18th Chopin and His Europe Festival (Chopin i jego Europa) 14-31 August 2022, Warsaw, Poland


18th Chopin and His Europe Festival 

14-31 August 2022 

Warsaw, Poland

The Year of Polish Romanticism

This year, there will be over 30 concerts, and among them piano recitals by masters of piano, including Bruce Liu, the winner of the 2021 Chopin Competition. World-famous orchestras and chamber players will give as many as 16 concerts. We did not forget about vocal music: outstanding soloists will perform with recitals, and opera lovers will be given opportunity to listen to the concert performance of Un giorno di regno, ossia il finto Stanislao by Giuseppe Verdi. 

Programme of the Festival in Detail

https://festiwal.nifc.pl/en/2022/kalendarium/

Most of the concerts of the Festival will be available to watch via free streams on the YouTube channel of The Fryderyk Chopin Institute. Selected concerts will also be broadcast by Polish Radio Channel 2 (Dwojka)

The programme book and extensive notes on musical works and musicological essays by renowned experts in the field is remarkable in itself.


View of Warsaw from the Terrace of the Royal Castle by Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780) called Canaletto from the collection of the National Museum. Photo: National Museum in Warsaw

Introduction to this Extraordinary Festival 

unique in its European scope 

by 

Stanisław Leszczyński 

Artistic Director

The 18th Chopin and His Europe Festival will open with three great artists of Polish Romanticism: Chopin, Mickiewicz and Moniuszko. At the outset, we will hear Widma by Stanisław Moniuszko, a cantata which is a musical version of the second part of Dziady. It is a very clear gesture towards this epoch – rather special for our Polish culture and celebrated this year. 

The work, created in the mid-19th century, is an example of the fascination with the text by Mickiewicz, the essence of the Polish interpretation of Romanticism, its realization in non-existing, but vivid national identity of Poles – both in Polish lands and in exile. It exemplifies force and longing, it brings mystery and an element of mysticism, originating from traditional ritualism. But primarily, Widma, tells a story of one of the iconic texts of Polish literature (and at the same time one of the most distinctive Polish Romantic texts) with great music. The work is a priceless treasure of Polish cultural heritage.

In August 2022 this work will be performed, together with another cantata by Moniuszko, Nijoła, under the baton of Fabio Biondi, who – fascinated by this composition – is shocked how Moniuszko remains a greatly underappreciated artist on international stages and in the concert halls of Europe. After the enthusiastic reception of his operas, he will perform and record Widma and Nijoła with the soloists of the Podlasie Opera and the Philharmonic Choir and the Europa Galante Orchestra.

There will be much more Moniuszko in the festival programme: we have planned two concerts with his songs, performed by Olga Pasiecznik with Ewa Pobłocka, Mariusz Godlewski with Radosław Kurek (both as part of the promotion of The Institute’s new records) and Dorothee Mields with Tobias Koch; a very interesting element connected with Moniuszko will be also present in the programme with the concerts by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, performing the Overture to Paria, and Sinfonia Varsovia, which is going to perform Moniuszko’s Pearls by Zygmunt Noskowski, i.e. symphonic orchestrations of Moniuszko’s songs.

The programme axis of the Festival is traditionally based on the music of Fryderyk Chopin whose work is the essence of Polish Romanticism, emotionally being its essence. His works will be performed by outstanding pianists and great ensembles on contemporary and historical instruments; there will be fascinating contexts as well. Etudes and Nocturnes will be interpreted by Jan Lisiecki, Preludes by Aimi Kobayashi, Bruce Liu will perform the ‘La ci darem la mano’ Variations from Don Giovanni, which were so enthusiastically reviewed during the Competition and – together with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton Vasily Petrenko – the Concerto in F minor Op.21. The Concerto in F minor Op.21will also be performed by Kate Liu, but also… for the first time in the version for guitar, by Mateusz Kowalski and the Collegium 1704 under Vaclav Luks. Cyprien Katsaris will present works by friends and pupils of Chopin together with extensive fragments of Don Giovanni by Mozart arranged by Bizet, recorded in a complete version for The Fryderyk Chopin Institute. We will also hear – performed by the Orchestra of the Polish National Philharmonic under the direction of Andrzej BoreykoFuego Fatuo by Manuel de Falla, a work for the stage entirely based on orchestrated music by Chopin. The piano concerto by Andrzej Panufnik will find a new interpretation by Alexander Gadjiev. The Beethoven Academy Orchestra under Jean-Luc Tingaud will perform works by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Cesar Franck and Feliks Nowowiejski. And these are only selected fragments of the rich programme… 

Undoubtedly, everyone – the audience as well as we, the organisers – is waiting for the performances of the most interesting personalities of last year’s Chopin Competition, the new elite of world pianism. In addition to the already mentioned winner Bruce Liu, Alexander Gadjiev and Aimi Kobayashi, there will be performances by Kyohei Sorita, Martin Garcia Garcia, Leonora Armellini, Jakub Kuszlik and J J Jun Li Bui – all with highly interesting programmes, featuring, in addition to Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, Debussy, Rameau, Liszt... We will also welcome the 2010 winner, Yulianna Avdeeva, and the talented Ukrainian pianist Dinara Klinton. Alim Beisembayev, the winner of last year’s piano competition in Leeds, will also perform – for the first time at the Festival.

Other highlights of the Festival will certainly be the concerts by Maria Joao Pires (with the Basel Chamber Orchestra conducted by Trevor Pinnock) and the European Union Youth Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda and Francesco Piemontesi as well as performances by the Belcea Quartet (together and separately) and the Apollon Musagète Quartet...

The magical world of authentic sound and ‘historically informed’ musical interpretation will be brought to us this year by pianists Kristian Bezuidenhout, Tobias Koch, Dmitry Ablogin, Tomasz Ritter, Aleksandra Świgut, clarinetists long associated with the Festival: Lorenzo Coppola and Eric Hoeprich as well as violinists Alena Baeva and Chouchane Siranossian. Internationally renowned orchestras will play: our leading ensemble of historical performance, {oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna, Europa Galante, Collegium 1704 and – in a very special way – the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, which has accompanied the Festival since its first edition. We will hear Henryk Wieniawski’s Concerto in F-sharp minor and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major in its original version, with Jan Lisiecki sitting at the historic piano for the first time.

And a few words about Polish music, especially one that is still little recognized, the best presentation of which is always our mission and a privilege at the same time. This year, the programme will focus on Polish Romanticism: Józef Władysław Krogulski’s Miserere (Collegium 1704), Karol Kurpiński’s Clarinet Concerto (reconstructed in a different way than last year, this time interpreted by Eric Hoeprich and The Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century), August Fryderyk Duranowski’s Violin Concerto and Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński’s Duo for Clarinet and Piano. There will also be Romantic music from Germany (Winterreise with Matthias Goerne and Leif Ove Andsnes), France (Gounod and Franck, whose 200th anniversary of his birth is celebrated this year), the Czech Republic (Reicha, Dvorak), Scandinavia (Sibelius) and England (Elgar).

As part of this year’s edition of the Festival, over 30 concerts are planned to take place in the most important halls of Warsaw. We hope that this time the pandemic will not limit the number of the viewers and listeners that we can invite for the events. Regardless, most of the concerts will be streamed and broadcast by Channel 2 of Polish Radio.

Stanisław Leszczyński - Artistic Director

The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Reviews


Photographs by Bartek Barczyk

Final Symphonic Concert of the Festival

The hall was excitedly overflowing to capacity on this much anticipated final concert


31.08.22

Wednesday

20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Performers:

Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu piano

Vasily Petrenko conductor

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Program:

Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872)

Overture to the opera "Paria" ('Pariah' - The Outcast)

In this performance of an outstanding Overture, the drama was highlighted from the outset. Petrenko is a visionary musician and presented us with passionate writing of anguished social exclusion. Solitary soloists played as if individual voices in the opera. However, I could not help reflecting on the complete absence of any Indian 'flavour' to the music! Charming solo passages, unashamedly cosmopolitan, followed depiction of the severe social drama and harassment of being deemed a 'pariah' in traditional Indian society. This faultless construction of the piece was clear from its ideal length and the balance maintained between drama and lyricism.


I offer some insight into this fascinating but unaccountably neglected opera.

The year 2019 was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872), the greatest operatic composer in nineteenth century Poland. There were musical celebrations throughout country and the resuscitation of his long forgotten works in performance. The seemingly impossible dream of the independence of the country as a sovereign nation and accession to the European Union means that at last what one might term the 'Cultural Iron Curtain' has been split apart to reveal formerly unknown artistic treasures of this valiant nation to the wider European continent. In no domain has this been more obvious than in music, but also in art, architecture, theatre and literature. The Polish language does present a difficult barrier in a way that English, French and Italian do not in the West. This remark does not assume a forest of undiscovered composers of genius, but certainly many of enormous talent and significant musical gifts to augment the European musical canon. 


The principal […] field of Mr Moniuszko’s activity as a composer is dramatic music; his favourite genre is French opera, created by Gluck, refined with Italian improvements by Méhul and Cherubini, later enriched with the treasures of harmony and drama of the German opera, disseminated so widely by Catel, Boiledieu, Auber, Hérold and Halévy, the sounds of the French opera are heard today from the stages everywhere across Europe. Indeed, music of this kind seems to be much more to our taste than the studied, dreamy-philosophical German style: we are so fond of this gaiety, this lightness that does not exclude the true drama, melodiousness, grace and naïveté—the ingredients of the good French opera.

[Stanisław Lachowicz, “Moniuszko,” Tygodnik Petersburski 13 (1842), No. 80. Quoted from Grzegorz Zieziula, From Bettly in French to Die Schweizerhütte in German: The Foreign-Language Operas of Stanisław Moniuszko]


Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872)

Stanisław Moniuszko was born into a family of Polish landowners settled in Ubiel near Minsk in present day Belarus and showed the customary precociousness of genius. He studied composition and conducting with Carl Friedrich Rungenhagen in Berlin in 1837 and later worked as an organist in Vilnius. He traveled often to St. Petersburg where he met the great composers of the day  (Glinka, Balakirev, and Mussorgsky) and also Weimar where he met Liszt and then Prague where he made the acquaintance of Smetana. His first recently discovered (2015) comic opera in two acts composed in Berlin was entitled Der Schweizerhütte (the Swiss Cottage).

Moniuszko manor house in Ubiel, sketch by Napoleon Orda 

In 1848 he visited Warsaw and met the writer, actor and director Jan Chęciński who became the librettist of arguably Moniuszko’s greatest operas, Halka and  Straszny Dwór (The Haunted Manor), both infused with the fertile theme of Polish nationalism. Halka was premiered with great success in Warsaw in 1858 (10 years after the concert version performance in Vilnius!) and then later in Prague, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Moniuszko became an oversight success in the manner of Lord Byron after the publication of Childe Harold. He then began to concentrate on operas that eschewed Polish themes. 

For example Moniuszko for some time had been fascinated with the class system in France as also the caste system in India as depicted in the play Paria (Pariah - The Outcast) by Casimir Delavigne (1793-1843) which he had translated from the French. He also desperately wanted an operatic success on the stages of Paris, spurred on by the successful operas of Meyerbeer. He had toyed with the idea of Paria for some ten years before it was finally premiered in 1868. The Overture is a magnificent evocative piece of 19th century orchestral writing.



This exotic opera is set in the Indian city of Benares (now Varanasi) on the sacred Ganges, perhaps the most important religious city in India for ritual cleansing and bathing in the waters of the river and the construction of ceremonial burial pyres for the dead. It is the tragic story of an impossible love that cannot overcome the deeply entrenched caste system of Untouchables and Pariahs in India. 


The significance of the exotic and culturally mysterious plot seems to have been undervalued in Poland and elsewhere on the continent and the West since its premiere. This ornate tale would not have been considered minor and impossibly far-fetched in Great Britain under the hegemony of the British Raj. The cruelty and dramatic consequences of love struggling vainly against the caste system of Untouchables and Pariahs was well understood by the English as a result of colonialism and later even neo-colonialism in India. Many great works of English literary art continue to deal with this fertile subject. 

The English literary masterpiece, the novel A Passage to India (1924) by E.M. Forster, deals precisely with the idea of two characters who by their actions and behaviour become pariahs within their own societies in colonial India, one in the English colonial society and one in Indian caste-constructed society. 

The Court was crowded and of course very hot, and the first person Adela noticed in it was the humblest of all who were present, a person who had no bearing officially upon the trial: the man who pulled the punkah [a hand-operated large Indian ceiling fan]. 

Almost naked, and splendidly formed, he sat on a raised platform near the back, in the middle of the central gangway, and he caught her attention as she came in, and he seemed to control the proceedings. He had the strength and beauty that sometimes come to flower in Indians of low birth. When that strange race nears the dust and is condemned as Untouchable, then nature remembers the physical perfection that she accomplished elsewhere, and throws out a god—not many, but one here and there, to prove to society how little its [caste] categories impress her. This man would have been notable anywhere: among the thin-hammed, flat-chested mediocrities of Chandrapore he stood out as divine, yet he was of the city, its garbage had nourished him, he would end on its rubbish heaps. Pulling the rope towards him, relaxing it rhythmically, sending swirls of air over others, receiving none himself, he seemed apart from human destinies, a male fate, a winnower of souls.

The superb masterpiece The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott towers above the rest for a profound  understanding of British colonial India and the concept of the pariah. In 1984 the quartet was made into a magnificent television series called The Jewel in the Crown. If you want to understand the British in India this must be seen - such a series of this quality is no longer made.

Another more modern novel The God of Small Things (1997) by Arundhati Roy, which was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997, deals in part with the still savage exclusions of casteism among other social tensions in modern India. 

Until at least 1989, this 'iron cultural curtain' effectively concealed the existence of Stanisław Moniuszko and his operas for directors, producers and audiences in the West. However I feel sure that more imaginative, fully costumed, opulent staged production of his more obscure or forgotten operas (rather than concert performances) with fine soloists of world renown would at least partially fulfil and validate all of Moniuszko's own immense and deserved hopes for an international reputation. Italian arias dominate traditional opera and French arias follow closely behind which leaves those composers writing and setting libretti in less common languages with a distinct sense of inferiority. Moniuszko remains central to a full understanding of Polish culture which is finally reaching its deserved place in the European world picture. He wrote 14 Operas, 11 Operettas, some 90 religious works in addition to over 300 songs, piano pieces, orchestral music and chamber music. 

Perhaps now as a result of this fiercely competitive vocal competition (which is mounted every three years), this fine composer and his works will reach a wider more international audience.

I was only able to attend the opening Gala, Grand Finale and one session of the competition as I was involved in filming. However, I believe there is a true Renaissance in Polish music taking place at present as the country celebrates 15 years of European Union membership and a return to the European cultural fold. For me as a 'foreigner' it has been a revelation of fine music never before heard. Naturally, not all of them are 'undiscovered masterpieces', perhaps only a few, but many are musically extremely eloquent and deserve comparison with works in the conventional Western repertoire. We certainly need new fertilizing material in the repetitive concert fare.

In the West the Italian and French 19th century aria swept all before them but I am coming to understand musically the different style, timbre, harmonic world and melodic invention of the Polish sensibility, moulded as it is by military invasion, cultural destruction, genocide, theft and political domination. The lamenting nature of death, loss, disinheritance, yearning and nostalgia is contained within so many arias and songs by Moniuszko and others. Carl Jung would have referred to this as the musical collective unconscious of the nation which is a challenge for the Western melomanes to absorb fully and understand creatively, let alone respond to emotionally, in any profoundly meaningful sense. 

Piano Concerto in F minor Op. 21


Bruce Liu, the piano soloist in the concerto, was the First prize-winning pianist from the 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 2021. As a result this concert was highly anticipated and sold out. He chose to play the Chopin F minor concerto, the first written by the composer. The issue of 'When written?' between Chopin's two concerti is not of the greatest chronological significance as Chopin’s two piano concertos were composed within a year of each other. I am always amazed at the nature of true genius, as the F minor was written when Chopin was in his late teens. Perhaps this is why such fine performances are often during the International Chopin Piano Competitions in Warsaw when performed by young pianists of much the same age as the composer. After the competition, familiarity seems to dull the youthful burnish given them by rivalry.

The concerto follows the Mozart model and was directly influenced by the style brillante of Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles or Ries. It is hard to reproduce this intimate yet fragile glittering tone on a Steinway but I felt tonally but Liu managed this internally iridescent style with floodlit brilliance. 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. 

Liu's conception, performance and  understanding of the styl brillant was evident in the opening Maestoso movement and the Polish rhetorical gestures concealed within the work were well delineated. I felt that Liu added much youthful, curiously coalesced emotional expression to the writing. He also brought enviable variation of dynamic, tone and touch. Oddly and most surprisingly, I found the orchestra and conducting rather unsubtle and conventional.

However, the Larghetto love song was moving and sensitively nuanced. The stream of consciousness Chopin offers us flowered in all the illusioned beauty of youth before the fissures of experience begin to line the face. The movement was full of considered poetry and lyricism. At moments, however, the forceful, more passionate aspects of this watercolor of shifting moods, lacked proportion and emerged inappropriately exaggerated. The anger and frustration Chopin depicts is not that of the formed, experienced adult but that of an adolescent psyche aching to realize an unknown degree of romantic recognition and consummation. 



Arguably the Larghetto is the most beautiful love song ever written for piano and orchestra. The unrequited love Chopin treasured for the soprano and fellow pupil Konstancja Gładkowska, that yearning he was forced to 'enjoy' at inaccessible psychological and physical distance, produced poignant, lyrical melodies of an intense order.  At times the reflective music is of moths fluttering at dusk, the movement of the aroused heart in its yearning for 'mon amour'. As can be the way in life, it is said she preferred the attentions of the handsome Russian officers in splendid uniforms to our poetic genius! 


The testing Allegro vivace seemed to provide no technical challenges for Liu. The difficult transition to the incandescent rondo was beautifully accomplished. He communicated the unbridled youthful exuberance that the movement requires although some phrases were slightly rushed in their glittering virtuosity. His great strengths as a pianist and prize winner certainly lie in his mastery of the style brillante  once known as le jeu perlé. He also possesses a fine sense of rhythm so vital to the Polish dance in this movement.

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. (Tomaszewski) 


Liu's touch and tone were alluring, charming, sensitive and clearly authoritative but there was not always a great variety of nuance and expression. The repetitions of styl brillant dancing phrases of the kujawiak province (of which there are many) were expressively varied in terms of dynamics and articulation. He gave them creative and imaginative contrasts, shadows of lightly distorted reflections in the mirror of sound. The famous cor de signal by the orchestral horn soloist was outstandingly brilliant on this occasion, carrying all the character of the hunt in its idiomatic 'calling' phrasing - so rare!

The audience received Liu's performance with a wildness seldom seen or heard in this hall. As encores he first played a part of his already madly popular Chopin's Variations on "Là ci darem la mano" for piano and orchestra, Op.2. This work was written in 1827 when the composer was aged 17 and elictied the famous remark by Robert Schumann 'Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!'. He followed and concluded his part of the concert with a jazz improvisation of the renowned Für Elise by Beethoven which aroused the youthful audience to ecstasy!




Jean Sibelius

Symphony No. 2 in D Major Op. 43


30.08.22

Tuesday

20:30

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Performers:

Corina Belcea violin



Axel Schacher violin

Krzysztof Chorzelski viola

Antoine Lederlin cello

 

Andrzej Boreyko conductor


Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra

Program:

A most unusual programme to be sure but with a predominantly English flavour

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)


Double concerto for violin and viola (1932)

This rarely performed work in short score was completed by the brilliant 18-year-old RCM student Benjamin Britten by early autumn of 1932. In the summer of that year he also composed his Op. 1, the dazzling Sinfonietta for ten instruments. I had never heard the work before.

Compositions for violin, viola and orchestra in the classical music repertoire are uncommon pace the Sinfonia Concertante of Mozart. Britten’s concerto has clearly been formally influenced by this work in a performance of the work that Britten had written as being ‘the most marvellous musical thrill of my life yet’. Another influence is possibly Walton’s Viola Concerto, which he had admired on another occasion.

There are three movements in the Double Concerto:

1 Allegro ma non troppo

2 Rhapsody: Poco lento

3 Allegro scherzando – Tempo primo (Allegro ma non troppo)

The first movement, completed in two days, has interesting and rather exotic orchestration. The soloists are dominated by brass and timpani with a heartbreaking and yearning violin solo. Britten was however already displeased with the work saying he had written a ‘fatuous’ slow movement, and  that ‘I shall tear that up soon’. Needless to say the work soon fell into obscurity.

The concerto survived in short score, and was prepared for performance by Colin Matthews, who noted that it was ‘complete in practically every detail’. It was performed complete for the first time in the 1995 Aldeburgh Festival, and recorded by the conductor Kent Nagano with Gidon Kremer and Yuri Bashmet as soloists. It is a lively piece that possesses fine melodic lines and dense dialogue between the soloists. John Bridcut, the English documentary filmmaker of works concerning Britten, observed ‘Britten’s true orchestral personality flowers for the first time’. 

In the Rhapsody: Poco lento we were presented with a melancholic flight on the solo violin, a bird transcending the azure. I found the string writing almost neurotic in its agitation. The double bass was as if the heart was pumping blood and hovering over the strings. The texture was quite extraordinary with kettledrums and flutes. As we moved into the final inventive final movement, power and momentum began to build. I heard folk music elements and huge dynamic contrasts were rendered in the percussion and timpani.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)


Double Concerto in A minor for violin, cello and orchestra Op. 10 (1887)

Orrin Howard writes illuminatingly in a programme note for the LA Philharmonic of the immensely personal gestation of this piece.

Although Brahms lived for twelve years after completing his Symphony No. 4 in 1885, he produced only one more orchestral work, and that one not a symphony but a concerto. And no ordinary solo concerto, either, but rather a composition which united for the first time in the form the violin and cello.

Why a concerto for this unusual combination? It has been ventured that the work was meant as a peace offering to the composer’s dear, but at-the-time alienated friend, violinist Joseph Joachim, understandably hurt that a letter of Brahms which was sympathetic to Joachim’s wife was brought as evidence in the couple’s divorce proceedings. When their mutual friend, cellist Robert Hausmann, asked Brahms for a concerto in 1887, the composer apparently saw a way to satisfy the cellist and win back the friendship of the violinist. Brahms’ instincts were right. Joachim was receptive to Brahms’ concerto overtures, and after Joachim, Hausmann, and Brahms had tried out the piece for friends, Clara Schumann wrote in her diary, “The Concerto is a work of reconciliation. Joachim and Brahms have spoken to one another again.”

The Allegro had a majestic yet vehement opening with significantly oceanic forces at the conductor's command. The rich Lederlin cello solo was in elevated dialogue with the superb Belcea violin, eloquent echoes of each other. The cantabile on the cello was deeply moving in this magnificently rhapsodic music. The inspirational Brahms melodies in the hands of these expressive soloists was both masculine in nature and powerful in impact. The immense experience in orchestral writing that Brahms had accumulated by this period in his life was overwhelmingly persuasive. 

The Andante opened with a sublime melody which convincingly emanated directly from the heart and what a poignant heart it had become. Such a love song lies here it prompted me to sing in ardent devotion myself. The cello was profoundly eloquent in its emotional weight in this magnificent movement. 

The Vivace has a fabled theme for excellent reasons. The duo of violin and cello are here in inspired melodic symbiosis. One must also mention the outstanding orchestral soloists who have been infected by the high-flown musical sentiments that filled us all with devotion and romantic elevation, lifting us out of the mundane and depressingly brutal reality of our times.

Edward Elgar (1857-1934)


Introduction and allegro for string quartet and orchestra Op. 47 (1905)

The Introduction and Allegro was suggested to Elgar by August Jaeger -the Nimrod of the Enigma Variations - who suggested that he compose something for the recently founded London Symphony Orchestra. He described 'a brilliant, quick scherzo' which Elgar took to heart.

Elgar composed by writing themes in a sketch book as they came to him, even if he did not immediately use them. The Introduction and Allegro contains what Elgar referred to as the 'Welsh tune'. It had been plated in his mind in August 1901 when the Elgars were on holiday in Cardiganshire, West Wales. Folk tunes may have inspired it.

The work was not an instant success and took to achieve its present popularity. Perhaps the string virtuoso requirements dissuaded performances.

This performance was poignant yet grand and the fugal polyphony quite brilliantly handled.

Unusually the four soloists of the Belcea Quartet gave an encore at this point in the concert despite it not being actually complete. They played a desperately moving account of the Cavatina from the Beethoven String Quartet No. 13 in B major, Op.130, dedicating it to tortured Ukraine.

Mark Steinberg writes movingly and poetically of this movement in a note for the Brentano Quartet:

'Beethoven’s Cavatina indeed deals with the folly of human conceits, the frailty and vulnerability of our love and our tenuous ability to communicate it, indeed our deep lack of any true model of our inner states. And it touches on the richness of the human capacity for love as well as the loneliness of isolation in the chasm between feeling and expression.' 

Of one passage he writes: 'The gap in expression is palpable. The incongruity of the utterances opens a space for one of the most unsettling passages in all of music, with the first violin left in desperate isolation. Beethoven marks the passage beklemmt: oppressed, anguished, stifled.' [...] 'Exquisite paradox: Music is inadequate to express what pleads to be expressed; this failure is flawlessly expressed by music.' 

The inner pulsation put me in mind of irrepressible human heartbeat. In view of the present barbarous horrors meted out on the innocent people of that benighted country, I was moved as never before.

Edward Elgar

Variations on his own theme "Enigma" Op. 36 (1899)

The performance of this work at this point of spiritual anguish was a welcome balm. Anecdotally, Elgar, after returning from giving debilitating violin lessons, relaxed into an improvisation at the piano. His wife, Caroline Alice, Lady Elgar, thought one melody had distinct possibilities. Elgar wondered aloud how various friends of theirs might envisage it. Miraculously emerged the concept of the Enigma Variations, the work that established Elgar as a serious national and international composer of note.

In all, fourteen people and that most British of gifts, a dog, are featured in the variations:


First Variation - C.A.E.

Elgar's wife, Alice, lovingly portrayed


Second Variation - H.D.S-P.

Hew David Steuart-Powell, a pianist with whom Elgar played in chamber ensembles

 

Third Variation - R.B.T.

Richard Baxter Townshend, a friend whose caricature of an old man in an amateur theatre production is captured in the variation

 

Fourth Variation - W.M.B.

William Meath Baker, 'country squire, gentleman and scholar', informing his guests of the day's arrangements

 

The Leaping Horse (1825) by John Constable (1776-1837)

Fifth Variation - R.P.A.

Richard Arnold, son of the poet Matthew Arnold

 

Sixth Variation - Ysobel

Isabel Fitton, an amateur viola player from a musical family living in Malvern

 

Seventh Variation - Troyte

Arthur Troyte Griffith, a Malvern architect and close friend of Elgar throughout their lives - the variation focuses on Troyte's limited abilities as a pianist

 

Eighth Variation - W.N.:

Winifred Norbury, known to Elgar through her association with the Worcestershire Philharmonic Society - the variation captures both her laugh and the atmosphere of her eighteenth century house


The Hay Wain (1821) by John Constable (1776-1837)

Ninth Variation - Nimrod

A J Jaeger, Elgar's great friend whose encouragement did much to keep Elgar going during the period when he was struggling to secure a lasting reputation - the variation allegedly captures a discussion between them on Beethoven's slow movements

 

Tenth Variation - Dorabella

Dora Penney, daughter of the Rector of Wolverhampton and a close friend of the Elgars

 

Eleventh Variation - G.R.S.

George Sinclair, organist at Hereford Cathedral, although the variation allegedly portrays Sinclair's bulldog Dan paddling in the River Wye after falling in

 

Twelfth Variation - B.G.N.

Basil Nevinson, an amateur cellist who, with Elgar and Hew Steuart-Powell, completed the chamber music trio

 

Thirteenth Variation - ***:

probably Lady Mary Lygon, a local noblewoman who sailed for Australia at about the time Elgar wrote the variation, which quotes from Mendelssohn's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. The use of asterisks rather than initials has however invited speculation that they conceal the identity of Helen Weaver, Elgar's fiancée for eighteen months in 1883/84 before she emigrated to New Zealand


Fourteenth Variation - E.D.U.

Elgar himself, Edoo being Alice's pet name for him.


