78th International Chopin Festival in Duszniki-Zdrój, Poland. August 4-12, 2023


78th International Chopin Festival



August 4-12, 2023 

An introduction from Piotr Paleczny, Artistic Director

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Music Lovers,

Hard as I find it to believe, it is already for the thirty-first time that I have the pleasure, honour, and great joy to welcome you – lovers of Fryderyk Chopin’s music and all the piano enthusiasts – in Duszniki-Zdrój and invite you warmly to the recitals presented during the 78th International Chopin Piano Festival.
I am deeply convinced that this year’s Festival concerts will meet with your great interest and prove to be major events; that the emotions and experience of contact with the invited artists and their art will long remain in your memory. The names of those artists guarantee that our concerts will uphold the highest artistic standards.

The Festival opens with a recital by Francesco Piemontesi, called the ‘Wizard of Sound’. Similarly extraordinary emotions also await us in the following evenings, featuring such excellent, much-loved pianists as Federico Colli, Lukas Geniušas, Yulianna Avdeeva, and Anna Geniushene, as well as violinist Hina Maeda, and – last to perform this year – Kate Liu. I would like to attract your special attention to the cello recital by Camilla Thomas, who will be accompanied by pianist Julien Brocal. At the Chopin Manor, you will have the opportunity to hear a unique instrument by Antonio Stradivari, to whose sound Chopin listened shortly before his death when its then owner and his friend, cellist August Franchomme, played excerpts from the Sonata in G Minor, Op. 65 for the dying composer, Franchomme’s music is also included in the concert’s programme. This extraordinary evening may well prove to be one of the Festival’s most moving moments. This year’s Duszniki Festival coincides with the 110th birth anniversary of Professor Jan Ekier – pianist, composer, and educator, author of the Chopin National Edition, who was also my own unforgettable Master. He died nine years ago. I am one of the many pianists who owe the development of their skills and artistic personalities to Professor Ekier. Let me now therefore, from the Festival town of Duszniki, express our profound gratitude on behalf of all his pianist pupils.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there are indeed few places in the world (if any) where the crème de la crème of young generation pianists can all be heard, and their artistic personalities revealed, within the period of just a few days. They have all won main prizes in numerous prestigious competitions held worldwide over the recent months. The opportunity to meet them is unique to the Duszniki Festival, including its current 78th edition.

An attractive mural I came across wandering the Duszniki streets

Our afternoon recitals will thus host excellent young artists, many-time winners of the first and other main prizes in the latest editions of great international piano competitions recently held in Bydgoszcz, Tel Aviv, Geneva, Paris, Helsinki, Dublin, Utrecht, Calgary (Canada), and Warsaw. These extremely talented pianists are Mateusz Krzyżowski, Kevin Chen, Giorgi Gigashvili, Hyuk Lee, Piotr Pawlak, Illia Ovcharenko, Yukine Kuroki, and Jakub Kuszlik. The have embarked on extremely dynamic careers, and it will certainly be worthwhile to remember their names.

Equally interesting is the programme of ‘Nocturne’, the traditional night meeting with artists, hosted this time by the Gdańsk-based actor Maciej Konopiński.

This year’s Festival Masterclasses will be taught by outstanding teachers: Professor Lidia Grychtołówna, a phenomenal personality in the Polish piano scene, and the eminent Berlin-based pianist-educator Eldar Nebolsin. The course participants are, as usual, finalists of the latest edition of the three-stage National Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition organised by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw.

Let me therefore now join you in focused listening, so that together we can relish and enjoy all the artistic emotions and nuanced moods flowing to us from the Chopin Manor stage.

Piotr Paleczny

Piotr Paleczny


August 4, 2023
time. 20.00
price: PLN 190
no tickets
Inaugural Concert
3rd Prize of the International Chopin Piano
Competition Queen Elizabeth - Brussels 2007
time. 16.00
price: PLN 80,
no tickets
1st Prize at the International Chopin Piano
Competition I. Paderewski Bydgoszcz 2022
time. 20.00
price: PLN 130
no tickets
Federico COLLI
1st Prize International Piano Competition - Leeds 2012
time. 16.00
price: PLN 80,
no tickets
Kevin CHEN
1st Prize of the Artur Rubinstein - Tel Aviv 2023
1st Prize of the International Piano Competition - Geneva 2022
time. 20.00
price: PLN 130
no tickets
2nd Prize at the International Chopin Piano Competition F. Chopin - Warsaw 2010
August 7, 2023
time. 16.00
price: PLN 80
no tickets
2nd Prize of the Artur Rubinstein - Tel Aviv 2023
time. 20.00
price: PLN 130
no tickets
Yulianna AVDEEVA
1st Prize of the International Chopin Piano Competition F. Chopin - Warsaw 2010
time. 16.00
price: PLN 80,
no tickets
Hyuk LEE
1st Prize of the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition Marguerite Long - Paris 2022
time. 21.00
price: PLN 190
no tickets
Host of the evening: Maciej KONOPIŃSKI
time. 16.00
price: PLN 80
no tickets
1st Prize at the
May Lind Helsinki International Piano Competition 2022
time. 20.00
price: PLN 130
no tickets
Camille THOMAS – cello
The soloist plays the famous 'Feuermann' cello Antonio Stradivari 1730

Julien BROCAL – piano
time. 16.00
price: PLN 80,
no tickets
1st Prize of the Honens International Piano Competition - Calgary, Canada 2022
time. 20.00
price: PLN 130
no tickets
Silver Medal of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition - Fort Worth 2022
time. 16.00
price: PLN 80
no tickets
1st Prizes of the International Piano Competitions - Utrecht 2022 and Dublin 2022
time. 20.00
price: PLN 130
no tickets
Hina MAEDA - violin, Antonio Stradivari 1715
1st Prize of the International Violin Competition H. Wieniawski - Poznań 2022

Michał FRANCUZ - piano
time. 16.00
price: PLN 80,
no tickets
4th Prize of the 18th International Competition. F. Chopin - Warsaw 2021
time. 20.00
price: PLN 190
no tickets

Kate LIU Final Concert
3rd Prize of the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition F. Chopin - Warsaw 2015

Ticket price for all concerts - PLN 1,450

XXII National Piano Master Course in Duszniki-Zdrój

August 5-8, 2023 - Prof. Lidia Grychtołówna

August 9-12, 2023 - Prof. Eldar Nebolsin

Official Festival Website (English) 


From the Reviewer's Notebook

The laying of flowers at the Chopin memorial at the opening ceremony was as moving as always

Lt to Rt Director of the Festival Jadwiga Merkur, Prof. Irena Poniatowska, Wieslawa Komada

The mayor of of the Klodzki District, Maciej Avizen, presented Professor Piotr Paleczny with and award that commemorated his contribution to the cultural history of the Klodzko District both at home and abroad.

For complete Programme and detailed Artist's Biographies 


Recital Reviews

Profile of the Reviewer Michael Moran  

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


800 PM

Final piano recital


Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 1 (1835)

Liu's interpretative approach to Chopin often gives rise to controversial opinions at Duszniki. This delicate, fey lady is a phenomenon and an extraordinary pianist. During the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Competition, Warsaw, 1-23 October 2015 she was placed 3rd. At that time I had the curious vision of an immensely precocious Chopin savant whilst listening and watching her. Without doubt hers was one of the most extraordinary Chopin recitals and concerto performances I have ever experienced. This pianist seems to be in touch with some force outside of herself, transfigured by music electromagnetically if that does not sound too fanciful.

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

This remark could not be more appropriate applied to the magical performances given by Kate Liu.

She played with an alluring and velvet touch. This created a dream atmosphere which descended over us like the wings of a night moth. Agitation rose organically like all emotion does. Liu has a unique interpretative voice in Chopin, rare indeed.

Mazurka in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 50, No. 3 (1841–1842)

An astonishing pp opening to the work. I felt as if I was moving hesitantly about the realms contained within Chopin's consciousness, as if the pianist was possessed by spirits. At times the sound of the instrument was scarcely present and yet there was significant variation in dynamics, touch and timbre.

Waltz in D-Flat Major, Op. 70, No. 3 (1829)

The dynamic variation she employed here was replete with reminiscences of past joys.

Waltz in A-Flat Major, Op. 64, No. 3 (1847)

The performance  gave one the intense feeling of moments of exuberance in life, celebration remembered. Chopin was a passionate dancer. The poetic cantabile was a pure love song of dreamlike drifting before we returned to the joyful dance.

Mazurka in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 59, No. 3 (1845)

Rustic images were recalled. One could imagine 'sitting out' this dance whilst reflecting on the seemingly inevitable fading of love. Past social ecstasies dissolved over the horizon.

Waltz in B Minor, Op. 69, No. 2 (1829)

The dolente mood was intense, almost insupportable emotionally here. The opening tempo was meditative and introspective. One was invited to examine the internal chambers of the heart and remember the emotions that once engulfed it. Again hers is a unique interpretative voice in this poetic composer. Thoughts of love and affection entered the mind like perfume stealing into a garden of sensibility. Such a breathtaking variety of moods invest this playing.

Mazurka in F-Minor, Op. 68, No. 4 (1849)

I imagined myself wandering through woodland or forest remembering past bliss as birds sing in the sun-dappled shade. Fragile dreams came and departed like scarcely present specters. This was the teue magic of music to transport the soul.

Nocturne in D-Flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2 (1835)

Her performance was so similar in refinement, grace and delicacy to contemporary descriptions of Chopin's own playing. The magical effect of her playing on listeners put them into a state of somnambulism which was truly hypnotic and spiritually transporting. This interpretation was full of musical meaning, speech that emerged almost like a prayer. Emotions rose and fell like waves of the sea, an inhabitant of the night gardens of Nohant. The conclusion was scarcely present in sound, a profoundly affecting dissolution of the body and soul at PPPP.


Robert Schumann (1810–1856)

Etudes Symphoniques, Op. 13 (1834)

I love this work of Schumann so much and Kate Liu gave a superb and idiomatic account of it. Horowitz felt it was the best introduction to the essential problems of Schumann interpretation for any young pianist. The composer's mercurial and whimsical nature is so difficult to grasp, the fluctuation in moods of fantasy even moments of visionary madness escape so many pianists.

An autobiographical romantic element is interwoven into the complex genesis of the Études symphoniques which Liu captured perfectly. The work was dedicated to Schumann's English friend, the pianist and neglected composer William Sterndale Bennett. Bennett played the piece frequently in England to great acclaim, but oddly Schumann thought it was unsuitable for public performance and advised Clara not to play it!

In much the same way as Chopin's Etudes they are predominantly concert studies in variation form with a possible pedagogical element in terms of piano technique and timbre. They are widely regarded as some of the most difficult works in the piano literature. Liu played these textually difficult 'orchestral' works with a convincing and absolute passion capturing the electrical whimsy and quicksilver moodiness that flows through Schumann.  

  • Theme – Andante [C minor]

Liu offered us a long mental preparation for what was to follow at a tempo perhaps even affectingly slower than what is normally accepted as Andante.

  • Etude I (Variation 1) – Un poco più vivo [C minor]

Highly variegated in dynamic and tone - very much 'alive'


  • Etude II (Variation 2) – Andante [C minor]

Performed with great resolution and rhapsodic emotion - the polyphony (reflecting Schumann's obsession with Bach) was abundantly clear


  • Etude III – Vivace [E Major]

Superb articulation. As light as golden pollen drifting on the summer breeze. The cantabile song was deeply poignant. Yes, symphonic in texture too.


  • Etude IV (Variation 3) – Allegro marcato [C minor]

She created a irrepressible marcato Étude. The marvellous melody struck like the autumn wind.


  • Etude V (Variation 4) – Scherzando [C minor]

Liu almost physically disintegrated in a furious explosion of symphonic energy.


  • Etude VI (Variation 5) – Agitato [C minor]

Here we were presented with unsettling, scintillating agitation to the point of madness!


  • Etude VII (Variation 6) – Allegro molto [E Major]

A reflective reverie which was almost baroque in feeling and poetic in its feeling of improvisatiopn


  • Etude VIII (Variation 7) – Sempre marcatissimo [C minor]


  • Etude IX – Presto possibile [C minor]

An extraordinarily passionate interpretation that simple left me breathless.


  • Etude X (Variation 8) – Allegro con energia [C minor]


  • Etude XI (Variation 9) – Andante espressivo [G minor]


  • Etude XII (Finale) – Allegro brillante (based on Marschner's theme) [D Major]

Liu abandoned herself to monumental expressiveness and construction. We were presented with the strength of granite building blocks. The lyrical, relaxed, reflective episodes were all the more effective due to this contrast. The sonic transparency even at ff was miraculous. The cumulative conclusion can only be described as magnificent.

A rare pianistic and true musical experience the like of which one is rarely given in concert, if ever.

As encores, a fine Beethoven Bagatelle Op. 126 No.5  and a remarkable Schumann Gesänge der Frühe  Op. 133


8.00 PM

Piano recital


Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)

Fantaisie in F Minor, Op. 49 (1841)

The difficulties in bringing together the fragmented nature of the next work, the Fantasy in F Minor Op. 49, are well known. Carl Czerny wrote perceptively in his introduction to the art of improvisation on the piano ‘If a well-written composition can be compared with a noble architectural edifice in which symmetry must predominate, then a fantasy well done is akin to a beautiful English garden, seemingly irregular, but full of surprising variety, and executed rationally, meaningfully, and according to plan.’

At the time Chopin wrote this work improvisation in public domain was declining. Sano brought together all these disparate elements into an enviable unity of expressive intention with well judged expressive rubato. With many of Chopin’s apparently ‘discontinuous’ works (say the Polonaise-Fantaisie) there is in fact an underlying and complexly wrought tonal structure that holds these wonderful dreams of his tightly together as rational wholes.

He seemed to lack a little of the feeling of improvised fantasy playing like globes of mercury in the composer’s mind, sometimes merging and sometimes autonomous but never controllable. The devotional and reflective chorale was affectingly played followed by a passionate spontaneous eruption of emotion like a volcano of pent up energy released.

As I listened to this great revolutionary statement, fierce anger, nostalgia for past joys and plea for freedom, I could not help reflecting how the artistic expression of the powerful spirit of resistance in much of Chopin is so desperately needed today – not in the restricted nationalistic Polish spirit he envisioned but with the powerful arm of his universality of soul, confronted as we are by yet another incomprehensible onslaught of evil and barbarism. We need Chopin, his heart and spiritual force in 2022 possibly more than ever before.

An excellent performance if slightly mannered in expression.

Karol Szymanowski (1882–1937)

Metopes, Op. 29 (1915)

L'île des Sirènes



The Polish musicologist Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska explains the composition:

Szymanowski composed the work in the spring and summer of 1915. The inspiration came from the famed reliefs (Metopes) from the Sicilian temple of Selinunte, which he saw at the National Museum in Palermo four years earlier. United by their theme, the Odyssey, the cycle's three pieces refer to Odysseus' three different adventures.

