The 2nd International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments 5-15 October 2023 - Warsaw, Poland

Rare preparatory sketch by Delacroix for a portrait of George Sand and Fryderyk Chopin

The 2nd International Chopin  Competition on Period Instruments 

5-15 October 2023


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Piotr Gliński, Minister of Culture and National Heritage and Artur Szklener, Director of the National Chopin Institute, at the Press Conference on October 3rd at  the Chopin Museum Warsaw. They are drawing the first participant name to appear in the competition from a revolving, historic lottery box.  (Derek Wang)

The participants of the Competition


The Jury

The Laureate's concert
15th October 2023

The Laureates and Honorable Mentions

Younghuan Zhong ex aqueo 3rd Prize

Angie Zhang ex aqueo 3rd Prize

Piotr Pawlak - 2nd Prize

Eric Guo - 1st Prize
 Winner of the 2nd Chopin Competition on Period Instruments

The final auditions of the 2nd International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments ended on 14 October. 
The Jury chaired by Wojciech Świtała, awarded the following prizes:

1st prize – Eric Guo, Canada
2nd prize – Piotr Pawlak, Poland
3rd prize ex aequo – Angie Zhang, USA
3rd prize ex aequo – Yonghuan Zhong, China

The remaining pianists received equal distinctions.


Prize for the highest-ranked Polish pianist funded by the ORLEN Foundation – Piotr Pawlak, Poland
Prize for the best performance of Mazurkas funded by the Polish Radio – Eric Guo, Canada

The final result for me was not entirely unexpected. I have one reservation and that is the 3rd prize ex aequo awarded to Angie Zhang, USA and Yonghuan Zhong, China. I did not feel these two fine artists could be compared on many levels of musical accomplishment, judgment and experience.

The best strategy if you really want my musical thoughts on the competition, participants and final outcome, is to glance over my review comments 'Highlights' taken during the competition itself. I published fairly detailed notes on any participants I considered significant.


October 14th - DAY 2

Martin Nöbauer - Chopin E minor concerto Op.11  1842 Pleyel

Allegro maestoso

I thought the orchestra were more subtle and integrated this evening without over-prominent tympani.

Certainly Nöbauer  gave us a definite maestoso opening with an attractive restrained but singing cantabile. I felt he created fertile contrast of moods and colour with a gradual accumulation of dynamic which gave the movement rather a sense of balladic narration. Delicacy and elegance of expression were much in evidence which would have not been lost in a small palace music room of the period. His phrasing was eloquent with many poetic cantabile touches on the emotions. I felt however it lacked the true style brillante and internal energy which the concerto intensely asks for. I became aware of a loss of momentum towards the conclusion.

Romance. Larghetto

I felt the opening he gave the movement was a subtle, sensitive and a fine expression of period sensibility following refined string playing from the orchestra. The slowish tempo he adopted was alluring to a painterly imagination. At moments I felt an extraordinary return to life as if waking from an enchanted dream. Troubled thoughts passed and disappeared like autumn leaves in the wind. He augmented this movement to one rather substantial through sensitive phrasing. Again no attacca into the Rondo.


I felt he understood well the attractive krakowiak dance rhythm and tempo. Perhaps the warm, almost velvet softness of the Pleyel  made a true style brillante of glitter and bravura not as straightforward to achieve. However, in the final analysis I did not find his Rondo sufficiently youthful, exciting, enthusiastic or joyful. However, one must never forget that this rondo is a tremendous challenge on a period piano. Everything is different - key dip, width of keys, sound, response to repeated notes, damping efficiency, pedals. Most participants would have had limited time to practice on a period instrument and had limited access (except in Warsaw!).

Piotr Pawlak - Chopin E minor concerto Op.11

1838 Érard

Allegro maestoso

His authority in this work impressed itself immediately from the grand, noble maestoso phrasing of the opening. I felt the Érard with its upper register glitter and clarity was suitable for any style brillante writing that may appear. The rich bass gives distinct substance to the piano sound and often harmonic interest to L.H. counterpoint. The various orchestral soloists on period instruments (bassoon, flute, natural horns) fitted well and more importantly were in the correct dynamic balance with the piano. Overall a more suitable instrument for this concerto.

I felt Pawlak made this movement into an exciting moment of logical, coherent musical speech that achieved much forward momentum giving a narrative feel to the whole. One felt his deep familiarity with this work which betrayed immense authority over the keyboard and the notes themselves. His cantabile throughout was lyrical and emotionally deeply moving at times. He seemed quite at home on the Érard. The audience were captivated in a manner rarely experienced. Absolute silence reigned in the full hall as the listening became more intense. I felt Pawlak understood well the remark of Princess Marcelina Czartoryska, an outstanding pupil of Chopin, when she spoke of and advised pianists to create 'le climat de Chopin'

Romance. Larghetto

The moving love yearning of a rather illusioned youth was clear from the beginning of the movement. His changes of emotional mood were as if we were being taken by the beautiful melody of love through the shadows of forest glades into the sun shining on a dappled lawn. There were persuasive and radiant harmonic transitions, gossamer runs unrolling like Venetian Burano lace. Often his playing seemed to meander like an endless river of thought, surely the spirit of the Chopin soul.

Rondo. Vivace

From the outset the movement was full of bucolic, country life, spontaneity and the krakowiak dance. Pawlak obviously had an excellent relationship with the conductor. His approach was lighthearted, humorous, whimsical at times and youthfully joyful all at once. The style brillante was much in evidence and also virtuosic bravura. Breathless, youthful energy.

I felt Pawlak was one of the few participants in the competition who understood the musical idiom of the young Chopin. The change of key towards the conclusion was most effective. Wild cheers and a standing ovation to conclude!

As Joseph Conrad (Korzeniowski) observed in his story 'Youth'

'O youth! The strength of it, the faith of it, the imagination of it!'

Kamila Sacharzewska - Chopin E minor concerto Op.11 1838 Érard

Allegro maestoso

I found her opening possessed nobility and was a true maestoso in ambience. Her cantabile was evocative and poignant as she 'sang' so expressively in such eloquent phrases. I also felt she had a close connection with the engaging conductor and orchestra. A sudden and quite unexpected error unsettled her although with great courage she continued with her fine performance as if nothing had happened. The conductor was most supportive at this difficult moment. I very much liked her transparent counterpoint in the L.H. on the Érard.

Romance. Larghetto

The glorious love melody emerged as most affecting and deeply suggestive of romantic love. She created a gentle and enveloping atmosphere of illusioned affections, successfully creating the shifting moods of the fraught emotional life of this youth of genius.


I felt she had become increasingly unsettled by that moment of cruel destiny and was not entirely healed. She did not give of her best in this movement with many solecisms although flashes of her clear brilliance and musicality were always obvious. My reviews of her Stage I & II indicate more accurately her true talents.

Just in passing, I felt she and the others were not really assisted sufficiently by the orchestral balance in this remarkably accessible yet inaccessible music. The conductor Vaclav Luks is immensely committed emotionally and more than usually supportive of the competition participants. The audience too were extraordinarily supportive in her plight and gave her a part standing ovation. An uplifting moment of true humanity. It is so Polish to emotionally support the beleaguered underdog and cruel victim of indiscriminate fate.


October 13th - DAY 1

Angie Zhang - Chopin Piano Concerto in E minor Op.11

1842 Pleyel

  1. Allegro maestoso

    I am often surprised at the forward tympani at the opening of this concerto but then again Warsaw was occupied by the Russians when Chopin was studying composition. I felt Zhang's close involvement with the orchestra and conductor even before the work began. She adopted a romantic and sensitive approach with refined colours which became seductive in the singing, seamless cantilena and heartfelt tempo.

    However, I missed the sparkling energy of the youthful, effervescent Chopin in this more mature vision of his work. The musical tensions and relaxations were not so dramatically clear. Was this to be the music of a young vivacious man (as Chopin certainly was growing up in Warsaw) or the nostalgic reminiscences of an older man looking back over his life ?

