The Pocket Paderewski

The Beguiling life of the Australian Concert Pianist Edward Cahill

Michael Moran

[Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, November 2016]

You might like to begin reading this already published biography of the glamorous Australian concert pianist Edward Cahill (1885-1975) that was issued some time ago (Melbourne, 2016). It took me six years to write. He was my great-uncle incidentally.

I was prompted to this serialization idea by my detailed coverage of the exciting and musically inspiring 2020 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. I attended every session.

Cahill lived a life during the golden age of pianism that the brilliant young pianists who took part in this competition could only dream of today.

The book will be serialized.

I will be publishing one chapter per week.

Introduction to the book and idea published this week.

On 2 November 2021, Chapter 1 Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket

Edward Cahill (1885-1975)


The glamorous concert pianist Edward Cahill (1885-1975) rose to prominence from humble beginnings in the inauspicious setting of 19th century rural Queensland. At a time when Australian concert artists were relatively unknown in Europe, he dazzled the salons of royalty, aristocratic patronage and privilege in London, Paris and the French Riviera during the glittering decades of the 1920s and 1930s.

His baptism by fire in the travelling silent cinema of the outback, music hall and vaudeville was a surprising grounding for a concert pianist. Yet he became a protégé of Dame Nellie Melba and played for Kings in Southeast Asia and Maharajahs in India. Cahill performed for Queen Mary in London and for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Paris. Invited for lessons by the visionary pianist Alfred Cortot, he was known to the great conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, the pianist and statesman Ignacy Paderewski and the composer Percy Grainger. In London, Cahill gave some of the first recitals in the modern revival of the harpsichord.

His concert tours of Nazi Germany tragically sundered an intense romance and musical partnership with the beautiful Austrian Jewish violinist Sabine Adler. After spending the war years in Switzerland giving charity concerts for interned troops, he took a courageous stand against apartheid as a resident of South Africa, passing his declining years in Monaco.

The search for the enigma of ‘Uncle Eddie’ has been a rich family quest. As a musician, I was fascinated by this charismatic figure, the legend who loitered in the shadows of inherited memory.  Set against the dramatic backdrop of the age, this historical biography is a portrait of the prodigious musical gifts, infectious charm and unswerving determination that transported the pianist Edward Cahill from pastoral isolation to brilliant European stardom.

Edward Cahill seated in the front row on the left of Princess Alice at a private Mayfair piano recital at the home of the Dowager Lady Swathling 1934

Book Reviews

‘…this is better than most musical biographies. Moran’s portrait of his sometimes enigmatic relative has immediacy and the images of Europe between the wars are vivid.’
(Steven Carroll, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, 17 February 2017)

*  *  *  *  *  *

Michael Cathcart on ABC RN produced a 20 minute radio segment on Edward Cahill.
‘He [Edward Cahill] witnessed the great events of European history from the Dress Circle. Not just a journey through a man’s life but a journey through the twentieth century. Written evocatively and powerfully about music.’

Performance Reviews

A marvellous musician who was able to play magisterially but limpidly, full of charm and yet with forensic intelligence and insight. One can only regret not knowing sooner about this great artist.

Dr. Leslie Howard

Distinguished pianist, composer and musicologist. Acclaimed performer of Liszt

Cahill plays throughout with irrepressible spirit and energy.The character of each piece is clearly projected and his appreciation of what the music is ‘about’ is faultless. It is easy to visualise his virtuoso panache.

James Methuen-Campbell

International authority on Chopin interpretation

Cahill’s playing is passionately driven, full of excitingly forthright strength, but with a formal grip and sense of cadence that give it true command, shot through with unmistakeable touches of originality and tonal nuance.

Piers Lane

Australian pianist of worldwide distinction

You can listen to his remarkable style brillante playing here:

Edward Cahill
Private Cape Town Studio Recordings of Liszt and Chopin (1955)
Re-Mastered by Selene Records Poland
Pitch-corrected by Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music at the British Library

(Author’s Private Collection)

Writing Reviews

Moran’s writing is richly atmospheric with real depth and sparkle.

— C.J. Schüler, The Independent

There is no faulting his research, his integrity, or his ability to transport us.

Anthony Sattin, Sunday Times

Triumphantly balances humour with scholarship.

Robert Carver, The Observer

* * * * * * * * * * * *

‘You should never despise social life – de la haute société – I mean, it can  be a very satisfying one, entirely artificial of course, but absorbing. Apart from the life of the intellect and the contemplative religious life, which few people are qualified to enjoy, what else is there to distinguish man from the animals but his social life? And who understand it so well and who can make it so smooth and so amusing as les gens du monde?’

‘It’s rather sad,’ she said one day, ‘to belong, as we do, to a lost generation. I’m sure in history the two wars will count as one war and that we shall be squashed out of it altogether, and people will forget we ever existed. We might just as well never have lived at all. I do think it’s a shame.’

Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love (London 1945)


I shall never forget hearing the recordings of the pianist Edward Cahill for the first time during the millennium year. One Saturday evening spent at home alone in rainswept London I decided on an impulse to climb up into the attic and open the trunk of his effects I had inherited long ago. My mood that night was fearfully low as I was attempting to emerge from a blighted love affair. Depression about my future had also set in as I felt I had been studying the piano seriously for far too long without significant success. Seeking the warmth and reassurance of some connection with my family   I brushed away the cobwebs suffocating the trunk and began to rummage through the detritus of his life. At the bottom I found some old tape recordings and took them downstairs in anticipation. My old Revox open-reel machine spun into life.

I shall always treasure the feeling of exhilaration on first hearing the individuality of the piano sound he created in his interpretation of La Campanella by Liszt. He performed the work as a spectacular tour de force of virtuosity with the greatest refinement of touch, vitality of tone, bell-like timbre and that feathery velocity reminiscent of the late nineteenth century giants of the keyboard. As a musician myself I was astounded at the quality of the playing and determined there and then I must research and write about his life. I was to uncover a universe of fascinating historical recordings, period detail and a career of relentless glamour and success. After a long delayed beginning, the quest for this family portrait was to take me six years.

The fragmentary material piled into that old cabin trunk was    a chaotic jigsaw puzzle. It contained unsorted personal letters, journals, manuscripts, music reviews, scrap books, music, concert posters, concert programmes, newspaper articles, official documents, period photographs, a small piece of 16 mm film as well as 78 rpm shellac and tape recordings. Some newspaper reviews glued into the  scrapbook  were  carelessly  trimmed  so  as to be undated, unidentifiable or sectionally damaged, letters contained only the month and not the year they were written with illegible signatures. Photographs often did not identify the exotic subjects. The treasure chest had been collecting dust in the attic of my London flat for over thirty years.

Fortunately in 1968 I had spent some six months with him as    a young man and discussed in depth his career, music and the piano. Now I asked myself whether there was sufficient material to construct an engaging biography of a long forgotten Australian concert pianist born in 1885 who was also a member of an unknown family? I feared no-one attempted biographies of such forgotten figures owing to the piecemeal nature of the sources. However I was determined to assemble this remarkable life.

Tantalising references had always hovered in the family of a ‘legend’, of ‘a brilliant classical pianist who played for Queen Mary in London and the aristocracy of Europe during the glamorous 1920s.’ As ‘Uncle Eddie’ had left Australia permanently in 1934 the family could never fully comprehend the depth of his achievement. Few details were known, family records scarce, his name rarely mentioned. No chronology of Edward Cahill existed until I tentatively began work. Establishing this with accuracy soon became the major challenge of the enterprise. Informed supposition was an occasional unavoidable necessity as it proceeded. Any inadvertent blunders are entirely due to my own lack of vigilance.

As time passed I gradually began to see  ‘Uncle  Eddie’  not only as a rounded personality but also very much ‘a figure in the landscape’ of his day, similar to those diminutive personages that populate 17th century classical landscape paintings by Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin or Gaspard Dughet. I became increasingly consumed by the mysterious process of unravelling the poetry of his life as an artist and the society that nurtured him. I brought to light extraordinary coincidences and unsettling congruencies with my own life.

During this ‘resurrection’ I did not travel to all the destinations that comprised his itinerant lifestyle as his recitals spanned almost every continent and were often in prohibitively expensive exotic locations. Many countries have changed out of all recognition since his time as a result of war, partition or simple developmental change. Inevitably there are tantalising gaps as in all biographies. However I travelled extensively even obsessively in his footsteps encountering a multitude of astonishing places in what became in the end an amazing journey of musical and spiritual discovery.


In the year 1891 a curly-haired boy runs along the sunny banks   of a river in the early morning chasing a butterfly with his net. Dragonflies with electric blue abdomens and clear wings hover above the muddy water. If he stays very still they will even settle on his trousers for a few seconds warming themselves in the sun. He is a very happy little boy. He has carefully prepared his beer and treacle mixture the night before and smears it on the slim trunks of his favourite eucalypts and nearby bushes. This nectar attracts the butterflies and he can easily capture them in one swift arc. He loves the kaleidoscopic colours of nature. Singing to himself, he puts them in his killing jar. He then carefully folds them into small paper envelopes.