The first one, The Sirens' Island, dedicated to Szymanowski's cousin Lola Rościszewska, is a musical vision of women with fish tails, their fatal singing bringing death upon seamen. The second piece, Calypso, dedicated to Szymanowski's sister Anna Szymanowska, invokes the story of the eponymous nymph from the island of Ogygia who kept Odysseus prisoner for seven years, while the third one, Nausikaa, dedicated to Marianna Davidoff from Kamionka, an estate neighbouring on Tymoszówka, eulogizes Odysseus' unhappy, unrequited love for the daughter of the king of the Phaiakians.

Rather than literally illustrating the Greek myths shown on the Sicilian reliefs, Szymanowski's music conveys their fantastic air and the composer's sensation. It is a new style music with a new sound, new harmony and a new type of texture. The three music pictures, while static in character, are vibrant and shimmer with colours. This is achieved by the employing closed techniques and architectural principles, including the atonal harmony, multiple, dissonant chords (The Sirens' Island), uniquely beautiful, lyrical melody with numerous figurations and passage works (Calypso), ostinatos and cadences (Nausikaa) and, last but not least, the form with features of a free poem rather than a traditional structure. 

I have only heard this piece twice live, in London and at the IX International Paderewski Piano Competition, Bydgoszcz, Poland in 2013. I really do not know it intimately enough to comment in detail on this interpretation, however, I found the work absolutely remarkable and dazzling at times. It will still take me time to develop a strong affection for it I think.

Grażyna Bacewicz (1909–1969)

Sonata No. 2 for piano (1953)

This remarkable Polish composer and violinist was born on February 5th, 1909, in Lódź. She is the second Polish female composer to have achieved national and international recognition, the first being Maria Szymanowska in the early 19th century. Having first learnt to play the piano and violin with her father, Vincas Bacevičius (Wincenty Bacewicz), Bacewicz continued her musical education in 1919 at Helena Kijenska-Dobkiewiczowa's Musical Conservatory in Łódź.

There, she studied piano, violin, and music theory. Her family moved to Warsaw in 1923, and in 1924 she enrolled at the Warsaw Conservatory to study composition graduating in 1932 with diplomas in violin and composition. Thanks to the generosity of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, she received a grant that same year to study composition at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. She studied under Nadia Boulanger from 1932 to 1933, as well as through private violin lessons with Henri Touret. She would return to Paris later in 1934 to study under the Hungarian violinist Carl Flesch.

Bacewicz's first solo success came in 1935, with her first mention at the 1st Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition in Warsaw. From 1936 to 1938 she played first violin at the Warsaw Polish Radio Orchestra led by Grzegorz Fitelberg, where she developed her knowledge of instrumentation. Bacewicz played a number of concerts before World War II, for which she visited Lithuania, France, Spain and other countries, often appearing with her brother, the reputed pianist Kiejstut.

During the Nazi occupation she played clandestine concerts, as well as playing for the Main Relief Council. After the war she continued to play concerts up until 1953, giving recitals in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, Romania, Hungary and France. Meanwhile, in 1945, she joined the National Conservatory (now the Academy of Music) in Łódź as a lecturer of music theory and a violin teacher. Throughout the 1950s she devoted herself almost exclusively to composing and teaching.

From 1966 till her death in 1969 she worked at the National Higher School of Music (now the Academy of Music) in Warsaw, where she led a composition class and was made professor in 1967. She also often sat on the juries of violin and composition competitions throughout Europe, including in Liège, Paris, Moscow, Naples, Budapest, Poznań and Warsaw.

In the 1960s, Bacewicz took up writing in addition to her music, completing several novels and short stories. None was published except for a volume of short stories entitled Znak szczególny/ The Distinguishing Mark.

Bacewicz's extremely rich body of work was recognized and honoured a number of times. Her musical stature and remarkable compositions are undergoing something of a renaissance at present. (article courtesy of Culture.PL)

Maestoso agitato

One cannot be more convinced that this is a portrait of Polish society in disintegration after WW II.  Kuszlik seemed to emphasize this fragmentation with muscular style.


Kuszlik presented this as rather a meditative movement, evoking a return to life after the brutal destruction of war. An abstract meandering that expressed profound regret.


Of course I did not experience Warsaw and its horrific destruction following the war. Bacewicz lived in Warsaw during WW II. She continued to compose and gave secret underground concerts, where she premiered her Suite for Two Violins. This aftermath. so disturbingly covered in Roman Polanski's film The Pianist, seemed present in the final movement of this remarkable composition.


Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)

Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 5 (1853)

Brahms composed this mighty sonata when he was barely 20 and when the sonata form itself was considered rather an outmoded genre. Of course Brahms idolized Beethoven and the personal expressiveness of his sonatas and perhaps was influenced by these grand conceptions. 

The young Brahms

The sonata is unconventionally in 5 movements

Allegro maestoso

  1. Andante espressivo
  2. Scherzo. Allegro energico - Trio
  3. Intermezzo. Andante molto
  4. Finale. Allegro moderato ma rubato

For the magnificent, noble opening, Kuszlik abided by the Brahms direction Allegro maestoso which was certainly rather ‘majestic’, symphonic and orchestral as was the composer's intention. Yet there was insufficient dynamic variation to build this great cathedral of inspiration and grandeur. Kuszlik betrayed a certain harshness in the fortissimo chords that cover such a wide range of the keyboard. He was emotionally tempted to move into the realms of dynamically harsh sound, at times almost breaking through the sound ceiling of the instrument in intensity. I felt he rather overemphasized the dynamics. The essentially Romantic spirit of the sonata should be fused into a classical edifice, the architecture of which is truly awesome to behold over the approximately 40 minutes duration. 

From the divine sensitivity of the Andante expressivo it was clear Kuszlik was more at home with the slow movement, one of the greatest declarations of poetic love in music, the two lyrical themes merging symbolically into a passionate expression of sensual rapture.  Brahms yearning in youth for the impossible love of the brilliant Clara Schumann ? His phrasing had poetic variety of tone and touch indicated by the distinctly Brahmsian tonal palette of the sonata. The Scherzo again was certainly energico but rather too emphatic to express fully this dark waltz that is so musical and dramatic. 

Brahms gave the Intermezzo the title ‘Rückblick‘ which literally means ‘Remembrance’ which winds into a virtuosic and triumphant Finale of the greatest majesty. I found this a profoundly melancholic reading, full of the essence of nostalgia and regret - a fine interpretation indeed. I could follow the significant and emotional ambiguity of the musical cryptogram that was a personal musical motto of his Hungarian violinist, conductor, teacher friend Joseph Joachim, the F–A–E theme, which stands for Frei aber einsam (free but lonely). 

There were many mercurial alterations of mood in the Finale which irresistibly headed towards the magnificent, symphonic triumph over destiny. Yet I found his forte rather unpleasant compared with the captivating nature of his lyrical playing. The triumphal impact and nature of the virtuosic and rhapsodic harmonic close, of which Brahms was such a symphonic master, could have been more carefully and effectively cultivated in terms of tempo and dynamic variation and expressiveness.

Overall Kuszlik had a penetrating sense and concept of the immense structure of this work. Perhaps in time he will increasingly discipline his dynamic graduations and tempi. He understood the  nobility of the Brahmsian soul in his playing, sometimes gaining that sufficient amplitude of dynamic expressiveness that is so difficult to achieve in Brahms.  Hopefully he will in time conceive how Brahms controls the nature of silence expressively to imbue this great premonitory piano work with the profound musical meaning of his essentially late Romantic intentions. The musical imagination that creates this miraculous monumental construction in sound, a Chartres cathedral of music hewn in stone.


1. Paderewski Cracovienne fantastique Op. 14 no.6

2. Chopin Mazurka Op.50 no. 3 - Kuszlik has a remarkable and affecting command of the Chopin mazurkas


Chamber Music Concert



First Prize in the 16th International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition, Poznań 2022



Hina Maeda (PAP)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685‒1750)

Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004 (1720)

It is not surprising then that the grandeur, invention and monumentality of the Chaconne from this Partita attracted her imaginative mind.

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

This was an extraordinary performance of gravitas, strength and depth. There was tremendous musical authority in this playing. One might say Maeda was 'possessed' by the music.

In all a deeply moving and passionate performance.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

Sonata in E Minor for violin and piano, K. 304 (1778)


Such joyous music broke over us in this Palatinate Sonata. There were intense waves of joy, freshness, innocence and affection in their phrasing of this work. The artistic expression of the arcs of melody were most affecting. The sound Maeda extracted from her instrument were inspiring in richness and timbre. She played the magnificent 1715 Stradivarius 'Joachim' violin loaned by the Nippon Music Foundation from which she extracted a type of harmonic divinity.

Tempo di Menuetto

Maeda expressed the simple lyricism of this movement perfectly. Alfred Einstein comments of the sonata that is 'not without rays of heavenly light'. She had a sensitive, graceful and refined phrasing and sound quality. Francuz was delightfully balanced with her in terms of dynamics which can so easily go awry in piano and violin sonatas.

Henryk Wieniawski (1835–1880)

Fantaisie brillante sur des motifs de l'Opéra Faust de Gounod, Op. 20 (1865)

Henryk Wieniawski 1878

Composed in Paris in 1865 when Gounod's opera was at the peak of its popularity. The work consists of five episodes ending with a short, virtuoso finale.

Maeda produced a rich and wonderful sound that entered the temple of the ear effortlessly with a delicate charisma. Again she appeared 'abandoned' to the music and communicated this rare emotion spontaneously to the audience.


Jules Massenet (1842–1912)

Méditation for violin and piano from the opera Thaïs (1894)

Thaïs by Sir Joshua Reynolds 1781

The Méditation is an instrumental entr'acte performed between the scenes of Act II in the opera Thaïs; a wordless chorus joins in for the last reprise. In the first scene of Act II, Athanaël, a Cenobite monk, confronts Thaïs, a beautiful and hedonistic courtesan and devotée of Venus, and attempts to persuade her to leave her life of luxury and pleasure and find salvation through God. It is during a time of reflection following the encounter that the Méditation occurs. In the second scene of Act II, following the Méditation, Thaïs tells Athanaël that she let him take her to a cloister near the desert.

Here Maeda adopted a perfectly appropriate ardent yet not maudlin 'Old School' manner and tone of the Stradivarius sculpting this poignant melody so familiar to us all. Again she was literally 'taken over' by the music.

Richard Strauss (1864–1949)

Sonata in E-Flat Major for violin and piano, Op. 18 (1887)

The Violin Sonata was composed the year that Strauss first met the soprano Pauline de Ahna, whom he would later marry, and it is not hard to hear suggestions of romantic ardor in the lush lyricism of the work. This is particularly true of the rapt, long-breathed Improvisation, the Andante cantabile middle movement, which proved so popular that Strauss allowed it to be published separately. (John Henken)

Allegro, ma non troppo

A passionate, ardent movement with a spectacularly virtuosic violin part, brilliantly articulated by Maeda. Some yearning for love in the writing and playing was rather affecting.

Improvisation: Andante cantabile

Eloquent themes sang in this movement. The improvised, discursive nature of the music possessed a deep feeling for song contained in the melodies written for the violin. The alluring conclusion was full of charm.

Finale: Andante – Allegro

An unusual calm meditation suddenly exploded into exuberant life.

Her stylish encores were full of period charm.

Yukine Kuroki, August 11, 2023 at 4:00 p.m

First Prize in the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition

Utrecht 1922

Müllerlieder P. 565

This group of songs was transcribed by Liszt from the Schubert song cycle Die schöne Müllerin (The Fair Maid of the Mill) composed in 1823.

It is generally agreed that the transcriptions Liszt made of Schubert's songs are masterpieces of delicacy and appositeness. He referred to Schubert as 'the most poetical composer who has ever lived.' His immense number of transcriptions defies any rational comprehension of normal work. In all there are some fifty-three transcriptions of Schubert songs. Incidentally the first literary activity in 1838 by Marie d'Agoult were translations of some of these songs from German into French (publishing under the alias 'Daniel Stern').

Liszt set himself the challenge of retaining the character of Schubert whilst remaining true to himself and his own musical conceptions as if he were a great singer or actor. He submerges his usual pyrotechnics and transforms these songs with a winning simplicity and freshness. The beauties of Romanticism are distilled by a virtuoso at the peak of his interpretative power. These works are a seductive and disciplined portion of Liszt's gargantuan output. He met Schubert through the Austrian singer, composer and conductor Benedict Randhartinger (1802-1893) and was clearly attracted to the simple Schubertian refinements of an 'older world'. Industry had not yet got into its stride during Liszt's childhood in Vienna.

Sacherverell Sitwell remarks in his book Liszt (London 1934): 

'There were no factories, no railway engines, no machines, when Liszt was a child in Vienna; the golden age of music was living before his eyes, albeit its end was so near. It is, in fact, easy enough to understand his admiration for Schubert and the light way in which his fingers touched upon those fragments of eternal youth.'

1 Das Wandern

Kuroki with her pleasant, glowing and rounded tone on the Fazioli, gave this work an atmosphere of great charm and civilized elegance.

2 Der Müller und der Bach

One was reminded of the mountain streams of Duszniki

3 Der Jäger

Kuroki rendered this as a masculine and strenuous personality, just as a hunter at dawn might disport himself tracking his quarry.

4 Die böse Farbe

Such a charming work

5 Wohin?

Kuoki produced an affecting singing phrasing in this beautiful song

6 Ungeduld

Ferenc LISZT
Ballade in B minor S.171

The two Liszt Ballades should not be confused with those of Chopin. This magnificent work was created with supreme atmosphere by brilliant Kuroki, a growling, threatening bass emerging as a dark background most effectively on the Fazioli. She produces a truly golden, alluring sound with a transparent technique heightened by inspired, artistic pedaling. Her phrasing was always eloquent, revealing power without harshness and the cantabile song in the bass was ravishing.

Again Sacheverell Sitwell is such a fine writer on music I must quote him again on the Liszt B minor Ballade compared with those of Chopin:

'It is less passionate and more full-blooded, concerned, as it were, less with personal suffering than with great happenings on the epic scale, barbarian invasions, cities in flames - tragedies of public, more than private, import'.

Kuroki achieved much of this interpretative imagery.


In 1837 while staying as a house guest at Nohant with George Sand, her friends and her lover of the moment, Michel de Bourges, Liszt would play in the warm summer evenings after dinner. 

‘With the old house bathed in moonlight, and the pine trees swaying gently in the perfumed air, the music began to drift over the grounds. He played mostly Beethoven and Schubert.’ (Alan Walker Franz Liszt Volume I p. 244). 

He often continued playing quietly in a dream reverie long after the rest of the company had gone to bed and Sand was writing in her room.