    The style brillante which dominated Chopin in his youthful works, after hearing Hummel in Warsaw, was rather absent. The essential nature of the eighteenth century style brillante in the manner of Hummel seems rather a mystery to modern pianists. 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. As this movement was expressed with much sentiment and phrasing, it tended to interrupt the flow and momentum of the movement.

    I wondered what contrast there would be with the Romance. Larghetto movement which would follow. Zhang created a supremely beautiful aesthetic sound from the Pleyel for this love song. However, I continued to feel elements of over-refinement in approaching this occasionally vigorous yet poetic and romantically affecting movement of love yearning. I was looking for the more balanced Chopin I believe in, the composer whose 'masculine' and 'feminine' character traits and expressed feelings were creatively balanced in so many of his compositions. He did inhabit the cusp of the classical and romantic style with touches of the restrained baroque.

    The Rondo.Vivace although deeply impressive pianistically did not have quite the style brillante forward momentum of sparkling irresistibility and sheer joy I felt it deserved. The conclusion had a rhapsodic sense of culmination.

Yonghuan Zhong - Chopin E minor piano concerto Op.11

1858 Érard

I find the courageousness and talent of this young 18 year old pianist who had the temerity to perform this concerto in a public competition quite remarkable. Yet he is much the same as age as Chopin when the Pole created the work.

Allegro maestoso

Zhong produced a rich and convincing sound from the Érard which sounded to me slightly superior and slightly more appropriate than the Pleyel for this work. His own youthful energy and vivacity drove the movement forward in an approach in the style brillante. Overall this movement was a bravura performance in many respects. He produced an alluring ringing tone with fine, glittering articulation to render the polyphony transparent. His stylish running thirds along the keyboard compass sent shivers along my spine, a sign of the presence of true art. I felt a significant internal dynamism which accumulated in momentum as the movement progressed. His evenness was a marvel and as ever reminded me of the French jeu perlé. A variety of colours, tone and touch were displayed. Reflective moments were effective owing to the contrasting tensions and relaxations and a feeling of almost balladic narrative impetus.

Romance. Larghetto 

This movement possessed the right degree of sentiment and yearning in the expression of the divine romantic feelings contained in this song. There was a true ebb and flow in character and intensity of the affective moods and emotions of love. Delicacy rose and fell but underpinned by strength. The pianissimo runs so sensitively possible to execute on a period instrument remained in elegant accompaniment to the orchestra. His concluding phrasing was both refined and elegant.

Rondo. Vivace

Here we had an abundant style brillante style in the energy of the Polish krakowiak dance, a syncopated, duple-time popular dance in contemporary Kraków. The rich polyphony and L.H. counterpoint was clear especially on this Érard. The glorious, stylish period sound he produced with his magical touch was present and in addition was often mentioned in my reviews of his Stage I and II. I felt a high degree of youthful exuberance here and his fervent joy in luxuriating in simply playing the piano. The accumulation of energy at the conclusion of the work was like the release of electrical energy from a large, fully charged battery. The audience gave him an immense popular reception and applause.

Eric Guo - Chopin E minor concerto Op.11  

1842 Pleyel

Allegro maestoso

The fact this pianist is a great communicator (vital as a concert artist) was obvious from the first embracing smile towards the audience. His playing is a marvellous example of coherent musical speech with a variety of timbre, tone and dynamics. As I mentioned in his Stage I & II, one is struck by his fertile musical imagination and extrovert personality. He demonstrated the variegated sound and colour  potential of a period piano. We were offered bravura playing, style brillante and ultra-pianissimo effects that were as elegant and delicate as Venetian Burano lace. His dramatic accumulation of vivid colours and variety of touch, timbre and the revelation of polyphony came to a triumphant conclusion.

 Romance. Larghetto

Guo adopted a natural, unexaggerated or mannered tempo and did not indulge the sentimental romantic side so tempting to pianists of Chopin. He seemed particularly well integrated with the orchestra and conductor as the soloist. His eloquent phrasing revealed the sensitive potential of the Pleyel  for expressive timbre, dynamics, tone and touch. What the Pleyel can do under the right fingers! The conclusion was luminous and supremely refined with sensibility of the age.

Rondo. Vivace

For some reason the conductor does not launch into this movement immediately from the Romance although it is marked on the score attacca. I felt this as a definite loss of the dramatic change of mood to spontaneously throw aside romantic 'dwelling', aspiration or regret and launch into a healing, distracting and joyful dance. 

His intense enjoyment of this movement was clear in his abundant style brillante style and sound, the sheer energy he brought to the Polish krakowiak dance. An extraordinary range of colour, touch, articulation, texture, tone and touch came into play. I found this movement brilliantly expressive and even more rarely, full of spontaneous invention. Many arresting and eloquent internal voices I had never before heard were revealed, particularly towards the conclusion. The pianissimo  on the Pleyel as Guo executed it is like a gossamer cobweb, dew dappled, stirring in the whispered breeze.


A few words about the Chopin
E Minor Piano Concerto Op.11

Portrait of the young Chopin by Ambroży Mieroszewski (1829)

As all the competitors chose this concerto, first a few words about the E Minor Piano Concerto Op.11 and how I conceive of it. The reviews will then perhaps make a little more sense as seen through the inescapable filter of my own life and musical experience, that of just one listener. 

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

The opening Allegro movement has the character maestoso which we find in the noble and proud polonaises, a measured grandiosity that should be dispatched with èlan and poetry. The style brillante of the period should be clear to hear in its animation and what in Chopin's day was termed 'enthusiasm'. Graceful rhapsodic sweeps remind me of eagles taking updrafts in the High Tatras. There are calm moments of reflection and fiorituras as delicate as Koniakowska lace. 

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

Bear with me as I fight to describe in concrete words the effect this movement has on me. 

The divine melody at this slow tempo is perfectly ardent, one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. Lethargy from dreams begins to awake in a slow movement of unblemished, illusioned rapture. I conceive of it in daylight. In sunlight-dappled groves, lovers lie in long grass by a stream among birches and willows as summer clouds drift hesitantly towards the horizon. The heart rises with the swallow as leaves fall and drift on a slight breeze. Gossamer spider webs glisten in the sun in this slow dance of the heart. A threatening shadow of doubt and a sudden cool chill in the air soon passes as dusk falls, the last pianissimo note of love thrown towards us by hand. 

The Rondo follows attacca, without a pause, rousing us from poetic dreams and reveries with robust dance rhythms vivace and rhapsodic gestures. Here we encounter the playfulness, dancing, acting and extreme good humor of Chopin the young man, a neglected aspect of his character in the received paradigm of the later consumptive melancholic. There is the character of the Polish krakowiak dance here, a syncopated, duple-time popular dance in contemporary Krakow. The characteristic rhythm, liveliness and amusement should be expressed with colour and verve. The theme of the episode – led in octave unison against the pizzicato of the strings – is all born of the virtuosic style brillante. The entire musical population of Warsaw was drawn to the National Theatre for the premiere. One young singer was Konstancja Gładkowska. ‘Dressed becomingly in white, with roses in her hair' as Chopin romantically described her. She sang the cavatina from Rossini’s La donna del lago.

I would like to recommend 
this poignant, intimate recording made by Yves Henry, a distinguished member of the jury. Chopin spent 35 months at George Sand's summer house at Nohant between 1839 and 1846. In great happiness he wrote many of his most renowned works there. They are collected on this superb recording. 

The disc was made in the location of Chopin's room at Nohant, la chambre enchantée (the enchanted room). Sand removed all traces of Chopin when they separated, divided the room into two but left the padded, sound-proof door intact. Henry plays a magical 1839 Pleyel to take us unresistant  'between the terrestrial to the celestial' (Yves Henry). He is president of the Nohant Festival Chopin, has a celebrated reputation as a performer and teacher of the delights and revelations of the period piano.

My account of the 53rd Nohant Chopin Festival - 'Chopin and the Romantic Exile' - Reviews of recitals from 17th July - 24 July 2019

The Finalists of the 2nd Chopin Competition on Period Instruments

The penultimate stage of the 2nd Chopin Competition on Period Instruments has ended! During the auditions on 10 and 11 October we listened to 15 pianists.

