateful thanks for this information to Maureen Buja).

Eric Lu brought his own particularly  characteristic Schubert thoughtful nostalgic tone and touch to the piece, the singing quality he deeply understands from Schubert songs and poetry that the composer set to music. Expressively he brought an undercurrent of melancholy to the contrast of happiness and dreamlike joy that invests the simple opening statement. This was sometimes shadowed like a passing cloud across the sun by the harsh realities of life - a constant trope in the Schubertian musical imagination.

Fryderyk Chopin

Nocturne in C minor Op. 48 No. 1

This was a deeply moving performance that achieved almost Olympian stature of expression as we were taken on a great emotional and philosophical journey. A rhapsodic yet contemplative portrait of the soul's anguish, struggling under a degree of anger and resentment with the inevitable necessity of spiritual resignation to fate and destiny. A remarkable experience of heightened reality indeed.

The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog c.1818 Caspar David Friedrich

Franz Schubert

Piano Sonata in A minor, Op. posth. 143, D 784

Alfred Brendel wrote of Schubert: 'Schubert may well be the most astonishing phenomenon in musical history. The richness of what he accomplished in a life of merely thirty-one years defies comparison.’

In 1823, the year in which he wrote the Sonata in A minor, D. 784, Schubert's health was worrying. The venereal infection (syphilis) that he had contracted led to a period in hospital and to thoughts of inevitable and unavoidable death in the face of the lack of antibiotics. This disease would eventually kill him. In February he had written the sonata, but he was able to work in the spring and early summer (even in hospital) on the song cycle Die schöne Müllerin. In February he had written the Wanderer Fantasy and had also arranged a performance of his opera Alfonso and Estrella.

Schubert, under the profound influence of Beethoven, had been experimenting with the classical form of the piano sonata. It has not always been the case that the sonatas of Schubert were considered close in expressiveness and depth to the sonatas of his God Beethoven. However Schubert uses different means and structure in what emerges as a pattern of Romantic 'psychological symbolism'. So much is clear in his songs based on the associative power of literature and poetry. In his sonatas too the seductive, vulnerable lyricism of dreams and the imaginative flights of the artistic temperament are at moments brutally interrupted by the emergence of the grim, inflexible and brutal reality of the world. The tenderness of a pastel drawing or watercolour suddenly contrasted with the concrete, forceful depiction of an oil painting.

The A minor Sonata in three movements, opens in a funereal mood and with the darkest of presentiments. The sonata contains only three movements and lacks the conventional scherzo which gives the work unusual emotional concentration. Lu instinctively understands the moody metaphysics of Schubert, the fatalism, the depths of his passionate life and inevitability of the heavy 'mortality tread' of this opening. He also understands the unique tone and touch required of this emotional composer. The contrasts and expressive, almost agonizing lurches of psychological mood, were hypnotic.  He brought a fine and sensitive contrast in the blithe E major second subject.

Alfred Einstein in his book Schubert (London 1951, p.245) draws our attention to the second subject in the major of the two outer movements as 'visions of paradise', lyrical and frail dreams of departed love or lost love reminiscent of the yearning mood of the song cycle Winterreise (a penetrating observation from the American author William Kinderman). The artist's dreams are ruptured by dark, ungovernable and tumultuous minor mode forces.

The slow movement, marked Andante, is in F major and follows its opening phrase with reflective understatement as the movement develops into rhapsodic declamation with marked inspiration of song. The final movement has a principal subject in rapid, highly emotionally agitated triplet rhythm, contrasted with a lyrical secondary theme in F major that Lu made sing with superb cantabile. We meander through remoter keys and the turbulent return of the first subject. Dance rhythms and a brief hallucinatory and momentary return to the secret despair of the opening bareness.  A magnificent performance that elevated to work to a stature of great nobility of spirit in the face of harsh destiny and the inevitable decline of life force to which we are all subjected.


Franz Schubert

Sonata in A major, (D. 959)

The late sonatas were written during the last prolific months of Schubert's all too brief life, this one in 1828, mere months before his death. His sonatas were neglected until the twentieth century as they were thought to be inferior to those of Beethoven. Of course they possess the unique voice of a musical genius. Beethoven had died the previous year and in some ways Schubert felt he had inherited his mantle. As Alfred Brendel has pointed out, the three late sonatas (a sonata trilogy in fact), are closely connected motivically and tonally.

The opening Allegro suggested chamber music for strings, but surely the pivot of this sonata, on which the whole structure revolves, is the immortal Andantino movement in F sharp minor. The mesmeric main theme reminds one of Schubert's Heine songs and Der Leiermann from Winterreise. The melancholic contemplation, even obsession, was ever present. Lu achieved a degree of ferocious intensity at the climax. 

Alfred Brendel found a parallel with this movement and the painting The Third of May, 1808 by Francisco Goya, where the brutality of the firing squad and the defenseless human target are contrasted. The Scherzo. Allegro vivace- Trio and Beethovenian Rondo. Allegretto have a far more positive life outlook than that depicted in the bleak Andantino. The silences Lu brought to the conclusion were so eloquent of existential uncertainties before the passionate, almost desperate grasp at life at the Coda.

There is really nothing left for me to say about this deeply satisfying and spiritual performance.

Encores in lyrical performances of great simplicity : Kind im Einschlummern  (Child Falling Asleep) and Der Dichter spricht (The Poet Speaks) from Schumann's Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood)

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Saturday 21.08.21 21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Chamber concert

Bomsori Kim violin

Rafał Blechacz piano

 I was unable for personal reasons to attend this concert so I am afraid the review is absent until I hear a later broadcast perhaps

Ludwig van Beethoven

Violin Sonata in D major, Op. 12 No. 1

Johannes Brahms

Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108

Claude Debussy

Violin Sonata in G minor

Karol Szymanowski

Sonata in D minor Op. 9

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Saturday 21.08.21 17:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Lieder recital

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

Christoph Prégardien tenor

Julian Prégardien tenor

Michael Gees piano

This was a unique, spiritual and humanly uplifting recital that restored one's faith in the power of familial love and human nature. A unique musical and personal connection of great intimacy between father and son. One truly needs such reassurances today. Readers of my other reviews of Christoph Prégardien will realize how highly I value his talents and what special occasions his recitals have become for me. 

