19TH CHOPIN AND HIS EUROPE FESTIVAL Warsaw, Poland 18 August - 1 September 2023

19TH CHOPIN AND HIS EUROPE FESTIVAL
Warsaw

18 August - 1 September 2023
 
NOT FOR THE FIRST TIME!

 

The 19th International CHOPIN AND HIS EUROPE FESTIVAL will take place in Warsaw from 18 August to 1 September this year. As usual, the programme includes Chopin’s work in the context of the epoch and its multidimensional impact on the European composers of the 19th and 20th centuries, which can be traced down in a number of masterpieces by leading artists. 

The virtuosos of piano, outstanding chamber music, symphony concerts and the opera in the concert version ‘not for the first time’. The survey is of Polish music from Classicism to the contemporary times, original versions and arrangements. Brilliant historical as well as contemporary performances by excellent but also controversial artists: Ivo Pogorelic, Kevin Chen, Bruce Liu, Dang Thai Son, Vadym Kholodenko, Kate Liu, Alena Baeva… and many more.


The full programme of the festival is available at:


The official website of the festival in English





Concert and Recital Reviews

Profile of the Reviewer Michael Moran  

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Photographs by Wojciech Grzędziński

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Final Concert

Friday 01.09.23 at 20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

 

Izabela Matuła soprano

Yulianna Avdeeva piano

 

Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra

Andrzej Boreyko conductor

 

Johannes Brahms

Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15

 On 28th October 1853 Robert Schumann wrote of Brahms “Here is man of destiny! Seated at the piano he began to disclose wondrous things.” Within a year Brahms’s new friend had lost his reason and attempted suicide by throwing himself into the Rhine. Brahms reaction to soul-crippling grief at the news was to begin composing a large sonata for two pianos. Soon he slowly began to realise this was actually a ‘symphony in disguise’. His reworking of the sonata eventually became the first Piano Concerto in D minor op. 15. It took him some five years to complete. 

The premiere (1859) at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig and subsequent performances were not a success – quite the opposite in fact – the music critic Bernsdorf said the work was ‘utterly beyond hope...retching and rummaging, this straining and tugging, this tearing and patching…’ Yes, it was revolutionary work for the time. Schumann had said that the piano would be too limited a medium for Brahms vast conceptions. He was right as ever. The composer completed a monumental conception in this concerto that confused almost everyone. The premiere of the concerto featured Brahms himself as soloist and his friend Joseph Joachim conducting the Gewandhaus orchestra.

The opening long Maestoso first movement was explosive and powerful. The tympani was almost overwhelming as Avdeeva made her noble entries. This was playing that possessed a well understood concept of the piano as an integral part of the symphonic structure of the work. Her approach was declamatory execution of an exalted kind. Avdeeva was both dramatic and impassioned against the doom-laden tympani. 

The extremely heartfelt Adagio aroused yearning, consolation and grief of an almost unsupportable intensity. Avdeeva coaxed a sublime cantabile from the  instrument and created true grandeur of romantic emotion. The expression of loss was desperately poignant. She achieved this with a beautiful rounded, singing tone and touch that possessed a great deal of poetry, an almost religious feeling of profound melancholy (felt by Brahms at the onset of Schumann's insanity). 

The final Andante con moto, however, revealed a rather odd disconnection of soloist, conductor and orchestra. There emerged  an increasingly noticeable lack of organic cohesion and even isolation of the soloist. However, Avdeeva as always, preserved superb nobility of utterance and even physical posture in this Rondo. The brass, particularly the horn, was most  impressive. The infectious dance rhythms and the fugato were brilliantly managed by Avdeeva. 

Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933-2010)

Symphony No. 3 „Symphony of sorrowful songs" Op. 36

My own association with this symphony began in Poland with a harrowing film of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The viewing had a profound impression on me which has scarcely ever left my consciousness.

 Górecki’s Third Symphony, completed in 1976, only made its mark with the release of the London Sinfonietta’s 1992 recording, which was top of the classical record charts for 26 weeks. The phenomenon prompted Channel 4 to commission a film from Tony Palmer entitled Górecki Symphony No 3, 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs', eventually shown on ITV’s South Bank Show.

The film includes an interview with Górecki and a performance of the Symphony illustrated with newsreels of famine and war and specially-shot sequences inside Auschwitz. Linked with such compassionate music, images of emptied Zyklon-gas canisters, fly-infested wounds on starving children and an extended beating meted out by Balkan soldiers somehow seem even more horrific. The final shot shows a bemused-looking Górecki unable to find words for things he has seen.

It is a tribute to the power of the music as well as the images that this film often reduced me to tears and made me feel sick in my stomach and soul. There are no extras since there is nothing to say beyond what the music, images and interview convey. The packaging is appropriately stark and simple, containing only texts used in the Symphony and a brief note in which Palmer opines that the Symphony bears witness to the bloodiest century ever, the blame for which lays not just with monstrous dictators but with ‘liberal democracies who allow countless millions to starve to death’. (BBC Music Magazine)

The symphony alludes to each of the main historical and political developments in Poland's history from the 14th century to 1976, the year of its composition. What is more, each of the three movements appears to represent a different age . . . and [they are] chronologically contiguous. The composer seems to have created three separate and discrete "chapters" in his summary of Poland's history.

Górecki said of the work: 'Many of my family died in concentration camps. I had a grandfather who was in Dachau, an aunt in Auschwitz. You know how it is between Poles and Germans. But Bach was a German too—and Schubert, and Strauss. Everyone has his place on this little earth. That's all behind me. So the Third Symphony is not about war; it's not a Dies Irae; it's a normal Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.'

I Lento—Sostenuto tranquillo ma cantabile

In 1973, Górecki approached the Polish folklorist Adolf Dygacz in search of traditional melodies to incorporate in a new work. Dygacz presented four songs which had been recorded in the Silesia region in south-western Poland. Górecki was impressed by the melody 'Where has he gone, my dear young son?' (Kajże się podzioł mój synocek miły?), which describes a mother's mourning for a son lost in war, and probably dates from the Silesian Uprisings of 1919–21. The words and the melody of Dygacz's new version made a lasting impression on him. He said: For me, it is a wonderfully poetic text. I do not know if a 'professional' poet would create such a powerful entity out of such terse, simple words. It is not sorrow, despair or resignation, or the wringing of hands: it is just the great grief and lamenting of a mother who has lost her son.'

The opening on the double basses was a low frequency growl evoking the deepest melancholy. Some growth in the texture and timbre of sound gradually took place, the voices in canon moving from double basses, to cellos, to violas to violins. The soprano enters and builds to a climax on the final word. The movement seemed absolutely appropriate to the mood of reflection on the nature of war, this being the anniversary of the outbreak of WW II on  September 1st and present horrendous circumstances.

II Lento e largo—Tranquillissimo

The Palace in Zakopane at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, a former Nazi Gestapo prison, was where the composer took an inscription scrawled on a cell wall for the composition of his symphony.

The words were those of 18-year-old Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna, a highland woman incarcerated on 25 September 1944. It read O Mamo, nie płacz, nie. Niebios Przeczysta Królowo, Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie (Oh Mamma do not cry, no. Immaculate Queen of Heaven, always support me). The composer recalled: 'I have to admit that I have always been irritated by grand words, by calls for revenge. Perhaps in the face of death I would shout out in this way. But the sentence I found is different, almost an apology or explanation for having got herself into such trouble; she is seeking comfort and support in simple, short but meaningful words". He later explained: 'In prison, the whole wall was covered with inscriptions screaming out loud: 'I'm innocent', 'Murderers', 'Executioners', 'Free me', 'You have to save me'—it was all so loud, so banal. Adults were writing this, while here it is an eighteen-year-old girl, almost a child. And she is so different. She does not despair, does not cry, does not scream for revenge. She does not think about herself; whether she deserves her fate or not. Instead, she only thinks about her mother: because it is her mother who will experience true despair. This inscription was something extraordinary. And it really fascinated me.'

III Lento—Cantabile-semplice

Górecki now had two texts: one from a mother to her son, the other from a daughter to her mother. While looking for a third that would continue the theme, he decided on a mid-15th-century folk song from the southern city of Opole Its text contains a passage in which the Virgin Mary speaks to her Son dying on the cross: 'O my son, beloved and chosen, Share your wounds with your mother ...' (Synku miły i wybrany, rozdziel z matką swoje rany ...). Górecki said, "this text was folk-like, anonymous. So now I had three acts, three persons ... Originally, I wanted to frame these texts with an introduction and a conclusion. I even chose two verses (5 and 6) from Psalm 93/94 in the translation by Wujek: 'They humiliated Your people, O Lord, and afflicted Your heritage, they killed the widow and the passer-by, murdered the orphans.' However, he rejected this format because he believed the structure would position the work as a symphony 'about war'. Górecki sought to transcend such specifics, and instead structured the work as three independent laments.

O sing for him

God's little song-birds

Since his mother cannot find him.
And you, God's little flowers

May you blossom all around

That my son may sleep a happy sleep.

The movement is based on the sentiments contained in this poem. The almost monotonous nature of the music tends to hypnotize one into almost a state of non-reception. At times I felt this immense musical meditation was like travelling inside the bloodstream, passing around the body irresistibly. The long pulsating meditation led finally to a remarkably moving harmonic resolution. I became convinced of the religious and metaphysical nature of this movement with such a huge orchestra containing the subterranean sound abyss of eight double bases.

In Górecki's own words: 'Finally there came that unvarying, persistent, obstinate 'walczyk' [on the chord of A], sounding well when played piano, so that all the notes were audible. For the soprano, I used a device characteristic of highland singing: suspending the melody on the third [C] and descending from the fifth to the third while the ensemble moves stepwise downward [in sixths]".

Hearing this work live in a concert hall was profoundly affecting and should be the sole medium in which one should approach it. Listening in privacy, domestically on a CD, does not have an equal embracing sound effect. This comes from the rare psychic communication created by this work in a community listening process taking place within a crowd of people. 

The profound humanity and pathos of the work moved the entire audience to the depths of their soul.

Thursday 31.08.23 at 20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

 Piano recital

Lukáš Vondráček piano

Winner of the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels in 2016

 Josef Suk (1874-1935)

Piano Pieces Op. 7 (1891-93)

These Bohemian piano pieces had pleasant if light melody lines with most attractive harmonic colouration. Some were seductive and charming salon pieces most suitable for the summer pleasure gardens and assembly rooms as outlined in a previous concert below. Vondráček had an affecting idiomatic grasp of these amiable works.

Suk was known as one of Dvořák's favorite pupils and became personally close to his mentor. He once said of himself: 'I do not bow to anyone, except to my own conscience and to our noble Lady Music… and yet at the same time I know that thereby I serve my country, and praise the great people from the period of our wakening who taught us to love our country.'

Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884)

Czech Dances Book 2

Smetana strove throughout his work to express the spirit of the late Czech national revival to create a unique Czech musical style. Although his work and work caused stormy polemics, Bedřich Smetana became a leading representative of Czech music and national culture in general during his lifetime. He is traditionally referred to as the founder of modern Czech national music and significantly influenced subsequent generations of Czech composers.

I found a great contrast in piano writing between these two composers. It was clear that Smetana had been influenced by Franz Liszt. These at times rhapsodic works felt rather heavy handed with Vondráček. Some sad, rather simple even naive melodies put me in mind of farm workers during a heavy agricultural day in the fields. Yet scattered about there was welcome spontaneity and eruptions of energy that gave a creative improvisatory feel to the performance.  



Robert Schumann (1810-1856)   

Kreisleriana Op.16

Phantasien für das Pianoforte 


Äusserst bewegt

Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch

Sehr aufgeregt

Sehr langsam

Sehr lebhaft

Sehr langsam

Sehr rasch

Schnell und spielend

Vondráček performed one of my favourite works of the romantic piano literature, Kreisleriana Op. 16 by Robert Schumann. However, he opened the work with, for me,  a disturbing and dynamically inflated headlong flight.

I will not analyze each movement of the work save mentioning the intense poetic arias and songs. Kreisleriana progressed through intense lyrical interludes of sublime melody and periods of monumental, almost symphonic rhapsodic playing of (at least for me) excessive emotional violence. But then I have never attempted to depict overt madness in my novel writing.

From this explosive beginning I knew this approach would be a significantly virtuosic and  'pianistic' interpretation rather than an exploration of the philosophical, metaphysical, literary and thought-provoking world contained within the composition. I felt it might not appeal to me despite the tremendous command of the keyboard by this magnificent pianist. Although there were some fine toned, expressive and sensitive poetic Eusebius lyrical moments, I felt Florestan far too emotionally exaggerated to fit my conception of the work. The polyphonic nature and influence of Bach and Chopin on Schumann in this composition seemed simply to dissolve in lack of transparency sacrificed on the contemporary altar of speed and power.

The audience gave Vondráček an immediate cheering standing ovation. Many listeners whose opinions I respect were passionately praising his 'genius'. I have outlined below the reasons for my further thinking on the gestation of this complex, referential work.

Madness or insanity was a notion that simultaneously attracted and repelled Schumann throughout his time on earth At the end of his life he was cruelly to fall victim to mental instability. 

E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822)

Kreisleriana was presented publicly as eight sketches of the fictional character Kapellmeister Kreisler, a rather crazy conductor-composer who was a literary figure created by the marvellous German Romantic writer and composer E.T.A. Hoffman who possessed 'an overwhelming interest in music'. The piece is actually based on the Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier and also the double narrative form of an inventive grotesque satirical literary novel Hoffmann wrote with the remarkable, translated title: Growler the Cat’s Philosophy of Life Together with Fragments of the Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler from Random Sheets of the Printer’s Waste. 

Schumann's work was partly a response to what he considered to be the demise of the sonata form post-Beethoven -  '...it looks as if this form has run its course.' he wrote.

The fictional author of this double novel (two protagonists) Kater Murr (Growler the Cat) is actually a caricature of the German petit bourgeois class. 'O Appetite, thy name is Cat! With the herring head in my mouth I climbed to the roof, like pious Aeneas.' Certainly this is a bizarre work of literature! 

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


 Music and literature were inextricably connected in Schumann's artistic aesthetic. He was particularly fond of Kreisleriana and attracted to composing a work in ‘fragmented’ form in the structural manner of this novel. The use of the device of interrelated ‘fragments’ (as the nineteenth century termed what we might refer to as 'miniatures') was employed by the Romantic Movement in poetry, prose and music. Schumann often likened the listening to music to that of reading a novel. References to literature are found in many of his compositions.

 Kreisler is a type of Doppelgänger for Schumann. This was a favourite concept for the composer, who divided his own creative personality between the created characters of Florestan and Eusebius. With the unpredictable Kreisler as his alter ego, Schumann was able to indulge the dualities of his own personality. The music swings violently and suddenly between agitation (Florestan) and lyrical calm (Eusebius), between dread and elation. Or one might conjecture, between the composer and the cat. 

The episodes in the piece describe Schumann's emotional passions, his divided personality and his creative art. His tortured soul alternates with lyrical love passages expressing the composer’s love for Clara Wieck. He used and transformed one of her musical themes in the work. 

However, in performance, the temptation to exaggerate  the agitation on a modern concert grand must be resisted to avoid extreme dynamic distortion of Schumann's intention. The energetic, fragmented driving, almost pathological qualities of Florestan can easily be overdone in our world that idolizes formerly inconceivable speed and dynamic power. 

The expression of the true power of passion involves the communication of a feeling of desperate loss of emotional control not utter abandonment to hysteria. Grigory Sokolov profoundly understood this in his Warsaw recital on 21st November 2021. Vladimir Horowitz understood this in his 1986 recording of the work where he restrains himself a fraction which adds immensely to the emotional impact and intensity of Florestan and Eusebius in contrast and reveals the expressive transparent polyphony.

The work oscillates between two highly contrasting schemes of music. 1838 was a disturbed time for Schumann. His marriage to this 'inaccessible love', the piano virtuoso Clara Wieck, was a year ahead. At this time they were painfully petitioning the courts for permission to marry and ignore her father's cruel social class objections to the connection. They had known each other for ten years before their eventual marriage in 1840. 

During this turbulent period of frustration, Schumann’s compositions evolved in complexity. Their unbridled emotionalism and adventurous structure confused musicians, audience and critics alike. The work was written as predominantly oscillating between B-flat major (slow - lyric, expressive - legato flowing melody - small octaves) and G minor (rapid - non-lyric - dotted rhythms, rests, staccato notes - mechanistic repetitions - short motives - contra and great octaves).

Schumann originally intended to dedicate the work to Clara, but wishing to avoid more calamitous situations with her father, who had violently forbidden their marriage, eventually dedicated it to his friend Fryderyk Chopin.

He wrote the work in an astonishing four days in April 1838.  The polyphonic nature of the piece may have reflected a deep understanding of Chopin's own style and certainly a love of Bach. The Polish composer merely commented on the appearance of the cover design of the score left on his piano. Even Clara, on first acquaintance with the work, wrote: 'Sometimes your music actually frightens me, and I wonder: is it really true that the creator of such things is going to be my husband?' Even Franz Liszt was challenged finding the work 'too difficult for the public to digest.' 

Schumann wrote to Clara in a letter:

'Play my Kreisleriana sometimes. You will find a wild, unbridled love in there in places, together with your life and mine, and many of your glances.' Also 'Oft these things (his works), I love the Kreisleriana the most.'

This great masterpiece of emotional and structural complexity expresses much of the quixotic mercurial temperament of Schumann's personality and the literary constructive elements of the story. Contrasting passages of great discontinuity run up against each other ironically but then finally converge.

In 1834 Schumann had met Hoffmann's role model for the Kreisler figure, the composer Ludwig Böhner (1787-1860) in Leipzig. 'You know that he was as famous as Beethoven in his time and that the Hoffmann was sitting with his Kapellmeister Kreißler as the original… The day before yesterday he fantasized with me for a few hours; the old lightning bolts struck out here and there, but otherwise everything is dark and dreary ... If I had the time, I would like to write Böhnerians for which he gave me the material himself.'

The poetry of the form of the Kreisler section lies in its symbolic circularity (The French literary theorist and Schumann-lover Roland Barthes interestingly observed that Schumann composed music in discrete, intense 'images' rather than as an evolving musical 'language', like a succession of frames in a film). In the literary cycle, Kreisler becomes obsessed with Bach's Goldberg Variations and Schumann is catalyzed by this reference and his own adoration of the music of Bach to improvise complex variations on the Goldbergs in Kreisleriana. This, what one may call 'stretching' of Bach, and placing it transformed into the world of Romanticism, testifies to Kreisler's (and Schumann's) disturbed temperament at this time. 

In Kater Murr: 'Unfortunately, the current biographer is forced to portray his hero, if the portrait should be correct, as an extravagant person who, especially when it comes to musical enthusiasm, often seems almost mad to the quiet observer.'