By the decision of the Jury chaired by Wojciech Świtała 

6 participants are qualified for the final round:

  1. Angie Zhang, USA
  2. Yonghuan Zhong, China
  3. Eric Guo, Canada
  4. Martin Nöbauer, Austria
  5. Piotr Pawlak, Poland
  6. Kamila Sacharzewska, Poland

The final round will take place on 13–14 October at the Concert Hall of Warsaw Philharmonic. The auditions will begin at 6:00 p.m. CEST. For a detailed schedule, see the Calendar tab

Pianists accompanied by the {oh!} Orchestra under the baton of Václav Luks will play 

a selected concerto by Fryderyk Chopin 


two selected Chopin compositions from the following: 

Variations in B flat major, Op. 2 on the theme "La ci darem la mano" from the opera "Don Giovanni" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 

Fantasy in A major on Polish themes, Op. 13 

Rondo in F major à la Krakowiak, Op. 14

You can watch all performances on The Chopin Institute’s YouTube channel and Facebook or listen to them on Polish Radio Channel 2

The Final auditions and the prizewinners' concert on 15 October will be additionally broadcast on TVP Kultura.

List of Participants with their biographies and chosen programs

For photographs of the participants of each Morning and Evening Session

Information on the National Chopin Institute Period Pianos used in the competition

Many recordings of the finest quality by distinguished artists on period pianos are also available from the National Chopin Institute Shop. 

Thoughts and Highlights from Stage II


Stage II of the period piano competition presented many specific and formidable interpretative obstacles on period pianos. The personally chosen set of Mazurkas and the Waltz were not such an Everest. The challenge of any Chopin sonata (especially that great masterpiece in B Minor Op. 58 which many participants chose) on a modern instrument is challenging enough but on a period instrument the difficulties are significantly ratcheted up.

Both 'masterpiece sonatas', both revolutionary works, are now accepted without question into the incontrovertible canon of the greatest Western keyboard music. However this was not the case when these instruments were designed and manufactured. Entering a competition such as this is very much a test of the pianist's character, intelligence, musical technique and instrumental courage. The competitors are all too young to have accumulated significant experience on the very different sound spectrum and keyboard action of period pianos. They all made sterling efforts and acquitted themselves magnificently.

In view of current world events, the sudden eruption of terrorism, cruelty, unimaginable atrocities, war and death make the Sonate funèbre of Chopin emotionally appropriate and insupportable for the equanimity of the soul. I was on more than one occasion brought close to tears at the present state of humanity. Liszt described the Marche funèbre presciently for our time as 'the funeral train of a whole nation lamenting its own ruin and death.'

Sometime after writing the Marche funèbre in 1835 or 1837, Chopin composed the other movements, completing the entire sonata by 1839. In a famous letter on 8 August 1839, addressed to Fontana, Chopin wrote:

'I am writing here a Sonata in B flat minor which will contain my March which you already know. There is an Allegro, then a Scherzo in E flat minor, the March and a short Finale about three pages of my manuscript-paper. The left hand and the right hand gossip in unison after the March. ... My father has written to say that my old sonata [in C minor, Op. 4] has been published and that the German critics praise it. Including the ones in your hands I now have six manuscripts. I'll see the publishers damned before they get them for nothing.'

The original manuscript of the Marche funèbre carries the date of 28thNovember 1838. It is the eve of the anniversary of one of the most tragic events in Polish 19th century history – the November Uprising The work was finished in the summer of 1839 at Nohant (George Sand's summer home near Châteauroux in France) and published in May 1840 in London, Leipzig, and Paris. This was after the Valldemossa 'adventure'. The work was not furnished with a dedication. Chopin in a letter to Solange, George Sand’s daughter in 1848:

'When I was playing my ‘Sonata in B Flat Minor’ amidst a circle of English friends, an unusual experience befell me. I executed the allegro and scherzo more or less correctly and was just about to start the [funeral] march, when suddenly I saw emerging from the half-opened case of the piano the cursed apparitions that had appeared to me one evening in the Chartreuse [in Mallorca]. I had to go out for a moment to collect myself, after which, without a word, I played on.'

I first felt this tragic emotion of the murderous passions of our own time with the Op.35 sonata performed by Yonghuan Zhong on the 1838 Érard. His articulation during the waltz was transparent. He began the sonata with a suitably dark Grave premonitory opening to the catastrophic death hymn around which the sonata was created. The Allegro. Doppio movimento that followed was heighted in agitation and powerful with a deep formidable sound on the resonant Érard, a movement of irresistible momentum. The Marche funèbre Lento that followed the rather muscular Scherzo was taken at a deliberate tragic tempo. The intensely grief stricken cantilena that lies at the heart of the movement had a fine singing and yearning legato sound. The ghostly Finale: Presto expressed an impressive flight and the deep spiritual disturbance of a grieving heart.

After a pleasantly nostalgic, almost sentimental set of Mazurkas Op.17 on the 1875 Graf, often using the moderator, Angie Zhang launched into the other great demanding sonata of Chopin, that in B minor Op.58 on the 1842 Pleyel.

The work was composed at Nohant in the summer of 1844 and is both close and yet significantly different to the B-flat minor sonata. It is a work neither tragic nor catastrophic in extremes of expression. Power as in the opening Allegro maestoso movement and an airy Scherzo of lightly Mendelssohnian atmosphere with a rather rural textured Trio. These movements were balanced by a long and beautiful Largo movement of reflective, philosophical, meditative introspection. Zhang accomplished the expressive mood with an excellent sense of structure, counterpoint and internal details that maintained an air of improvisation.

Essentially, this extended Nocturne has a similar central focus in the work to the Marche funèbre. Zhang produced in the Largo a glorious seductive tone on the Pleyel with a poignant sense of harmonic direction. She showed tremendous narrative command of the balladic nature of the Finale Presto non tanto with a tremendously emphatic, perhaps optimistic, conclusion. A finely integrated and cohesive performance of this magnificent sonata. Her recital was brought to an end anticlimactically with a charming Chopin waltz on the 1875 Graf.

I found the Mazurkas of Alice Baccalini on the 1842 Pleyel deeply expressive and affecting. Her fluently breathed phrasing was full of musical meaning like heartfelt speech. In her B-flat minor sonata I was fascinated by her personal vision and psychic desperation contained in the Marche funèbre. Her Trio contained within it a variety of grief reminiscence bordering on the 'madness' of Lucia di Lammermoor. The tragically ice-cold return of death, expressed with such economy in the Marche funèbre, underlined this view after such a reflective, nostalgic, almost childlike sequence of innocence. The Presto was highly impressionistic of wind or mental dislocation over the graves of grief.

The entire programme of Joanna Goranko distilled my idea of her character as one of essential and attrcative Polishness as from no other competitor.

The Mazurkas Op. 59 by Eric Guo were replete with musical meaning from his instinctively wrought phrasing. He brought to them so much variety of mood, sound, tone and rhythm. A feeling of nostalgia was marvellously expressed in a spirited fashion. His waltz created a luminously melancholic recall of past happy memories. 

The Chopin B-flat minor sonata was simply magnificent in my view. The premonitory Grave opening to the ominous  matters to come led to a dramatic, tonally adventurous yet reflective Doppio movimento.  The Scherzo was conceived with great individuality and variety with no two phrases repeated in the same way. I felt in this movement he revealed himself to be a sculptor in sound. The Marche funèbre was taken at a profoundly tragic tempo. The cantabile Trio sang on the Pleyel in heart-breaking nostalgic sonorousness. The ghosts of memory fade into the mists of time. Then the grim reality and dark march of the noble destiny of death returned on the indigo coloured tonal palette of the Pleyel  in a highly emotive and polyphonic manner. The Presto was populated by spirits from another world. 

Guo is an hypnotic player that takes you irresistibly and willing into his musical orbit.