There are two enigmas and some mysteries underlying the variations. The variations are the most widely performed of all Elgar's works while the ninth variation - Nimrod - is arguably the most moving and best loved excerpt in the whole of the classical repertoire. During my long career as a lecturer in British cultural studies, I often played Nimrod to accompany paintings by John Constable, Turner and Gainborough as well as the great English country houses of say Longleat and Blenheim and the landscaped gardens of Stourhead and Rousham.

Here was a fine, spirited, musically enlightened and at times moving performance of an iconic British symphonic work by Edward Elgar - the Warsaw Philharmonic under Andrzej Boreyko.

30.08.22

Tuesday

17:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Performers:


Maria João Pires piano

Trevor Pinnock conductor

Basel Chamber Orchestra

Program:

Maurice Ravel

Le tombeau de Couperin

This work is poignant for me (being both harpsichordist and pianist). I remember graphically the leading role Trevor played in the revival of so-called 'Early Music' in London in to 1970s. His early vinyl recordings of Rameau keyboard works remain unequaled in their energetic drive, detail and refinement. These profound musical qualities now enhance and inspire his conducting.

In Le Tombeau de Couperin each movement of the Baroque style suite dedicated to friends massacred in the fetid horrors and stinking trenches of the Great War. Such a contrast within human nature is laid out for us. 'The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence' he commented in response to criticism.

The music of Francois Couperin has always remained for me one of the great touchstones of a high point in human creative civilization. I play a great deal of it on the harpsichord. In this work Ravel fused his modern sensibility with the expressive gestures of 18th century France. He described the suite 'directed less in fact to Couperin himself than to French music of the 18th century.' Ravel melded rhythmic, melodic and cadential forms of the time of Couperin with modern times. The work expresses the present through the mirror of the past.

The elegance of the composer is surely expressed in the graphics of the cover Ravel designed for the keyboard version of the music himself. The work was originally written for piano (1914-1917).

I

Prélude In  memory of First Lieutenant Jacques Charlot (transcriber of Ma mère l'oye for piano solo)              

II

Fugue In memory of Second Lieutenant Jean Cruppi (to whose mother, Louise Cruppi, Ravel had also dedicated L'heure espagnole)      

III

Forlane In memory of First Lieutenant Gabriel Deluc (a Basque painter from Saint-Jean-de-Luz)        

IV

Rigaudon In memory of Pierre and Pascal Gaudin (two brothers and childhood friends of Ravel, killed by the same shell in November 1914)       

V

Menuet In memory of Jean Dreyfus (at whose home Ravel recuperated after he was demobilized)      

VI

Toccata  In memory of Captain Joseph de Marliave (musicologist and husband of Marguerite Long)

The elegance of the composer is surely expressed in the graphics of the cover Ravel designed for the piano music himself.

The orchestral version we heard this evening was arranged by Ravel in 1919, by ut only four movements as he regarded the final two as too pianistic (Prélude, Forlane, Menuet and Rigaudon). As there have been many other orchestrations of this work I was rather unsure which version we were listening to. I found the whole work charming melodically and the energetic dance rhythms exciting under Trevor Pinnock. Many orchestral soloists were outstanding such as the lyrical and poetic oboist.

The inscription reads: 
Familiar with Lyons and its forest, Maurice Ravel composed in this house
'Le Tombeau de Couperin' (1917) and orchestrated here the 'Pictures at an Exhibition' suite (1922)
Lyons-la-Forêt, Eure, Normandie, Franc

Maria João Pires piano

Trevor Pinnock conductor

Basel Chamber Orchestra

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 

Piano Concerto in A major, K. 488  (1786)

This concerto was among three that Mozart offered to Sebastian Winter in a letter to Prince von Fürstenberg for the use of the court orchestra at Donaueschingen. It is doubtful it was ever performed in Vienna as few people knew of it, unlike many of his other concertos. Such vivid charm, expressiveness, nuance and musical refinement lie in this magnificent work, sublime in its simplicity of structure.

In the opening  Allegro Pires immediately expressed a glowing tone and refined touch, two qualities for which she is renowned and illuminate her Chopin playing. She maintained an intimate and close connection with both conductor and orchestra during the blithe, enchanting and lively phrases of this straightforward movement, brimming as it does with refinement and bon goût. Stylish yet restrained. Her cadenza for the first movement was finely phrased, elegant and graceful yet not lacking in internal energy.

The Adagio brought me close to tears. This is one of the most poignant movements Mozart ever wrote for the piano. He expresses from deep within and extremely soulful and heartfelt yearning for love or anguish over the loss of it. Her phrasing was superb in the expressive manner of an operatic aria. F sharp minor is my favourite key which always rends my heart with its tragic tonality. It is the only concerto movement he wrote in this dark key. The movement was divine in its sensitivity and tragic, emotional desire – such a moment of heightened existence and meditative thought during the travails of life. The orchestral support was subtle and delicate, luminous to the soul. The tragic mood is all pervasive – simple yet profound in depth – one of the great utterances of Western civilization on the nature of mortality, despair and grief.

The clouds of melancholy are dispersed with the winds in the Allegro assai. Pires Pinnock and the orchestra brought such a rush of welcome joy and refined elegance to this movement. A life enhancing return to life. The piano confines itself here to elaborating orchestral themes and detail. There was exquisite orchestral detail within the ensemble which led to a complete symbiosis of soloist and orchestra. Perfect intonation in the strings and as if the dynamics were wrapped in velvet. 

The movement was simply a delight of panache felt during the Viennese course of life, not being 'too serious’ as the inevitable obstacles to human happiness arise. Her control of variation in dynamics evoked a kaleidoscope of colours drawn from the instrument with style, panache and élan. No phrase was repeated in the same manner of articulation. The movement blows away the moody old clouds with supremely effective intention and energy.


Kohlmarket Vienna 1786

A deeply satisfying performance if occasionally lacking in spontaneous creative gestures in real time which gave the impression of slight over-familiarity with this score.


Charles-François Gounod (1818-1893)

Symphony No.2 in E-flat major (1855)

The French temperament is not conducive to mahogany philosophical speculation or disturbing metaphysics. Perhaps this is the reason the nineteenth century French symphony is not riding high in the expressive heavens. The Symphonie fantastique of Berlioz in 1830 had scarcely any progeny. Although the composer Gounoud is beloved and popular as an operatic composer, I find his orchestral music rather undistinguished on any spiritual and philosophical level. I felt in some ways this finely wrought symphony was akin to the raising of Lazarus - a miracle certainly but not an attractive proposition

The opening Adagio - Allegro agitato was tuneful but for me not much more than this in its implications. I could, however, feel Beethoven's Eroica lurking in the shadows. The Larghetto ma non troppo failed to touch my heart with its melodies although the orchestra has a finely honed sound which touches the emotions given the most evocative music. Charming French melodies fell gracefully on the ear but for me a symphony must have a degree of metaphysical depth and existentialist angst. The alluring melodies fly like the birds and butterflies. The Scherzo. Allegro molto was not as exciting as I had hoped but the extraordinary musical cohesiveness of this orchestra was well in evidence. The memorable tunes remain just that, memorable and joyful. The Finale. Allegro leggiero assai danced along with a delightfully light French touch. Clearly this symphony is a fluent musical composition but ....




The orchestra are a remarkably self-disciplined ensemble. As an encore they performed La Poule by Rameau arranged for orchestra. This was a truly marvellously galvanizing arrangement and fabulously executed.

29.08.22

Monday

18:00

Royal Castle Concert Hall

Chamber concert

Performers:

Lorenzo Coppola - clarinet

Christina Esclapez - historical piano

Program:

Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński (1807 -1867)

Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński (1807 -1867)

The Polish composer and teacher of Fryderyk Chopin, Jozef Elsner (1769-1854), had another pupil of near genius (if I may be so bold) Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński, a school friend of Chopin. Elsner wrote in a report of Chopin 'special ability - Genius etc' and of Dobrzyński 'rare ability'.

Unlike Frycek, he came from a professional musical family and was in many ways more precocious and wider in orchestral instrumental adventurism and skill than Chopin who concentrated so single-mindedly on the piano as a vehicle for his expressive soul. Many of his fine works are being resuscitated in Poland during this Polish musical renaissance, especially his symphonies, cantatas, songs, chamber works, a piano concerto, piano pieces and perhaps in the future, his opera Monbar. His first published work, a Polonaise in A major, was dedicated to the Polish pianist Maria Szymanowska. When Chopin left Warsaw for Paris on the eve of the November Uprising of 1830, avoiding the brutal Russian occupation, the Polish composer Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński stayed on and satisfied the intense demand for patriotic music. He seems condemned to labour under the cloud of his compatriot of genius, Fryderyk Chopin.

Duo in A-flat major for clarinet and piano (1847)

This was one of his last works in the chamber music genre, composed in the 1840s. It was first performed in 1853 but not published for a hundred years. The Buchholtz copy piano (a Polish manufacturer from Chopin's day) and clarinet (a copy of a period 1820 instrument) were well matched in timbre and sound texture. 

The keyboard of the Buchholtz piano

Coppola gave his highly entertaining and knowledgeable introduction to the work, indicating the significant influence of opera in its composition.





The Agitato opening movement clearly has an operatic aria base with the male and female 'voices' (piano and clarinet) of the duo 'arguing' in lively arabesques. There are touches of militarism in the march theme. The Adagio doloroso and molto espressivo opened with an extraordinary dark 'rumbling' cloud of sound from the piano with the clarinet floating above this threatening sea like a soaring bird. Charming, melodic and effective. The final Allegretto mosso e animato features a blithe melody on the clarinet. Again we eavesdrop on a 'conversation' between piano and clarinet. Esclapez rendered the piano most attractively, semi-detaché articulation with a singing melody. There is much humour, charming wit and the carefree joy of youth in this music.


Ferenc Liszt

Ballade in B minor, No. 2 (S. 171) (1853)

The Paul McNulty copy of the piano by the great Viennese maker Johann Baptist Streicher (1796–1871)

Esclapez chose an 1868 piano by the great Viennese maker Johann Baptist Streicher (1796–1871). She loved the colours, timbre and sound of this instrument a great deal. 

Hero and Leander (1798) by Jean-Joseph Taillasson (1745-1809)



The distinguished pianist Claudio Arrau was a student of the Liszt pupil Martin Krause. His embedded tale is of the lovers Hero and Leander who lived separated by the Hellespont. Each evening Hero would light a lamp and Leander would swim to him and gather in the oblivion of love. However one stormy night the lamp was blown out and Leander lost his way in the pitch black of night and cold waters. In the morning light Hero spied the body of her beloved Leander dead on the shore. In despair she committed suicide. The music of the Ballade clarifies this myth and the scenes leading up to the tragic drowning are aesthetically and poetically depicted.

The refinement of touch by Esclapez extracted a superb colour spectrum from the different registers of this instrument. The evocation of love in the theme was both lyrical and aesthetically beautiful. She created an 'oceanic' sound from the Streicher, a feeling of storm tossed emotional seas. The contrast of registers in sound, textural exploration,  was like a beacon had suddenly been illuminated on a dark night. One had a profound expression of tragic events not unlike a Chopin Ballade but more 'programmatic' in the best sense.

It is clear that Liszt had studied the structure and emotional landscape and its development in the Chopin Ballades (often the lineaments of a coherent dream realized in sound). He, in fact, dedicated this work to Chopin. However, in some ways he distanced himself from the Chopin form and liberated it. Obsessed with literature, as so many nineteenth century composers were, he was obviously aware of written folk and poetic literary ballads. He made a definite contribution to and development of the genre in this work. 

Esclapez wonderfully did not present it as simply another large, predominantly virtuoso work by Liszt, but rather as a narrative poem of many scenes. In many ways Liszt opened up new musical avenues to explore by later composers although the Ballade  he wrote has few direct imitators it such a daunting keyboard masterpiece.



The Paul McNulty copy of the 1868 Johann Streicher piano

 Fortepiano Streicher, 1868

Johann Baptiste Streicher (1796 — 1871) was the son of Nanette Stein and Johann Andreas Streicher. He was part of a piano making dynasty, already one hundred years famous in 1870, when the Streicher company gave Brahms a grand piano (Serial No. 6713, manufactured in 1868), which he used for the rest of his life.

Brahms described his relation to his piano in a letter to Clara Schumann: “It is quite a different matter to write for instruments whose characteristics and sound one only incidentally has in one’s head and which one can only hear mentally, than to write for an instrument which one knows through and through, as I know this piano. There I always know exactly what I write and why I write one way or another.” He also advised her, in another letter, to buy a Streicher. When Clara Schumann visited Johannes Brahms for the last time in 1896, together with her children, they gathered in his apartment around his Streicher piano, and she played, reading through his latest, probably intermezzos, with tears streaming down her cheeks.

This particular instrument realizes a beautiful, confident design from a unique dynasty in piano building. The impulse to reproduce Brahms’s favourite piano came from prominent Australian Professor Neal Peres da Costa, the author of “Off the Record: Performing Practices in Romantic Piano Playing” – Oxford University Press. The project was hugely aided by Paul McNulty’s owning two contemporaneous pianos, opp.6747 and 6932, which functioned as a priceless technical resource, controlling every feature of construction and refinement (taken from the Paul McNulty fortepiano website).


Johannes Brahms

Clarinet Quintet in B minor Op. 115 (arrangement by Paul Klengel for clarinet and piano)

This transcription of the 'heavenly' quintet for piano duo was made in 1892 by Paul Klengel (1854-1935). He was a violinist, pianist and conductor at the Leipzig Conservatoire. Amazingly, it was only rediscovered a few months ago when a private music collection was donated to the library of the Haute école de musique in Geneva.

Esclapez once again chose the Streicher piano and Coppola played a copy of a clarinet originally used by the inspired clarinetist friend of Brahms, Richard Mühlfeld.


The opening Allegro was brimming with colours, timbre and many variations in dynamic. The clarinet sculpted flowing arabesques of melody. The Adagio was most affecting in its lyrical theme which was transformed into a rhapsodic mood at times. The colours that Coppola caused to emerge from the clarinet were kaleidoscopic which worked in perfect companionship with the piano. The yearning for the remembered nostalgia for happier days was intense as Brahms approached death. A passionate forte section required a high degree of virtuosity in the clarinet which Coppola accomplished without limitation. His wide range of dynamics moderated the emotions to a high degree of eloquence

The short Andantino was as if the composer took a pausing breath in an Intermezzo. The final Con moto  movement possessed a lively forward movement. The piano and clarinet were here in a perfect symbiotic relationship. They moved through the glorious variations in a manner both alluring and at times even humorous. I followed Hungarian folk elements and perhaps Yiddish motifs too. One deeply melancholic variation prefigured death. Overall a brilliant and inspiring performance which one is unlikely to hear often in life. A treasure.

28.08.22

Sunday

20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Performers:

Piotr Alexewicz piano

Alexander Gadjiev piano

Andrzej Boreyko conductor

Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra

Andrzej Boreko and Alexander Gadjiev

Program:

Fryderyk Chopin

Nocturne in A flat major Op. 32 No. 2

This orchestral arrangement of Chopin’s Nocturne in A major Op.32/2  commissioned from Stravinsky by Diaghilev for Les Sylphides  by the Ballets Russes at the spectacular premiere saison russe of ballet at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris in 1909. I fond it interesting rather than nocturnally reflective, elegaic and romantic. The passionate agitation towards the conclusion was enhanced by the orchestral dynamic. Alexewicz is a fine young Polish pianist of enormous promise.

Piotr Alexewicz

Fantasy in A major on Polish Airs Op. 13


Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991)

Andrzej Panufnik

 Piano concerto

I had never heard this concerto by the great Polish composer. I quote him and his posthumous website, by far the best authority on its true nature.

Andrzej Panufnik’s Piano Concerto has had a long and interesting history. It has been accepted that the original version of the work is a two-movement work, because for years the concerto indeed functioned as a composition comprising two parts – the contemplative Molto tranquillo and the virtuoso Molto agitato. The Piano Concerto received its current, three-part form only in the mid-1980s, when the composer added the introductory Entrata.

Entrata – despite the fact that it slightly resembles the musical material from the earlier first movement of the concerto – is markedly shorter (lasting only about 4 minutes) and is more of an introduction and preparation for the main, slow movement of the work. For the contemplative middle movement is undoubtedly the main part of Panufnik’s Piano Concerto – its most important element, marked by piano sounds of extraordinary beauty, full of poetry and gentleness, subtly and tastefully embellished by the sounds of the orchestra.

It was in the three-part version from the early 1980s (the composer modified the Entrata again in 1985) that Andrzej Panufnik’s Piano Concerto functions today.

In May 1983 the Piano Concerto was recorded for the BBC Radio by John Ogdon and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the composer’s baton; the first studio recording was not made until 1991, barely a few months before the death of Panufnik, who conducted the London Symphony Orchestra with Ewa Pobłocka as the soloist. 

My purpose was to compose a virtuoso work for the pianist which would give him the chance to demonstrate his capacity for poetic expression as well as his technical skill and bravura. I wanted also to exploit and explore the sonoric range of the piano, from sustained, singing notes to very dry, percussive sounds. In addition, I wanted to make the orchestra's participation one of real significance, with a powerful role to play. The Concerto has two movements: Molto tranquillo (very slow) and Molto agitato (very fast) – each of which imposes upon the performer and listener a definite climate and character.

The first movement is an extremely quiet, contemplative dialogue between soloist and orchestra (while within the orchestra there is a further dialogue between the wind instruments and the strings). I made constant use of the palindromic form creating a kind of lyrical geometry in order to emphasise meditative and reflective feelings. As regards the musical material, I imposed upon myself a strict discipline, this movement being based on the intervals of one minor and one major second as a 'basic sound' within the framework of the mirror construction.

The second movement follows attacca, with a violent outburst from the orchestra. This movement again is based on only two intervals: this time a major third and minor third. By the persistent repetition of these intervals, I wanted to create an urgent sense of agitation, even turbulence. However, the middle section of this movement is in contrast quite lyrical in character and based on the material of the first movement (minor and major seconds), in order to achieve some unity and firm binding together of these two deeply contrasted blocks: Molto tranquillo and Molto agitato.

I found the orchestral timbre absolutely fantastic in its variety. Gadjieff expressed the Larghetto  with ultra subtle pianissimo. I entered an extraordinary dream world of great strangeness that was extremely introspective containing what one might term 'minimalist emotion'. I felt this pianist to be outstanding in such a contemporary work, when at times during the Chopin competition I was plagued by doubts. His view was reflective and religious in tone and contemplative meditation on the spiritual nature of life. The  Presto agitato resembled a dynamic explosion. Boreyko the conductor was deeply and magnificently engaged with the orchestra. He conducted with excellent exactitude, the percussion extremes led towards almost nineteenth century harmonic resolutions. Gadjieff was simply overwhelming in the massive virtuosic cadenza (if I may call it that).

Pressing personal reasons unfortunately prevented me from returning for the Manuel de Falla after the intermission.

 Manuel de Falla

 Fuego fatuo

The composer's beautiful surviving wife, Lady Camilla Panufnik (left), represents for me another world of civilized refinement and graceful sensibility to the present day.

She was seated in the audience with the Artistic Director of the Festival, Stanisław Leszczyński  and the great pianist, winner of the 2010 International Chopin Competition and profound interpreter of modern piano compositions, Yulianna Avdeeva

Lady Camilla Panufnik and Alexander Gadjiev


28.08.22

Sunday

17:00

Royal Castle Concert Ballroom

Recital of Songs

Performers:

Olga Pasiecznik soprano

Ewa Pobłocka period piano (Erard 1849)

Program

Stanisław Moniuszko

The most beautiful Moniuszko Songs (2)

An extraordinarily graceful and moving recital of much refinement. I will give the songs their English translations as they are evocative of the nature of love and poetic in expressiveness. Both artists performed perfectly together in symbiosis, the subtle, discreet accompaniment of Pobłocka to the glorious, emotionally rich voice of Pasicznik. A truly uplifting concert of the most eloquent beauty.

To the bud - such an alluring sentiment

The girl and the bird - poetic wisdom cradled in  lovely simplicity as a girl sings to a bird of her l    love

If someone could love me truly - again a delicate and simple sentiment couched in a delicate melody

Kittie - a apparently carefree, tuneful even joyful song which conceals a girl married against her will

The goldfish - a melancholic song which contains Moniuszko's best loved lyrics

Pasiecznik then Turned to the Ukrainian tragedy which she supports intensely and gave us a Ukrainian folk song unknown to me but emotionally devastating

Podolian elegy (Attachment) was an attractive song with rather melancholic reflections but tripmphant optimism at the conclusion. It declares love for the motherland to words by Tymon Zaborowski from his Podolian elegies under Turkish rule (1830).

Matchmaking - as one might expect a jolly song to a mazurka rhythm

       The spinstress - a perpetuum mobile in the piano part which swirls endlessly like a spinning wheel - superlative keyboard writing and playing by Pobłocka

       Naja's Song - a girl talks to a bird about her beloved. the piano art is complex and rich in harmonies

      Menacing girl ­- the rather threatening aspects of this creature are slightly smoothed away by the krakowiak rhythm

       Dumka (Elegy - Come my darling) - is a gloomy song of unrequited love, a girl longs for a young man who loves another. Words by the Polish poet Jan Czeczot

       A singer abroad and Remberance - The first is a charming, melodic song and thje second contains funereal overtones, both to words by the Polish poet Józef Zaleski who was a participant in the 1840 November Uprising. The latter was formerly an unknown song published in modern times

       The Cossack - again to words by Jan Czeczot, it was popular from its first  performance. Based on a traditional song.


§


27.08.22

Saturday

20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Chamber concert

Performers:

Yulianna Avdeeva piano

Vadym Kholodenko piano

Belcea Quartet

Corina Belcea violin

Axel Schacher violin

Krzysztof Chorzelski viola

Antoine Lederlin cello

Program:

César Franck

Piano Quintet in F minor

                                                          Augusta Holmès (1847-1903) in 1880

This was a period in French musical history that returned to what might be termed 'absolute music'. Franck was at the peak of his creativity and much influenced by Wagner. He began to break new tonal ground and was once more attracted to chamber music composition. The result was this remarkable, deeply sensual Quintet. Frank was much romantically and physically attracted to his pupil Augusta Holmès (1847-1903). Saint-Saëns, to whom the Quintet was dedicated by Franck, was lamentably suffering from a condition of unrequited love for the same lady. The unconcealed sensual passion expressed in this quintet upset him greatly during the first performance on the 17th January 1880 where he played the piano part. He allegedly stormed off the stage after the performance in a blue funk.


Kholodenko opened the Molto moderato quasi lento  in a highly passionate and magnificent manner with the quartet. We encountered great psychological agitation of an existentialist kind. The work emerged as almost symphonic in impact. The theme of this movement is deeply expressive of sensual yearning and desire, perfectly understood by all these remarkable performers.

The Lento con molto sentimento  again sang in soulful and heartbreaking yearning for love. The theme was affectingly poignant with much ardent feeling, yet with haunting fears and premonitions of betrayal. Many unresolved fears lay here ....

The Allegro non troppo ma con fuoco apportioned marvellous and eloquent string writing for each member of the quartet. Corina Belvcea was sublime, ardent and impassioned in this movement. Kholodenko was equally possessed by the musical spirit in the repeated phrases - in many ways a call of despair in a potentially hopeless cause. I found it almost fantastically symphonic and building tremendous drama of erotic anticipation in the unresolved harmonies. As Stendhal once observed, the power and intensity of love lies in the anticipation not in the fulfillment of desire. In the heart can lurk a painful degree of anticlimactic satisfaction.


 Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996)

Piano Quintet in F minor Op. 18 (1944)


Weinberg was born in Warsaw into a highly musical Jewish family at the close of the Great War.  His training at the highest level as a pianist was rudely interrupted by the Second World War. They fled to the USSR but his parents died in a concentration camp and he alone survived. It marked his psyche deeply which can be heard in his magnificently tortured and troubled quintet. He considered composition a 'duty' to those who had perished. One can hear the influence of Russian, Polish and Jewish cultures in his music. Autobiographical memories of World War II and the loss of the innocence of childhood suffuse his compositions.


Moderato con moto A rather symphonic texture that was not in the lest seductive, rather arrestingly realistic. Lyricism alternates with militarism. The Allegretto opens with a violin and cello duo leading to monumentally florid piano solo with fantastic driving forward rhythms, irresistible. Avdeeva was musically taken over and charismatically convincing in idiom, the intense quartet in companionship with effective pizzicato interludes. The movement has a magically varied sound palette and many references to Jewish musical idioms. In this Presto - scherzo third movement, Avdeeva was simply phenomenal and overwhelming in pianistic commitment and virtuosity. The ensemble playing was spectacular in this movement, a type of flaming energy was set alight. Sudden explosions of piano sound filled the hall with gunpowder. Avdeeva betrayed incandescent passion in this movement.

The Largo was possessed of a remarkable massed ensemble sound in the opening. It contained within it all the spiritual and physical horrors of the holocaust. Cries from the earth as the hand of death reach out to us from the grave. The string pianissimo sections were quite transporting into another realm of soul experience. The violin lament is taken over by the powerful solo piano. Here the composition was intensely expressive in the overall abstract construction of the movement. One heard a 'piano clock' ticking which together with the cello obligato was unique, disturbing yet elevating. The pizzicato became deeply unsettling in view of the current murderous events in Ukraine. The ultimate and profound sadness of loss in the heart of the Jewish race evolved into a desperately moving elegy.

The final impassioned Allegro agitato movement featured sharp, repeated phrases on viola, second violin and cello embodying fractured, cruelly broken Jewish folk dancing. Avdeeva never dominated here despite the opportunity but merely added discreetly to the deeply unsettling atmosphere. I could not help reflecting on the nobility and monumentality of this ensemble in this great work. I heard the ringing of a dislocated and disinherited mind in this movement. The piano cries are the echoes of the condemned. One is aware as the work concludes of the rise of protecting life forces that in many ways work to redeem the fatalism. Yet life ultimately fades in the profoundly affecting dynamic fading away of the conclusion to this movement.

An awe-inspiring performance of a chamber masterpiece by masterly musicians who understand the nature of foreign oppression, war and summary execution to its core. 

27.08.22

Saturday

17:00

Royal Castle Ballroom

Vocal recital

Performers:

Mariusz Godlewski baritone

Radosław Kurek period piano (Erard 1849)

Program:

Stanisław Moniuszko

The most beautiful of Moniuszko Songs (1)


This was a rather traditional recital which I found rewarding in many ways and on many different musical and personal levels. The baritone Mariusz Godlewski is popular in Poland I think because he approaches these songs in a powerful yet vulnerable masculine style with a supremely masculine sensibility (if one can say such things without offense in this time of controversial gender questioning).

I will mention songs that I found most meaningful with a few words of reasoning. The titles will be in English. One really requires the detailed guide to the festival for this concert that gives on the poetic story by great Polish poets lying at the heart of these songs. For me this is all part of the present Polish Musical Renaissance. The musical and literary qualities (poems by Mickiewicz par example) of the songs were of prime importance.

Coversation (1) The attention of Polish emigrants is drawn nostalgically to their homeland  

On The Nida - Deeply moving song and music - the words are poetically transporting

Migrating Bird - pervaded by the most beautiful imaginable imagery

Mother You are No More! No compulsion to indicate the loss of mother love here

The Village Chief - Charming rather rustic songs. The often affecting poetry is simple but lifted onto another plane by the music.

Ditty (above the river's placid waters) - A charming and passionate song

Angel-child - Such a tragic story and poem lies here. A mother is working in the fields during the heat of the summer harvest and places her baby on a grassy bank whilst she works. The baby tragically dies of heat stroke but nature transforms her into an angel.

A Ball on the Ice - A strong and powerful song

The Alderman's Song - Such a jolly song!

Matty - a song of resignation to fate. A mazur intertwines with a krakowiak dance as the farmer beset by disasters on every side continues to dance oblivious .....highly popular song in a country where unexpected, sudden catastrophic destruction was common...

If you wish to pursue this almost forgotten song repertoire (outside of Poland) do buy this NIFC recording.