Sei mir gegrüsst S 558/1

Auf dem Wasser zu singen S 558/2

This was a type of sung Barcarolle "Aus dem Wasser zu singen" ('To be Sung on the Water') full of plangent 'water harmonies' created by Kuroki.

Erlkönig S 558/4

Then rang out the famous and ominous repeated octaves of the opening of the setting of Goëthe’s poem the Erlkönig. The frenzied galloping of the horse ridden by the father clutching his dying child, pounding though the dark wood haunted by the King of the Alder Trees was marvellously captured by Kuroki. 

The accompaniment piano part in Schubert songs is often very difficult in itself but Liszt wove the sung melodic lines through his transcriptions with great and ground-breaking intelligence and skill. He played it in many European capitals and it became a great favourite as well as spreading the name of Schubert which was hardly known outside the Vienna of the day. A haunting, even at times terrifying performance full of dark menace.

The Erlking

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

Ave Maria S 558/12

The sound palette she produced here was wonderfully layered. The familiar theme emerged not as a cliche. Kuroki elevated it to a sublime degree by creating a seamless, glowing cantabile. She laid out before us a lyrical feeling for the chorale and convinced me once again of Liszt's own devout Christianity.

Ferenc LISZT
Sonata in B minor S 178

Strange to say lack of interest in this sonata after its composition was universal. Brahms, a twenty year old protégé of Liszt, is said to have fallen asleep while the maestro played the work for him. This may have led to their gradual falling out.

Kuroki gave the opening a deep sense of haunted mystery with her use of silence as profoundly pregnant sound. An impressive and suggestive sense of mortality and transience overlays this great work. Her expressiveness, dynamics and duration grew in intensity like an exotic plant in the Victorian Temperate glasshouse at Kew. 

The manner in which a pianist opens this masterpiece tells you everything about the conception that will evolve. A terrible battle lies in wait for pianists here - Krystian Zimerman drove his recording engineers mad repeating the haunted opening hundreds of times before finally being satisfied.

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 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 felt the knotted rope of passion and disillusioned soul.

This was a highly dramatic, theatrical even operatic performance that appealed to the less philosophical, existential side of my nature that can be brought into being by say Alfred Brendel performing this work. 

A superbly assembled and presented programme revealing the many sides of Liszt's complex musical temperament with technical and poetic brilliance of an truly elevated order.


An Etude by Nikolai Kapustin (1927-2020) and a Fantasia by Thomas Stump (?)

Anna Geniushene, August 10, 2023, at 20:00

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Sonata in D major Hob.XVI: 42 (1784)

The Hofburg Vienna in the eighteenth century by Bernado Belotto (1722-1780)

An elegant and most expressive Haydn sonata conjuring up Vienna in the eighteenth century quite effortlessly. She achieved a 'classical sound' of immense clarity and transparency. One could imagine a highly civilized 'conversation' taking place between the hands. Her phrasing was just perfect  for a room such as Dworek Chopinowski.

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Minuet in G major sur le nom d'Haydn (1909)

An elegant and tasteful transition to another century encapsulated by: 

Miroirs (1904-1905)

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

Noctuelles (Night Moths) 

'Les Noctuelles des hangars partent, d’un vol gauche, Cravater d’autres poutres - 

[The night moths launch themselves clumsily from their nests, to settle on other perches]

Geniushene betrayed superb articulation and dynamic control in this fiendishly difficult piece. Her impressionistic range of colour and nuance was unsettlingly seductive. Moths are fragile creatures and the light, silent fluttering was painted perfectly. The pianist moved poignantly from the rapid delicacy of fluttering wings to the expressive human emotions interwoven between them.  

Dynamic indications in this piece move suddenly and quickly from one extreme to another. She indicated the mercurial unpredictability of the wings of moths fluttering on a still summer night. The differentiation is difficult to manage but this effect was achieved for many visitors who were ravished by her superb sound

Oiseaux tristes (Sad Birds)

In his autobiographical sketch Ravel said of this piece: 

'It evokes birds lost in the oppressiveness of a very dark forest during the hottest hours of summer.' 

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

Geniushene with her magical ringing yet yearning tone and touch accomplished the difficult impressionistic eloquence and delicate expressive resonance of the repeated figuration of the opening fingering with great sensitivity. One could see in the mind's eye the rainbow of birdsong above the dark impenetrable green foliage hovering below. The feeling of highly imaginative improvisation was always present.

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

Geniushene  created a luminous impression of powerful ocean waves, massive currents of the sea and a barque sailing upon them. The depiction of broken water and heavy swells, breaking white caps in the wind as one sails and undulates over the surface in arabesques, were painted in rich colours. The overall effect of her palette was sensually quite ravishing.

Ravel orchestrated the work but it is far more successful on the piano. Oliver Messiaen commented on this orchestration: 

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

Alborada del gracioso (The Dawn of Graciousness)

This familiar musical movement was inspired of course by Spanish music. Guitar, castanet rhythms and repetitions. It is high in incandescent, passionate southern energy peculiar to the Iberian Peninsula. Rhythmically in cross rhythms Geniushene was tremendously effective with a true 'biting touch'! The middle section involves an eloquent, lyrical, improvised song known as the cante jondo, or ‘deep song’. 

This Tzigane lamenting cante jondo originated in the Spanish Andalusian flamenco vocal tradition and Geniushene transported us into the interior of a smoke-filled tavern of formidable, almost flamenco Spanish atmosphere. She produced fabulous runs and washes of sound and rhythm and yet retained the graciousness and refined artfulness that invests that culture. A magnificent performance of tension led to an explosive conclusion.

La vallée des cloches (The Valley of Bells)

The bell towers of San Gimignano

Here Geniushene painted a picturesque soundscape of beautiful bells ringing in the French countryside. We were given an impressionistic sound painting depicting different bells sounding through a valley. Each bell has its particular color and register, some associated in my mind with melancholy and funereal death. A inescapable feeling of dissolution at times overcame me. Also with her glorious palette of colour and tone she emphasized with highly subtle evocation the ebb and flow of sound indicating various distances from the source of the bells and their number in their towers. Calm, tender and soothing - Ravel marked the score calme and doux. The piece opens and ends in the same material of the various sounding bells while its middle section contains a long and generous chant.

Sonata No. 5 in C major op. 38/135

The Fifth Piano Sonata is the only one written outside Russia. Prokofiev's subsequent desertion of the genre may be due to a 'lack of confidence', as Rita McAllister states, after a string of unsuccessful compositions in the West. Possibly the composer's pragmatic, business-like demeanour led him to consider the medium not as commercially viable as stage works. Such a perspective would have been all the more important at a time when the composer's finances were in disarray. He wrote in his 23 January diary entry in 1923: 'here I have $5, and over there [America] I owe $2,500!'  (Gary O'Shea)

The Fifth Sonata is in three movements, the first and third adopting more subdued tempo indications than perhaps expected. Prokofiev played Debussy's music around the time of composition and according to his wife Lina, would listen to Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune over and over again.

Geniushene gave the opening Allegro tranquillo a seductive restraint of sound quite unlike what we have come to expect from Prokofiev. The sonata is surprisingly blithe, almost Mozartian in essence, although the rhythm is adventurous. She transitioned through the Andantino to the final Un poco allegretto movement with great distinction. A deal of nervous Beethovenian anguish dislocates the musical narrative here, once again communicating a background feeling of war and militarism.

Most impressively, Prokofiev manages to reinvigorate classical tradition in the twentieth century. As Nicolas Nabokov explains: Probably one of his most important achievements is the creation of a perfectly unified contemporary style of piano music which forms a synthesis of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century traditions with modem technical inventions.

Fryderyk CHOPIN

Rondo in C minor op. 1

This work was written by fifteen-year-old ‘Frycek’ and published in 1825. The rondos indicate familiarity with the rondos of the Viennese Classics by Haydn, Mozart Beethoven and lesser luminaries.  The dazzling and fashionable style brillante was somewhat of an obsession with the young pianist Fryderyk. However, later in life the scherzos, ballades and études avoided the genre of the free-standing rondo. They are now considered as youthful or virtuosic pieces indicating the ‘classical’ aura of his training in composition. This is not to say they should be glided over without due attention. They are more recently being given more serious attention.

Young Chopin also observed features of the style brillant in rondos by the gloriously blithe Hummel and also Weber. This gave him the model for shaping the pianistic luster of his own works. This Op.1 Rondo is already marked by a graceful, elegant and brilliant writing and can be highly entertaining if performed with the correct feel for context and period.

Geniushene did not really bring the alluring, sparkling tone and refined touch of the style brillante to the work. Stylistically it could have been far more charming, elegant and stylish. I found it odd to place this work between two Prokofiev sonatas in her programme. She assured me she wanted a complete contrast of style and a sense of relaxation from the intense concentration and physical demands of the Russian composer.


Sonata No 4 in C minor op. 29

This sonata, subtitled D’après des vieux cahiers (After Old Notebooks), was composed in 1917 and premiered on April 17 the next year by the composer himself in Petrograd. The work was dedicated to Prokofiev's late friend Maximilian Schmidthof, whose suicide in 1913 had shocked and saddened the composer.

In his notes accompanying the full set of recordings of Prokofiev's sonatas by Boris Berman, David Fanning states the following:

Whether the restrained, even brooding quality of much of the Fourth Sonata relates in any direct way to Schmidthof's death is uncertain, but it is certainly striking that the first two movements both start gloomily in the piano's low register. Allegro molto sostenuto is the intriguing and apt marking for the first, in which a hesitant and uncertain mood prevails - the reverse of Prokofiev's usual self-confidence. The Andante assai second movement alternates between progressively more elaborate statements of the opening theme and a nostalgic lyrical episode reminiscent of a Rachmaninov Etude-tableau; finally the two themes are heard in combination. With the rumbustious finale Prokofiev seems to be feeling himself again. But for all the gymnastics with which the main theme is varied there is less showiness in this essentially rather introvert work than in any of the other piano sonatas.


Allegro molto sostenuto

Geniushene approached the interpretation with some dynamic aggression in a highly percussive Beethovenian style  which perhaps reflects the composer's anger with destiny.

Andante assai

This movement was extremely dark in atmospheric mood yet with moments of lyricism. However, I failed to unravel any clear musical meaning or significance here although I believe irony and parody is evident.

Allegro con brio, ma non leggiero

This movement was extraordinarily explosive and unremitting. I associated in my mind's eye shards of a broken glass mirror spinning across a parquet floor. I did not find this adventurous sonata particularly emotionally engaging or meaningfully referential for someone of my aesthetic temperament.

Illia Ovcharenko, August 10, 2023, at 4:00 p.m

First Prize in the prestigious Honens International Piano Competition 

Calgary 2022

Illia Ovcharenko

Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757) Sonata in B minor, K. 87 

A cantabile sonata that would have been undoubtedly been performed on one of the four Florentine Cristofori pianos present at the Spanish court of Princess Maria Barbara, Queen of Spain and Infanta of Portugal. I felt it could have been somewhat more expressive given its clear singing qualities.

Ferenc LISZT (1811-1886)

Sonata in B minor S.178 (1852-1853)

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

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

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

The manner in which a pianist opens this masterpiece tells you everything about the conception that will evolve. The haunted repeated notes Ovcharenko 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. This was the case here for me as the work became increasingly 'possessed' dynamically and in terms of tempo. I felt the approach rather too savage and passionate although such emotions can be justified up to a limit in the work.

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.

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 felt rushed along the knotted rope of passion without true expression from the heart and disillusioned soul.

Franz Liszt with original manuscript of the B minor Sonata

Ovcharenko gave an at times emotionally moving, idiomatic and dramatic account of this formidable sonata. However his extraordinary keyboard fluency and facility was all too often simply a virtuoso display 'full of sound and fury' but signifying what ? A thunderstorm with some poetic and sunny lyricism.  His tone tended to became rather heavy in the more emotionally impassioned passages, but there was moving poetry in lento passages. The mighty Fugue was polyphonically transparent and noble in dimension.

The radiant pianissimo conclusion took us into a dimension beyond in this long, ardent quest for redemption. However, I missed the smell of sulphur and the diabolical that pullulate the work. Reading Byronic literature of the period that reflects the gestation and evolution of this remarkable life narrative, would greatly enhance the pianistic vision through a subtle stimulation of the musical imagination. 


Sonata in B minor, K. 27

After this great opera of life why would a pianist would choose a Scarlatti sonata to conclude the first half of a recital defeats my musical and emotional appreciation.


Levko REVUTSKY (1899-1977) 

Levko Revutsky(1899-1977)

In a fine gesture of solidarity with Ukraine, the Ukrainian pianist Illia Ovcharenko gave us music that for me was entirely new. 

Levko "Lev" Mykolajovych Revutskyi (Ukrainian: Левко́ Микола́йович Реву́цький, Russian: Лев Николаевич Ревуцкий; 20 February [1889–1977) was a Ukrainian composer, teacher, and activist. Amongst his students at the Lysenko Music Institute were the composers Arkady Filippenko and Valentin Silvestrov.

Preludes op. 4 No. 1 and 2 (1914)

I found these to be gracious harmonically, charming and sophisticated works played sensitively by Ovcharenko.

Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Scherzo in B flat minor, Op. 31 (1836-1837)

His formidable keyboard fluency and facility means there is always a danger of expressive phrasing and meaningful rubato being overlooked in the quest for staggering velocity and glitter. There were some poetic moments but much was virtuoso display as opposed to an existential drama. Absent was any deep attempt to answer the sense of the metaphysical unknown inherent in the obsessive triplet figure that opens the work and continues throughout 'To be or not to be, that is the question.'

Preludes op. 7 No. 1 and 2

These are large rhapsodic works of spiritual and physical resistance that carry all before them rather than languish in the melodically attractive.

Fryderyk CHOPIN
Nocturne in E minor, Op. posth (1827)

The Nocturnes surely must be imagined as a musical poetic reflection and the internal emotional agitation that takes place at night when the imaginative mind operates in relative silence and isolation at a different and sometimes fantastical level of consciousness. Chopin lived in a world without electricity. Just imagine this for a moment … The Nocturnes should retain a sense of improvisation in the internal exploration and discovery of sensibility.

I repeat a quote from James Huneker, the renowned American music critic, writer and pianist, author of a book devoted to Chopin, wrote of the Nocturne genre:

‘Something of Chopin’s delicate, tender warmth and spiritual voice is lost in larger spaces. In a small auditorium, and from the fingers of a sympathetic pianist, the nocturnes should be heard, that their intimate, night side may be revealed. […] They are essentially for the twilight, for solitary enclosures, where their still, mysterious tones […] become eloquent and disclose the poetry and pain of their creator.’

There was not sufficient Chopinesque poetry here for me.

Sonata in B minor op. 1 (1912)

The agitated opening of this work was reminiscent of Chopin. There was deep tragedy and sense  of valiant resistance in this piece which appropriately in present days played out the drama of love and war in music. One movement had severe contrasts in dynamics, to which I had become accustomed with this pianist. I liked this formerly unheard work a great deal. However, the musical meaning of the piece was not always clear. The individual voice, vision and direction were not always transparently delineated but the expression of heartfelt Ukrainian intransigence was so moving.