Day 2

 Mariia Kurtynina began the day for us on the 1842 Pleyel with a delightful waltz and some particularly idiomatic mazurkas in the Op.56 set, the C major bursting with bucolic rhythm and feeling. I found her fluctuating moods in the C minor also very attractive. There was, however, a distracting feeling of being rushed along on occasion and too many slight keyboard slips for a competition. I found the opening Allegro maestoso of the Op.58 Sonata in B minor crammed with rich polyphonic detail and a beautiful cantilena that emerged with alluring tone and touch. The Scherzo could have been lighter in texture perhaps but the Largo had a poignant aesthetic quality and an attractive  improvisatory nature. The Presto non tanto was forceful with driving energy and stirring momentum, invested throughout with great emotional commitment.

I found the entire recital by Nicolas Margarit on the 1842 Pleyel rewarding and satisfying on many different musical levels. He began courageously with the Chopin Op. 35 sonata. The opening lugubrious Grave set the dark tone of the psychic catastrophe that was to follow. The Doppio movimento was possessed of great finesse in eloquent phrasing and powerful forward momentum. His rendition was highly accurate, the association with galloping horses inevitable, the rich expressive moods rhythmically rising and falling. It was an involving narrative told like a Chopin ballade.

The Scherzo was a passionate and accurate account that uncannily fell gradually into a deeper melancholy as the doom-laden Marche funèbre approached with grim destiny. His dark, lugubrious tone was invested at the right pregnant limited tempo and the singing cantilena of the Trio a superbly-toned reminiscence of life. On the return of the Marche the tragic, emotionally moving tolling of funeral bells rang in the ear of the mind during this time of insupportable horrors. The Presto passed over us in waves of irrepressible grief in a most impressionistic manner. Even the accidental conclusion, a dagger to the pianist's heart I imagine, seemed simply to emphasise the indiscriminate nature of the force of destiny and Nature. An extraordinarily accidental yet eloquent moment, never to be repeated.

His mazurkas Op.33 were the finest in the competition after he recovered from that unforeseen. An elegant, charming No.2 in C major. A finely sculpted bucolic rhythm  and youthful changes of mood in No. 3 in D major. By the arrival of No.4 in B minor with its fluctuating moods and emotional emphases, I felt here was a pianist who understood the Chopin mazurka better than anyone in the competition. This was a truly wonderful mazurka by Margarit with a ravishing melody so evocative of nostalgia, affection and love. The conclusion was executed with immense subtlety and finesse.

Another set of fine mazurkas Op.50 on the 1858 Érard was given us by the Austrian Martin Nöbauer. Of course Austrians have dance rhythms flowing in their bloodstream as I learned from my own joyful attendance at the Vienna Opera Ball many years ago. I found the entire set attractive rhythmically, expressively and with an understated, subtle graduation of dynamics.

The A-flat major Waltz Op.34 No.1 emerged as a sheer delight - stylish, elegant and gently coloured by Viennese Gemütlichkeit. The moderate tempo was joyful yet graceful. An excellent and seductive waltz so rare in this competition! Nöbauer chose the 1842 Pleyel for his Chopin Sonata in B minor Op.58. The Allegro maestoso was rich in internal polyphonic voices with a fine sense of cantabile melody that reminded me aesthetically of Vienna. The rather joyful Scherzo was yet poignant and nostalgic with a beautifully toned cantilena of refined touch.

Something to consider. The transition to the Largo is marked ff in the score but should be subtle and not more as too many approach these bars. Sometimes it is even executed sforzando. One should learn to scale down Chopin dynamic markings one degree when playing his music on period pianos. These historic instruments do not accommodate well to our modern conceptions of dynamic expression, ears tutored on instruments of vastly different dynamic potential designed to fill large halls and not intimate salons. Few young pianists, naturally brought up on a Steinway or similar modern concert instrument with unlimited dynamic potential, understand this.

Nöbauer's Largo was a considered performance presented in a beautiful, meditative mood. There was much eloquent poetry and sensibility here, a reflection on Chopin's past experiences of unrequited love ? Nöbauer was quite mesmeric in the intensity of these expressed recollections and philosophical thoughts. The audience was reduced to awed silence - one could feel this psychological penetration. There were moments of transcendent poetry in this remarkable performance. He has a fine sense of the structure of this demanding Largo. The Presto non tanto spun along with excellent glittering energy as the remarkably executed momentum moved us forward irresistibly.

I have followed the career of the Polish pianist Piotr Pawlak with the greatest interest and fascination since I was present when he won the XI Darmstadt International Chopin Piano Competition in October 2017. His Waltz on the 1858 Érard was stylish, elegant and tastefully affected in period seductive style. The waltz rhythm he adopted was excellent and perfectly in period unlike so many waltzing attempts in this competition.

His Op.17 Mazurkas on the 1842 Pleyel were highly idiomatic in their mood fluctuations but bordered on the expressively pedantic at times. I found his interpretation of No. 4 in A minor both attractive and in many ways perfect in its elegiac mood. He observed one remarkable expressive feature which for me is essential in capturing Chopin's characteristic fading away of the physical nature of life at the conclusion of some of his works. Even the greatest pianists do not observe this marked direction which appears in the Ekier National Chopin Edition. The sempre più piano begins at bar 123, then calando at Bar 127 leading to the concluding bars 129 - 131. There the L.H. crotchets are noted per-den-do-si without pedal and are also marked staccato with a slur which would render them semi-staccato in execution.

This gives a breathless, profound hesitation of the soul before the final triplet conclusion. Even the greatest pianists do not observe this or have never seen the Ekier Edition or interpreted this atypical mazurka in this eloquent manner. Chopin was possessed of the most acute ear and sensitivity to piano sound, arguably more than almost any other composer, reacting super-sensitively in his compositions to poetic evocations. Accurately observing this direction gives one an insight into Pawlak's attention to detail.

This became even clearer in his Sonata in B-flat minor with his careful choice of the rich sound and colour spectrum of the 1858 Érard. He adopted a tempo in the Doppio movimento that expressed a high degree psychic desperation after the dark Grave opening statement. The Scherzo had blemishes but led well into the bleak world of the Marche funèbre.

He chose a particularly lugubrious tempo and sombre tone that was at once esoteric, hermetic, darkly coloured and mystical. The cantilena Trio, so similar to a nocturne, was of immense childlike innocence, the like of which I have never before experienced. My mind was unavoidably filled with the many presently televised images of bloodied, screaming and suffering babies and children brutally bombed, shot or wounded in the present wars. The images occupy my imagination to its utter detriment and fracture. At this time I was moved to the depths of my heart by the music of the Marche funèbre and his extraordinarily emotional and immanent piano and often pianissimo performance of it as never before. Tears. The Presto expressed a disinherited, suffering mind on the edge of dislocation.

Kamila Sacharzewska gave such an outstanding recital in Stage I of the competition, I was looking forward to her Stage II. I had written 'She is a sensitive, elegant and impressive artist'. The waltz on the 1858 Érard was stylish and captured a delightful waltz rhythm. The mazurkas Op.24 were essentially charming and understated, just missing the intense mood of loss and nostalgia endemic to them. She remained idiomatic with the 'Polish element' Chopin spoke often in evidence and full of reminiscence.

The Sonata in B-flat minor was performed on the 1842 Pleyel. Her Grave opening was rather long in duration allowing an exploration of those strange introductory doom-laden harmonic transitions reminiscent of the 'Tristan chord'. No other participant gave it such an eloquent duration. The Doppio movimento was movingly and psychologically excitable, agitated and disturbed yet with an unaccustomed degree of nobility. I found the Scherzo most expressive of anger with implacable destiny and wished for slightly more melancholy and poetic suggestion in the Trio.

After the transcendental Marche funèbre of Piotr Pawlak I am afraid I found her approach not as 'other worldly' as a death lament but all the same moving me incontrovertibly in view of the present horrors. During the Presto I began reflecting musically on how similar this brief emotional effusion reminded me of the Preludes. Chopin once remarked revealingly: 'I only suggest. It is up to the listener to complete the picture.' How even more appropriate is this observation when his music is performed on period instruments. And yes, I have completed the devastating picture ....