The Swiss pianist and musical commentator Walther Rehberg (1900-1957) reinterpreted this psychologizing implementation of the Kreisler figure as projected onto Schumann's own psyche: 'So his own storms of the heart, but also his other, wide-ranging inner experiences that are not always compatible with the limits of the bearable, found expression in his Kreisleriana.' 

 This refers to Schumann's self-image: 'He saw himself as a forerunner of a concept of art that broke the fetters of pleasant musical enjoyment and penetrated the 'romantic realm of spirits', threatened by the constant danger of brushing against madness.' (Karl Böhmer Villa Musica)

The composer was also experimenting with the timbre of piano sound. Without wishing to appear a 'crank', I feel it necessary to say that on a piano of Schumann's period (he loved Clara's Conrad Graf of 1838 from Vienna) the varied colours, timbre and textures of the different registers suited the contrapuntal nature of composition. This would have been rather more obvious on the older instrument than on the modern homogenized sound, almost limitless of the Steinway.

Such a temperamental and capricious work by Schumann (and the bizarre background story by E.T.A.Hoffmann) is difficult to present to modern listeners with great conviction and lucidity. Even Schumann once commented 'Only Germans can understand the title Kreisleriana.'  The reason for this apparent prejudice was that Hoffmann was scarcely read outside Germany at the time and even today scarcely read at all anywhere.

 So in this reading the extra literary dimension to the understanding this work was rather lost. Too many pianists seem somewhat averse to reading the literary background and inspiration of such a great, multifaceted work.

 Robert Schumann (1838-39)

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. 

A sensitive performance. Vondráček presented Schumann's two 'best friends' well, the extrovert Florestan and the more poetic Eusebius, those curious doppelgänger personalities that flowered directly from his literary obsessions.

Thursday 31.08.23 at 17:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Music Hall

Performer:

Mateusz Krzyżowski piano

I was unfortunately unable to attend this recital. However, I have watched the career of this pianist gently blossom to his present high musical status over many years

Wednesday 30.08.23 20:00

So Close to Chopin  

A Concert of Ukrainian Music

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Vocal Concert

 Olga Pasiecznik soprano

Natalia Pasiecznik piano

Natalia and Olga Pasiecznik

I am unfamiliar with both the language and the music of these desperately moving songs from Ukraine.

In the fraught and tortuous atmosphere taking place on the very threshold of privileged Polish life, quite beyond language to compassionately engage, this was a deeply moving concert that clearly affected the audience deeply. 

How can Europe have returned to the horrors of both WW I and WW II combined in this evil conflagration expressing the most basic, acquisitive, cruel, mindless and primitive instincts of man? 

Shakespeare understood it all in his history plays. Read them now and dwell on his wisdom and observations ...

 To attempt any criticism of the courageous, heart-breaking and generous gesture of these sisters would be simply insupportably egoistic on my part.

Кyrylo Stetsenko

Стояла я і слухала весну (Stałam i słuchałam wiosnę)

Yakiv Stepovy

Погасло сонце ласки (Zgasło słońce łaski)

Зіронька вечірняя (Gwiazdka wieczorna)

Не грай! (Nie graj!)

Ой, три шляхи широкі (Oj, trzy drogi szerokie)

 Mykola Lysenko

Ucrainian Rhapsody, No. 2, Dumka-Shumka

 Anonymus

Тихо-тихо Дунай воду несе (Cicho, cicho Dunaj wodę niesie)

Ой в полі садок (Oj, w polu sadek)

Гаданочка (Zagadka)

Гей, Іване (Hej, Ivanie)

 Mykoła Kolessa

3 Kolomyikas

Ой, горами волоньки (Oj, górami wółki)

Чи то ми ся видит (Czy to mi się wydaję?)


Viktor Kosenko

Говори, говори (Mów, mów)

Як на небі зірочки (Jak na niebie gwiazdeczki)

Втіха (Pocieszenie), Op. 9 No. 1

 Borys Lyatoshynskyj

Shevchenko suite op. 38 nr 3 („I na obnowionej ziemi wroga nie będzie...")

Колискова (Kołysanka)

 Vasyl Barvinskyi

Oй, люлі, люлі (Oj, luli, luli)

 Valentyn Silvestrov

5 pieśni do słów Ivana Franki

Ой, ти дівчино (Oj, ty dziewczyno)

Сипле сніг (Sypie śnieg)

Хоч ти не будеш квіткою цвісти (I choć nie będziesz kwitnąć kwiatem)

Прощай, світе, прощай, земле (Żegnaj, świecie, żegnaj, ziemio)



30.08.23 Wednesday at 17:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Music Hall

Chamber concert

Aleksandra Hortensja Dąbek period piano

Jakub Jakowicz violin

Marcin Zdunik cello

Mateusz Kowalski guitar

 

Franciszek Mirecki (1791-1862)

Franciszek Mirecki’s music represented the period of change from Classicism to Romanticism in Polish culture. Throughout his life, his only ideal was Italian music, including old Italian opera and Italian comic opera, especially Rossini and Donizetti. He completely rejected the music of Berlioz, Liszt and Verdi, and reluctantly accepted the work of Beethoven. He consistently opposed all manifestations of romanticism, believing it was an effect of deformed taste.

This composer’s works have been completely forgotten, and have also never been the subject of research. However, his operatic success in Italy, the recognition that his treatise on instrumentation enjoyed (one of the first in Europe, and the first in Italian), as well as many foreign editions of his works allow you to see in Franciszek Mirecki – next to F. Janiewicz, and before Chopin - the first Polish composer to gain recognition abroad. [Barbara Chmara-Żaczkiewicz, EM vol. VI, PWM Kraków 2000, fragment]

 In recent years in Poland there has been a most welcome 'rediscovery' and release of the lighter more charming and entertaining 'forgotten' works of the large number of obscure Polish composers, Mirecki among them. I have always felt that although appreciating the idea of 'deep seriousness' in music one must remember the other side of civilized distraction, entertainment, play and fun in classical music.

Impromptu Op. 9

I found the work and the performance full of internal energy with a charming lyrical middle section and pleasant set of variations.

Sonata in D major Op.12 No.2

The Moderato had a pleasant theme if rather simplistic in the 18th century sense. The Andante expressed a charming but rather childish theme but so suitable for the less serious London Pleasure Gardens of Vauxhall and Ranelagh. Thomas Arne, William Boyce and Carl Friedrich Abel all wrote undemanding but delightful music for such recreational and lovemaking destinations - 'Pulling off cherries and goodness knows what else' commented Samuel Pepys. The La Chasse - Allegro un poco vivo called up my imagination music after dinner in a Jane Austen setting with evocative hunting horn themes. 

His music would have been most appropriate in the Pleasure Gardens of Vauxhall and Ranelagh in London or the Assembly Rooms in Bath or Edinburgh. This is not a disservice to their quality but a plea to embrace less serious but nevertheless entertaining classical music.


At Vauxhall Pleasure Garden



Visible in the contemporary view of Vauxhall displayed here are many of Jonathan Tyers’s improvements to the gardens. These included the “Chinese” or “Gothic” orchestra building, the statue of Handel by Roubiliac, a number of triumphal arches spanning the garden’s Italian walks, and the series of arcades housing supperboxes. Also visible are a number of trompe l’oeil landscape paintings that extended the vistas at the ends of the walks. The engravings demonstrate the highly theatrical setting of the gardens, where the public was as much on display as the performers.

4 Polonaises, Op. 8

These works were high-spirited rhythmically in their unapologetic nationalism even if not overly distinguished musically.

Intermission

Piano Trio in F major Op. 22

Rather uninspired and nationalistic music that could have been placed on the road to salvation with more imagination on the part of the pianist.

Fantasy Op.10

This was quite an enlivening work familiar as a dumka

Duo for period guitar and piano Op. 17

I am afraid to say once again that the balance between piano and period guitar was somewhat awry. I felt the piano lid could easily and profitably have been on 'half-stick'.

Mateusz Kowalski

The work and performance were extremely charming and the music perfectly suited to the Bath Assembly Rooms.

Bath Assembly Rooms (Rowlandson)

Piano Trio in E minor  Op. 11

The opening Allegro was undemanding music composed in perfect taste to suite grand houses in Mayfair. I found the Alegretto rather cosmetically melancholic of no great depth but a passing shadow of sentimental sadness is often all that is required. Many hunting calls to lighten the atmosphere! It is clear that here is a composer who loves hunting and did so many of the upper classes for which he was writing music.

The Scherzo was highly tuneful and a developed virtuoso piano work. There were many yearning, rather sentimental themes cantabile with many eloquent exchanges between cello and violin. I found much of this writing surprisingly passionate in the Romantic sense.

The fine cellist Marcin Zdunik

The Finale had rather naive theme, blithe in nature and almost pastoral. I found this movement rather mercurial in its fluctuation of moods. there were many highly energetic passages in dance rhythm more robustly good humoured than genuinely passionate. The phrasal repetition was cumulative but rather tiring as the endless strands stretched out before us.

Their encore was a repetition of the robust, straightforward Scherzo from the Trio.

Vauxhall on a Gala Night (Edward Pugh 1804)

Apart from the people-watching and amorous encounters in the dark tree-line walks, the main attraction of Vauxhall Gardens (probably the most famous of the London pleasure gardens) was the exceptional music. Composers such as Thomas Arne wrote specifically for Vauxhall and others such as George Frederic Handel (whose statue by Roubiliac was erected in the gardens in 1738) were usually happy for their work to find a wider audience.

The fanciful and much illuminated ‘Orchestra’ building at Vauxhall Gardens, depicted in this print, housed an organ and a balcony for the musicians, raised above their audience to prevent requests for particular songs. Vocal concerts were immensely popular, as the large crowd testifies. The alcoves beyond are the supper-boxes, where one could dine on what was supposedly exorbitantly priced food.


29.08.23 Tuesday at 21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Vocal Concert

Collegium Vocale Ghent

Philippe Herreweghe artistic direction

'Solo e pensosoPetrarch's Lost Paradise' 

200 Years before Chopin

Many portraits are known of the poet Petrarch (1304–1374), from early manuscripts of his work, but none is known of his beloved, Laura (1307/8–1348), here depicted with a laurel branch, an attribute of poetry. The source for the portraits is a fifteenth-century Tuscan manuscript in which the subjects are depicted separately. The unknown artist, whose style is close to Bartolomeo Veneto, may have known these or copies of them.

[Ashmolean Museum, Oxford]

Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch, 1304–1374) is universally regarded as one of the greatest Italian poets and considered to be the 'Father of Renaissance Humanism. Petrarch is renowned for his poetry, and especially for his sonnets, composed in the vernacular Italian dialect of his homeland. He was also the author of prose works in Latin, including numerous books, essays, and volumes of his letters, which, with Cicero as his model, he collected, edited, and preserved for posterity. [Baylor University Press]

This group of madrigals was a fascinating setting by the greatest Mannerist composers of fragments of immortal poems by Petrarch and Dante. The poems are musical compositions in themselves, clear if you understand Italian. Yet they are elevated into a higher metaphysical dimension by sublime music and the voice.

On Friday 27.08.21 at 21:00 in Warsaw I attended a sublime  concert devoted to the madrigals of Don Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613). Philippe Herreweghe was the conductor, Thomas Boysen lute and the Vocale Ghent. The feelings generated by that concert returned with force once again this evening.

The period between the High Renaissance and the Baroque (1520-1620) can be considered the Age of Mannerism. The performance tonight moved us into the enchanted realms of the highest in art and exerted an incontestable atmosphere of magic. 

One can of course analyse musicologically what the composer contrives with language, his novel and revolutionary word-splitting, the harmonic adventurism. The Vocale Ghent under Philippe Herreweghe transported us once again into another world of Mannerist force and power with their superb clarity of intonation and sureness of enunciation. 

A cultural and musical treasure rarely given in these benighted times.


Claudio Monteverdi

Voi ch'ascoltate

 

Salomone Rossi

Sinfonia Quinta

 


Luca Marenzio

Cosi nel mio parlar

 

Cipriano da Rore

Vergine tal'è terra

 


Claudio Monteverdi

Oimè il bel viso

 

Cipriano da Rore

Io canterei d'amore


Luzzasco Luzzaschi

Quivi sospiri

 

Giuseppe Scarani

Sonata sesta a due soprani

 


Marco da Gagliano

Vergine Bella

 

Claudio Monteverdi

O ciechi, ciechi !

 

Luca Marenzio

Solo e pensos

 

Cipriano da Rore

Vergine sol'al mondo

Mia Benigna Fortuna

 

Orlando di Lasso

S'una fede amorosa

 

Claudio Monteverdi

Hor che'l ciel e la terra


28.08.23 Monday at 20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hal 

Piano recital

Alexei Lubimov period piano

 

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) 

2 Rhapsodies, Op. 79 (1879)

Brahms wrote these passionate, agitated and attractive Rhapsodies in his maturity during his summer stay on the shores of the attractive Lake Wörthersee in Austria, Carinthia's largest lake. 


Lake Worthersee, Velden, Austria

The emotional impact from the very first notes was of mature musician and pianist who had lived and contemplated the interpretation of these pieces for his entire life. I felt them to be poetic and romantic presented by this older man who could call on the filter of a long struggle-filled experience. 

Lubimov is a notable Russian dissident who has exhibited the greatest courage and tenacity in his resistance to absolutism. The landscape of subliminal musical resistance that lies beneath and is laid out for us is irreplaceable. A young pianist may imitate the emotional penetration of this evening's programme but cannot drive conspicuously to the creative and organic core of it. A strong polyphonic element was clear in the transparent structure of both which emerged as coherent wholes. This became increasingly obvious as the evening recital progressed to the Intermezzi.

A few words on the remarkable piano. The balance of registers was particularly illuminating for the texture of these late Brahms works. The Steinway at the Paris exhibition of 1867 swept all before it and the piano as an instrument became immensely popular in Vienna in the 1870s. This was partly due industrial, commercial affordability and technological innovations such as overstringing and increased resonance. 



The Steinway innovations were copied by German and Austrian makers such as Friedrich Ehrbar who manufactured the 1878 instrument we were listening to this evening. Ehrbar was a friend of Brahms and many of his symphonic works were first heard in two and four hand arrangements in his small concert hall in the capital. We were privileged indeed to hear these late works on this instrument.

According to the prescient English writer on music Malcolm MacDonald, in his book Brahms (p. 355 London 1990), the last four sets of Brahms piano music Opp. 116-119 'stand at the furthest possible remove from the rhetoric of the early sonatas or the pugnacious challenge of the large-scale variation sets. Though a few of them afford brief glimpses of the old fire and energy (Op.116 No.1 in D minor, marked Presto energico, contains virtuosity, fire and drama), the predominant character is reflective, musing, deeply introspective, and at the same time unfailingly exploratory of harmonic and textual effect, of rhythmic ambiguity, of structural elision and wayward fantasy.' 

They have been known for their reflective nature, amalgamated with lyricism, desolation and heart-warming moments. The probable dedicatee of these works, Clara Schumann, with whom Brahms had a rather complicated relationship, praised them as 'a true source of enjoyment, everything, poetry, passion, rapture, intimacy, full of the most marvellous effects'.

7 Fantasies, Op. 116

Bad Ischl at the time of Brahms


6 Klavierstücke op. 118 

Intermezzo in A minor Op. 118 No. 1

Intermezzo in A major Op. 118 No. 2

Ballade in G minor Op. 118 No. 3

Intermezzo in F minor Op. 118 No. 4

Romances in F major Op. 118 No. 5

Intermezzo in E-flat minor Op. 118 No. 6

 

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'. 

Dedicated to Clara Schumann, they were written at Bad Ischl during his summer sojourn and are probably his most well-known piano compositions nowadays. Julius August Philipp Spitta, a German musicologist, wrote to Brahms of these miniatures after receiving the score, 'They are the most varied of all your piano pieces and perhaps the richest in content and depth of meaning …'. Concentrated, intense and expressive, this group are a portrait of his internal emotional landscape.

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

The passionate outbursts of the first Intermezzo in A minor has such an affirmation of life in those rich chords, then the fading away and decay. These emotions were profoundly expressive with Lubimov. In the second sensitively played Intermezzo in A major, he savoured the desperate yearning and eloquent harmonic transitions of the Andante teneramente, the expressive dynamic variations and poetry, so lovingly embracing the long legato lines of transient affections. This ardent work has all the rhapsodic yearning and longing of a nocturne on the nature of mortality and lost love.

At this point in the recital I became uncannily aware that Lubimov the performer had actually dissolved, disappeared into the ether to become an unearthly, direct conduit for the music of Brahms now folding us in its embrace. Surely this process of rising beyond technique and even beyond the physical limitations of the instrument is a rarely a realized aspiration of any musician and the rarest experience for a listener.

Almost as a vengeful affirmation of life, yet hauntingly reflective, Lubimov exploded into the Ballade in G minor with its vigorous rhythms and a wonderful delineation of densely woven harmonies. He interpreted it as not merely a virtuoso piece for piano but a construction of monumental seriousness and substance.

In the contrapuntal texture of the fourth piece, the Intermezzo in F minor, Lubimov expressed the fluctuating, mercurial nature of emotional tension and calm waters, which seems inevitably followed by the etiolated nature of 'all passion spent'. The Chopinesque lullaby that inhabits the heart of the Romance in F major was movingly expressed, his touch and effulgent tone carried one away into rarefied realms. Variegated colors rose from the registers of this historic instrument, an extraordinary sound palette glowing before us.

The valedictory final piece is an extraordinarily forward-looking work that in many ways explores revolutionary melodic and harmonic boundaries of the day. 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. Lubimov, ego utterly extinguished, inhabited a world of a metaphysical medium in this scarcely bearable extinction of life.

 

3 Intermezzos op. 117 

Intermezzo in E flat major Op. 117 No. 1 

Intermezzo in B flat minor Op. 117 No. 2

Intermezzo in C sharp minor Op. 117 No. 3

L. Rohbock / A. Fesca: View of Bad Ischl with the imperial villa in the foreground, steelplate engraving, 19th century Copyright courtesy of Schloss Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H.

Lubimov passed without pause directly into Op.117. We began with the profound lyrical sadness of these Intermezzi, unsurpassed in the expression of profound sadness and dejection. This Op. 117 set of passionate musical denials and sacrifice was composed in 1892. They are intensely poetic and introspective works which Brahms thought of as  'three lullabies for my sorrows.' The first Intermezzo in E-flat major has a preface written on the score taken from an old Scottish ballad, Lady Anne Bothwell's Lament:

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

How much it hurts to see you weep!'

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

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

His phrasing, tempo, dynamics were all profoundly expressive and again I felt Brahms was communicating directly in musical speech with my soul. The breaths Lubimov took were at once moving and deeply affecting in sensibility. Regrets were recalled, those griefs that cannot be reversed. He carried us onto different emotional layers and into shifting moods ranging from remorse to anger to resignation. The nostalgic remembrance of past joys and dark thoughts was close to unbearable in this conduit, this direct communication with the composer.

Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)

Barcarolle F sharp major Op.60 (1846)

Venice from the Lagoon 1840 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Finally the Chopin Barcarolle. His restrained and deeply poetic approach to this work made it an inarguable choice to follow the Brahms. A perfect opening that painted the prevailing atmospheric mood in a watercolor wash of the lagoon. It was an ardent love song to a romantic dream voyage from the outset, as if sailing into a late Turner watercolour of Venice.

The work is a charming gondolier’s folk song sung to the swish of oars on the historic Venetian lagoon or a romantic canal, often concerning the travails of love, a true song of love and reflective waves of thought. The emotions fluctuate as they do in the heart of any heart containing sensibility, grace, emotion and taste. Lubimov never succumbed to the temptation of overblown temperament and atmosphere. We are sailing on a pool of enchanted water and not weathering the storm tossed Atlantic.

It is a grand, expansive work from the late period of Chopin, written in the years 1845–1846 and published in 1846. Chopin refers in this work to the convention of the barcarola – a song of the Venetian gondoliers which inspired many outstanding composers of the nineteenth century, including Mendelssohn, Liszt and Fauré. Yet surely his barcarolle is incomparable…

As with the Berceuse, Op. 57, the work may be considered ‘music of the evening and the night’ (Tomaszewski). However, it is a far longer work and of immense difficulty. The work is not only a contemplative nocturne although there are similarities – it explores the many passions of lovers that erupt and sleep during the day and the night. The penumbra of eroticism, Venice and the atmosphere of Mediterranean passion present in the ornamentation is strongly present in this masterpiece with its universal heartfelt emotions.

The most musical, evocative and perfect emotional portrait of love contained in the Barcarolle I have ever heard from any pianist at any time. 

Encores:

Mozart Fantasy in D minor K. 397 This was an extraordinary interpretation that I found profoundly moving in its innocent simplicity

Schubert Intermezzo in E flat major Op. 90 No.2 D. 899 A magical performance that surprised everyone

Silvestrov Lullaby An appropriate choice of Ukrainian composer

The Pleyel pianino of Chopin in a recording by Alexei Lubimov


CD Review

http://www.michael-moran.com/2020/10/the-pleyel-pianino-of-chopin-in.html

 


28.08.23 Monday at 17:00

Witold Lutosławski Studio of the Polish Radio

Piano recital

Ludmil Angelov piano

Ludmil Angelov has an extraordinary and distinguished reputation internationally for his interpretations of Chopin. He was born in Varna, Bulgaria, into a family of well-known musicians of Bulgarian and Greek descent. His CD recording of Chopin’s Complete Rondos & Variations won the Grand Prix du Disque Chopin by the International Chopin Institute of Warsaw.

The Angelov recital was devoted mainly to Polish piano music of the Mazurka or Mazurek genre that was both familiar (the Chopin) and not at all familiar to me (the others). I do know 'Mazurka Madness' took over Europe's musical ballroom life in the nineteenth century.

 This programme once again served to emphasize the huge repertoire of 'forgotten' smaller works that begs for exploration by pianists, a subject I have mentioned many times during the Polish musical renaissance I feel is presently taking place. 

He plays with a significant sense of authority, balance and maturity with expressiveness always within the finest parameters of cultivated taste and never excessive. 

Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)

Mazurka in G minor Op. 24 No. 1

Mazurka in C major Op. 24 No. 2

Mazurka in A flat major Op. 24 No. 3

Mazurka in B flat minor Op. 24 No. 4

Angelov performed these pieces with fitting nostalgia, grace and occasionally as an elegy. Of the first in G minor, the musicologist and writer Hoesick noted 'One could listen to it endlessly…’ The Mazurka in B flat minor is the last in the opus 24 set and one of the most celebrated mazurkas. It seems never to leave the concert platform. Hoesick judged it as a ‘consummate masterpiece’. The work has been an important point on the programme of many great many pianists.

                                         Polonaise in C sharp minor Op. 26 No. 1

Such sensitive phrasing and fine tone - full of sensibility, expression and dynamic variation. The cantalina is one of the most beautiful Bellini-influenced arias Chopin ever wrote, full of nostalgic longing for both personal love and his homeland.  Angelov performed with flickers of żal like a Polish electrical summer storm.

Chopin's Polonaise - a Ball in Hôtel Lambert in Paris(1859)

Chopin playing at the Paris Hôtel Lambert. The vaulting (background) is temporary stage scenery. Watercolour and gouache by Teofil Kwiatkowski 

Julian Fontana (1810-1869)

Mazurka in E major Op. 21 No. 1

Autograph score of a mazurka written by Julian Fontana in Hamburg in 1833

Julian Fontana, his close friend, composer, copyist and editor of the posthumous edition of Chopin's works left for Cuba in the spring of 1844 and settled in Havana. He was artistically successful there, introduced the music of Chopin to the Caribbean and wrote many works influenced by its folklore. He had an illicit 'love of my life' relationship with the 26 year old Cuban woman Camila Dalcour and wrote his marvelous fantasy La Havanne on the islandThe love was impossible to bring to fruition in Cuba at that time and in despair Fontana left in 1848 for New York. 

Destiny fortuitously arranged another meeting and they finally married in 1851 and returned to France. Camila, whilst pregnant, died in 1855 from a common cold and Fontana's life continued increasingly tragically. His inheritance from Camila was misappropriated by her family, he went profoundly deaf and ultimately committed suicide just before Christmas 1869. (For more astonishing details do read Fontana and Chopin in Letters by Magdalena Oliferko, Naradowy Instytut Fryderyka Chopina 2013)


Karol Mikuli (1821-1897)


Karol Mikuli (1821-1897) was a pianist, composer and pedagogue of Armenian descent born in Czernowitz in Galicia (Chernivtsi in present day Ukraine). 

The Market Square of Chernivtsi in the late XIX Century

He was a pupil of Chopin for some three years, a music copyist and regarded the Pole exclusively as the paragon of all composers. 'Only the pupils knew the full Chopin the pianist, the one whose sublimity and perfection is revealed best seated alone with the privileged one in the classroom.' He felt a vocation to safeguard this legacy. He fled Paris during the 1848 revolution and returned to his birthplace of Chernivtsi where he became a successful concert pianist. He finally settled in Lviv (ruled by Austria at the time) in 1858 where he rejuvenated the musical life of the town. His performances of Chopin by the predominantly Polish population was received with delight.

He took lessons from Chopin continuously from 1844-1848 and 'became not only a distinguished but also a trusted student of Chopin, with whom the Master discussed his compositional problems and revealed his artistic intentions.' (T. Zielinski: Chopin). He became Chopin's assistant and was granted the singular privilege to observe lessons. He described  the playing of the composer  as expressing ‘energy without roughness’ and ‘delicacy without affectation’.

Mikuli together with Marcelina Czartoryska are considered the outstanding authorities on interpretation of the accessible yet tantalizingly inaccessible works of Fryderyk Chopin. His teaching of le climat de Chopin extended to many eminent and still influential pianists such as the nonpareil of Chopin interpreters Raul Koczalski (1885-1948), Aleksander Michałowski (1851-1938), Moriz Rosenthal (1862-1946) and Albert Tadlewski (1892-1945). He also influenced the Polish pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky, who had an incalculable influence on modern pianism. Kistner published a definitive 14-volume edition of Chopin's works by Mikuli in Leipzig in 1879. The introduction to this edition is an important source of Chopin's pedagogical approach and aesthetics.

All these pianists were fertilized by his intimate connection with Chopin's personality, music and teaching. Mikuli was engaged on the immense work of preparing most of Chopin's compositions for publication and became the most authoritative source of Chopin's teaching after his death. The city of Lviv became one of the most significant Chopin centers in Europe. Mikuli even replaced with Polish the German language of instruction at the Galician Music Society which he founded in Lviv.

Mikuli composed some thirty piano pieces, chamber works, songs and later sacred music. He was fascinated by Romanian folklore. The reason I was attracted to this remarkable album is that Weronika Chodakowska has devoted it entirely to his small piano pieces. Usually there is just a brief scattering among other composers of the day. There is a deep emotional meaning listening to this music composed by the most influential of Chopin pupils, especially in Warsaw in Poland.

One might imagine that daily involvement with Chopin and his work at such a close and intimate level as pupil and editor would preclude individuality of voice in his musical compositions. However, the civilized, lyrical and occasionally agitated voice of German Romanticism distantly reminiscent of Schumann, Mendelssohn and Schubert can be heard.

Karol Mikuli (1821-1897)

The Mikuli mazurkas chosen here seem to have derived little from Chopin to my ear except the genre itself. Angelov played them with great rhythmic sensitivity, nostalgic poetry and articulate rubato. If the works bear any allegiance to Mikuli's teacher Chopin, this feature makes them all the more expressively eloquent to me as an affectionate reminiscence, a delicate homage to his adored composer. The passing shadow of Chopin across the stage into the present day is most affecting. In many ways Mikuli offered Fryderyk Chopin, a teacher and composer of genius, his own music written in the heartfelt spirit of a devoted and adoring apostle. Fascinating for us to hear this gift. 

Mazurka in D flat major Op. 3

Mazurka in F minor Op. 4 

Juliusz Zarębski (1854-1885)

Grande polonaise in F sharp major Op. 6

I had never heard this work in concert by the Polish/Ukrainian composer and pianist Juliusz Zarębski (1854–1885) although thanks to the recent championing by Martha Argerich of his masterpiece, the Piano Quintet in G minor (1885), I was familiar with the genius of this composer. 



Juliusz Zarębski (1854–1885)

Born in Zhytomyr in Ukraine he became an outstanding pianist studying with Liszt in Rome who became his friend. He became interested in the two keyboard piano, an invention of Edouard Mangeot in a time of ferment in the exploration of the possibilities of the piano. This piano had the astonishing additional 'horror' feature of the upper keyboard running in the opposite direction (i.e. the bass to the right, the treble to the left) to the second conventional keyboard below. He mastered this extraordinary instrument in two months.


A Mangeot double keyboard piano

Zarębski was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1883 and this great musical genius died at the appallingly young age of 31.

The Grande Polonaise begins with a splendidly spirited 'tune' full of the nationalist feelings of resistance and rebellion. Angelov understood this very well. A patriotic work and then some! In the middle section the cavalry begin their customary valiant charge at the enemy and the work concludes triumphantly and triple forte. Certainly this composition betrays Lisztian bravura, virtuosity and dramatic influence. There are also echoes of the Chopin Polonaise in F-sharp minor. 

Angelov possesses a fine tone and touch and gave a full-blooded account of this super but to me rather unfamiliar work although strangely enough I immediately recognized the theme.


Aleksander Michałowski (1851-1938)

He then performed a group of Mazurkas by Aleksander Michałowski (1851–1938). Michałowski was a Polish pianist, pedagogue and composer who, in addition to his own remarkable abilities (testified by his many historic recordings), had a profound influence upon the teaching of piano technique particularly the works of Chopin and Bach. He founded what might be loosely termed the 'Polish School'.  Michałowski had a large number of gifted pupils who became great concert pianists in their own right (Wanda Landowska, Vladimir Sofronistsky, Mischa Levitzki, the brilliant Boleslaw Kon and Heinrich Neuhaus (teacher of Richter and Gilels) were among the most famous). 


Mazurka in F sharp major

Mazurka in A minor

Mazurka in E flat major

Mazurka in A minor

Mazurka in C sharp minor Op. 17

Mazurka in A flat major Op. 16

Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948)


Ignaz Friedman (1882–1948) was a Polish pianist and composer. Critics (e.g. Harold C. Schonberg) and colleagues (e.g. Sergei Rachmaninoff) alike placed him among the supreme piano virtuosi of his day, alongside Leopold Godowsky, Moriz Rosenthal, Ferruccio Busoni, Josef Hofmann and Josef Lhévinne. He was a consummate interpreter of Chopin especially the mazurkas. The devotion to the score and the intricate detail through an evolving rubato is Friedman's hallmark. As a new 'modern sensibility took hold, Friedman remains one of the last representatives of a now bygone era even during the life of Rachmaninoff.

He composed more than 90 works, mainly piano miniatures, as well as pieces for cello and a piano quintet, but his compositions have not found a niche in the standard repertory. The reason this particular group of mazurkas performed by Angelov was of such interest. All were unknown to me.

Mazurka in E major Op. 85 No. 1

Mazurka in D minor Op. 85 No. 2

Mazurka in G minor, Op. 85 No. 3

Mazurka in C major, Op. 85 No. 4

Mazurka in D major, Op. 85 No. 5

Mazurka in B major Op. 85 No. 6

 



This newly released recording has rare Mazurkas by Friedman and Michałowski played by Ludmil Angelov NIFCCD 147 available from the NIFC shop https://sklep.nifc.pl/?&jezyk=eng


Sunday 27.08.23 at 20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Piotr Anderszewski piano 


Johann Sebastian Bach

Partita No. 6 in E minor (BWV 830)

This Partita consists of seven movements, all in E minor

Toccata

Allemande

Corrente

Air

Sarabande

Tempo di gavotta

Gigue

For me, Piotr Anderszewski is one of the greatest Bach players on the piano of our time. The Partita for keyboard No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830, is a suite of seven movements, a keyboard masterpiece on a monumental scale. It was published in 1731 in Leipzig both as a separate work and as part of Bach's Clavier-Übung I. The work is the last of six Partitas in the Clavier-Übung I and is a profound and serious composition. The six Partitas have far more gravitas than the previous English and French suites.

The composer begins with a long Toccata in several parts, which is reminiscent of Buxtehude – the idolized composer of his youth. Anderszewski is uncannily transparent in expressing the vocal polyphony of Bach which emerged immediately in the majestic fugal opening and then the closing of this extensive ToccataThe Allemande, expressive with heartfelt chromaticisms, is followed by a remarkable flowing Corrente. Anderszewski produced an inspiring singing tone and texture with immense refinement of touch and legato. The polyphonic fabric was both delicate, yet intimate in the 'conversations' between voices. The  variety of his articulation, at times expressively detaché, was most eloquent.

The Sarabande, one of the greatest musical utterances of melancholy and spiritual anguish and devotion in Western music, was deeply expressive. As a listener I had a feeling of being taken into the inner workings of a religious mind confronted with infinite sadness, hope and exaltation, a deep soulfulness that was both poignant and affecting. 

The sudden arrival of the Tempo di gavotta was the shock of a jaunty arrival of physical reality, like diving into an ocean of surf from the sands of meditation. Anderszewski imparted this movement with the greatest charm, elegance and refinement. 

In the Gigue he gave the counterpoint the utmost polyphonic clarity that constructed a gigantic architectural edifice before us. In order to accomplish this miracle he utilized an astonishing variation of articulation, tempo, dynamics, touch and tone. Anderszewski has so much to say in Bach on the piano, so much to tell us about this work, both philosophically and musically.


Autograph manuscript of the first page of the Allegro for harpsichord solo from the first version of the sixth sonata in E minor for obbligato harpsichord and violin, BWV 1019a, by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Allegro was later incorporated as the Corrente in Bach's sixth partita in E minor, BWV 830.

Béla Bartók

Bagatelles Op. 6

Molto sostenuto

Allegro giocoso

Andante

Grave

Vivo

Lento

Allegretto molto capriccioso

Andante sostenuto

Allegretto grazioso

Allegro

Allegretto molto rubato

Rubato

Elle est morte. Lento funebre

Valse: Ma mie qui danse. Presto

In the introduction of the score for the Fourteen Bagatelles op. 6, Béla Bartók described his compositional style as 'a reaction against the exuberance of the romantic piano music of the 19th century, a style stripped of all unessential decorative elements, deliberately using only the most restricted technical means.' The Bagatelles were composed in 1908 and reflect Bartók’s elaborate new musical language which evolved between 1904 and 1908. This was a combination of folk and contemporary techniques and ideas. These years also indicate the beginning and the development of his folk music interest and the evolution of a new compositional style for piano catalysed by his ethno-musicological research.

I could present an analysis of each under the fingers of Anderszewski, but for brevity will choose some that moved me greatly. The sheer sound palette and refinement of his performance of the Andante was astonishing. The Lento and Andante sostenuto were emotionally deeply expressive. The Allegro betrayed such exuberant energy! The Rubato gave me a deep sense of spontaneous yet calm improvisation and invention at the moment of performance. The last two Bagatelles refer to Bartok's recently sundered relationship with the beautiful 19 year old violinist Stefi Geyer Elle est morte. Lento funebre ('She is dead') and   Valse: Ma mie qui danse. Presto ('My love dances'). In these two pieces Anderszewski was intensely effective in communicating the mystery, poverty and melancholy of death and then the exuberant expression of the older man's unrequited love.

This was a truly sublime performance that elevated Bartok and his new, reduced and concentrated compositional style to the expressive heavens of immortality.

The young Béla Bartók in 1899 


Stefi Geyer (1888-1956)

Anton Webern (1883-1945)

Piano Variations Op. 27

  1. Sehr mäßig (Very moderate)
  2. Sehr schnell (Very fast)
  3. Ruhig fließend (Calmly flowing)

This was Webern’s only published piano work in twelve-tone compositional style. His music still seems to remain too abstract and angular and so beyond most listeners whereas that of Berg has been adopted without reservation. However, expression was a dominant force for Webern, as for his teacher Schoenberg who commented acidly ‘My music is not modern, it is just badly played.’ 

The pianist Peter Standlen gave the first performance of the variations in Vienna in  1937. The interpretative instructions Webern gave to Stadlen were so intense that ‘notes had become almost incidental and were only regarded as carriers of expression’

Anderzewski made much of this fragmentary work and persuasively joined the bleak third movement Ruhig fließend (Calmly flowing) to the opening bars of Op.110 that followed.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major Op.110


Moderato cantabile molto espressivo

Allegro molto

Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro ma non troppo

Arioso dolente

Fuga 

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

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

Caspar David Friedrich

Such an appropriate observation applied to this sublime performance by Anderszewski. Emotionally and intellectually the most moving interpretation I have ever heard

*  *  *

After the harmonic revolution of the Hammerklavier sonata, these last three sonatas Op.109, Op.110 and Op.111 may be considered as almost one work. Beethoven commented that he wrote all three in one great compositional impetus. Certainly one can trace the linear development of a musical mind of genius working towards his liturgical apotheosis in the Missa Solemnis. Sketches of the sonatas were found between manuscript leaves of the Mass. The great musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen (sadly no longer with us) in his book on the Beethoven piano sonatas notes that Beethoven in this work does not ‘simply represent the return to life, but persuades us physically of the process.’ The work was an ambitious choice.

Anderszewski caressed the beginning of the work in a pleasant, rather blithe, innocent, even dreamlike pastoral observance of the instruction con amabilità and sanfit. Sunlight reflected on a tranquil pond or early morning dew.

His seductive tone and expressive phrasing of this hidden, gracious song opened many souls. Donald Tovey compared the artful melodic simplicity of the development with the entasis of the Parthenon's columns. Structurally adventurous, its innocuous features scarcely resemble those of any of Beethoven's previous sonata movements. With Anderszewski the Moderato cantabile molto espressivo emerged like a textured dream, the nature of a contemplative consideration of a tumultuous life, Innocence and Experience with gathering shadows of depression. Such feelings are common during the travails of serious illness such as Beethoven was suffering.