Fryderyk CHOPIN
Polonaise in A flat major op. 53 (1842-1843)

Ovcharenko caught my attention with some unique and interesting interpretative features but virtuosity at the expense of much else seemed once again to dominate his vision and dilute this concentrated sense of resistance. The 'cavalry' were truly spectacular and technically awe-inspiring in their irresistible charge and inflexibility! Amazing !


1.  Chopin Étude Op.25 No. 12 ­- I simply found this a rather expressionless, virtuosic farrago

2.  Another moving Revutski Prelude, perhaps No.3

Camille Thomas (cello) and Julien Brocal (piano)

August 9th. 2023 at 20:00

This was a rare concert both in terms of the cello played, the musical quality and the warmth generated in the audience by the intimate communication generated by conversation between the musicians. Camille Thomas (cello) and Julien Brocal (piano) are world famous and multiple prize and award-winning artists. They made it absolutely clear with characteristic French/Belgian charm and grace how honoured they were to have been invited to Duszniki.

Emanuel Feurermann (1902-1942)

I had greatly anticipated hearing the famous 'Feurermann' Stradivarius cello of 1730. Emanuel Feurermann (1902-1942) was an internationally celebrated cellist in the first half of the 20th century, considered the greatest next to Casals. He made several celebrated chamber-music recordings with Heifetz, Rubinstein and others. It is estimated that there are only 60 extant cellos by Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) although he handcrafted nearly 80.

With the same genius inspired the master luthier to perfect the violin, Stradivari also handcrafted cellos. In his artistry, he used the same strong red varnish that he used for his violins. According to the 'Cambridge Companion to the Cello', Stradivari improved cello design by giving it a broader range of 'expressiveness and sheer power of tone to the soloist and ensemble player.'

Chopin made the acquaintance of August-Joseph Franchomme (1808-1884) through the good offices of Franz Liszt during his first few months in Paris. He rec ognized a kindred spirit in this quiet, rather reserved man who played and composed for the cello.  They often had dinner a deux, occasionally attended the opera or theatre together. When Chopin was ill the Franchomme family cared for him and apropos of the Duszniki Zdrój spa for us (then Bad Reinerz), they took the waters together at Enghien-le-Bains. They shared a feeling for the subtle expressive nuances in music and often played and composed together.

Franchomme offered him emotional and material support. In fact, the very cello heard tonight was played by Franchomme. As the light of day faded forever over Chopin,  this cello was played at Chopin's deathbed by his friend Fanchomme. The blighted composer requested the Largo third movement  from his own G minor cello sonata. What an unrepeatable treasure was given to us at  Duszniki Zdrój !

I must admit, perhaps not so surprisingly, to not being as familiar with the music of Franchomme as that of Chopin. The first sound of this cello seduced me with a mahogany richness, power and captivating timbre under the hands of Camille as nothing I had ever heard previously. The sound of a human voice singing from the instrument transported me far away. The close musical understanding with the sensitive and eminent pianist Julien Brocal (his pianism much appreciated by Maria João Pires).

Camille Thomas

Julien Brocal

Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849) / Camille THOMAS (b. 1888 -)

Prelude in E minor op. 28 No. 4 (1838-39)

This transcription of such a famous Chopin work was alluringly played by both sensitive musicians and crept deep into my heart. It was desperately affecting for me to hear - the cello as a human voice singing this oh so familiar Chopin Prelude magically recreated in another costume by transcription.

Fryderyk Chopin and Auguste-Joseph Franchomme

Auguste-Joseph FRANCHOMME (1808-1884)

Nocturne in E minor, Op. 14 No. 1 (1837)

Camille gave us a most ardent nocturne full of yearning and reminiscent of the romantic musical emotional landscape of Chopin. That they were close friends is scarcely surprising when you listen to this poignant music. Franchomme was a productive composer of chamber works.

Fryderyk CHOPIN /August-Joseph FRANCHOMME

Prelude in D flat major op. 28 No. 15

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

The so-called 'Raindrop' Prelude is not a charming exercise but a statement of the inevitability of life's brevity. The inherent warning of mortality of the insistent repetition of A flat then G sharp (no, not really the same note...in a different key) made one truly spiritually apprehensive and recalled the stories around its composition which may or may not be apocryphal. Cantabile, rubato, tone and touch were sublime in one of the most disturbing renditions I have heard. In the Preludes Op. 28 it is well to remember that the unease or if you will dis-ease (hyphen intentional) of Chopin is also spiritual as well as physical as he faced the imminent death of the body.

I must confess to being deeply moved on the cello by this so-called 'Raindrop' Prelude. In this work I am convinced by the argument of Professor Eigeldinger when he referred to it in Nohant in a lecture I attended on the Preludes. Interestingly, he highlighted what he referred to as the doppelgänger element in this Prelude - the shadow of death accompanying us through life, hovering constantly yet unpredictably, indiscriminately and ominously in the stage wings above and below us all. Something absolutely fascinating I had never considered until this transcription made it terrifying apparent. 

The dark tone of the cello with the tender background of the piano opened an existential abyss at my feet. Nothing so innocent as raindrops about those insistent repetitions. This interpretation surely connected closely music with the 'horrifying visions' of skeletons emerging from the instrument that the composer experienced while composing this work in the monastery at Valldemossa.

Fryderyk CHOPIN

Sonata in G minor for cello and piano op. 65 (1846-47)

Chopin worked terribly exhaustingly over a long period and indecisively on the G minor Sonata during the autumn of 1846 at Nohant. It forms a part of his so-called 'late style' of post-Romanticism. He found it a fierce compositional struggle in both gestation and birth.

The Allegro moderato had a noble maestoso beginning and was quite quite ardent in setting the mood. The colours and timbre of the Stradivarius were magnificent. Their phrasing and the perfectly balanced 'musical conversation' between them was ardent and expressive. The Scherzo was evocative of a light-hearted dance, energetic and lively. The cantabile within this movement was an ardent love song as if sung by the human voice in its phrasing and legato breathing, anticipating the movement to follow. The Largo is such another ardent bel canto love song,  the passionate rich cello cantabile movingly expressive yet not over-sentimentalized and the virtuoso piano part never overdone and dominant.  Yes, I was reminded of the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony. 

They illuminatingly indulged the romantic, nostalgic, sentimental aspects insinuating it into our imagination. I was moved by the divine melody as I always have been. The remarkable rondo Finale. Allegro was full of the joy of dance and lyrically agitated with expressive, passionate and emotional playing by both musicians. The fine pianist Brocal enjoyed himself immensely in this energetic tarantella movement. An expressive performance with a coda that was perfectly judged both in mood and musically.

August-Joseph Franchomme (1808-1884)


Fryderyk CHOPIN/ Mischa MAISKY (b. 1948 - )

Nocturne in C sharp minor op.posth

A most poignant, deeply moving and aesthetically satisfying transcription by the sublime cellist Mischa Maisky of this Chopin work that once again convinced me that Chopin loved the cello in the manner he loved the bel canto human voice in opera. Brocal is a superb Chopin player and pianist.  He achieves his velvet, refined, aristocratic sound by playing into the keyboard rather than percussively onto it.

Fryderyk CHOPIN/Auguste-Joseph FRANCHOMME

Waltz in A minor op.34 No. 2

Chopin said of this work 'Here is the Valse mélancholique.'  The nature of this piece on the cello amplified the mood of the work into one of deepest desolation.

Auguste-Joseph FRANCHOMME

Air Russe Varié op.32 for cello and piano (1845)

In a touching address to the audience, Camille told us that she had been told that the theme of this piece is actually Ukrainian and not in fact Russian. In the work Franchomme demonstrates the manifold capacities of the cello and she emotionally told us that she dedicated the work to Ukraine and to peace in the world. On the cello the heartbreaking sadness of the situation and yet residual optimism and joy so intensely expressed in this work on this extraordinary instrument moved the audience to tears.

David POPPER (1843-1913)

Ungarische Rhapsodie (Hungarian Rhapsody) Op.68

David Popper (1843–1913)

David Popper (1843–1913) was a highly prolific Bohemian cellist and composer. Popper was born in Prague, and studied music at the Prague Conservatory.[2] His family was Jewish.[3][4] He studied the cello under Julius Goltermann (1825–1876), and soon attracted attention. He made his first tour in 1863; in Germany he was praised by Hans von Bülow, son-in-law of Franz Liszt, who recommended him as Chamber Virtuoso for the court of Prince von Hohenzollern-Hechingen in Löwenberg. 

David Popper was one of the last great cellists who did not use an endpin. His shorter showpieces were written to highlight the unique sound and style of the cello, extending the instrument's range with pieces such as the Ungarische Rhapsodie (Hungarian Rhapsody). This work was inspired by the Hungarian Rhapsodies of Franz Liszt who introduced Chopin to Franchomme in Paris. Julien and Camille gave us the most spectacular performance imaginable that moved everyone to the highest musical excitement and satisfaction!

Fryderyk CHOPIN

Romanze. Larghetto from the E minor piano concerto Op.11

They played the most bewitching arrangement of the divine Chopin love melody, the Romanze. Larghetto movement of Chopin's E minor piano concerto Op.11. On this mahogany cello with its so rich timbre, Camille and Julien created the platonic yearning of as yet illusioned adolescent love winging in sunlit groves high above us and all our worldly hardships.

Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935 - )

Prayer for Pope Benedict

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935 -)

The last work was an extraordinary piece,  a Prayer for boy soprano written by Arvo Pärt for Pope Benedict at the Vatican. Camille then told us an anecdote concerning their experience of the extreme beauty of the work.

Born in Estonia in 1935 to an Orthodox father and a Lutheran mother, Pärt’s Christian roots lay essentially dormant until his early adulthood, when music played a formative role in their reinvigoration. He admits that he is 'more at home in monasteries than in concert halls.' 

They wrote to Arvo Pärt:  'Dear Maestro, can I please play your piece on the cello ?' He replied 'No, I wrote this for the voice and the cello is not a voice.' She told us she was so convinced she recorded it with Julien and let years pass and totally forgot about it. Two years later she sent it again and again asked 'Dear Maestro, please can we play this?' And this time he said 'Yes and thank you !' She then said that the two things she loved most about Poland as she knows it is the music of Chopin and the memory of Pope John Paul II. 'So we dedicate the performance to the two Popes.'

An enthusiastic standing ovation for a superb  musical and spiritually uplifting concert and certainly a 'Duszniki Moment' for me.

Julien and Camille - a rare musical closeness and beautiful human warmth



A Masterclass with Prof. Eldar Nebolsin

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

This Masterclass on Scarbo from the superlative Gaspard de La Nuit by Ravel was given by Professor Nebolsin to the highly talented Piotr Lara.

'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. 

Scarbo, one of the most difficult pieces in keyboard literature, is the third 'movement'. 

Prof. Nebolsin with his absolute command of the keyboard gave Lara convincing imagery and technical expert advice.  The technique behind the creation of the  atmosphere surrounding a ghastly goblin terrifying a sleeper in their bed was persuasive. 

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!

Prof. Eldar Nebolsin elucidating for the highly talented Piotr Lara, the finer points of Scarbo from Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel

The warm conclusion for all who attended an excellent Masterclass including the unseen audience

The Jan Weber Hall Duszniki Zdrój where the Masterclasses take place

Piotr Pawlak, August 9, 2023, at 4:00 p.m

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN/Ferenc LISZT (1811-1886)

Symphony No. 3 in E flat major op. 55 p. 464/3 (arr. Liszt 1838)

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801-1805)

Jacques-Louis David

Vladimir Horowitz, in a 1988 interview observed 'I deeply regret never having played Liszt's arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies in public – these are the greatest works for the piano – tremendous works – every note of the symphonies is in the Liszt works.'

Liszt's complete Beethoven Symphony transcriptions are rather unknown except for the cognoscenti of Liszt. They remained obscure for 100 years after their publication. His publisher had withheld some of the symphonies for publication for 20 years! The first recording was in 1967 by Glenn Gould who recorded the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. İdil Biret first recorded the complete cycle as late as 1985/86. Cyprien Katsaris and  Leslie Howard have also recorded the nine. One must remember in the nineteenth century before the days of recording and frequent orchestral performances, Liszt carried out a magnificently selfless task to promote his idol Beethoven. He contributed personal finances to the erection of a Beethoven memorial statue erected in Bonn, the birthplace of the composer. He was a boundlessly generous musician to audiences and his colleagues if not always to emotionally towards his many lady friends.

The pianist Frederic Chiu commented 'Liszt's piano scores must be taken as a sort of gospel in regards to Beethoven's intentions with the Symphonies' because Liszt had met Beethoven and both studied and performed the works as a pianist/transcriber and as a conductor in Weimar. He was thus uniquely and  intimately familiar with Beethoven's intentions. Liszt marked the names of the instruments which the piano should imitate in sensitive moments. He also suggested pedaling and fingering to the performers.

The whole transcription was published in 1865 with a dedication to Hans von Bülow. It is not known whether Liszt ever performed all of Beethoven's symphonies in his own piano versions. The musicologist Dr. Alan Walker, a  great authority on the life and music of Franz Liszt, oft quoted in my reviews, wrote that Liszt's Beethoven Symphony transcriptions 'are arguably the greatest work of transcription ever completed in the history of music.'

Piotr Pawlak is a very ambitious pianist who loves to perform large, often obscure forgotten works for the public. He was a laureate of the International Piano Competition in Helsinki 2022. He performed the Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 'Eroica' by Beethoven. 

I once heard him perform in a breath-takingly virtuosic manner the formidably difficult Leopold Godowski Passacaglia.


I had never heard this symphonic transcription work before, either live or in recording, and was absolutely swept away, in fact rather aurally exhausted by the immensity of this formidable and mammoth work. There is no point in my embarking on a detailed analysis, save that apart from the immense respect for the courageous Pawlak both technically and musically, I did not always recognize what orchestral instruments were being presented in transcription.

Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Prelude in C minor op. 28 No. 20 (1838-1839)

A fine and pleasant rendition of  this work.

However, I cannot excel the poetic expressiveness contained in a letter that Jane Stirling wrote to Chopin's elder sister Ludwika Jędrzejewicz in Warsaw from Paris on the 12 June 1850 concerning this Prelude:

These chords [which came from under his fingers] were celestial rather than of this earth, they were chords full of an inspiration reaching towards eternity.

Piotr Pawlak

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Sonata No. 4 in C minor op. 29 (1908-1917)

This sonata, subtitled D’après des vieux cahiers (After Old Notebooks), was composed in 1917 and premiered on April 17 the next year by the composer himself in Petrograd. The work was dedicated to Prokofiev's late friend Maximilian Schmidthof, whose suicide in 1913 had shocked and saddened the composer.