Later, before they dry and stiffen, he carefully pushes fine pins through the thorax and spreads the wings and straps them flat with strips of special paper onto the setting board. Later, when they dry, he displays them in the cabinet his grandmother had bought for him. In spring he loves to watch the huge migrations of the black and white Caper Whites drinking at the river banks. The fast Tailed Emperor, wings folded like a painted Chinese fan, feeds on the over-ripe figs and flowering citrus trees in their garden. In his bedroom he has a glass case of smelly, hairy, wildly striped caterpillars. He loves to watch them until the silver or green chrysalis forms and hangs from its silken pad on the twigs. He sighs with impatience, waiting for its radiant future. The beautiful adult creature finally emerges, shimmering in its fresh markings to begin its life of spectacular display. These he lets fly free.

He is not your normal little boy by any means. He is actually a bit of a show-off, like his butterflies. He loves sounds too; all sorts of sounds fascinate him. They thrill him. He collects old bottles and tins, in fact anything that makes a sound when you hit it with a stick. On this shabby orchestra, sitting in the dust, he performs for other children in the neighbourhood and his brothers and sisters who gather around. The grown-ups roar with laughter to see a very small boy rushing madly about hitting bottles and tins. Lizards scatter under the rocks; rosellas and black cockatoos flee to the trees. Then someone teaches him how to improve his sounds. They show him how by filling the containers with different quantities of water he can produce different notes. His tin can and bottle symphonies improve. He cannot be stopped.

After these first ‘performances’ in the dirt and dust of colonial Australia he learns the piano against his father’s wishes from the wife of the milkman, goes from strength to strength musically  and travels from continent to continent, culture to culture until   he accomplishes his childish dream. He finally plays in recitals    in London commanded by the Queen of England and later in the houses of all her aristocratic friends. The little boy’s name is Edward Cahill and this is his story.

The 11th International Paderewski Piano Competition 10-24 XI 2019


Ignacy Jan Paderewski (6 November 1860 – 29 June 1941) starring in the innocent and lyrical film Moonlight Sonata (1936)

Paderewski Competition

Official Website in English:

The 11th Competition



Laureates of the 11th International Paderewski Piano Competition

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1st prize € 30 000 – LYNOV  Philipp Russia S

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2nd prize € 15 000 – PACHOLEC  Kamil Poland S

3rd prize € 7 000 – FURUMI Yasuko Japan K

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Honorary mention € 2 500 – BELYAVSKY Sergey Russia F


Honorary mention € 2 500 – KIM  Saetbyeol Republic of Korea F


11th International Paderewski Piano Competition

At the moment I simply cannot decide who might be the winner. The level of pianism and achievement here in Bydgoszcz is ‘neck a neck’ – to be quite honest using an appropriate horse racing term. One must always remember previous stages and what was achieved there (or not) when coming to a decision, not simply judge on the concerto stage, which is so tempting of course.

BELYAVSKY Sergey – Russia F

For Rachmaninoff this concerto was a watershed in his life. The poor reception of his First Symphony had thrown him into a state of clinical depression which took him some years to recover from, even requiring hypnotherapy. ‘You will write a great concerto’ his doctor suggested under hypnosis. This concerto was a symbol of his complete rehabilitation and of course has become, together with the Tchaikovsky and Grieg concertos, one of the most popular in the repertoire.

I am in two minds whether it is a good strategic choice for a competition but there you are, one plays what one loves irrespective. Rachmaninoff commented 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.’ Certainly it seems everyone in the general public has heard and loves this work. He dedicated the concerto to his doctor Nikolai Dahl.

Overall this was a highly competent and exciting view of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2 as one might expect of a competition finalist. However I was worried by the tempo of the beginning which was rather perfunctory and too fast (indication moderato) to preserve the deep drama and dark mystery of the deliberate, slow search at increasing dynamic for the resolved beginning to take place, the opening of the great narrative to follow. The Adagio sostenuto – Più animato – Tempo I  was sensitive and very moving, replete with what I have come to consider as the ‘Russian soul.’ The Allegro Scherzando was full of passionate intensity, drive and that uplifting feeling of unstoppable momentum until the victorious close. A truly satisfying idiomatic performance of an almost too familiar work.

PACHOLEC Kamil – Poland S

A fine and authoritative performance of Tchaikovsky No.1 , unfortunately marred by a couple of cadenza solecisms which of course were noticed. Where candidates are so equally matched this will be likely to assume an exaggerated importance.

The main theme of the first movement Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito was derived from  a melody heard by the composer in a town near Kiev in Ukraine. All the themes in the concerto are linked motivically together through references (concealed and otherwise) to Russian and Ukrainian folk songs. Pocholec with his fine grasp of dance rhythms in polonaises, waltzes and mazurkas, which has been evident throughout this competition, gave a deep appreciation of these elements in his performance.

The Andante semplice possesses an intense, lyrical poetry the expression of which Pocholec excels. He is sensitive and refined in the cantabile poetry of cantilenas, possibly owing to his deep immersion in the bel canto of Chopin.

In the Finale Allegro con fuoco the tempo he was exciting, virtuosic and expressive with excellent rubato and dynamic variation. He communicated particularly well with the conductor and orchestra.

LYNOV Philipp – Russia S

This great work is possibly one of the most difficult in the concerto repertoire. It was completed in 1913 and then destroyed by fire in the Russian revolution. Prokofiev reconstructed this work in significantly different form in 1923 and dedicated it to the memory of the young pianist and composer Maximilian Schmidthof, a friend of Prokofiev’s at the St. Petersburg conservatorium. He had committed suicide in 1913 by shooting himself after leaving a nihilistic note and quoting in a letter a poem by Mikhail Lermontov:

Image result for lermontov
Lermontov in the Caucasus  © Petrovich Konchalovky cir.1943


It’s tiresome and sad, and there’s no one to lend you a hand
In your heart’s hour of trials and fears.
What you want is… What use, though, forever in vain to demand?
And the years pass you by, all the very best years.

Try loving, but whom? For the time, it’s not worth all the trouble,
And no one keeps loving forever.
Look into yourself, – All the past disappears like a bubble,
Both the joy and the torment, to naught your endeavour.

Your passions? Once, sooner or later, when Reason has found you,
Their sweet sickness will pass at her stroke;
And life, as you look with cold, distant attention around you,
Is just such a stupid and meaningless joke.
January, 1840. Mikhail Lermontov.


И скучно и грустно, и некому руку подать
В минуту душевной невзгоды…
Желанья!.. Что пользы напрасно и вечно желать?..
А годы проходят — все лучшие годы!

Любить… но кого же?.. На время — не стоит труда,
А вечно любить невозможно.
В себя ли заглянешь? — Там прошлого нет и следа:
И радость, и муки, и всё там ничтожно…

Что страсти? — Ведь рано иль поздно их сладкий недуг
Исчезнет при слове рассудка;
И жизнь, как посмотришь с холодным вниманьем вокруг, —
Такая пустая и глупая шутка…

Январь 1840. Михаил Лермонтов.

(Translated by Maxim Litvinov)

His suicide note to Prokofiev read partly ‘I am reporting the latest news to you. I have shot myself. Don’t grieve overmuch. The reasons were not important.’ 

It is a work full of magnificent energy and life – in fact an affirmation to live. This truly avant-garde work was attacked as ‘shameful’ in early performances as one of the worst examples of ‘modernism’ causing Prokofiev to be branded an ‘anarchist’ or ‘futurist’. Progressive artists of the day loved it. It is exceptionally demanding on the pianist, orchestra and conductor.

Of the premiere a newspaper review reported that Prokofiev was ‘either dusting the keys or trying out the notes at the beginning of the Concerto’ and that the audience was ‘scandalized, the majority hissed.’ Protests abounded: ‘Such music is enough to drive you crazy!’ ‘The devil with such futuristic stuff!’ The eminent music-historian and critic Vyacheslav Karatygin, described the audience as ‘frozen with fright, hair standing on end’. I felt the work continues to inhabit the world of the now non-existent avant-garde  and is unsettling even today.

Lynov managed the formidable and monumental cadenza at the end of the first movement with breathtaking power and endurance. In the Scherzo Vivace he dispatched with alacrity and glitter this second movement with its rapid sequences of 1,500 perpetuum mobile semiquavers. The third Intermezzo: Allegro moderato is dark in atmosphere as well feeling rancorous and malign. Lynov was most expressive here and brought a particularly Prokofievian wicked ironic trait to the proceedings.

The Finale Allegro tempestoso begins lyrically but is replete with sharply contrasting themes, uncomfortable melodies and pounding passages in the piano. The orchestra could have been far better balanced dynamically with the soloist and matters became sonically confused to my ears at times. Lynov dominated with panache the second challenging bravura cadenza which snarls and writhes in its capture.

A brilliant, surely prize-winning performance of the Prokofiev No.2 concerto endorsed by a wildly enthusiastic audience.