26.08.22

Friday

21:30

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Performers:

Eric Hoeprich clarinet

Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu period piano

Tomasz Ritter period piano

Marek Moś conductor

Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century

Program

Karol Kurpiński (1785-1857)

Concerto for clarinet and orchestra in B flat major (reconstructed by Michał Dobrzyński - first performance) (1821-23)

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

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. He prepared the ground for Polish music of the Romantic period but is a largely forgotten figure

 

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 here reconstructed by Michał Dobrzyński  

This evening the work began with the Andante and finished with the Allegro. This movement is both charming and melodious with interesting melodic changes. The Rondo. Allegretto struck me as the very finest of Bath Spa or Bad Kissingen infinitely charming but quite inconsequential music. The clarinet blended seamlessly with the orchestral music. The Allegro first movement undoubtedly composed by Kurpiński was a lively and tuneful statement. The historic period clarinet was highly successful in this context. The virtuoso playing was so civilized and elegant in the atmosphere he created.

Tumultuous applause from both orchestra and audience for Hoeprich 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto in E flat major K. 482 (1785-1786)

The Love Letter (1770)Jean Honoré Fragonard

The composition of this concerto was completed during Mozart working on La Nozze de Figaro. he was at the height of his Viennese popularity. Michael Kelly, an Irish tenor who pioneered the roles of Basilio and Don Curzio in this opera left a lively description of Mozart’s performance 'His feeling, the rapidity of his fingers, the great execution and strength of his left hand particularly, and the apparent inspiration of his modulations, astounded me.'

Mozart performed this concerto possibly three times or more during his brief life. The colourful woodwind writing, rather appropriately for this particular concert, utilizes clarinets in place of the oboes of an orchestra of this time.


The opening Allegro  pursues a drum-roll figure and the orchestra, which is rather festive and melodically undemanding, passes through different keys with the soloist. Mozart seems to have been returning to entertaining 'social' music to please his Viennese audience. Ritter playing the exceptional McNulty Graf was delightful with finely controlled dynamic contrast, balance and attention to detail in his 'conversational' exchanges with the orchestra. He possesses a fine sense of Mozart phrasing and rubato with an excellent cadenza. 

The melancholy Andante of song and variations on the other hand is deeply moving with its sense of despair and resignation. Mozart’s father Leopold wrote that it was much appreciated by the audience: 'the Andante had to be repeated (something rare).' The alternation of major and minor keys anticipated the coming Romantic movement and was popular. 

The Finale is an Allegro in the form of a Rondo which dispels the gloom. The sun emerges from behind the darker clouds of threatening destiny. Ritter added some discreet, graceful and tasteful ornaments with a fine rather elaborate cadenza. A wonderful theme lies embedded here and the joining of full orchestra with soloist was so uplifting. Ritter has a highly developed sense of one and touch on the earlier instrument. On occasion I felt a lack of that eighteenth century affectation, social artfulness and guile that takes us incontrovertibly into the period.


Graf, Vienna c.1819 (2007)

A copy of the Viennese Conrad Graf’s instrument from c.1819, made in Paul McNulty’s workshop in 2007 to a commission from the Fryderyk Chopin Institute.

This type of piano was very popular in the early Romantic era. Chopin probably composed some of his youthful pieces on a similar one. This instrument has the Viennese action with the so-called single repetition. Unlike modern pianos, its hammers are covered with leather. Most of the strings (single-, double- and triple-strung) are made of iron wire, except the bass strings, made from brass. The instrument does not have an iron frame. It has four pedals – moderator, double moderator, sustaining and una corda – allowing for a wide range of both dynamics and tone colours. The compass of the keyboard is 6½ octaves (C1–f4).

Joseph Haydn

Symphony No. 98 in B flat major Hob. I/98


A portrait of Joseph Haydn from 1785 was discovered in an antique store in the US city of Savannah, Georgia. The work - one of three versions by Christian Ludwig Seehas, dating from Haydn’s stay in Vienna - was identified by 
Dr Walter Reicher, secretary general of the International Joseph Haydn Private Foundation Eisenstadt, which has now acquired the painting.

The work opens with a pleasant Adagio which serves as a gentle introduction to the energetic Allegro. The conductor Marek Moś  and the rejuvenated Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century made much of the complex internal polyphonic and contrapuntal detail. 

The renowned musicologist and composer Donald Tovey suggested that the beautiful cantabile Adagio was Haydn’s requiem for his friend Mozart, who had died the previous December. It has a supremely civilized, elegant and graceful Viennese theme. Certainly the echoes of the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony’s Andante are clear in this exquisite movement, in full sonata form. In the recapitulation, Haydn seems to have modelled the hymn-like main theme on ‘God save the King’. 

The Menuetto Presto charms one inexorably as rather a celebratory, festive movement. The Finale Presto  is replete with eloquent, short phrases possessing inspiring energy, sparkling wit and humour. The many changes of instrumentation in the orchestral writing is extraordinarily effective. 

A magnificent symphony with a fine, eminently suitable orchestra and idiomatic conducting. The concertmaster of the orchestra was particularly extravagant in gesture and musical involvement. 

Alexander Janiczek the flamboyant concertmaster of the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century

Was it a celeste I heard that decorated the conclusion - certainly Haydn wrote a solo piece for himself for the harpsichord or fortepiano that would have galvanized the audience no end!

Fryderyk Chopin

Variations in B flat major on a theme from Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ (‘Là ci darem la mano’) Op. 2

Twice in the same evening and on a modern and period piano ! Also with the same outstanding artist who is rather a master of the style brillante, eminently suitable for this early work of Chopin. I have written about the genesis and character of this work in my criticism below. I found this piano sound spectrum in balanced tandem with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century perfectly satisfying. 

I thought the whole tonal landscape, texture and atmosphere perfectly in period and with the brilliant technique of Liu, both exciting and joyful at once. He seems to have a natural gift for accommodating to the Erard and extracting a variegated colour palette from it. The timpani was rather overwhelming in impact at times but is added a rather exciting, expressive and dramatic impression lifting the work into unexplored realms. The entire performance was impressive in an utterly different way to earlier in the evening.

Wild and tumultuous applause which led to an encore of Rameau - Les Sauvages



Erard, Paris 1858


This instrument (serial no. 30315) was built in Paris in 1858. It is veneered in rosewood, inlaid with ormolu frames.

This instrument (serial no. 30315) was built in Paris in 1858. It is veneered in rosewood, inlaid with ormolu frames. It has a composite frame connected with screws, consisting of an iron pinning table and six stress bars, a predecessor of today’s full cast iron frame, with a bar brace in the treble. It is single-, double- and triple-strung, with wound bass strings and una corda and damper pedals. The keyboard compass covers seven octaves (A2–a4), as in modern instruments. The piano is equipped with a typical Erard action, a prototype of the double repetition English action generally used today. This instrument was bought in 2010 and renovated in the workshop of Grzegorz Machnacki.

26.08.22

Friday

18:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Performer

Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu piano

First Prize at the 18th Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw 2021


Program

Jean-Philippe Rameau

Liu did not attempt to imitate the harpsichord by over articulation of Rameau on the piano, a 'fault' that even Grigory Sokolov is prone to despite the overwhelming impact he makes in this work. Liu gives a subtle and judicious touch of the pedal which softens the attack and takes the Rameau into an additional tonal realm.

Les tendres plaints

Charming playing for the reasons outlined above

Les Cyclopes

Excellent 'period feel' but could have been slightly more detached for my taste

Menuets I and II

Refinement of touch and approach. A French, even impressionistic, feel was given to the piece by Liu

Les sauvages

Lively and definitely pagan

La poule

True to title, Liu humorously and impressively created a work tremendously reminiscent of a chicken

Gavotte et six doubles

He made charming, melodious and judicious use of the pedal. He was not tempted, as are too many, to over-virtuosity. He perceptively and musically revealed the embedded counterpoint and polyphony but overall I was looking for slightly more emotional expression. As a harpsichordist I must admit to preferring this work on the instrument for which it was written! 

Fryderyk Chopin

Variations in B flat major on a theme from Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ (‘Là ci darem la mano’) Op. 2

Chopin composed the ‘Là ci darem’ Variations in 1827. As a student of the Main School of Music, he had received from Elsner another compositional task: to write a set of variations for piano with orchestral accompaniment. As his theme, he chose the famous duet between Zerlina and Don Giovanni from the first act of Mozart’s opera Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni. In this opera overwhelming power and faultless seduction meet maidenly naivety and barely controlled fascination. (Tomaszewski)

'Là ci darem la mano' Walter Richard Sickert (1860–1942) 

(National Trust, Fenton House)

In his famous first review of Chopin's variations on Mozart’s 'Là ci darem la mano', Schumann gives us a striking description:

“Eusebius quietly opened the door the other day. You know the ironic smile on his pale face, with which he invites attention. I was sitting at the piano with Florestan. As you know, he is one of those rare musical personalities who seem to anticipate everything that is new, extraordinary, and meant for the future. But today he was in for a surprise. Eusebius showed us a piece of music and exclaimed: ‘Hats off, gentlemen, a genius! Eusebius laid a piece of music on the piano rack. […] Chopin – I have never heard the name – who can he be? […] every measure betrays his genius!’”

Chopin’s ‘Là ci darem’ variations are classical in form with an introduction, theme, five variations and finale. They are a marvellous example of the style brillante and clearly influenced by Hummel and Moscheles. 

Liu gave us a pleasant sotto voce opening as correctly indicated and a deliberate tempo marked Largo that opens the work without the over-declamatory virtuoso energy many pianists adopt. Possibly it slightly lacked an undertone of beguiling seduction. It is well-known Chopin was obsessed with opera all his life, a fascination that began early. Liu applied phrasing that was uncannily as if the aria was being sung with vocal intonation and alluring and charming cantabile

He applied winning dynamic variation in repeated phrases with a fine variety of tone and touch in developments that were light, elegant and stylish. Each variation had an individual character and the feeling of carefree and enjoyable improvisation. Liu never presented this work as simply a piano display piece although occasionally charm fell victim to irresistible and  tempting virtuosity of youth. Liu brought a feeling of the late 18th century in his style and artfulness. Waterfalls of glittering notes cascaded around us as in the original descriptions of jeu perlé

Clara Wieck loved this work and performed it often making it popular in Germany. Her notorious father, who had forbidden her marriage to Robert Schumann, wrote perceptively and rather ironically of this work: ‘In his Variations, Chopin brought out all the wildness and impertinence of the Don’s life and deeds, filled with danger and amorous adventures. And he did so in the most bold and brilliant way’. 


Maurice Ravel

Miroirs




Noctuelles (Night Moths)

Ravel dedicated this work to the poet Léon-Paul Fargue. 

“Les Noctuelles des hangars partent, d’un vol gauche, Cravater d’autres poutres - The night moths launch themselves clumsily from their barnes, to settle on other perches”

Liu produced an extraordinarily fine and arresting glistening sound from the Steinway on this occasion (unlike the Fazioli he used for the same work in Duszniki Zdrój on August 5th 2022). He effortlessly created the image of flitting moths in my mind's eye. In this fiendishly difficult piece his impressionistic control and range of colour, nuance and articulated detail was excellent. Moths are fragile creatures and the light, silent fluttering became clear. 

Liu moved from the rapid delicacy of fluttering wings to the expressive human emotions interwoven between them. In addition, dynamic indications in this piece move suddenly and quickly from one extreme to another. He indicated the mercurial unpredictability of the fluttering dusty wings of night moths on a still summer night. This effect was achieved in the inner ears of many visitors who were ravished by the superb sound of the Fazioli instrument

Oiseaux tristes (Sad Birds)

In his autobiographical sketch Ravel said of this piece: “It evokes birds lost in the oppressiveness of a very dark forest during the hottest hours of summer” 

Ricardo Viñes initially performed this piece on January 6, 1906 and it was also dedicated to him. The work may have been inspired by a story that Viñes told Ravel about meeting Debussy, where he heard the composer say that he wished to write a piece in a form so free that it would feel like an improvisation. His initial epiphany for this piece came during a walk in the forest of Fontainebleau. There are two planes: on the first the birds are singing and below this lies the threatening atmosphere of the dark forest.

Liu created a sound of delicate melancholy and impressionistic feeling. He accomplished eloquence and the delicate expressive resonance of repeated figuration of the opening fingering to perfection. One could see in sound imagination the rainbow of birdsong above the dark impenetrable green foliage hovering below. The feeling of a highly imaginative improvisation was always abundant.

Une barque sur l’océan (A Boat on the Ocean)

The depiction of water is the concern here. Ravel orchestrated the work but it is far more successful on the piano. Oliver Messiaen commented on this orchestration: 

“There exists an orchestral kind of piano writing which is more orchestral than the orchestra itself and which, with a real orchestra it is impossible to realize”. 

Liu created the image of a ship on the open ocean riding irresistible currents in his dynamic variation, colour and use of the pedal. He gave us a feeling of the powerful swells of the ocean, the breaking white caps in the wind as one sails and undulates over the surface in arabesques. Some currents seemed deep and threatening. His control and use of colour and nuance, sometimes harsh, sometimes calm and erotic was sensually quite ravishing. He captured the surface of open ocean to perfection - one could even smell and taste the salt air.




Alborada del gracioso (The Dawn of Graciousness)

This familiar musical movement was inspired of course by Spanish music. Guitar, castanet rhythms and repetitions. It is high in incandescent, passionate southern energy peculiar to the Iberian Peninsula. Rhythmically it was tremendously effective with a true 'biting touch'! The middle section involves a lyrical, improvised song known as the cante jondo, or ‘deep song’. This Tzigane lamenting cante jondo originated in the Spanish Andalusian flamenco vocal tradition and Liu was imaginative in taking us into the interior of a smoke-filled tavern of formidable, almost flamenco Spanish atmosphere. A magnificent performance of driving rhythms and forward impetus as he wound up the tension to a conclusion full of fireworks.




La vallée des cloches (The Valley of Bells)

Here we have an impressionistic sound painting depicting different bells sounding through a valley. Each bell has its particular color and register (brought out expressively by Liu). Also he emphasized the characteristic dynamic levels in which the ebb and flow of sound indicated various distances from the source of the bells in their towers. Calm, tender and soothing - Ravel marked the score calme and doux. The piece opens and ends with the same material of the various sounding bells while its middle section contains a long and generous chant.

Ferenc Liszt

Réminiscences de Don Juan, S 418

Don Giovanni and Zerlina Duet

The performance of this work in Warsaw so soon after Duszniki Zdrój was not radically different so I offer my rather similar review to that of 5 August 2022 without apology.

I have always considered the 'reminiscence' to be as defined by the Oxford Dictionary as 'A story told about a past event remembered by the narrator.'  In this case the spectacular virtuosic display we heard from Liu was more like a recreation of the opera itself than a past event remembered through the filter of time. Then again when the Russian critic Vladimir Stasov, attended a Liszt recital of this work in St. Petersburg in 1839 he wrote:

'We had never in our lives heard anything like this; we had never been in the presence of such a brilliant, passionate, demonic temperament, at one moment rushing like a whirlwind, at another pouring forth cascades of tender beauty and grace. Liszt's playing was absolutely overwhelming...'

One cannot help but apply precisely this judgement to the Liu performance of this Fantasie Dramatique. Ferruccio Busoni adored the work, preparing five separate editions if memory serves me correctly. It was the most amazing feat of sheer virtuosic pianism imaginable. He commandeered an orchestral sound from the instrument one rarely, if ever, encounters in the concert hall. 

Sacheverell Sitwell in his uniquely perceptive book Liszt comments: 'The Don Juan Fantasia has an indescribable and sinister virtuosity which is strangely in keeping with the cynical romanticism of its subject....so many expressions of mood and atmosphere.' (p.149) 

I felt that the sinister nature of Liu's performance was not as evil-haunting as it might have been, submerged as it was in this incredible technical display. Fortunately for them, many young pianists have not yet had a 'sinisterly blighted love affair' that upends the soul and heart. This is particularly true if a feeling or the experience of juanesque manipulation of the heart has entered the romantic picture. The Liszt Mephisto Waltz and Faust Symphony are similarly replete with guile and deceit of the most malicious kind. To penetrate to the absolute core of List's sulphurous recreations of the metaphysical, it is useful not only to have keyboard command but the also a strong personal sense of sinful, lustful and erotic excursions of the soul.

I have never particularly liked this work but in many ways last night was rather physically and pianistically overwhelming and altered my opinion. I believe that Liu was also compelled to redefine it for himself, or so a little bird told me. Again as mentioned before, he brought a compositely different sound palette from Ravel to this composer. The interpretation was full of humour, delightful changes of mood and ironical comment as well as hints of the 'punished reprobate' and hellfire - all this quite apart from the overwhelming pianistic technique that was on display. The interpretation is rather lighthearted in parts as Liszt certainly was in his personality. But on the other side of the human coin, the L.H. bass was largely effective as a growling existential threat to existence that hovers permanently over  Don Giovanni.mastery of the keyboard and chords as solid and indestructible as granite.

Certainly what I heard tonight was brilliant and the articulation and energy contained in the Champagne Aria quite magnificent. The insidious and cynical 'seduction' of Zerlina by the worldly Don was wonderfully accomplished and based purely on sexual allure leading to an erotic climacteric of enormous proportions in the musical score. 

The hall erupted into a tumultuous standing ovation and wild cheering which lasted for many minutes.

As a first encore, a piece from the Album de Mai by Paderewski. Then a Chopin Étude followed by the Lento con gran espressione which could not have been a greater contrast in sensibility to Liszt

25.08.22

Thursday

21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Performers:

Kate Liu piano

Janusz Olejniczak piano

Andriy Yurkevych conductor

Sinfonia Varsovia

Program

Valentyn Silvestrov (b. 1937)

Moments of Memory II (1954-2003)

Born in Kyiv in 1937, the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov made his name in the 1960s with avant-garde scores that challenged Soviet aesthetic norms by composing between austere modernism and eclectic polystylism. As Russia’s escalated war against Ukraine enters its seventh month, Valentin Silvestrov, Ukraine’s best-known living composer, has become a musical spokesman for his country. 'I don’t know how we lived to see this' he said. Silvestrov’s sudden soaring global reputation has caused him some unease. He said he feels strange, even irritated, 'that this misfortune needed to happen for them to begin playing my music.'

'It’s very obvious that this is not a problem of Ukraine and Russia. It is a problem of civilization.'

One has to listen to Silvestrov in a completely different way to the usual in that his music 'balances on the edge of silence', the sound teetering at times on the edge of existence. In view of current events in Ukraine I found this remarkable minimalist piece deeply unsettling, movingly nostalgic and evocative.

Moments of Memory II

Janusz Olejniczak used his command of rounded tone and refined touch to concentrate on producing a carrying sound overcoming all the difficulties of being completely exposed.


No. 1 Serenade of Childhood

Harmonically simple and minimalist.

No. 2 Elegy

Shadows of memory cross the mind. Affecting harmonies create another world to this in many ways a voice of heavenly harmony heard subtly through the regions of soundspace.

No. 3 Farewell Waltz

Memories of the joy of dancing the waltz. The minimalism here produced an extraordinary effect on this listener.

No. 4 Postlude

Feelings follow experience - an extreme pianissimo conclusion.

No. 5 Autumn Serenade

This music is quite hypnotic - not unlike some of the subtle music behind a French film. The melodic lines such as they are haunting in a very special manner. I found some of the harmonic transitions divine, forcing the listener ever so gently into an emotional response.

No. 6 Pastoral

So much of his music sounds 'pastoral' evoking in its wandering a nostalgia for lost lands and the tender embrace of love.

Zygmunt Noskowski (1846-1909)

Moniuszko's Pearls (1903) Fifteen songs by Moniuszko arranged for orchestra

The music of Noskowski and its high quality is at present undergoing a true renaissance in Poland. Hopefully it will be better known through new National Chopin Institute recordings. Here we experienced much exuberant and masterful orchestration in the Polish national spirit. Excellent panache shown by Sinfonia Varsovia under Andriy Yurkevych.

 


Witold Maliszewski (1873-1939)

Overture in D major Op. 11 (1902)

Another undiscovered Polish composer of true talent! This renowned orchestra made much of this bucolic work and its skillful and expressive orchestration. I was enamored of the humor in the work and a lovely fugal pastiche. However, the main quality that impressed me overall was the powerful, driving energy.

The soloist Kate Liu was awarded Third Prize in the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Competition, Warsaw, 1-23 October 2015 

She was also awarded the Mazurka Prize

Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)

Piano Concerto in F minor Op. 21 (1830)

‘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 was written 1829-30 This concerto was inspired by Chopin’s infatuation or was it youthful love for the soprano Konstancja Gladkowska. It is rumoured the blue-eyed Polish soprano possibly inspired the romantic emotions contained within this concerto, preferred the attentions of two splendidly uniformed and dashing young Russian cavalry officers. Chopin loved her voice (as he loved the voice and opera throughout his life), the most beautiful of the young female music students at the Warsaw Conservatory. He met her when he was 19 and she sang at his farewell from the country. They exchanged rings but their correspondence faded away after a year. Strangely the concerto was published a few years later with a dedication to Delfina Potocka.

The work followed the Mozart model and was directly influenced by the style brillante of Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles and Ries. It is hard to reproduce this intimate yet fragile glittering tone on a Steinway or Yamaha. Here again Chopin magically transforms the Classical into the Romantic style.

Nadia Boulanger was once asked what made a great as opposed to an excellent performance of a piano work. She answered 'I cannot tell you that. It is something I cannot describe in words. A magical element descends.' 


I wrote of Kate Liu and her performance of the E minor concerto during the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Competition, Warsaw, 1-23 October 2015, the lineaments of which I have no reason to alter:

Her phrasing was supremely and naturally musical in the deepest sense of that word. It moved through so many moods of varied colour, a journey through a chiaroscuro tonal palette. The effect was as if the young Chopin, hopelessly in love, was thoughtfully wandering during a Polish golden October through a sun-dappled birch forest of his beloved Mazovian countryside. The phantoms of Hummel, Ries, Mozart, Field, Moscheles and even Paganini all stood modestly at Kate Liu's shoulder, she being aware of them with perfect taste and understanding - the gestures of Chopin's musical expression at that time accurately placed within their historical context. At one moment poetical with subdued refinement yet at another strong, powerful and masculine. 

Hearing her open the Maestoso of the concerto was rather an emotional moment for me. The magic remains in the sheer poetry she manages to express from the outset of this first Chopin concerto. As it progressed we were ensnared once again by her web of poetry - glowing tone, sensitivity of touch and majestic elegance of conception. Her phrasing and rubato are unforgettable in the musical meaning she brings to the work. Each Chopinesque life uncertainty expressed is answered with a struggle towards confidence in destiny.

A singing full bel canto tone in the affecting Larghetto was full of poetry and taken at just the right tempo. The piano’s entrance is described by the Polish poet Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz as if it ‘sounds like the opening of a gate to some haven of love and peace’. In many ways you could say that the whole work revolves around this movement. The emotions of love rising and falling away express a degree of sensibility quite beyond the range of words and language to engage. Here was the true nature of adolescent love, cloudless and illusioned before the tigers of sexual experience and betrayal begin their feast. The breath of young idealistic love is here unsullied in its nature.

I always think of the sentiments contained in the 1820 poem by John Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci when I hear this music with its occasional passionate interjections

I met a lady in the meads,

       Full beautiful—a faery’s child,

Her hair was long, her foot was light,

       And her eyes were wild.

 

I made a garland for her head,

       And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;

She looked at me as she did love,

       And made sweet moan.

 

I set her on my pacing steed,

       And nothing else saw all day long,

For sidelong would she bend, and sing

       A faery’s song.

From this dreamscape emerges the river of life, tremendous joy, energy and drive in the Allegro vivace final movement, a Rondo, written in the exuberant style of a dance of kujawiak provenance. How Chopin must have loved the bucolic nature of the Polish countryside and its music! 

The Chopin extension of the Hummel piano concerto is here fully realized. Melody and bravura figuration wonderfully and authoritatively brought off by Liu with great balance of formal structure. This composition that lies between Mozart, Hummel and the style brillante was wonderfully executed, as were the masculine gestures towards the concertos of Weber (following the cor de signal for example). Liu gave us cascades of pearls, the true le son jeu perlé characteristic of the style brillante, lightness, delicacy, charm, sonority, purity, precision and rippling execution.

This was an immanent musical experience by the pianist lost in her own world of dreams. Oh yes, far indeed from Chopin's dreaded  'exhalations of the crowd'. The silence as she played indicated she communicated these tenuous and subtle feelings deep into the heart of every member of the audience.

Never forget the myth of Orpheus. The making of music is the cultivation and creation of magic not simply a series of beautiful sounds strung together.

A satisfying performance in every way expressing the dreams, melancholy, illusions and delights of youth.


25.08.22

Thursday

18:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Performer

Szymon Nehring piano

Winner of the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition 2017 and a laureate of the International Fryderyk Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2015


Program

Fryderyk Chopin

Nocturne in E flat major Op. 55 No. 2

The music of the Chopin nocturne, even if derived from the mood of John Field, has fascinated and continues to seduce the listener over the passing decades. The Paris critic, composer and musicologist Hippolyte Barbedette (1827-1901), one of Chopin’s first biographers wrote in 1861: ‘Chopin’s nocturnes are perhaps his greatest claim to fame; they are his most perfect works’. This was the conception of them in France in the mid nineteenth century. ‘That loftiness of ideas, purity of form and almost invariably that stamp of dreamy melancholy’.

I did not feel Nehring approached this work in quite the spirit of improvisation and meditation on change. I felt it rather too certain and declamatory as the internal life of it rose and fell, although emotionally affecting poetry did emerge towards the conclusion. 


Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major Op. 61

Here we were given a lovely improvisatory feel to the opening of a piece marked maestoso and written in what has become known as Chopin's 'late style'. The work gave the composer endless difficulties and he made multiple sketches. This work in the ‘late style’ was written during a period of great suffering and unhappiness. He labored over its composition and what emerged is one of his most complex works both pianistically and emotionally. There is a curious feeling of harmonic examination in the search for certainty in life. 

Nehring built an increasing feeling of direction and focus until we entered fully on a remarkable journey across Chopin's dream landscapes, passing through endless key changes. Nehring used the power of silence most expressively from the subdued to the agitated. The work rose on riverine waves of nostalgia and doubt until the shores of reality and certainty were achieved through willpower, yet these victories were scarcely celebrated.

Published in 1846, the work was not well received. Jan Zdzisław Jachimecki, a Polish musicologist, musical critic and composer wrote: ‘the piano speaks here in a language not previously known’. It took years for the work to be accepted as significant rather than pathological. The English musicologist Arthur Hedley spoke of the ‘spirit that breathes’ in Chopin’s polonaises: ‘pride in the past, lamentation for the present, hope for the future’. I felt all these qualities in Nehring's fine performance

Mazurka in B major Op. 56 No. 1

Mazurka in C major Op. 56 No. 2

Mazurka in C minor Op. 56 No. 3

These three Chopin Mazurkas were performed with rich polyphony and counterpoint that raised their conception to a rather magnificent status and dimension. They were idiomatically Polish which clearly emerged as Nehring explored the adventurous harmonic modulations, applied perceptive phrasing and rubato. Often they were quite Sarmatian in atmosphere, redolent with the perfumes of Sarmatia. This notion is not well understood by 'foreigners' but is of great importance in understanding Polish culture. 

https://www.wilanow-palac.pl/sarmatism.html  

Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante in E flat major Op. 22

Certainly the Andante was spianato (smooth) but could have been a little more overtly expressive for this romantic soul. However, there was great deal of beautiful singing  legato and cantabile in his playing. Chopin often used to perform this work alone in a notably expressive manner.

The Grande polonaise brillante could have been far lighter and more 'sparkling'. I felt it slightly dynamically exaggerated and somewhat rushed rather than balanced with panache and élan.

The 19th century poet and critic Casimir Brodziński described the polonaise:

 The polonaise breathes and paints the whole national character; the music of this dance, while admitting much art, combines something martial with a sweetness marked by the simplicity of manners of an agricultural people…….Our fathers danced it with a marvellous ability and a gravity full of nobleness; the dancer, making gliding steps with energy, but without skips, and caressing his moustache, varied his movements by the position of his sabre, of his cap, and of his tucked-up coat sleeves, distinctive signs of a free man and a warlike citizen.

This work is a great challenge for pianists. I found his account somewhat over-pedalled although it certainly carried the energetic spirit of this national dance. In the day of say Hummel, this style was characterized by lightness, delicacy, charm, sonority, purity, precision and a rippling execution resembling pearls – le son perlé. This work could only have been composed in a state of happiness and youthful ‘sweet sorrows’ living in his native land. Nehring could have communicated these sound qualities a little more. A triumphant conclusion of power and strength elicited cheering and applause from the enthusiastic audience.