Musicologists have called the following Allegro molto robust and humorous but is this truly so? The movement is supposedly based on popular songs of a children's game of which Beethoven was not particularly fond: 'Our cat has just had kittens' and even more typically Beethovenian and roughly hewn 'I'm dissolute, you're dissolute'.

His extreme temperament passes rather dramatically into yet another phase in this 'Anatomy of Melancholy' in the Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro ma non troppo. Composed in 1821, it becomes clear as it progresses that this sonata is the most personally reflective of the Beethoven sonatas.

He was by this time profoundly deaf and was communicating using the depressing conversation books. It is well to remember a passage from the Heiligenstadt Testament of 1802:

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

Anderszewski powerfully and affectingly communicated such a destabilizing pain and spiritual exhaustion in the Adagio, an utterance deeply ridden with angst, pathos and agon. He accomplished this distressing intensity through his pianistic command of extreme dynamic range and timbre of sound. The distilled sound of his expression is what removes one from the physical world, transporting us into a metaphysical domain. The composer was recovering from the debilitation of a crippling illness and the courageous human attempt to rise above it, 'resistance heroism' to coin a phrase.

The Arioso dolente and Fuga movements are Beethoven’s most anguished and embattled of utterances, the pain of purgatory. This structure alternates two slow arioso sections with two faster fugues. Beethoven combined slow movement and finale into a single cathartic span, the principal elements of which are an Arioso dolente (lamenting song) and a three-voice fugue. 'In the context of the last three piano sonatas, it is both a Passion and a Pietà ' as Claudio Arrau once observed. Wilfrid Mellers observes 'that life attempts rebirth from the dark night of the soul'. In Alfred Brendel's analysis, there are six sections – recitative, arioso, first fugue, arioso, fugue inversion, homophonic conclusion. In contrast, Martin Cooper describes the structure as a 'double movement' (an Adagio and a Finale). The arioso is marked Klagender Gesang (Song of Lamentation).

The initial Fugue is by driven an existential anger that Anderszewski made impressively expressive. Yet this fugue is irresolute and unfinished in its impetus. The second fugue emerges after a second arioso.  Finally Anderszewski's magical pianism brought me to tears (rare in instrumental music except Bach). He imitated and created the celestial vision the pianissimo sempre una corda possible on a period instrument. Donald Tovey describes the broken rhythm of this second arioso as being 'through sobs'. Eramattet, klagend (arrested, complaining) Beethoven writes on the score. T. S. Eliot wrote of a 'condition of complete simplicity/ Costing not less than everything.' The subject of the second fugue is that of the first inverted, marked wieder auflebend (again reviving) and poi a poi di nuovo vivente (little by little with renewed vigour – written in the traditional Italian). A painful return to life is evolving and grows irresistibly in strength. Anderszewski expressed the profound emotions with a poignantly affecting organic spiritual growth. We are moved from a whole moment outside of Time back into  reality.  Anderszewski realized this and communicated it to us.

He gave us a deeply disturbing, metaphysical musical agitation of the heart as the fugue dispensed with polyphony and grew both dynamically and in tempo. The almost unbearable emotional effect of the fugal development and rebirth of new life, Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum attained, was emotionally overwhelming. It is 'an exertion of will to banish suffering' according to composer Vincent d'Indy. Or again for pianist Alfred Brendel: 'In a last euphoric effort, its conclusion reaches out beyond homophonic emancipation, throwing off the chains of music itself.'

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

A profound performance and statement of faith in human nature and final resurrection from suffering. There was no difficulty in applying an internal narrative of the an individual, isolated contemplation of present war and suffering. The audience was left in a state of fathomless spiritual reflection and deepest thought given the nature of the murderous wars that presently engulf us.

Was this the reason Anderszewski made such an extraordinary last moment change to his programme ?

He was most generous with his encores:

1. Szymanowski Mazurka Op.50 No.3

2. Bach WTC Book II Prelude in F minor BWV 881 - superb polyphony articulated

3. Bartok  3 Hungarian Folksongs from Csík, Sz.35a  ­- idiomatic, affecting and so charming

4. Szymanowski Mazurka from his original programme

5. Bach Sarabande from Partita in B-flat major BWV 82

I must acknowledge the invaluable assistance of the book 

Beethoven and the Voice of God by Professor Wilfrid Mellers (faber London, 1983)


26.08.23 Saturday at 20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Kate Liu piano

Eric Lu piano

Dang Thai Son piano

London Mozart Players

Marek Moś conductor


Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Serenade for strings in E minor Op. 20 (1892)

This work was composed in March 1892, and is one of the earliest works of Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934). The Serenade was the first of Elgar's compositions with which he professed himself happy. He wrote to a friend about the three movements, 'I like 'em (the first thing I ever did)'. This beguiling piece is one of his most popular works. It reflects the innocence and energy of youth in addition to the civilized charm that prevailed before the horrors of the Great War descended like a ghastly miasma over Europe.

The young Edward Elgar

The form 'serenade' was originally a nocturnal song of courtship, and later, beginning in the late 18th century, a short suite of instrumental pieces, similar to the divertimento, cassation, and notturno. An example is the serenade “Deh! vieni alla finestra” (“Oh, Come to the Window”), from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. This seductive nocturnal hypnosis attracted Elgar who dedicated it to the organ builder and amateur musician, Edward Whinfield.

The first movement Allegro piacevole (a 'pleasing' Allegro) arouses summer feelings at dusk on the village green watching folk dancing. Elgar always possessed the faint aroma of underlying melancholy.

The Larghetto second movement contains the finest writing and moves into a highly poetic and intimate dream world. My love of Nimrod from the Enigma Variations was irresistibly brought intensely into my emotional embrace. The brief final Allegretto movement is nostalgic in reference to the harmonic and melodic echoes sounding from the first movement.

The London Mozart Players were fully at home in this quintessentially English work. it was one of the final works Elgar recorded for the gramophone in 1933, the year before his death.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Concerto for two pianos in E flat major (K. 365) (1779?)

Kate Liu piano

Eric Lu piano



Never forget the myth of Orpheus. The making of music is the cultivation of magic not simply a series of beautiful sounds strung together. When these two true poets of the piano were now once again by extraordinary coincidence magically playing together, I thought back to the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Competition, Warsaw, 1-23 October 2015 where both took part. Kate Liu achieved Third prize and Eric Lu Fourth Prize. So other-worldly a result. During the Romance. Larghetto of the E Minor piano concerto by Chopin something uncanny occurred in my mind. I wrote later:

Then a curious thought occurred to me. I was comparing in my inner ear the intensely lyrical performance the previous evening of this same movement by Kate Liu. I suddenly realized that here, within the same Larghetto of these two distinct performances, was laid out in song the contrast in sensibility and sentiment between masculine and feminine expression of youthful love. Both artists are intensely musical poetical beings it seems to me, yet there was a strength of lyricism in the playing of Eric that could almost be transmuted into the mirror image of an even more tender feminine sensitivity in the performance of Kate. Two sides of the most beautiful human coin one can imagine.

I also wrote of Kate Liu and the Chopin concerto with some relevance to tonight's performance:

From the outset the Allegro maestoso possessed a slight aura of melancholy expressed with a pure Mozartian elegance, aristocratic restraint and sense of bel canto song. Her phrasing was supremely and naturally musical in the deepest sense of that word.

This delicate fey creature is an absolute phenomenon in the competition and a fabulous pianist. I had the curious vision of an immensely precocious Chopin savant whilst listening and watching her.

And of Eric Lu the next evening :

Lu introduced the main themes on the piano with intense lyricism and bel canto. His understanding of the Chopin melodic genius is deep indeed and his execution of the decorative variations on these themes and phrasing is musical and superb. He has so much to say about this composer. There is such coherence and continuity in the first movement I was reminded of the Vistula River in flood - the surface broad and unflustered but the power beneath deep and powerful. 

But to Mozart! After returning from the rigours of compositional work at Paris and Mannheim, Mozart wrote this concerto to amuse himself and his sister Nannerl. There is an intense and energetic playful dialogue between the two pianos with each other and the orchestra. The scholar Alfred Einstein writes of the work which I cannot compete with for succinctness: 'In general, the Concerto is a work of happiness, gaiety, overflowing richness of invention and joy in itself, and thus is evidence of how little the secret of creative activity has to do with personal experience, for it was written just after the bitterest disappointments of Mozart's life.'

This concerto was full of youthful joyfulness from the beginning Allegro to the end. I strongly felt he historical and delightfully artificial social atmosphere of eighteenth century Vienna. The second movement is marked Andante by Mozart which avoids any emotional complication between brother and sister as might occur in an Adagio which often evokes lost romantic love. Throughout their performance I could hear operatic arias in cantabile passages which I am sure is what Mozart intended. I felt my two poets of the piano were in an ebullient, irrepressibly joyful mood, particularly in the Rondeau. Allegro final movement. I imagined each as if drinking a flute of musical champagne, the Mozart notes rising like an insistent festive mousse.


As an encore they played with wonderful tone and restrained classical style the Andante from the Sonata for Two Pianos in D major K 488 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 

Piano Concerto in A major, KV 414 (reduced camera version)1782

Dang Thai Son piano

Mozart wrote an illuminating description of this concerto (the first of three published in 1782 for subscription concerts).

These concertos are a happy medium between what is too easy and what is too difficult; they are very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, and natural, without being vapid. There are passages here and there from which connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction; but these passages are written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why .....

Dang Thai Son approached the work with his usual ultra-refinement of touch and tone, his qualities matched by very few if any other pianists in concert halls today. The opening Allegro themes were approached with both grace and charm with just a hint of melancholy.  

The Andante was reflective and an internal meditation. The association with an operatic aria of lament was inescapable. The first subject is taken from the opening bars of the slow movement of the Overture composed for a revival in 1763 of La Calamitádei Cuori by J.C. Bach (whose music was loved by Mozart). Bach died on 1st January 1782 which Mozart described as 'a sad day for the world of music.' This rather lugubrious movement could be an act of commemoration and Dang Thai Son approached it in this frame of mind. 

The Rondeau Allegretto is agreeable and sweet in its simplicity and Son lifted it onto a plane of highly decorative musical art.

As an encore he played in a deeply moving manner the rarely performed and affecting Chopin Waltz in A minor.

Wojciech Kilar (1932-2013)

Orawa  (1986)


This symphonic poem reflects Kilar's love of the vibrant Górale dance culture, High Tatra Mountains and Podhale highland region of Poland. The work was first performed in Zakopane (the picturesque main town of the region) in 1986. The conductor Moś has an acute sense of humour and congratulated the London Mozart Players on their highly rhythmic understanding of Górale music and observed how surprising they could play it so well. 'They have not been to the region but will soon visit it!'  

Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020)

Ciaconna (in memoria del Giovanni Paolo II) 2005

This a particularly affecting piece recalling this much loved figure in Polish religious life. The composition harks back to laments written long ago in a quest for timelessness.

Saint John Paul II (1920-2005)

25.08.23 Friday at 20:00

National Opera

Opera in concert

 

Marta Torbidoni soprano

David Astorga tenor

Germán Olvera baritone

Aleksey Bogdanov bass

Matheus Pompeu tenor


 Europa Galante

Fabio Biondi conductor


Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir

Violetta Bielecka choir director

 

The great period clarinetist Lorenzo Coppola from Europa Galante

Stanisław Moniuszko


Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872)

Paria

The tragic narrative of the opera tells of the pariah Idamor, who becomes the heroic leader of an army and goes against Indian social norms in choosing Neala, the daughter of High Priest Akebar, as his bride. Although Paria was misunderstood by critics at its premiere, the moving themes of exclusion and the power of social rules now make it an opera for our times.

I would like to offer some insight into this fascinating but unaccountably neglected opera. Also take time to think about the lifting of the cultural iron curtain from so-called 'Eastern Europe' and the Polish Musical Renaissance now taking place.

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]


The fine Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir

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).

The 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. 

Scene from Act II. Etching by Julian Schübeler

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 fulfill 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. 

Fabio Biondi

I believe there is a true Renaissance in Polish music taking place at present as the country celebrates 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. 

Fabio Biondi

In this performance the Overture was outstanding, the drama was highlighted from the outset. Biondi is a passionate musician and presented us with intense writing of anguished social exclusion. Solitary soloists played as if individual voices in the opera. 

There was rather a lack of melodic arias as we are familiar with them. Despite the brilliant and engaging orchestral writing, 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.

25.08.23 Friday at 17:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

London Mozart Players

Marek Moś conductor


Benjamin Britten

Simple Symphony Op. 4 (1934)

I feel the cultural differences of the British with just about every other nation on earth are revealed even in the title of this symphony. What European symphony could be considered 'Simple' let alone entitled as such ? And the movements, whimsically, even humorously named by this musical genius, Boisterous Bourrée, Playful Pizzicato, Sentimental Sarabande, Frolicsome Finale indicate an outlook on life of a classical composer that is rather at a mood variance with the continental view. 

Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in light-hearted mood with their Rolls-Royce

Serious career ambitions and intense attitude, fluency in speech, lack of humour, literalness rather than understatement, deep philosophical subject discussions over dinner, the very idea of the 'intellectual' and the 'intelligentsia' are rather 'Continental' preoccupations. Someone once asked Winston Churchill of his concept of God. He replied 'Ah, a continental question!' One really only has to read Wind in the Willows as a guide.

This possibility of a light touch in Benjamin Britten's Simple Symphony (although not universal in his work of course) was a sheer delight from beginning to end with the London Mozart Players under Mos. They are clearly familiar with and in love with the work.


 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Concerto for two pianos in E flat major (K. 365)

Dang Thai Son piano

Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu piano

This entire programme was a sheer delight from beginning to end. After returning from the rigours of compositional work at Paris and Mannheim, Mozart wrote this concerto to amuse himself and his sister Nannerl. There is an intense and energetic playful dialogue between the two pianos with each other and the orchestra. The scholar Alfred Einstein writes of the work which I cannot compete with for succinctness: 'In general, the Concerto is a work of happiness, gaiety, overflowing richness of invention and joy in itself, and thus is evidence of how little the secret of creative activity has to do with personal experience, for it was written just after the bitterest disappointments of Mozart's life.'

The performance by teacher (Dang Thai Son) and pupil (Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu) was immaculate. It lifted the spirits of the entire audience. However, I missed to a degree that artful Viennese Gemütlichkeit and charming conversational tone, the vocal nature of many musical phrases, the playful musical questions and answers thrown between the pianos, the gaiety of the musical competition erupting between brother and sister.

In Mozart expressiveness lies in the magic of the phrasing and the infinitesimal hesitations of conversational musical speech as the music tenses and relaxes. Overall I loved the perfection of execution as the finest Viennese porcelain flower decoration but I wanted more of the historical and delightfully artificial social atmosphere of eighteenth century Vienna. The Andante could perhaps have had more cultivated yearning bordering, dare I say it, even on sentimentality. The Rondo was exuberant but again I missed the operatic references, always present in Mozart, that appear in an aria of Papageno.

Mozart and Nannerl

Encores:

1. A delighted audience heard the rarely and charmingly performed Chopin Variations in D major WN 5 played by both pianists four hands.

2. A brief and civilized Brahms Waltz No.15 in A major from Op.39

 

Joseph Haydn

Piano Concerto in D major, Hob. XVIII:11

Lukas Geniušas piano


Unlike Mozart, Haydn never made a reputation or a great deal money as a soloist at the keyboard. However, his piano/harpsichord concertos brought him close to Mozart especially this one No. 11 in D major. The work was first performed in Paris in 1784, a composition written in maturity and as such packed with his characteristic dramatic contrasts, humour, enormous fluency, authority, ease, elegance and grace.

Geniušas has a singular understanding Haydn it seems to me which was clear in the Vivace opening movement, the sensitive longing in the Adagio and the brilliant, infectious rhythms and tempo he brought to the Rondo all'Ungarese. The orchestra and Mos clearly enjoyed this movement immensely. This performance had everything Haydenesque for me!

Encore: A sensitive Chopin Étude in F sharp minor Op.25 No.2 

Joseph Haydn playing

Mieczysław Karłowicz

Serenade for Strings Op. 2

Mieczyslaw Karłowicz (1876-1909) in his beloved High Tatras


Although familiar to musically educated Poles, the precocious late Romantic composer Mieczysław Karłowicz [1876–1909] who died in an avalanche at the tragically young at the age of 33, is relatively unknown outside the country. Certainly his work is not sufficiently familiar to me to write in informed detail about it. 

His six symphonic poems cause him to be considered Poland's greatest symphonic composer. At the time opposition to his compositions was violent. The music historian Aleksander Poliński wrote of young composers that they '...have now been affected by some evil spirit that depraves their work, strives to strip it of individual and national originality and turn into parrots lamely imitating the voices of Wagner and Strauss'. Karłowicz's compositions were regarded as 'modernistic chaos' which made them unpopular with the Polish public.


The Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 2 (1897) It was composed when Karłowicz was 21 (studying in Berlin under Heinrich Urban) and consists of four movements and one of his most frequently performed works: March - Romance - Waltz - Finale. I found it very charming music that put me in mind of civilized life in Europe before the Great War. The war changed everything forever and its effects are still tortuously with us. The dramatic change in sensibility is reflected in the anguished compositions that followed this conflagration.

I felt Karłowicz to be a major composer whose creative work was brutally interrupted by Nature in that avalanche whilst pursuing his understandable passion (listening to the aspirations within his compositions) of mountain climbing.


24.08.23 Thursday at 20:00 

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Piano recital

Vadim Kholodenko 

 


Georg Friedrich Händel

Suite in B flat major (HWV 440)

This evening Vadim Kholodenko began an extraordinary programmatic journey in the nature of sound, musical meaning and style over time as we moved from Handel, through Haydn, Beethoven to Liszt. He managed the immense  Fazioli as if it was a time machine, transporting us effortlessly through the centuries and their varied preoccupations in music and sound.  

Prospect of the City from the North - London c. 1730

The Handel collection entitled “Suites of pieces for the harpsichord composed by GF Handel. Second Volume” was printed in London in 1733 by its publisher John Walsh. The piece would have been composed between 1703 and 1720. 

'His things for clavier are incomparable and almost indispensable to those familiar with the keyboard' was the judgment of music theorist Johann Anton Scheibe in 1743 when discussing George Frederic Handel’s keyboard music. Like much music neglected today, Handel’s harpsichord music was overshadowed by that of that other overwhelming genius J. S. Bach, who was and ever since been regarded as the ultimate German master of the baroque keyboard.

A harpsichord in Handel’s own home in Brook Street, London


Handel in his time was famous as a superb keyboard player and this dance suite illustrates that reputation. His sense of life make the all his harpsichord suites a constant delight. Pianists usually eschew playing his suites on the modern piano but Seong-Jin Cho, who won the first prize in the 2015 International Chopin Competition, has recorded many and commented 'For me, Handel’s music comes directly from the heart, so people can easily follow it.'