KIM Saetbyeol – Republic of Korea F

This is of course probably the best known piano concerto ever written and to do it justice requires pianistic talents of no mean order. One the great the benchmarks for me at least remains surely the 1958 Van Cliburn performance at the 1st International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. Kim was authoritative and powerful if slightly nervous at the beginning. The main theme of the first movement Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito was derived from  a melody heard by the composer in a town near Kiev in Ukraine. All the themes in the concerto are linked motivically together through references (concealed and otherwise) to Russian and Ukrainian folk songs. Kim understood this background rhythmically outstandingly well.

The Andante semplice possesses an intense, lyrical poetry which Kim expressed affectingly and movingly.

In the Finale Allegro con fuoco the tempo she adopted was energetic and powerful. The conductor and orchestra communicated well with Kim.

FURUMI Yasuko – Japan K

The opening Moderato varies in tempo with almost every pianist I have heard, and Furumi opened this treasure chest of melody at the moderate tempo indicated by the composer. However there was not much of the ominous drama of melancholic premonition before the concerto began its irresistible forward momentum.

There was a rather disproportionate dynamic balance between orchestra and soloist in all the finalists’ performances.

The  Adagio sostenuto – Più animato – Tempo I was emotional but not as moving and affecting as I felt it could be, an atmosphere created with the full Russian ‘soul’ expressed. The flute solo leading to clarinet solo was musically very fine.

The final Allegro Scherzando was brilliantly managed pianistically but not a great deal of poetry lifted this virtuoso display. There was a lack of inner emotional tension in this movement yet the work closed on a proper triumphal note.


Capella Bydgostiensis

Kai Bumann – conductor

 PIERDOMENICO  Leonardo – Italy F

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

Having never heard this piece before but having been give the score, all I can say is that it it seems an attractive enough short work that reflects the compositional style of many composers and could well have been an improvisation that has been notated. Pierdomenico did not observe all the changes in the sometimes extreme dynamic markings.

F. Chopin Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52

I felt the narrative flow of this great masterpiece escaped him rather as he signposted dynamics rather too forcibly. However it was a complete and personal view of the work that may not have been sufficiently deeply considered .

S. Rachmaninov Variations on a theme by Chopin, Op. 22

This is a particularly challenging work. I will give a little background but cannot examine his approach to the variations individually. The Variations on a Theme by Chopin, Op. 22 was composed between 1902 and 1903 when Rachmaninoff returned to Russia after his recent marriage. He now had a settled family and envisioned many new musical projects. The piece was dedicated to Theodore Leschetizky,  the famous Polish piano pedagogue. The work was premiered by Rachmaninoff himself with some of his Preludes, Op. 23. The  theme itself is based on Chopin’s Prelude in C minor Op. 28, No. 20. This set of variations consists of twenty-two variations.

Some variations were executed in a superior and musically enlightening way but I found others rather over-pedalled and blurred harmonically without a great deal of dynamic variation.

W. A. Mozart Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467
Allegro maestoso
Allegro vivace assai

This was a pleasant and rather charming performance with an interesting first movement cadenza. As with many of the contestants in this concerto stage I hoped for at least the shadows of Mozart operatic arias particularly in the beautiful Andante used in the film Elvira Madigan. This concerto prompted me to look up the true story rather than the romantic tale of the 1967 film. Here is a link to this deeply tragic, Shakespearean love affair that bordered on the obsessional.

BELYAVSKY Sergey – Russia F

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

Quite a good performance of this commissioned work but as with many of the contestants rather challenging the extreme range of dynamic marking. The extremes of tempi and colour as well as many varsities of articulation were well managed.

F. Liszt Scherzo and Marsch, S. 177

I am not so familiar with this work but he fared well in this virtuoso work. This interpretation of the Scherzo was both mercurial, impressive and impetuous in terms of keyboard magic. I am afraid I am not fond of this Lisztian contrasting Marsch, which is rather dynamically unvaried, lacking in nobility and inexpressive military associations. I felt he did what he could with it but did not endear me to the work.

R. Schumann Carnaval, Op. 9

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At his level of advanced pianism this was a technically very fine performance with many fresh ideas. However the fast tempi he adopted, and the breathlessness of his phrasing were problematical for me, but not for others. Schumann can be puzzling, violent, idiosyncratic, tender and capricious in these miniature Commedia del Arte portraits. These aspects are reflected in the mercurial moodiness of the marvellous self-portraits (the divided personality of Schumann the man in Florestan and Eusebius) and the colourful array of characters. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is apposite:

‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, 
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.’

The pianist requires an almost incandescent imagination to do justice to the genius of this composer. In Carnaval the secrets of the Sphinxes are intelligible  and expressed by only the happy few among pianists.

W. A. Mozart Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488

Serenade im Redoutensaal der Hofburg 1760 Martin van Meytens

This concerto was among three that Mozart offered to Sebastian Winter in a letter to Prince von Fürstenberg for the use of the court orchestra at Donaueschingen. It is doubtful it was ever performed in Vienna as few people knew of it unlike many of his other concertos. I found the Allegro a little laboured, perhaps owing to the lack of significant orchestral detail of the Capella Bydgostiensis under Kai Bumann, the conductor. The beautiful and moving Adagio, although affectingly and sensitively played, could have had more of the operatic aria ritornello structures that Mozart intended. The lightweight rondo finale Allegro assai  had a great deal of energy but perhaps could have been given more of the playful, ‘conversational’ aspect of Mozart, more of a charming dialogue with the orchestra.

PACHOLEC  Kamil – Poland S

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

By far the best rendition of this piece so far in the semi-finals. An attractive account of this work and the challenging  dynamic markings carefully observed.

W. A. Mozart Fantasy in D minor, K. 397

A charming interpretation of a piece that possibly every pianist in the audience could play.

F. Chopin Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58
Allegro maestoso
Scherzo. Molto vivace
Finale. Presto non tanto. Agitato

This sonata is the very essence of Romantic music. The first and last movements are rather in the character of ballades, the second is a scherzo, and the third is a nocturne.

The narrative of the Allegro was beautifully judged by Pacholec, particularly the cantilena within that gave hints of the turbulence that was to follow. He built the drama well. I appreciated his relaxed demeanor at the keyboard that is not flash, vain, hysterical or showy.  He allows the music itself to speak. His use of the pedal, so vital in Chopin, was highly skillful.

The Scherzo was light yet passionate, rather from the realm of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Possibly more detailed phrasing could have improved it just a little. He possessed a beautiful singing cantabile in the moderate tempo of the Largo making it true ‘night music’ like a nocturne, an aria in its endless cantabile. There was much self-communion and reflection here, yet the movement remained coherent as a structure. Expressive, nuanced with sensitive phrasing as we approached a dreamlike conclusion.

The Presto finale was dramatic. He generated increasing and unstoppable momentum with very moving slight rubato at various moments. Throughout he observed ‘non tanto’ indication of Chopin which gave the movement increased power and weight as it hurtled forward. Just before the coda he adopted a majestic gradual slowing of tempo  which was a superbly judged moment of heightened drama driving the movement forward irresistibly to its conclusion with that demonic element so characteristic of this fantastic movement. 

F. Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp minor, S. 244

This was a moderate, expressive Liszt. Far more musical than most pianists. Attractive glitter, excitingly episodic with minimal pedal and variety of timbre, tone and touch. An interpretation that was both passionate and noble.

W. A. Mozart Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467

Mozart 43

There was affecting good humor in the Allegro maestoso with variations in tempi which made it most expressive. Tone, articulation and touch possessed great finesse. The cadenza was graceful and refined as well as inventive. In the Andante he maintained a close dialogue with the orchestra, so vital when Mozart exposes the pianist so mercilessly. He maintained an eloquent simplicity that avoided mawkish  sentimentality (so characteristic of the famous Elvira Madigan film. Geza Anda recorded that soundtrack in superbly restrained yet emotional classical style). Beautiful melodic phrasing. The Allegro vivace assai was packed with energy and joy. His approach had so much meaning musically. A virtuoso cadenza as it should be. Overall a deeply satisfying performance.

LYNOV  Philipp – Russia S

F. Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 9 La ricordanza

The ninth in the series entitled Ricordanza is an intensely personal, self-communing piece by Liszt. Busoni called it ‘a bundle of faded love letters’. This is a diffuse, soft focus, poetic meditation as if it were the Adagio of a classical sonata. I felt Lynov could have made somewhat more of the poetry although the long legato cantabile was alluring. The piece is essentially a song of ‘emotions recollected in tranquility’ as the English poet William Wordsworth expressed such feelings so accurately in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads.

S. Taneyev Prelude and fugue in G-sharp minor, Op. 29

I am becoming more familiar with this work by the Russian composer, pianist, teacher of composition, music theorist and author Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915). The Fugue was particularly impressive and monumental in conception under the fingers of Lynov.

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

He had surprisingly memorized this difficult work already! An astonishing performance of it.

S. Barber Sonata in E-flat minor, Op. 26

Clearly this pianist is attracted by the more modern musical idiom. This work was written in 1949 for the 25th anniversary of the League of Composers and premiered to great acclaim by Vladimir Horowitz. Its structure is made up of chromaticism and tone rows yet Barber retains immense accessibility for the listener and performer. It is clear Barber was immersed in J.S.Bach. Lynov gave a rather percussive although most impressive performance. The Fugue was flashy, yes, but with content.