On 17th August 2019 at this same festival I wrote:  

On this rarest of occasions, I had one of the deepest artistic experiences of my musical life. The renowned lyric tenor Christoph Prégardien sang with such subtlety and finesse the audience were reduced to utter stillness by the intense poetry of the performance and the meditative atmosphere this great artist created. His modesty and the deep seriousness of his approach was remarkable [...] This was a recital devoted to the nature of emotional yearning and love in what must be considered a unique experience of the finest in performance art. I left the radio studio in a mood utterly disconnected from reality....


(you will need to scroll down to August 17th for the review)

For many years this father and son have been performing together. In June 2017, at the Frauenkirche in Dresden, I heard him sing madrigals and operatic excerpts with his son Julien in a superb concert to commemorate the 450th birthday of Claudio Monterverdi. They were accompanied by Anima Eterna Brugge conducted by Jos van Immerseel. Father and son touched foreheads at the conclusion which was a deeply moving gesture. 

A deeply moving interpretation that lifted the Schubert song Erlkönig Op. 1 (D. 328) to the heights of artistic and metaphysical transcendence, was when father and son Prégardien sang their respective dialogues that appear in the poem. This dramatization by father and son was poetically and artistically transformational. [See English translated of the poem below].

This concert was an excursion through the Classical-Romantic song repertoire, but unusual in that many songs had been arranged as duos.All wonderfully sung. Sometimes I felt as if they were singing with one voice.

The German pianist Michael Gees is an outstanding, sensitive, musically penetrating and tasteful accompanist.

Mozart was not proud of his songs but some about the nature of love and death are deeply moving. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Sehnsucht nach dem Frühling (K. 596)

Abendempfindung an Laura (K. 523)

Evening Thoughts 

It is evening, the sun has vanished,
And the moon sheds its silver light;
So life’s sweetest hours speed by,
Flit by as in a dance!
Soon life’s bright pageant will be over,
And the curtain will fall.
Our play is ended! Tears wept by a friend
Flow already on our grave.
Soon perhaps, like a gentle zephyr,
A silent presentiment will reach me,
And I shall end this earthly pilgrimage,
Fly to the land of rest.
If you then weep by my grave
And gaze mourning on my ashes,
Then, dear friends, I shall appear to you
Bringing a breath of heaven.
May you too shed a tear for me
And pluck a violet for my grave;
And let your compassionate gaze
Look tenderly down on me.
Consecrate a tear to me and ah!
Be not ashamed to do so;
In my diadem it shall become
The fairest pearl of all.

Komm, liebe Zither, komm (K. 351 [367b])

Come, dear zither, come

Come, dear zither, come,
You friend of silent love,
You shall be my friend too.
Come, to you I’ll confide
My most secret impulses,
To you alone I’ll confide my pain.
Tell her in my stead,
For I cannot tell her yet,
How utterly my heart is hers;
Tell her in my stead,
For I cannot yet tell her my woes,
How my heart is consumed for her.

An Chloe (K. 524)

To Chloë

When love looks out of your blue,
Bright and open eyes,
And the joy of gazing into them
Causes my heart to throb and glow;
And I hold you and kiss
Your rosy cheeks warm,
Sweet girl and clasp
You trembling in my arms,
Sweet girl, sweet girl, and press
You firmly to my breast,
Where until my dying moment
I shall hold you tight –
My ecstatic gaze is blurred
By a sombre cloud;
And I sit then exhausted,
But blissful, by your side.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven once commented 'I don't like writing songs' and was not prolific in this genre. I must admit to be vastly more familiar with his chamber, piano, opera and symphonic output than his songs. Many of them were quite new to me apart from being of course sung in German. However I did have a couple of favored songs, mostly about the travails of love arising from his fraught relationship with the 'immortal beloved' and other tragic losses. Such negative occurrences assailed Beethoven as deeply and bitterly as the rest of us.

Robust Beethovenian wit invested this song

Der Kuss Op. 128

The Kiss

I was with Chloe all alone,
And wished to kiss her:
But she said she would scream,
That it would be in vain.
But I dared to and kissed her,
Despite her resistance.
And did she scream? Oh yes, she screamed.
But not until long after.

Neue Liebe, neues Leben Op. 75 No. 2

New love, new life

Heart, my heart, what can this mean?
What is it that besets you so?
What a strange and new existence!
I do not know you any more.
Fled is all you used to love,
Fled is all that used to grieve you,
Fled your work and peace of mind -
Ah, how can this have come about!
Does the bloom of youth ensnare you,
This dear figure full of charm,
These eyes so kind and faithful
With inexorable power?
When I try to hasten from her,
Control myself, escape her,
In a moment I am led,
Ah, back to her again.
And by this magic little thread
That cannot be severed,
The sweet and playful girl
Holds me fast against my will;
In her enchanted realm
I must now live as she dictates.
Ah, what a monstrous change!
Love! Love! Let me free!

Friedrich Silcher

Ännchen von Tharau

Ännchen von Tharau

Franz Schubert

Zum Rundetanz Op. 17 No. 3 (D. 983)

Die Nacht Op. 17 No. 4 (D. 983)

Des Fischers Liebesglück (D. 933)

A Party Angling - George Morland 1789

The fisherman's luck in love

Yonder light gleams
through the willows,
and a pale
beckons to me
from the bedroom
of my sweetheart.
It flickers
like a will-o'-the-wisp,
and its reflection
in the circle
of the undulating lake.
I gaze
into the blue
of the waves,
and greet
the bright
reflected beam.
And spring
to the oar,
and swing
the boat
away on
its smooth,
crystal course.
My sweetheart
briefs lovingly
from her little room,
and joyfully
hastens to me
in the boat.
Then the breezes
blow us
out into the lake
from the elder tree
on the shore.
The pale
evening mists
and veil
our silent,
innocent dallying
from prying onlookers.
And as we exchange
the waves
and falling,
to foil eavesdroppers.
Only stars
in the far distance
overhear us,
and bathe
deep down
below the course
of the gliding boat.
So we drift on
in the midst
of darkness,
high above
the twinkling
we think
we have soared free
of the earth,
and are already up above,
on another shore.

Auf dem Wasser zu singen Op. 72 (D. 774)

Meeres Stille Op. 3 No. 2 (D. 216)

Calm Sea

Deep silence weighs on the water,
Motionless the sea rests,
And the fearful boatman sees
A glassy surface all around.
No breeze from any quarter!
Fearful, deadly silence!
In all that vast expanse
Not a single ripple stirs.

