Elisey Mysin recital - XVII International Piano Forum - Bieszczady Without Borders - Sanok, Poland

Astounding musical experiences always happen in Poland! Has been happening to me for as I long as I began visiting the country to work in 1992.

The astonishing recital by the child prodigy Elisey Mysin I watched online last night prompted me to write this review immediately. It was broadcast from the International Piano Forum, a Polish musical event now in its seventeenth year. The Forum (lectures and concerts) is held in the town of Sanok (the 'capital' of the remote Bieszczady Region). I knew or know nothing about this remarkable Forum until last night. 

The concert was 'In Memoriam Tatiana Shebanova', that magnificent Russian pianist who died so tragically of leukemia in 2011 whilst at her pianistic peak. The concert was organized by her husband, the Chairman of the Piano Forum Council, Prof. Jarosław Drzewiecki.  

Tatiana Shebanova was one of the first pianists I heard play works by Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) in concert in Poland in 1992. It was an overwhelming musical experience for me. I was taken along the virtuoso track of a great individual vision of the composer, expressively distant from many 'standardized' live interpretations and recordings.

The recordings she made are the accumulated vision of a remarkable musician and pianist, playing at the time of her life close to the ultimate destiny of us all. These interpretations and sound suffuse her Chopin with the deepest of life truths. How would this 11 year old prodigy penetrate the soul of music ?

Elisey Mysin is a talented actor, pianist and composer from Stavropol Russia. He started playing piano at the age of four. He is currently studying at the Central School of Music of Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatoire under the honoured artist and pedagogue, Professor Natalia Trull. He already has his own Youtube, Instagram and other social media connections.

He opened his recital ambitiously, but appropriately in many ways, with Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) Op. 15 by Robert Schumann.

These pieces reveal the poetic soul of Schumann with the greatest and most affecting clarity. In the spring of 1838 Schumann was separated from Clara Wieck his fiancée. Her father was horrified she might marry a mere composer of music with no financial or social future. Schumann wrote to his great love:

'I have been waiting for your letter and have in the meantime filled several books with pieces.... You once said to me that I often seemed like a child, and I suddenly got inspired and knocked off around 30 quaint little pieces.... I selected several and titled them Kinderszenen. You will enjoy them, though you will need to forget that you are a virtuoso when you play them.'

They express deep nostalgia for childhood through the eyes of an adult. The titles are merely afterthought suggestions to the pianist (this according to Schumann). 

Not only did Mysin possess the astonishing physical dexterity required for a commanding performance of the work but also the sine qua non when judging prodigious talent, the sensitive, poetic and deep expressiveness of a true musical 'genius' (in its original meaning  as the depiction of a person’s unique personality and disposition). I felt the emotional expression and interpretation came organically from within and not simply imitated from his Professor as is so often the case in the flowering of precocious keyboard talents. Also I found his tone, touch and sense of piano colour, dynamic control, pedaling (feet just reaching the pedals!) and articulation bewitching and radiant at once.  He also composes music which was clear from his deep understanding of the harmonic transitions within this work. Quite wonderful.

The Chopin Mazurka Op.6 No 1 in F-sharp minor and Mazurka Op.7 No.2 in A minor were brimming with idiomatic expressive nostalgic emotion and expressiveness in addition to superb natural organic phrasing and rubato. I felt him magically in touch with the inaccessible spiritual aspect of Chopin, that particular depth that escapes so many fine pianists. This was also present in the marvelous, deeply expressive performance of the Impromptu No.3 in D-flat major. The musical maturity displayed here was something to treasure and marvel at in one so young. His face carries such maturity and is transformed with concentration when he encounters the keyboard. The Chopin Waltz in A minor Op.34 No.2 displayed all the qualities of a natural Chopin interpreter. Would he have the ability and courage to play the next waltz that I automatically anticipated in my inner ear? Yes! This was followed by a glittering style brillante Waltz in F major Op.34 No.2 spectacularly authoritative in one so young. 

Astonishingly he then embarked on two daring and breathtaking pieces by Maurycy Moszkowski - Guitare Op. 45 No. 2 and  a dazzling performance of the Tarantella Op.77 No.6, where one could not help but marvel at  the virtuosic articulation of the repeated notes (that hammering 'd') by an 11 year old!  Complete natural musicality. And then, just in case we thought he was not in touch with the joy of youth and liveliness, the ragtime Golliwogg's Cakewalk from the Debussy Children's Corner Suite. Such dynamic contrasts were evident but I hope he mercifully he does not know of the significance of the Wagner reference yet! 