Hyunji Kim in Stage I had performed one of the most eloquent and descriptive Chopin Barcarolles I had ever heard. I anticipated her Stage II recital greatly. She unusually chose the 1846 Broadwood for the Op.41 Mazurkas. No.1 in E minor was impressive with an overriding sense of tragedy. No.2 in B major was attractively bucolic with effective repetitions creating a believable rural atmosphere. No.4 in C-sharp minor is alluring in its expressive melody and robust rhythm. Her presentation was theatrical even operatic at times.

The Allegro maestoso opening of sonata Op.58 on the 1842 Pleyel was presented as musical speech with phrasing of fluent musical meaning. The movement emerged as a Ballade with an embedded musical narrative. She extracted a ravishing, luminous sound from the Pleyel with many layers of dynamic expression, colour, texture, timbre and varieties of tone and touch. One could feel she was an intense, altruistic lover of the music of Fryderyk Chopin. The Scherzo also had the most glorious sound like pearls falling on glass, a true jeu perlé. The cantabile was suitably melancholic and emotional.

Her Largo was also wonderfully expressive in the manner of a nocturne. We seemed uncannily to move deeper and deeper into the subconscious realms inhabited uniquely by music. Once again I was reminded of my conviction that as a composer Chopin reaches inaccessible realms of feeling untouched and unexplored by any other composer. I had the feeling the composer was improvising and feeling his way along his harmonic heart strings. A barely perceptible left hand. There were such subtle variations of dynamics. The Largo was nothing less than a revelation of the Chopin soul, heart and spirit. 

The Presto non tanto was taken at the correct, understated tempo with stunningly transparent articulation. She expressed a unique but fitting variety of neurotic desperation. Lightning descended in the scales across the entire compass of the instrument, polyphony abounded. The change of tempo heralded a brilliant conclusion. A magnificent, monumental performance for this person, not normally given to cheap hyperbole.

On 8 October, the 1st stage of the auditions of the 2nd International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments ended. In three days, 35 pianists from 14 countries performed on the stage of the Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Music Hall. 

The Jury chaired by Wojciech Świtała has decided that 15 participants have qualified for the 2nd stage.

They are:

  1. Alice Baccalini, Italy
  2. Joanna Goranko, Poland
  3. Eric Guo, Canada
  4. Saya Kamada, Japan
  5. Hyunji Kim, South Korea
  6. Mariia Kurtynina, Russia
  7. Nicolas Margarit, Australia/Spain
  8. Martin Nöbauer, Austria
  9. Piotr Pawlak, Poland
  10. Kamila Sacharzewska, Poland
  11. Jannik Truong, Germany
  12. Ludovica Vincenti, Italy
  13. Derek Wang, USA
  14. Angie Zhang, USA
  15. Yonghuan Zhong, China

Congratulations to the pianists qualified for further participation in the Competition!

The exclusion of Dávid Szilasi from Stage II is inexplicable for me - please read my notes on his performance in Stage I.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

The 2nd stage of the Competition will take place on 10–11 October. Each day of the auditions will be divided into the morning session (from 10 a.m.) and the evening session (from 5 p.m.). The repertoire of the 2nd stage is comprised solely of Fryderyk Chopin’s compositions: waltzes, mazurkas, and sonatas. A detailed audition schedule will be available in the Calendar tab.

You will be able to watch all performances live on the Chopin Institute’s YouTube channel and Facebook. The entire Competition is also being broadcast by Channel 2 of the Polish Radio.

Stage II Day 2

October 11th 2023

List of Participants 11th October 2023 

Hyunji Kim, South Korea

Mariia Kurtynina, Russia

Nicolas Margarit, Australia/Spain

Martin Nöbauer, Austria

Piotr Pawlak, Poland

Kamila Sacharzewska, Poland

Jannik Truong, Germany

Ludovica Vincenti, Italy

Stage II Day 1

October 10th 2023

List of Participants 10th October 2023 in order of appearance:

Derek Wang (US)

Angie Zhang (US)

Yonghuan Zhong (China)

Alice Baccalini (Italy)

Joanna Goranko (Poland)

Eric Guo (Canada)

  1. Saya Kamada (Japan)

I feel it is not appropriate for me to give my personal opinion of participants' performance in public until the jury have decided on those participants who will progress to the Finals

Stage II -Works

Fryderyk Chopin

Mazurkas from the following opuses:

17, 24, 30, 33, 41, 50, 56, 59

Mazurkas must be played in the order they are numbered in the opus. In the case of opuses 33 and 41, the following order applies:

Op. 33: in G sharp minor No. 1, in C major No. 2, in D major No. 3, in B minor No. 4 

Op.41: in E minor No. 1, in B major No. 2, in A flat major No. 3, in C sharp minor No. 4


Waltz in E flat major Op. 18, Waltz in A flat major Op. 34, Waltz in A flat major Op. 42


Sonata in C minor, Op. 4 or Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35 or Sonata in B minor, Op. 58

Repetition of the exposition in the first movement of the B minor Sonata should be left out; the repetition of the first movement of the B flat minor Sonata is optional.

Thoughts and Highlights from Stage I


Without what might appear as hyperbole and gross exaggeration, this competition is surely a unique event in the musical life of Europe and the world. I remember when the idea of a Chopin Competition on period pianos was first mooted over five years ago, how this concept was met with a degree of derision and scorn except from musicians with vision and the experience of playing instruments of the period, evoking that rare, irreplaceable soundscape and 'opening the doors of perception' of former times.  With technological advances, we are moving exponentially further and further from the source of this sublime music, ravaged rather by the our constructed notion of linear time. The preservation and context of these precious lost worlds of sound has massively advanced in importance.

The range of original and newly crafted period pianos assembled in Warsaw for this competition is greater than ever as are the number of experienced applicants taking part. After the completion of Stage I it is clear their pianistic abilities and musical accomplishments are also substantially greater than ever.

I see an analogous situation evolving to that which pertained in the late 1960s and 1970s. At that time, there emerged a revolutionary revival of baroque performance practice and the replacement of 'modern' harpsichords designed by say Pleyel or Challis with acoustic, uniquely resonant period instruments restored or newly built by craftsmen along traditional national lines. New life was breathed into the domain of J. S. Bach, François Couperin, Johann Jakob Froberger and other great composers from the more distant past by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gustav Leonhardt, Christopher Hogwood, Trevor Pinnock, Tom Koopman and other now renowned musicians. The use of new historically designed or restored harpsichords as solo instruments or in period orchestras, fully embracing the music written for them, has now become an accepted commonplace. This was not always the case. An entire performance art of previous centuries has been raised from the dead like Lazarus.

This irresistible process is now being extended into the closer past of the nineteenth century and the exploration of the eloquent potential of period pianos to revivify the past sound, context and performance of Chopin, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms as change rockets balefully before us.

The first sign of this sea change was surely the inauguration of the competition with a contemporary commission for fortepiano of work entitled presciently Bridging Realms by the Japanese composer Dai Fujikura. This remarkable premiere with other celebrated musicians (detailed below) was on a copy of an 1819 Graf played by the renowned Naruhiko Kawaguchi with the [oh!] Orchestra. The long solo opening soliloquy exploring the sound utilized with ethereal delicacy the una corda possibilities of the Graf.

The Competition participants were pianists from all over the world, aged 18 to 35. The acceptance programme was presented on video performed on an historical instrument. Finding a well-maintained, accessible period instrument is not always easy. The Competition jury was comprised of outstanding representatives of the music world whose artistic and professional activity places them among the most distinguished specialists in the field of historical performance.

The Competition participants chose period pianos from the collections of The National Fryderyk Chopin Institute (a Paul McNulty copy of an 1830 Pleyel ; his copy of an 1819 Graf ; also his recent copy (2017) of the 1825 Polish Buchholtz (with a slightly extended compass and extra moderator pedal). In addition there is an 1838 Érard and a unique and magnificent 1842 Pleyel from the Edwin Beunk collection; an 1846 Broadwood from the Andrzej Włodarczyk collection and an original 1835 Graf from the Chris Meane collection.  

The competition opened with Derek Wang from the US. His Bach Prelude and Fugue with the marvellous, polyphonically transparent sound of the 1842 Pleyel was memorable and the Karol Kurpiński Polonaise a light salon delight on the 1835 Graf.  I was fascinated as so many different period pianos (as many as three) were moved around the stage with efficiency and alacrity as each new contestant emerged.  A unique sight certainly !