Der Zwerg Op. 22 No. 1 (D. 771)

The Dwarf

In the dim light the mountains already fade;
the ship drifts on the sea's smooth swell,
with the queen and her dwarf on board.
She gazes up at the high arching vault,
at the blue distance, interwoven with light,
streaked with the pale milky way.
'Stars, never yet have you lied to me',
she cries out. 'Soon now I shall be no more.
You tell me like that; yet in truth I shall die gladly. '
Then the dwarf comes up to the queen, begins
to tie the cord of red silk about her neck,
and weeps, as if he would soon go blind with grief.
He speaks: 'You are yourself to blame for this
suffering, because you have forsaken me for the king;
now your death alone can revive joy within me.
'Though I shall forever hate myself
for having brought you death by this hand,
yet now you must grow pale for an early grave. '
She lays her hand on her heart, so full of youthful
life, and heavy tears flow from her eyes
which she would raise to heaven in prayer.
'May you reap no sorrow from my death!'
she says; then the dwarf kisses her pale cheeks,
whereupon her senses fade.
The dwarf looks upon the lady in the grip of death;
he lowers her with his own hands deep into the sea.
His heart burns with such longing for her,
he will never again land on any shore.

Johannes Brahms/ Herrmann Zilcher

Friedrich Silcher

O wie herbe ist das Scheiden


Franz Schubert

Erlkönig Op. 1 (D. 328)

The Erlking

Who rides so late through the night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He has the boy in his arms;
he holds him safely, he keeps him warm.
‘My son, why do you hide your face in fear?’
‘Father, can you not see the Erlking?
The Erlking with his crown and tail?’
‘My son, it is a streak of mist.’
‘Sweet child, come with me.
I’ll play wonderful games with you.
Many a pretty flower grows on the shore;
my mother has many a golden robe.’
‘Father, father, do you not hear
what the Erlking softly promises me?’
‘Calm, be calm, my child:
the wind is rustling in the withered leaves.’
‘Won’t you come with me, my fine lad?
My daughters shall wait upon you;
my daughters lead the nightly dance,
and will rock you, and dance, and sing you to sleep.’
‘Father, father, can you not see
Erlking’s daughters there in the darkness?’
‘My son, my son, I can see clearly:
it is the old grey willows gleaming.’
‘I love you, your fair form allures me,
and if you don’t come willingly, I’ll use force.’
‘Father, father, now he’s seizing me!
The Erlking has hurt me!’
The father shudders, he rides swiftly,
he holds the moaning child in his arms;
with one last effort he reaches home;
the child lay dead in his arms.

Wandrers Nachtlied Op. 96 No. 3 (D. 768)

Wanderer’s nightsong II

Over every mountain-top
Lies peace,
In every tree-top
You scarcely feel
A breath of wind;
The little birds are hushed in the wood.
Wait, soon you too
Will be at peace.

Nähe des Geliebten Op. 5 No. 2 (D. 162)

Im Frühling [Op. 101 No. 1] (D. 882)

This poem has a superb piano accompaniment

In Spring

I sit silently on the hillside.
The sky is so clear
the breezes play in the green valley
where once, in the first rays of spring,
I was, oh, so happy.
Where I walked by her side,
so tender, so close,
and saw deep in the dark rocky stream
the fair sky, blue and bright,
and her reflected in that sky.
See how the colorful spring
already peeps from bud and blossom.
Not all the blossoms are the same to me:
I like most of all to pluck them from the branch
from which she has plucked.
For all is still as it was then,
the flowers, the fields;
the sun shines no less brightly,
and no less cheerfully,
the sky's blue image bathes in the stream.
Only will and delusion change,
and joy alternates with strife;
the happiness of love flies past,
and only love remains;
love and, alas, sorrow.
Oh, if only I were a bird,
there on the sloping meadow!
Then I would stay on these branches here,
and sing a sweet song about her
all summer long.

Widerspruch Op. 105 No. 1 (D. 865)

Licht und Liebe. Nachtgesang (D. 352)

Light and Love

Love is a sweet light.
Just as the earth aches for the sun
and those bright stars
in the distant blue expanses,
so the heart aches for love’s bliss,
for love is a sweet light.
See, high in the silent solemnity,
bright stars glitter up above:
from the earth flee the dark
heavy baleful mists.
Alas! Yet how sad I feel
deep in my soul;
once I brimmed with joy;
now I am abandoned, unloved.

Nacht und Träume Op. 43 No. 2 (D. 827)

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Internet broadcast connection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6r-UUzzv_AQ

Friday 20.08.21 20:00

Moniuszko Hall of the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

Opera in concert

Marie Lys soprano

Francesco Marsiglia tenor

Vittorio Prato baritone

Violetta Bielecka choirmaster

Fabio Biondi conductor

Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir

Europa Galante

Gaetano Donizetti

Betly (for the first time on period instruments)

The full cast, orchestra, conductor and choir

This was a charming confection I felt not to be taken too seriously - such a welcome, highly enjoyable relief of light entertainment to replace any contemplated deep dive into the 'dark night of the soul'. Most appreciated by this not always serious listener! 

Fabio Biondi (who conducted 'in period' playing the violin) and Europa Galante on period instruments gave a marvelously idiomatic Italiano account of the work, together with the gifted soloists and choir

The excellent tenor Francesco Marsiglia (Daniele, the young landowner in love)

The superb soprano Marie Lys (Betly, Max's sister) in rather a vicious mood with the fine baritone Vitorrio Prato (Max, the Swiss sergeant) 

Betly, a charming opera by Gaetano Donizetti, tells the story of Betly, an independent Swiss girl resistant to the charms of her suitor, Daniel, who is fooled into believing that she has accepted his marriage proposal. Let down, he soon finds an advocate in Betly’s brother, Max, who has been away for years and has returned unrecognized. In order to stop a climactic staged duel between Max and Daniele, Betly finally agrees to marriage, and her brother reveals his identity. Donizetti made a number of changes to Betly after its premiere in one act at Venice’s Teatro Nuovo in 1836, including a subsequent extension of the opera to two acts. [Univerity of Chicago Press]

The wind band of Europa Galante - note our friend the period clarinet virtuoso
Lorenzo Coppola centre rear

The alluring Marie Lys off stage

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kBJ2ofTbRQ

Thursday 19.08.21 21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Chamber concert

Alena Baeva violin

Vadym Kholodenko piano

What can I possibly say about this magnificent recital by a pair of perfectly matched musicians both in musical temperament and clearly deeply in love with the intimate communication this implies. A privilege to attend such a recital.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Andante con variazioni (WoO 44b)

An absolute gem elevated to great art by these musicians. It lies hidden among his more famous chamber works. Beethoven composed this work in Prague for Countess Josephine von Clary-Aldringen, a connoisseur of the mandolin.