In his notes accompanying the full set of recordings of Prokofiev's sonatas by Boris Berman, David Fanning states the following:

Whether the restrained, even brooding quality of much of the Fourth Sonata relates in any direct way to Schmidthof's death is uncertain, but it is certainly striking that the first two movements both start gloomily in the piano's low register. Allegro molto sostenuto is the intriguing and apt marking for the first, in which a hesitant and uncertain mood prevails - the reverse of Prokofiev's usual self-confidence. The Andante assai second movement alternates between progressively more elaborate statements of the opening theme and a nostalgic lyrical episode reminiscent of a Rachmaninov Etude-tableau; finally the two themes are heard in combination. With the rumbustious finale Prokofiev seems to be feeling himself again. But for all the gymnastics with which the main theme is varied there is less showiness in this essentially rather introvert work than in any of the other piano sonatas.

In the Allegro molto sostenuto opening movement Pawlak created a strenuous, threatening atmosphere. The Andante assai  is a movement with the ominous repetitions and forbidding melancholy balanced by poetic lyricism. He expressed a feeling of military premonition, often present in the sonatas of Prokofiev. The final Allegro con brio, ma non leggiere was a supreme virtuoso exegesis of cruel contrast. In my imagination conceived of shards of a broken mirror tumbling over marble.

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

La Valse (1919-1920)


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

He then embarked on the piano solo version of Ravel's La Valse (1921)

Pawlak in his rather pianistic and virtuoso approach to this work does have an instinctive sense of jazz rhythms, the ability to leap from one misplaced beat to another, the command of what might call 'grotesquerie' so often present in this work. Yet I did not feel the echoes of a more innocent, carefree past before the Great War.

Diaghilev had requested a four-hand reduction of the original orchestral score. Reports say that Stravinsky when he heard Ravel perform this with Marcelle Meyer in this version, he quietly left the room without a word so amazed was he.

Ravel would not admit to the work being an expression of the profound disillusionment in Europe following the immeasurable human losses and cruel maiming of the Great War. However, one must recall in Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus that the composer Adrian Leverkühn, although isolated from the clamour and destruction of the cannons of war, composed the most profound expression of it in his composition Apocalypsis cum Figuris by a type of metaphysical osmosis. Ravel’s note to the score gives one an insight to his intentions:

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

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

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

Hyuk Lee, August 8, 2023, 4:00 p.m


6 Moments Musicaux op.16         

No 1 in B flat minor: Andantino

No 2 in E flat minor: Allegretto

No 3 in B minor: Andante cantabile

No 4 in E minor: Presto

No 5 in D flat major: Adagio sostenuto

No 6 in C major: Maestoso

The collection of pieces entitled Moments musicaux, Op 16 was conceived after a rather prosaic event. Rachmaninoff was robbed of all his money on a train journey. He was a young man of twenty-three, his career was in difficulties since the unsuccessful première of his first symphony. He was searching for his compositional voice which we see emerging in the Moments Musicaux as Rachmaninoff turns to high Romanticism. He once said in an interview: ‘What I try to do, when writing down my music, is to make it say simply and directly that which is in my heart when I am composing.’ 

Each Moment reproduces a musical form characteristic of a previous musical era – nocturne, barcarolle, etude ..... Chopin is an obvious influence, with the Nocturnes close to the surface of Nos 1 and 5, and the Études in Nos 2, 4 and 6. However Rachmaninoff’s pieces are far more substantial in texture with a monumental virtuosity based partly on the development of the sound resources of the modern piano as an instrument. The first four pieces are rather lugubrious ‘gloomy like the man himself’, as one contemporary put it.

Lee was most expressive and elegiac in the first in B flat minor and finely played it in a nocturne-like character. I felt he was expressing an agitation of the soul, possibly influenced by Schumann in the second in E flat minor. I could not help reflecting how this young pianist continues to improve in depth since I first heard him in the Bydgoszcz Competition. The third in B minor has always appeared to me profoundly mournful music which essentially expresses the tragic nature of life hidden and lying in wait among the joys. The symbol of death, the Dies Irae motif, appears as often in Rachmaninoff. This Moment relates to the intense expressiveness of a Bach baroque Sarabande, a dance moment in his harpsichord suites. Some musicologists have observed that the melody evoke Wagner’s ‘Im Treibhaus’ (‘In the greenhouse’) from the Wesendonck Lieder, a song of spiritual desolation that Wagner utilized in Tristan and Isolde.

I found Lee rather too overwhelming and strenuous in No 4 in E minor, possibly inspired by Chopin’s ‘Revolutionary’ Étude. Lee came to his great lyric strength in the dream-like nature of the writing in No 5 in D flat major, a type of barcarolle, nostalgic and reflective on the nature of love on a Venetian lagoon. The Moments Musicaux concludes in an authoritative C major of No 6 to which Lee gave a passionate, majestic and even  heroic character, again musically influenced by Chopin. The work surely anticipates Rachmaninoff's Op. 32 preludes, even a precursor the majestic thematic material of his piano concertos.

Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor op. 36 (second version 1931)

Rachmaninoff  began 1913  with a break from his demanding schedule of recitals and concerts as pianist and conductor in Moscow. He took a holiday in Switzerland and then travelled to Rome where he began to compose the magnificent choral piece The Bells. By grim destiny, always paramount in his music, two daughters contracted typhoid and were admitted to hospital in Berlin before returning to their country estate, Ivanovka, in southern Russia.

Composition of the Piano Sonata No. 2 lay under this miasma and occupied him from January into September of 1912, at the same time as the orchestration of The Bells. The work has always been close to my heart since an unforgettable performance by Vladimir Horowitz in his last London recital in May 1982. I queued up for at least six hours to buy a ticket that cost me £ 50, a substantial sum in those days. The event at the Royal Festival Hall was overwhelming - he was given a standing ovation as he walked onto the stage before even playing a note. Everyone of musical note in London was there including Charles, Prince of Wales seated in the Royal Box.

The musical environment from which this work emerges is the lush Modernism of Schoenberg's Three Pieces for piano, Op. 11 (1909) Pierrot lunaire in addition to Busoni's Sonatina seconda (1912) and finally Stravinsky's wildly controversial première of the Sacre du printemps on May 29, 1913 in Paris.

The Sonata No. 2 demonstrates in abundance those classic Rachmaninoff musical qualities that one associates instantly with his music and renders it immortal. Lee exploded into the opening of the Allegro agitato with immense nervous energy and the feeling of a tormented psyche. 'It is the entrance of a great actor' writes the commentator Adrian Corleonis. Compared to the remarkably prolix Sonata No.1 that we heard earlier in the festival, this sonata is more concentrated, intense and rhapsodic in its waves of oceanic melodies. We heard Rachmaninoff's 1931 revision.  

The second deeply soulful Non-allegro Lento movement follows attacca, a melancholic elegy to unrequited love. Lee managed this definite lyric gift to perfection. The final L'istesso tempo - Allegro molto has phrases of the most heart rending rhapsodic emotion which always brings me close to, if not completely in, tears. Then there is the tremendous dynamic climb of the coda, surging chords leading towards a monumental triumphant close. At times during the performance I could hear the magnificent Orthodox bells of Kiev and St. Petersburg.

Fryderyk CHOPIN

Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise in E flat major op. 22

The Andante spianato sang 'smoothly' (spianato) under the fingers of Lee, both warm and affectionate. Chopin often performed this part of the work alone, quite separately from the Grande Polonaise that usually follows it. The Grande Polonaise Brillante was taken at a noble tempo and accumulated grandeur about itself however I felt Lee had not quite grasped the light, sparkling jeu perlé nature of the style brillante.

The essential nature of the eighteenth century style brillante in the manner of Hummel, of which the Grand Polonaise Brillante Op.22 is an outstanding representative of Chopin’s early Varsovian style, seems rather a mystery to modern pianists. Jan Kleczyński writes of this work: ‘There is no composition stamped with greater elegance, freedom and freshness’. The style involves virtuoso display, 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.

As for the nature of the traditional polonaise:

‘The polonaise breathes and paints the whole national character; the music of this dance, while admitting much art, combines something martial with a sweetness marked by the simplicity of manners of an agricultural people…….Our fathers danced it with a marvellous ability and a gravity full of nobleness; the dancer, making gliding steps with energy, but without skips, and caressing his moustache, varied his movements by the position of his sabre, of his cap, and of his tucked-up coat sleeves, distinctive signs of a free man and a warlike citizen.’ [The 19th century poet and critic Casimir Brodziński

Sonata in B minor, Op. 58 

(1844 - dedicated to Countess Élise de Perthuis)

The Sonata in B minor Op.58 is in many ways still classical in its formal structure yet is the very essence of Romanticism in music. The first and last movements possess the character of a ballade, the second is a scherzo, and the third is a nocturne. 

Although clearly this is an advanced and sensitive pianist, I felt a less forceful and more searching musical and philosophical approach was required in this work. Turbulence and terror contrasted with reflective calm were well characterized in the opening Allegro maestoso movement. His fine articulation brought the Scherzo to life as its bizarre, even modernist nature. It unfolded reminiscent of a lightness from the realm of A Midsummer Night’s Dream than from the real world. 

The Trio was nostalgic in its cantabile section, dreams from a lost world of remembrance until the Scherzo led us, rather too savagely to my mind, into the Largo third movement. I dislike the common pounded out entry to the Largo third movement. Such an immediate and precipitate fortissimo has always seemed inappropriate to me. However, the Largo did emerge as a lyric meditation on past experience, an attempt to make sense of the past, essentially introspective in its existential engagement of moods and fluctuations of memory. The melody made musical sense as it appeared and subsided rather like some metaphysical entity with a life of its own. He performed this movement with great sensitivity and betrayed significant musical insight into the concealed musical fabric of this reflective labyrinth.

The entrance to the Finale. Presto non tanto demonstrated his athletic domination of the keyboard and the inner passions expressed in this turbulent music. So impassioned is this movement that it has stimulated the imagination of many interpreters. The movement has the tone and nature of a ballade with an irresistible impetus or narrative force which Lee exploited in a sometimes rather overdriven manner. His normally attractive tone becomes harsh under duress. For Marcel Antoni, it brought to mind an image of the Cossack Hetman Mazeppa on a wild steed chased by the wind. Iwaszkiewicz saw this music as a foretaste of the galloping of Wagner’s Valkyries. Both Jachimecki and Chominski heard in it an expression of a demonic nature. Overall a fine if sometimes over-emotional performance.

His encores :

A sensitive and refined, melancholic and nostalgic Nocturne in C-sharp minor Lento con gran espressione Op. posth.

This was followed by the 'Heroic' Polonaise Op.53 that unfortunately was rather unrelieved in its dynamic range for my conception of this grand gesture of resistance to oppression. Moods, tempi and dynamics fluctuate in this great and familiar work.

He concluded with the Arkadi Volodos arrangement of the Rondo alla Turca by Mozart.

A Masterclass with Prof. Lydia Grychtołówna

I had misread the beginning time of this class so arrived some 45 minutes early. How grateful I was for this error as Lydia was playing for herself, in intimate conversation with immortal composers .... and I was alone listening to her. She was communing with herself and their genius which became a rare and inspiring private experience for me. Reflect for moment that she is 95 years young - a miracle surely to be still so convincingly and deeply musical at the keyboard.

She played two of the deeply affecting Brahms and Schubert Intermezzos which she would perform during the Nocturne evening. I also heard a glorious, poetic rendition of the entire Kinderszenen played in what has now become what one might term an 'old school' soulful manner with moderate tempi and direct appeals to inner worlds that move the heart and spirit. The approach to music say of Alfred Cortot or Arthur Rubinstein who often inquired 'Where is the music ?' after hearing  an 'otherwise brilliant' performance. The spiritual and technical guidance of such a rare teacher of genius as Nadia Boulanger seems to be passing on. 

This musical sensibility of the past is rapidly fading with the 'modern' highly burnished technique, aggravated dynamics and more powerful athletic approaches to the repertoire on limitless modern instruments. 'Ah' the old man sighed regretfully 'but modern times reflect modern feelings and they also have their musical rights.' 

When she played the final beautiful work of the Kinderszenen cycle entitled Der Dichter Spricht (The Poet Speaks) with such delicate and sensitive sensibility I almost wept with emotion. A profoundly moving moment in my musical life. 

The Masterclasses were a delight of careful observation much appreciated by all the participants.

The highly talented Mateusz Dubiel working with Prof. Lydia Grychtołówna on the Chopin Scherzo No. 4 in E major and the opening movement of the Chopin Sonata in B minor. 
I just wish I had had  such natural gifts when young in London 
and such Masterclasses as at Duszniki !

Nocturne Evening, Chopin Manor, 8th August, 2023

 The Programme

The renowned Polish actor Maciej Konopiński read selections of celebrated Chopin related Polish poems interspersed with delightful pieces performed by candlelight.

Maciej Konopiński

The first moments of beauty from another era of pianistic life and sensibility came from Lydia Grychtolówna, in particular the Brahms Intermezzo which arouse much yearning of the pain of unrequited love in my heart. 

Lydia Grychtolówna

I also much enjoyed listening to rich mahogany sound of the Stradivarius cello played by Camille Thomas. The atmosphere was perfect for this interesting and affecting chamber music. The Gluck/Sgambati Melodie played by Illia Ovcharenko was divine in this enchanting ambiance. Kevin Chen played a scintillating Chopin Scherzo in E major Op. 54 - a source of wonder!

Kevin Chen

The Nocturne evening was completed with perfect poetry by Hyuk Lee in a finely expressed, refined and sensitive Chopin Nocturne in B major Op. 62 No.1.

Hyuk Lee

On the left the violinist Hina Maeda (1st Prize in 16th Henryk Winiawski Violin Competition, Posnan, 2022) with Sachiko Spears at the Nocturne dressed in a traditional  kimono which her took her two hours to assemble correctly! 

Yours truly Michael Moran and the irrepressible miracle
Professor Irena Poniatowska share a humorous moment at the
Duszniki Zdroj Festival in August 2012

Her 90th birthday occurred during the festival this year and was celebrated with a highly amusing biographical talk  

Prof. Irena Poniatowska at an irrepressible 90

Yulianna Avdeeva, August 7, 2023 at 20:00

Yulianna Avdeeva

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN

Sonata in B flat major Op. 106 'Hammerclavier'

'Hammerklavier' is the German word for piano and although published on many of Beethoven sonatas it is immortally associated with only one, the formidable Sonata in B-flat, Op. 106 of 1818. The work was conceived on a monumental scale with mammoth emotional range, awesome technical difficulty, vast length, all features comfortably exceeded by any sonata that had appeared before. The Viennese publishers described the new sonata in 1819 as a composition work that 'excels above all other creations of this master not only through its most rich and grand fantasy but also in regard to artistic perfection and sustained style, and will mark a new period in Beethoven’s pianoforte works.'