Angie Zhang gave us some excellent Bach on the 1838 Érard  and a superbly evocative and narrative Chopin G-minor Ballade Op.23 on the 1842 Pleyel. Yonghuan Zhong produced the most exquisite poetic, singing sound (just as Chopin directed) also from the this instrument during the youthful Polonaise in D minor. The theme emerged as a ghostly trail - marvellously irreplaceable in existential life. Also as impressive was his excellent in glowing yet powerful sound, again on the Pleyel, of the Chopin Ballade in F major Op.38. This was a passionate, lyrical accumulation of tension and controlled, yet explosive emotion that lies at its heart, moving towards the nervous exhaustion of brief final resignation.

As might be expected from an artistic Italian, I found Alice Baccalini's choice of the Maria Szymanowka Polonaise in F minor fascinating using the time traveller's sound world of the 1825 Buchholtz copy. The history of the construction of  this piano is too involved for this space but riveting, so do research it. On the 1842 Pleyel Baccalini improvised decorations and embellishments for the Chopin youthful Polonaise that were both appropriate in period and charming. The sound of her Chopin Ballade in F-minor Op.52 on this same instrument touched the heart and soul in a manner and depth unobtainable on a modern instrument of our time. It was a dramatic interpretation full of Latin fire and irresistible impetus. The lady is a definite Chopinist.

The variations on pianists' approach and choice of instrument for the miniature Mozart Fantasy in D Minor K 397 has given me enough material for an entire conference ! The interpretative range of the 'Fantasy' extended from a youthful Viennese confection, through accurate Urtext adoration to philosophical existential dilemma, with all the dynamic, sound and textural differences possible on these period instruments. Alfred Einstein describes the final Allegretto as having a 'celestial childlike nature, which is far too short really to complete the work.' He felt it was an introduction to other more extensive works. 

I liked very much Aleksandra Bobrowska on the 1835 Graf. Under her fingers it became a true fantasy with many changes of mood and attitude. On the 1842 Pleyel her approach to the Ogiński Polonaise 'Farewell to the Fatherland' was intensely emotive as reflection changed to militant resistance. Her Barcarolle on the same instrument was also seductive in a soft setting - one could feel the movement of the lagoon.

Akeksandra Hortensja Dąbek appropriately chose the 1846 Broadwood for the clear polyphony highlighted in her Bach on this instrument. The piano looked rather large compared to the elegance of the others ('le rosbif') but gave Chopin's music a deeper sound substance verging on modern renditions. When revolution broke out in Paris in 1848, Chopin and many of his acquaintances came to England. Pleyel recommended that Chopin place himself in the hands of John Broadwood & Sons, from whom he chose three pianos; one to be shipped to Scotland, one for his lodgings and one for his public performances in England. The Ballade  performed by Dąbek was possessed of great drama, theatre and a strong sense of narration.

Bach was emerging as a great strength of participants in this competition. Joanna Goranko  on the 1842 Pleyel presented us with fine Bach that although fairly straightforward showed rare emotional imagination. Also she created superb sound and registration colours from the McNulty copy of an 1830 Pleyel. I also found the Yuina Hayakawa recital very satisfying. The Karol Kurpiński Polonaise on the 1820 Pleyel copy was very spirited as it should be. The strong sense of cumulative emotional heat in the tragic narrative and żal of the Chopin G-minor Ballade on the 1842 Pleyel  displayed her fine technique in terms of articulation, touch and tone production. 

Day 1 concluded with a marvellous entire recital by Eric Guo. The Bach on the 1835 Graf had expressive polyphony and great nobility of utterance. I also felt he understood the nature of the Polish Polonaise in the Chopin and Kurpiński and the narrative thread, even the humour of it in this case which most players missed

‘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) 

The Mozart Fantasy was theatrical. His sensitivity to the glorious sound of the 1842 Pleyel in the Chopin Barcarolle was clear from the poetic opening and his use of graded dynamics gave the work significant musical meaning. Beautifully wrought lyrical cantabile and great musical authority were always in evidence.  


Having listened to 12 contestants each for 40 minutes and 60 pieces on many different period pianos with little sleep or food, I entered the Kameralna Hall in Warsaw the next day somewhat shell-shocked for the next phase of the marathon. The competition is particularly demanding on the participants for they must master a specialist instrument as well as master the musical material.

The Japanese competition pianists generally have an excellent and highly competent approach to the Bach Preludes and Fugues. This was true of Satochi Iijima on the 1842 Pleyel with his fine articulation and absence of pedal. Saya Kamada is clearly an accomplished pianist. Her Bach on the 1842 Pleyel betrayed immense authority and musical penetration of the polyphony. The Chopin Polonaise on the same instrument was as spirited as the partying young Chopin in his youth in Warsaw. This was equally true of the spirit and expressiveness threaded through the Szymanowska Polonaise. The Chopin F-minor Polonaise Op.52 was on the excellent 1838 Erard which was impressive pianistically and expressive musically but occasionally too harsh a tone for period instrument.

Of the recital Hyunji Kim I was much taken by her Chopin Barcarolle on the 1838 Érard. The gentle beginning set a perfect tonal landscape, a Turneresque watercolour atmosphere for this romantic and nostalgic excursion on the Venetian lagoon. The work emerged as a poignant dream of love with a subtle gesture towards a blighted disturbance or argument of a not too extreme variety, as inevitably occurs with romantic affections.  There was a play of many moods between these lovers as they cross the lagoon. She created an entire poetic narrative where happiness finally arrives in a rare ecstatic polyphony. A most poignant account that eschews violence but paints the reality of  love with disturbing hints of disillusionment.

I was moved by the expressive Mozart Fantasy played on a the 1835 Graf by Song-Ha Kim. Tasteful and not exaggerated or mannered or pretentious in any way as with many other accounts. The Ogiński Polonaise was musically expressive and the Bach on the 1842 Pleyel drew the audience into its polyphonic orbit. The Chopin Polonaise on the same instrument was quite lovely if a touch sentimental.  

Mariia Kurtynina is by far the most interesting, creative and imaginative competitor in the competition. Life force seemed to enter the hall with her playing ! She composed her own rather extensive introductory prelude on the 1825 Buchholtz copy which fitted Bach seamlessly. 

This activity of 'Preluding' in the key of the following piece to be performed is quite a popular period feature in this competition unlike the first competition five years ago. Education is the explanation! Unfortunately with many players, all too often the 'Prelude' bore no relationship I could fathom with the key of the work to follow. Not the case here. Research indicated this activity was common in period but thought and imagination are required for it to sound natural and organic. Mariia has this in abundance.

The Mozart expressed her unique concept of the work. Her personality and extrovert character shone in the Kurpiński which became a true spirited Polonaise. There was another long 'prelude' to the Chopin Polonaise. I detected great individuality, spontaneity and creation 'on the spot' here which made such a change from the ubiquitous notion of over-preparation before a competition performance. The Chopin F-minor Ballade Op.52 on the 1842 Pleyel revealed a tremendous musical communicator with noticeably strong L.H. counterpoint. Nothing less than a revelation and superb structural and musical conception !

Nicolas Margarit also indulged in some 'preluding' before excellent Bach on the 1835 Graf. His authority at the keyboard, feeling for nobility, even humour, was evident in his approach to the Kurpiński Polonaise. He also had a great deal of personality and character to communicate. His Chopin Polonaise had the correct rhythm (rare) and nobility as well as control of moods. The best Polonaises in the competition so far. The Chopin Ballade in G minor Op.23 was a brilliant performance with the advanced keyboard command allowing him to express his ideas without technical hindrance. He communicated the living force of the narrative.

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

The Polish renowned musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski paints the background to this work best:

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

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

Yuya Nishimoto played to a Japanese strengths with excellent polyphonic transparency in the Bach. Martin Nöbauer was similarly excellent in Bach although his excessive declamatory dynamic rendered the sound on the 1842 Pleyel rather over-stressed and unpleasant. It is remarkable how different pianists extract a different sound from these period instruments.