One of the greatest performances I have heard was by  the young outstanding Polish pianist Wojciech Świtała for Katowice Radio many years ago now

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Preludes Livre 1, No. 1-6 (1910)

1. Danseuses de Delphes: Lent et grave

(Dancers of Delphi)

Impressionistic and full of tonal colours under his refined tonc and touch.

2. Voiles: Modéré

(Veils/Sails) 

Such a pantheistic piece! Expressive and subtle. One can readily imagine yachting sails floating across the bay.

3. Le vent dans la plaine: Animé

(The Wind in the Plain)   

Certainly one can envisage the title and the music in his sensitive performance of this work.


4. "Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir": Modéré

("The sounds and fragrances swirl through the evening air")

'The sounds and fragrances swirl through the evening air' comes from the direct quotation from a poem by Charles Baudelaire entitled Harmonies du Soir from the Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil) of 1857. Nehring performed this work in as seductive and sensual a manner as you could wish.

Evening Harmony

Now is the time when trembling on its stem

Each flower fades away like incense;

Sounds and scents turn in the evening air;

A melancholy waltz, a soft and giddy dizziness!

 

Each flower fades away like incense;

The violin thrills like a tortured heart;

A melancholy waltz, a soft and giddy dizziness!

The sky is sad and beautiful like some great resting-place.

 

The violin thrills like a tortured heart,

A tender heart, hating the wide black void.

The sky is sad and beautiful like some great resting-place;

The sun drowns itself in its own clotting blood.

 

A tender heart, boring the wide black void,

Gathers all trace from the pellucid past.

The sun drowns itself in clotting blood.

Like the Host shines O your memory in me! 

— Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (NY: Grove Press, 1974)

5. Les collines d'Anacapri: Très modéré

(The Hills of Anacapri)    

Anacapri - such marvellous colour contrasts in his performance. Of course, Anacapri was utterly different when Debussy visited it before the mass tourism of 2022.

6. Des pas sur la neige: Triste et lent

(Footsteps in the Snow)

Such an effective creation of a bleak, snowy landscape with solitary footsteps was created by Nehring.

I felt Nehring's performance of Debussy to be impressionistic and very fine in its control of colour, timbre and the creation of  illusion.

Herman Nehring

Prelude in E flat minor No. 1

Prelude in A major No. 2

Prelude in D major No. 3

The biggest riddle of that evening, Herman Nehring's Preludes , turned out to be a high-quality collection of compositions. If the announcer presented these works as a lost cycle from Szymanowski's early works, I would rather believe him. The stylistics of these works could reach, on the one hand, Central European expressionism, and on the other ... the coasts of Andalusia?  [Igor Tobicki in Ruch Muzyczny May 2022]

These works, unknown to me, are by the the highly talented great-great grandfather, Herman Nehring, (also unknown to me), of this pianist Szymon Nehring. They are interesting and diverting compositions that become winningly lyrical at times.

Karol Szymanowski

A wonderful photograph of the young 
Karol Szymanowski, Paweł Kochański and Grzegorz Fitelberg, 1910 
(Photograph with dedications to Zofia Bernstein-Meyer. From Igor Strojecki's collection)

Mazurka No. 1 from 20 Mazurkas Op. 50 No. 1

Nehring created an attractive abstract tonal palette

Mazurka No. 2 from 20 Mazurkas Op. 50 No. 2

Mazurka No. 11 from 20 Mazurkas Op. 50 No. 11

It was clear Nehring has a perfect idiomatic grasp of Szymanowski, a composer he clearly adores

Mazurka No. 6 from 20 Mazurkas Op. 50 No. 6

Impressive rhythmically in its declamatory power

Mazurka No. 13 from 20 Mazurkas Op. 50 No. 13

A true lyrical meditation as interpreted by Nehring

Mazurka No. 18 from 20 Mazurkas Op. 50 No. 18

Certainly Nehring was as agitated in this interpretation as the composer intended and possibly close to expressing Szymanowski's neurosis. An extraordinary display of shifting mercurial moods.

Mazurka No. 17 from 20 Mazurkas Op. 50 No. 17

Mazurka No. 16 from 20 Mazurkas Op. 50 No. 16

An explosion into life! Allegramente is an unusual direction as is Vigoroso. There were extreme contrasts of mood and atmosphere here, exploited fully by Nehring in this marvelous piece of music.

He clearly has a very particular creative affinity with the music of Szymanowski and is exceptionally persuasive emotionally with it in performance.

Encore

An incredibly spectacular, fiendishly demanding, entirely unexpected and virtuosic Mendelssohn/ Liszt/ Horowitz/ Volodos Wedding March. Tumultuous and wild cheering, immediate standing ovation and applause. 

A fine end to a musically very rewarding recital that indicates such promising artistic development in Szymon Nehring.


24.08.22

Wednesday

21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Recital of Songs

Performers:

Matthias Goerne baritone

Leif Ove Andsnes piano

Program

Franz Schubert

Winterreise Op. 89, D 911


Winterreise  (Winter Journey) was composed within two years of Schubert's death in 1827. Many regard it as the greatest song cycle of all. In this work, at that time, Schubert was pushing the bounds of harmonic adventurism to a degree that made acceptance of the cycle troublesome to contemporary ears.

Der Lindenbaum, one of the most folkloric and lyrical songs, was, however, well received. The sensitive poems are by the German lyric poet Johann Müller (1794-1827). He is known as the author of the great Schubert song cycles Die schöne Müllerin (1823) and Winterreise (1828). The poetry is deeply moving in its sense of nostalgic loss of love, anger at infidelity, the power of Nature to regenerate,  sensual passion and existentialist anguish. The melodic line is focused almost exclusively on declamation as Schubert sets one note per syllable throughout almost all the 24 songs.

It is impossible to do justice to such a masterpiece as Winterreise in this type of critical assessment, suffice to say that in Schubert's day in public these songs would have been more likely to be performed individually that in complete cycles. Certainly Schubert performed the complete cycle for intimate groups of his friends. Their effectiveness as a philosophical, poetic statement is immensely enhanced when performed as a cycle of songs.

Matthias Goerne is a very popular baritone in Poland. He brought a (dare I say in 2022) a deep vein of masculine maturity, experience and German seriousness of purpose to this performance. This voice, so rich in timbre and his mild theatrical acting, held the audience attention almost hypnotically. The dark despair, alienation and disillusionment of the last songs was courageously confronted and movingly presented. The anguish of the soul, punctuated by oh so pregnant silences, was deeply unsettling to the heart. Leif Ove Andsnes provided an understated, illuminating and communicative piano support to the point of achieving an uncanny symbiosis of emotion with Goerne.

The haunting message in the final song Der Leiermann is one of alienation and the derangement of sanity. The young man of Die Schöne Müllerin embraces death whilst the poet of Winterreise must continue with life and barefoot survival even on icy paths. He turns to the ominously melodic, utterly deprived hurdy-gurdy man and joins him in a type of distorted ghostly melodic euphoria. I felt these performers expressively captured the nature of the disinherited human mind, a vision that pervades Winterreise and that surely was Schubert's intention to communicate.


24.08.22

Wednesday

18:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Performers:

Alena Baeva violin

Dmitry Ablogin period piano

Jan Lisiecki period piano

Marek Moś conductor

Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century

Program

Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880)

Violin Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor Op. 14 (1852)

Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880)


Henryk Wieniawski was a Polish virtuoso violinist, composer and pedagogue who is regarded as one of the greatest violinists in history. He wrote two highly technically demanding violin concertos, the second of which (in D minor, 1862) is more often performed than the first we heard this evening  (in F-sharp minor, performed on October 27 in Leipzig in 1853).

Baeva and this orchestra produced a marvelously burnished and cohesive sound form the outset of the Allegro moderato. Baeva launched into this formidable opening movement with passion and total commitment. The tempo allowed the theme to sing and take flight. Her phrasing always speaks so intelligibly and musically quite apart from the sheer visceral excitement she manages to communicate.


She overcame any technical challenge effortlessly and her deeply expressive playing (with the support of this revivified orchestra and conductor) was always most affecting to the heart and soul. The cadenza to the first movement was superb and the love song she sang for us, quite unforgettable, moving and seductive.

An eloquent lyricism where the heart reaches out to encounter the loved one infused the Pregiera (prayer).Larghetto with its rich violin texture and colour. This was in truth a yearning plainte for love when the heart reaches out to the beloved. The Rondo giocoso was lively, energized yet retained refinement and grace. This true rondo, as Baeva presented it, was unstintingly rhapsodic in parts with exceptional legato and violin tone. Such a virtuosic execution, yet not lacking in expression, followed to the conclusion. 

Tumultuous applause...

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)

Piano concerto No. 1 Op. 25 (1831)

A pencil drawing of Felix Mendelssohn in 1833 around the time of this concerto by Eduard Bendemann (1811–1889) was a German-Jewish painter.


Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor op. 25 was written in 1830–1, around the same time as his fourth symphony ('Italian') and the Hebrides Overture, premiered in Munich in October 1831.

As part of his European tour, the 22-year-old Mendelssohn stayed in Munich during 1831, where he gave piano lessons to the alluring Delphine von Schauroth, the beautiful daughter of a baroness. Infatuated, he sketched his first concerto for her in just three days. Mendelssohn, who was arguably a musical prodigy more extraordinary than Mozart, premiered the concerto in October 1831 to great acclaim. Franz Liszt later made the concerto extremely popular. Hector Berlioz once described a particular Érard piano that had experienced the work so many times that it now refused to cease playing it until chopped into pieces and burned!

Nothing remotely resembling such pyrotechnics occurred on the 1858 Érard this evening. Musically however the opening Molto allegro con fuoco was indeed fiery and exciting both on the part of orchestra and the brilliant soloist Dimitry Ablogin. During the 1st International Chopin Piano Competition on Period Instruments in Warsaw in 2018 I had written of this soloist: His tone glows without aggression and his touch is refined and elegant.

The piano part begins almost immediately and it is clear that Mendelssohn is taking full sonic advantage of the larger, heavier and more powerful instruments that were evolving at that time. We tend to forget the excitement of the new pianos as the nineteenth century progressed, not unlike the inspiring exploration of our own technological new ground. Ablogin merged his upper register glittering playing with the rich orchestral texture. The young composer clearly intended to create a fluent, worldly and sophisticated 'conversation' with the orchestra. There was great musical commitment here by orchestra, conductor and soloist who seemed to possess cohesion of an almost symbiotic kind.

With his long experience of performing on period instruments Ablogin graduated his dynamics in a deeply expressive manner through the entire range from strong but not harsh forte to whispering, scarcely present, pianissimo, only possible on a period  Érard or Pleyel. Mendelssohn conceived of concertos as homogenous wholes rather than in separate distinct movements. A call on the brass leads us from the serene and romantic middle Andante movement into the bubbling mountain stream of notes that introduce the Presto - Molto allegro e vivace finale. This movement rushed along through alpine pastures with ungovernable energy in a stylish manner of passionate elegance. There was a large measure of imaginative improvisation in this performance which again became clear in the inventive cadenza, played with dash, panache and élan.

This concert once again confirmed the unique voice of a highly sensitive, talented and intelligent musical artist who possesses a rare understanding of the expressive tonal qualities and colour characteristics of historical pianos. It was a welcome even astonishing revelation to hear him in a concerto with orchestra, having only listened to him previously in solo recital.

As an encore a deeply moving and poignant Schubert Impromptu in G-flat major Op.90 No.3. In some dimensions having even more remarkable spiritual depth than the sunny youthful Mendelssohn, a delightful individual not yet disillusioned by life.

Tumultous applause and cheering conclude this concert


Erard, Paris 1858, played by Dimitry Ablogin

This instrument (serial no. 30315) was built in Paris in 1858. It is veneered in rosewood, inlaid with ormolu frames.

This instrument (serial no. 30315) was built in Paris in 1858. It is veneered in rosewood, inlaid with ormolu frames. It has a composite frame connected with screws, consisting of an iron pinning table and six stress bars, a predecessor of today’s full cast iron frame, with a bar brace in the treble. It is single-, double- and triple-strung, with wound bass strings and una corda and damper pedals. The keyboard compass covers seven octaves (A2–a4), as in modern instruments. The piano is equipped with a typical Erard action, a prototype of the double repetition English action generally used today. This instrument was bought in 2010 and renovated in the workshop of Grzegorz Machnacki.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

 Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major Op. 73 (1810)

Battle of Wagram 6 July 1809
Horace Vernet (1789-1868)

The Artistic Director of the festival Stanisław Leszczyński always tries to encourage pianists who have established international reputations of renown on modern concert instruments (Martha Argerich, Maria João Pires, Garrick Ohlsson, Johnathan Plowright par example) to play on a period instrument. This was the case with Jan Lisiecki and the 'Emperor' concerto of Beethoven

Beethoven’s last piano concerto originated in May 1809. Conditions of war and bombardment prevailed. Napoleon’s army besieged Vienna. The Austrian Imperial family and court, including Beethoven’s pupil, friend, and benefactor, Archduke Rudolph, had rushed from the city in panic. On May 11 the French artillery began to bombard the city which had a direct influence on Beethoven's life as his house was close to the conflict.

Beethoven sheltered in the cellar of his brother’s house with a pillow over his head to protect his already fading hearing. The Austrian forces surrendered and the French imposed a residence tax on the Viennese. Now under severe financial distress, he described 'a city filled with nothing but drums, cannon, marching men, and misery of all sorts.'

He remained a creative artist even if Vienna was burdened with the French military. This new concerto was first heard in Leipzig in 1811 with Friedrich Schneider as soloist. Beethoven was by now too deaf to perform with an orchestra. Carl Czerny performed it at the Vienna premiere in 1812 but it made little impression on the Society of Noble Ladies of Charity. The title 'Emperor' may have been applied by a commercially astute publisher. Beethoven had created the first symphonic concerto.



The first movement opened nobly with a grandiose E-flat chord for the full orchestra, interrupted by a series of impressive arpeggios for the soloist. His command of the keyboard was never in doubt but I felt the period piano sound Lisiecki extracted from the Buchholtz was impressive revealed his comparatively limited experienced in creating the unique sound qualities, touch, tone and colour palette of these instruments. Donald Francis Tovey wrote: 'The orchestra is not only symphonic, but is enabled by the very necessity of accompanying the solo lightly to produce ethereal orchestral effects that are in quite a different category from anything in the symphonies. On the other hand, the solo part develops the technique of its instrument with a freedom and brilliance for which Beethoven has no leisure in sonatas and chamber music.' The Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century under Marek Moś accomplished this description.

The second movement is one of Beethoven's most poetic inspirations. There is a nocturne character to this movement of sublime beauty, melancholy and delicacy. The muted strings play sensitively whilst Lisiecki introduced the theme of the following rondo softly over a sustained horn which made the transition to the final movement remarkably moving and effective. Quite  dramatically the piano plunges into the final theme in a grandly turbulent, energized Allegro. I felt Lisiecki unfortunately rushed his phrases here altering the mood, perhaps as a result of failing entirely to discipline the  lightish Buchholtz action and keyboard. The orchestra remained cohesive and impressive.

The entire Filharmonia audience erupted in a exuberant burst of applause and cheering that continued for many minutes.

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 characterised 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.


'Oh the glamour of youth! 

Oh the fire of it, more dazzling than the flames of the burning ship, throwing a magic light on the wide earth ...'

                             Joseph Conrad [Józef Konrad Korzeniowski]

'Youth' (1898)



23.08.22

Tuesday

21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Performers:

Francesco Piemontesi piano

Gianandrea Noseda conductor

European Union Youth Orchestra

Program

This was without doubt one of the high points of the festival, if not the highest point! 

I was simply astounded at the size of the orchestra when I first saw it massed on stage. Placing 110 musicians and their instruments and seating on the Warsaw Filharmonia stage was a triumph of logistical planning! There were 8 Double Basses for example!

Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909)

A Sorrowful Tale (Prelude to Eternity) Op. 13 (1908) 

Smutna opowieść (Preludia do wieczności)

Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909)

This was the composer's last symphonic poem before his death in an avalanche in the Tatra Mountains. There has been much prurient speculation on the literary programme that in this case did not accompany the musical work (a unique situation among the Karlowicz symphonic poems). The most obvious interpretation is that it embraces the metaphysical nature of what was known as the Young Poland ideology. Young Poland (Polish: Młoda Polska) was a modernist period in Polish visual arts, literature and music, covering roughly the years between 1890 and 1918. It was a result of strong aesthetic opposition to the earlier ideas of Positivism. Young Poland promoted trends of decadence, neo-romanticism, symbolism, impressionism and art nouveau.


The Giewont mountain massif photographed from the Skibówki in the 19th century. At the time, the view onto the Tatras was not limited by dense buildings or high tree tops, and the trail onto the peak of the Giewont led through the Kirków Żle

There is a report by Ignacy Chabielski, who interviewed Karłowicz shortly before the premiere, published in the Scena i Sztuka magazine:

In this poem, cast in a free form, the composer depicts the psychology of a suicidal man. A gloomy introduction characterizes the mood and feelings of the man in whose mind the thought of suicide has arisen, seeping through from the deepest recesses of his consciousness on an undercurrent of apathy and disenchantment with life. It slowly permeates his mind, like the dripping of water, and leads to a struggle between the desire for life, which recalls a vision of beautiful moments from the past, and the idée fixe of suicide. This struggle is fought out between the two contending themes, and the latter is victorious: the shot is fired... There is still a moment of struggle, the final spasms of the perishing life; in elation the man slowly falls into a state of ever-deepening unconsciousness into nothingness

I found the piece rather a lugubrious opening to a programme featuring a youth orchestra. However, the commitment of these young musicians was clear from the outset. Their conductor, Gianandrea Noseda extracted the varied orchestral colour and dynamics from these overwhelming forces and extremist instrumental writing. The work is harmonically extremely adventurous placing the composer among expressionists in the arts. Dissonance and torment flood our ears. The original contained a revolver shot which has customarily now been replaced by a loud stroke on the tam-tam.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Piano Concerto in G major (1931)

Before the Ravel assessment I really feel I  must quote part of  the review I wrote when I first heard this great pianist at the age of 28 at the 66th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival, Poland on August 8, 2011 at 20.00.

The entire second half of the concert was taken up with the Sonata in A major D. 959, one of the last sonatas by Schubert. This was a truly great performance and a profound emotional experience for the entire audience here at Duszniki. The pianist collected us around his soul. The range of expression was remarkable, the movement from one reality to another or one dream to another, the flashes of memory and sense of bleak alienation produced an atmosphere in the hall the like of which is rarely experienced in a public concert. The silence was palpable - one could hear pin drop even between movements - not a sound - for the entire long duration of the sonata.

The silences within the work itself, within the harmonic and rhythmic structure (so important in Schubert's last sonatas and all music for that matter) were deeply utilized by this pianist as 'blocks of sound' full of meaning. They were such pregnant silences, silences that expressed the deeply troubled, febrile yet poetic spirit and soul of Schubert - a man searching for a secure anchorage as his life slipped away.

Piemontesi did play encores - a charming piece of Francois Couperin and so, so appropriately for this entire recital, the last piece in Schumann's Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) Der Dichter spricht (The Poet Speaks) in one of the most sensitive performances I have ever heard. Reduced me to tears (no, not common).

As someone mentioned to me later, his playing moved one in a similar way to the spiritual refinement, modesty, musical commitment and sensitivity of Dinu Lipatti. This will be one of my most memorable musical experiences - there are only a few - almost there with Richter playing Beethoven Op. 111 in Blythburgh parish church at the Alderburgh Festival by the light of a single tiny lamp so many years ago now.

The audience at Duszniki stumbled out into the damp dark night moved as rarely before...

The late musicologist Stephen Parkany has pointed out that Ravel’s G major Concerto also begins like some wondrous contraption in a toy shop: A percussionist releases the wound‑up spring ... 

The pianist leaps immediately into prominence from the opening bars of the Allegramente (the uncommon indication indicates the spirit of the composition). Piemontesi gave us a brilliant spirited beginning to this work, so full of joy, expressiveness and optimism. The youthful orchestra energetically supported him in this perceptive choice of work in out benighted times. What a contrast to the often over-calm emotional poise of an established orchestra! Piemontesi seamlessly co-ordinated with the galvanizing conductor Nareda and passionate orchestra and dominated the piano writing which owes something to Liszt.



Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Ravel was greatly influenced by the 'jazz craze' of the time. He had heard jazz during his North American tour of 1928. Blue notes remind one of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and are alluringly prominent in the first movement. Spanish spices are added to enhance the dish. The master of the Rapsodie espagnoleL’Heure espagnole, and Boléro had perhaps incorporated material from  Zaspiak bat, a rhapsody to his Basque homeland. Toward the end, the harp subtly suggests the presence of a soloist and so the piano is brought to life by Piemontesi. The movement ended powerfully with great solidity.


In the Adagio Ravel has laid a lyrical melody over a heartbeat or slow waltz. Piemontesi cultivated a seductive legato that yearned for memories of past love. He created subtle dimensions of dynamic, tone and touch that was winningly impressionistic and possessed of striking evenness. The evenness of his trills is a miracle. I felt as if I was wandering in the Swiss mountains during summer as I did once in the Engadine. The orchestra and soloist created the illusion of a long dream that may never come to completion. Flutes, woodwinds and an English horn embellish this movement the writing of which almost drove Ravel into clinical depression.

What a remarkable movement is the Presto ! The brief and irresistible finale embraces without restraint  Ravel's 'light-hearted and brilliant' ideal of the concerto genre. Here all manner of orchestral soloist effects are explored in the winds and brass. However it is the piano that now becomes the incontrovertible soloist. Piemontesi displayed his quite fabulous articulation and took command of the movement in glorious fashion.

Wild cheering and foot stamping accompanied a performance of emotional incandescence and joy.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

Der Rosenkavalier, suite TrV 227d Op. 59 (1944)

One of the greatest orchestral arrangements of an opera that is in many ways one of the most powerful beacons in the operatic firmament. The arrangement is possibly by Artur Rodzinski, musical director of the New York Philharmonic. The overwhelmingly successful 1911 premiere in Dresden (20 recalls after the third act) marked the first occasion Strauss worked and was inspired by the writer who was to become his most familiar librettist, the renowned Viennese author and polymath Hugo von Hofmannsthal. 

The Austrian author Stefan Zweig wrote in his memoirs The World of Yesterday (1942) on Hofmannsthal's early accomplishments and their influence on Zweig's generation:

The appearance of the young Hofmannsthal is and remains notable as one of the greatest miracles of accomplishment early in life; in world literature, except for Keats and Rimbaud, I know no other youthful example of a similar impeccability in the mastering of language, no such breadth of spiritual buoyancy, nothing more permeated with poetic substance even in the most casual lines, than in this magnificent genius, who already in his sixteenth and seventeenth year had inscribed himself in the eternal annals of the German language with inextinguishable verses and prose which today has still not been surpassed. His sudden beginning and simultaneous completion was a phenomenon that hardly occurs more than once in a generation.

— Stefan Zweig, Die Welt von Gestern, Frankfurt am Main 1986, 63–64

The youthful orchestra gave immense emotional commitment to their playing with gloriously passionate dynamic exaggerations - the exaggeration of youth! I was almost blown from my seat but how exciting this was in a hall accustomed to poised and considered 'classical music'. The Waltz was simply divine with a conclusion that touched the heavens both sonically and musically. The emotions expressed during this performance were without limit. There were at least six French horns on stage at one time.



Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

La Valse (1931)

Before the First World War, Ravel had planned a work entitled Wien (Vienna), but it had to wait until 1919 to begin taking shape as a 'choreographic poem' in fulfillment of a commission from Serge Diaghilev. The Great War interrupted the composition for a few years until Ravel had the strength to compose again..The initial reaction to this masterpiece when finally completed was decidedly nonplussed. The composer Francis Poulenc was present when Ravel presented his new score to Diaghilev:

“Ravel arrived very simply, with his music under his arm, and Diaghilev said to him, in that nasal voice of his: ‘Well now, my dear Ravel, how lucky we are to be hearing La valse.’ And Ravel played La valse with Marcelle Meyer, not very well maybe, but anyway it was Ravel’s La valse. Now at that time I knew Diaghilev very well…and I saw the false teeth begin to move, then the monocle, I saw he was embarrassed, I saw he didn’t like it and was going to say ‘No.’ When Ravel had got to the end, Diaghilev said something which I think is very true. He said ‘Ravel, it’s a masterpiece…but it’s not a ballet…It’s the portrait of a ballet…It’s the painting of a ballet.’ […] I was twenty-two and, as you can imagine, absolutely flabbergasted. Ravel proceeded to give me a lesson in modesty which has lasted me all my life: he picked up his music quite quietly and, without worrying about what we all thought of it, calmly left the room.”

They never worked together again.

The French pianist Marcelle Meyer (1897-1958)

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

Ravel’s note to the score gives one an insight to his intentions:

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

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

In 1922, the music historian Maurice Emmanuel decided to ask Ravel himself about the meaning of the work before writing program notes for a performance of the piece at the Paris Conservatoire. Ravel responded:

 'I believe this work needs to be illuminated by footlights, as it has elicited so much strange commentary. While some discover an attempt at parody, indeed caricature, others categorically see a tragic allusion in it—the end of the Second Empire, the situation in Vienna after the war, etc.—

'This dance may seem tragic, like any other emotion—voluptuousness, joy—pushed to the extreme. But one should only see what the music expresses: an ascending progression of sonority, to which the stage comes along to add light and movement.'


In an interview with a Dutch newspaper:

'It doesn’t have anything to do with the present situation in Vienna, and it doesn’t have any symbolic meaning in that regard. In the course of La valse, I did not envision a dance of death or a struggle between life and death. (The year of the choreographic argument, 1855, repudiates such an assumption.) I changed the original title “Wien” to La valse, which is more in keeping with the aesthetic nature of the composition. It is a dancing, whirling, almost hallucinatory ecstasy, an increasingly passionate and exhausting whirlwind of dancers, who are overcome and exhilarated by nothing but ‘the waltz.’”

The work began to been heard as a symbol of 'a decadent civilization out of control, tearing itself apart' (Houston Symphony notes). 

The youth orchestra opened this work with a feeling that was inescapably an ominous premonition of war, a heartbeat rumbling on the timpani, an overheard wing-beat of catastrophe. The recalled waltz rhythm of the beginning of this trance was idiomatic and stylish and benefited from the vast dynamic available to the European Youth Orchestra. 

They skillfully created the sense of an insidious waltz rhythm which presaged the Great War. There was an ever-present feeling of loss and constant threat as the timpani seemed to rumble away beneath this oh so civilized surface of a waltz becoming increasingly fractured. The sense of threat was ever present as the overwhelming energy of the whirling and bursts of light from the chandeliers were built into a sound edifice. The effect coming from this huge passionate orchestra was like nothing I have ever heard. Quite magnificent.

Tumultuous and thunderous applause and a standing ovation. At this point, as it was the penultimate engagement of their summer concert tour, they all embraced. This gesture certainly renewed faith in youth to fertilize and sustain the musical future in Europe.


The Orchestra was founded on 8 March 1976 by Joy and Lionel Bryer, following a resolution adopted by the European Parliament. On 22 April the European Commission confirmed the official Patronage of the Orchestra. 

In these times of terrifyingly fractured values, it is well to remember the mission statement of the EUYO :

As Cultural Ambassadors for the European Project, to bring together the most talented young musicians from all EU member states in a diverse orchestra united by a shared sense of European heritage, innovation, sustainability, and the constant pursuit of excellence.

23.08.22

Tuesday

18:00

Witold Lutosławski Studio of the Polish Radio

Piano recital

Performer

Jakub Kuszlik piano

He was awarded 4th prize ex aqueo in the XVIII International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, Warsaw 2021

Program

Nocturne in D flat major Op. 27 No. 2

A performance that produced a charming Chopinesque atmosphere. However, I felt he could have expressed far more emotional intensity in this work.

This composition might be termed an ideal concretisation of the romance variety of nocturne. In the opinion of Chopin monographers, the composer produced nothing more perfect. Supreme compliments are cast forth from all quarters.