Robert Schumann

Fantasy in C major Op. 131

The most astonishingly powerful, incandescently passionate and sensual performance of this masterpiece I have ever heard or witnessed, driven by love and affection.

Mark Simpson

An Essay of Love

An interesting work but not arresting, at least for me.

Grażyna Bacewicz

Theme with Variations for violin and piano

A simply brilliant composition rarely heard

Witold Lutosławski

Partita for violin and piano

It is difficult for this particular listener to enter this world of undoubted sensibility of genius

Maurice Ravel

Sonata No. 2 in G major for violin and piano

Yet another work that took many years of gestation for Ravel. The 'independent violin' enters into a fascinating interaction with the 'independent piano'. The second movement Blues. Moderato has rather a swinging beat and the third movement Perpetuum mobile. Allegro transports us onto the wilder shores of the 1920s.

A superb concert for which my words are utterly superfluous.

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Internet broadcast link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfcO24Hm6xI 

Thursday 19.08.21 17:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital on a period instrument

Alexander Melnikov period piano

This was a truly remarkable recital, the like of which I have never experienced in my musical life. It was a fascinating 'time travel' into the musical world of the mid nineteenth century where much orchestral music was arranged for the piano (by the often generous Franz Liszt) owing to the lack or difficulty of assembling full orchestral forces for performances. We are supremely rich in comparison with the ready availability of our orchestral resources and grand pianos.

Goiachino Rossini

Giachino Rossini (1792-1868)

Péchés de vieillesse / Sins of Old Age /selection/

I was completely unaware of the existence of this highly entertaining work. The detail is rather overwhelming so I feel it is best to refer you to this link which will at least introduce you to this extraordinarily amusing piece and open a window on the complex personality of Rossini!


Fryderyk Chopin

Fugue in A minor op. posth.

A fascinating study piece or exercise by Chopin woven into the Péchés de vieillesse

Hector Berlioz 

Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 (1830) arranged for piano by Franz Liszt

Harriet Smithson (1800-1854) [Universal Images Group/Getty Images]

'I come now to the supreme drama of my life. An English company had come over to Paris to give a season of Shakespeare at the Odeon. I was at the first night of Hamlet. In the role of Ophelia I saw Harriet Smithson. The impression made on my heart and mind by her extraordinary talent, nay, her dramatic genius, was equaled only by the havoc wrought in me by the poet she so nobly interpreted. That is all I can say.'  (Hector Berlioz Memoirs)

Berlioz writes to the pianist and composer Ferdinand Hiller:

'Can you tell me what it is, this capacity for emotion, this force of suffering that is wearing me out? … Oh my friend, I am indeed wretched – inexpressibly! … Today it is a year since I saw HER for the last time … Unhappy woman, how I loved you! I shudder as I write it – how I love you!'

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

Berlioz describes Symphonie fantastique to Humbert Ferrand:

'I conceive an artist, gifted with a lively imagination, who … sees for the first time a woman who realizes the ideal of beauty and fascination that his heart has so long invoked, and falls madly in love with her. By a strange quirk, the image of the loved one never appears before his mind’s eye with its corresponding musical idea, in which he finds a quality of grace and nobility similar to that which he attributes to the beloved object. [The idée fixe or melody that appears in the five movements.]

After countless agitations, he imagines that there is some hope, he believes himself loved. One day, in the country, he hears in the distance two shepherds playing a ranz des vaches to one another; their rustic dialogue plunges him into a delightful daydream. [The ‘Scene in the country’ third movement]

He goes to a ball [the second movement]. The tumult of the dance fails to distract him; his idée fixe haunts him still, and the cherished melody sets his heart beating during a brilliant waltz.

In a fit of despair he poisons himself with opium [the fourth movement - the March to the Scaffold]; but instead of killing him, the narcotic induces a horrific vision, in which he believes he has murdered the loved one, has been condemned to death, and witnesses his own execution. March to the scaffold; immense procession of headsmen, soldiers and populace. At the end the melody reappears once again, like a last reminder of love, interrupted by the death stroke.

The next moment [the fifth movement, the Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath] he is surrounded by a hideous throng of demons and sorcerers, gathered to celebrate Sabbath night … At last the melody arrives. Till then it had appeared only in a graceful guise, but now it has become a vulgar tavern tune, trivial and base; the beloved object has come to the sabbath to take part in her victim’s funeral. She is nothing but a courtesan, fit to figure in the orgy. The ceremony begins; the bells toll, the whole hellish cohort prostrates itself; a chorus chants the plainsong sequence of the dead [the Dies irae plainchant], two other choruses repeat it in a burlesque parody. Finally, the sabbath round-dance whirls. At its violent climax it mingles with the Dies irae, and the vision ends.'

Melnikov gave a quite extraordinary performance of Franz Liszt's immense, gargantuan piano transcription of the Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz on a period Erard instrument. I am not sure one would wish to hear it again! There was even a possibly apocryphal tale that at a concert in Paris, Liszt performed this arrangement and after the interval Berlioz conducted the orchestral original! A fascinating period insight into performance practice at the time of Liszt.

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxbh3g9oOAY 

Wednesday 18.08.21 21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Chamber concert

Isabelle Faust violin

Anne-Katharina Schreiber violin

Antoine Tamestit viola

Jean-Guihen Queyras cello

Alexander Melnikov period piano

This was a magnificent recital at the highest possible artistic level, the familiar Schumann deeply moving on the level of romantic and poetic sensibility. The setting of Mozart / Bach, I had never heard before, correctly emphasized the profound influence Bach exerted on Schumann and his polyphonic writing present in all his piano compositions. Nothing left for me to say - do watch again using the internet broadcast link.

Robert Schumann

Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 47

Johann Sebastian Bach/ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

5 Fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier, vol. 2 by Johann Sebastian Bach (K. 405)

Robert Schumann

Piano Quintet in E flat major Op. 44

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2hmt_BQJR4 

Wednesday 18.08.21 17:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Benjamin Grosvenor piano

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Intermezzo in E flat major Op. 117 

Benjamin Grosvenor brought an intense poetic concentration and keyboard mastery to this entire recital rarely encountered in a young artist. 

I often wonder what possible narrative prompts pianists to design programmes. All the pieces here are very fine but the connection between them was not so easy to ascertain. We began with the profound lyrical sadness of these Brahms Intermezzi, unsurpassed in the expression of profound sadness and dejection. This Op. 117 set of passionate musical denials and sacrifice was composed in 1892. They are intensely poetic and introspective works which Brahms thought of as  'three lullabies for my sorrows.' The first Intermezzo in E-flat major has a preface written on the score taken from an old Scottish ballad, Lady Anne Bothwell's Lament:

'Sleep softly, my child, sleep softly and deep!