Allegro energico
Allegro vivace e leggero
Adagio mesto
Fuga: Allegro con spirito

I felt this was an excellently designed recital programme and the jury give extra points for programme design.

W. A. Mozart Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488

Image result for mozart orchestra paintings

He looked as if he was greatly enjoying playing the Mozart concerto. I am afraid there is little evidence of Mozart’s operatic writing here and I found the opening Allegro rather lacking in expressive possibilities. I found the beautiful Adagio did not become what it could have been by the pianist and orchestra not being well aligned.  The final Allegro assai was joyful and exuberant. However even here I did not always feel that there was any playfulness or particularly expressive playing from Lynov. The conclusion of this concerto  is rather operatic which I missed a great deal.

KIM  Saetbyeol – Republic of Korea F

E. Granados Los Requiebros from Goyescas, Book I

Image result for Caprichos paintings

This work was written at the beginning of the twentieth century as a musical offering to the great Spanish artist Francisco de Goya. Granados had been greatly influenced by his paintings as a young man. Overwhelmed with the idea of the genius that is Spain  he wrote a number of pieces inspired by the painter’s life and times. The six pieces that make up Goyescas actually draw on details from Goya’s works—the Los Caprichos, a sequence of aquatints that were a satirical comment on Spanish society. This was a very fine and idiomatic performance of the work in terms of finesse and idiom, an exceptionally artistic performance that simply underlined the universal emotions that Granados intended to express.

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

Excellent performance even if her following of the challenging extremes of dynamic indications was somewhat inaccurate.

S. Prokofiev Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 82

This is the first of the so-called ‘War Sonatas’. This piece is a deeply despairing and bleak Prokofiev work. In this first of the three ‘War Sonatas’, the composer expresses his true feelings after completing his somewhat sanitized work in the shadow of Stalin.

Desperate, violent anger and the frustration of individual powerlessness in the face of the destruction of war is present in the violent coda that concludes the work. Mira Mendelson, who was Prokofiev’s partner for some twelve years and to whom he dedicated this sonata, wrote of these sonatas: ‘In 1939 Prokofiev began to write three piano sonatas…working on all ten movements at once, and only later did he lay aside the Seventh and Eighth and concentrated on the Sixth.’ Prokofiev spent five years (1939-1944) completing this set of sonatas expressing his profound personal anguish.


At this level of pianism the delivery was naturally fine indeed but the extremely declamatory, harsh, highly emotional opening of the Allegro moderato was somewhat attenuated, or possibly ‘civilized’ by Kim. The tragic and bitter irony contained within the Allegretto was also not quite so obvious as it could be.  Yet she presented us with a Tempo di valzer, lentissimo that passionately expressed the loss of past carefree pleasures. The Vivace, although brilliant, was rather too pianistic to be profoundly tragic. The playing was spectacular – variations in tone, touch, articulation, timbre and dynamics yet I yearned for more emotional involvement and commitment outside the pianistic.

Allegro moderato  
Tempo di valzer, lentissimo

W. A. Mozart Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467

Pastoral love scene from the film Elvira Madigan (1967)

Allegro maestoso
Allegro vivace assai

She made a largely successful attempt to give a great deal of expression to this work, in particular the Adagio which was a beautiful and sensitive, nuanced outpouring of the emotions of love. However it was painistic and not operatic or vocal which is the basis after all of all Mozart. The first movement cadenza was rather inventive (with a quotation from Beethoven’s Für Elise but whose cadenza was it?). The Allegro vivace assai had verve and imaginative phrasing. Her use of silence was in some way ‘operatic’. Throughout she maintained a close contact with the orchestra and conductor. A stylish and musically inventive rondo with varied articulation. Overall a charming and transparent musical performance.

CHEN  Xuehong – China F

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

An adequate performance of this challenging modern work commissioned for the competition.

F. Chopin Sonata No. 2 B-flat minor, Op. 35

Grave – Doppio movimento
Marche funèbre: Lento
Finale: Presto

The opening Grave. Doppio movimento possessed some expressiveness but not the type of fatalistic inevitability it contains. Threat and tragedy hover over the entire movement. I always envisage a rider occasionally in a reflective even nostalgic mood, yet galloping inexorably towards his doom.

The Scherzo had rhythm and as is often the case with Chen, a moving and lyrical cantabile cantilena. The Marche funèbre I always feel, in the face of this profound grief, has a touch of the  unhinged mind as in Act III of Lucia de Lammermoor. A properly eloquent tempo and dynamic is so difficult to achieve. So many people seem to think it ought to accompany an imaginary military band with a heavy dull tread lacking in poetry. I feel that is has a deep and haunting melancholy, a forlorn cry of the soul facing its inevitable destiny.

Chen was rather too muscular and ‘physical’ in dynamics in the forte sections although the vital selection of a tragic tempo for this movement was moderate and moving. I was able to imagine a funeral cortege moving in a cemetery or outside along some dismal Parisian avenue in the rain. The cantabile reflections at the heart of the movement (around which the entire sonata revolves I feel) were played with the great strength he has for a beautiful singing legato of luminous and affecting tone, phrasing and nuance.

The Presto was light and polyphonic although not quite the ‘gossip’ that Chopin wrote that he intended here. Perhaps he actually intended the chatter of reminiscences concerning the deceased which often occurs as one leaves the graveside rather than the more expressionist ‘wind moving over the graves’ or the turmoil of a grief-stricken mind we have accepted as ‘correct’.

I. J. Paderewski Miscellanea: Melody, Op. 16 No. 2

Beautifully played but as with most of the young contestants here, lacking quite that fin-de-siécle feel of sensibility that was present before the Great War.

M. Ravel Scarbo from Gaspard de la nuit

The terror of this evil creature was never fully unleashed. The grotesqueness and mercurial nature of the piano writing is filled with hidden threats, eroticism, danger and authentic nastiness. The antics of this vile creature – the furtive comings and goings, the vicious sallies – ‘the creature’ did not quite come to life. The music is mercurial with fantastic shifting moods. Scarbo is driven by inner complexes, horror and murderous drives. One has to become Scarbo if one is a pianist.


A small literature lesson for you all:

‘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,  a goblin that is terrifying a sleeper in his bed.

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!

W. A. Mozart Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467

The Allegro maestoso had beautiful tone and phrasing, although the repeated phrases could be varied in a creative manner. He established a good connection with the not too dominant orchestra conductor. However his cadenzas leaped out at one at a fully contrasting dynamic level! ‘Here is the cadenza!’ he seemed to cry and of course this attitude may well be justifiable although certainly not conventional. He was rather emotionally cool in the Andante but that may be because of my rather sentimental relationship with the film which I saw at quite an impressionable age!

I loved his joyful Allegro vivace assai as the composer turns away from internal reflections towards the external life and sensual pleasure. Such a blithe spirit is Mozart! The lover returns from a long mental reverie possibly dwelling  on their separation. Perhaps Chen could have been slightly less emotionally detached in search of the classical style as he had a close dialogue with the orchestra. He tends to pianistically ‘rush’ which sacrifices expression and he could ‘breathe’ the phrases more.

HSU Yun Chih – Taiwan, F

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

She did not sufficiently observe the sudden and extreme variation in dynamic markings the composer requires. rather ‘over-interpreted’ to my mind.

L. van Beethoven Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101

There are 4 movements and this experimental sonata performed attacca. The work is generally regarded as the beginning of Beethoven’s final period when his forms became ever more dense and complex harmonically. It was the favorite Beethoven sonata of Richard Wagner with its seemingly endless melodies.

  1. Etwas lebhaft, und mit der innigsten Empfindung (Somewhat lively, and with innermost sensibility). Allegretto, ma non troppo
  2. Lebhaft, marschmäßig (Lively, march-like). Vivace alla marcia
  3. Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll (Slow and longingly). Adagio, ma non troppo, con affetto
  4. Geschwind, doch nicht zu sehr, und mit Entschlossenheit (Swiftly, but not overly, and with determination) Allegro

Great tenderness is evident in the blithe first movement of this sonata. Hsu made something of the polyphony but I felt the Beethovinian mood of the work escaped her grasp. Beethoven spoke of ‘impressions and reveries’ in this sonata. The difficult German, emotionally ambiguous, indications for each movement say much about the mood of the content the pianist should strive towards. The Marcia was more successful in mood and attractively physical. The Adagio was introverted and reflective but I wondered how deeply she experienced these emotions herself, as the movement on occasion moved almost towards emotional stasis and was not authentically affecting. One must never forget Beethoven was a mature, anguished and disappointed man, a composer who was by now totally deaf. On the other hand, the redeeming humour Beethoven expresses was rather absent in the final movement. However, the clearly delineated and articulated polyphony of the Fugue (grotesquely humorous perhaps) was most impressive. However I felt her phrasing could have been more open and ‘ventilated’ with relaxed breathing to allow me to follow the voice labyrinth concealed within. I never felt that the emotions were evolving with an inner organic life. A satisfying performance, if not a deep one, that given time is sure to mature musically and germinate within her personalty and psyche.