Fantasy in F minor Op. 49

The opening of a portal on political revolution and strife were carefully managed. I found him a much improved pianist from when I first heard him win 2nd Prize in the 2016 Paderewski Competition in Bydgoszcz. I felt a disciplined sense of controlled anger in this performance, a recognition of the grim inevitability of war and death. He dynamically balanced the expressive gestures of the gentle reflective chorale and provided us with internal drama. The performance built in dynamic to a controlled meditation.

For details about the F minor Fantasy Op.49 of Chopin please read:

https://chopin2020.pl/en/compositions/106/fantasy-in-f-minor-Op.49

Mazurka in G major Op. 50 No. 1

Mazurka in A flat major Op. 50 No. 2

Mazurka in C sharp minor Op. 50 No. 3

The incredible reworking on the Chopin Autograph of the
F minor Mazurka Op.68 No.4

Kuszlik also won the Polish Radio Prize for the best Mazurkas in the XVIII International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, Warsaw 2021

His intimacy with these works was obvious in the idiomatic character he gave each piece. 

'We do not know when Chopin began work on the new set of mazurkas that he completed and published in mid 1842 as opus 50, dedicated – in a spontaneous gesture of friendship – to Leon Szmitkowski, who took part in the November Uprising. Each of the three works brings music of a different tone, yet they are linked by a mazurka idiom that is no longer so directly dependent on music previously heard, on music brought from home.

The new mazurka idiom was characterized by a personal tone of hushed intimacy. There is a distinct trace – greater than the echo of rural music – of inner experiences. Chopin’s mazurkas become more expressive than reflective, and it is expression of an increasingly nostalgic tone. Even the shortest mazurka is now a little poem with its own dramatic structure, though the first of the three that comprise opus 50, in G major, brings the most numerous echoes and folk references of that kind.

Mazur-derived motives are followed by phrases of a kujawiak provenance, an elegiac dialogue of questions and answers. Then the light, colouring and expression suddenly change, before a climax and stretto in one – an attempted surge, in mazur rhythm and chromatic sonorities. But this mazurka does not end briskly or risoluto. It softens and fades, tinging the major with minor sonorities.' 
(Polish pedagogue Mieczysław Tomaszewski)

I felt Kuszlik was colourfully idiomatic and poetic in these pieces, the distillation of the mazurka essence in a measured musical form with careful phrasing.

Scherzo in E major Op. 54

This is a rarely presented scherzo in recital. This work is not dramatic in the demonic sense of the three previous scherzi, but lighter in ambiance. The outer sections are a strange exercise in rather joke-filled fun with a darkly concealed centre of passionate grotesquerie, dependent on the accentuation of rhythmic detail. The work mysteriously encloses a deeply felt and ardent nocturne in the form of a longing love poem, suffused with a sense of loss. Kuszlik did not sufficiently explore this dream world of expressiveness.

Playfulness with hints of seriousness and gravity underlie the exuberant mood of this scherzo. The emotional ambiguities that run like a vein though the work were not always given sufficiently heartfelt expression. The central section (lento, then sostenuto) in place of the Trio, gives one the impression so often with Chopin, of the ardent, reflective nature of distant love. Kuszlik was not entirely convincing in this interpretative role.

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

Johannes Brahms

Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5

The young, handsome Johannes Brahms

Brahms composed this mighty sonata when he was barely 20 and when the sonata form itself was considered rather an outmoded. Of course Brahms idolized Beethoven and the personal expressiveness of his sonatas and perhaps was influenced by these grand conceptions. Brahms visited Schumann in Düsseldorf at the end of September 1853. Schumann was clearly overcome with admiration and wrote in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik :

“...sooner or later … someone would and must appear, fated to give us the ideal expression of times, one who would not gain his mastery by gradual stages, but rather spring fully armed like Minerva from the head of Jove. And he has come, a young blood at whose cradle graces and heroes mounted guard. His name is Johannes Brahms…”

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

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

The massive opening spans the entire keyboard – it was almost as if an entire symphony orchestra had entered the studioThe Allegro maestoso  was ‘majestic’ and a true Allegro rather than the Adagio maestoso many pianists adopt. Kuszlik managed to give this opening movement a degree of symphonic grandeur and noble passion. He indicated the left hand polyphony with much expressiveness. The essentially Romantic spirit of the sonata was clearly to be fused into a classical edifice, the architecture of which is truly awesome to behold over the approximately 40 minutes duration. 

He brought melodic sensitivity and lyrical contrast to the second Andante expressivo movement. He produced a rounded cantabile which expressed the shifting moods and a captivating tone in the upper registers of the instrument. I was yearning for still more of the poetry of love and heartfelt lyricism that culminates in the climax of passion. This is one of the greatest declarations of poetic love in music, the two lyrical themes merging symbolically into a passionate expression of sensual rapture. Was this Brahms yearning for the 'impossible love' he felt for Clara Schumann ? The  Chorale was at a modest tempo and this appealing tempo gave power to his expression and a solid sense of structure.

This superbly emotional second movement is prefaced by an Otto Inkerman poem (who wrote as O.C.Sternau) :

The evening dims

The moonlight shines

There are two hearts

That join in love

And embrace in rapture

The third movement Scherzo was richly rhythmical however I felt Kuszlik did not rise to the technical demands here and the result was more blurred than transparently articulated. Kuszlik made the the introspective and mysterious Intermezzo. Andante molto with the term Rückblick (looking back) particularly atmospheric. It contained pregnant silences and recalled movingly at times elements of the previous three movements. 

The Finale. Allegro moderato ma rubato of this sonata with its orchestral sound palette, buoyant theme, captivating melodies, marches and pianistic fireworks was captured by with energy and powerful technique by Kuszlik. His rhythm surged meaningfully with a strong sense of dance. On occasion it seemed rather rushed to me which detracted from the true overwhelming momentum that built. Oddly one can express velocity from playing slightly slower and not actually faster! By the end we were left with a finely honed conception of the stately architecture of this monumental work – one of the last great classical sonatas. The young pianist is to be congratulated on facing down such a mighty construction so successfully.


22.08.22

Monday

21:00

Royal Castle Concert Hall

Recital of Songs

CHOPIN'S LAST DAYS

Performers:

Dorothee Mields soprano

Tobias Koch piano




The Paul McNulty copy of a Pleyel

Program

This concert was surely one of the highlights of the festival. The presentation was not meant to be a recreation of the last concerts Chopin gave in Paris, but more of an attempt to evoke the social atmosphere, enthusiasms and musical context of the day. 

La mort de Chopin by Félix-Joseph Barrias (1885)

The programme was compiled by Tobias Koch inspired by a painting that depicts Chopin on his deathbed (it hangs in the National Museum in Krakow). He is listening to Delfina Potocka singing to her own accompaniment. The painting is a legend produced in 1885. Wojciech Grzmala wrote: A few hours before he died, he asked Mme Potocka for three airs of Bellini and Rossini. These she sang, accompanying herself and sobbing ..... Many legends survive but Tobias Koch wanted to create musical scenes referring to Chopin's life.  

Vincenzo Bellini / Fryderyk Chopin

'Casta Diva…Ah bello a me ritorna' from opera Norma (piano arr. Fryderyk Chopin)

A moving introduction to this concert which indicates just how much Chopin respected and learnt from Bellini the opera composer. This aria from Norma was his favourite and this is own his piano arrangement. The bel canto exerted great influence on Chopin's sense of melody on which so much of his fame rests. 

Louis Niedermeyer

Church aria Pietà, Signore

The pure voice of Dorothee Mields with its perfect intonation was immediately obvious with fine understated accompaniment by Tobias Koch on the McNulty Pleyel. This arrangement of the famous aria by the Italian Baroque composer Alessandro Stradella was widely known from operas he wrote around his life. 

Fryderyk Chopin

Prelude in A major Op. 28 No. 7

Such an appropriate choice of Prelude ...

‘Życzenie’ [A maiden’s wish] [Op. 74 No. 1] (WN 21)

Most evocative if you live in Poland. A castle clock chimed during it which I found terribly charming and not in the least disturbing.

Waltz in A minor (WN 63)

Koch had a perfect Waltz rhythm for this well known affecting work

Fryderyk Chopin

Dors, cher enfant, ferme tes jolis yeux (Berceuse in D flat major Op. 57)

Sensitive, charming and affecting in its innocence. I previously nothing of words set to music of the Berceuse. Touching phrasing and tender refinement in the playing of a high order.

Fryderyk Chopin

Prelude in E flat minor Op. 28 No. 14

An eruption followed by a poignant song with the glorious Mields voice transporting us into the azure.... Polish Romanticism well in evidence.

‘Leci liście z drzewa’ [Leaves are falling] [Op. 74 No. 17] (WN 49)

Fryderyk Chopin / Pauline Viardot

Seize ans! (Mazurka in A flat major Op. 50 No. 2)

A most charming and delightfully familiar song with this pure voice 

Mazurka Op.17 No.4

An individual voice in Chopin cultivated by Koch ... I play the work (an unusual  but profoundly nostalgic mazurka) rather differently.

Fryderyk Chopin

‘Smutna rzeka’ [Troubled waters] [Op. 74 No. 3] (WN 39)

Intense regret and nostalgia are expressed in the most melancholy tone and melody.

Prelude in E major Op. 28 No. 9

Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 28 No. 10

Birds alighting in the trees at dusk in Nohant ..... an image gathered on my visit to this enchanted domain.

Alessandro Scarlatti

Se Florindo è fedele from the opera La donna ancora è fedele

A particularly lovely aria much loved in the period ....

Vincenzo Bellini

Arietta Il fervido desiderio from the collection Tre ariette

Here expressed 'The fervent desire' and a frank expression of it: When will that day come when I may see again the one for whom my heart yearns!' As the centuries pass, the emotions remain the same in strength, merely the expression of them evolves metaphorically.

Fryderyk Chopin 

Prelude in A flat major Op. 28 No. 17

Stanisław Moniuszko

Matka, jus nie ma cie (Mother, you are no more!)

A truly beautiful song elevated by Mields into authentic poetic utterance

Fryderyk Chopin

Mazurka in F minor Op. 7 No. 3

Fryderyk Chopin

Mazurka in F minor [Op. 68 No. 4] (WN 65)

Prelude in F minor Op. 28 No. 18

Stanisław Moniuszko

Domine, ne in furore (Sir, when the heart trembles)

A song of passionate yearning. How Moniuszko comes to life when sung by a singer of renown who understands and feels this composer in her heart.

Fryderyk Chopin

Nocturne in B major Op. 62 No. 1

Here Koch extracted a divine piano/pianissimo sound from the Pleyel only possible on these period pianos. The atmosphere he produced on the large audience perfectly fitted the general retrained, slightly melancholic mood created by the recital. A strong feeling of intimacy, refined feeling and tender sensibility.

Vincenzo Bellini

Casta Diva from the opera Norma

This aria, transported on such a pure voice, effortlessly projected us into another dimension from the earthly. It is not be surprising that Chopin loved this aria to distraction. Dame Nellie Melba was world famous for her rendition of this divine music. Mields used her magically flexible voice and perfect intonation to create intense colours and blinding emotions. Heartrending crescendos taxed self control as tears rose. The bel canto was sublime and the phrasing the breathing of the soul as both artists entered a rare musical symbiosis.

Another high point of uplifting spirituality, renewal of faith and affirmation of creative life from this festival that came as a precious gift in our dismal and threatening times. 


I found this rather diverting and well written article in the distinguished  APOLLO International Art Magazine most relevant to this concert, those people living in Warsaw and any visitors to this miracle of a city.


Also my own account of the restoration of Chopin's last piano in the Fryderk Chopin Museum in Warsaw

22.08.22

Monday

18:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Performers

Aimi Kobayashi piano

IV prize ex aequo VIII International Chopin Competition

Warsaw 2021

Program

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Arabesque in C major, Op. 18 (1839)

When Schumann wrote the Arabesque in 1839, he was still cruelly separated from his future wife Clara. Her father violently opposed the relationship with Schumann and the risks he felt this posed to her career as an outstanding pianist.  Robert was only  able to communicate with her through letters and 'concealed' musical harmonies in his compositions. Any music he wrote at this time would have been drenched in frustrated longing. This work fluctuates between lyrical dream and militant anger. 

Kobayashi adopted a highly emotional approach in expressiveness and the music breathed with musical meaning. The performance was both poetically and emotionally reflective. Her exquisite cantabile languished seamlessly and was polyphonically transparent. Here the breath of young, idealistic, still illusioned love was facing the wrenching obstacles of separation. Her phrasing was sensitive, reflective and nuanced, emotionally touching the sensibility from the outset. She effectively presented Schumann's two 'best friends', the extrovert, rumbustious Florestan and the more poetic, feminine Eusebius, the curious doppelgänger personalities that flowered directly from his literary obsessions.  


Franz Schubert

Piano Sonata C minor No. 19 (D. 958)

Then to the great late Schubert Piano Sonata in C minor  D 958 written three months before his death. Again how do you like the composer's personality to be presented? In pastels or oils? This is not to diminish his powerful imagination and strength of character. I feel all young pianists should experience the sound palette of Schubert on a piano of his period before attempting the music on a Steinway concert grand. Compromises need to be made. Her opening  Allegro was tonally and beautifully restrained and refined in terms of touch, so suitable for Schubert. Her tempo was not rushed in any way so that we were able to follow the internal labyrinth without effort. there was much attractive dynamic variation and a delicate poetic conclusion.

I feel this sonata is a recollection of Beethoven (the deeply expressive Arrau understands this) and not an imitation or attempted recreation of that Force of Nature.  The movement then fortunately began to settle towards its stark conclusion. The Adagio was possessed of the serenity of the nostalgia of a summer day, calm and seamless playing floating on clouds of lyricism, refinement and tenderness. Present too were cantabile elements of inescapable Schubertian song. However the philosophical inner wrestling of the soul in this Adagio of late Schubert, the breathless hesitation as the abyss opens at one's feet, requires a degree of personal maturity that is simply unfair to expect from a relatively young heart.

The Menuetto. Allegro - Trio  was however presented with great sensitivity as a return to life with dramatic and eloquent use of silence. Here was music presented as literate speech. There was much bucolic feeling for life in an Austrian village. However, was the fatalistic question of the continuance or interruption of life sufficiently expressive?

The final Allegro revealed superb articulation and phrasing performed at a perfect tempo for the unfolding drama. She used a magical pedal with the greatest artistry, refinement and the keenest of ears. The mood swings in this movement were nervous in intensity, luminous in clarity and transparent in structure.

A most rewarding performance that was astonishing in its perfectionist conception but sometimes limited in expressing that Schubertian sense of failure, inadequacy and the dark night that will finally and inevitably engulf us all.

Fryderyk Chopin

24 Preludes, Op. 28

The Royal Carthusian Monastery at Valldemossa where Chopin completed many of the Preludes Op.28 (abandoned during his time there with George Sand)

There needs to be great contrast displayed in the distinct character of each prelude, which Kobayashi accomplished. There were hints of the haunted nature of some, haunted by the ghosts of Valldemossa and the demons that inhabit our lives. She tried to excavate the metaphysical underside of these works, the dark realities 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 recording industry, for quite understandable commercial reasons, insist 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. 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'. 

During the XVIII Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw 2021 I wrote the  following concerning Kobayashi's performance which I have no reason at all to alter:

'Unlike many of my musical colleagues, I found the Aimi Kobayashi's Preludes Op.28 quite remarkably redefined and uniquely approached in a rare fashion with an individual voice. A compete rethinking of these masterpieces of evoked worlds of the imagination.'

Some brief notes on a few Preludes that captured my attention: 

No. 4 in E minor

A beautiful and deeply expressive tragic rendition of this work of deep introspection

No. 5 in D major

Highly expressive

No.8 in F sharp minor

A remarkable expression of existential agitation

No.10 in C sharp minor

Birds alighting in the trees at dusk in Nohant

No.11 in B major

Fine cantabile singing tone 

No.13 in F sharp major

Yearning for love? A nostalgic reminiscence with alluring phrasing and singing legato lines. Rare mood of happiness lies within this Prelude .... 

No.14 in E flat minor

There was deep existentialist disturbance and concern in this interpretation

No. 16 in B-flat minor

Wild birds swooping over the dark lake at an incredible tempo of great passion - finely performed and appropriately expressing a slightly unhinged psyche

No. 17 in A-flat major

Memories of important social occasions overshadowed by the tolling bell of death and the swinging scythe of the Great Reaper

No.19 in E flat major

An uncharacteristic and remarkably joyful utterance

No. 23 in F major

Rather impressionistic. Wind sweeping through the forest in autumn and falling leaves. A disturbed soul

No.21 in B flat major

A charming reminiscence of social life in Warsaw and Paris before the heavens fell

No. 23 in F major

Blithe dreams in Nohant

No. 24 in D minor

Profound disturbance of the spirit and soul. A powerful interpretation with much polyphony. Facing the final reality of death. And so she dies over the keyboard - three strokes of death. The account was excellent in its expression of passionate despair 'which concludes fortissimo in frightful depths where one touches the floor of Hell' in the words of Andre Gide (a fine concert pianist incidentally as well as great French writer) in his Notes on Chopin. This powerful work would have reversed the ageing process in Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey

Encores:

Rather moving Nocturne in C sharp minor op. posth and the Waltz in A Flat major op. 42

This recital was greeted with enormous enthusiasm in the Filharmonic Hall


21.08.22

Sunday

20:00

Moniuszko Hall of the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

Opera in concert


Performers:

Tina Gorina soprano

Vivica Genaux mezzo-soprano

Giulio Pelligra tenor

Germán Olvera baritone

Riccardo Novaro baritone

Ugo Guagliardo bass

Violetta Bielecka choir arrangements


Fabio Biondi conductor

Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir

Europa Galante

Program

Giuseppe Verdi

Un giorno di regno, ossia il finto Stanislao (King for a Day)

Dramma giocoso


King Stanislaus I of Poland who is impersonated by the opera's protagonist

This melodramma giocoso is an opera in two acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto written in 1818 by Felice Romani. Originally written for the Bohemian composer Adalbert Gyrowetz, the libretto was based on the play Le faux Stanislas written by the Frenchman Alexandre-Vincent Pineux Duval in 1808. Un giorno was given its premiere performance at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan on 5 September 1840.

After the success of his first opera, Oberto in 1839, Verdi received a commission from La Scala impresario Merelli to write three more operas. Un giorno was first of the three, but he wrote the piece during a period when first his children and then his wife died and its failure in 1840 caused the young composer to almost abandon opera. It was not until he was enticed to write the music for the existing libretto of what became Nabucco that Verdi restarted his career.

It is worth remembering that although Verdi is one of the most popular opera composers, his popularity is based on only one third of his creative output; the remaining two-thirds are still little or completely unknown to music lovers in general. For example, that "The Day of Kings" (also bearing the second title False Stanisław - Il finto Stanislao) had its Polish premiere twenty years ago in Wrocław, but it did not contribute to a longer presence of the work on stages. (Józef Kanski)

If you wish to read in more detail about the plot of this rather unfamiliar opera. The only information in English I could find!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Un_giorno_di_regno




The Polish monarch, King Stanisław Leszczyński, an historical figure during the War of Succession, lost his throne after the Saxon invasion at the Battle of Poltava in 1709. He regained it in 1733, but was again deposed in 1736 and went into exile in France. The opera is set in 1733 when Stanislaw returned to Poland leaving a French officer, the Cavaliere di Belfiore, to impersonate him in France. It takes place in Baron Kelbar's castle near Brest, France.

I found the performance reflected the orchestra in a particularly favorable light. One noted the precision of the orchestra's playing as well as the proper refinement of the ensemble scenes (e.g. the great sextet at the end of Act I). The festive opening was entirely in the percussion section was was terribly jolly. I was entertained and amused by the plot of this completely unfamiliar dramma giocoso. Biondi conducted from the violin from his stand on the stage  - the first time I have ever seen this done for an opera and most diverting and intensifying of the music.

21.08.22

Sunday

17:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Performers

Kyohei Sorita piano

Winner of the Second Prize in the 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw 2021


Program

Feruccio Busoni Johann Sebastian Bach

Chaconne in D minor BWV 1004 (arranged by Ferruccio Busoni)

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

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

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

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

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

Sorita began the work at a tempo that gave it nobility of utterance. He commands a brilliant virtuoso piano technique but was tempted at times to sacrifice spectacular presentation to expressiveness. His phrasing was not quite sufficiently relaxed to breathe deeply which would have given air, more polyphonic transparency, dynamic variety and colour to his approach. The melodic lines and the weight and significance of chords were stirring and exciting but virtuosity tempted him as it might any pianist in this work. One must not forget Busoni was as concerned with degrees of expressiveness as any Romantic composer. 

I felt at times Sorita could have given more variety to the twenty-nine variations. The polyphony he highlighted was impressive but Busoni was also capable of subtle colours within the soundscape of his Bach transcription. He remained faithful to the original except for some judiciously added ornamentation.The melodic lines, the weight and significance of chords were both stirring and exciting.

I felt Sorita successfully created the illusion of a magnificent seventeenth century Thuringian organ and its 16' stop. He gave the work a noble and triumphal conclusion. Overall this was a very satisfying performance of a piece that makes immense demands on a pianist as well as the listener. Full appreciation of Buson's achievement requires time to properly mature in the mind to adequately rise to its musical challenges.

Although perhaps grossly unfair to this brilliant young man, I have the temerity to recommend listening to the recording of Mikhail Pletnev live at Carnegie Hall in November 2000. Another possibly unfair suggestion, is the performance given by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli given in Warsaw in March 1955. Not to imitate of course but to fertilize further musical thought.

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

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

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

Johannes Brahms

"Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen" in F major Op. 122 No. 8 (arranged by Ferruccio Busoni)

I was unfamiliar with this beautiful Chorale Prelude by Brahms but sensitively played by Sorita it was a masterpiece of introduction to the remainder of his Brahms programme.

6 Klavierstücke, Op. 118 (1893)


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

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

​I felt that Sorita has a particularly close affinity with the soul of these works. He expresses the nostalgia for the passing of the past joys of love. The passionate outbursts of the first Intermezzo in A minor, such an affirmation of life in those rich chords, then the fading away and decay. The second Intermezzo in A major marked Andante teneramente was played by Sorita with deep feeling and sense of heartfelt yearning. This ardent work, impossible for any musician  to perform superficially, has all the rhapsodic yearning and longing of a nocturne on the nature of mortality and loss or fading love. There is an almost vengeful affirmation of life contained within the Ballade in G minor which follows with its vigorous rhythms and a wonderful delineation of densely woven harmonies. These pieces overall emerged as thoughtful and meditative. They are full of rich, perfectly judged harmonies which recall nostalgically the bliss of past joys of love. Sorita expressed this with moving emotion.

Brahms wrote to Clara:

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

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

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

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

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

Brahms in his library 1895

Fryderyk Chopin

Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 45

This work was composed at Nohant during the summer of 1841. Chopin was always relatively happy in the paradise gardens of George Sand's mansion. 

The maison of George Sand at Nohant where Chopin spent many gloriously creative summers

The work is a masterpiece of notated improvisation. When sending the manuscript to Fontana for copying, Chopin could not hide his satisfaction, expressed in the words: ‘well modulated!’. The dreamlike sonority of the themes is of prime importance in this piece whence melody and accompaniment come together as one. Although Sorita had a pleasant, rounded singing cantabile tone, I felt he did not fully grasp the moving, reflective, internal, almost disembodied poetic content of this magnificent work.

The bust of Chopin outside the entrance to the Bergerie Courtyard

George Sand was a keen horticulturalist as is evident in her garden at the west side of the house

Piano Sonata in B minor Op. 58

In many ways this sonata (still classical in its formal structure) 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. Sorita adopted a powerfully wrought and exciting Allegro maestoso with significant dynamic contrasts and the release of pent-up emotions. He has a fine sense of expressive polyphony in Chopin and a glowing tone and refined touch to articulate much that is glossed over by other pianists. I felt he grasped the structure of this difficult movement well.

The Scherzo was light, airily articulated with minimum pedal. This vision would have pleased Mendelssohn in its breathtaking velocity. The romantic singing of the  cantabile central section could have been taken at a slower tempo to imbue it with more sensibility .I felt the Largo to be both emotionally moving and illuminating - it is so difficult to maintain interest and momentum in this movement over the long period it takes to perform. A nocturne by any other name. An 'aria of the night' indeed. Sorita had an excellent sense of the evolutionary structure of this demanding movement. He gave us an emotional internal scenography of moving imagery and feeling. His final statement of the theme was sensitively and eloquently accomplished. Life as a song - piano to pianissimo.

The Finale is marked with the indication Presto non tanto. The conclusion was supremely virtuoisic and developed the appropriate headlong and unstoppable momentum. I was simply carried away by the forward irresistible thrust of this movement. The polyphony and counterpoint were convincingly transparent. He made a deeply expressive decelerando to state the noble theme once again before it resumed its accelerated impetus once more. The movement has the tone and nature of a 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 Mazepa 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.

An instant eruption of wild cheering and a standing ovation greeted this conclusion.

As encores the Chopin Largo in E-flat major of 1837 was never published during his lifetime. As it doesn't have an opus number, it is usually referred to by its Brown catalogue number, B.109a. Like many of his lesser works, it was published posthumously (in 1938), contrary to his wish that all his unpublished manuscripts be burned. 

Then a monumental Polonaise Op.53 of nobility and splendour but of which I felt could have attracted slightly more articulation. The cantabile was a beautifully sculpted singing line.

The queue for signed CDs from this massively popular artist stretched almost into the street, past the glided gates.

20.08.22

Saturday

20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Performers

Cyprien Katsaris piano


Program

Katsaris opened with a plea for the Ukraine war 'only a few kilometers from here' accompanied by a courageous, moving and quite brilliant, virtuoso improvisation on themes from the Ukrainian composer Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952) and the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943).

This pianist is from what one might describe in a cliche as 'old school' but I prefer referring to him as one of that rare species of pianist in 2022 who still plays from the heart, sensibility and the emotion of love.

Fryderyk Chopin

Mazurka in A minor [Op. 67 No. 4] (WN 60)

Moving and idiomatic in rhythm with great variation in dynamics, colour, tone quality - for me this performance had everything one might wish from a Chopin mazurka

Mathilde von Rothschild

Mazurka Op. 2 No. 6

A charming and tasteful reminder by Katsaris of the nature of the civilization and social milieu that surrounded Chopin

Julian Fontana

Mazurka in E major Op. 21 No. 1

One can hear reminisces of Chopin here although Fontana was a fine composer in his own right. How would one escape the musical influence of being in such close association with a genius such as Chopin ?

Carl Filtsch

Mazurka in E flat minor

A truly remarkable charming and graceful production by a boy of 15 as Katsaris pointed out. The refined sensibility of the day.

Fryderyk Chopin

Boże, coś Polskę (harmonization of the old version of the song for piano) op. posth.

Karol Mikuli

Airs nationaux roumains (excerpts)

One could immediately hear the Romanian, rather 'oriental' musical influences on these compositions. One tends to forget the profound influence of Samartian ethnicity on the arts and dress in Poland.

Romanian countryside

Fryderyk Chopin

Nocturne in E flat major Op. 9 No. 2

Thomas Tellefsen

Nocturne in E major Op. 11

Thomas Dyke Ackland Tellefsen (1823-1874)

This composer and pianist left Norway in 1842 to study music in Paris. He took regular lessons with Chopin from November 1844 until May 1847. He achieved considerable fame as a teacher, virtuoso pianist and composer and took on many of Chopin's former pupils after his death. His compositions obviously show an allegiance to those of Chopin but Tellefsen has distinct individuality of voice. 

The sweet harmonies were savoured by Katsaris with all the grace and charm of the nineteenth century European artistic salon

Fryderyk Chopin

Waltz in C sharp minor Op. 64 No. 2

Such a personally expressive account of this familiar waltz that has grown and blossomed from a lifetime of playing and familiarity. The counterpoint and inner details highlighted were quite inspiring and harmonically seductive. The L.H. betrayed unique counterpoint. Le climat de Chopin .... 

Thomas Tellefsen

Waltz in G major Op. 5 No. 2

This is a charming and attractive idiomatic salon waltz that conjures up a picture of social musical life among Chopin's contemporaries. The intrinsic and vital contextual value of this type of recital.