How much it hurts to see you weep!'

The second in B-flat minor embraces a transcendental, almost metaphysical mood with its flowing line. The third in C-sharp minor is thought to be inspired by Gottfried von Herder’s poetic lines 'Oh woe! Oh woe, deep in the valley…' with its rather angular yet mysteriously rich atmosphere. When Brahms unsurprisingly sent this set of Intermezzi to Clara Schumann, she wrote 'In these pieces I at last feel musical life stir once again in my soul.'

Grosvenor adopted a reflective, soft tone and tender touch with a great deal of poetic sensibility for these regretful masterpieces. They speak directly to the heart of the turbulent emotions of unrequited love and romantic loss.

Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)

Piano Sonata in B minor Op. 58

This sonata is one of the greatest masterpieces in the canon of Western piano music. In many ways this sonata (still classical in its formal Austro-German sonata structure that Chopin embraced) is the very essence of Romanticism in music. The first and last movements possess the character of a Ballade, the second is a scherzo, and the third is a nocturne. Grosvenor adopted an almost too powerfully conceived, rhapsodic Allegro maestoso with great dynamic contrasts and pent-up emotions. Not quite le climat de Chopin as the composer's favourite pupil Marcelina Czartoryska described it. Grosvenor did have a fine cantabile that made the piano sing.

I felt the Scherzo could have been lighter and more airy, an approach that would have pleased Mendelssohn with his undeniable velocity. I felt although the introduction to the Largo was rather too grand a declamation, his approach to this difficult, expressive movement was  emotionally moving and illuminating if sometimes rather straightforward than poetically mysterious. Here we begin an exquisite extended nocturne-like musical voyage taken through a night of meditation and introspective thought. This great musical narrative of extended and challenging harmonic structure must be presented as a poem of the reflective heart and spirit. It is so difficult to maintain interest and momentum in this movement over the long period it takes to perform. The Largo is a nocturne by any other name. An 'aria of the night' indeed. Something to remember ...

The Finale is marked with the indication Presto non tanto which Grosvenor clearly understood and was not often tempted into excessive virtuosity. The movement has the tone and nature of a narrative Ballade. So impassioned is this movement that it has stimulated the imagination of many interpreters. For Marcel Antoni, it brought to mind an image of the Cossack Hetman Mazeppa on a wild steed chased by the wind. Iwaszkiewicz saw this music as a foretaste of the galloping of Wagner’s Valkyries. Both Jachimecki and Chominski heard in it an expression of a demonic nature. Certainly Grosvenor imbued the movement with all the excitement, urgency and adventure of youth!  

The great Polish musicologist Tomaszewski again cannot be bettered in his observation:

'Thereafter, in a constant Presto (ma non troppo) tempo and with the expression of emotional perturbation (agitato), this frenzied, electrifying music, inspired (perhaps) by the finale of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony…’

At the final triumphal conclusion, I was unsure what Grosvenor was trying to tell us about this complex work, apart from presenting it magnificently.

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)

Three Argentinian Dances (1937)

This is a set of three dances for solo piano written in 1937 by Alberto Ginatera, one of the leading Latin American composers of the 20th century. I enjoyed the energy so much and I think Benjamin Grosvenor did too! 

In the Danza del gaucho matrero, Op. 2 no. 3 there are directions such as furiosamente ("furiously"), violente ("violent"), mordento ("biting"), and salvaggio ("wild"), Ginastera left no doubt as how to play the third dance. Grosvenor gave full reign to these directions in a fantastic display of virtuosity.

Ferenc Liszt (1811-1886)

2 Petrarch Sonnets

Detail from a fresco showing Petrarch in his study, attributed to either Altichiero da Zevio or Jacopo Avanzi and painted (shortly after Petrarch's death in 1374) 

Petrarch (1304-1374) is one of the greatest Italian poets and established Renaissance humanism. He wrote many hundreds of sonnets in a collection entitled Canzoniere. Liszt had been fascinated by the expression of passionate love and adoration of the mysterious and alluring woman Laura for years. He set sonnets 47, 104 and 123 to music, creating lyrical and poetic songs for piano which he included in the second volume Deuxième année, Italie S.161 of his Années de Pèlerinage. I found Grosvenor's interpretation of  Sonnet 104 and 123 intensely poetic and affecting in a way absent from other works on his programme. 

In my researches I found this fascinating site entitled Petrarch's Plague
Love, Death, and Friendship in a Time of Pandemic by Paula Findlen


Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Gaspard de la Nuit (1908)

                         Scarbo  (from Greg Anderson - pianist)

'Gaspard' is the Persian guardian of the treasures and so 'The Treasurer of the Night' creates allusions to someone controlling everything that is jewel-like, dark, mysterious. The work was inspired by poems of Aloysius Bertrand, the French Romantic prose poet. 

In Ondine Grosvenor created a beautiful impressionistic, luminous tone with a refined touch to create a sense of water enclosing the seductive water sprite. Technically this is an enormous challenge for the pianist to create such a visual illusion.

Listen! – Listen! – It is I, it is Ondine who brushes drops of water on the resonant panes of your windows lit by the gloomy rays of the moon;

Le Gibet was haunting and horrifying enough but not quite as threatening and ominous as one might imagine in the eye of the mind.

What do I see stirring around that gibbet?

Ah! that which I hear, was it the north wind that screeches in the night, or the hanged one who utters a sigh on the fork of the gibbet?

Scarbo, one of the most difficult pieces in keyboard literature, Grosvenor with his absolute command of the keyboard, was completely convincing in the creation of the atmosphere surrounding a goblin that is terrifying a sleeper in his bed. 

Oh! how often have I heard and seen him, Scarbo, when at midnight the moon glitters in the sky like a silver shield on an azure banner strewn with golden bees.

How often have I heard his laughter buzz in the shadow of my alcove, and his fingernail grate on the silk of the curtains of my bed!