S. Rachmaninov Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36

W. A. Mozart Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467

The Allegro maestoso was a beautifully wrought movement with superbly transparent tone and a touch of great refinement and subtlety. This pianist has a degree of finesse that will not be recognized by many who are not so sensitive to piano sound. Her articulation,  durations, varied detaché playing has rare grace, charm and delicacy. Her playing is full of the joy of life and music, her face a picture of radiant pleasure. In the Andante she created a superb legato cantabile with delightfully whimsical phrasing and expression. Perhaps the introduction to the Allegro vivace assai was rather unusual and she took the tempo a little too fast for the expressive operatic possibilities of the movement. But ah what of that?  Youth and the joy of making music that lay here…quite wonderful.

FURUMI Yasuko – Japan K

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

Within this piece she highlighted in her dynamics, tone and articulation many references to great composers. She observed all the dynamic markings meticulously which was rare in the competition.

S. Taneyev Prelude and fugue in G-sharp minor, Op. 29

What was fascinating and for me highly imaginative in program planning was her seamless transition from the Dobrzyński commissioned piece to this work, both inhabiting a ‘modern’ sound palette. There was impressive dynamic variation, expression and articulation in the fantastic fugue with significant emotional intensity. This intensity became overwhelmingly cumulative towards the conclusion. A most impressive account of the work. I am at last becoming more familiar with this music by the distinguished Russian composer, pianist, teacher of composition, music theorist and author Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915).

P. Tchaikovsky Meditation from 18 Pieces, Op. 72 No. 5

Although performed note-perfectly and immaculately, I felt no real penetration of the sentiments expressed in this moving work. The performance was far too ‘straight’ and unaffected by the period when sensibility was indulged, almost shamelessly, by Tchaikovsky – and which he benefits from! Was I sufficiently moved by the ardent nature of the more rhapsodic elements here ? However Furumi did move me with her sensitive conclusion, glowing with that particular yearning for an inaccessible love that suffuses so much of this composer’s music.

R. Schumann Sonata in F minor No. 3, Op. 14

This sonata entitled ‘Concert sans orchestre’ is rarely performed and I was anxious to hear it again live. It was composed in the summer of 1836, which was considered by Schumann as the ‘darkest period’ in his life. He was completely separated from Clara at the time. In many ways to my mind it his greatest sonata considering the fraught gestation of its composition where various Scherzo movements were included and discarded like leaves in the autumn wind. The opening Allegro is dense in its ‘toccata-like’ writing spectacular culmination and coda. Furumi captured the whimsical nature of the writing and its mercurial moods penetratingly, full of love and yearning as they are. She opened the work spectacularly, almost symphonically yet managed an enviable transparency and clarity. Clara takes a position centre stage! Such unbridled and wildly passionate an utterance lies in this music!

Clara seated at a Pleyel pianino and Robert Schumann in later happier times

The central variations (or ‘Quasi Variazioni’ as Schumann carefully refers to them) are arguably the most beautiful of Schumann’s sonata movements, full of lovelorn yearning. A perfect expression of love confronted with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Furumi was very sensitive here in her musical expression, with her carefully cultivated beautiful tone and touch.  Perhaps it is totally unfair to speculate that maturity would help her penetrate even more profoundly the true depths of this tortuous frustration of the heart.

Retaining the emotional kernal of Clara’s theme that lies at the heart of the Prestissimo possibile needs great musical understanding. I felt on occasion Furumi’s phenomenal virtuosity obscured a deeper plumbing of the emotional depths. Yet this was a deeply satisfying account of this great work which simply needs time to mature still further and delve deeper. Reading literature of the period may assist in comprehending the sensibility of the age and how love was expressed in high-flown literature and poetry (say the poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning – she like Clara Wieck had a father who fiercely disapproved of her love for Robert Browning. They married in secret, ran away to Italy and her father disinherited her).

When our two souls… (Sonnet 22)

When our two souls stand up erect and strong, 

Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher, 

Until the lengthening wings break into fire 

At either curvèd point,—what bitter wrong 

Can the earth do to us, that we should not long

Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher, 

The angels would press on us and aspire 

To drop some golden orb of perfect song 

Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay 

Rather on earth, Belovèd,—where the unfit

Contrarious moods of men recoil away 

And isolate pure spirits, and permit 

A place to stand and love in for a day, 

With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

W. A. Mozart Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467

Pastoral love scene from the film Elvira Madigan (1967)

In the Allegro maestoso Furumi’s impeccable and luminous touch, tone and phrasing were enormously seductive but in my heart I felt a tinge of regret at the absence of a deeper expressiveness. The affectation and gracefully expressed civilized ‘conversation’ with the orchestra, so much a part of these concertos, was missing to some extent.

As with many of the contestants in this concerto stage I hoped for at least the shadows of Mozart operatic arias particularly in the beautiful Andante used in the film Elvira Madigan.  I felt Furumi produced the most beautiful and emotionally moving Andante and yet… The Allegro vivace assai was full of the joy of life contained in the ravishing sound she produces rather than growing from the expressiveness and operatic nature of so much of Mozart’s writing. The pleasure I received from her concerto was similar to the contemplation of a piece of superb early Arita white porcelain, absolutely perfect in form, function and conception but rather ‘cultivated’ and not quite playfully and whimsically Mozartian enough in expression.  Such preciousness Michael in your search for descriptive meaning!

This concerto prompted me to look up the true story rather than the almost mawkish romantic tale of the 1967 film Elvira Madigan. Here is a link to the reality of this deeply tragic, Shakespearean love affair that borders on the obsessional.

OVCHARENKO Ilia – Ukraine  F

Revko Levutsky (1899-1977)  I was unfamiliar with this Ukrainian composer but this Prelude was an impressive if brief piece.

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

A perfectly competent but not outstanding view of the commissioned piece.

F. Liszt Sonata in B minor, S. 178

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

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

It is inevitable with a young artist that virtuosity (getting around the fiendish notes of Liszt) is sometimes at the expense of expression. However his instinctive musicality and keyboard technique is of a high order of accomplishment and he breathes Liszt’s phrases both naturally and idiomatically. There tends to be a melodic bias of his R.H. over the L.H. but this is not serious. Where is the diabolism and smell of sulphur ? There were some beautiful pianissimo and piano passages that indicated he has a burgeoning Romantic imagination. Many of his own interpretative ideas gave contrasts of mood, elegance and degrees of passion to his phrasing. He seems to see and play chiaroscuro oil paintings in his mind’s eye. One must always remember this opera as a ‘drama of life’ and not a simple virtuoso dis0lay piece.

W. A. Mozart Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488

In many ways his appearance and keyboard command remind me of the young Horowitz. In the opening Allegro  he maintained a fertile dialogue with the orchestra. he possesses such sensitivity to refined musical phrasing with nothing artificially contrived for effect or mere imitation. Occasionally his synchronization with the orchestra was slightly astray but what could possibly have been his experience of playing with an orchestra at the age of eighteen? The Adagio was so graceful and alluring with a perfectly selected tempo and elevated by refined tone and touch. Such vivid charm, expressiveness, nuance and musical refinement lie here. The Allegro assai was simply a delight of panache and Viennese ‘not too serious’ gesture.

KISELEVA Daria – Russia S

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

A perfectly acceptable presentation of the commissioned work.

A. Soler Sonata in F major, R. 56

I felt this to be overpedalled even for a cantabile piece of Soler. I was hoping for and am more used to detaché articulation in this type of Spanish writing.

D. Scarlatti Sonata in G major, K. 455
Sonata in B minor, K. 27

I felt this choice of pieces to open her semi-final round was rather unfortunate and disappointing. She showed no deeper understanding of Domenico Scarlatti. I hoped for a great deal more expressiveness and creative phrasing in these pieces.

S. Rachmaninov Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42 (1931)

The connection with Scarlatti was clear in this piece dedicated to Fritz Kreisler. The inspiring and moving La Folia theme (set to music by at least 150 composers) is transformed through 20 variations and a Coda into a monumental work. I felt Kiseleva was in command of the Rachmaninoff idiom of this work both technically and expressively (in the dream sequences especially). The work was a pianistic challenge that Rachmaninoff himself struggled with in performance. This was a very fine performance of a rather cerebral work I consider to be superior to his Variations on the Chopin Prelude.

D. Shostakovich Prelude and Fugue in D-flat major, Op. 87 No. 15

This was another splendid performance from the monumental set written by Shostakovich. The Fugue is a tour de force of chromatic and atonal writing which Kiseleva dispatched with energy, technical élan and deep understanding of the music.

W. A. Mozart Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488

This concerto was among three that Mozart offered to Sebastian Winter in a letter to Prince von Fürstenberg for the use of the court orchestra at Donaueschingen. It is doubtful it was ever performed in Vienna as few people knew of it unlike many of his other concertos.