Handel by Philip Mercier c. 1730

The Allemande was so fluent, as pure as an Alpine mountain stream rushing to its estuary. To transform the sound spectrum of magnificent Fazioli concert grand into the suggested intimacy of a harpsichord was remarkable. The variations were energetic yet essentially of great charm and delight. His absolute command of baroque dynamics and ravishing pianissimos, shrinking the concert hall to a salon, was a rare achievement indeed. I found the Sarabande especially moving.

Joseph Haydn

Piano Sonata in C sharp minor (Hob. XVI:36) 

A domestic square piano by Johannes Zumpe & Gabriel Buntebart, London, 1777-78



I am not a concert pianist although I did study the instrument seriously for years in one of those misguided efforts that passion irresistibly generates in the heart. So you might imagine my happy leap of recognition when I heard the opening of this sonata by Haydn, one of the many I studied with my teacher in London, the late Eileen Ralf, brilliant pianist and teacher of that also now late renowned Australian pianist Geoffrey Tozer

Kholodenko rendered the Moderato in the high style and Viennese elegance it properly deserves. His touch in the work was like velvet with a tone that was never harsh but also gave me the uncanny feeling I was actually listening to a domestic square piano rather than a Fazioli concert instrument. The great Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw shrank once again to a Vienna salon. I found it perfect Haydn in its light and refined classical style achieved with minimal pedal. Such a stimulus to the historical imagination! The Scherzando was not serious but humorous and feather-light, a true Italian 'joke' if you like. 

The Minuet -Trio  possessed elegant dynamics and phrasing, so suitable in its restraint to create the square piano period illusion. There was cast among us an appropriate  feeling of improvisation. Here too was a sad lament for lost love that hypnotized the audience. I recalled Haydn writing about busking in his impoverished youth, serenading a young lady on a guitar below her window at night in hopeless adoration - an image one does not readily associate with Haydn !

You could have heard a pin drop in the intense artistic, delicate atmosphere that Kholodenko created around us.

Vienna at the time of Haydn - Bernado Bellotto (aka Canaletto)

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano sonata No. 27 in E minor Op. 90 

Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck
Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorzutragen.

[With liveliness and definitely with feeling and expression. Not too fast and very singing in performance]

The period 1812 to 1817 were so difficult for Beethoven, years of stress. He was embroiled in a lawsuit with his sister-in-law over custody of his nephew Karl, the writing of the letter to his Immortal Beloved in a mood of despair, the increase in deafness to the degree he could no longer hear himself play the piano (I once saw a piano of his in Bonn where the ivory had been worn down to the wood in desperation I expect).

Although Beethoven had written nothing for the piano for five years, this Sonata, Op. 90 (1814), has more kinship with the last group of masterpieces written between 1816 and 1822 (Opp. 101 , 106 , 109 , 110 and 111 ) than to earlier works in the cycle. Indeed, it parallels Op. 111 in the minor-major key contrast of its two movements, which Hans von Bülow remarked should be played respectively as though 'spoken' and 'sung'.

This differentiation is further emphasized by the story that the dedicatee, Count Moritz Lichnowsky (brother of Karl), who had recently married a young Viennese dancer, asked Beethoven what the Sonata meant. He replied with 'a boisterous laugh' that the first movement represented 'a struggle between the head and the heart' (i.e. the Count's debate as to whether or not he should marry below his station), and the second 'a conversation with the beloved', celebrating the happy union. But it does appear that Beethoven's intention in saying this was a joke with his patron, and it would be wrong to force any unnatural programmatic element upon the work. (BBC Radio 3)

Kholodenko approached this with superb classical style presenting music as intelligible speech, as poetic and lyrical language. The chorale motif was deeply spiritual and soulful in this profound excavation of the structure. His touch and phrasing were as ever highly refined and elegant. The performance was a revelation to me especially the difficult conclusion which Kholodenko managed to make work with subtlety and finesse in a large hall. 

Thomas Adès (ur. 1971 r.) 

Traced Overhead  Op.15

Thomas Adès was born in London in 1971.  Renowned as both composer and performer, he works regularly with the world’s leading orchestras, opera companies and festivals. 

His compositions include three operas : the most recent of which The Exterminating Angel premiered at the 2016 Salzburg Festival and subsequently has been performed at the Metropolitan Opera, New York and the Royal Opera House, London all conducted by the composer

This modern impressionist piece takes its meaning and relevance from the title. There was a most remarkable variety of dynamics and articulation as well as many colors and textures in the piece. Much musically pregnant use of silence as a block of sound.

Franz Liszt

Années de pèlerinage II (Italy) S 161 no 7: Après une lecture du Dante


The Liszt Dante Sonata which always makes my hair stand on end no matter how it is played. For me it is the absolute apex of Romantic expression, a magnificent musical structure second only to his Sonata in B minor expressing a true fear of death and the Christian horror of losing the throw of dice and being thrown into the Inferno. Perhaps one must be a true believer to enter this piece and have at home a skull on the mantle as a momento mori of what is in store for all of us. Dante and Milton combine here in terrifying substance....

One of the most remarkable productions of romantic art. Written at Bellagio on the shore of Lake Como at much the same time as the birth of his daughter Cosima. Liszt was obsessed with Dante and set the poem by Victor Hugo entitled D'après une lecture de Dante. 

Dante and Milton combine here in a terrifying substance. Sacheverell Sitwell writes 'The air of damnation hangs over it and the images are of the Vortex and the Whirlwind'.  This was a completely new direction in music. Liszt's early studies of Paganini and the demonic violinist's personality and musical possession, created within him a fearsome atmosphere perfectly described by the Italian word terribilità. Liszt discovered the Mephistophelean side of his nature. This must be expressed with conviction by the pianist

Kholodenko opened the work as a true announcement of destiny in an appropriately monumental, heroic style. His expression can only be described as transcendent with phrasing of triumphant nobility. Liszt as well as Dante emerged as a poet in sound with breathtaking variety of colour, harmony, rich rounded tone (such a neglected area in modern pianistic development), a touch of awesome power without harshness

Kholodenko has a commanding technique that permits his imagination complete free reign of expression. Paintings appeared in my mind like avatars. He expressed great passionate energy in this work and conviction in a strong sense of structure. He made excellent use of expressive silence which feature is as important in music as sound. There was an overwhelming  sense of forward momentum in the narrative emotion of the work as he conceived and presented it. The contrast of reflective lyricism was effective and full of attractive details, moments of glorious song.

Liszt was rehabilitated in this performance with a magnificently varied dynamic sound spectrum. This action is desperately needed today, an era that too often places power and velocity above every other aspect of pianism. The masterpiece was laid out before us like a Persian carpet, patterned in opulence and sensitivity. Lying over this exegesis was a deep feeling of existential anxiety, perfectly appropriate to Liszt's intentions. Glowing and threatening landscapes emerged in the musical mind.


Années de pèlerinage II (Italy) S 162 no 3: Tarantella da Guillaume Louis Cottrau

Kholodenko concluded his recital with the Tarantella from Liszt's Venezia e Napoli  Supplement aux Années de Pèlerinage seconde volume, S162 on themes by Guillaume Louis Cottrau (1797–1847). His approach was like a fantastic opera of triumphant boisterousness in sound, stylish, possessed and with the bizarre panache of some mad dance. The repeated notes in this work appeared as venom from the spider bite as it takes hold.  As Sacheverell Sitwell appositely comments on the appalling difficulties : '...[it] belongs to that class of Liszt's works which seems calculated to leave the executant paralyzed  or struck down with tetanus, at the close of the performance.' 

This was a superlative recital, one of the finest and most profoundly musical of the entire festival.

Encores:

1. One of the Chopin Études arranged solely for the left hand by Leopold Godowsky

2. Charles Ives 2nd Sonata

24.08.23 Thursday at 17:00

Witold Lutosławski Studio of the Polish Radio

Symphonic Concert


Martyna Pastuszka violin, conductor

{oh!} Orchestra


Józef Elsner – Teacher of Fryderyk Chopin - A Pole by Choice

Symphony in C major Op. 11


Józef Elsner (1769-1854) was not only a composer and teacher of Chopin but founded the Warsaw Conservatory not long after the first European music Conservatory, the Conservatoire National de Musique, was founded in Paris. He contributed an inestimable amount to the growth and development of music in Poland as part of a more general education at the Main School of Music, a part of the Warsaw University. 

Elsner was a respected composer of opera and chamber music, grounded in the classical Germanic musical tradition through his studies as a young man in Breslau (Wroclaw) and Vienna. Most interestingly he was deeply influenced by the educational methods of the Swiss Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. He treated education as the planting and growth of a 'seed' that developed organically within the student. This was Elsner's attitude to Chopin, to let him go his own way. Balance the hands, heart and head. 


From Elsner's final succinct report on Chopin:

'Remarkable Aptitude, A Musical Genius etc. …'

I love the shorthand: 'Genius etc ...'

Unfortunately so few of his symphonic compositions have come down to us. I found the entire work utterly and surprisingly charming. Elsner was certainly not a little old man in a Warsaw tenement who brought a genius into compositional richness. He was massively talented in many musical genres and achieved much in musical education with his organisational abilities.

The hint of a military character enters in the first movement (as I feel it does in the Chopin concerti on the timpani). The Menuetto has both the charm and lightness characteristic of the less intellectually demanding music of the day. We unaccountably neglect this vast unperformed repertoire (apart from the Strauss family corpus) as if musical life must always inhabit the world of the Styx, the presage of melancholy, death, suffering, loss and gloom. Mozart understood this so well but healthily balanced his outlook life with both humour and seriousness.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Piano Concerto in C major (K. 467)

Pedro López Salas period piano


Who now remembers that lyrical film Elvira Madigan (1967) that has given its name to the concerto? 


The film was released while I was at university in the late 1960s and had an extraordinary impact at the time. The superbly aesthetic cinematography, the lyrical summer landscape of Sweden and the radiant leading actors of this tragic legendary tale affected everyone. A handsome cavalry officer and a beautiful slackline walker from the circus elope, escaping reality into the world of dreams, the world of their love, until the sword of Damocles inevitably falls. One never for a moment wishes to deny them these supreme pleasures although the irrationality of the decision is clear. 

This is the first and only time to my knowledge that music is not used simply as atmospheric furnishing but plays a supremely predominant role in emotionally painting the inexpressible, those feelings of love that lie beyond the power of language and even image to engage. There is comparatively little dialogue between the lovers. Music in films today simply enhances, does not play a radical role in the evolution of the plot as it does here. The internal romantic life of the doomed lovers is contained within the soundtrack, the glorious Andante of the Mozart piano concerto in C major, that together with the birdsong of the natural landscape through which they flee. 


The real Swedish nobleman and cavalry officer Sixten Sparre and the circus slackline walker Elvira Madigan (her stage name). 
However the grim reality behind this poetic film was very different.

Salas played the opening Allegro maestoso movement on the Erard with authority, musicality, finely honed articulation, refined touch and luminous tone. Mozart sounds quite wonderful on this instrument. Pastuszka the conductor the [OH!] orchestra favours a rather more up tempo, muscular, occasionally even athletic, energetic but less sensitive Mozart than we are accustomed to but it can completely
convincing in its historically informed classical style and idiom. However, with the slightly fast tempo they adopted as the movement progressed, I did not feel the 'Olympian grandeur' of the opening in terms of expressive phrasing or truly heartfelt emotion. 

This absence of deeper emotional expression and slight 'dwelling', elegant style and affectation, so common in Vienna of the day, is a developing trait in young pianists. Although exciting the execution becomes rather too pianistically focused. The expressive soul of Mozart must be permitted time to speak and the conversational musical discourse given air to breathe and communicate emotion. Mozart piano concertos are rather like mini operas and often contain fragments of sublimated arias. The important feeling of spontaneity and improvisation was missing for me. 

Salas performed the sublime Andante with a sentiment that was certainly melodically very moving and affecting in its emotional weight. His cantabile tone and legato phrasing in this beautiful movement was most poignant but again I felt it could have had even more yearning.  Mozart composed the melodic line to be rather bare and open which would have permitted his famed improvisations free reign. This once popular, historically accurate activity should be resumed in performances. Why not today? 

The Allegro vivace assai, really a type of joyful opera buffa, was certainly replete with energy and exceptionally refined with his exciting virtuosic pianistic abilities on display. But again I felt an expressive breathlessness and missed that artful Viennese Gemütlichkeit and charming conversational tone, the vocal nature of many musical phrases, musical question and answer thrown between instrumental groups and the piano.

In Mozart expressiveness lies in the magic of the phrasing and the infinitesimal hesitations of conversational musical speech as the music tenses and relaxes. Overall I loved the sparkle and energy he bought to the final movement of the concerto but on a more thoughtful day I wanted more of the historical and delightfully artificial social atmosphere of eighteenth century Vienna. An enjoyable and very fine performance certainly but my heart yearned for more. Age creeping on no doubt ....

Edward Grieg

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16

Aleksandra Świgut period piano

Edward Grieg on graduation from the Leipzig Conservatory  1862

During his time at the Leipzig Conservatory, Edward Grieg (1843-1907) heard Clara Schumann perform Robert Schumann's A minor Piano Concerto. He later recalled it as a profound musical experience. 'Inspired from beginning to end,' he wrote, 'it stands unparalleled in music literature and astonishes us as much by its originality as by its noble disdaining of an extrovert virtuoso style. It is beloved by all, played by many, played well by few, and comprehended in accordance with its basic ideas by still fewer, indeed, perhaps by just one person; his wife.'

After graduation Grieg composed his Piano Concerto Op. 16 in Sölleröd, Denmark at the age of 25. He was advised in its composition by the Danish composer and pianist Edmund Neupert. The work was premiered on 3 April 1869 in Copenhagen, with Holger Simon Paulli conducting and Neupert as the soloist. Anton Rubinstein, who was on tour in Denmark, had lent his personal grand piano for the occasion. The Queen of Denmark was in the audience.

Edward Grieg in 1870

One critic considered the work, which incorporated Norwegian dance and traditional folk idioms (the hallingdans dance is not so different to the zbójnicki of the Podhale region of Poland) as presenting 'all Norway in its infinite variety and unity,' and compared the second movement to 'a lonely mountain-girt lake that lies dreaming of infinity.'

A musicologist has written: 'Grieg’s concerto is not a mere parody of Schumann’s. Without trying to hide his admiration of his model, Grieg produced a work of considerable originality that displays the uniqueness of his own voice, nowhere more than in the folk-inflected finale, the details of which were particularly admired by Liszt and Tchaikovsky.' The work according to critics is 'one of the freshest-sounding and most popular heroic piano concertos of the Romantic Era.'


From the severely declamatory opening of the Allegro molto moderato first movement it was clear this was to be a concerto of nobility hewn from the traditional Norwegian landscape rather than a poetic picture of Mediterranean sensibility. However, Świgut only on occasion brought her customarily intense, rather lyrical Romantic imagination to bear on her interpretation which fitted more or less with the overtly physical nature of the determined conducting. 

The colours and sound of the period Erard suited the work well except for the thinner upper registers in forte. I felt however that much poetry and the harmonious landscape painting of Norway that Grieg employs in this work was passed over in the rhapsodic contrast of a passionate embrace. 

The Adagio could have proceeded with more detailed orchestral refinement and with Świgut as soloist, a more integrated legato cantabile love song and not so divided into melodic fragments that were rather tentatively held together. The Allegro moderato molto e marcato - Quasi presto - Andante maestoso  was certainly corporeally far too pronounced for my taste. The rather athletic conductor Pastuszka, carrying Świgut on occasion, seemed to physically fight her way through this rather unsubtly presented movement. The conclusion was almost a militaristic triumph. 

Modern sensibility in music concerning the art of performing and the taste of audiences does seem to be moving towards a youthful adoration of increased velocity, emphasis, force and power rather than fluency, poetry and sensibility but perhaps that is simply my age speaking.


Encore:  A rather heavily accented In the Hall of the Mountain King from the Peer Gynt Suite 


Wednesday 23.08.23 at 20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Chamber concert

Alena Baeva violin

Vadym Kholodenko piano

Belcea Quartet

Corina Belcea (violin)
Unsure (violin)
Krzysztof Chorzelski (viola)
Antoine Lederlin (cello)

Franz Schubert

String Quartet in E flat major (D. 87)

Schubert began composing string quartets for his family at the age of 14 ! His brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz played violin; his father Franz Theodor, the cello; Franz the viola. In six years he had written some 15 quartets for his family of musicians. 

This quartet was one of six that Schubert wrote in 1813. D. 87 is arguably the best of them.  The simplicity of the quartet indicates it was written for the home and family performance. It sometimes appropriately called 'The Household Quartet.' 

Allegro moderato

The moment the Belcea began to play I was seduced into their alluring and rich ensemble sound. The opening was simple and utterly untroubled by the existential concerns Schubert developed in adulthood. The playing was refined and elegant with subtle phrasing. I detected rather atmospherically ardent elements in one so young which surprised me.

Scherzo- Prestissimo -Trio

Here the Belcea gave us delightful and delectable detaché articulation and the Trio a warm, flowing, charming melody.

Adagio

I could not help associating this with a love song but surely this would have been too precocious for a fourteen year old! The beguiling melody was played with superb ensemble sound, fine eloquent phrasing and great dynamic control. There was a sensitive and extremely graceful approach to the ardent, poignant melody.

Allegro

Such a dance can scarcely be imagined from the pen (quill actually) of such a young man. Wonderful voicing came from the Corina Belcea violin - such intelligible musical speech ! A foundation of humour and happiness lay in this stylish and charming movement. I felt it 'perfect art' in the presentation of the music of the young genius Schubert.

Claude Debussy

String Quartet Op. 10


In 1893 Debussy composed this first important conventional work. I found the entire work revolutionary with an incandescent performance by the Belcea quartet. Debussy created unaccustomed sound textures and a tonal quality embracing extreme subtlety to breath-taking grandeur. The work must have appeared unique in its time. The Belcea made much of the energy of rhythm and deep poetry. There was constant change of tempi, virtuoso gestures, cross-rhythms and all those typical Debussyian music attributes we have now become accustomed to. 

Kai Christiansen writes perceptively of 'the sensuous languor of l'après-midi d'un faune, the kinetic energy of La Mer, the spice and color of his Iberian Images. Initial reactions to his quartet ranged from praise, to bewilderment and scorn including such wonderfully revealing sneers as 'orgies of modulation' and 'rotten with talent'.

Animé et très décidé

I imagined in this movement animated love in sunlit groves and yet baleful emotional shadows were constantly passing over us. Self-confidence fluctuated with lyrical indecisiveness. The rich Belcea string ensemble achieved an almost orchestral density and synchronization.


Assez vif et bien rythmé

Here we were offered virtuoso pizzicato with marvelous rhythms and texture interwoven with yearning lyrical and ardent melodies of deep sensuality. There was the art of the masterpiece present in the conclusion of this movement.