The opening is fiercely dramatic and authoritative, presenting great technical risks for the pianist. The powerful Allegro first movement entry is followed by a calm laying out of musical tensions and relaxations. establishing the oratorical pattern of declaration and subsequent assessment, tension and relaxation, which pervades the first movement. Avdeeva proceeded with a majestic conception and recreation of the major theme of this great work, surely one of the most extraordinary conceptions in Western piano music. Her pedaling was brilliantly discreet. Her durations and phrasing were immensely expressive in their dynamic variation revealing transparent polyphony. Such a contrast of affectionate lyricism and ungoverned power.

As a contrast to this immense spiritual struggle the second movement Scherzo was light and detaché, both dramatic and theatrical which contained the agitated mood with brief pleasant humor. Avdeeva gave the movement a superbly expressive conclusion. Then to the melancholic and tragic introversion and meditative transition to the unprecedented mournfulness of the Adagio sostenuto: Appassionato e con molto sentimento  third movement. The late Charles Rosen described it as 'a work of despair so extreme that it seems frozen with a grief struggling to find expression.' Avdeeva produced a wonderful singing cantabile full of glowing passionate yearning and love. The Adagio is rather static and tends to erase any faint tremors of hope that may arise in the soul.

Avdeeva gave the opening of the final Introduzione. Largo - Fuga: Allegro risoluto movement a sense of thoughtful and discursive meditation. There was yet a sense of secretiveness. She built the tension and revealed the polyphony magnificently. The trill was like a massive shelf of leather-bound books in a sacred library, volumes revealed to peruse, the emotional library of the great fugue of the fourth movement.

Avdeeva created a mood of excited and exalted anticipation of what was to follow, contrasts of tone and touch with sections of a lyrical polyphonic structure clarified. I felt a stirring of life in the progression as we moved towards the unrestrained ecstasy of the conclusion. Beethoven explained that 'making a fugue is no art... But fantasy also claims its right....'  The instruction in the score 'Fuga a tre voci con alcune licenze' (fugue in three voices, with some license) gave Avdeeva free reign to her imagination. These were eruptions and abstract granite architectural formations on an Olympian scale. I felt at times that Avdeeva had taken us beyond the medium of the performer and the instrument, both becoming merely a conduit to the spirit of man laid out before us, an atom in the spinning firmament. A truly prodigious performance.


Ferenc LISZT

Franz Liszt at an advanced age

The dark and harmonically exploratory moods created by Liszt in his late pieces suited the melancholy that has descended like a miasma of memories over present day Europe.

Vladimir Nabokov observed that great books required great readers. In an analogous manner, in the case of the late works of Franz Liszt, great music requires great listeners.

Liszt once told Princess Carolyne in a much quoted sentence that his only remaining ambition as a musician was to 'hurl my lance into the boundless realms of the future.'  

Carolyne added the observation: 'Liszt has thrown his lance much further into the future [than Wagner]. Several generations will pass before he is fully understood.' (quoted in Franz Liszt Volume III The Final Years 1861-1886 Alan Walker p.455). These astonishing late works were seeds and catalysts for Bartók and Schoenberg, even the twelve tone row which Liszt envisioned. 

In 1881 Liszt was struggling with ill health and depression exacerbated by an accidental fall down the stairs at his school  Hofgärtnerei in Weimar.

Hofgärtnerei in Weimar

Franz Liszt in Weimar in the 1880s

Bagatelle sans tonality (Bagatelle Without Tonality) S 216a

The title was given this quite extraordinary piece in 1885 by Liszt himself. The work indicates his fascination with his increasingly exploratory, atonal harmonic 'experiments'. Avdeeva presented it superbly as an impressionistic tone painting reminiscent of the later composer Debussy. At the time, any hearing of a performance created unease in listeners (even gifted ones) but our more experienced ears render the sound world completely acceptable and astonishingly beautiful. His pupil Hugo Mansfeldt played it, rather secretly, at his debut recital in Weimar the same year as the composition. He was gratified that the work had only been played by himself and Liszt 

Unstern! Sinistre, Disastro S 208

The associations of a  destiny condemned to suffering were clear from the outset of tritones or 'the devil in music'. Avdeeva played this petrifying piece in the most terrifying and ominous manner possible. A magnificent re-creation. I found the work played by Avdeeva deeply haunting, The conclusion  had a feeling of the withering expiration of life as it resolves on an unfulfilled sub-dominant, fading with existential inevitability into a profound use of silence, rendered here as important structurally as sound.

Schopenhauer wrote of the difference between 'talent' and 'genius'. 'Talent is like a marksman who hits a target the others cannot reach; genius is like a marksman who hits a target the others cannot even see.'  The conclusion concerning Liszt as a composer of genius is transparent. Liszt once observed 'I calmly persist in staying stubbornly in my corner, and just work at becoming more and more misunderstood.'

Légende No. 2 St Francis of Paola walking on the waves S 175

From childhood Franz Liszt was always genuinely religious and possessed  patron saints. He venerated Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) and the Franciscans. Adam Liszt, his father, introduced him to the friars. He made many visits to the Franciscans in Pest in Hungary and finally applied for admission as a tertiary member. This request was honoured in 1857 and on 11 April 1858 he was ordained as a confrater. In 1868 Liszt made a pilgrimage to Assisi.

However the saint that most attracted him was Francis of Paola (1426-1507).He was a Franciscan monk and a founder of the eremite Franciscan order known as the Minim Friars. Francis of Paola’s motto was 'Caritas!' or the compassionate love, assistance, and care of the deprived in life. This suited the temperament of the ever generous Liszt who lived not a life a life of luxury befitting a famous composer, but more one of denial for others.   These two saints inspired Liszt to compose various vocal and instrumental works. The  two Legends for piano are programmatic pieces in which Liszt chose to present in music one episode of their lives.

The words below of Liszt's prayer to St. Francis were written by his pupil Martha von Sabinin, the daughter of the Russian Orthodox priest in Weimar, who had herself taken holy orders and had meanwhile become the abbess of the Order of the Annunciation in the Crimea. Liszt had a drawing of Steinle's drawing of St. Francis of Paola hanging in the music room at the Altenburg in Weimar. (from Franz Liszt Volume III The Final Years 1861-1886 Alan Walker p.360 n). 

How relevant this detail is to the present fraught and brutal international situation.

The painting of Saint Francis of Paola crossing the Strait of Messina on his cloak in the Chiesa di San Francesco da Paola by Charles-Claude Dauphin (1615 – 1677)

Liszt included this poem at the head of the manuscript:

St. Francis!

You walk across the ocean storm

And are not afraid

In your heart is love, and in your hand a glowing ember

Through the clouded heavens God's light appears

Liszt's preface to the second legend reads:

Among the numerous miracles of St. Francis of Paola, the legend celebrates that which he performed in crossing the Straits of Messina.  The boatmen refused to burden their barque with such an insignificant-looking person, but he, paying no attention to this, walked across the sea with a firm tread.  One of the most eminent painters of the present religious school in Germany, Herr Steinle, was inspired by this miracle, and in an admirable drawing, the possession of which I owe to the gracious kindness of the Princess Caroline Wittgenstein, has represented it, according to the tradition of Catholic iconography:

St. Francis standing on the surging waters; they bear him to his destination, according to the law of faith, which governs the laws of nature.  His cloak is spread out under his feet, his one hand is raised, as though to command the elements, in the other he hold a live coal, a symbol of the inward fire, which glows in the breasts of all the disciples of Jesus Christ; his gaze is steadfastly fixed on the skies, where, in an eternal and immaculate glory, the supreme word "Charitas", the device of St. Francis, shines forth.

In her performance Avdeeva was truly noble and majestic, monumental in the manner of a Romanesque basilica, investing the work with profound religious gravitas, deep feeling and expressiveness. So many great virtuosos such as Horowitz use the work as a tempestuous display piece of breathtaking keyboard command. I felt this not to be the case with Avdeeva who resisted this almost irresistible temptation.

Fryderyk CHOPIN

4 Mazurkas Op. 30

An highly idiomatic 'Polish' set

No 1 in C minor was most charming and a reminder of civilized life

No 2 in B minor Rather rustic in nature but transformed into an urban conceit

No 3 in D flat major left me feeling rather elegiac

No 4 in C sharp minor was eloquently nostalgic with alluring sprung rhythm. A superb mazurka of the highest musical nature

Andante spianato Grand Polonaise in E-flat major Op. 22

The Andante spianato sang 'smoothly' although slightly up tempo for my sensibility. The Grande Polonaise Brillante was taken at a noble tempo and accumulated grandeur about itself. Her interpretation was expressive emotionally within the noble of bonds of aristocratic, disciplined behaviour.

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

[The 19th century poet and critic Casimir Brodzińsk] 

As encores:

1. Nocturne in C sharp minor Lento con gran espressione op. posth.

2. A sparkling and highly elegant Grande Valse Brillante in E-flat major, Op. 18

A recital that ranged over so many of the foundation human emotions - quite inspiring

Giorgi Gigashvili, August 7, 2023 at 4:00 p.m

Fryderyk CHOPIN

Sonata in B flat minor Op. 35

Johannes BRAHMS

Intermezzi Op. 117


Sonata in F sharp minor Op. 11

For personal reasons beyond my control I was unfortunately unable to attend the recital given  by this prize-winning Georgian pianist

Lukas Geniušas, August 6, 2023, at 20:00

Fryderyk Chopin

Études op. 25

The moment the Études were published they created admiration. Robert Schumann wrote: The pieces are all models of bold inherent creative force, truly poetic creations. The piano was raised in microcosm by these works into the world of orchestral sound (Walter Wiora).

One needs to remember when approaching the Chopin Études Op. 25 (issued in autumn 1837), that they were dedicated to Marie d'Agoult in a spirit of grand pianism. Together with the Op.10 set, each has what one might term a dual nature. Each one is a self-contained work of art, a lyrical miniature, where expressive musical ideas are embodied within immense technical challenges. I cannot analyze each of the Études save to say there were many outstanding moments among them but for me some questionable approaches. As I have often said, we all have our own Chopin which we will defend to the death!

I was affected deeply by Geniušas's poetic performance of one of the most beautiful of Western keyboard creations, Étude No.7 in C sharp minor (a key which in the 19th century could represent sighs of disappointed friendship and love). The conclusion to the set was the fitting erection of a triumphal arch by the three final works. Étude No. 10 in B minor in 'Octaves', followed by No.11 in A minor famously known as the 'Winter Wind' culminating più forte possible in Étude No.12 in C minor. Here we are overwhelmed by the  powerful momentum of existential and emotionally engulfing waves of the soul, a tempestuous emotional validation of desperate strength from the composer.

The seductive magic of Chopin carried all before it as always, music acting as 'that cabbalistic craft' as Thomas Mann referred to it in Dr. Faustus.


Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)

Rachmaninoff as a young man

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

(In the rarely performed unabridged version)

Allegro moderato


Allegro molto

Rachmaninoff wrote to his friend Nikita Morozov on 8 May 1907:

'The Sonata is without any doubt wild and endlessly long. I think about 45 minutes. I was drawn into such dimensions by a programme or rather by some leading idea. It is three contrasting characters from a work of world literature. Of course, no programme will be given to the public, although I am beginning to think that if I were to reveal the programme, the Sonata would become much more comprehensible. No one will ever play this composition because of its difficulty and length but also, and maybe more importantly, because of its dubious musical merit. At some point I thought to re-work this Sonata into a symphony, but that proved to be impossible due to the purely pianistic nature of writing'.

It is said that Rachmaninoff withdrew this reference to literature and certainly the music contains other associations.

The 'literature' he referred to is Goethe's Faust (possibly with elements of Lord Byron's Manfred). However, there is convincing evidence to believe that this plan to write a sonata around Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles was never entirely abandoned. Of course there are other musical elements present as it is not programme music. The pianist Konstantin Igumnov, who gave its premiere performance in Moscow, Leipzig and Berlin, visited Rachmaninoff in November 1908 after the Leipzig recital. The composer told him that 'when composing it, he had in mind Goethe’s Faust and that the 1st movement related to Faust, the 2nd one to Gretchen and the 3rd was the flight to the Brocken and Mephistopheles.'

Faust in the opening monologue of the play:

In me there are two souls, alas, and their

Division tears my life in two.

One loves the world, it clutches her, it binds

Itself to her, clinging with furious lust;

The other longs to soar beyond the dust

Into the realm of high ancestral minds.

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

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

I felt Geniušas showed great courage in choosing to play this sonata. In the Allegro moderato, as Faust wrestles with his soul and temptations, Geniušas explored the polyphonic nature of the work with anguished expression attempting to present a coherent narrative from the almost suffocating wealth of rich Rachmaninoff material. One could hear all the intimations of his glorious compositional future lying in wait. The dense polyphony of Rachmaninoff's writing was transparent but rich in musical or literary meaning. Of course you must have read and be familiar with the imperatives of Faust by Goethe, which seems to me essential in understanding this work.

The Lento second movement could well be interpreted as a lyrical poem expressing the love of Gretchen for Faust. Geniušas was poetic here expressing the dense polyphony with  great artistry and poetry. One was taken unresistant from this earth and all its cruel travails. 

The wildness of the immense final movement Allegro molto with its references to the terrifying Dies Irae and death can well associate this massive declamation with Mephistopheles and the insidious and destructive nature of evil. I am afraid that for me it became rather an overwhelmingly virtuosic  wall of sound with Geniušas without sufficient relieving expressiveness to contribute to narrative literary meaning. So important in this Rachmaninoff. Were we exploring the darker significance of Walpurgis Night with Geniušas or simply presented with the remarkable musical and powerfully dynamic structure ? 

A most enjoyable recital on many levels.

Kevin Chen, August 8 2023, 4:00 p.m.

At this remarkable piano festival at Duszniki Zdroj, the oldest in the world, there is always what I have come to term a 'Duszniki Moment'. I wait for the appearance of something magical or disturbing  and it inevitably occurs. The exact moment can never be predicted but I wait. The recital by Kevin Chen was the moment this festival, an exciting interval of heightened life, a too brief period of keyboard musical transcendence and wonder as life stretches mysteriously ahead.

I must admit to not having absorbed his biography of international success and gold medals in competition printed in the programme book before hearing this talented musical phenomenon. This was surely a contributing factor to my absolute astonishment at what I was hearing when he began his recital.


Bagatelle without tonality S. 216a  (1885)

As his compositions developed Liszt's music began to lose some of its brilliant quality and became starker, more introverted, and more experimental in style. This later work anticipates the harmonic style of Claude Debussy and anticipates Béla Bartók and even Arnold Schoenberg.

After a reconciliation with Wagner in 1872, Liszt regularly attended the Bayreuth Festival. He appeared occasionally as a pianist in charity concerts and continued to compose. Also known as the IV Mephisto Waltz, this piece evokes  in my mind the melancholic reflections of the old man Liszt beset by reminiscences of his past life, compositions, echoes and shadows of his virtuosic past. They haunt us like grotesque spectres in this quite astonishing and deeply expressive work.