In the Allegro she maintained an intimate and close connection with both conductor and orchestra during the blithe, enchanting and lively phases of the movement. Her cadenza for the first movement was quite superb. Her opening of the Adagio was divine in its sensitivity and tragic emotional yearning – such a moment of heightened existence. The Allegro assai contained immense musical meaning in its phrasing. She showed marvellous control of variation in dynamics with such a kaleidoscope of colours that she drew from the instrument with style, panache and élan. Superb connection with the orchestra with perfectly matched notes. This was a very fine performance indeed and together with her outstanding earlier stages should take her into the finals in my opinion.


November 15th – 17th, 2019
22 participants
about 40-45 minutes
Concert hall of the Nowowiejski Music Academy

November 15th, 2019

Leonardo PIERDOMENICO – Italy  (Fazioli)

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I. J. Paderewski Miscellanea: Melody, Op. 16, No. 2
Humoresque de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 No. 6

Paderewski’s compositions are mainly for solo piano. He belongs to that group of composer-pianists graced by the genius of Liszt and Chopin. The compositions comprise miniatures arranged in the sets of Op.14 and Op.16. Melody is a charming work, both sentimental and cheerful that makes few intellectual demands and was in fact one of Paderewski’s earliest miniatures. Pierdomenico performed it with a degree of Latin charm.

The Cracovienne fantastique was composed at the tail end of 1886. It became part of a suite of miniature pieces Paderewski entitled Humoresques. It is a demanding piece pianistically and highly tuneful and effective. This ‘Burlesque’ combines lightness of touch with a touch of modernist dissonance. Pierdomenico again presented this confection to us with charm and grace.

P. Rameau Gavotte et six doubles

It is becoming increasingly popular to transfer what were considered to pieces that were the exclusive  preserve of the harpsichord to the piano. Rameau lends himself to this admirably. Pierdomenico gave us an unpedalled interpretation but managed to retain a pleasant legato. Perhaps his ornaments could have been crisper and the tempo and articulation  rather more ‘biting’ to give the music an more engaging rhythmic edge.  

F. Liszt Sonata in B minor, S. 178

The 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)

I found this Pierdomenico account fascinating in its personal vision of the work. I felt the pianist had something to say to us. Even if you disagreed with it, there was a clear point of view and interpretative stance here. He clearly regarded the sonata as a type of, what one might call, an ‘opera of life’. Many discrete scenes of varying colours and moods were linked together, some tempestuous and a tumult of emotion and others poetic, dreamy and introspective.

Sergey Belyavsky Russia (Fazioli)

I. J. Paderewski Polish Dances: Mazurka in A major, Op. 9 No. 3
Polish Dances: Mazurka in B-flat major, Op. 9 No. 4
Polish Dances: Polonaise in B major, Op. 9 No. 6

I felt that Belyavsky had an instinctive, idiomatic feel for the Paderewski mazurka as a genre. They were both effective and highly engaging with their elusive correct mazurka rhythm. The Polonaise was also energetic, communicative and crammed with what one might term ‘the spirit of Poland’.

F. Chopin Polonaise in F-sharp minor, Op. 44

This is my favourite Chopin polonaise in my favourite key of F-sharp minor. I felt that Belyavsky opened this work in a manner that was both dramatic and profoundly ominous. He brilliantly used silence in perfect emotional duration to create a feeling of dark apprehension of the turbulent emotions of defiance and incandescent anger that were to follow. In all the many performances I have heard of this work, this was by far the most penetrating and threatening opening, a frightening premonition of the uniquely Polish emotion of żal that was to follow – Chopin’s fierce expression of resentment at the Russian hegemony.

S. Prokofiev Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 82

Allegro moderato
Tempo di valzer lentissimo

This is the first of the so-called ‘War Sonatas’. This piece is a deeply despairing and bleak Prokofiev work. In this first of the three ‘War Sonatas’, the composer expresses his true feelings after completing his somewhat sanitized work in the shadow of Stalin.


The extremely declamatory, harsh opening of the Allegro moderato was aggressively dynamic and absolutely under the technical command of Belyavsky. He expressed in its almost hysterical emotion, tormented anger, terror and the explosive abominations of war. The bitter irony contained in the ‘happy’ Allegretto seemed to me to embody a distinctly neurotic passion. Belyavsky succeeded admirably in conveying in the Tempo di valzer that strange yearning that suffuses this turbulent movement. He gave the fourth movement Vivace tremendous forward impetus, almost irresistible as it hurtled forward towards the expressive repetition of the plangent first theme.

Desperate, violent anger and the frustration of individual powerlessness in the face of the destruction of war is present in the violent coda that concludes the work. Mira Mendelson, who was Prokofiev’s partner for some twelve years and to whom he dedicated this sonata, wrote of these sonatas: ‘In 1939 Prokofiev began to write three piano sonatas…working on all ten movements at once, and only later did he lay aside the Seventh and Eighth and concentrated on the Sixth.’ Prokofiev spent five years (1939-1944) completing this set of sonatas expressing his profound personal anguish.

To my mind Belyavsky’s performance in this Stage II of the competition was superior to his Stage I.

Liu Tianyuan – China (Kawai)

I. J. Paderewski Album de Mai: Au Soir, Op. 10 No. 1
Album de Mai: Scherzino, Op. 10 No. 3

Image result for Paderewski Album de Mai:

Album de MaiScenes romantiques Op. 10 (dedicated to A. Essipov) before January 1884, 5 mvts.; B&B 1884:

  1. Au soir
  2. Chant d’amour
  3. Scherzino
  4. Barcarola
  5. Caprice-valse

He performed these miniatures pleasantly enough but without that particular Paderewski charm, grace, sensibility and civilized behaviour which I feel comes from an appreciation of social life before the profound disillusionment that followed the horrors of the Great War.

S. Rachmaninov Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 28

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) and 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 admits 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 ‘human all too human’ dichotomy, Rachmaninoff builds almost unbearable tension in this sonata.

In the Allegro moderato as Faust wrestles with his soul and its temptations. I felt that Liu only communicated expression here of the broadest type and has not yet penetrated the spiritual core of this movement of the sonata. Although his keyboard technique and actual sound produced at the instrument was superb, sometimes overwhelming, I wished he would take time to breathe the musical phrases with more patience and penetrate the spiritual intention.

The Lento second movement could well be interpreted as a lyrical poem expressing the love of Gretchen for Faust. Although the legato cantabile tone was present above the web of other voices I did not receive the feeling of lyrical improvisation. I did not quite receive the impression of a fervent and impassioned love song which is what I yearned for here.

The wildness of the immense final movement Allegro molto with its references to a terrifying Dies Irae and death can well associate this massive declamation to Mephistopheles and insidious and destructive evil. Here Tianyuan was sensational in his technical dominance of this movement. Are we exploring the darker significance of Walpurgis Night?  Certainly it felt at times like that, yet the sheer pianistic virtuosity he displayed, which was absolutely breathtaking, too often supplanted the deeper feelings Rachmaninoff was surely attempting to express. Tianyuan’s dominance of the keyboard and sheer sound left me elated, exhausted yet yearning for more spiritual depth.

Walpurgisnacht Kreling: Goethe’s Faust. X. Walpurgisnacht, 1874 – 77

Kamil Pacholec – Poland (Steinway)  

I. J. Paderewski Miscellanea: Thème varié in A major, Op. 16 No. 3
Humoresques de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 No. 6

He has a far more idiomatic feeling for this music than most of the other contestants.

S. Barber Nocturne Op. 33 (1959)

The Nocturne Op. 33 utilizes twelve-tone compositional techniques, but they are skillfully  disguised which makes the piece extremely beautiful to listen to and comprehend. Pacholec is to be congratulated on discovering this piece which I had not known of before now and completely convinced me of its worth.

J. Brahms Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 1

This is a rarely heard difficult and romantic work. Brahms wrote three piano sonatas, this early work as a young man in Hamburg in 1853. He had already composed his impressive second piano sonata by this time but chose to publish this piece first because he felt that it was superior. Schumann was impressed by the virtuosic character and loved both early sonatas.

In the opening Allegro, Pacholec expressed great nobility and power achieving the Beethovenian grandeur that the movement dictates, even demands, which is reminiscent of the Beethoven Hammerklavier sonata. The Andante was warm with its Theme and Variations on Minneliede, courtly love songs, the Scherzo was excellent and the Finale revealed the great fluency of this pianist. The Allegro con fuoco displayed Pacholec’s virtuosity and his great emotional range. An outstanding recital which will take him far….

Codex Manesse UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 124r, Herr Walther von der Vogelweide

Scherzo. Allegro molto e con fuoco – Più mosso
Finale. Allegro con fuoco

Mateusz Krzyżowski – Poland (Kawai)

I. J. Paderewski Miscellanea: Legende, Op. 16 No. 1
Miscellanea: Un Moment Musical, Op. 16 No. 6
Humoresques de Concert: Sarabande, Op. 14 No. 2

This was fine, idiomatic Paderewski by Krzyżowski especially the first Legende which is rarely performed but longer and full of interest.

F. Chopin Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48 No. 1
Nocturne in F-sharp minor, Op. 48 No. 2

The musicologist and music critic Tadeusz Zielinski observed of the melody of the C minor nocturne that it ‘sounds like a lofty, inspired song filled with the gravity of its message, genuine pathos and a tragic majesty’. Krzyżowski performed it with great conviction and beauty.