Andantino, doucement expressif

The first and second violin has much written for their voices in this movement of the quartet. Much of the flow of internal life comes through the superb voice of the viola. There are ardent dreams here of great intensity which lead towards an affecting pianissimo conclusion.

Très modéré - En animant peu à peu - Très mouvementé et avec passion

The cello opens a movement that becomes increasingly animated and continues in a disturbing, almost frightening, passionate, rhapsodic fashion. Complex feelings are expressed here from deep within the heart. The Belcea played as a single, integrated musically possessed organism - a miracle to hear.

A magnificent performance of this unique and spiritually transporting work.

Ernest Chausson

Concerto for violin, piano and string quartet in C major Op. 21

Chausson turning the pages for Debussy, Luzancy, 1893

The great French composer of genius Hector Berlioz died in 1869, left the title of major composer of serious French music to the Belgian-born Parisian, Cesar Franck. 

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) was born in Paris into a wealthy bourgeois family. His father had made a fortune assisting Baron Haussmann in the redevelopment of Paris in the 1850s. Chausson studied law and was appointed a barrister for the Court of Appeals, but like many lawyers was bored by the activity.

Fascinated by music, at the age of 24, he studies composition with Jules Massenet at the Paris Conservatoire. Massenet considered him 'an exceptional person and a true artist'. Chausson also studied with César Franck, with whom he formed a close friendship that lasted until Franck's death in 1890. This Concerto, in an unusually extrovert way for a chamber work, was much influenced by the style and temperament of Professor Franck. He died instantly and far too young for his flourishing career when he rode his bicycle into a brick wall.

Décidé

The piano and violin begin their ardent interchange with the opening theme. Kholodenko was finely and even organically integrated with Baeva, whose glorious violin soared effortlessly and poetically above the piano. The quartet makes its grand, richly sounding entrance on the main theme, which is such a French melody in character, a flowing river of eroticism. Low octaves on the piano lend deep-veined support and high trills add brilliance. Kholodenko was stupendous in this all important and demanding piano part. Such a gossamer conclusion to the movement.

Sicilienne

An almost pastoral idyll evolves here with unmistakable and charming visions of the French countryside - extensive fields of swaying sunflowers. Reminiscent of the kind of music in the early piano pieces of Debussy.  I felt an intimate feeling of musical connection between all the players.

Grave

In violent contrast, the third movement is profoundly melancholy with a dirge-like duo between violin and piano. This music is deeply philosophical in reflection with only faint signs of optimism, only occasional rays of sunshine pierce the enveloping darkness.

Très animé

Again we are ruthlessly transported out of our previous slough of despond. This energetic finale is supremely and elaborately virtuosic and brilliant on the piano and violin which Kholodenko and Baeva dispatched with élan and panache. 

There was again passionate rhapsodic writing here for Baeva, at which point a string dramatically broke on her violin. She rushed off-stage and returned soon in perfect sang froid and control to take up once again the immense range of colours and lyrical intensity displayed on the musical palette of all these gifted players. The climacteric was overwhelming which validated the title of this work to the ultimate extent. 

Another supreme performance of world standard musicianship at the very highest artistic standard. The performance of an extraordinarily sensually possessed work completed one of the absolute highlights of this remarkable festival. A quite unforgettable lifetime musical experience. 


Wednesday 23.08.23  at  17:00

Witold Lutosławski Studio of the Polish Radio

Vocal recital

Julian Prégardien tenor

Saskia Giorgini piano


Franz Schubert

Die schöne Müllerin Op. 25 (D. 795)

Franz Schubert's Signature

For this recital I cannot simply go through each song critically and perhaps you are relieved! I shall quote the opening and the last song by Schubert who set this cycle of 20 remarkable poems by Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827), the German lyric poet. Die schöne Müllerin [The Fair Maid of the Mill] is a story of blighted and unrequited love of a simple journeyman for a miller's daughter ending in the final slumber of despair and suicide death. Poet and composer shared a spiritual bond and outlook on life.

Julian Prégardien brought an extraordinary dramatic force to this remarkable journey of the human heart. The presentation of the songs was superbly sensitive and expressive in the lyric tenor upper register and a slightly heavier textured lower voice for passages of frustration, even of anger at the ineffective persuasion of the miller's daughter into love from her infatuation with a hunter dressed in green. 

Saskia Giorgini, who more than simply 'accompanied' him on the piano in the 'character' of the brook, was discreet and supporting as well as contributing immensely to the dramatic atmosphere of this darkening domain - 'the moving toyshop of the heart'  as the English Augustan poet Alexander Pope referred to the travails of ignored emotional engagement with another.


Wandering (opening song)

To wander is the miller’s delight;
to wander!
A poor miller he must be
who never thought of wandering,
of wandering.

We have learnt it from the water,
from the water!
It never rests, by day or night,
but is always intent on wandering,
the water.

We can see it in the wheels too,
the wheels!
They never care to stand still
but turn tirelessly the whole day long,
the wheels.

The stones themselves, heavy as they are,
the stones!
They join in the merry dance and seek to move still faster,
the stones.

O wandering, my delight,
O wandering!
Master and mistress,
let me go my way in peace,
and wander.


Mine!

Brook, cease your babbling! 
Wheels, stop your roaring! 
All you merry wood-birds 
great and small,
end your warbling!
Throughout the wood,
within it and beyond,
let one rhyme alone ring out today:
my beloved, the maid of the mill, is mine! 
Mine!
Spring, are these all of your flowers?
Sun, do you have no brighter light?
Ah, then I must remain all alone
with that blissful word of mine,
understood nowhere in the whole of creation.

*  *  *  *  *  *

A remarkable experience was the interpolation of the dramatic Chopin G minor Ballade after the mood swing in the song Mine!

Fryderyk Chopin

Ballade in G minor Op. 23

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The brook's lullaby (closing song)

Rest well, rest well!
Close your eyes!
Weary wanderer, this is your home. 
Here is constancy;
you shall lie with me,
until the sea drinks up all brooks.

I shall make you a cool bed 
on a soft pillow
in this blue crystal chamber. 
Come, come,
all you who can lull,
rock and lull this boy for me!

When a hunting-horn echoes
from the green forest,
I shall surge and roar about you.
Do not peep in,
little blue flowers!
You will give my slumberer such bad dreams.

Away, away
from the mill-path,
wicked girl, lest your shadow should wake him! 
Throw me
your fine shawl,
that I may keep his eyes covered!

Good night, good night,
until all awaken;
sleep away your joy, sleep away your sorrow! 
The full moon rises,
the mist vanishes,
and the sky above, how vast it is.

English translations © Richard Wigmore



Tuesday 22.08.23 at 20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert

Chouchane Siranossian violin

Mateusz Kowalski guitar

Martyna Pastuszka violin, conductor

{oh!} Orkiestra

Felix Yaniewicz (1823-1848) | Image courtesy of The Friends of Felix 

Feliks Janiewicz (1762-1848)

Violin Concerto No. 1 in F major (1788)

Chouchane Siranossian

This work is remarkable in being the first Polish violin concerto. The Moderato has a pleasant and stylish melody on the violin, très charmant. The violin is exceptionally virtuosic but then Janewicz was famous for his skills and displayed them as was demanded by audiences of the day. A sweet-toned concerto typical of its period with the emphasis on displaying the virtuoso capabilities of the soloist in addition to rather intense orchestral writing. The Romance is also a beguiling., simple melody rather sentimental in nature. The harp conclusion was rather stylish. 

The Rondo was possessed of an energetic orchestral texture with solo violin. Again one was aware of the virtuosity of the soloist which was joyful and exuberant. An infectious theme destined to please the audience. Siranossian did full justice to the delightful score. I thought this music would have been excellently received in the Edinburgh or Bath Assembly Rooms or the Pleasure Gardens of Vauxhall and Ranelagh along with that of Thomas Arne, William Boyce or Carl Friedrich Abel - which is no criticism.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Symphony in G minor, K. 183 (K. 183) (1773)

The lead violin and conductor Martyna Pastuszka

The 'miracle' (Einstein) of this symphony has only relatively recently been recognized

Allegro con brio  

There was such an obvious contrast between talent and genius when Mozart exploded impetuously over the auditorium. The atmosphere reminded me of the threats implicit in the D minor piano concerto. This was far from socially entertaining music as was the Janewicz. However, the extreme contrast in dynamics and biting energy given by the conductor Martyna Pastuszka was rather aggressive at times. Pianissimo was followed by sudden fortissimo. The tremoli on the strings were affecting as was the strong brass. 

The Andante was like a warm loving embrace, an expression of the emotional gesture of the heart. Pastuszka gave it refined and elegant execution with delicate and sensitive phrasing. The Menuetto - Trio had a self-confident dark fatalistic melody but the transition to the Trio was not well accomplished or organically connected.

There were many operatic gestures in the  music and 'conversations' among the instruments. In the Allegro I felt we were bounding across Vienna with an excess of life force. The conductor approached this movement with élan and verve indicting an abundance of life in Mozart the man. The harmonic transitions after a repeat of the theme was most attractively accomplished. I found the orchestra were excellently cohesive with much detail given by Pastuszka to individual instrumental soloists in terms of articulation and varied dynamics . Overall I found this Mozart slightly more muscular than I have been accustomed to.

Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)

Piano Concerto in F minor Op. 21 (1829-30) arranged for guitar (transcription by Jerzy Koenig)

I must immediately congratulate the guitarist in having the courage to attempt this extraordinary transcription, never before heard by the audience! 

I felt the concerto would have been far more effective with the reduced dynamics of string quartet version of the concerto. A better balance could have been achieved between the dynamically soft acoustic guitar and the orchestra which overpowered everything on occasion. When I first heard of this performance, I said 'Well. they will only perform the Larghetto I suppose.' However the entire concerto had been transcribed but I must admit the Larghetto was particularly affecting and charming. The Rondo  was effective but the supreme virtuoso guitarist played a losing battle against a full symphony orchestra. I thought or hoped we may have heard a Polish concerto version of Chopin inspired by the Concierto de Aranjuez. Pastkuszka was not particularly sensitive in controlling the orchestral dynamics which overlaid the soloist.

The encore was a superb performance of the intensely beautiful  Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra) of 1899 by Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909). The piece was written for and dedicated to Tárrega's patron Concepción Gómez de Jacoby in 1899, commemorating their visit to the Alhambra palace and fortress complex in Granada.

Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909)

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I had traveled to Edinburgh towards the end of June 2022 and among the many adventures and museums I visited, I managed to be there for the opening of a remarkable exhibition at the Georgian House devoted to this 19th century Polish composer, violin virtuoso, entrepreneur, businessman and piano manufacturer named Felix Yaniewicz . I live in Warsaw in Poland, move in musical circles there, but had never before encountered the name of this Polish artist. I was astounded at the discovery.

I met and had a long instructive conversation with the exhibition curator Josie Dixon who assembled and wrote an excellent article on Felix Yaniewicz (Polish spelling Feliks Janiewicz) (1823-1848). He was her ancestor - a 19th century Polish virtuoso violinist, composer, entrepreneur and businessman who was the catalyzing and founding force behind the present, world-renowned, Edinburgh Festival - but this was in 1815 !


Please read my Edinburgh account for details on Felix Yaniewicz: 


Monday 21.08.23

20:00  Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Chamber concert


Jonathan Plowright piano 

Apollon Musagète Quartet

Paweł Zalejski (violin)

Bartosz Zachłod (violin)

Piotr Skweres (Gennaro Gagliano
cello from 1741)

Słowomir Rozlach (double bass)

Piotr Szumieł (viola)

One of the world’s finest string quartets, the Apollon Musagète Quartet was founded by four Polish artists in 2006, in Vienna

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

String Quartet in G minor (D. 18) (1810) 

Schubertiade in a middle-class Viennese household, heliogravure after a painting by Julius Schmid, 2nd half of 19th century

This was the first of Schubert's quartets written when he was 13 or 14.

The Andante - Presto vivace  was extraordinarily atmospheric and heart-warming in its opening. Strong energy and rich ensemble sound greeted us as always with this remarkable quartet. A perfect, fluent musical dialogue takes place between the players in a rare mood of ardent commitment to the composer. An almost metaphysical use is made of silence as sound. The reminiscences of Haydn lay in the  Menuetto, the essence of civilized charm and simplicity. Such naive innocence pervades the elegant, pure childish theme played wonderfully simply by  Paweł Zalejski (violin). The Andante shared this untrammeled expression of youth before the tigers of experience had begun their feast on the soul.  

The quartet was first performed with Schubert on the viola accompanied by his father and brothers - a family music making affair en effet, an activity we have sadly lost to sterile technology and the retreat into social navel gazing.  The work was not published until 1890 when Schubert's fame was established and his juvenilia were being closely examined for early indications of genius. A quite extraordinary musical moment.

Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994)

String Quartet (1964)

Witold Lutosławski is without doubt a truly great modern composer in many genres, predominantly for me his piano concerto performed by Krystian ZimermanThe first memory that springs into the viewfinder of my mind hearing this astounding work were my experiences during the avant-garde year of revolution 1968. 

During those years I was in Paris writing my own experimental 'indeterminate' avant garde texts influenced by the style of the Nouveau Roman literary movement (Marguerite Duras, Nathalie Sarraute, Alain Robbe-Grillet). I was deeply interested in the contemporary classical music of Messiaen, Nono, Berio, Dallapiccola, Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Pousseur, Stockhausen, Boulez, Kagel and Xenakis. I now tend to agree with Penderecki that the avant-garde movement in the arts oftentimes led these deeply imaginative artists into a creative cul-de-sac.

In 1968 I also attended as an observer many of the classes and premieres given by the German electronic composer Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Rheinische Musikschule in Cologne (Courses for New Music) I continued with my own literary work but heavily influenced by the structure and scope of contemporary classical music, the Nouvelle Vague cinema, Nouveau Roman literature and French Symbolist poetry. 

We tend to associate emotional meaning with such works but perhaps it is simply more about fascinating sound textures, nature of sound (intense pizzicatos), minimalist gestures, durations, silence, 'style' but lightly atomized. At times I felt the work had an ironic quality parodying the classical and nineteenth century quartet.  

A remarkable and perhaps rare experience to hear this magnificent abstract construction in sound.

Juliusz Zarębski (1854-1885)

Piano Quintet in G minor Op. 34 (1885)

Juliusz Zarębski (1854–1885)

Born in Zhytomyr in Ukraine he became an outstanding pianist studying with Liszt in Rome who became his friend. He became interested in the two keyboard piano, an invention of Edouard Mangeot in a time of ferment in the exploration of the possibilities of the piano. This piano had the astonishing additional 'horror' feature of the upper keyboard running in the opposite direction (i.e. the bass to the right, the treble to the left) to the second conventional keyboard below. He mastered this extraordinary instrument in two months.

A Mangeot double keyboard piano

Zarębski was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1883 and this great musical genius died at the appallingly young age of 31.

The prominent Polish musicologist Zdzisław Jachimecki wrote that:

Zarębski’s numerous piano compositions are a continuation of Chopin’s style in terms of instrumental technique and the character of harmonic writing. The young composer, however, also developed the kind of devices that constitute the foundation of present-day French music; he sensed the exotic character of Debussy’s whole-tone scale and his harmonies based on that scale. 

With his compositional concepts Zarębski indeed was ahead of his time. The trail-blazing nature of his technique was also praised by another outstanding authority on music, Józef W. Reiss. He wrote: Juliusz Zarębski’s compositions contributed so many new elements to music and on account of the boldness of technique were so much ahead of their time, not only in our country but on a broader European scene, that they could not have won instant popularity. […] A Romantic by nature, Juliusz Zarębski became a representative of radicalism in music. […] Zarębski employed techniques which were to be introduced into music by French impressionists, notably Claude Debussy.

The editor of The Chamber Music Journal, reviewing Zarebski's Piano Quintet, wrote as follows:

'The Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor was composed in the year of his death. It is a work on a grand scale. Zarebski knew that he was dying and almost certainly felt that this quintet would be an important part his musical testament. The opening Allegro is at once brooding, lyrical and powerful. The music is an interesting blend, showing the influence of Brahms as well as that of Cesar Franck. The integration of the piano with the strings—always a concern, especially when the composer is a piano virtuoso—leaves nothing to be desired. 

The piano fits in seamlessly and does not dominate the strings. The following Adagio seems to break all bounds of time and space. Tonally interesting, the strings speak amongst themselves in subdued and leisurely voices. The second theme is derived from the first movement. Perhaps the most striking movement is the Scherzo with its driving main theme and two trios. The use of pizzicato and harmonics is particularly effective. In the last movement, marked Finale, there are echoes of Faure as well as Brahms. Liszt, to whom the Quintet was dedicated, judged it perfect. Certainly, it is a work of great originality and deserves to join the foremost rank of piano quintets and be heard in concert.'


 Allegro

This is such towering music in terms of its quality and emotional scope. The brilliant Apollon Musagète Quartet with Jonathan Plowright did its majesty and sheer visceral energy full justice. Paweł Zalejski (I violin) was eloquent together with phenomenal forward impetus of this magnificent ensemble. The cello solo passages with Piotr Skweres playing a Gennaro Gagliano cello from 1741 took one aloft emotionally. the climaxes were tremendously impactful and deeply musical.

Adagio

A feeling of blood pumping through heart and arteries expanded in panorama to oceanic vistas. The theme of this movement on solo violin is simply heart-breaking in intensity as the rich mahogany end semeble came once more together. The 'conversation' between piano and violin and later ensemble may have been improved in balance but the sheer emotional weight of the musical inspiration carried all before smaller considerations. the interchanges between violin, cello and especially viola took us another dimension deeper than this fraught world. The cello solos was in a word, sublime.

Scherzo - Presto

There was tremendous forward energy and sheer unstoppable impetus in these dance rhythms and musical invention. The ensemble extracted a great deal of magic from the arresting harmonic transitions. Absolutely awe-inspiring playing and total commitment to the music. This penetrating, compact, heroic theme stays living in mind and heart long after the concert is concluded.

Presto

The grasp of the architectural structure of this undoubted masterpiece gave the performance immense balance and emotional drive. Following the lead of Paweł Zalejski (I violin), Bartosz Zachłod (II violin) and Piotr Szumieł (viola) the quintet with piano rose to orchestral heights at times. The exuberance and almost desperate grasping after fading life by the composer was clear and disturbingly moving to the spirit. Such eloquent themes engulfed us with incandescent emotion and dance. Piotr Skweres (Gennaro Gagliano cello from 1741) was always wandering among the immortal singers of his instrument. The cascades of harmonies at the conclusion was quite overwhelming.

Encore:

A repeat of the Scherzo - Presto ! I audience went wild and could have listened to repeats all night


Below is an account of the first occasion I heard this masterpiece some 12 years ago and before it had entered the established chamber repertoire

Note extraordinary time of day !