Adolf Gutmann

Polonaise brillante, Op. 21

Adolf Gutmann (1819-1882)


Gutmann, pianist and composer was born in Heidelberg in 1819. He moved to Paris in 1834 to take lessons for many years with Chopin. He became one of the composer's favourite pupils, performing with him on occasion. In March 1838 Chopin, Alkan, Zimmerman and Gutmann performed the Alkan arrangement of the Allegretto and Finale of Beethoven's 7th Symphony for eight hands and two pianos.

This closeness to the Polish genius was  much to the dismay of the acolytes. Gutmann being a rather strapping young man, he approached performance in rather a muscular manner. Next to Julian Fontana he was also the composer's main copyist. He was supportive during the increasing illness and was present at Chopin's affecting death. Gutmann was a pall bearer at the funeral. We are privileged to have many contemporary descriptions of Chopin and his activities from Gutmann.

This was a stirring polonaise from Katsaris and was suffused with period atmosphere in a straightforward manner. Stirring, muscular and masculine. Katsaris employed 'heroic' dynamics, phrasing and rubato with some elements of period improvisation.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Don Giovanni (arrangement by Georges Bizet for piano)

An absolute period delight from beginning to end!

Georges Bizet

Carmen (excerpts)

An awe-inspiring explosion of temperament entered the hall in a carriage with Carmen! Marvellous driving rhythms or lyrical dreams imbued every bar. Katsaris also offered rather jazzy arrangements and improvisations of his own (Habanera par example) locked inside the Bizet arrangements.

Fryderyk Chopin 

Polonaise in A flat major Op. 53 

This was an extraordinary performance that possessed all the virtues and vices of Katsaris's close association with the work for an entire lifetime of undoubtedly many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of performances. Filtered through his personality and character, the almost over familiar  work overflowed with the rebellious anger and revolutionary spirit of this 'Heroic' piece and intimate familiarity with  its notes. The usual critical criteria could never be applied to its effect. Yes, there were many solecisms and slips but they were all a result of his deep emotional flight. I adored its sheer humanity, lack of perfection and passionate commitment to the spirit of composer that never raised a doubt in my mind, which all too often happens today.

As a thoughtful, empathetic encore he said to the audience 'Now something for you...' and began to play the iconic song Miłość wszystko wybaczy (Love forgives you everything) composed in 1933 with words by the great poet Julian Tuwim and music by Henryk Wars. The song was used in the Spielberg film Schindler's List.

Huge eruption of enthusiasm and standing ovation for this recital in the hall.


Here is a link to the famous Polish singer Hanka Ordonówna - Miłość ci wszystko wybaczy (Love forgives you everything) from the 1933 film Szpieg w masce (Spy in the mask). Do listen, watch and take yourself back to a time of a more heartfelt emotional life.

Love will forgive you everything

It will turn your sorrow into laughter

Love gives such beautiful excuses

To betrayal, lie and sin

 

 Even if you cursed it in despair

[Saying] it’s cruel and evil

Love will forgive you everything

Because love, my love, it’s me

 

If you ever love someone as I love [you]

So tenderly, so ardently, you know how

Up to the end, up to insanity, up to the bottom

You can betray me then and sin

 

Because love will forgive you everything

It will turn your sorrow into laughter

Love gives such beautiful excuses

To betrayal, lie and sin

 

Even if you cursed it in despair

[Saying] it’s cruel and evil

Love will forgive you everything

Because love, my love, it’s me


and/or

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEDJyQJ9mI



An NIFC recording of this marvelous concert is available

NIFCCD 137-138


20.08.22

Saturday

17:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Performer


Alim Beisembayev piano

Winner of the 2021 Leeds Piano Competition

Program

I am afraid I arrived late for this programme as I did not realize the weekend concerts begin one hour earlier than during the week! I really must read more carefully. Anyway I managed to join after the interval which enabled me to listen to the magnificent Liszt.

Muzio Clementi

Sonata in F-sharp minor Op.25 No.5

Fryderyk Chopin

Sonata in B flat minor Op. 35

INTERMISSION

Ferenc Liszt (1811-1886)

Beisembayev selected Études d'exécution transcendante (1851)

Etude in F major 'Paysage' No. 3 (S. 139)

Waterfall at Terni - Camille Corot (1796-1875)

The far more substantial and atmospheric third entitled Paysage transports us into the nineteenth century concept of the pastoral. ‘Nature’ in the early nineteenth century had abandoned the eighteenth century bucolic idea of the rococo pastoral and Watteauesque fêtes galantes and gathered about itself connotations of Nature as a powerful yet humanly indifferent ‘force’, a threat and stormy turbulence interspersed with lyrical, reflective episodes. Beisembayev was expressive with excellent counterpoint. His tone and touch are attractively cultured through this rather descriptive tour through the countryside. He captured the unified mood of subdued reflection, perfectly in keeping with its vague pantheistic pastoral ‘programme’ or rather associative idea. Although there is no orage (storm) common to this genre, he captured the central emotional agitation and passion of a ‘human figure in the landscape’. 

Etude in D minor 'Mazeppa' No. 4 (S. 139)

The cruelty of Mazeppa then erupted over us, the fourth and arguably most tempestuous of the Grandes Études. Was Liszt inspired by the Victor Hugo poem taken from Les Orientales or possibly Byron’s poem Mazeppa? The story itself is well known. The Ukrainian nobleman Ivan Mazepa has an adulterous love affair with a Countess Theresa while serving as a page at the Court of the Polish King Jan II Kazimierz Waza. When all is revealed (as is usually the case) the Count punishes Mazeppa by tying him backwards and naked to a wild horse and setting the horse bolting across the steppes, through woods, forests and across freezing rivers until it expires through exhaustion. Mazeppa survives the ordeal, emerges triumphant and is elevated to a Cossack Hetman. 

Mazeppa -Louis Boulanger (1806-1867)

The music follows this ‘programme’ possibly more literally than others in the set. Beisembayev did not quite capture the panicked, uneven, relentless almost hysterical galloping rhythm of the horse (if you have ever ridden it is possible to imagine the frightful torture for the animal as well as the man tied as he was in that grotesque position). I felt he was not quite on top of the fiendish technical demands of this work. Exhaustion. Death. The survival of Mazeppa. Ultimate triumph – the sub-textual allegory of the artistic life of Ferenc Liszt was well delineated. 

Etude in B major Feux Follets No. 5 (S. 139)

Beisembayev achieved lightness, velocity, articulation, a certain degree of charm allied with great finger dexterity. Partially present in these Will-o’-the-Wisps or Jack o’Lanterns was the ominous atmosphere of ghostly light and phosphorescence, possibly fire-flies, that hover over swamps, boggy ground and marshes leading wayfarers to their doom. The work requires a light scherzo, a Queen Mab character  possibly inspired by Goethe’s Faust. The quick-silver phantasmagoria of impressionism, as bewildering as the Will-o’-the-Wisps themselves, was brilliantly imagined.

Etude in A major 'Ricordanza' No. 9 (139)

The ninth in the series entitled Ricordanza is an intensely personal, self-communing piece by Liszt. Busoni called it ‘a bundle of faded love letters’. I felt Beisembayev  created many shifting atmospheric moods with golden tone and imaginative musical description in sound. He used a large variety of expressive dynamics in this piece, cantabile tone and long, sung legato line. The piece is essentially a song of ‘emotions recollected in tranquility’ as Wordsworth expressed such feelings so accurately in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads. 

Etude in F minor 'Allegro agitato molto' No. 10 (S. 139)

The tenth is a tremendously powerful and emotional work despite not having the support of a title. But then F-minor and F-sharp minor are my favourite keys. Here Liszt embraces Chopin. His respect for the Chopin Études is as well known as Chopin’s admiration of Liszt’s performance of them. At times Liszt lays his own composition over the Chopin Étude Op. 10 No.9, borrowing and augmenting the idiom of the Pole. Beisembayev certainly grasped the virtuoso character of this piece but perhaps far too demonstrably. I felt it rather rushed which spoilt an impact that would have been far more powerfully communicated at a slower tempo.

Etude in D flat major 'Harmonies du soir' No. 11 (S. 139)

There is little doubt that the Harmonies du Soir is one of the great masterpieces of the declaration and yearning of Romantic love in nineteenth century piano literature. The titles of these pieces leave open many possible interpretations to the listener. This is merely my own. I find in this work the presage of the passions that inspire that sublime arc of tension and release contained in the Liebestod of Tristan und Isolde. Wagner’s debt to the harmonic adventurism of Liszt is never in doubt to my mind. The difference here is that life and not death inhabits this particular panorama of love. 


Softly the bells toll at dusk as the lover wanders in a pastoral reverie, perhaps in a park in Weimar, passing by Goethe’s summer house, wood smoke in the air and the burble of the nearby Ilm river. He begins to dwell on his feelings for the seductive other who has captured his heart in a net. We begin to inexorably move into his ‘human, all to human’ mind as he insecurely imagines his beloved, we feel his fears and apprehensions, experience his almost coarse desire, his passions rising and falling in waves of increasing ecstasy, finally reaching an apotheosis. These debilitating emotions slowly fade as he returns to the calm of evening, ‘calm again now my heart’ as if the soft wings of a night moth had settled over him. Beisembayev managed the transition from pastoral idyll to rhapsodic oceanic waves of sound with fine control and judgement. The piano elegiac return to the calm reflective soul as the night harmonies closed over us atmospherically in a dream

Etude in B minor 'Chasse-neige' No. 12 (S. 139)

A return to the power and threat of nature in a form envisaged by J.M.W. Turner rather than its ability to lead us to the world of lyrical dreams suffuses the final Étude entitled Chasse-neige (Snow-drift, Snow-storm, literally Snow-plough). One has no difficulty with Beisembayev in envisioning a tumultuous winter scene as a snow storm begins to rage and inexorably buries all human life and civilization beneath it. 

Snowstorm - Valle d'Aosta Switzerland - J.M.W.Turner

  He gives a fine atmospheric, impressionistic interpretation of the work. He accomplishes this soft focus yet powerful snowstorm in a Debussyian sense rather than taking the opportunity to display sheer declamatory virtuosic power, tempting as that may be for such a virtuoso in such a piece. It carries meaning as a painting in sound. Lazar Berman in his 1963 Melodiya recording of the Études gives such a simply astounding performance of finger dexterity and sheer visceral excitement that it distracts one from what I imagine to be the essential Lisztian ethic intention of Chasse-neige. But then Liszt himself, although a great and extraordinarily generous man as well as revolutionary composer, was a mass of contradictions as is any pianist overburdened with supreme technical facility at the keyboard. 

19.08.22

Friday

21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Performer

Jan Lisiecki piano

Program

'Oh the glamour of youth! Oh the fire of it, more dazzling than the flames of the burning ship ... ' 

                             Joseph Conrad

I heard this programme twice - once at the Duszniki Zdrój International Chopin Piano Festival and for a second time here in Warsaw. I was interested to hear how the sound quality and possibly interpretation was affected in the rather compact, reflective acoustic of the Dworek in Duszniki Zdrój and the Filharmonia in Warsaw. The Filharmonia absorbed much of the exaggerated dynamic that had so disturbed me in the spa town.

We all have our 'own Chopin' that we defend to the death, unlike any other composer of whom I am aware. Here we were presented with Jan Lisiecki's vision of the composer, offered as he (and perhaps many in 2022) conceive it.

I had mixed feelings about this Poems of the Night from the outset. The programme carefully and imaginatively paired a Chopin Nocturne with one of his Etudes (see below). This already indicated in a way a fondness for extremes in Chopin which was validated to some extent later during the recital. I will only make some general observations with a few examples.

I felt Lisiecki was lured like many young artists into cultivating inappropriate dynamic extremes in Chopin. If the listener is immersed in the world of a Chopin dreamscape he does not want to be rudely awakened and launched out of his seat by a dynamic explosion from the pianist, an eruptive level of forte dynamic that really is only possible on modern instruments. A wooden-framed piano of Chopin's time, say a Pleyel, Graf, Buchholtz or an Erard or one with minimum iron bracing, simply could not produce such glaring and upsetting dynamic contrasts. Once more, as in much of life, balance is the solution to the willful exaggeration which we witnessed far too often. Chopin once observed: I merely suggest. It is up to the listener to complete the picture. Here we were offered too many completed conceptions. We must go one dimension deeper with the music of Fryderyk Chopin.

Many of the nocturnes suffered these distortions but some were extraordinarily sensitively approached with beautiful tone, singing cantabile and delicate touch such as that E-flat major Op.9 No.2, that in D-flat major Op.27 No.2 and an expressive and moving Lento con gran espressione in C-sharp minor WN 37. 

The cultivated, delicate, nostalgic atmosphere of this nocturne was violently destroyed by the tumultuous, dynamically inflated eruption of the  'Revolutionary' Etude in C minor Op.10 No.12. His forte can be rather harsh and overplayed.One could argue I suppose that politically this had some justification concerning anger at the November Uprising and the establishment of Russian hegemony over Poland but as a listener it was a brutal transition and conjunction that I feel sure Chopin would not have appreciated or even conceived. This neurasthenic individual, although often possessed of the untranslatable Polish emotion of żal, was totally averse to excessive dynamic inflation. Chopin was a profoundly complex, individual in his internal emotional landscape.We should be made aware of this.

The Etudes were nearly all played with spectacular, declamatory, breathtaking virtuosity but little authentic depth of feeling. An exception to this was the Etude in A-flat major Op.10 No.10 and the Etude in E-flat major Op.10 No. 11 that were melancholically in-turned, thoughtful and deeply reflective in mood. 

Overall I was reminded in this recital of a kaleidoscopically attractive, burnished surface of a chrysalis, a remarkably aesthetic and alluring organism that had not yet given birth to the beautiful winged creature that we know certainly lies hidden within.

As an encore he played the desperately moving Paderewski Nocturne with immense sensitivity and refinement of conception, touch and tone. This is one of my favorite piano works of his.

Fryderyk Chopin

Etude in C major Op. 10 No. 1

Nocturne in C minor (WN 62)

Etude in A minor Op. 10 No. 2

Nocturne in E major Op. 62 No. 2

Etude in E major Op. 10 No. 3

Etude in C sharp minor Op. 10 No. 4

Nocturne in C sharp minor Op. 27 No. 1

Nocturne in D flat major Op. 27 No. 2

Etude in G flat major Op. 10 No. 5

Etude in E flat minor Op. 10 No. 6

Nocturne in E flat major Op. 9 No. 2

Nocturne in C minor Op. 48 No. 1

Nocturne in G minor Op. 15 No. 3

Etude in C major Op. 10 No. 7

Nocturne in F major Op. 15 No. 1

Etude in F major Op. 10 No. 8

Etude in F minor Op. 10 No. 9

Nocturne in B flat minor Op. 9 No. 1

Etude in A flat major Op. 10 No. 10

Nocturne in A flat major Op. 32 No. 2

Etude in E flat major Op. 10 No. 11

Lento con gran espressione in C sharp minor (WN 37)

Etude in C minor Op. 10 No. 12

19.08.22

Friday

18:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Performers:

Lukáš Vondráček period piano

Mateusz Kowalski guitar

Václav Luks conductor

Collegium 1704

Program

Such a rare treat to have a complete gallery of Czech musicians playing some of the finest Czech music!

The brilliant piano builder Paul McNulty and his copy of the 1868 Streicher piano used this evening. Johann Streicher (1796-1871) was an Austrian piano builder of outstanding instruments who hailed from a dynasty of piano builders.

Jan Křtitel Václav Kalivoda (1801-1866)

Symphony No. 7 in G minor (first Polish performance) (1865)

Jan Kalivoda was born in Prague in 1801 and as early as 1811 as a child he started studying violin and composition at the Prague Conservatory. He made his debut as a violinist at the age of 14 joining the  Prague Opera Orchestra. His diploma read: Excellent player solo or in an orchestra...shows great talent in composition.

Kalivoda lived what appears to have been a stable, hardworking musical life. For over forty years, from 1822 to 1865, he held the post of conductor at the court of Prince Karl Egon II of Fürstenberg and his successor in Donaueschingen. His was heavily occupied with the music of the court and church, but also the management and conducting of a choir and annual musical journeys for education. He died of a heart attack in Karlsruhe in 1866.

Kalivoda "represents a sort of symphonic 'missing link' between Beethoven and Schumann," writes the American music critic David Hurwitz, founder of Classics Today. "His melodic appeal and rhythmic energy undoubtedly have something to do with his Czech roots...but he also had a genuine understanding of symphonic development and real contrapuntal skill." Hurwitz observes that "as the predominance of minor keys suggests, his music has passion and an emotional depth that recalls Beethoven without ever descending into mere imitation. Part of the reason for his distinctiveness stems from his skill at orchestration."...The symphonic music of Kalliwoda is "thrilling, and it strikingly anticipates or echoes so much of 19th century music--from Berlioz to Dvorák to Wagner, and even Sibelius..."

A drum roll opens this symphony which established a military atmosphere and one of battle in the Adagio. Allegro non tanto. A sense of foreboding with an explosive allegro  immediately captures the attention in a military guise. The crescendos are exceptionally sudden, exciting and engaging - certainly the conductor and orchestra were carried away by the momentum generated. The Scherzo. Allegro ma non troppo was dense in polyphony. The Marcia. Adagio again has a rather militaristic and 'Empire' feel with highly adventurous orchestration. The Allegro vivace concentrates military triumphs in a straightforward manner. This is not the philosophy of action and dreams with deep reflection but action itself in declamatory Napoleonic brass.

Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829)

Guitar Concerto in A major Op. 30 (1812)



I had no idea how highly Polish guitarists and their compositions were regraded in nineteenth century Europe - this is sure to be a surprise for many. It is an intrinsic and charming addition to the present recorded legacy, a Polish musical renaissance pioneered by Stanisław Leszczyński, Artistic Director of the National Fryderkyk Chopin Institute and this festival.

I brought this to bear in the review of a CD devoted to the guitar in Poland and outstanding Polish guitar compositions by this same artist as played this evening, the supremely gifted guitarist Mateusz Kowalski. I agree, at first sight an arcane and not a well-known subject, but it suffers undeserved neglect. I have always loved the classical, acoustic guitar. My harpsichord builder, the great luthier David Rubio, made some of the finest modern instruments in existence.

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.


For example 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. 

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 or the Romantic Guitar played this evening.

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)

Mauro Giuliani (1781–1829) was an Italian guitarist, cellist, singer, and composer. He was a leading guitar virtuoso of the early 19th century.

Giuliani defined a new role for the guitar in European music. He was acquainted with the highest figures of Austrian society and with notable composers such as Rossini and Beethoven, and cooperated with the best active concert musicians in Vienna. In 1815 he appeared with Johann Nepomuk Hummel (followed later by Ignaz Moscheles), the violinist Joseph Mayseder and the cellist Joseph Merk, in a series of chamber concerts in the botanical gardens of Schönbrunn Palace, concerts that were called the "Dukaten Concerte", after the price of the ticket, which was a ducat. This exposure gave Giuliani prominence in the musical environment of the city. Also in 1815, he was the official concert artist for the celebrations of the Congress of Vienna. Two years earlier, on 8 December 1813, he had played (probably cello) in an orchestra for the first performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.

Giuliani's expression and tone in guitar playing were astonishing, and a competent critic said of him:

'He vocalized his adagios to a degree impossible to be imagined by those who never heard him; his melody in slow movements was no longer like the short, unavoidable staccato of the piano, requiring profusion of harmony to cover the deficient suspension of notes, but it was invested with a character, not only sustained and penetrating, but of so earnest and pathetic a description as to make it appear the natural characteristic of the instrument. In a word, he made the instrument sing.'

— Philip James Bone, The guitar and mandolin, 1914 (p.127)

I was surprised to note that the guitar was electronically amplified but in light of the relative dynamic levels of orchestra and soloist  in this large hall, it was a sensible pragmatic decision. The opening Allegro maestoso was imbued with great simplicity and some agitation. Essentially charming with fine melodies. Kowalski made the most of these with his fine touch and soft fingers. The Andantino siciliano  had an alluring seductive tune with a significant and moving degree of lyrical poetry. He embellished this with both taste and charm.

The final Rondo alla polacca had a most lively beginning. For some reason I felt it expressed the tremendous spirit and strength of  Polish women, perhaps expressed in their dancing. The powerful simplicity of theme based on a polonaise was remarkably affecting. Again I noticed the seductive velvet touch and tone of Kowalski in his finger contact and touch on the strings. I felt this work was a perfect choice for a concert at a European summer spa which is not a disservice in the least but a great compliment.

If you wish to read my full extensive review of the fine NIFC recording by Mateusz Kowalski entitled The Polish Romantic Guitar on CD:

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Overture to the opera "Wanda" (1875)

In 1885 Antonín Dvořák wrote a four-act opera entitled Vanda. The plot is based on a Polish mythical tale which I am not going to embark upon here as we only listened to the Overture. the original opera actually did not have an Overture but simply a short introduction. 

He finally decided later to write one (1879) and produced an impressive and commanding full-length work that somewhat eclipsed the opera in intense life. I found it both passionate and inspiring in its complex orchestration. The mastery and sheer authority Dvořák displays here was quite overwhelming. A spectacular work and performance by Vaclav Luks and Collegium 1704. 


Antonín Dvořák

Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33 (first performance on historical instruments) (1876)


A Stream in the Iron Mountains (1895) by the Czech landscape painter
Bohuslav Dvořák (1867-1951)

This concerto was written about a year before Dvořák began work on the opera Vanda. It was not well received and led to various revisions. Strange that such a great work can fall under a shadow and move out of the sun. One of the reservations at that time was the symbiotic relationship of solo part with the orchestra. The work is more of an integrated symphonic statement rather than a soloist in conversation or competition with the massed forces.

The 1868 Streicher period copy by McNulty was an excellent choice of instrument and blended seamlessly with this period orchestra in dynamic, texture and timbre. There were moments of dynamic imbalance however in this hall. Many folkloric themes were in evidence in the writing which developed rhapsodically under the fingers of this virtuoso. I did not find a great deal of poetry in the playing of Lukáš Vondráček but was impressed with the drama of his strength in this evolving musical story. The Andante sostenuto was lyrical and overflowing with Dvořákian poetry. Here the concerto was certainly more clearly a part of the fabric of a symphony with its complex and subtle orchestral writing.

I so love the Allegro con fuoco of this concerto with its inspiring, energizing rhythms and familiar melody. I find it both heroic and triumphal and all the players rose to the occasion. What a treat to be listening to an outstanding all Czech ensemble, soloist and conductor performing Dvořák! The concerto wound up in tension like an anxious clock to a simply brilliant and spectacular conclusion.

As an encore the pianist played a particularly sensitive Schumann's Träumerei 



18.08.22

Thursday

21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Performers:

Aleksandra Świgut period piano

Lorenzo Coppola clarinet

{oh!} Orkiestra

Martyna Pastuszka artistic director

Program

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Clarinet concerto in A major (K. 622) 1791

Allegro

Adagio

Rondo. Allegro

Lorenzo Coppola presenting the historical evolution of the fascinating clarinette d'amour or basset clarinet

Lorenzo Coppola had the temerity to wittily address the audience directly from the stage in an entertaining style to give not only a context but also the content of the work we were to hear. He also described the evolution of the basset clarinet instrument (clarinet d'amour) he was to play.

The earliest mention of the basset clarinet appears in the program of a concert given at the Royal and Imperial Theatre in Vienna on February 20, 1788

Mozart composed the concerto for his friend and fellow Freemason, the clarinetist Anton Stadler (1753-1812). It is reported that Stadler had a special 'A' clarinet made that extended below the traditional range. It is not known exactly when Mozart and Stadler first met and became rather controversial friends. Mozart moved to Vienna in March 1781. 

"Herr Stadler the elder, in the service of His Majesty the Kaiser, will play a concerto on the Bass-Klarinet and a variation on the Bass-Klarinet, an instrument of new invention and manufacture of the Royal and Imperial Instrument Maker, Theodor Lotz. This instrument has two more low tones than the normal clarinet." Stadler referred to it as the clarinet d'amour rather than the 'basset clarinet' perhaps to distinguish for the similarly named instrument 'basset horn'.

In Berlin Stadler's tone and more complicated instrument seem not to have been appreciated as much as it was in Vienna, where he had been well received. A reviewer of a concert he gave in 1784 had written, "Never should I have thought that a clarinet could be so capable of imitating a human voice so closely as it was imitated by thee. Verily, thy instrument has so soft and lovely a tone that nobody who has a heart can resist it." After the performance of the Mozart concerto I could not agree more with this Austrian writer.

Mozart had already written a number of works including the basset clarinet (an incomplete quintet) including arias in the operas Cosi fan tutte  (Ah! lo veggio, quell'anima bella sung by Ferrando) and in La Clemenza di Tito (Parto, parto ma tu ben mio).

The Concerto in A Major for Clarinet and Orchestra, K. 622 by Mozart is recognized as a timeless masterpiece without peer. Perhaps because it was the last concerto he wrote two months before he died at 35, we have invested it with a deeper significance. Coppola drew our attention to the numerous musical phrasal quotes from Mozart's own serious operas and opera buffa that lie 'hidden' within the concerto for the attentive listener to recognize and take pleasure. I feel that giving the audience a context in which to situate the work they are about to hear is a vital adjunct to performance. He was playing a copy of this ultra rare instrument made by Agnès Guéroult in Paris in 1998 after the Viennese instrument maker Theodor Lotz (Vienna 1788).

In the opening Allegro the quotations from opera were unmistakable (often accompanied by amusing facial expressions and bodily gestures by Coppola) which engaged the audience immensely). Here was fine, emotionally expressive phrasing in addition to a virtuoso technique. Such variety of colour, timbre, phrasing and texture were presented with joy. The period orchestral timbre and ensemble under their leader and artistic director Martyna Pastuszka fitted the historicity of the concerto exceptionally well.

There is such a rich warmth to this remarkable instrument, a true soul to it, a mellow woodiness of rich timbre, colours and texture particularly in the lowest register (down to C) for which the instrument was especially constructed to encompass. He had already indicated the colour registers that encompassed the broad range of male and female tessitura, now used to deeply moving effect. Elegant phrasing, refinement and delicacy and in the Adagio of this concerto, that heartbreaking melody, was sublime in every way. His cantabile truly sang. In the Rondo Coppola danced with joy in his phrasing with a great deal of creative spontaneity. All was so wittily and stylishly expressed, especially the 'conversazioni' with the orchestra. The original instrument enables a much softer legato line again with such a rich timbre and all the colours of the rainbow. I do not wish to sound trite but one inescapably feels for Mozart this was an optimistic addio to life itself.

As an encore he was pressed by the audience to repeat the sublime Adagio movement which one felt was even more divine and beyond this earth than when first heard.

Fryderyk Chopin

Piano Concerto in E minor Op. 11 (1830)

Allegro maestoso

Romance. Larghetto

Rondo. Vivace

The first thing I noticed was that Aleksandra Świgut had gone to a great deal of trouble to dress rather spectacularly for this special concert. What a visual delight this was .... 

Portrait of the young Chopin by Ambroży Mieroszewski (1829)

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

As is well known, although designated No.1, it is actually his second concerto. The first written was in F-minor Op.21. The issue is not of the greatest chronological significance because Chopin’s two piano concertos were composed within a year of each other. I am always amazed at the nature of true genius as it was written when Chopin was in his late teens. Perhaps this is why fine performances are often during the International Chopin Piano Competitions in Warsaw when performed by young pianists of much the same age as the composer. At its premiere in 1830, he played the piano part himself, and the concert marked his final public appearance as a pianist in Poland. Soon Chopin was to leave for Vienna and then Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life.

The opening Allegro movement has the character maestoso which we find in the noble and proud polonaises, a measured grandiosity that should be dispatched with èlan and poetry. The style brillant of the period should be clear to hear in its animation and what in Chopin's day was termed 'enthusiasm'. 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. I felt Świgut achieved this in large part.

In this performance the period timpani were quite forward giving a slight military feel to the entire opening. Bear in mind Warsaw at the time of the composition was flooded with Russian troops.  As a child prodigy he was considered to be ‘the second Mozart’ by the cream of the Warsaw aristocracy – the Czartoryskis, the Zamoyskis and the talented musician and composer Prince Antoni Radziwiłł. The moody Grand Duke Constantin Pavlovich, Viceroy of Tsar Alexander to the Kingdom of Poland, often asked the Wunderkind to play for him to ‘soothe a savage breast’. He was collected in a sleigh from his home in the Saxon Palace and drawn through Warsaw streets by four horses harnessed abreast in the spectacular Russian manner and taken to the Belvedere Palace.