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-tNV6klCpM

Tuesday 17.08.21 21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Tomasz Konieczny bass-baritone

{oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna

Martyna Pastuszka conductor

Dirk Vermeulen conductor


Domenico Cimarosa

Il maestro di cappella

In order to relieve the emotional demands of grand opera seria in the eighteenth century, operatic intermezzos were introduced - not particularly serious works in the genre of opera buffa. This Neapolitan composer was extraordinarily popular in Europe, even being compared to Mozart. His monodrama Il maestro di cappella for bass-baritone has rather obscure origins in the colourful life of Cimarosa. Italian musicians in England at the time were known as 'macaronis'. Musical life was rather more dramatic and undisciplined than today where pious adherence to text and performance have taken precedence over social mores. Operas such as Mozart's Der Schauspieldirektor dealt with the argumentative antics and rehearsal pantomimes  within opera companies, as does this intermezzo by Cimarosa. In eighteenth century London it was considered fashionable to arrive at your opera box after the opera was over! 

The bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny was brilliant, comically dramatic, in magnificent voice and highly amusing in this rarely performed work - a still to be fully appreciated gem of the remarkable festival. The formidable period OH! orchestra under the enthusiastically engaging and theatrically modern and fashionable Martyna Pastuszka (also leader of the orchestra), took us back into a less politically correct day - such a welcome change from Professor Smellfungus!

Joseph Haydn

Symphony in F sharp minor ‘Farewell’ Op. (Hob. I:45)

I would like to quote verbatim Orrin Howard on the origins of this symphony from the program book of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as it is so entertainingly written!

Of the reasons for a composer to write a symphony (the most common are a fierce urge, a commission, or just part of the job), the one to solve a management-labor problem is singular. But it seems to be the explanation for the existence of Haydn's Symphony No. 45. In his position as Kapellmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, Haydn was both employee and, in a sense, employer of the fine musicians who comprised the resident house band. In 1772, in what was an especially long season at Nikolaus' grand country castle (built in Hungary, at enormous expense, to compete with Versailles), the musicians, understandably lonely for their families and wanting to return to Vienna, sought their boss' help. The crafty Haydn did what any red-blooded Austrian composer would do: he wrote a symphony. But he waited until the last movement to press his case. There, when the music's dynamic momentum could bring the movement to a close, there is a pause, and an unexpected Adagio begins. As this new section proceeded, player after player finished his part (no hers in that orchestra), blew out his candle, and left, until only two violins (Haydn himself and Luigi Tomasini) remained, and they too followed their colleagues. 'Tis said, mission accomplished: the good Prince gave his musicians their leave.

The OH! orchestra led and conducted by Matyna Pastuszka gave us an excellent strongly muscular opening Allegro assai and a fabulous period sound from this magnificent orchestra. The muted Adagio is one of the finest Haydn wrote. The forte-piano instead of harpsichord was a particularly attractive addition for this symphony. Again I leave it to Orrin Howard for the Finale. Presto-Adagio description:

The finale is all whiplash energy until the raison d'être appears. As the orchestra thins out, the atmosphere grows ever more pensive until, at last, the violins' duet speaks of farewell in poignant, rather than happily expectant, tones. In subduing his Prince, Haydn summoned a deep well of emotion.

Martyna Pastuszka in full flight

Almost left alone ....

Karol Lipiński (1790-1861) 

Overture in D major

Karol Lipiński is a name not well known in the West and another example of this fertile Polish musical renaissance that is taking place in recent years, largely as a result of their remarkable festival and the efforts of its mission-driven  Artistic Director. Lipiński was a renowned violinist and a friend of Paganini - the 'devil' even left him his Amati violin! Rarely heard today are works other than his Caprices and the Concerto in D major. This Overture  is attractively dramatic and replete with affecting melodies. The superb period OH! orchestra under Dirk Vermeulen gave a performance full of period ambiance, drama and stylistic atmosphere.  This especially true in the concluding Vivace with its colorful brass and woodwind - the oboe! - with such atmospheric, declamatory 'harshness' on occasion.

Karol Lipiński

Symphony in B flat major Op. 2 No. 3

This youthful, impressive yet mature work was composed for the court orchestra of Count Adam Starzeński in Lviv around 1810. It has all the qualities and more of the eighteenth century Viennese classics. The style has even been compared to the rhythmic drive within Beethoven's early first symphonies.Certainly it was a real discovery for me during this Polish Musical Renaissance we are experiencing. Let us hope in time some of these accomplished, tuneful and highly energetic works - forgotten except by the Polish cognoscenti - make their way into the mainstream repertoire. With endless recordings and performances of the same works both at home and in concert we certainly need some variety in the halls of the world!

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

Tuesday 17.08.21 17:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Chamber concert

Belcea Quartet

Corina Belcea - violin

Axel Schacher - violin

Krzysztof Chorzelski - viola

Antoine Lederlin - cello

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

String Quartet in F major (K. 590)

Mozart wrote this last so-called 'Prussian' quartet in June 1790 for the amateur cellist King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia (1744-1797). Mozart was hopeful of financial stimulus being rather profligate but this did not eventuate as he only completed three of the promised twelve quartets. The instrumental writing is biased towards the cello and viola which alters the texture of thew sound.  

The importance and predominance given the cello by Mozart is clear in the opening Allegro moderato. Alfred Einstein wrote of this work and the complete equality of all the movements '...it is like a Mozartian farewell to Haydn, and in the Andante, one of the most sensitive movements in the whole literature of chamber music, it seems to mingle the bliss and sorrow of a farewell to life. How beautiful life has been! How sad! How brief!'

The Belcea achieved the communication of all these emotions in this carefully designed programme, to absolute perfection. Nothing left for me to say.

Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia (1744-1797)

Karol Szymanowski

String Quartet No. 1 Op. 37

Szymanowski wrote his String Quartet No. 1 in the autumn of 1917, during one of the most difficult periods of his life, when the revolutionaries and the Soviet communist party escalated their activities against landowners, forcing him and his family to leave their Tymoszówka estate (today’s Ukraine, Czyhyryn county, Kiev governorate), I can scarcely imagine such anguished deprivation of all one loved and treasured in life. 

Dining room in Tymoszówka Manor

Composed in Elisavetgrad and regarded as one of Szymanowski's most inspired works, it was clearly influenced by those dramatic events. Tadeusz A. Zieliński, author of Szymanowski's biography, describes the work:

Like the contemporaneous 'Piano Sonata No. 3', it attempts to reconcile diverse stylistics, but does it with a greater finesse and artistic refinement. [...] It offers music which is rather restrained in tone, its impact achieved by inward, intimate poetry rather than outward gestures, and which is subtle and private not only in terms of the technique but in spirit as well. The harmonic language tends to be gentle - save for the finale - and the first movement is now and then marked by a sophisticated simplicity which gives a foretaste of his style in the coming period.