Written at 02.15 am on August 18th 2011

Martha Argerich Special Chamber Concert 

Martha Argerich (piano)


Lilya Zilberstein (piano) – winner of the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition in Bolzano


Bartłomiej Nizioł (I violin) – Polish violinist, winner of many prestigious international competitions


Agata Szymczewska (II violin) – Polish violinist, winner of the Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition in Poznań in 2006


Lyda Chen (viola) – chamber musician, member of the Interlude Trio, participated in the Festival Martha Argerich in Beppu


Alexander Neustroev (cello) – named best Russian cellist at the Rostropowitsch Contest in Paris

W.A.Mozart: Fantasy in F minor, KV 608 version for 2 pianos written by Ferrucio Busoni

Juliusz Zarębski: Piano quintet in G minor, Op. 34 (with Martha Argerich piano)


Ferenc Liszt: Concerto Pathétique for two pianos S. 258


Warsaw has given me many unique musical experiences and tonight was certainly another of them. In what other country in Europe would a concert in the capital city's major concert hall with a great artist such as Marta Argerich begin at 11.15pm and end at 01.30am. Only in Poland could such an extreme thing happen where art and culture ride far above mere trade unions and administrative considerations.

What a great concert this was!

After the interval came perhaps the greatest work on the programme, Juliusz Zarębski's Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 34 (with Martha Argerich taking the piano part). This is clearly a masterpiece of the first order and a fascinating composer born in Zhitomir in Ukraine. To be listening to this passionate, almost possessed work, so full of soul searching agression and lyrical beauty at 1.00am in Warsaw with Martha Argerich and  a group of brilliant young musicians is an experience not given to many and I shall always treasure this memory.

I shall expand more on each movement in the morning as it is now 3.00am and I am wilting.....mad scenes of enthusiasm in the Warsaw Filharmonia at 1.30am with mutiple standing ovations until a weary Martha Argerich kissed us goodbye. they have adored her here in Poland since she won the VII International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in 1965. She loves coming here too.

Poland...such a country of extremes....just love it.

21.08.2 

Monday 17:00

Witold Lutosławski Studio of the Polish Radio

Piano recital

Tomasz Ritter period piano - Pleyel 1848

Winner of the First International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments


Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)

Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 45 Lento con gran espressione (1841)

This consummate masterpiece was conceived in the spirit of improvisation. The work was composed at Nohant during the summer of 1841 and published in the autumn as a separate Opus (45). When sending the manuscript to Fontana for copying, Chopin could not hide his satisfaction: ‘well modulated!’. The varied colours and contrast of registers on the Pleyel with Ritter were superb. Such expressive ultra pianissimos are only possible on a Pleyel of this period and glorious singing cantabile. I was emotionally transported into the sweetly romantic world of the regrets of blighted love.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata in E major, Op. 109 (1820)

This sonata was composed in 1820 when Beethoven was completely deaf and suffering ill-health. It is an especially lyrical work so suitable for performance on a Pleyel. We were transported into a universe of lyrical softness and colour quite unlike my usual somewhat aggressive associations with Beethoven on a Steinway. Not so rough and declamatory. I was carried into a different sensibility to the one I usually associated with Beethoven. His Op. 26 was Chopin's favourite Beethoven sonata and he played and taught it more than any other.

Op. 109 is a profound personal statement by Beethoven which should give an impression of internal life. There are three movements:


  1. Vivace ma non troppo — Adagio espressivo
  2. Prestissimo
  3. Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung. Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo 

The reflective sections of the Adagio espressivo are of the deepest philosophical introspection which Ritter penetrated. The sonata breaks nearly all the rules of traditional sonata form. The Prestissimo emerged as an immaculate yet irresistible force. Here was the expression of divine nostalgic laments, regrets in life, the meditative preoccupations and loss of love leading to an ultimate resignation under the stronger force of destiny. Ritter's staccato articulation was very fine with much colour and nuance. 

Beethoven for me sometimes requires the communication of feeling of the struggle of human inadequacy against unflinching fate, the anger that this can generate when intense lyricism has been experienced, lost and then remembered with yearning. Beethoven for me requires what I might term the 'condiments of human imperfection', some temperamental roughness and not classical perfection. 

A theme and six variations, each with a different character and partly contrapuntal texture, is contained within the final movement Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo. Ritter made this a poignant expressive cantabile like a monolgue song, affecting in its lyrical desire. The detaché passages were quite remarkable in timbre and quality. On the Pleyel Ritter offered us a conversation in colour. The writing  veers between moments of lyrical cantabile and the severely declamatory. The driving rhythmic energy of the fifth variation gives the impression, at least to begin with, of a complex, many-voiced chorale-like fugue. Ritter built this focal movement to a concluding spiritual peak that resolved into superb quiet resignation at the conclusion on this fine instrument. Beethoven transformed - a revelation.

Fryderyk Chopin

Nocturne in B flat minor Op. 9 No. 1 (1830)

This nocturne has the form of an ample song in which a graceful melody fills the outer sections. At first it rolls along quietly, enlivened by surging waves of ornaments which Ritter has mastered in execution. Jan Kleczyński – Polish pianist, pedagogue, editor and publicist, a pupil of Marcelina Czartoryska, herself a pupil of Chopin – couched his impressions of the Nocturne in B flat minor: ‘Yearning, peculiarly combined with an elegance of form’. And Józef Sikorski probably had this nocturne in mind when writing: ‘the listener drawn into these magical dreamlands wonders instinctively after the last notes have died away if it all was reverie or reality’.

Ritter achieved this ethereal, atmospheric realm of dreamland on the Pleyel  with the most poetic of fiorituras and pianissimos that one could scarcely determine if a sound was actually present. The Nocturne in B flat minor emerges from silence and to silence returns (Mirosław Tomaszewski)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) / Brahms (1833-1897)

Chaconne in D minor (BWV 1004) (1720) 

Bach had composed the Chaconne 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.  

Brahms wrote in awe of Bach’s Chaconne in D-minor BWV 1004 (1720)

'On one stave, for a small instrument, the man [Bach] 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.'

Brahms transcribed the piece for piano left-hand.

Musical myth suggests that Brahms made the transcription as a consequence of a supposed injury to Clara Schumann's right hand. In a letter dated 6 July 1877, Clara writes 'just think, on the day of my arrival here [Kiel], when I was opening a drawer I strained a muscle in my right hand, so you may imagine what a glorious refuge your Chaconne has been to me.'  Brahms himself wrote to Clara: 'There is only one way in which I can secure undiluted joy from this piece, though on a small and only approximate scale and that is when I play it with the left hand alone.'

There was nobility and grandeur in Ritter's performance as this great edifice of musical architecture was erected before us.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Fantasy in C minor (K. 475) (1785)

The work was  composed by Mozart in Vienna on 20 May 1785 and was published as Op. 11 in December 1785. I encountered once again the theatrical, almost operatic, musical imagination of Mozart. There were true storms of fantastic imagination obvious on the Pleyel with new soundscapes. Ritter brought such civilized charm and delicacy to the work with much variety of timbre and ultra- pianissimo which is so ravishing on this early French instrument. The mysterious movement of the aesthetic musical mind appeared for me. 

Mercurial musical thought and fluctuating moods were scattered with fascination across the sound spectrum like like patterns on a Caucasian rug.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Piano Sonata in A minor, Op. posth. 143, D 784 (1823)

I found this sonata deeply satisfying on the earlier instrument as I do so much of Schubert. the composer lends himself particularly well to period piano performance. 

This is rather an intimate sonata and the orchestral colouring of the writing in the Allegro giusto lends itself particularly well to the registeral differences within the Pleyel. Ominous threats are concealed behind heavy curtains of lyrical velvet. 

The brief Andante is a Schubert song of unsurpassed melodic and emotional associations and lyricism. Ritter produced ethereal sound at times in this moving poem. The harmonic transitions of the Allegro vivace are rich in colour and aesthetically ravishing - all in Schubert is song. This fatalistic utterance can be so dramatic and theatrical at time with these melodic arabesques of song. 

Schubert once remarked 'Is there really such a thing as cheerful music ? I do not know of any.'

Fryderyk Chopin

Ballade in A-flat najor Op.47 (1841)

The Chopin Ballades are rather like miniature operas being played out in absolute music, intensely reflecting the fluctuating toy-shop of the heart. Penetrating the expressive core requires some understanding of the influence of a generalized view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material. They forever exercise one's musical imagination.

This Ritter did by presenting a surprisingly blithe ramble through idyllic countryside, embracing the sun with your chosen love in dappled glades. Then, as ever in life, the descent of grim reality, dark shadows and żal. The music with Ritter grew organically and powerfully from within the impassioned shifts of mood of the composer’s heart and spirit as well as maintaining its dramatic narrative flow. The different registers on the Pleyel served to effectively accentuate the drama. The work contains some of the most magical passages in Chopin, some of the greatest passionate fervour culminating in moments of shattering climatic tension.

Overall the recital was a revelatory performance and intense demonstration of the varied emotional potential of the Pleyel by this sensitive master.

Encores:

1.The so-called 'Raindrop Prelude' by Chopin had superb fiorituras invented by Ritter. However, I wanted more grimness and fear of reality in the dark central section as I heard in the revelatory performance by Camille Thomas recently on the cello at Duszniki Zdrój. One rarely hears this with pianists who approach the work far too innocently when you consider the terrifying visions of death Chopin had at the time of its composition in the Majorcan monastery.

2. A dark forbidding work I was unable to identify.


Pleyel - Paris 1848

This instrument was built in Paris in 1848. Typical of Chopin’s time.

This instrument was built in Paris in 1848. Typical of Chopin’s time, it has a compass of 6⅔ octaves (C1–g4) and an English action with single repetition. Its original, historical substance is preserved virtually intact, with the original hammers and soundboard. It is decorated with frames of light-coloured wood and brass veins. The instrument is rosewood veneered, has a composite frame with four stress bars, is double and triple-strung and has two pedals: una corda and damper. It was purchased by the Chopin Institute in 2005 from the collection of Chris Maene.

20.08.23

Sunday 20:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall 

Piano recital

 

Kevin Chen piano

Kevin Chen was asked at very short notice to stand in for an indisposed Benjamin Grosvenor and had three days to prepare and practice this immense new programme. It was not a repeat of his Duszniki programme except for the Ballade and the Petrach Sonnet I think he is to be congratulated for his courage on taking on such a demanding task!

Ferenc Liszt 

Années de pèlerinage, Second year, Sonetto 104 del Petrarca, S. 161 no. 5

The Sonetto 104 del Petrarca from Années de pèlerinage. Deuxième année. Italie - No. 5 was a beautiful, poetic and lyrical performance of this original song that Liszt wrote as a group of three songs in Rome. He only later transformed them into pianos pieces for this Italian album in 1848. As songs they are quite perfect examples of Liszt’s art and capture to perfection the sentiment of Petrarch’s sonnets. He balanced the virtuoso Liszt against the musical and philosophical emotional content beautifully - beautifully reflective in essence and expression. 

Ferenc Liszt

Sonata in B minor, S. 178

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. The opening was a haunted statement of the examination of the dark destiny of struggle that is to follow. 

The performance of this sonata is an extraordinarily bold and courageous choice for any young pianist, especially in these circumstances by a boy of 18 in terrible heat with no air-conditioning in the hall! The haunted repeated notes Chen produced were eloquent in 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). His duration and dynamic boded well for the outcome of the sonata.  

It is inevitable with any young artist that virtuosity (getting around the fiendish notes of Liszt) comes sometimes at the expense of expression but this was not the case here. The musical speech was fluent and coherent as was the complex structure structure. Beautiful internalized poetry and meditative reflection in the lento passages created an atmosphere that caused the audience to fall into utter transported silence, even the coughers were paralyzed. His tempo only became slightly overburdened at times, a temptation that young pianists find irresistible in this virtuoso work.  The massive composition only occasionally became increasingly 'possessed' dynamically and in terms of tempo. 

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. Chen avoided this approach completely which indicated extraordinary musical maturity and intelligence.

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 by Byron and Goethe’s Faust, the dramatic spiritual battle between Faust and Mephistopheles with Gretchen hovering about as a seductive, lyrical feminine interlude. And the whole is a far more complex musical and structural argument than my rather trite account would indicate. I only occasionally felt rushed along the knotted rope of passion coming from the heart and disillusioned soul that pervades this creation. But musical and personal maturity will inevitably come to this massive talent. 

However, I did miss the smell of sulphur and the sense of the diabolical that pullulate the work. Reading Byronic literature of the period that reflects and partly inspired the gestation and evolution of this remarkable life narrative, would greatly enhance the pianistic vision through a subtle stimulation of the musical imagination. 

Franz Liszt with original manuscript of the B minor Sonata

Chen's commanding technique gave at times an emotionally moving, idiomatic and dramatic account of this formidable sonata. The mighty Fugue was polyphonically transparent and noble in dimension.

A gently glowing pianissimo conclusion took us into a dimension beyond the physical present  into a long, ardent quest for radiant religious redemption. 

Fryderyk Chopin

Ballade in F minor Op. 52

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’. 

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

Chopin possesses an unrivalled position  as Poland’s national composer and its musical wieszcz (poet, balladeer and prophet). This is particularly obvious in the musically narrative Ballades. His music is the beating heart of the country.  The   great   Polish   poet   Cyprian  Norwid  (1821–83) described Chopin as ‘a Varsovian by birth, a Pole by heart, and a citizen of the world by talent’. 

Virtuoso  brilliance, a supreme gift for melody and an air of sentimentality explain his immense appeal on a popular level. But more deeply the universality  of Chopin lies in the sense of loss and nostalgia for his homeland. Contained within his intense music is patriotic  resistance to domination, sacrifice and melancholy  in the face of ‘the bitter  finales of life’ – all universal human  emotions.  ‘Chopin’s  music was a kind  of cultural  battle-ground  in the nineteenth century, prey to appropriation.’

With Chen the great Ballade in F minor Op.52 was quite brilliant, coherent and cohesive in its narrative of the shifting landscapes in this opera of a life. The innocence of childhood that suffuses the opening was superbly captured. The work had an eloquent, understated introduction full of the innocence of life before turbulent disillusionment inevitably alters the lyricism of earlier days. An extraordinary interpretative penetration and superb keyboard command. The Ballade, composed in 1842 in Paris and Nohant, flowered into a series of coherent, disparate scenes that were extraordinarily moving in their drama and intensity.

I received the impression of a wanderer ambling through the countryside reflecting on the entirety of his life. And so this magnificent opera of life passes through its various phases. It was as if one chapter after another of a spiritual travel journey had opened before us.

12 Etudes, Op. 25

No. 1: Étude in A-flat major, Aeolian Harp (1836)

A fine singing cantabile with expressive transparent polyphony. Charm and grace with a velvet tone and touch.

No. 2: Étude in F minor (1836)

An image of mountain streams with clear internal voices and polyphony with a magnificent conclusion.

No. 3: Étude in F major (1836)

No. 4: Étude in A minor (1832–1834)

Superb articulation indicated a complete virtuoso command of the keyboard.

No. 5: Étude in E minor (1832–1834)

Such an expressive rendition with singing cantabile  of a refined and transparent order. So many internal details revealed!

No. 6: Étude in G-sharp minor, Thirds (1832–1834)

Chen by magic created an eloquent disembodied vibration like a wind in the arabesques of expressive and poetic Polish trees. A light style brillante evident throughout.

No. 7: Étude in C-sharp minor, Cello (1836)

Deeply soulful, melancholic and affecting. Chen produced a masterpiece of lamentation. Again this eloquent cantabile in the left hand that gave the interpretation immeasurable profundity.

No. 8: Étude in D-flat major, Sixths (1832–1834)

No. 9: Étude in G-flat major, Butterfly (1832–1834)

Astonishing articulation and legato.

No. 10: Étude in B minor, Octave (1832–1834)

I would have preferred more detachment in the octaves. The image was of great waves and swell in a storm or typhoon with a vastly contrastive reflective central section.

No. 11: Étude in A minor, Winter Wind (1834)

The opening was a desolate in expression as I have ever heard. Uniquely setting an atmosphere of the bleak aridity of endless snow and ice crushing the sensibility. A highly emotional interpretation only possible with his almost incredible transcendental technique.

No. 12: Étude in C minor, Ocean (1836)

An expression of the blighted destiny of what it is to be human and deal emotionally with the idea of death in life. Some of this philosophical depth escaped this young, illusioned soul in his virtuosity but the performance was deeply expressive with a fine singing melody. 


Encores:

1. A poignantly expressive Liszt/Schumann Widmung

2. A delicate a seasonal Liszt/Schumann Frühlingsnacht (Spring Night) S. 568/R. 256 "Überm Garten durch die Lüfte"

A standing ovation for an astonishing recital perhaps not as impactful as his Duszniki recital but bear in mind the courage to play this formidable programme spontaneously with three days preparation. Astounding talent and courage!

 19.08.23

Saturday

21:00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Symphonic Concert


Ivo Pogorelić piano

Kammerorchester Basel

Hugo Ticciati concertmaster, artistic director



As is his wont, Pogorelić was seated at piano as the audience took their seats, dressed in a smoking cap, red shirt, jeans and wearing a mask. he was vaguely improvising on the Steinway. He left the stage just before the first work and the arrival of the orchestra.


Sir William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875)

The Naiades Op. 15 (1836)

Sir William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875)

The neglect of this significant and graceful English composer and pianist, popular both in England and on the Continent, admired by both Schumann and Mendelssohn, is a deep mystery to me. He was a professor of Music at Cambridge and contributed to the Bach revival. This prodigy came from a highly talented musical family and is in the process of becoming rediscovered. He conducted the first performance of Mendelssohn's Paulus. He also conducted this overture to great acclaim at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig. 

I am personally fond of his Piano Concerto No 4 in F minor, Op 19.  Bennett took this work to Leipzig in 1838 and it is dedicated to Ignaz Moscheles, the pianist who taught and befriended the young Mendelssohn and later became Principal of the Conservatory in Leipzig. Its public premiere was on 17 January 1839 at the Gewandhaus, with Bennett at the piano and Mendelssohn conducting.

Schumann, reviewing the score in 1840, notes that ‘nothing in the entire concerto is calculated for bravura display and applause, he only cares to display the composition itself’. [...] If there were many artists composing in the spirit of W. Bennet, all fears over the future of our art would be allayed.'

I found this overture absolutely undemanding intellectually and philosophically but not trivial, simply delightful and transparent music. I can quite understand his popularity in England where Mendelssohn was and still is adored. Such charming music with tenderly reflective lyrical interludes. This was approachable music with no taxing emotional complications but none the less in quality for that unassuming purpose of entertainment.

Fryderyk Chopin

Piano Concerto in F minor Op. 21

The concerto follows the Mozart model and was directly influenced by the style brillante of Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles or Ries.  In this early work Chopin magically transforms the Classical into the Romantic style. The personal, emotional inspiration of the composer are well known to most listeners.

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.

‘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). 