His playing has such delight in making music, joyfulness and innocence it took years off my life and all those woebegone reflections of maturity. Hopefully he will retain these unblemished childhood qualities under the 'pressure of the modern' for many years to come.

Do watch this miracle and reflect :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aSzUyCeqUY

Oh how I wish I had been there!

His recital was followed by an excellent  recital by his Professor and pianist, Natalia Trull. She played fine Beethoven 6 Bagatelles Op.126 and an absolutely brilliant Petrushka by Stravinsky.

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A further treat was in store the following evening, 22 February 2022, when Mysin performed the Bach Harpsichord Concerto in G minor BWV 1058 which is a transcription of Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor BWV 1041. This was a part of a concert commemorating the 85th birthday of eminent Russian Professor at the Moscow Conservatory, Maestro Mikhail Voskresiensky. He was given an Polish artistic award at the conclusion of the concert. 

The opening Allegro was full of electrical energy and drive with a full comprehension of baroque performance style. His grasp of polyphony, counterpoint and articulation, especially in his strongly developed LH, was quite remarkable. I wondered if a listener closed his eyes would he be tempted to judge the pianist as a child rather than an accomplished mature artist. The piano was well supported and balanced by the string National Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. Mysin has remarkable co-ordination with the orchestra which indicates an intense natural musical instinct, sense of timing, tempo and phrasing. He cannot by definition have played with orchestra many times! 

The Andante could perhaps have been more legato and sensitively expressive but can one expect sentiment of a romantic, rather yearning kind, originally characteristically written for the violin, from such a young soul. The final Allegro assai movement was full of carefree energy and delight, yet moderate in tempo, and cast by Bach in the form of a gigue. The string orchestra skillfully exploited his string bariolage figures with interesting sound effects.

We then moved on to the next work on the programme, the Mozart Piano Concerto No.14 in E-flat major K.449. In 1781 Mozart happily quit Salzburg for Vienna which gave rise to much joy in his compositions. The choice of the Piano Concerto in E-flat major K. 449 (1784) by Mozart is an interesting one. The premiere was highly popular and successful. In February 1784 he began a list of completed works in a notebook, keeping this until a few weeks before his death. The empty pages the followed this departure are a tragic testament to artistic loss. The first work listed is this piano concerto. It is also scored for small almost obbligato orchestra which suited the strings of the Philharmonia Chamber Orchestra exceptionally well. He dedicated it to his pupil the eighteen year old (youth again!) Barbara von Ployer - 'Babette' - who would have rather restricted forces at her command in any home performance. Mozart referred to this concerto as 'one of a quite peculiar kind'. Alfred Einstein observed that he never wrote another like it, before or after. 

This is one of the first mature concertos by Mozart and one of the finest, certainly a favourite of mine. As in the Bach, each movement was conducted by a different young 'forum' pianist. Such a creative and educational idea! The first movement was conducted by the gifted, brilliant young Polish pianist, Piotr Pawlak. The soloist for the work was the fine young Lithuanian pianist Joris Mikuzis. This was a satisfying opening Allegro vivace that was balanced in classical style and sound with crystalline articulation and minimal pedal as one might have imagined the sound of a Stein or Walter fortepiano. Excellent co-ordination with the orchestra and conductor.

Then Elisey Mysin appeared to conduct the Andantino. It was impossible to escape a leap of childish enthusiasm when this diminutive endearing figure appeared carrying the score across the stage. Every painting I had ever seen of Mozart at court played across my visual mind. The enchantment of this extraordinary moment brought a smile of delight to the faces of all of us. Watching this winsome musical prodigy conducting with a baton from the score was charm personified. The moment Mysin glanced across at the pianist to accurately cue his entry, he appeared to possess all the authority of a Barenboim. It was un moment musical I shall forever treasure. 

I do wonder what the orchestral players were thinking being conducted and being musically engaged by this charismatic, surprisingly serious, unsmiling, rather beautiful child. What a unique experience this must have been! The broad conversational phrasing the orchestra adopted with the pianist was perfectly appropriate to the reflective mood of the movement. As he left the stage dressed in 'black tie' it seemed to me a perfectly Mozartian moment, directly accelerated into our modern age, a breathtakingly eighteenth century vision in modern dress. 