In his book Notes on Chopin André Gide writes:  ‘What is most exquisite and most individual in Chopin’s art, wherein it differs most wonderfully from all others I see in just that non-interruption of the phrase; the insensible, the imperceptible gliding from one melodic proposition to another, which leaves or gives to a number of his compositions the fluid appearance of streams.’ Krzyżowski achieved these intentions in his performance of the F-sharp minor nocturne.

K. Szymanowski Fantasy in C major, Op. 14

Fantasia in C major constitutes a distillation of the music of Szymanowski. It shows the intense influences of the music of the Romantic period – Chopin and Scriabin but also LisztRichard Strauss and Wagner during studies with Noskowski. This is a truly virtuoso piece that has not entered the repertoire of pianists. Krzyżowski with his particular affinity with the music of Szymanowski, acquitted himself magnificently in this relatively unknown work.

Yilei Hao  – China (Kawai)

R. Schumann Sonata in F minor No. 3 Op. 14
Allegro brillante

This movement was both powerful and noble in conception. The sound was transparent and crystalline in quality with rare use of the pedal.

Scherzo. Molto commodo

This movement was light and stylishly detaché. Quite superb with many degrees of articulation.

Quasi variazioni. Andantino de Clara Wieck

This movement was truly poetic with super-fine tone and touch. The Variations revealed him as a deeply talented musician. The degrees of articulation were manifold – staccato, demi-staccato, demi-semi staccato…His repeated chords and phrases diminuendo were quite magnificent.

Prestissimo possibile

In the movement his detaché left hand was marvellous and effective. The internal cantabile  line was affectingly ‘sung’. There is a noble seriousness about this artist. A satisfying and fine performance on every level.

I. J. Paderewski  Album de Mai: Au Soir, Op. 10 No. 1
Humoresques de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 No. 6

Eloquent and charming with superb tone quality. Repeated phrases were never repeated in the same manner as they can be all too often.

A. Scriabin Sonata No. 10 Op. 70 (1913)

Image result for 1913 forest paintings
André Derain Tree Trunks 1913

This sonata is a magnificent achievement in its formal design and focus of intense expression. There is a balance with Nature here as the Great War approached. Scriabin described the work as ‘bright, joyful, earthly’ and described the ambiance of the forest – are there bird calls in the opening? Scriabin spent the late part of the summer of 1913 at Petrovskoye, the country estate where he completed his last sonatas. There are musical sound images of insects, which Scriabin saw as examples of human emotion.

Hao created a quite unearthly sound quality and took us into a world of dreams and mysticism. The work was logically and coherently abstract. This was an extremely moving performance at a high level of pianism and musicianship. I felt the mystical echoes of Vers la Flamme. He created a tangible atmosphere within the hall at the conclusion. A pianist of charismatic presence. The interior world of Scriabin is inaccessible to many but not this pianist.

Łukasz Byrdy – Poland (Yamaha)

I. J. Paderewski Miscellanea: Legende, Op. 16 No. 1
Humoresques de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 No. 6

The Paderewski miniatures were idiomatically presented, his choice of the first Legende being especially interesting as it is rare played.
M. Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition

Modest Mussorgsky by Viktor Hartmann

This piece is a portrait of a man walking around an art exhibition (the pictures painted by Mussorgsky’s friend, the artist and architect Viktor Hartmann). The composer is reminiscing on this past friendship now suddenly and tragically cut short when the young artist died suddenly of an aneurysm. The visitor walks at a fairly regular pace but perhaps not always as his mood fluctuates between grief and elated remembrance of happy times spent together.

The pictures by Hartmann mentioned in the music

Byrdy performed a moderately paced interpretation without undue heaviness or exaggeration of tempo and dynamic. Although not an outstanding performance of the work, it was a fine and satisfying interpretation of this popular and challenging piece.

Philipp Lynov – Russia (Steinway)

I. J. Paderewski Album de Mai: Chant d’amour, Op. 10 No. 2

Sensitive, romantic and most poetic
Humoresques de Concert: Intermezzo polacco, Op. 14 No. 5

A pleasant and rather charming interpretation with clarity of sound and articulation
Humoresques de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 No. 6

Found his interpretation surprising stylish and performed with a degree of panache not found in other versions

R. Schumann Fantasy in C major, Op. 17
Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen; Im Legenden-Ton
Mäßig. Durchaus energisch
Langsam getragen. Durchweg leise zu halten

Image result for robert and clara schumann

Of all the inspirations to composition given to Schumann, none achieved such a profound depth as that of the image of Clara Wieck that preoccupied his inner world. After their first kiss was exchanged in November 1835 (Schumann 25 and Clara 16) they forged a connection that withstood many challenging obstacles including a long enforced separation due to Clara’s father’s fierce opposition to their marriage. Schumann continued in his compositions on so many occasions to unfold Walter Benjamin’s ‘fan of memory’ of Clara. Certainly this was the case of Clara’s image yearningly called up in the first movement of the Fantasie. Clara was the ‘distant beloved’ that imbues the entire work. 

Reading literature of the period may assist in comprehending the sensibility of the age and how love was expressed in high-flown literature and poetry (say the poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning – she like Clara Wieck had a father who fiercely disapproved of her love for the English poet Robert Browning. They married in secret, ran away to Italy and her father disinherited her).

When our two souls… (Sonnet 22)

When our two souls stand up erect and strong, 

Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher, 

Until the lengthening wings break into fire 

At either curvèd point,—what bitter wrong 

Can the earth do to us, that we should not long

Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher, 

The angels would press on us and aspire 

To drop some golden orb of perfect song 

Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay 

Rather on earth, Belovèd,—where the unfit

Contrarious moods of men recoil away 

And isolate pure spirits, and permit 

A place to stand and love in for a day, 

With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

Assuming he was aware of and sensitive to this legendary frustrated love, even in his extreme youth, I found Lynov created a lyrical and  poetical emotional landscape of surprising depth. The third movement was particularly lyrical. However it seemed deliberately episodic at times, verging on stasis in the search for feeling, which disconnected the coherence and de-energized this demanding and difficult work. His complete command of the keyboard was never in doubt, nor his rich tone and refined touch.

Saetbyeo Kim – Republic of Korea (Fazioli)

I. J. Paderewski Humoresques de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 No. 6
Miscellanea: Melody, Op. 16 No. 2

As with so many of these young pianists I felt the particular sensibility of the age before the Great War evaded their grasp. Of course at this level of pianism they were excellently played with expression but the charming, graceful and poetic view of life with social affectation that pertained in Paderewski days just was not present for the best reasons – youth in a technological 2019.

C. Debussy La plus que lente, L. 121

She presented this tender melody with absolute charm and grace.

F. Mendelssohn Fantasy, Op. 28

It was taken at too fast a tempo for the different fantastical moods to emerge. I would advise her to slow down and breath the phrases more deeply. Someone asked Arthur Rubinstein why he played a certain passage slower than other pianists. His thought provoking reply was ‘Because I can.’ Not a supercilious remark at all.

S. Rachmaninov Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36
Allegro agitato
Non allegro – Lento
Allegro molto

I felt this to be a deeply satisfying account of one of my favorite sonatas. The unsettled passion of love embedded expressively in the Allegro agitato was tempestuous and driven by almost ungovernable emotional heat. The Lento was profoundly reflective and inturned in periods of self-communion. As such it was emotionally very moving – soulful and ardent, yearning and possibly nostalgic for a past affair of the heartWith her approach the tender and lyrical mood relieved us from the passionate and at time tragic former embraces. The rising song was terribly moving.  The L’istesso tempo – Allegro molto was impetuous and turbulent. The dynamic of the rhapsodic entry into the brilliant coda for the triumphant close in B major, those broad Rachmaninovian harmonic progressions, bring me close to tears on every occasion I hear them. Kim managed the rubato here, the hesitations pregnant with passion and the emotionally  rapturous ecstasy magnificently.

Se-Hyeong Yoo  (Republic of Korea) (Steinway)

I. J. Paderewski Polish Dances: Mazurka in A major, Op. 9 No. 3
Humoresques de Concert: Burlesque, Op. 14 No. 4

Pleasant enough. As with so many of these young pianists I felt the particular sensibility of the age before the Great War evaded their grasp. Of course at this high level of pianism these rather simple pieces were excellently played by everyone with adequate expression. However the charming, graceful and poetic view of life with social affectation that pertained in Paderewski days just is not present for all the best reasons – youth in a technological 2019.

S. Prokofiev Pieces for piano from the ballet Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75

Image result for ballet romeo and juliet prokofiev

These pieces were of course finely performed on every level except that of emotional tenderness which seemed rather absent to me.
No. 4 Young Juliet  Charming performance
No. 5 Masks lyrical and ‘Prokofievian’
No. 6 Montagues and Capulets – Highly entertaining
No. 7 Friar Laurence Heavy as the Friar….
No. 8 Mercutio – rather wild
No. 10 Romeo Bids Juliet Farewell Rather tender but perhaps not enough for me considering the tragic circumstances.