Pogorelić's understanding of the style brillante in the opening Maestoso movement and the Polish rhetorical gestures concealed within the work were not so well delineated despite his clear virtuosity and keyboard command. The opening was truly Maestoso in tempo with a fine introductory phrase that was noble and considered. Pogorelić moulded the phrases eloquently with a fine cantabile which reminded us forcibly of his youthful brilliance. Yet in this movement there was not a fine sense of Chopin's youthful excitement and sheer keyboard joy. Hummel laid the groundwork for this type of entertaining wizardry. After all the concerto follows the Mozart model and was directly influenced by the style brillante of Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles and Ries. 

I found Pogorelić expressed the music with a considered  musical 'maturity' far more than necessary. He introduced a certain regularity in emphatic moments of over-dynamic solidity which tended to divide up the movement and which interfered somewhat with smooth musical coherence and musical speech. His familiar gifts musically and technically in phrasing, nuance, expression and color fitfully remained with us.

Pogorelić had clearly completely rethought the second movement Larghetto love song. Arguably this movement is the most beautiful love song ever written for piano and orchestra. He experimented with dynamics and phrasing that went completely against the accepted interpretative measure. It was often moving in moments of considered poetry and lyricism. This was a thought provoking approach that indicated an individual voice and vision.

The unrequited love Chopin felt for Konstancja Gładkowska, one that he 'enjoyed' at inaccessible psychological and physical distance, produced yearning lyrical melodies of an intense order.  As can be the way in life, it is said she preferred the attentions of the handsome uniformed Russian officers to our poetic musical genius! During Pogorelić's deconstructions, the somewhat over deliberate harmonic transitions and emphasis of seemingly irrelevant detail, I was often aware of an individual vision of the work. I felt it was a portrait of his own, deeply individualistic, internal musical landscape, filtered through fraught life experience to become a form of operatic narrative.

I felt the movement slightly mannered but there was yearning for an inaccessible adolescent, idealized love here, a sensitive sense of longing. Dynamic variations were moving and persuasive in a unique, previously unheard way. This was  particularly clear when the longing begins to turn to resentment but subsides again in nuances of pianissimo resignation to reality. 

In many ways you could say that the whole work revolves around this movement. 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 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.

The testing Allegro vivace that followed seemed limited in the unbridled expression of youthful exuberance, elegance and technical sparkle that the movement requires. 

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. (Polish musicologist Mirosław Tomaszewski) 

Pogorelić's touch and tone were occasionally charming, sensitive and poetic but sometimes too authoritative. There was not always a great variety of nuance and expression. I felt certain excessive dynamic contrasts at times between the more reflective and the declamatory passages. 

The repetitions of style brillante phrases of the kujawiak province (of which there are many) were too often played in exactly the same way in terms of dynamics. His articulation for the style brillante was attractive at times, but at others became unaccountably blurred as he emphasized certain passages of heightened emotion up tempo. The movement begs for creative and imaginative contrasts, or at the very least, shadows of the slightly distorted reflections in a mirror.

There was not a great deal of joy, energy and drive in the Rondo final movement composed in the exuberant style of a kujawiak dance. The dance rhythms did not sparkle enough for me with exuberance and youth. The movement could have been a great deal more expressive in the articulation, dynamics, and colour and rubato of the many repeated phrases which carry the shifting underlying moods in what can appear on the surface as a simple cascade of notes. 

I also felt the orchestra and conductor did not have an idiomatic feel for the transitional Classical/Romantic Polish nature of this work. I hesitate to make invidious comparisons but I am thinking of  the unsurpassed past achievements of the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century under Frans Brüggen. However, the notorious cor de signal was stirring and superb!

The essential nature of the eighteenth century style brillante in the Hummel manner, (which the concerto is an outstanding representative of Chopin’s Varsovian style), seems rather a mystery to modern pianists. The style involves virtuoso display, refinement, intense feeling, a bright light touch and glistening tone, varied shimmering colours, supreme clarity of articulation, in fact much like what was referred to in French as the renowned jeu perlé.  There are also the vital expressive elements of personal charm, grace, taste and elegance which were not universally present in this performance.

As an encore he repeated the Larghetto movement with more moving poetry but the same arresting personal vision as on the first occasion.

A semi-standing ovation which accurately reflects the division of opinion concerning this significant artist.


Thomas Adès

Shanty – Over the Sea

This work did not create a great deal of associative emotion for me.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11

It scarcely to be believed that Mendelssohn, that young genius arguably more of a prodigy than Mozart,  composed this work at the age of 15! It was actually his thirteenth symphony ! 

The opening Allegro was bursting with youthful exuberance and energy. The orchestra and conductor gave a fine account and seemed far more at home with Mendelssohn than Chopin. There was a great deal of expressive and self-confident phrasing.

The Andante conjured thoughts of innocence and springtime in the nineteenth century countryside of my imagination, the purity of birdsong depicted by a mind unclouded by experience of life. 

The Menuet. Allegro molto  presented us with uncomplicated youthful energy, lightness, balance with the most marvelous orchestral writing and sense of timbre and instrumental scope. Utterly charming imagery, melody and texture. 

The final Allegro con fuoco began with a magnificent declamatory opening phrase and this was followed with formidable panache. You could hear the melodic invention and brilliance lying in wait to erupt in the wings. Again a tremendously deep understanding of orchestration at such a tender age! He even indulged in some polyphonic counterpoint , ironic fugal writing before the driving theme enters once again. A triumphant, rather militaristic conclusion

As an encore, the orchestra performed  the brilliant original version of the Trio from the third movement.

I thought you might also like to read my review of the controversial and thought-provoking recital by Ivo Pogorelić from August 2020 when he last played at this festival in Warsaw.


In Partial Defense of Ivo Pogorelić

21:00 August 24 2020 Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall 

Piano recital

Ivo Pogorelić piano

Johann Sebastian Bach

‘English’ Suite No. 3 in G minor BWV 808 

The 'scandals ' associated with this pianist are so well known I shall not try your patience here by recounting them. Even at the outset, it was obvious conventional concert formalities had been rethought. As the audience began to assemble, Ivo Pogorelić remained seated at the piano in street clothes, orange socks and casual shoes, experimenting with touch and sound. When he appeared formally attired in a conventional concert pianist's 'Penguin Suit' I saw it, considering the radicalism of his thinking, as a divertingly ironical and rather amusing judgement on his role. 

He opened his recital with the ‘English’ Suite No. 3 in G minor BWV 808. In the mind's ear, one inescapably compared the scintillating recording of the English Suites he made as a young man for Deutsche Grammophon in 1990. 

The Prelude began conventionally enough, expressive, finger technique not quite what it was, yet a strong sense of polyphony and no sustaining pedal. The articulation had lost some of its extraordinary technical sparkle and the dynamism has faded. However, the Allemande retained the singing, cantabile character of old and was expressive dynamically with judicious use of the pedal and ornamentation. The Courante I found pleasant with the fluid, 'running' characteristics I associate with this type of movement in Bach. He allowed himself to breathe and the tone he produced occasionally had that crystalline quality that once seduced us all. I began to wonder what all the fuss was about. 

However, as the Sarbande opened I began to feel uneasy with his individual intrusion into the music. The music journalist Luis Dias informs  us that the first known reference to the zarabanda is in the 1539 poem ‘Vida y tiempo de Maricastaña’, written by Fernando de Guzmán Mejía in Panama. It gained popularity first in the Spanish colonies, before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Spain. Before long, Cervantes was writing about it (a character actually says that Hell was its 'birthplace and breeding place'). It is mentioned in Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ (1599). 

A Jesuit priest referred to it as  'a dance and song so loose in its words and so ugly in its motions that it is enough to excite bad emotions in even very decent people'. It spread to Italy in the 17th century and to France, where it became a slow court dance. Baroque musicians of the 18th century began to incorporate the Sarabande as a stylized dance form into suites of dance music, commonly taking its place between the Courante and the Gigue (as here in the third English Suite).

The music of the Sarabande is stately, in slow triple time, with long notes and often heavily ornamented. It begins with the first beat of the bar, and its second beat is very often dotted or tied over to the third. The Sarabande type of operatic aria was a favourite device of the Baroque period. There was a dark emphatic, nobility and gravity in the Pogorelić interpretation but I felt he exaggerated the slowness of tempo and phrasing even of what is considered a stately dance. Much verged dynamically on the mannered, indulgent and artificial. Yet, as is the case with him, on occasion, the dynamic variation he employed was most expressive. 

The Gavottes I/II I found elegant and rather graceful - rather lightweight in tone with an attractive demi-staccato and at a tempo appropriate to the French inspiration. Harmonic phrasing was pleasant and the ornamentation restrained. I felt he became rather lost in the Gigue for some reason. It has not matured, betrayed technical solecisms and lacked the excitement and drive of the execution during his youth.

Fryderyk Chopin 

Barcarolle in F sharp major Op. 60 

Here I initially felt that Pogorelić had come seriously adrift on the lagoon, especially after the gondola crashed into the wharf at the beginning of the romantic outing. As the gondolier piloted his craft, the music became prey to strange hesitations and silences. The outing became fractured, the tempo frustratingly held back and slow. His sense of deliberation became oppressive.  Was there a storm on the lagoon that was interrupting a smooth passage, in addition to the emotional agitation of the lovers? 

A 'song' did emerge but it verged on the mannered and 'over-expressed'. However, as the work progressed it seemed to hypnotize the audience, as if they were waiting in breathless apprehension for the next extraordinary vision by this conjurer. His charisma had taken over. I began to realize there was an expanded, rather extensive, certainly unaccustomed and submerged, narrative thread taking place in this 'interpretation'. But what was it? Could it be considered seriously ? The performance threw up many thought-provoking reflections.

Turner and Venice

Storm over Venice J.M.W.Turner

Many years ago in the late 1960s I wrote so-called avant-garde literature. 'Indeterminate Texts' they were called. I admired the so-called French Nouveau Roman of Nathalie Sarraute , Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Butor and the Irish writer Samuel Beckett. This literary movement influenced the Nouvelle Vague  cinema of Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais and François Truffaut. In music - Boulez, Stockhausen, Kagel, Pousseur, Xenakis and Messiaen. 

Pogorelić had taken me back to that rather exciting world of new exploratory dimensions. In 1968 I spent some time as an 'observer' at Stockhausen's Cologne Courses for New Music with the Australian composer David Ahern, which rather altered my musical appreciation and indeed musical life in some ways. I attended many important premieres of Stockhausen's music.

The term avant-garde referred then to groups of intellectuals, writers, and artists who voiced ideas and experimented with artistic approaches that challenged the current cultural values. They also shared certain ideals or values which manifested themselves in the non-conformist lifestyles they adopted, a variety of Bohemianism. Stockhausen wrote of his work on Beethoven entitled Opus 1970  'to hear familiar, old, pre-formed musical material with new ears, to penetrate and transform it with a musical consciousness of today.'

A composer is always limited in the full expression of his ideas by the notation which leaves so much up to the interpretative instrumentalist. Penderecki invented an entirely new notation to express his personal musical ideas. Where then does that invisible line of individualism in interpretation lie, a line that cannot be crossed, the frontier that may well have been crossed here. Significant deviation from the Urtext is today considered unforgivable and remains the ethos of much current performance practice. 

Standardization of interpretation through teaching, performance and  ubiquitous recordings is common. Composers themselves often forbid the slightest deviation from their scores and the indications contained therein. Yet when one hears them perform, their view of their own creations can be surprising.

Whether you 'like' the Pogorelić approach to the Barcarolle or not, he showed great courage or supreme arrogance in delivering such wide-ranging deviations as we heard. But we did listen intently ...we were provoked to serious thought...which often does not happen in conventional performances of well-known works. 

I felt similarly concerning the Chopin Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 45. During his deconstructions, over deliberate harmonic transitions, emphasis of seemingly irrelevant detail, we often became marooned in incoherence. But we listened. I felt it was a portrait of his own, deeply individualistic, internal musical landscape, filtered through a fraught life experience.

Maurice Ravel

Gaspard de la Nuit

Pogorelić gave us a fascinating treatment of Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel, much at variance with his world famous 1983 recording, considered by many the finest ever made.

‘Gaspard’ is the Persian guardian of the treasures and so ‘The Treasurer of the Night’ creates allusions to someone controlling everything that is jewel-like, dark, mysterious.

The work was inspired by poems of Aloysius Bertrand, the French Romantic prose poet.

Ondine

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

The Waves or Ondine by Paul Gaugin (1889)

In Ondine Pogorelić created an impressionistic flood but only partly the seductive image of a nymph. He controlled luminous tone and legato conjuring the sense of water enclosing a seductive water sprite. However, at times his touch could be heavy but he used silence in a dramatic and effective manner. 

Le Gibet

What do I see stirring around that gibbet?
Faust.
Ah! that which I hear, was it the north wind that screeches in the night, or the hanged one who utters a sigh on the fork of the gibbet?

It is the bell that tolls from the walls of a city, under the horizon, and the corpse of the hanged one that is reddened by the setting sun

Le Gibet was atmospherically gloomy and lugubrious, quite as haunting and horrifying as one might desire with those doom-laden repeated notes. The extreme stasis he created gave one the impression of pathological isolation and loneliness in death or punishment for serious transgressions – a body on a rope slowly swaying in the wind. 

The audience were completely hypnotized and one could 'hear a pin drop'. The shivering feeling of  l'aliénation totale that I experienced reading Salammbô by Gustav Flaubert swept over me, those images of crucified lions. The intense atmosphere Pogorelić created was barely breathable...

Image result for salvator rosa body on a gibbet

Scene of Witchcraft Salvator Rosa c. 1646–49

Scarbo

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

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

demon 

Nicolai Abildgaard, Nightmare (1800) Vestjaellands Art Museum, Sorø

In the original recording of Scarbo, the scampering Pogorelić goblin with evil intentions had become over the years a far nastier and more deeply threatening creature. He exaggerated the grotesque rhythms of this frightful troll terrifying a sleeper in her bed. A strong sense of evil emanated from his representation, a threatening madness. At times the pedal was held full down over many bars, creating a storm of dark sound. He also created a most extraordinary rumbling and buzzing from the bass register which I have never heard before on a Steinway. Were these the 'golden bees' of the poem 'on an azure banner strewn' ? Was it the gremlin's wicked laughter buzzing in the alcove? Did his fingernail grate on the silk of the bed? 

His pedaling and articulation created a thoroughly nasty piece of work, both threatening and ominously energetic. I felt that the insidious sexuality and eroticism that pervades this character as depicted by Ravel was strongly and revoltingly presented. One felt Scarbo could be a figure in an irrational erotic dream. The climaxes were terrifying.

A remarkable performance of Gaspard de la Nuit and a recital that winged far beyond the customary and forced one to think outside the conventional interpretative carapace.

18.08.23 Friday 20:00

The Church of the Holy Cross

Warsaw


In Front of Chopin's Heart

Special Concert

Fabio Biondi violin


This solo violin recital was a most unusual and highly enjoyable beginning to the festival by the profoundly musical Italian conductor and violinist Fabio Biondi, Director of the renowned baroque band Europa Galante. He has made immeasurable contributions to the Polish Musical Renaissance now taking place, especially with magnificent complete recordings of the neglected Polish operas of Stanisław Moniuszko. He regularly appears with Europa Galante as a conductor at this festival.

Fabio Biondi


Johan Helmich Roman (1694-1758)

Assaggio for violin solo in C minor (BeRI 310)

Johan Helmich Roman (1694-1758) was known as the 'Swedish Handel' and was regarded as one of the most important eighteenth century Scandinavian composers. I was utterly unfamiliar with his name or marvelous compositions! In his European travels he met all the great composers of note. His compositional genius and advanced Baroque violin skills did not become familiar until publication of several chamber works in 1958.

This Assaggio (taste or small portion) is in four movements. Biondi gave us noble Grave to open the work followed by a surprisingly virtuosic Allegro with fine, attractive melodies. The Lento was emotionally yearning in character, a cantabile with an alluring melody whilst the concluding Allegro was a most charming baroque minuet.

Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770)

Sonata in G major (B. g 5)

Tartini  is a seminal figure in the development of the technique of the violin and is associated mainly with Padua where he was the first violin at the Basilica of St. Anthony. He was so famous as a teacher and composer throughout Europe he was dubbed maestro della nazione. He was so prolific! He wrote around 130 violin concertos and 170 violin sonatas.

Biondi brought an affecting singing quality to the opening Siciliana which emerged as so ardent in nature with the seductive tone he produced. The Menuet created such civilized emotions compared to the brutality of much 'music' today as did the Allegretto, brimming with innocent life. The concluding Andante was expressive in its poignant cantilena melody which became increasingly passionate replete with intense virtuosity.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704)

Passacaglia in G minor (c.1674)

Biber, an Austrian violinist of Bohemian background,  has always taken me into the metaphysical realms of religion with his formidably associative music. He has always been regarded as the strongest representative of the German Baroque school of violin. The fifteen  Rosary Sonatas  have always been a personal favorite of mine. The cycle closes with this monumental Passacaglia in G minor. In the manuscript each sonata is illustrated with a drawing of one of the Mysteries. This monumental spiritual piece is depicted as a guardian angel leading a child.

This is true masterpiece and Biondi elevated it into a grand, noble and intense masterpiece. It was highly virtuosic with transparent polyphony, illuminating phrasing that created deep musical speech and a variety of emotionally uplifting dynamic variation. A fitting precursor to the sublime J. S. Bach violin Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 in D minor.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)

Telemann was one of the most prolific and gifted composers of the eighteenth century. he wrote on almost every genre imaginable - cantatas, oratorios, operas, passions, overtures, concertos, suites and sonatas - often known popularly as Tafelmusik. As with many musicians, including my own destiny, his family were violently against taking up a music career. Fortunately for us he ignored them!

Fantasia in E-flat major No. 7 (1735)

The Dolce opening was as sweet as one might wish followed by an Allegro bursting with fire, life and the energy of spring. The Largo was most affecting emotionally with a moving melodic ambiance followed by a leaping Presto of formidable fingerboard virtuosity. 

Fantasia No. 12 in A minor  (1735)

The eighteenth century Italian violin literature had incalculable influence on European compositional techniques. The opening Moderato was an eloquent melody explosive with dancing energy. Biondi showed great fluency, attack and virtuosity in both the Vivace and Presto movements.     

The first encore after an enthusiastic reception was another affectingly melodic and energetic sonata by Johan Helmich Roman  which possessed mercurial changes of mood in the final Allegro following a thoughtful, almost meditative Andante.

A stylish performance.

To conclude this recital he played a spectacular Variation from Paganini's Variations on 'Barucaba' Op.14. Biondi considered this appropriate as Paganini visited Warsaw between 23 May and 14 June 1829 and gave ten concerts in the National Theatre on the occasion of Nicholas I's coronation as King of Poland. For nineteen-year-old Chopin this was wildly exciting and may eventually have inspired the composition of his Études.

Biondi's 'floating virtuosity' and entertaining pizzicati revealed his complete command of the baroque violin. Even the church bells tolled at 9.00 pm during it to celebrate !

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