The young lady (!) who conducted the final Allegro ma non troppo movement after him was also charming in a completely different way and followed such a 'difficult to follow' apparition immensely successfully. The pianist also gave a lively, energetic account of the wonderful rondo that is so rhythmically infectious. The movement optimistically concluded a work that certainly uplifted the spirits in our benighted times.

Do watch this extraordinary concert and musical phenomenon:

The concert concluded with a remarkable, at times musically brilliant, performance of the Chopin  Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor Op.21 with the soloist, the eminent Maestro Mikhail Voskresiensky, who was celebrated tonight. On this occasion the National Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra was conducted by the often inspired young Polish pianist, Michal Szymanowski, who has increasingly turned to conducting in recent times.
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I recently reviewed in detail a complete set of Chopin recordings by Tatiana Shebanova, immortally performed on an Erard instrument of 1849 and issued by the National Chopin Institute. A musical and interpretative revelation. 


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One of the beautiful wooden formerly Orthodox (now Roman Catholic) churches in the remote Bieszczady region of  S-E Poland

The Bieszczady region is the Poland I always dreamed of before visiting the country, the rural region of my imagination. Forests of pine and fir became increasingly alpine in character. Horse-drawn drays are as common as horses pulling ploughs in the fields. There are few cars and just the occasional whitewashed wooden farmhouse. Scattered about the deserted countryside, often only accessible along vague rutted tracks and hidden among clumps of birch trees, lie exquisite wooden cerkwie (tserkvy) such as that of the Ascension at Ulucz (Ulyuch) dating from 1510, the oldest in Poland but now a museum. The eighteenth century cerkiew at Równia (Rivnya) is an exquisite work of art. The colour of burnt umber with a perfume of roasted resin it was originally a place of Boyko[1] worship with the characteristic three domes of that culture, clad entirely in wooden shingles of marvellous craftsmanship. It now serves as a Polish Roman Catholic Church. The cerkiew of St. Michael the Archangel at Smolnik (Smilnyk) is hidden in a copse on top of a hill, a secretive and holy place, silent except for the soughing of the birches and the creak of a sun-dappled iconostasis. 

Clouds settle in the dark green valleys and stream through the pines in scenes of Wagnerian majesty. We are heading towards our isolated accommodation called Leśny Dwór (Forest Manor) in the remote village of Wetlina. As I begin to unload the boot in the heavy rain strange cries rend the air.

‘Psiakrew!’ [‘Dog’s blood!’]

‘W mordę jeża!’ [‘Into the hedgehog’s snout!’]

‘Wiwat!’ [‘Hooray!’]

I swing round to see an exuberant figure in a bushy ginger beard, calf-length battered green cords, walking boots and socks, check lumberjack shirt and braces welcoming us in rather old-fashioned but delightful bucolic Polish. He seems the perfect embodiment of a seventeenth century szlachta.  I presumed he was the owner but he denied it with an equally exuberant and punched out

‘I do a few odd jobs around the place!’

before wrenching my bags from my hands and carrying them up the flights of stairs to my warm timbered rooms in the attic. Tiny dormer windows opened onto a spectacular  pine-clad mountain vista. Here was a family dwór of the old type with a drawing room and piano, veranda opening onto the garden, library and operatic arias playing softly in the background. I suspect the owner of the manor was a member of the intelligentsia who like many artists, writers and musicians adopted the notorious ‘internal emigration’ from the constraints of the communist regime years before.

               In the morning the summer rains began to clear and I decided to climb to the połonia, grasslands bare of trees that form the characteristic ‘peaks’ of the low mountain ranges of the Bieszczady. The climb to the Połonia Caryńska was muddy and slippery with two dark and gloomy sections needing a tiring heave up steep log steps through belts of fir trees. As the tree-line was passed the vista was breathtaking, the fields covered in mauve wildflowers, the grass of the połonia long, delicate and a beautiful shade of pale gold, exquisite in the sun, undulating slowly like the hair of a lover. But dark clouds soon began to rush along the valleys and obscure the peaks. I descended quickly rather than get caught in the violent storms that can suddenly envelop these mountains and reached the car just as a howling downpour began. Rum and coffee in a log cabin with a roaring fire (even in summer) and Poles singing rousing rustic songs lifted my spirits and warmed my aching body.

The Historical Museum in Sanok has one of the greatest collections of Russian Orthodox and Greek Catholic icons in the world - some 700 with other liturgical exhibits. I spent hours of artistic, religious and aesthetic contemplation there.  

[1] The Boykos are a Carpathian Mountain people

(Extracted from A Country in the Moon: Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland Michael Moran, London 2008)



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