Liszt in old age

Chen produced and extraordinary glowing impressionistic tone and filigree touch that convinced me immediately that I was in the presence of a rare expressive keyboard artist. Such an interesting and courageous beginning to a recital.

Richard WAGNER/ Franz LISZT

Isolde Liebestod (from the opera 'Tristan and Isolde') S. 447

Tristan and Isolde is an opera in three acts written by Richard Wagner between 1857 and 1859, and premiered in 1865. Two years after the debut of the work at the National Theatre in Munich, Franz Liszt (who was Wagner's father in law) made a piano transcription of Isolde's final aria. This would be the last opera that Liszt heard before his death. It had been lodged deep in his affections with much of Wagner's music from its creation. 

Chen gave a remarkably mature interpretation of this poetic subject of the dissolution of death and the immanence of love far beyond his tender years of 18.

Ferenc LISZT

Années de pèlerinage, troisième année The Fountains at Villa d'Este S.163 (published 1883)

The third volume, sometimes very mistakenly published with the subtitle of ‘Italie’, is the product of a fundamentally solitary person, written during the later years of his life, when he made an almost annual trip through Rome, beloved Weimar and Budapest.

It is far too easy to misjudge the profound religiosity of Franz Liszt, which began early in his life, that runs through it like a scarlet thread. Our era is one of a Christianity largely abandoned in favour of secular, more sybaritic and narcissistic pursuits. The virtuosic Liszt and our celebrity culture attracts this more cosmetic focus but there are more metaphysical religious aspects in his quest for redemption that often escape out attention.

The Fountains of the Villa d’Este is a case in point. This impressionistic masterpiece, a significant precursor of more advanced musical works, was imitated by Debussy and Ravel. Although this work creates picturesque paintings in the mind of any traveller to Italy, the key of F sharp major connects it to Liszt’s deepest and most personal religious preoccupations, particularly the Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude.  The pregnant religious message is spelt out at bar 144 (at the modulation to a radiant D major) with a Latin quotation from the Gospel of St John: ‘The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life’ (Authorised Version, John 4: 14).

The Fountains of the Villa d'Este

Chen with his superb articulation and glittering tone gave us a rendition of these breathtaking fountains that endlessly fascinate with their intense aesthetic delights. He also created the shadows of more serious religious reflection and the emergence of a radiant Christian faith that materialize.

Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage—Première année—Suisse S.160 (‘Years of Travel—First Year—Switzerland’) stands as one of the most important productions of the years spent in glorious Weimar. This was his flowering internationally as a composer rather a simple, although transcendent, keyboard virtuoso.

Les cloches de Genève—Nocturne (‘The Bells of Geneva’), which is based on the first part only of the much longer Les cloches de G***** of the Album d’un voyageur. For some reason, Liszt discarded the greater part of that marvellous meditation, but, in compensation, he added a second section to the revised work, introducing an inspired and uplifting melody, first quietly and then with full-blooded passion, before taking his leave with the return of the distant bells. (Leslie Howard).

Chen concentrated on producing a beautiful, may I say 'thoughtful' tone and timbre, in the picturesque soundscape of a tone poem. I searched for slightly more expressiveness for again the background soulful associations of church bells.

Reminiscences of the opera 'Norma' Vincenzo Bellini S. 394

Maria Callas (Norma) and Fiorenza Cossotto (Adalgisa) in 
Norma, Opéra de Paris

Another aspect of Franz Liszt associated with the passing of time one tends to overlook is the motivation behind the operatic transcriptions or partitions de piano. He wrote fantasias on some forty operas - Bellini, Donizetti and Meyerbeer.

The demand in his day for this type of piano work was significant and his income from this immense workload after abandoning the concert platform was similarly substantial. Such a demand has almost faded away completely today. We have numerous recorded operas both on CD and DVD, a development unimaginable to Liszt and anyone else at the time. One can compare such transcriptions to masterly engravings of famous paintings. On the drawing room wall hangs the inspirational essentials of the renowned painting, these retained in a masterful rendition by a master engraver.

The Fantasia  later inventing the term Reminiscences on Norma are affectingly beautiful and unforgivably neglected by pianists. the entire beauty, the complete atmosphere of the opera are 'caught and imprisoned' for some minutes. The songs within the opera are so alluring that one may be forgiven for thinking that only a voice could do them justice. However Liszt managed to achieve this. Chen dazzlingly communicated this Reminiscence  or Fantasie Dramatique in an awe-inspiring manner. One could only have been equally reminded of Liszt's achievement under the fingers of a Moriz Rosenthal. They were an essential part of Liszt's years of virtuosity possessing an athletic appeal in itself in addition to the artistic achievement. Ferrucio Busoni adored Fantasies Dramatiques on Norma, Sonnambula, Robert le Diable and Don Juan.  Chen managed to convey this with magnificent and movingly exciting command of the piano.

The forgotten Leon Dudley Sorabji (1892-1988) was one of the most prolific 20th-century English composers, music critic, pianist and writer. He is best known for his piano pieces, notably nocturnes and large-scale, technically intricate compositions. He felt alienated from English society by his sexual orientation and mixed ancestry resulting in a lifelong tendency to seclusion.

He wrote remarkably and perceptively of the Norma Fantasy which for me encapsulates the extraordinary and unique experience of Chen's magisterial performance.

This (Norma) is in some ways the most remarkable of all, Very nearly every conceivable musical and pianistic device of treatment is turned onto Bellini's themes, and it is here one feels the power that was also Busoni's - that power of seizing upon extraneous themes and so charging them with his own peculiar quality, that without actual alteration, they lose all semblance of their original physiognomy, and become 'controlled', to use an expression borrowed from the spiritists, or 'possessed'. Bellini's themes never had, by themselves, the grandeur and magnificence that Liszt is able to infuse into them.'  [Sacheverell Sitwell - Liszt - 1934]

One could never doubt this winner of the 1st. Prize in the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition in Budapest in 2021 give an instant standing ovation and shouts of approbation, an ultra-rare occurrence indeed at the Duszniki Zdrój Festival.

Lt. to Rt. the Director of the Festival, Jadwiga Merkur, Prof. Irena Poniatowska, the Artistic Director of the Festival Prof. Piotr Paleczny and Stanislaw Leszczynski Artistic Director of the National Chopin Institute 


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 wander 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.

Études Op.10 (published in 1833 in Paris, London and Leipzig simultaneously)

Chopin is thought to have been inspired to write the  Études by hearing le diable Paganini play his Caprices in the summer of 1829. Again, the moment the Études were published they created admiration. Robert Schumann wrote: The pieces are all models of bold inherent creative force, truly poetic creations. The piano was raised in microcosm into the world of orchestral sound (Walter Wiora). Chopin opened up new horizons in the nature of piano playing. 'A catechism of piano speech' (Maecklenburg, 1909). The great Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski writes: 'Chopin has created here a tonal aura of peerless quality and a piece with didactic achieves the status of a concert work.'

Chen created twelve different and utterly convincing sound worlds for us with the utmost technical domination, an aesthetic refinement, poetic and lyrical experience given rarely in any recital. I would be tempted to examine the performance of each staggering and dazzling, sometimes deeply moving, Étude in detail but suffice to say Chen was given another instant standing ovation. The audience went wild !

The three superb and faultless encores:

Schumann/Liszt Frülingsnacht S.568

Schumann/Liszt  Widmung (Liebeslied) S. 566

Chopin Étude in G-sharp minor Op.25 

Link to the excellent English critic Christopher Axworthy who reviewed Chen online from the point of view of professional pianist and writer


               Federico Colli, August 5 2023, 20:00

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART

Fantasia C minor KV 396

This work has an extraordinarily complex background with much present musicological discussion of its actual original form. There is recent convincing speculation that the Mozart fragment, consisting of two inscribed pages with 27 completely realised piano measures up to the repeat sign, is actually an unfinished beginning of a sonata for piano and violin. The original history around the evolution of the generally accepted form of the fragment for the piano is fascinating. The work as we have conceived it since Mozart's death, is that it was a type of 'co-creation' birthday gift of completion for Constanze Mozart by the Austrian composer, musicologist and pianist Maximilian Stadler. The history is highly diverting but too involved for me to embark on here.

232 years after Mozart wrote down the fragment in 1782, Robert Levin has  produced from it a separate version in the original setting, independent of Stadler’s fantasy. The new version was first heard publicly when Robert Levin and Noah Bendix-Balgley (concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and future concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic) played it in Pittsburgh in a chamber concert on 29 April 2014. 

With the scintillating musical imagination of the pianist Federico Colli these speculations seem to me irrelevant when listening to the colourful rendering of what I unhesitatingly would term a Mozart 'Fantasy'. Much musical invention emerges from imaginative fantasy or invention without fitting into the formal definition of an Urtext 'Fantasy', as say a famous piano piece by Mozart such as the Fantasy in D minor K 397.

In the year 1821 three distinguished personalities met in Weimar: Goethe, Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Mozart. Mozart, of course, not in person, but in the form of his original manuscript of KV 396 that Goethe owned at the time. Note the empty stave above the piano score waiting for a violin ?

Fantasia C minor KV 475

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, feeling of spontaneous creativity and redefinition of the work with Colli. They indicated a true spirit of 'Fantasy' and a demonstration the mysterious movement of the aesthetic musical mind for me. I felt he had a great deal to say musically in hypnotically glowing sound.

In both fantasies music became a spoken, comprehensible  language. Mercurial musical thought and deeply fluctuating moods were scattered with fascination across the sound spectrum like fallen gems.

Franz SCHUBERT / arranged by Maria GRINBERG

Fantasia F minor D 940, version for two hands

The work was dedicated to Karoline Esterházy, one of his summer students when he was on the Esterházy estates in Zseliz (now Želiezovce in central Slovakia) in 1818 and 1824. The gypsy melodies he heard there influenced this piece. With Schubert, the choice of key was not accidental: in contemporary work on the characteristics of musical keys, the key of F minor was one that stood for 'deep melancholy, keening, loud mourning, and longing for the grave'.  

This reduction of the piece originally written for four hands, compressed for two hands, was completely successful to my mind. The heart-rending nature of the opening theme, an embrace of inescapable transient mortality, the intense emotional resistance to destiny, seemed to me even more concentrated in this two- hand Colli performance. Such a variety of colour, tone, touch, articulation and variation of timbre developed almost symphonically. 

The return of this poignant themes at the conclusion was emotionally heart-breaking in association with our human lives. Maria Grinberg, the celebrated and magnificent Russian pianist who arranged this work, a performance première in Poland, needs scarcely any introduction. I believe Colli studied the work from her actual manuscript as it remains unpublished.


Portrait of the composer Sergei Prokofiev 1934

Visions fugitives op. 22

Colli  began his rare complete performance of this extraordinary kaleidoscopic work of 20 pieces that make up Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives Op.22 (1915-17) to offer us a rare listening experience. They were written individually, many for specific friends of Prokofiev's, and he originally referred to them as his "doggies" because of their "bite". They are rather impressionist in style and give a feeling of playfulness and even effervescence, qualities not normally associated with this composer. Inspired by these words from a poem by the Russian poet Konstantin Balmont. 

In every fleeting vision I see worlds,

Filled with the fickle play of rainbows

I found the performance of these difficult small pieces by Colli immaculate, rather like a fine haiku. Fragments of consciousness from a shattered renaissance vase scattered across an oriental patterned rug. Colli's absolute control of a finely wrought musical imagination, shimmering tone and  touch, scattered musical gems were much in evidence


Peter and the Wolf - a symphonic fairy tale for children Op. 67

The work in the orchestral version, which tells a Russian folk tale, premiered May 2, 1936, in Moscow. Prokofiev produced a version for the piano in under a week, finishing it on April 15. Since that time it has introduced many young listeners to classical music and helped train them to recognize the distinct sounds produced by various instruments of the orchestra.

Prokofiev was commissioned by the Moscow Children’s Theatre to compose a piece for children’s theatre. He chose as his subject the story of a boy and his animal friends capturing a wolf. In the story’s telling Prokofiev assigned each character a musical instrument or class of instruments. The bird was identified with a flute, the cat with a clarinet, the duck with an oboe, Peter’s grandfather with a bassoon, the wolf with horns, and the hunters with percussion. Peter himself was given the entire string section and a jaunty lighthearted melody.

The great Russian pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva recorded her own transcription of Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Nikolayeva was the teacher of Nikolai Lugansky. Among her other students was András Schiff, whom she taught in summer courses at the Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt, Weimar.

I had a highly enjoyable, witty and entertaining listening to Colli render the marvellously childish plot (usefully printed in the programme book).

His encores were similarly thoughtfully presented. Fist of all a moving Adagio by Mozart, then the extraordinary  Praeludium and Allegro in the Style of Pugnani by Fritz Kreisler and to complete his recital, in a touching farewell, his own arrangement of Lascia ch'io pianga - the renowned aria from Rinaldo.

A most thought-proving, exciting recital by Federico Colli, who with his broad cultural background in music, art and literature brings new ways of inspired thinking for us to reconsider familiar works. Originality and an individual voice and ear, always with something fascinating to say musically.

Mateusz Krzyżowski, August 5, 2023, at 16:00


In his excellent book on Paderewski Adam Zamoyski wrote the following beautiful words:

‘The name of Paderewski was on the lips of many generations. For people who knew nothing about music he was the embodiment of a pianist; for those who knew nothing about Poland he was the embodiment of a fiery Pole; finally, to those who did not have the faintest idea about his political career he looked like Moses – the leader of his people’

Paderewski made a career – as was often written and said – on a cosmic scale. There has been no human being, before or after him, who enjoyed such a degree of popularity. Even Franz Liszt’s great career, limited to  the European continent, could not equal the extent of influence exerted by Paderewski’s name.

‘It was sometimes enough, as poet Jan Lechoń wrote:

For Paderewski to appear on stage with his distant look, lion-like hair, a legendary white tie and a modest, almost humble demeanour, more reminiscent of some  village bard than a great virtuoso, to make the public stand up and worship in him art itself, all that is unselfish, noble and generous in life and that everyone associated with Paderewski. Paderewski’s star rose in those sad times when Poland was absent from the map of Europe – he was a son of an unhappy country, with no proud embassies or wealthy patrons standing behind him and supporting his art.

However, Paderewski felt Chopin’s soul in his own soul; eager to listen to the voices in his heart, he found in them echoes of a thousand years of our beautiful and magnanimous history; […] listening to those mysterious voices, he felt that he was rich and strong. From the very first time he appeared on the art horizon he behaved like a king; having never asked anyone for anything he always wished to be generous to everyone and all his life was the fulfillment of that wish. […] No one represented true Poland in the eyes of the world better than Paderewski’.