The historic Erard piano played idiomatically and with understanding by Świgut and the period orchestra complemented each other very well.  The sound was relatively well balanced. Inner details unnoticed before were suddenly clear in the style brillante that Świgut  has mastered. Her approach had marked individuality of phrasing and rubato but which did verge on the mannered and contrived at brief moments. She clearly has an individual view of Chopin based on extensive familiarity and research. 

Attempts to transform musical experience into the very different language of words in my review is fraught with difficulties. Tolerance please!

The Romance-Larghetto has always taken me on an imaginative poetic flight as it did Chopin himself when he wrote to his close friend about it. In this Larghetto (there is another in the F-minor concerto)– its character is clarified in the score, following Mozart as a Romance (the sole occasion Chopin used this designation in a piece) – a type of poetic reverie. In a letter to 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 rather than a moonlit night. In sunlight-dappled groves, lovers lie in long grass by a stream among birches and willows as summer clouds drift hesitantly towards the horizon. The heart rises with the swallow as leaves fall and drift on a slight breeze. Gossamer spider webs glisten in the sun in this slow dance of the heart. A threatening shadow of doubt and a sudden cool chill in the air soon passes as dusk falls, the last pianissimo note of love thrown towards us by hand. 

Świgut adopted a seductive slow, ardent tempo in this poetic movement. Her approach contained much of the romance I had imagined and spoken of above, with even a little more sentimentality than Chopin perhaps permits. One listens though the filter of personal experience and everyone has their 'own Chopin' which they will defend to the death.

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. 

Świgut understood well the character of the Polish krakowiak dance here, a syncopated, duple-time popular dance in contemporary Krakow. The characteristic rhythm, liveliness and amusement should be expressed with colour and verve even if she tended to rush somewhat. The orchestra were highly inventive in phrasing and imagination. The theme of the episode – led in octave unison against the pizzicato of the strings – is all born of the 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.


For an encore, an affecting and beautiful Mazurka in A minor Op.67 No.4 by Chopin.

18.08.22

Thursday

18:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Performer

Martín García García piano


Program

Johann Sebastian Bach

Partita No. 1 in B flat major (BWV 825)

Praeludium

He extracted such an expressive and alluring tone from the ravishing Fazioli

Allemande

Excellent articulation of the polyphony with illuminating counterpoint, surprisingly expressive and even joyful. Such a contrast to Bach too often played mechanically.

Corrente

I felt this rather too heavy in touch for a gently flowing movement. However there was a great deal of welcome spontaneity of expression and emotion - all in keeping with the friendly, sunny temperament of this pianist.

Sarabande

Not sufficiently serious, inturned or philosophically thoughtful and meditative enough for me

Menuet I

Delightful

Menuet II

A pleasant stylistic and dynamic contrast

Gigue

Great lively energy was displayed here with attractive light articulation, interesting polyphony was revealed and the counterpoint in the L.H. became a fine complementary commentary indeed


Ferenc Liszt

Sonata in B minor, S. 178

Liszt and Mephistopheles - Eugene Delacroix 1827

The performance of this sonata is an extraordinarily bold and courageous choice for any young pianist.

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


  • The Sonata is a musical portrait of the Faust legend, with “Faust,” “Gretchen,” and “Mephistopheles” themes symbolizing the main characters. (Ott, 1981; Whitelaw, 2017)
  • The Sonata is autobiographical; its musical contrasts spring from the conflicts within Liszt’s own personality. (Raabe, 1931)
  • The Sonata is about the divine and the diabolical; it is based on the Bible and on John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Szász, 1984)
  • The Sonata is an allegory set in the Garden of Eden; it deals with the Fall of Man and contains “God,” “Lucifer,” “Serpent,” “Adam,” and “Eve” themes. (Merrick, 1987)
  • The Sonata has no programmatic allusions; it is a piece of “expressive form” with no meaning beyond itself. (Winklhofer, 1980) 

The manner in which a pianist opens this masterpiece tells you everything about the conception that will evolve. They must be of a supremely eloquent duration (a terrible battle lies in wait for pianists here - Krystian Zimerman drove his recording engineers mad repeating it hundreds of times before finally being satisfied).

I felt Garcia Garcia was not sufficiently ominous and haunted in his opening repeated notes. I felt his impulsiveness and virtuoso approach as the work progressed was not quite in keeping with the dark forces of damnation that lurk in the chambers of the heart of this piece. It is inevitable with any young artist that giving in to the virtuosity of tempting inflammatory passions (getting around the fiendish notes of Liszt) comes sometimes at the expense of expression.

Just to have this vast work in your fingers is a massive achievement but what you do with this is another matter altogether, what you have to say about this work. This is a profound piece, too often played as some type of hectic fantasy or impassioned dream fantasy. I felt this occasionally the case here. There were however many magic moments of heartfelt cantabile, legato and singing with tone and touch on the Fazioli that I found most affecting. It was the excessive mood and dynamic contrasts that upset me but then Liszt was hardly a placid individual.

The sonata is actually in many respects a philosophical dialogue between different fundamental aspects of the human spirit as symbolized by Faust, Mephistopheles and Gretchen. Liszt was tremendously influenced by literature and poetry in his compositions and in particular Goethe’s Faust, the dramatic spiritual battle between Faust and Mephistopheles with Gretchen hovering about as a seductive, lyrical feminine interludes (well expressed by Garcia Garcia). The whole sonata is a far more complex in musical and structural argument than my rather trite account would indicate.  I found that Garcia Garcia had an incomplete view of the structure of this edifice.

Garcia Garcia gave an at times an emotionally moving, idiomatic and dramatic account of this formidable workHis tone, dynamic and tempi tended to became rather heavy, even crude in fortissimo passages and accelerative at times in the more emotionally impassioned passages, but there was present much moving, reflective poetry in the lento passages too. The mighty Fugue was polyphonically transparent and noble in dimension. The pianissimo conclusion took us into a type of spiritual haven, a dimension beyond the earthly.

However, where was the smell of sulphur and the diabolical? Reading Byronic literature of the period that reflects the evolution of this remarkable life narrative, would have greatly enhanced the pianistic vision through subtle stimulation of the musical imagination. 

Fryderyk Chopin

Waltz in E minor (WN 29)

Waltz in C sharp minor Op. 64 No. 2

Waltz in A flat major Op. 34 No. 1

Waltz in A minor Op. 34 No. 2

Waltz in F major Op. 34 No. 3

I really have nothing more to say about the idiomatic, rhythmically delightful, sometimes robust, often charming, graceful, intensely nostalgic and sparkling waltzes. It is extraordinarily rare in 2022 for a young pianist to have convincingly grasped the Chopin waltz genre as Garcia Garcia has done.

Piano Sonata in B minor Op. 58

This is one of the greatest masterpieces in the canon of Western piano music. The opening Allegro maestoso was dramatic but revealed with its excessive tempo that this would not be a particularly poetic or lyrical interpretation of this work. One should feel that Chopin was embracing the cusp of Romanticism, yet at the same time hearkening back to classical restraint - le climat de Chopin as his favourite pupil Marcelina Czartoryska described it. The Trio displayed Garcia Garcia's gift for fine cantabile playing that made the piano sing. However, the Scherzo was rather too fast and perfunctory, rather disappointing in being over-energetic without enough of  that Mendelssohnian atmosphere of fairy lightness I feel it needs. The Trio again displayed his warm Chopin cantabile. 

The transition to the Largo was rather thoughtless and heavy to my mind. It is deceptively easy to manage but this was not sufficiently expressive. Here we begin an exquisite extended nocturne-like musical voyage taken through a night of meditation and introspective thought. This great musical narrative of extended and challenging harmonic structure must be presented as a poem of the reflective heart and spirit. I felt Garcia Garcia tonally refined, bringing an introspective quality to the movement. I looked for more harmonic and melodic direction rather than enveloping us in a mellifluous dream world, however attractive, of not a great deal of directional focus. A gentle transition to the Finale. Presto ma non tanto  was certainly very enticing and individual. However I felt his powerful headlong rush rather ill disciplined. He approached this movement as rather a virtuoso piano work than the rhapsodic yet narrative Ballade in character I feel it possesses. It was lacking in the irresistible momentum the movement is famous for.  

Tomaszewski again who cannot be bettered:

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

His encore was a beautifully played piece by the Spanish composer Federico Mompou - clearly a composer with whom he has an affinity.

I feel Garcia Garcia has a strongly developed personal vision in all he plays and will not be diverted from it! His temperament is most engaging and communicative as the highly enthusiastic standing ovation he received after the Chopin Sonata.

Garcia Garcia signing his CDs after the recital

17.08.22

Wednesday

21:00

The Church of the Holy Cross, Warsaw

Symphonic Concert

Performers:

Mirella Hagen soprano

Václava Krejčí-Housková alto

Krystian Adam tenor

Tomáš Šelc bass

Václav Luks conductor

Collegium 1704

Collegium Vocale 1704

Program

Józef Krogulski (1815-1842) 

Portrait of Józef Krogulski (1815-1842) lithograph c. 1850
(National Library Warsaw)


As the extraordinary renaissance in Polish music continues, we heard tonight two works, one never performed in modern times by a forgotten composer and the other a Polish premiere. I have often found this fascination with new and unheard music in Polish musical life as well as a hunger for contemporary and modern compositions.

This composer is completely unknown to most people, Polish or foreign. The excitement of his discovery leads me to quote without apology, the short biography by Mariusz Lesław Krogulski that appears in Dziedzictwo Muzyki Polskiej :

Pianist, composer, music educator, and church choir organizer Józef Władysław Krogulski was born September 4, 1815, in Tarnów, to Michał Krogulski, an organist, piano teacher, and composer, and Salomea, née Saszor. He showed musical talent at an early age, which prompted his father to teach him piano. At age 10 he began to give public concerts, first in Tarnów, then in other cities. In May 1825 he moved with his parents to Warsaw, where he began his piano career as a prodigy. In the years 1825–1827 he gave concerts in Warsaw, Kalisz, Poznań, Wrocław, Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Puławy, Lublin, Zamość, Lviv, and Kiev, and his performances were reviewed in the most prominent press outlets. His playing was widely admired, and by 1826 he was being hailed as the Polish Mozart. In May 1828, he settled permanently in Warsaw and began music studies at the Main School of Music, first under Karol Kurpiński, and then Józef Elsner.

From an early age he also showed a talent for composition. His first works were written when he was only 10 years old, and more serious ones after the start of his musical studies. His greatest works – the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E major and No. 2 in B minor – date from the period 1830–1831.

At the age of 17, Krogulski began working as a piano teacher. At the same time, at the urging of his master Józef Elsner, he undertook the organization and training of amateur church choirs. He founded the first of these at the St. Kazimierz Church on Tamka, then at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Solec, and in the years 1836–1841 he led an ensemble he created at the church of the Piarists in the Old Town, which quickly attained a high artistic level. To ensure continuity for his choirs, he founded a free singing school, from which graduated, among others, Ignacy Marceli Komorowski and Maurycy Karasowski, and, for the performance of larger works, he availed himself of the services of professional singers from the Grand Theater. He also began to write his own sacred compositions for his choirs – Masses, hymns, and cantatas – which culminated in 1841 with the Miserere Oratorio for Good Friday.

At the same time, beginning in 1834, he was associated with the Warsaw Merchants’ Office, for which he performed as a pianist and wrote secular compositions.

On January 17, 1838, he married Ludwika Katarzyna Gargulska (1818–1859), a teacher, with whom he had two daughters – Bronisława Jadwiga (b. 1840) and Józefa Barbara (b. 1841). Both died in infancy.

Józef Krogulski died of tuberculosis at age 26 on January 9, 1842, in Warsaw. He was buried in the Powązki cemetery.

Krogulski’s compositional output consists of about 100 works, including two piano concertos, an oratorio, an overture, rondos, fantasies and variations, eleven cantatas, ten Masses, six hymns, four polonaises, three graduales, carols, psalms, sonatas, polonaises, and mazurkas. More than 30 of his works appeared in print during his lifetime, mainly through Warsaw publishers: Ignacy Klukowski, Józef Kośmiński, Karol Ludwik Magnus and Gustaw Sennewald.

Miserere in E minor (contemporary first performance) 1841

This work was the last Krogulski wrote before his untimely death at the age of 27. He said to Józef Władisław Wiślicki once this great masterpiece had been completed 'I have fulfilled my undertaking, now I will die in peace' and shortly after passed away. At 27 ...

The magnificent work is a vocal-instrumental setting of Psalm 51 in 12 movements. It was written in merely three months between December 1840 and April 1841. Performed every year for five years it gradually fell victim to the anesthetic ether of time, which dissolves so much human construct. By 1847 this masterpiece had disappeared from the repertoire. This evening was a monumental reconstruction which had a profound musical impact.

The opening Miserere me ....had a strong sense of melody and soulful introspection. The Tibi soli .. was a powerful and energetic statement with a fine bass voice of the soloist Tomáš Šelc. 

The tenor Krystian Adam and the bass Tomáš Šelc

The tenor Krystian Adam 

The first Ecce enim ... with the tenor Krystian Adam had such an affecting melody, like a song of love as can often be the case with say the poems of St. John of the Cross or St. Theresa. The second Ecce enim .... with choir was supremely rich in harmonies which resulted in the expression of extremely passionate religious music. The fine mixed choir sang uninterrupted for most of the evening. More entirely unexpected charm came with the soprano Mirella Hagen together with the tenor and bass in Asperges.... 

The soprano Mirella Hagen

This was followed by a highly agitated, urgent choir and brilliant orchestra in Averte faciem .... the trembling of the soul ? In the Cor mundum .... the soprano sang a lyrical yearning of the heart in a beautiful, ardent melody - more a song of love than religious music. 

The conductor Václav Luks

The conductor Václav Luks directed the musically engaged orchestra with intense commitment with many sudden, yet disciplined and dramatic crescendos in this work. The alto singing voice, rich texture and timbre of Václava Krejčí-Housková in the Ne proicias was deeply moving - the tremors of the soul, folly in life, harmonies of lament. 

The alto Václava Krejčí-Housková

The tenor and soprano in the Quaoniam were full of joyful aspirations and contrition. 

The orchestra and choir made a tremendous crescendo to the final Tune acceptabis which possessed magnificent motivic forward energy under this musically intense conductor. A fugal conclusion of dense, infectious polyphony bursting with internal energy of glorious harmonic transitions.


The Choir (female and male)

Without doubt this is a absurdly neglected masterpiece of Western religious choral music.

Antonin Reicha (1770-1836)

Antonin Reicha (1770-1836)

Requiem (Polish first performance) 1802 - 1808


This work was written over thirty years before than the Miserere by a fertile composer. This man was better known for his published writings as a renowned academic theorist than his compositions. In fact he perused mathematics to control his rather incandescent imagination. Berlioz and Liszt were pupils of Reicha. He knew Beethoven in Vienna, studied with Albrechtsberger and even befriended the ageing Papa Haydn.

As might be expected from this funereal work, it opened with a lugubrious theme coloured by dark harmonies in the harmonic transitions of the massed choir. There was immense, majestic, tragic nobility in the polyphony of the Kyrie. The Dies Irae gave gloomy agitation to the orchestra with distinct and quite frightening sudden exclamations from the choir. The Tuba mirum for tenor was possessed of majesty. 

As might be expected the Rex tremendae echoed Mozart in its triumphalism and grandeur but lacked the irrepressible forward momentum of our Amadeus. In similar fashion the Confutatis was formidably agitated music for the choir and orchestra led by this highly emotionally engaged conductor Václav Luks. Towards the Sanctus the music began to build into a towering orchestral and choral force, rich in harmonies, until the launching of a monumental Lux aeternum. The polyphonic, fugal conclusion  of massed choir, orchestra and percussion was unstoppable in its driving rhythm, a tremendous emotional and aural impact and evoked an instant emotional faith in sheer sound.

Here we have yet another neglected religious masterpiece, to my mind, of a slightly earlier order of monumentality.

17.08.22 

Wednesday

18:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Chamber concert

Performers:

Barry Douglas piano

Apollon Musagète Quartet

Program

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 (1864)

Steve Lacoste of the Los Angeles Philharmonic writes illuminatingly 'The development of Brahms’ Piano Quintet is not unlike the metamorphic journey of the butterfly from larva to cocoon to its final emergence as a miraculous winged creature.' After having rehearsed the string quintet version for several months, Brahms’ colleague, the violinist Joseph Joachim, wrote to him on April 15, 1863, “I am unwilling to let the quintet pass out of my hands without having played it to you… I do not wish to dogmatize on the details of a work which in every line shows some proof of overpowering strength. But what is lacking is, in a word, charm. After a time, on hearing the work quietly, I think you will feel the same as I do about it.”  The metamorphosis from a composition for strings, then a two piano version and finally into the Piano Quintet we know today, was about to begin.

The German Jewish conductor Hermann Levi (1839-1900), responded to the second transformation on November 5, 1865, 'The Quintet is beautiful beyond words. Anyone who did not know it in its earlier forms of string quintet and two-piano sonata would never believe that it was not originally thought out and designed for the present combination of instruments… You have turned a monotonous work for two pianos into a thing of great beauty, a masterpiece of chamber music…'

The Allegro ma non troppo had a spirited beginning. There was a fine ensemble sound but for me it did not quite achieve the dark Brahmsian idiom I was searching for in the timbre of the piano part. The magnificent theme of this movement emerged in rhapsodic waves of oceanic passion. The Andante  was winsomely romantic and ardent in mood with its charming love theme, a long arabesque of yearning sensibility, fine and seamless. The Scherzo. Allegro. Trio possesses yet another sensual and galvanizing theme which works up into a passionate exegesis with its addictive melodies. 

The Finale is quite symphonic in conception I feel with the indications 'Allegro non troppo' and 'Presto non troppo' which must indicate that Brahms was warning performers not to be carried away on the ever so tempting waves of musical passion. Here the piano melded brilliantly into a tight entity with this gifted quartet. Magnificent themes and arresting nobility of mood were followed by passages of exquisite lyricism. The ensemble maintained an irresistible forward impetus with a monumental crescendo to the final triumphal conclusion.

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81 (1887)

Czech Countryside (National Galley of Prague)

The piano quintet is not such a popular genre as one might think - there are not so many. Those that have been written express the very essence of the composer. With the Dvorak Quintet in A major op. 81 we have displayed his personal lyricism and love of the Czech folk idiom beautifully allied. It is also a masterpiece of the form. The composer wrote it in 1887 utilizing original melodies he composed in the folk style.

The opening of the Allegro ma non tanto on the cello was fine indeed as was the beautiful melodic theme with a simple accompaniment. It was spirited in performance, passionate and replete with sensual desire. Again the high quality of the entire ensemble was clear. The Dumka: Andante con moto had a central European feel to it from this quartet who expressed a fine, flowing cantabile. The Dumka is a ballad form that alternates slow-fast-slow tempi. It originated on the steppes of Ukraine but is well known in the Czech lands. This gloriously familiar music speaks directly to the heart. The second theme evolved like a bloom in spring and I could imagine myself running through Tarkovsky long grass with a loved one. Again the cello was conspicuously well played, not neglecting the other brilliant instrumentalists in this fine balance of part writing.. Barry Douglas worked well in co-ordinated harmony with the Apollon Musagète.

The Scherzo (Furiant): molto vivace I felt as an energetic Czech dance with lively sprung rhythm to encourage us to leap up in lively exhibitionism. The poco tranquillo interlude was in such an expressive contrastThe Finale was a lively polka and had an excellent tempo for this dance. An exuberant and electrical final movement ensued. Douglas rushed into the tumultuous fray with abandonment, excellent touch, tone and palette of colour, all depicted by the ensemble. I was put in mind of rushing mountain streams or young lovers engaged in an enthusiastic chase across the Pouzdrany steppe. The many fluctuations of mood were expressively accomplished and led to such a joyful final conclusion it uplifted the spirits to a great extent!.

16.08.22

Tuesday

21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Performers:

Kristian Bezuidenhout period piano

Chouchane Siranossian violin

{oh!} Orkiestra

Martyna Pastuszka violin, artistic director

Program:

Joseph Haydn

Double Concerto for piano and violin in F major, Hob. XVIII:6

The Prater in Vienna around 1766

This was the only concerto work written by Haydn for two instruments in 1766. He performed it at the keyboard with his close friend the Italian violinist Luigi Tomasini. In the Allegro I welcomed this as a much needed excursion into the eighteenth century cultural world of charm, balance, proportion and elegance. In the Largo both soloists imparted sensitive and lyrical phrasing as if engaged in an intimate and civilized conversation appropriate to Haydn's writing. They formed a complete symbiosis approaching this elegant music with much bon goût. The Presto was graced with many civilized musical gestures, charming, refined and stylistically perfect. The eighteenth century colour, texture and timbre produced by this orchestra (especially the 'forward' eighteenth century timpani) led by the standing Martyna Pastuszka, is most distinctive and individual. 

This period orchestra is possessed of a sound that has a dark texture of fascinating complexity and strong timpani. How I needed to experience what creative human beings can do in this time of a gross return to primitiveness of the lowest order of depravity.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Piano Concerto in D minor, KV 466

The Josephinum in Vienna was completed in 1785 based on drawings by the Court’s architect Isidor Canevale. 

This is a dramatic and yes 'Romantic', in fact almost mythical, piano concerto written in February 1785. In the work there is quite a struggle between soloist and orchestra (a 'romantic' trop if ever there was one) and Bezuidenhout managed this passionate dialogue with much drama on the period piano ranged against a period orchestra. The lead violinist/conductor unusually stood during the performance. Again the colour, texture and timbre produced by this orchestra (again especially the 'forward' eighteenth century timpani) is most distinctive and individual. I felt it matched the sensitivity of the period piano (the Paul McNulty copy of the Buchholtz instrument played by Chopin in Warsaw) extremely well although there were moments when I doubted the dynamic balance.  

There is a strange uncompromising savagery in the opening Allegro movement - passion, pathos and drama. There is a great contrast between the tutti and soloist in this first movement. Alfred Einstein observes in his book Mozart:

'The orchestra represents an anonymous threatening power, and the solo instrument voices an eloquent lament.'  

The Romanza second movement had a type of heavenly tranquillity, a truly touching atmosphere. Yet wild life force erupts once more before calm is again restored. The conducting of the violinist was balletic in such an attractive sense and then either a string broke or the bridge disintegrated. Drama! The orchestra and soloist did not miss a beat as she retired to obtain a replacement instrument and returned shortly afterwards.

Bezuidenhout uses the fragility and vulnerability of the period instrument to touch deeper regions of heart that can only be reached when one hears emotions expressed in such a tender and delicate manner. A slight strain on our blunted sensibility is exerted that is profoundly rewarding in refinement. The Rondo. Allegro finale is again refined in passion, pulsating in energy and is dramatic in effect. Electricity is connected to the emotional landscape. Pessimism fades after the cadenza and the coda leaves us with sun and the charm of Viennese social gesture.

The nineteenth century thought this often performed concerto 'daemonic' and the tragic element was maintained by conductor and soloist until the end. The whole reminded me more of a symphony with piano as it pushes the classical form to the limits. Great depth of feeling was evident in this ground-breaking work that gave the piano concertos (and the far smaller instruments they were written for) acceptance on a par with the classical symphony. Wonderful sound, seductive touch and  instinctively phrased. A beautiful and rewarding performance altogether. 

As an encore Bezuidenhout played an Allemande by Mozart in perfect taste and style.

August Fryderyk Duranowski

Violin Concerto in A major Op. No. 8

Another great discovery made during the Polish musical Renaissance at present in progress and established. This composer/violinist was the son of a Polish woman and French immigrant, born in Warsaw, hence the name 'Duranowski'. He was taught by his father and the famous Giovanni Battista Viotti. He was a great adventurer joining the Napoleonic Army and a prisoner in Milan in the 1790 afterwards resuming his virtuoso career as if nothing had occurred. We live in a world of narrow specialists and the renaissance man today is less known. He was certainly one of the most famous violinists of his day with a stunning technique and extrovert temperament. Even the cadaverous genius Paganini expressed his deep admiration.

This concerto provides evidence of his brilliance. The virtuosic and technically demanding opening Allegro spiritoso  of this three movement work has an alluring theme. The Adagio is lyrical and reflective, a beautiful movement that is rather emotionally moving. The Rondo, a peasant dance which forms the finale displays all manner of advance technical devices. Many change in adventurous harmonics take place here and the whole movement is tremendously engaging and entertaining. How such a work could have fallen into obscurity quite defeats me.

The gifted and beautiful young Armenian violinist Chouchane Siranossian with her engaging communication did justice to the virtuosity that dominates this work.

As an encore she played a haunting and melancholic 11th century folk song from Armenia, so appropriate to the genocidal mood overshadowing our own day.



16.08.22

Tuesday

18:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Performer

Alexander Gadjiev piano

He was awarded 2nd Prize ex aequo in the XVIII Fryderyk Chopin International Chopin Competition 

Warsaw 2021

This pianist was awarded Second Prize ex aqueo and the Krystian Zimerman Prize for the Best Sonata in the 2021 XVIII International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. My expectations were high. 

During the competition I had written:

Alexander Gadjiev is a visionary artist who brought operatic landscapes and arias into his interpretations. The Marche funèbre from Op.35 was a transcendental meditation on the nature of death and grief as was his commanding account of the Polonaise-Fantasie

Of his Chopin F minor concerto performance:

Previous stages had indicated a musical personality in Gadjiev of remarkable individuality, perception and often deep analytical musical thought. This was also apparent from the immediate contact he established with orchestra and conductor, engaging them from the outset, even when not playing. I became immediately aware through tone, touch and phrasing of his personal 'voice', rare enough in this competition. 

Program:

Fryderyk Chopin

Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 45

This work was composed at Nohant during the summer of 1841. Chopin was always relatively happy in the paradise gardens of George Sand's mansion. The work is a masterpiece of notated improvisation. When sending the manuscript to Fontana for copying, Chopin could not hide his satisfaction, expressed in the words: ‘well modulated!’. The dreamlike sonority of the themes is of prime importance in this piece whence melody and accompaniment come together as one.

Gadjiev accomplished this effect to a high degree and gave us a moving performance of the work. An individual vision that was expressive but eschewed overt sentiment.

Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major Op. 61

This work in the ‘late style’ of the composer was written during a period of great suffering and unhappiness. He labored over its composition and what emerged is one of his most complex works both pianistically and emotionally.

Gadjiev made a definite statement of narrative at the opening which softened into an improvisatory quality of the composer feeling his harmonic way. Although the music was poetically convincing but psychically unstable at times, I was yearning for more poetry (being rather overly romantic at heart). At times I felt his approach, although intellectually strong in terms of structure, showed evidence of some emotional lack of discipline. If one considers the piece as a type of political allegory, did the national tragedy of Poland rise to sublime expression? At times .... the execution became rather blurred in definition towards the conclusion.

Sonata in B flat minor Op. 35

Caspar David Friedrich Chalk Cliffs on Rügen, 1818

The opening Grave was not quite the statement of tragedy that was to follow. The Doppio movimento possessed expressiveness, energy and forward momentum which gave the approach to this movement a type of fatalistic inevitability. A rider, occasionally in a reflective even nostalgic mood, yet galloping inexorably towards his doom.  

I found the Scherzo rather rushed and played at a blurring tempo rushing to a climactericThe moving and expressive middle section was a nocturne of heart-warming cantabile. I did not find the tremendous energy of a briefly resuscitated life in this Scherzo

His opening of the 
Marche funebre is rare indeed in its creation of an atmosphere of the melancholy passing over of life  and death. He finds a funeral bell to toll in the polyphony which is indescribably fateful and tragic. The contrasting central cantilena I always feel in the face of this profound grief has a touch of the unhinged mind as in Act III of Lucia de Lammermoor. Gadjiev imbued it with a properly eloquent tempo and singing dynamic, so difficult to achieve. 

The return of the funeral march after this excursion into nostalgia for past life joy, was deeply moving as it was accomplished piano. So many people seem to think it ought to accompany an imaginary military band with a heavy dull tread lacking in poetry. I felt a deep and haunting melancholy here, a forlorn cry of the soul facing its inevitable destiny. Played piano to pianissimo with great poetry and a singing tone.