The final contestant for the day, Shun Oi, communicates well with the audience. His Bach on the 1835 Graf  was possessed of great rhythmic energy but I wished he might slow the tempo so I could decode the polyphony more comfortably. His Kurpiński Polonaise  on the 1825 Buchholtz copy showed understanding of the rhythm and was even quite jolly as he explored the dynamic range was clear in the Chopin Polonaise. His understanding of the genre did not involve exaggerated dynamics. The lyrical sections were extremely beautiful as he used the range of colours available on the Buchholtz to create a painting. This account was excellent and by far the best Polonaise so far in the competition. The Mozart Rondo on the 1835 Graf was in the Viennese style but is not Beethoven. Overall an excellent interpretation with many attractive, delicate details. The Chopin Ballade played on the 1842 Pleyel had a fine, sensitive opening as the singer/storyteller began his tale.

 Day 3

Arisa Onoda on the 1837 Graf has an excellent command of the style brillante that is so vital to understanding the youthful Chopin, so influenced by Hummel and Moscheles. Piotr Pawlak penetrated well what Chopin referred to as 'the Polish element' in his music on the 1830 Pleyel copy. He has an acute sense of the polonaise rhythm and produced in fluent playing in one of the very best of the early polonaises of Chopin in the competition. He utilized the moderator on the 1825 Buchholtz copy with great understanding of the effect on Bach and the polyphony of the fugue.

Kamila Sacharzewska is a sensitive, elegant and impressive artist. Her Bach Prelude & Fugue on the 1825 Buchholtz copy was most impressive. In Mozart she injected a warm element of nineteenth century Romantic fantasy and fragile emotion which lifted the overall impression to the heights. I truly adored her Chopin Polonaise in A-flat major (WN3) on the 1830 Pleyel copy as it is my favourite of his youthful dalliances with a deeply affecting, refined and elegant melody. The work is rarely played in this competition. I found it idiomatic and profoundly satisfying as a work of art. 

It is hardly surprising Chopin was known in his youth as the Polish Mozart. The Ogiński Polonaise on the 1825 Buchholtz copy embraced the mood of melancholic nostalgia and sense of loss that I would anticipate. There was immense nobility and pride in the militaristic elements with no misplaced dynamic exaggerations. The mists of regret overcame me as I experienced the perfectly created mood of such a famous work, so rarely played today with the national understanding of the suffering of partitioned Poland of the time.

A Spanish jury member years ago told me that it was entirely unnecessary to listen to so many pieces at Stage I of any competition. All that is needed is ten minutes of Bach to judge the quality of a pianist!

This was clear to me when Dávid Szilasi opened his recital with the long Bach Prelude & Fugue in G-sharp minor BWV 887 from Book II of the WTC on the 1825 Buchholtz copy. An expressive and impressive account full of driving energy yet with clear polyphony in the fugue. Also on this instrument he performed an excellent early Chopin Polonaise, one of the best I have heard. The Mozart he presented inhabited the cusp of the classical and romantic. A balanced account without dynamic exaggerations or 'cheap tricks'. I felt it as an inner restrained drama. The Ogiński Polonaise 'Farewell to the Fatherland' was suitably nostalgic, melancholic and elegiac. 

Playing these four pieces on the same instrument was perfectly in period and an advantage to my mind. He chose however the 1842 Pleyel for the Chopin Ballade in F minor. A simple, childlike opening was followed by a nuanced approach rather than overt declamation which young pianists often find tempting. A subtly and beautifully understated performance of this great masterpiece. By far the finest Ballade I have heard in the competition.

Any spirited performance of a Polonaise  with Polish rhythm and execution wrestles my attention and so it was with the Kurpiński Polonaise played by the smiling and clearly happy pianist (rare enough!) Nao Takahashi on the 1835 Graf.  

The hair of concert pianists is often commented upon. Here we had an Italian lady, Ludovica Vincenti, with a huge aureole of spectacular hair and I hoped talent to match. I was not disappointed ! Bach on the 1825 Buchholtz copy began with a rather up tempo Prelude but finally most impressive in the fugue. For the Kurpiński Polonaise she effectively utilized many of the moderator tonal effects possible on the Buchholtz. 

Many pianists in the competition used the special effects possible on period pianos but all too often the logic or musical reasoning behind their use escaped me. Not in this case of her always expressive enhancement. The early Chopin Polonaise  on the Broadwood was fine indeed. An alluring, seductive tone and touch informed her Chopin Ballade on the 1842 Pleyel.

Jannik Truong gave us some magnificent, polyphonically transparent Bach on the 1825 Buchholtz copy. He gave a spirited approach with colourful embellishments and decoration to the early Chopin Polonaise on the 1842 Pleyel. I also consider his choice of the Chopin Ballade in F major Op.38 was particularly well informed but he made rather much of it as a virtuoso piano piece. Such a masterpiece of musical condensation Chopin has given us here. I feel the opening should be more like a gently hovering meditative thought that passes over the fraught dramas of a past love life, opening like a landscape of memory below.

Stage I Day 3

October 8th 2023

List of Participants 8th October 2023 in order of appearance:

Arisa Onada (Japan)

Madoka Okada (Japan/France)

Piotr Pawlak (Poland)

Kamila Sacharzewska (Poland)

Viacheslav Shelepov (Russia)

Dávid Szilasi (Hungary)

Mana Shoji (Japan)

Nao Takahashi (Japan)

Ludovica Vincenti (Italy)

Jannik Truong (Germany)

Stage I Day 2

October 7th 2023

List of Participants 7th October 2023 in order of appearance:

Yukino Hayashi (Japan)

Satoshi Iijima (Japan)

Oscar Jiang (Australia)

Saya Kamada (Japan)

Hyunji Kim (South Korea)

Song-Ha Kim (South Korea)

Mariia Kurtynina (Russia)

Nicolas Margarit (Australia/Spain)

Danilo Mascetti (Italy)

Yuya Nashimoto (Japan)

Martin Nöbauer (Austria)

Shun Oi (Japan)

Another day that demonstrated outstanding talents performing on a most remarkable range of superbly restored or high quality modern copies of period pianos. There was some quite remarkably individualistic approaches at a particularly high level of musicianship and pianism. Once again they 'opened the doors of perception' on new soundscapes in surprising and brilliant ways.

On October 8th I would prefer to give some of the highlights I noted at the conclusion of Stage I.

Also I feel it is not appropriate for me to give my personal opinion of participants' performance in public until the jury have decided on those participants who will progress to Stage II

Stage I Day I 

October 6th 2023

It was a day that demonstrated outstanding talents performing on a most remarkable range of superbly restored or high quality modern copies of period pianos. Once again they 'opened the doors of perception' on new soundscapes in surprising and occasionally brilliant ways. 

There will be twelve participants each day (of thirty-five in total) each playing for some forty minutes a range of five pieces. It is just not humanly possible for me in terms of time to listen to the performances, sleep, eat and give written criticism in detail of each performance of the sixty works heard each day of Stage I. 

List of Participants 6th October 2023 in order of appearance:

Derek Wang (US)

Chaojun Yang (China)

Andrzej Wierciński (Poland)

Angie Zhang (US)

Yonghuan Zhong (China)

Alice Baccalini (Italy)

Aleksandra Bobrowska (Poland)

Simone El Oufir Pierini (Italy)

Aleksamdra Hortensja Dąbek (Poland)

Joanna Goranko (Poland)

Yuina Hayakawa (Japan)

Eric Guo (Canada)


Here is the demanding list of works each participant needed to choose from for Stage I of the competition. As you will see all pieces were not by Chopin. 

As ever, I felt the Bach Prelude and Fugue almost instantly revealed the quality of the pianist! They were also required to choose a period piano they felt suitable for the works they chose. Most chose as many as three period instruments from different eras and countries of manufacture.