The entire work contains heart-rending anguished harmonies, anger, żal, but Andantino semplice (In modo d'una canzone) is one of the most divine of melodies, an eloquent evocation of loss unsurpassed in modern music. This divination, given in turn to each member of the quartet in ensemble as in a madrigal, brought one close to tears. The grim, even darkly humorous irony by following this movement with a Vivace - Scherzando alla burlesca was not lost on this listener. An inspired performance altogether.

 Franz Schubert

String Quartet in D minor (‘Death and the Maiden’) (D. 810)

Death and the Maiden  Egon Schiele (1915)
The Maiden

Away! Ah, Away! thou cruel man of bone!
I am still young. Go, instead.
And do not touch me!


Give me thy hand, you fair and tender creature,
I'm a friend, and do not come to punish.
Be of good courage; I am not cruel
You shall sleep gently in my arms

                                                                              Matthias Claudius                                                         

Schubert realized he was dying when he wrote this magnificent work in 1824. The title of the work is taken from the theme of the Second Movement after the title of the song he wrote in 1817. Death hovers like an ominous shadow over the entire eloquent work.
In a letter to Leopold Kupelwieser dated 31 March 1824 he wrote:

Think of a man whose health can never be restored, and who from sheer despair makes matters worse instead of better. Think, I say, of a man whose brightest hopes have come to nothing, to whom love and friendship are but torture, and whose enthusiasm for the beautiful is fast vanishing; and ask yourself if such a man is not truly unhappy.

The performance by the Belcea has only deepened in spiritual unease and anguish since I last heard them play the work in Warsaw five years ago. I have never heard a finer performance than this. The phrasing and song-like character were sublime and the work often rose to a point of scarcely bearable emotional intensity. The ensemble perfectly synchronized. Turbulent anguish to poetic lyricism perfectly delineated through their fine control of the difficult layers of dynamic.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oZiskEI070 

Monday 16.08.21 20:00

Moniuszko Hall of the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

Symphonic Concert

Alena Baeva violin

Yulianna Avdeeva piano

Vadym Kholodenko piano

Robert Trevino conductor

Sinfonia Varsovia

Yulianna Avdeeva

Igor Stravinsky

Capriccio for piano and orchestra

After his great success with the  Concerto for Piano and Winds, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) decided to write another piano concerto in 1929. Much influenced by Tchaikovsky he commented that he was also under the influence of Weber and Mendelssohn. The work is an attractive pot pourri of contemporary styles but has been strangely neglected by recent pianists. This was a rare performance of the work of an aurally and rhythmically spectacular work. I have only heard it once before in concert but adore it. 

One is most unsure stylistically where one lies with the work but it is this very ambiguity that is part of its sensual allure. One is curiously hypnotized by the work. Certainly Yulianna Avdeeva was utterly convincing in her authoritative approach - I think her command of Russian piano literature is one of the finest by contemporary performers - powerful, muscular, effortlessly virtuosic and penetrating in tone, articulation and a unique conception of the composer's intentions. The critic Orrin Howard observed of this work: 'The music of the Allegro capriccioso winks, smiles, and beguiles, as it anticipates Ravel’s prescription for a concerto, to wit, “[it] should be lighthearted and brilliant, and not aim at profundity or at dramatic effects.”. 

Karol Szymanowski by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885 – 1939) known as Witkacy

Karol Szymanowski

Violin Concerto No. 1 Op. 35

Alena Baeva

The concerto was written in the autumn of 1916 in Zarudzie, Ukraine, on the estate of the composer's friend - Józef Jaroszyński. It is dedicated to Paweł Kochański, who composed a cadenza for the Concerto, and advised Szymanowski on violin technique as well as the creation of the unique tone colour and texture. One of the sources of inspiration for this composition was probably a poem by Tadeusz Miciński called Noc majowa / May Night. As he worked on his composition, Szymanowski shared his feelings with Stefan Spies:

I have to say I am very content with the whole - again all kinds of new notes - but also a little returning to the old; the whole thing awfully fantastic and unexpected.

The work is recognized as a watershed first 'modern' violin concerto, where the composer moved beyond the 19th-century major-minor structures to introduce 'a new music language full of ecstatic raptures and tension'. The work is closer to pure aesthetic expressionism than to any Romantic conception of the Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Bruch or Mendelssohn mode.

The poet and writer Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (1894-1980) wrote so perceptively of this work:

[...] Undoubtedly there are plenty of other elements apart from music in Karol Szymanowski's Concerto, primarily a certain literary programme, a little like Miciński's 'Noc swietojanska' [Midsummer Night], and in addition - a pantheistic philosophy. That orphic monody of the violin against the background of the orchestra, whose sometimes uncoordinated sounds are like the voices of nature, like the chaos of nature, the sense of some kind of conversation with the universe and a singing out of the universe, means that this work simply makes us shiver. Of course these are strictly musical elements, but they are elements of life immemorial, expressed with the help of a powerful musical language. [...]

Pan plays the flute in the oak grove.


          follow the dance,

          follow the dance –

          love’s embrace


          eternally young

          and holy –

          with a lethal arrowhead


The full extraordinary Miciński pantheistic poem translated by Dosia McKay https://musicwell.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/may-night-by-tadeusz-micinski/

Baeva was simply astonishing and inspiring  in this work, carrying us into a psychic realm of heightened reality, created by this great genius Szymanowski, unlike any I have ever experienced. I was rendered simply speechless with admiration and musical ecstasy. The unambiguous shiver in the spine as one experiences the finest in art. I can only encourage you to watch the recording of this concert once again ...... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oZiskEI070

Karol Szymanowski

Symphony No. 4 ‘Symphony concertante’ Op. 60

Vadym Kholodenko

The Symphony No.4 Op.60 (Symphonie concertante)  by Karol Szymanowski for piano and orchestra (dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein) was composed in only four months in the Spring of 1932. It is en effet a piano concerto and only later was termed a symphony. He wrote letter to Zofia Kochańska on 9 November 1932:

‘I started writing a piano concerto (but at present it’s a great secret). […] I don’t even know if this concerto is good or bad music, I am writing it without any of that self-criticism which is always so implacable. It just seems to be easy and pleasant to write (regardless of the fact that it might turn out to be a horrible piece of kitsch). […] I think I’ll have finished this piano concerto by the summer, at least in draft, and will slowly start the instrumentation…’

But later to the same correspondent

 ‘...it seems as if, together with the Conservatory, I have been freed from some chains which had been binding me so far, and I am now working on this concert with the greatest ease and willingness (again, please keep it a total secret that this is a concert – you could say this is the Fourth Symphony) and, notabene, I have a feeling that it will be a first-class little piece…’

On 27 September he wrote to  Stanisław Wiechowicz:

‘That Fourth Symphony its really almost a concerto, fortunately not too difficult so perhaps I will manage to play it not too badly…’

Szymanowski was not a professional pianist and made compromises in the piano part. He augmented the role of the orchestra to evolve as a brilliant addition to the piano rather than more conventionally remain in dialogue with it. He called it a Symphonie concertante but it essentially remains a piano concerto.