The polyphony and desperation of the grieving mind and heart is depicted in the Presto or is it the more picturesque and popular 'wind over the graves'. Chopin referred to it as the chattering or gossip concerning the departed that inevitably takes place after a funeral. Whatever interpretation one embraces, this was a remarkable feeling of polyphonic wind and spiritual agitation from Gadjiev.

Robert Schumann


Fantasie in C major, Op. 17

Schumann had a immense passion for literature which many young pianists do not delve into. He prefaced the work with a quote from Friedrich Schlegel:

Durch alle Töne tönet

Im bunten Erdentraum

Ein leiser Ton gezogen

Für den, der heimlich lauschet.

("Resounding through all the notes

In the earth's colorful dream

There sounds a faint long-drawn note

For the one who listens in secret.")

The Fantasie is in loose sonata form. Its three movements are headed:

  1. Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen; Im Legenden-Ton - Quite fantastic and passionately delivered; In the tone of a legend.
  2. Mäßig. Durchaus energisch - Moderate. Quite energetic. 
  3. Langsam getragen. Durchweg leise zu halten. - Taken slowly. Keep quiet throughout.

 This work originated in the desire to create a monument to Beethoven in Bonn. Schumann thought that by composing a work that he could sell, he could financially assist in the construction of this memorial to his beloved composer. Although he abandoned any such title such as 'sonata', the work is close to being one. However an important air of improvisation hovers over the form which Gadjiev exploited. Rather than analyze this performance in any musicological sense, I will try and paint a picture of the ebb and flow of my own waves of emotion as the piece progressed, a picture of the sea of my own response as it undulated in the currents.

Although the work opened with much passion, I felt Gadjiev could have been rather more overtly romantic in sentiment, emphasised more the grandeur of the legendary but that may just be my own psyche dominating feeling. There were many magical moments in this kaleidoscope of sound and colour. Someone (a musicologist) I once spoke to objected to any overtly romantic approach, feeling that Schumann belongs to the world of German metaphysicians and should not be approached as if he were a romantic Chopin.

References to Clara abound in this work  despite the Beethovenian intentions. Robert cannot help himself.  He uses a line from a Beethoven song where the original text reads  “Then accept these songs, beloved, which l sang for you alone.” Clearly a musical love token for Clara. The Fantasy score is actually headed with a literary reference, a motto from Schlegel’s poetry: “Through all the tones in Earth's many-colored dream, there sounds one soft long-drawn note for the secret listener.” Schumann admitted as much in a letter to Clara.

In Gadjiev one senses a passionate intellect approaching the music - mercurial, labile, intellectual emotions - in short depicting the conflicted and preoccupied thoughts of Schumann in love. He possesses a deep sense of structure in this formidable work but it obscured at times by rushing with a consequent blurring of the sound. I felt his breathing, phrasing and use of silence could have been utilized more expressively.

In the final part Gadjiev again demonstrated his rare ability to project the ardent nature of beautiful melodies in this meditative section. The harmonic transitions he presented were eloquent in their counterpoint.  The polyphony became heartfelt expressions of songs of love and beautifully controlled expressions of sentiment.

However great art should disturb the surface of conventional life, not confirm its comfortable nature. It should make you question your values and perceptions, enable you to see familiar things differently, reveal new previously hidden joys through another pair of uniquely gifted eyes - or mind, ears and fingers as in this case. This did occur during the performance but I was yearning for more frequency of this mercurial flight from dream to reality of which Schumann is such a master.

As an encore two Preludes by Chopin Op.28 No. 4 in E minor and No.5 in D major

15.08.22

Monday

21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Performers:

Dinara Klinton piano

Jean-Luc Tingaud conductor

Orkiestra Akademii Beethovenowskiej

Program

E. T. A. Hoffmann 

Overture “Das Kreuz an der Ostsee” (The Cross on the Baltic) 1805

The Teutonic Castle of Malbork, the largest Gothic castle in the world

A musical work by that quite extraordinary individual - lawyer, composer, conductor, painter and man of letters ! In 1804 he beached up in Warsaw (his Prussian superiors in Poznan (Posen) objected to his caricatures of officials and officers!). He conducted the first performances of Beethoven symphonies in Warsaw.  The author of this play, Zacharias Werner (1768-1823), was also more than a little eccentric. His play was based on the northern crusades of the Teutonic Knights. 

The crusades to the Holy Land are far better known than the Northern Crusades. The Holy Wars of Outremer have a contin- uing mythical and presently inflammatory relevance but essentially the Saracens were victorious in that long and bloody battle. The crusades in North-Eastern Europe were not as spectacular but the changes and effects have been longer lasting. Western Christianity has managed to survive along the southern Baltic shore. A reborn Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have all adopted the Western institutions of the enlarged European Union.

I immensely enjoyed this creation of the Renaissance man Hoffmann with his 'Classical mind and Romantic spirit'. having visited the Teutonic Knights' headquarters in Malbork, my imagination skipped a beat!

Zygmunt Noskowski (1846-1909)

Symphonic poem 'Step' Op. 66 (1896)

Another example of a composer of genius discovered during the present Polish musical renaissance. The fine orchestral texture of the opening was like Bruxelles lace that opened with strong seams in the fabric laid by the horns. The early morning dream-like qualities of a summer sunrise. The oboe theme was particularly lyrical in this late romantic style. Contained within the score are some brilliant and powerful Polish nationalist eruptions of mood.  Another had such transporting percussion effects of castanets with rather 'Moorish' or at least oriental and Spanish harmonic transitions. I could not help remarking this magnificently integrated orchestral ensemble with their active 'dancing' conductor Jean-Luc Tengaud. The leader of this orchestra was also a tremendously dynamic fellow enjoying his playing immensely! I was reminded of Edward Elgar sometimes and the triumphs of Empire, conquering and final miraculous victory - which has surely taken place for Poland after centuries of national demise.

César Franck (1822-1890)

Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra (1885)

This aesthetic and deeply expressive work for piano and orchestra composed in 1885 is not cast in the usual guise of a concerto but in concertante form where piano and orchestra co-operate together in a thematically glorious symbiosis.

Some critics describe the work 'one of Franck’s tightest and most finished works' and 'a flawless work and as near perfection as a human composer can hope to get in a work of this nature'. I would tend to agree. Donald Tovey referred to it as 'a finely and freely organized fantasy, with an important episode in variation form'. It is surely one of the most important works in the piano literature but is rarely performed today. The premiere on 1 May 1886, at the annual orchestral concert of the Société Nationale de Musique, went almost unnoticed.

It is always a beautiful thing to watch and listen to a musical talent flowering into maturity. Such is the case with the extraordinarily gifted Ukrainian/Russian pianist Dinara Klinton. She was born in Karchiv close to the Ukrainian/Russian frontier not far from a region of murderous war and cruel ideological conflict. The enigmatic nature of her nationality (a child of the borderlands) and her name (so redolent of a powerful democracy) hints at a passionate existential intensity, a romantic quest for certainty and stability that powerfully expresses itself in her playing and her searching interpretations of the Romantic piano literature.

I first heard her command a remarkable range of piano music at the extraordinarily demanding but rather unknown IX International Paderewski Piano Competition held in the city of Bydgoszcz in Poland in November 2013 - Scarlatti, Liszt, Paderewski, Chopin, Brahms, Schumann, Prokofiev, Bach and Tchaikovsky. She was awarded Second Prize.

I wrote at that time ‘This player is a true artist and must appear among the finalists.’ 

I then heard her again at the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Competition in Warsaw in October 2015 where she won the best non-Finalist prize. I felt she deserved more.

In 2016 she made and exceptionally brilliant CD of the Liszt Transcendental Studies. I have not heard her play often since then and so it was with great anticipation I approached this evening's concert.

I heard her perform exceptionally at the 72nd. International Chopin Piano Festival 4-12 August 2017, Duszniki Zdroj, Poland.

In the 1st International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments in Warsaw in 2018 Dinara Klinton gave us a searching interpretation of  individuality and fatalistic penetration of the Sonata in B-flat minor Op. 35 by Chopin especially the Marche funèbre.

I found her touch and tone in the Franck had become even more beautiful, sensitive and refined. This was especially prominent in the alto and higher registers of the instrument. Her close interaction and co-ordination with this fine orchestra and conductor was musically arrestingly intimate. Her fine sense of rhythm and dance brought me in mind of the ballet written by Frederick Ashton in 1946 based around the work. She brought off the familiar melody with charming panache and élan, communicating such an uncomplicated delight in life.

INTERMISSION

César Franck

Symphony in D minor (1889)

Franck's symphony was first performed on 17 February 1889 in the concert hall of the Conservatoire by the orchestra of the Société conducted by Juleds Garcin. It is the only mature symphony completed by the composer.

The piece divided opinion. Le Figaro commented, 'The new work of M. César Franck is a very important composition and developed with the resources of the powerful art of the learned musician; but it is so dense and tight that we cannot grasp all its aspects and feel its effect at a first hearing, despite the analytical and thematic note that had been distributed to the audience'. The paper contrasted the 'exuberant enthusiasm' of some listeners with the coolness of the reception from others.

In a departure from typical late-romantic symphonic structure, the Symphony in D minor is in three movements, each of which makes reference to the initial four-bar theme introduced at the beginning of the piece.

LentoAllegro ma non troppo.

Allegretto

Finale: Allegro non troppo

I think the opening statement of the theme is grand indeed with a fine selection of tempo by the conductor to express the majesty of this work. The conclusion of the first movement Allegro was winningly triumphant. I found the brass section formidable and convincing. The famous stroke of genius is the haunting melody of the Allegretto second movement played by the cor anglais (the employment of which was much criticized at the time) above plucked harp and pizzicato strings. I felt a delightful orientalism in this texture. The Finale was possessed of splendid massed orchestral sound in a palette of passionate colouration. There was a seductive return of the original them piano, slow, lyrical and romantic. The entire work was performed with great musical commitment and gave me the greatest musical satisfaction and pleasure. 

15.08.22

Monday

18:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Music Hall

Piano recital

Performer

J J Jun Li Bui piano

Program

Fryderyk Chopin

Polonaise in B flat minor (WN 10)

Miodowa Street Warsaw (1777) Bernado Bellotto (1721-1780)

The early polonaises of Chopin are an absolute delight of simplicity, attractive melody and lack of tormented anger and resentment that suffuse the 'revolutionary political polonaises of his maturity. Bui made the most of these qualities in a sensitive and stylish fashion.

Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major Op. 61


This work in the ‘late style’ of the composer was written during a period of great suffering and unhappiness. He labored over its composition and what emerged is one of his most complex works both pianistically and emotionally.

A most imaginative, narrative almost balladic introduction with highly musical phrasing and rubato. A most expressive interpretation with great variety of dynamic, tone and touch maintaining the appropriate improvisatory quality of this remarkable work of 'fantasy'. An extensive dream was being explored here as we were carried unresistant through many emotional landscapes of different degrees of imaginative and musical picturesque intensity. A truly poetic flow that concluded with a grand sense of majestic nobility. An extraordinary achievement in a pianist of such youth.

Mazurkas Op.33

The mazurka is the quintessential expression of the Polish national and ethnic identity. Any approach to them is bound to cause comment, sometimes dismissive, sometimes abrasive but never indifferent or detached. 

Dancing was a passion especially during carnival from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. It was an opulent time, generating a great deal of commercial business, no less than in Vienna or Paris. Dancing - waltzes, polonaises, mazurkas - were a vital part of Warsaw social life, closely woven into the fabric of the city. There was veritable 'Mazurka Fever' in Europe and Russia at this time. The dancers were not restricted to noble families - the intelligentsia  and bourgeoisie also took part in the passion.

Chopin's experience of dance, as a refined gentleman of exquisite manners, would have been predominantly urban ballroom dancing with some experience of peasant hijinks during his summer holidays in Żelazowa Wola, Szafania and elsewhere. Poland was mainly an agricultural society in the early nineteenth century. At this time Warsaw was an extraordinary melange of cultures. Magnificent magnate palaces shared muddy unpaved streets with dilapidated townhouses, szlachta farms, filthy hovels and teeming markets. By 1812 the Napoleonic campaigns had financially crippled the Duchy of Warsaw. Chopin spent his formative years during this turbulent political period and the family often escaped the capital to the refuge of the Mazovian countryside at Żelazowa Wola. Here the fields are alive with birdsong, butterflies and wildflowers. On summer nights the piano was placed in the garden and Chopin would improvise eloquent melodies that floated through the orchards and across the river to the listening villagers gathered beyond.

Of course he was a perfect mimic, actor, practical joker and enthusiastic dancer as a young man, tremendously high-spirited. He once wrote a verse describing how he spent a wild night, half of which was dancing and the other half playing pranks and dances on the piano for his friends. They had great fun! One of his friends took to the floor pretending to be a sheep! On one occasion he even sprained his ankle he was dancing so vigorously! He would play with gusto and 'start thundering out mazurkas, waltzes and polkas'. When tired and wanting to dance, he would pass the piano over to 'a humbler replacement'. Is it surprising his teacher Józef Elzner and his doctors advised a period of 'rehab' at Duszniki Zdrój to preserve his health which had already begun to show the first signs of failing? This advice may not have been the best for him, his sister Emilia and Ludwika Skarbek, as reinfection was always a strong possibility there. Both were dead not long after their return from the 'cure'.

Many of his mazurkas would have come to life on the dance floor as improvisations. Perhaps only later were they committed to the more permanent art form on paper under the influence and advice of the Polish folklorist and composer Oskar Kolberg. Chopin floated between popular and art music quite effortlessly.

There was sheer fun and unruly exuberance in Chopin as a vibrant, musically improvising young pianist. After all he was a master of this domain of performance.George Sand wrote in Les Maîtres Sonneurs (The Master Pipers) 'He gave us the finest dances in the world....so attractive and easy to dance to that we seemed to fly through the air.'

Mazurka in G sharp minor Op. 33 No. 1

Poetic and full of 'musical speech'

Mazurka in C major Op. 33 No. 2

So poetic - a story told by a romantic artist

Mazurka in D major Op. 33 No. 3

Pure joy emerges from this dancing exuberance with a quite marvelous, infectious rhythm

Mazurka in B minor Op. 33 No. 4

Distilled nostalgia - joyful images of the past, taking a loved one's hand in a remembered dance. His wonderful rubato moved the heart with a fading of the source of love towards the conclusion.

Ballade in G minor Op. 23

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

Mieczysław Tomaszewski paints the background to this work best: 

'It was during those two years that what was original, individual and distinctive in Chopin spoke through his music with great urgency and violence, expressing the composer’s inner world spontaneously and without constraint – a world of real experiences and traumas, sentimental memories and dreams, romantic notions and fancies. Life did not spare him such experiences and traumas in those years, be it in the sphere of patriotic or of intimate feelings. [...] For everyone, the ballad was an epic work, in which what had been rejected in Classical high poetry now came to the fore: a world of extraordinary, inexplicable, mysterious, fantastical and irrational events inspired by the popular imagination. In Romantic poetry, the ballad became a ‘programmatic’ genre. It was here that the real met the surreal. 

Mickiewicz gave his own definition: ‘The ballad is a tale spun from the incidents of everyday (that is, real) life or from chivalrous stories, animated by the strangeness of the Romantic world, sung in a melancholy tone, in a serious style, simple and natural in its expressions’. And there is no doubt that in creating the first of his piano ballades, Chopin allowed himself to be inspired by just such a vision of this highly Romantic genre. What he produced was an epic work telling of something that once occurred, ‘animated by strangeness’, suffused with a ‘melancholy tone’, couched in a serious style, expressed in a natural way, and so closer to an instrumental song than to an elaborate aria.

For Bui a narrator opens this story with the possibilities of many 'interpretations'. He has an extraordinary narrative sense and musical gift. Such an unfolding would have had immediate contemporary emotional relevance to Chopin's educated contemporaries, brought up as they were with a strong balladic sense and tradition through poetry. This was a truly rhapsodic account of heroic defiance with honour. Great drama emerged with his phrasing and illuminating rubato. Again a majestic and noble conclusion.

Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy's 12 Études were composed in 1915, in memory of Frederic Chopin. He admits that these are extremely difficult to play, and describes them as 'a warning to pianists not to take up the musical profession unless they have remarkable hands.'

Etudes (Book II)


1.      Étude 1 pour les cinq doigts d'après Monsieur Czerny (five fingers, "after Monsieur Czerny")


      Fine touch and technique


2.      Étude 2 pour les tierces 


     Lovely variety of colors and sense of impressionism. Much variety of tone and touch


3.      Étude 3 pour les quartes


      I was put in mind of sand on the shore after waves had disturbed their repose


4.      Étude 4 pour les sixtes 


     So impressionistic and rather abstract an approach. Refined and delicate touch with hints of gossamer in his piano and pianissimo


5.      Étude 5 pour les octaves


     An uplifting  feeling of a cascading mountain stream with all the imagery of a developing river. Bui created a luminous atmosphere here.


6.      Étude 6 pour les huit doigts (eight fingers)


  Most energetic and full of the sounds of a storm in nature. Bui created mysterious, impressionistic harmonic transitions. He used silences in so musical and plangent a fashion.

Franz Schubert

Fantasy in C major, Op. 15, D 760 (Der Wanderer)

This great work is based by the composer on his song Der Wanderer.  This was a marvelously descriptive account without virtuosic exaggeration and the breaking of dynamic of barriers. The feeling of song always remained.

Bui maintained a strong sense of evolving fantasies as the wanderer travelled through the real, emotional and imagined landscapes of mind and heart. many passages were both thoughtful, philosophical and reflective. The work became the wandering of a disinherited mind and soul through life. So full of the yearning for love, resolution and psychic security in the emotional labyrinths of lost love. Nostalgia led to anger at squandered opportunities in his expressive use of dynamics. Schubert maintained his masculine pride in the face of emotional adversity and deep disappointment. This was a true narrative of reflection whilst wandering the countryside (the pattern but not the disillusionment lying within Der Winterreise). Passionate regrets besiege all of us. Many intellectual emotions were given voice in the fugal section. A rhapsodic conclusion and the overcoming of the mysterious obstacles thrown up by life were defeated with superb grandeur.

The operatic nature of ‘The Wanderer’ passing thorough varied landscapes and the joyful and bitter experiences of life on his great journey were clear to this poianist. He wrote it in 1822 only six years before his premature death. The work is surely a keyboard version of what might have been another great Schubert song cycle. The main theme in a hardly festive C-sharp minor actually taken from his song Der Wanderer. 

I once heard the great pianist Alexander Melnikov at the Chopin i jego Europa Festival in Warsaw give a brilliant account of this work on a Conrad Graf piano which illuminated the shifting landscape and fluctuating moods in an unprecedented manner perfectly suited to Schubert. Conrad Graf (1782-1851) was an Austrian-German piano maker whose instruments were used by Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert and Clara Schumann among others. They were capable of extraordinary sonority and special effects.

Schubert once wrote 'Happiness is where you are not...'  and explaining that the 'Romantic soul is never happy where he is...' Schubert had an inferiority complex concerning Beethoven. This work is marked by grace, grandeur and nobility. At times unsettled, it would calm into glorious song full of human emotion. For me there is often far too much use of this work as a showy virtuosic account. Not tonight!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

I returned at speed some 450 kms from the Duszniki Zdrój International Chopin Festival to be in time for this much anticipated inaugural concert in Warsaw! Am pleased I did as the audience were highly enthusiastic and received the performance with a standing ovation.

14.08.22

Sunday

20:00

Moniuszko Hall of the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

Inaugural concert

Performers:

Natalia Rubiś soprano

Paweł Konik baritone

Krzysztof Bączyk bass

Roman Chumakin baritone

Paulina Boreczko mezzo-soprano

Kalina Młodożeniec The Władysław Skoraczewski Artos Music Society Choir

Kacper Pniewski The Władysław Skoraczewski Artos Music Society Choir

Jerzy Radziwiłowicz voice

Danuta Stenka voice

Fabio Biondi conductor

Violetta Bielecka choir arrangements

Europa Galante conducted by Fabio Biondi

Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir

Program:

Stanisław Moniuszko

Nijola (after 1848) 

Cantata for solo voices, mixed choir and orchestra

I was seduced by the rather erotic music and poetical atmosphere dedicated to a May night in Spring. This is one of the most beautiful and Romantic months in Poland if the blossoming of nature is any guide to one's internal spiritual and sensual life. A goddess Krumine is desperately unhappy and her daughter Nijola will attempt to sacrifice herself to cure her mother of this deep sorrow. She crowns herself with spring flowers and the water nymphs (Vandines) sing. 'The waters seethed, the perfidious nymphs...' She is lured into the hideous grasp of Poklus in the depths but a most beautiful consolation of love is sung to the May season in Moniuszko's most impressionistic music. 

There are hints of the Siegfried Idyll and influence of Wagner in this most moving 'nature music' for me especially the winsome opening and conclusion. The sound of water flowing lyrically through the countryside was sensitively and alluringly added with a part written for the Erard period piano. The narrator was Paweł Konik and the part of Nijoła was taken by Natalia Rubiś. All the soloists in this production were rather fine singers.

The orchestra play impressively  on period instruments. Their conductor Fabio Biondi is a great champion of Moniuszko's music and cannot fully understand its neglect in Europe as a whole. I feel the iron curtain was a cultural barrier as much as a political and military one which prevented cultural values and achievements percolating across this cruel blockage. Europa Galante and Biondi are doing a great service in the exciting renaissance of polish music that os now taking place. 

The sound of water flowing lyrically through the countryside was sensitively and alluringly added with a part written for the Erard period piano

The distinguished Polish music critic Dorota Szwarcman is very helpful in this regard for what appears a rather strange Slavic myth for this foreigner

The most interesting aspect of the story is the fact that a Polish composer born in today's Belarus used the Lithuanian myth described by another Pole - Józef Ignacy Kraszewski. This is a story analogous to the Greek myth about Demeter and her daughter Persephone, who is kidnapped by Hades - the god of the underworld. In this version, Nijoła (who Moniuszko called the Lithuanian Proserpina, referring to the Roman version of the myth) wants to get mother Krumine out of her sadness and throws herself into the Rossa River to pick up a flower of happiness for her. Seduced by evil Wandyny, she is kidnapped by Poklus. (my translation with assistance)

Widma (Apparitions) 

Cantata with lyrical scenes for solo voices, mixed choir and orchestra

This year is the 203rd anniversary of the birth of Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872), the greatest operatic composer in nineteenth century Poland. It is also the celebratory Year of Polish Romanticism. There are musical celebrations throughout the country and the resuscitation of his long forgotten works in performance. The seemingly impossible dream of the independence of the country as a sovereign nation and accession to the European Union means that at last what one might term the 'Cultural Iron Curtain' has been split apart to reveal formerly unknown artistic treasures of this valiant nation to the wider European continent. In no domain has this been more obvious than in music, but also in art, architecture, theatre and literature. 

The Polish language does present a difficult barrier in a way that English, French and Italian do not in the West. This remark does not assume a forest of undiscovered composers of genius, but certainly many of enormous talent and significant musical gifts to augment the European musical canon.

The principal […] field of Mr Moniuszko’s activity as a composer is dramatic music; his favourite genre is French opera, created by Gluck, refined with Italian improvements by Méhul and Cherubini, later enriched with the treasures of harmony and drama of the German opera, disseminated so widely by Catel, Boiledieu, Auber, Hérold and Halévy, the sounds of the French opera are heard today from the stages everywhere across Europe. Indeed, music of this kind seems to be much more to our taste than the studied, dreamy-philosophical German style: we are so fond of this gaiety, this lightness that does not exclude the true drama, melodiousness, grace and naïveté—the ingredients of the good French opera.

[Stanisław Lachowicz, “Moniuszko,” Tygodnik Petersburski 13 (1842), No. 80. Quoted from Grzegorz Zieziula, From Bettly in French to Die Schweizerhütte in German: The Foreign-Language Operas of Stanisław Moniuszko]




Stanisław Moniuszko was born into a family of Polish landowners settled in Ubiel near Minsk in present day Belarus and showed the customary precociousness of genius. He studied composition and conducting with Carl Friedrich Rungenhagen in Berlin in 1837 and later worked as an organist in Vilnius. He traveled often to St. Petersburg where he met the great composers of the day  (Glinka, Balakirev, and Mussorgsky) and also Weimar where he met Liszt and then Prague where he made the acquaintance of Smetana. His first recently discovered (2015) comic opera in two acts composed in Berlin was entitled Der Schweizerhütte (the Swiss Cottage).

In 1848 he visited Warsaw and met the writer, actor and director Jan Chęciński who became the librettist of arguably Moniuszko’s greatest operas, Halka and  Straszny Dwór (The Haunted Manor), both infused with the fertile theme of Polish nationalism. Halka was premiered with great success in Warsaw in 1858 (10 years after the concert version performance in Vilnius!) and then later in Prague, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Moniuszko became an overnight success in the manner of Lord Byron after the publication of Childe Harold. He then began to concentrate on operas that eschewed Polish themes. 

For example Moniuszko for some time had been fascinated with the class system in France as also the caste system in India as depicted in the play Paria by Casimir Delavigne (1793-1843) which he had translated from the French. He also desperately wanted an operatic success on the stages of Paris, spurred on by the successful operas of Meyerbeer. 

I cannot possibly review every artist and performance so unfortunately I shall need to be selective. As a newcomer to much of this music by Moniuszko, I am really not in a position to judge the interpretations. I will not have the temerity to be overly critical.  The lack of English surtitles was a great shame considering this concert was available streamed online and televised to an international audience. Moniuszko was always tremendously sensitive to his musical settings of words.

Set in a cemetery, this cantata is a setting of Part II, Widma, is one of the greatest works of Romantic literature in the Western canon and of fundamental cultural significance for Poland and Polish culture. It is part of the trilogy of stage plays known as Dziady (Forefather's Eve) by the Polish poet of genius, Adam Mickiewicz. 

Influenced by Byron (Manfred), the poet addresses the historical trauma of Poland’s loss of independence, its oppression and resistance, comparing it to the sacrifice of Jesus, therefore giving a metaphysical, religious meaning to the perils of Polish history. In this part, published in 1823, Mickiewicz expresses a philosophy of life, based mainly on folk morality and on his own thoughts about love and death. Moniuszko set these words to outstanding music.

You know,

Our nation’s like a

living volcano:

The top is hard and cold, worthless and dried,

But boiling, fiery lava seethes inside.

[Translated by Charles Kraszewski]

Part II, written in 1823, is about a ceremonial summoning of the souls in purgatory. The wandering souls are fed with honey, various grains and vodka. According to the old Slavic traditions, visitors to the land of the dead had to be hosted, fed and watered. As a result, they were satisfied and happy, and thus favorable to the hosts.

Real parties honoring ancestors were held in the villages. Tables were set up in the central part of the village, outside it or directly in the cemeteries - depending on the region. The tables featured baking, bread, groats, vegetables, as well as fruit and strong alcohols.

It was a good practice to spread food leftovers around one another so that the souls feasting with us could taste the dishes served on the tables. Tables were never cleared after the party was over, leaving scraps of food and drink for the dead.

The ritual is semi-Christian on the surface, but in fact, it comes from a much older, pagan heritage. As a poet, he was among the first to include the informal, folk experience and its vocabulary into high Polish culture. 

This is the Moniuszko setting of the iconic Mickiewicz drama we listened to this evening. I found the music remarkable and extraordinary. Also as much of the nineteenth-century language of poetry (as I could understand), absorbing and moving. The remarkable thing is that the ghosts and wraiths seem real, not just an empty convention. Mickiewicz was always a man with a strong sense of animism, a worldview in which the affairs of the world are conducted by affairs of a spiritual realm.

I quote Dorota Szwarcman once more:

Similarly in Widma, but it is also much better quality music. We've seen a couple of unfortunate performances of this work in recent years, but this evening we actually heard it for the first time in good shape. The soloists were completely Polish (except for Roman Chumakin from Novosibirsk (as a bad man), who, however, is associated with the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic), and very well, because he didn’t have to struggle with the language. The recited fragments of Mickiewicz were entrusted to Jerzy Radziwiłowicz and Danuta Stenka. Guślarz - Krzysztof Bączyk was great (especially the charming "a-kysz, a-kysz, a-kyszszsz"), and Natalia Rubiś sang Zosia's ariette with humor this time. And the Angels, mentioned by the Great Leader under the previous entry, made a nice impression in the room.


The first ghosts are two children who are unable to reach heaven, as they have never suffered.

You can watch the Inaugural Concert on Youtube here:






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