The Legend is such a fine work, the story of a nation unfolding in nobility and song with such eloquent harmonies. An achievement of civilization this work. There are reminiscences of Chopin’s Ballades in that both the ‘Legends’  that Paderewski wrote are patriotic and a narrative in absolute music. Krzyżowski gave a fine performance of excelling in narrative content.

Un moment musical A flat major

Humoresques de concert op. 14

Sarabande B minor

This is such a charming, melodic piece that evokes the civilized period in Europe before the outbreak of the Great War from which we have never recovered. 


Karol Szymanowski by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz ('Witkacy')

Etudes op. 4

The  Study in E flat minor, Op. 4 No. 1 is a magnificent piece, here given a splendid and satisfying performance. The Study in B flat minor, Op. 4 No. 3 for me is a divine work that contrasts a deeply poetic theme with rhapsodic passion.

Fryderyk CHOPIN

Polonaise C minor Op. 40 No 2 (1838-1839)

The general atmosphere of this work is elegiac, even tragic in expression. Arthur Rubinstein remarked that the Polonaise in A major is the symbol of Polish glory, whilst the Polonaise in C minor is the symbol of Polish tragedy.  The polonaise is believed to have been composed in the dark atmosphere of the Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa. It would be difficult to find an alternative to the definition advanced by the writer, historian and musicologist Ferdynand Hoesick who wrote of the ‘gloomy mood’ that emanates from this music, of its melancholy and ‘tragic loftiness’.

Dedicated to Julian Fontana, Chopin wrote:  ‘You have an answer to your honest and genuine letter in the second Polonaise. It’s not my fault that I’m like that poisonous mushroom […] I know I’ve been of no use to anyone – but then I’ve been of precious little use to myself’.

Krzyżowski approached  this great polonaise in a noble style but did not build an entirely persuasive structure. The Trio, a tragic and sublime, nostalgic sung cantilena was beautiful nevertheless. Cruel and brutal destiny hovers over it and reality erupts once again to destroy the dream.

Polonaise A flat major op. 53

A well expressed performance with some creative rethinking of familiar themes and phrases.

Johannes BRAHMS

Variations on a theme of Robert Schumann op. 9

The deeply elegiac mood of this work (Brahms first masterpiece in this genre) seemed rather to escape Krzyżowski. The overwhelming pathos of this work reflects the suffering Schumann household in Düsseldorf in May and June of 1854. Schumann had been committed to the Bonn insane asylum leaving Clara pregnant with their seventh child, to look after their five surviving children. Brahms dedicated the work to her.

The theme comes from the fourth of Schumann’s Op 99 Bunte Blätter—and is the same theme as Clarahad chosen for her own set of Variations Op. 20 composed in 1853. There are many references  to works by Schumann. Interestingly many of the individual variations are signed: lyrical variations with ‘B’—for Brahms—and the faster, more passionate ones with ‘Kr’—for ‘Johannes Kreisler Junior’. This was the romantic alter ego Brahms had invented for himself while still a teenager after the protagonist of E T A Hoffmann’s novel Kater Murr. One is reminded of the inspiration behind Kreisleriana.

In the song-like Variation 10 for example there are quotes of the ‘Theme by Clara Wieck’ on which Schumann based his Op 5 Impromptus. The final Variation 16 is a deeply poignant statement expressing paralyzing regret and a mood of infinite regret.

I felt Krzyżowski could have invested this work with more moving emotional expressiveness bearing in mind the tragic domain of suffering that imbues the entire work.


IV Sonata C minor op. 29

This sonata, subtitled D’après des vieux cahiers (After Old Notebooks), was composed in 1917 and premiered on April 17 the next year by the composer himself in Petrograd. The work was dedicated to Prokofiev's late friend Maximilian Schmidthof, whose suicide in 1913 had shocked and saddened the composer.

In his notes accompanying the full set of recordings of Prokofiev's sonatas by Boris Berman, David Fanning states the following:

Whether the restrained, even brooding quality of much of the Fourth Sonata relates in any direct way to Schmidthof's death is uncertain, but it is certainly striking that the first two movements both start gloomily in the piano's low register. Allegro molto sostenuto is the intriguing and apt marking for the first, in which a hesitant and uncertain mood prevails - the reverse of Prokofiev's usual self-confidence. The Andante assai second movement alternates between progressively more elaborate statements of the opening theme and a nostalgic lyrical episode reminiscent of a Rachmaninov Etude-tableau; finally the two themes are heard in combination. With the rumbustious finale Prokofiev seems to be feeling himself again. But for all the gymnastics with which the main theme is varied there is less showiness in this essentially rather introvert work than in any of the other piano sonatas.

Three Movements

Allegro molto sostenuto

Krzyżowski approached the interpretation in a highly percussive style with little dynamic variation which perhaps reflects the composer's anger with destiny.

Andante assai

This movement was extremely dark in atmospheric mood. I felt a need for more expressive subtlety and cri de coeur considering the circumstances.

Allegro con brio, ma non leggiero

This movement was extraordinarily explosive and unremitting with its heavy dynamics. I did not find this sonata particularly emotionally engaging for someone of my aesthetic temperament.

His first encore was the delightful La Puerta del Vino by Debussy followed by the Chopin Prelude Op.28 No.4

Francesco Piemontesi, August 4, 2023 at 20:00

I have heard Francesco Piemontesi some five times at this festival.

In August 2011 I wrote in appreciation as as part of his recital:

From the outset it became apparent that he is a deeply sensitive musician, a true poet of the instrument, who has cultivated a refined tone, a far lower level but much wider range of expressive dynamics and articulation than many artists.

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

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

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

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

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

Tonight the last of the three great last sonatas of Schubert D 960.


Preludes - Book 2

The summer of 1910 witnessed the first meeting between Debussy and Igor Stravinsky at the Paris premiere of The Firebird. Naturally their music influenced each other. Piemontesi opened his recital with all twelve Debussy Preludes from Book II (1910-1912). There is a degree of sound and structural experimentation in this work. Normally  selected small groups for performance were favoured by the composer, depending on the particular affinity for them felt by the pianist. 

Claude Debussy himself strongly disliked the term ‘Impressionism,’ so it comes as quite an irony that he is regarded as one of its greatest pioneers in many of these two books of preludes. He wrote the titles of these works not at the beginning but at the end, after the pianist had explored the work so as not to give him an idea of the content before exploring the sound structure. Undeniable, however, is how his music remains some of the best in evoking this impressionistic musical style.


The sound Piemontesi produced was glorious in this polytonal work and evoked the impression of 'Fog' perfectly. The aristocratic refinement of his sound palette places him on another level of pianism to almost every pianist I know.

2. Feuilles mortes

I felt he finely captured the mysterious unity of the nature of melancholic beauty of russet colur and desiccation in the face of death in  'Dead Leaves'

3.La Puerta del Vino

La Puerta del Vino at the Alhambra

'The Wine Gate' with its Habanera rhythms is part of the sublime Moorish Palace of the Alhambra at Granada in Andalusia. He pointed out at times, for me rather too dynamically in this small hall, aspects of this programmatic piece the 'Islamic Habanera' (the Moors in Spain). The refinement of sound is reminiscent of the elaborate decoration of the stone on the Alhambra and the Lion Fountains, the sudden contrasts of tone, the impressionistic washes of colour - overall a wonderful sound painting by Piemontesi. I am so fond of this piece as I learned it with delight early in my own piano studies

4.Les Fes sont d'exquises danseuses

Again a most impressive evocation of dance - 'Fairies are Exquisite Dancers'


He brought extraordinary finesse, colour and delicacy to this work entitled 'Heathers'

6.General Lavine - eccentric

I was brought into the world of Erik Satie who knew and was influenced by Debussy and - the clichés in the ironic 'La belle excentrique'. I found Piemontesi a little too 'solid' in this work on occasion.

7.La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune

Debussy was inspired by a newspaper article about the coronation of King George V as Emperor of India. The chromatic descending line with the gong bass tones painted an eloquent panoramic soundscape. Piemontesi brought an astounding range of touch and tone, variety of dynamic and timbre, colours and artistic pedalling to create an irresistible painting.


The evocation of water and the particularly French depiction of this in music but the power of Ondine herself was also highlighted in a sense of threat at times with the dynamic emphasis. Ravel’s Ondine depicts the more dramatic side of the character in his Gaspard de la Nuit

9.Hommage a S Pickwick Esq

A remarkable work that remains an associative mystery to me! And I am an author...


A dreamlike atmosphere effortlessly created

11.Les tierces alternees

Piemontesi gave us a remarkable display of sheer virtuosity and control

12.Feux d'Artifice

This famous work gave Piemontesi the opportunity to display a fabulous spectrum of sound. he evoked extraordinary colour and variety of timbre with articulation of immense variety. It was just as varied as any grand Firework display I have ever attended. The spontaneity of surprising and dynamic  explosions of unexpected breathtaking display and sound in the night sky was perfectly expressed. An interpretation of overwhelming theatre and controlled ostentation


Fryderyk CHOPIN

Barcarolle in F sharp major op. 60

I am afraid I did not warm to this interpretation in any way. He began the love tryst, perhaps by gondola on a Venetian lagoon, with a thunderous crash into the wharf instead of gently setting the tonal landscape of the work to follow - as I feel Chopin indicated. The opening octave is sforzando. I felt Piemontesi approached this work as a pianistic virtuoso exercise with little romantic expression and unsubtle emotional content. I imagine everyone conceives of the work differently. Mightily impressive in its pianistic way but overinflated dynamically and without romantic poetry in my conception of the work. An unwelcome surprise and so disappointing ... we are not on the storm-tossed Atlantic aboard the Titanic.


Sonata in B flat major, D 960

Much has changed in public taste since Schubert's death in 1828. Interestingly, we can probably hear more of the music of Schubert now than he could himself.

So many of the larger works as the late piano sonatas were rather unknown except to some of his literary friends, lyric poets, the cognoscenti and 'obedient rebels'.  Of course Schubert composed under the disconcerting shadow of Beethoven. Legends proliferated. In 1863 during the exhumation of both bodies from Vienna's Währing Cemetery, it was observed (rather absurdly to my mind) by  a friend of Beethoven's, the Austrian physician and medical researcher Gerhard von Breuning, that "...it was extremely interesting physiologically to compare the compact thickness of Beethoven's skull and the fine almost feminine thinness of Schubert's, and to relate them, almost directly, to the character of their music."

Life itself and expressive 'individuality' was difficult for these liberal cultured folk under the autocratic regime of the absolutist Klemens von Metternich who saw them as threats to his treasured status quo. Hence Nature and music (beyond incriminating language) were avenues of free expression, emblems of innocence and escape for Schubert. Domestic music-making dedicated to the composer known as Schubertiades, 'social' music, was intensely popular. He sang his own songs himself with a fine voice. 

Polluted Vienna, his local environment, was thankfully closely surrounded by aesthetically idealized, bucolic countryside. Here he could commune deeply with himself as we can glean from the psychological tension that erupts between his inner personal lyricism and harsh outer reality (in this sonata the close approach of the dissolution of death) expressed within a great many of his compositions for piano. Perhaps he expresses the most intense despair in the existential song cycle Winterreise. 

In a letter to his brother Ferdinand in July 1824, he wrote of his "fateful recognition of a miserable reality, which I endeavour to beautify as far as is possible by my imagination [Phantasie] (thank God)"

For any pianist to choose this sonata requires immense spiritual courage and the simple temerity to enter the doom laden world of late Schubert.  Sir Andras Schiff once said of the trill in the eighth measure of the Sonata. 'It’s the most extraordinary trill in the history of music.' 

Schubert completed this work only two months before his death and one feels he is speaking to us from the 'The Beyond' a domain of uncanny and otherworldly resonance. This trill is the shudder of doom, the dark cloud of death. What follows is a desperate attempt to regain at least the memory, however etiolated, of the joys experienced in Nature and of life itself. Life through a glass darkly. The silence that follows that trill is as pregnant with existential meaning as the sound itself. Is this dreadful murmur the approach of death over the horizon  ? Something demonic lurks in the human caverns of this sonata. In the movements of this sonata, particularly the heart-wrenching Andante sostenuto, we lurch between extremes in the human spirit.

Piemontesi in this sonata penetrated these depths of the soul and also those emergent brief suns from behind the dark clouds of existence. The opening Molto moderato is a battle between yearning poetry (superb cantabile song) and defiance of destiny.The internal otherworldly life of a human soul in torment at it faces the profound mysteries and fears of death were so deeply reflected here particularly in the profoundly moving Andante sostenuto movement reminiscent of song. Here we glimpsed, witnessed more than a brief encounter with the dark inevitability of the transcendent beyond, that frightening domain indicated in this sonata, that overwhelms the heart at moments upon a full realization of the transience of life. 

The Scherzo - Allegro vivace con delicatezza - Trio signals a return to life, the scherzo with its infectious rhythm and transparent polyphony but the vivace con delicatezza 'moving in a completely unreal world' according to Alfred Einstein. Piemontesi has a fine and creative sense of the structure of the work. In the final Allegro ma non troppo a vital almost visceral  view of Schubert and a brilliant coda with the masculine power of Beethoven, his idol.

A deeply moving and satisfying performance by Piemontesi on every level of music and pianism.

Francesco Piemontesi

Hina Maeda violin
Michał French piano, August 11, 2023 at 20:00

Johann Sebastian BACH
Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Sonata in E minor for violin and piano KV 304

Fantaisie brillante sur des motifs de l`Opéra Faust de Gounod op. 20

Meditation from the opera "Thaïs" for violin and piano

Sonata in E flat major for violin and piano op.18

Jakub Kuszlik, August 12, 2023, at 4:00 p.m

Fryderyk CHOPIN
Fantasy in F minor op. 49

Metopes op. 29

Sonata No. 2 for piano

Johannes BRAHMS
Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5

Kate Liu, August 12, 2023 at 20:00

Fryderyk CHOPIN
Nocturne in C sharp minor op. 27 No. 1
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 50 No. 3
Waltz in D flat major op. 70 No. 3
Waltz in A flat major op. 64 No. 3
Mazurka in F sharp minor, Op. 59 No. 3
Waltz in B minor, Op. 69 No. 2
Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68 No. 4
Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27 No. 2

Symphonic Etudes op.13

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Chopin himself was no stranger to pandemics, as cholera took Paris twice by the throat during his time there.

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

Chopin in Paris in the Time of Cholera 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

A modicum of the 'ancient' history of Duszniki Zdrój

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction to the History of the Festival 


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

Stanisław Dybowski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The commemorative plaque on the house

Link to the revived Mendelssohn Festival 


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Past International Chopin Festival Posts

The 77th International Chopin Festival in Duszniki-Zdrój, 5-13 August 2022

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

The 75th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2020

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

The 72nd Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2017

The 71st Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2016

The 70th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2015

The 69th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2014  

The 68th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2013

The 67th Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2012

The 66th. Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2011

The 65th. Duszniki Zdroj International Chopin Piano Festival 2010


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