It is in three ‘movements’ with a lyrical and poetic middle movement and an exuberant Polish dance finale. The work is striking and contains unique orchestral writing, colours and textures. The work is optimistic, cheerful and bright and does not inhabit the dark caverns of philosophy or drama. At this time Szymanowski was attempting to escape various reversals in his professional life and ill health.

The first part of the work (Moderato), was described by the composer as 'very cheerful, almost merry.' Kholodenko and the conductor Robert Trevino and the orchestra opened the work lyrically which then developed into a work of varied tempi, excitement, lively expressiveness and capriciousness with mercurial changes of mood galore. There was at times even a metropolitan feeling of charm and civilized pleasure even jazz. Kholdenko fell upon the work like a tiger with spectacular virtuosity and massive declamatory dramatic gestures. The orchestra matched him with passionate commitment under theatrical Trevino, especially the brilliant brass and woodwind sections.

The slow second movement (Andante molto sostenuto) appears to inhabit an almost dreamworld of expressiveness and what one might call ‘impressionistic lyricism’ suffuses a supremely beautiful melody. Kholodenko made much of this spontaneous, abstract improvisational feeling and an emotional Trevino allowed the piano sound to be transparently integrated into the overall sound palette. The meandering rhapsodic result was deeply moving. The flautist was exceptional.

The final third part (Allegro non troppo) which enters attacca, is a terrific stylisation of the Polish fiery oberek dance. The composer makes extensive use of percussion and bass drum. The theme highlights strong  rhythms rather than melodies (perhaps memories of his ballet score Harnasie). However a melodic kernel is introduced which grows inexorably in strength. A lyrical and melodic Polish kujawiak dance appears. Kholodenko revelled in this danced aspect of the work giving free reign to his overwhelming virtuosity. He explored the labyrinth of  the score, its intricacies and complexity, colours and rhythms, nuances, and triumphs. The so-called ‘great oberek’ returns on the strings to the accompaniment of the entire orchestra and piano. Trevino ratcheted the orchestra into a pitch of high passion and together with Kholodenko, contrasted this incandescence with passages of extreme lyricism. The joyous energy reached an intense and brilliant expression in the manner and reminiscent of an Orthodox carillon of bells leading to a perfect pitch of triumphal conclusion. A truly great performance of this highly strung work, the memory, residual passions and echoes of which will remain with me for a long time.

Szymanowski felt the Symphonie concertante was one of his best works which is hardly surprising given its inventive expressiveness in color, timbre and orchestral virtuosity, so obvious here under Trevino. It is a spectacular and emotional work and should be performed more often as a piano concerto in masquerade, if the strongly positive emotional reception Kholodenko received at the conclusion is any indication.

Paul Dukas

Symphonic scherzo ‘L’apprenti sorcier’

Trevino gave us a high voltage, brilliant rendition of this familiar work - a true recreation of it. I felt this orchestra inspired in a way I have rarely witnessed.

Robert Trevino

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Internet broadcast link: https://festiwal.nifc.pl/en/2021/multimedia-wybrany/824

Sunday 15.08.21 21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Lorenzo Coppola clarinet

Janusz Olejniczak period piano

{oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna

Martyna Pastuszka conductor

Dirk Vermeulen conductor


Jakub Gołąbek (1739-1789)

Symphony in B flat major

This Silesian composer who lived much of his life in Kraków was much more influenced by early Haydn symphonies (popular in Poland at the time) than more local traditional Polish dance forms (couleur locale). There is a Polish musical and artistic renaissance in progress at present which is rather exciting - if you know Polish history, you will be aware that much fine art and music was partially or fully destroyed by war, lost through simple robbery or simply misplaced in dusty archives. This is a pleasant small euphonious symphony with variation forms.

Karol Kurpiński (1785-1857)

Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in B flat major (1821-23)

Karol Kurpiński (1785-1857) by the German artist Alexander Molinari (1772-1831)

Lorenzo Coppola gave us a highly entertaining introduction to the concerto explaining its rather fraught completion and mentioning 'opera buffa' elements. Karol Kurpiński was the most renowned composer in Warsaw during the first half of the nineteenth century - opera and chamber music composer, impresario and conductor. 

The opening Allegro of this clarinet concerto is a masterpiece of composition for the instrument comparable to the clarinet concertos of Weber or Mozart. In keeping with the 'Polish syndrome of incompleteness' (Marcin Król) the final two movements are lost but replacements were composed by Sebastian Gottschick. 

Coppola gave us his usual superb warm, velvet and lyrical sound, lifting the stature of this work into high art effortlessly. He had an intimate musical connection with the extrovert and rather theatrical female leader of the orchestra who responded so well to his winning antics. I just wish all soloists had such a friendly and engaging contact with the audience.

Lorenzo Coppola

Martyna Pastuszka

Fryderyk Chopin

Fantasy in A major on Polish Airs Op. 13

This was an interesting performance of a style brillant work by Chopin referred to as 'a potpourri of national songs'. Three melodies: the Kurpiński Już miesiąc zeszedł (The moon has now risen); a nostalgic dumka from the Polish borderlands and to conclude, one of Chopin's favourite dances, the kujawiak. It was enthusiastically received in Vienna in 1829. The were unfortunate infelicities and solecisms in this performance I will pass over in silence.

Janusz Olejniczak (piano) and Dirk Vermeulen (conductor)

Karol Lipiński (1790-1861)

Symphony in C major Op. 2 No. 2

I liked this simple symphony from 1810 a great deal, especially the sensual Adagio with a soloist part for the seductive historic clarinet of Lorenzo Coppola.

Dirk Vermeulen

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Internet broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLPHrs9OUy0&t=10s

Saturday 14.08.21 20:00

Moniuszko Hall of the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

Inaugural concert

Olga Pasiecznik soprano

Stanislav Kuflyuk baritone

Mariusz Godlewski baritone

Adam Palka bass

Jan Martiník bass

Violetta Bielecka choirmaster

Fabio Biondi conductor

Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir

Europa Galante


Stanisław Moniuszko

Verbum nobile


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