  • One of the selected Preludes and Fugues from Das Wohltemperierte Klavier by Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Fantasia in D minor K.397 or the Rondo in A minor K.511
  • One of the selected Fryderyk Chopin’s early Polonaises (in A flat major, Op. posth, in G sharp minor, Op. posth, in B flat minor, Op. posth, in D minor, Op. 71 No. 1, in B flat major, Op. 71 No. 2, in F minor Op. 71 No. 3)
  • One of the selected Polonaises from among the following:
    Karol KurpińskiPolonaise in D minor, Polonaise in G minor
    Józef Elsner: Polonaise in B flat major, Polonaise in E flat major
    Michał Kleofas OgińskiPolonaise in A minor “Farewell to Homeland”, Polonaise in D minor
    Maria Szymanowska Polonaise in F minor
  • one of the following selected works of Fryderyk Chopin:
    Ballade in G minor, Op. 23
    Ballade in F major, Op. 38
    Ballade in A flat major, Op. 47
    Ballade in F minor, Op. 52
    Barcarolle in F-Sharp major Op. 60

  • The pieces may be performed in any order
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Martha Argerich will perform at the Inaugural Concert 
2nd International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments 

October 5th 2023 at 19.00

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Playing on a period piano
Martha Argerich will perform 
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15 by Ludwig van Beethoven 
 {oh!} Orkiestra conducted by Václav Luks 

Tomasz Ritter, Naruhiko Kawaguchi and Bruce Liu will also take part in the inauguration of the Competition
*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
This concert is available to watch again here: 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  
Performers on period pianos:

Naruhiko Kawaguchi [DAI FUJIKURA [1977–] Bridging Realms for fortepiano ]
Tomasz Ritter [Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 ]
Martha Argerich [Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15
Bruce Liu [Fantasy in C minor for Piano, Mixed Choir and Orchestra, Op. 80]

{oh!} Orkiestra
Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir
Violetta Bielecka - Choir director
Václav Luks - Conductor

Concert programme

Bridging Realms for fortepiano
(Commissioned composition for the inauguration 
of the 
2nd International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments)

The prolific contemporary Japanese composer and music pioneer Dai Fujikura lives in London and is sought out by opera houses and orchestras around the world.

He was intimately involved in the 'Music for Peace' project in Hiroshima in 2020 initiated by Martha Argerich. He wrote a Piano Concerto for her to play on a precious  piano that miraculously survived the conflagration and carries a profound emotional weight in Japan and for the whole of humanity, especially in the tragic present circumstances of war and nuclear threat. 

The instrument is known in Japan as the legendary 'Akiko's Piano'. The Covid pandemic sadly prevented Martha from travelling to Hiroshima to perform the premiere of the piece. 

This cultural and human spiritual experience in Japan was unforgettable - a lifetime event  for me.

2. Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37
3. Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15
4. Fantasy in C minor for Piano, Mixed Choir and Orchestra, Op. 80


What an utterly enchanted evening this turned out to be! 

The commissioned piece by Dai Fujikura, so sensitively and alluringly performed by Naruhiko Kawaguchi and perceptively entitled Bridging Realms, indicated a compete understanding of the extraordinary additional sound and color spectrum possible on the period piano. This contemporary music and its interpretation  had a graceful harmonic structure and was, most importantly, an accessible contemporary classical work that one could respond to effortlessly, meaningfully and emotionally. 

The concert was one of those unforgettable musical experiences in life with a rare combination of outstanding artists. The quite extraordinary hypnotic magic, musicality and sheer seductive sound of Martha Argerich playing an 1838 Erard, Tomasz Ritter elegant, passionate and expressive on the McNulty copy of the 1819 Graf and finally Bruce Liu also on the Erard in a superbly integrated performance with choir and orchestra. 

They bewitched us all in Beethoven and on these instruments opened new soundscapes of musical perception, realms of interpretation never before visited. 

Then to conclude the remarkable and surely unique vision and sound of three masters without care crossing the age boundaries of years, playing an encore together on one keyboard! The Romance for six hands by Rachmaninoff. The audience went wild, applause, cheering and with deserved standing ovations ....

A night of true and vital musical transport of the soul in these distracted and murderous times.

[More detailed review a little later - it is late and I am still recovering equanimity - the competition begins early tomorrow] 

Competition Schedule

One of the lodestars the Chopin Institute has followed from its earliest days and a fundamental component of its programme is the endeavour to bring back the authentic sound of the music our composing genius created.

The meticulously drawn and persistently implemented plan of activity in this scope encompasses the annually organised Chopin and His Europe International Festival. Developed from the proprietary concept of Stanisław Leszczyński in 2005, it opened a new chapter in interpreting Chopin’s music.

From the purchase of the first instrument from the time of Chopin, an Erard from 1849, the Institute has developed its collection of period pianos and their replicas, and made them available to eminent pianists, at the same time inviting the best orchestras specializing in historically informed performance to Warsaw.

The release of successive CDs in “The Real Chopin” series, the world’s first to include the complete works of the Polish composing genius in their original sound, has also been a great success in the recent years.

Performances using means similar to those the composer had at his disposal makes contemporary audiences aware of the specific nature of Chopin’s music, and particularly of its distinctive features that are lost if performed on contemporary instruments.

Another extremely important step aimed at spreading the idea of performing Chopin’s music on instruments from his time is the organisation of the exceptional Chopin Competition on Period Instruments.

The competition was first held in September 2018 in the Warsaw Philharmonic, and became a crucial element of the Chopin Institute’s celebrations of Poland’s 100th anniversary of regaining independence. The winner of the competition, which attracted nearly 60 pianists from 19 countries, was Tomasz Ritter, a Pole.

The Competition will be held for the second time from 5 to 15 October 2023, again in the Warsaw Philharmonic.

It has been slated for three stages: the first and the second are solo recitals with repertoires composed of, beside Chopin, selected pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and polonaises by Polish composers active in the first half of the 19th century. In the third stage, the six finalists will perform their choice of Chopin’s works with an orchestra. They will be accompanied by Martyna Pastuszka’s {oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna.

The pianists will be assessed by an international jury composed of eminent musicians specialising in historically informed performance, notably Andreas Staier, Paolo Giacometti and Tobias Koch, and eminent Chopin experts.

The competing pianists will have at their disposal historical instruments from the Chopin Institute’s collection – Erards from 1838, 1849, and 1855, Pleyels from 1848 and 1854, and a Broadwood from 1843, and, besides those, also replicas of period instruments and instruments kindly loaned from European collections. 

The Jury of the preliminary round of the 2nd International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments: Lech Dudzik, Tobias Koch, Janusz Olejniczak, Ewa Pobłocka and Wojciech Świtała qualified 35 pianists from 14 countries for the main competition. 

The participants have been selected from 84 candidates who submitted their applications.

The most represented countries will be: 

Japan: 10 participants 

Poland: 6 participants 

Italy: 4 participants.

China, South Korea, the USA, and Russia - 2 participants.  

Australia, Austria, France, Spain, Canada, Germany and Hungary - 1 participant

The full list of participants

Official competition website

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1st International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments 
2–14 September 2018

If you are more serious than 'normal' folk about the poignant effect of Chopin performed on period instruments do read my past report and detailed account of the first competition linked below.

Another rich interpretative dimension on sublime Chopin opened during the competition.

The use of period pianos should not be considered a replacement for Chopin on the modern concert instrument, but a useful and thought provoking corrective for the modern pianist and Chopin obsessive. Especially true if you use the National Edition of his compositions edited by the great Jan Ekier with his many possible subtle variant readings (a Chopin specialty) that are carefully noted.

Final Report on 1st International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments 
Warsaw  2–14 September 2018

For photographs of the instruments used and a detailed, fully illustrated review of each participant and each piece at each competition stage:


  1. This article provides a detailed and insightful commentary on the early stages of a prestigious music competition that celebrates the use of period pianos in performing classical music. The author not only highlights the significance of this competition in reviving and preserving the historical context and sound of classical compositions but also offers a rich analysis of the performances by various contestants. Throughout the article, the author's passion for and deep knowledge of music, especially the works of Chopin and other Romantic-era composers, shines through. The descriptions of each pianist's performance, the choice of period instruments, and the historical context of the pieces add a layer of depth and understanding for the reader. To discuss more about visit Audio Engineering Courses In India


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