A. Scriabin Sonata No. 5, Op. 53
I was looking for a more ominous and dark expression opening here. Soulful disturbance cannot accompany convincingly the search for virtuosity. There must be dynamic variation, tempo variation and illuminating phrasing …. but there must be more.

Marcin Wieczorek – (Poland) (Fazioli)

I. J. Paderewski Miscellanea: Thème varié in A major, Op. 16 No. 3
Miscellanea: Nocturne, Op. 16 No. 4
Humoresques de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 No. 6

I felt he managed these in the most charming and idiomatic way. Rhythm, melody and rubato with some lovely ideas that had true period feel. One of the best Paderewski performances so far.
F. Chopin Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23

The narrative began eloquently and I hoped it would develop into the narrative we are all rather familiar with….there were some unfortunate solecisms which rather spoiled what was developing into a fine and penetrating performance.

S. Prokofiev Sonata No. 7 in B-flat major, Op. 83
Allegro inquieto – Andantino
Andante caloroso
Image result for prokofiev sonata 7 moran duszniki

My remarks above almost equally apply here. The percussive anger of the Allegro inquieto was powerfully expressed as was the lyrical contrast of the almost tender and romantic Andante caloroso. That plaintive repeated note expresses all the intense loneliness, existential angst and the isolation of the romantic human soul in a firmament confronted by the cruelty of war. I anticipated that the Precipitato movement may provide challenges which unfortunately it did. So many pianists approach this movement as if it was simply a virtuoso exercise (some even offer it like this as an encore piece!). It requires careful analysis as to where and how you will place the expressive qualities latent in this outburst of incandescent anger. Unfortunately a solecism crept in like a thief in the night towards the conclusion which rather disappointed me in what I felt was a perceptive, committed and emotional view of the second of Prokofiev’s ‘War Sonatas’ with many moments of gifted technical brilliance.

Xuehong Chen (China) (Fazioli)

This pianist won the 2016 Beijing Chopin Piano Competition so my hopes were high, hopes which were ultimately more than fully satisfied as we shall see (now in the semi-finals).

I. J. Paderewski Polish Dances: Mazurka in B-flat major, Op. 9 No. 4
Humoresques de Concert: Menuet, Op. 14 No. 1
Miscellanea: Nocturne, Op. 16 No. 4

I felt he had an excellent and perceptive, cultural grasp of the Paderewski idiom especially in this Mozart pastiche.

F. Schubert Sonata in A major, D. 664 (1825)
Allegro moderato

This sonata was completed in July 1819 and dedicated to Josephine von Koller of Steyr in Upper Austria, whom Schubert considered to be ‘very pretty’ and ‘a good pianist’. The lyrical, jolly, and in various places poignant nature of the sonata dovetails with the image of young Schubert in love, living in the summery Austrian countryside, which he also considered to be ‘unimaginably lovely’. In the melodious and relaxed opening Chen had a beautiful tone and cantabile quality to his playing. The rhythms pay a debt and homage to the Allegretto of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The emotion he brought to the  movement was quite moving and expressive, but I felt as a whole it lacked that ‘haunted quality’ one finds in Schubert. These qualities applied also to the Andante movement where the two hands play a simple theme in canon. The final Allegro was joyful and humorous in mood had a scintillating tone and refined touch. His articulation was excellent at the relaxed moderate tempo he adopted. The piece was never over-inflated dynamically.

S. Rachmaninov Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36 (1931)

Image result for Rachmaninoff
Allegro agitato

I found this opening to be on a grand scale, appropriate to Rachmaninoff’s conception. The opening statement was immensely powerful and fully declamatory. Chen expressed a fierce vision full of passion but under disciplined control which only added power to his interpretation.

Non allegro – Lento

I found this movement deeply moving and at the correct tempo to reflect deeply on affairs of the heart and the sufferings of love. His rhapsodic gestures within the musical fabric were intensely romantic. It is quite clear that he loves this work to distraction and this effortlessly communicates itself to the audience.

Allegro molto

I felt Chen wound up the harmonic and rhythmic tension of this movement to an almost unbearable degree which had on me of the verge of tears, especially the rhapsodic entry into the monumental coda for the victorious close in B major, those broad Rachmaninovian harmonic progressions that move the soul. Nothing left for me to say….. satisfying on the deepest musical levels.

Rustam Muradov  (Russia) (Steinway)

I. J. Paderewski Miscellanea: Nocturne, Op. 16 No. 4
Album de Mai: Caprice Valse, Op. 10 No. 5

Pleasant and rather attractive in the Paderewski idiom. I felt the Nocturne  was immediately attractive and the finest I have heard so far – reflective, romantic and moving.

D. Scarlatti Sonata in D major, K. 29
Sonata in B minor, K. 89

I had the curious feeling he was not particularly interested in these sonatas and this disinterest communicated itself to the audience.

J. Brahms Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor, Op. 2

Allegro non troppo, ma energico
Andante con espressione
Scherzo. Allegro – Trio. Poco più moderato
Finale. Sostenuto – Allegro non troppo e rubato

Image result for Brahms
The young Brahms in Leipzig in 1853 around the time he wrote this sonata and the arousal of his unrequited love for Clara

Composed in November 1852 the sonata is dedicated to Clara Schumann. There are great contarsts here in a sonata that owes a debt to both Schumann and Beethoven. Turbulent youthful passion alternates with tenderness in folk songs. The Andante in B minor comprises three variations on ‘Mir ist leide’ a German Minnesang. There are also thematic relationships between the  movements, most obviously the  Andante and Scherzo.

Muradov gave a convincing account of this weighty sonata which seemed to suit his approach to the instrument well, a pianist of contrasts himself. In the opening Allegro I found his tone rather aggressive at times and harsh in forte passages as if emotions carried him away from listening to himself. I felt not a great deal of deep romantic warmth in the Andante con espressione although it was present on occasion. The main thematic idea also appears in the first movement and Finale. This last is a very muscular movement requiring wide leaps and spectacular runs. Muradov acquitted himself with perhaps a rather Brahmsian roughness of texture that bordered on the unsettling.

Ilia Papoian   (Russia) (Yamaha)

I. J. Paderewski Humoresques de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 No. 6
Miscellanea: Nocturne, Op. 16 No. 4
Polish Dances: Polonaise in B major, Op. 9 No. 6

I found these miniatures full of charm and sensitivity and only occasionally bordering on the mannered – the Nocturne for example. The Polonaise was attractively and energetically played.

L. van Beethoven Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major, Op. 110
Moderato cantabile molto espressivo
Scherzo: Allegro molto
Adagio ma non troppo. Fuga: Allegro ma non troppo

This is one of Beethoven’s most anguished utterances and an ambitious choice for a young spirit.  There was not a great sign of maturity in this interpretation. For example the Fugue is by driven existential anger that was really not evident. It remained rather passionless in its angst. Yes, the style was certainly correctly ‘classical’ but the emotion not raw and sufficiently conflicted  for Beethoven. Here was a man who cared little for the state of his pianos (food left inside, full chamber pots underneath, legs sawn off) sacrificing all physical comfort and luxury to his cosmic spiritual conceptions, even overlooking the difficulties executants may have had performing his music. The great musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen (sadly no longer with us) in his book on the Beethoven Piano Sonatas notes that Beethoven in this work does not ‘simply represent the return to life, but persuades us physically of the process.’ There is pain and exhaustion here, the debilitation of crippling illness and the great human attempt to rise above it, heroism in a word. This sort of emotional penetration did not really appear.

M. Ravel La Valse

There are three versions of this mysterious and sensual work – a ballet score, a version for piano duo and a solo piano version. Although Ravel denied the work was a panoramic description of the decay of civilization following the horrors of the Great War in 1919, I feel the implications are inescapable. I felt that the passion and intense drive that Papoian brought to the work completely convincing and his technique in executing these extraordinary rhythms quite inspiring.

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

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

Ravel described his composition as a ‘whirl of destiny’ – his concept was that the work impressionistically begins with clouds that slowly disperse to reveal a whiling crowd of dancers in the Imperial Court of Vienna in 1855. The Houston Symphony Orchestra programme note for the orchestral version performed in 2018 poses the question Dance of Death or Delight? which I feel encapsulates perfectly the ambiguity inherent in this disturbing work. A composer can sometimes be a barometer that unconsciously registers the movements of history. This might well be the case here and such ambiguities were clearly expressed in this performance. Highly enjoyable and rewarding.

Yun Chih Hsu  (Taiwan) (Fazioli)

I. J. Paderewski Album de Mai: Au Soir, Op. 10 No. 1
Humoresques de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 No. 6

All the pieces were played with intense musicality and sensitivity.

A. Scriabin Sonata – Fantasy No. 2 in G-sharp minor, Op. 19 (1892–7)

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Claude Monet

This sonata is inspired by Nature when he traveled to Latvia in 1892 and then to Genoa in 1895 where he first experienced the sea.  Also his marriage to the pianist Vera Isacova in 1897 was a watershed in his life. Their honeymoon was in the Crimea beside the Black Sea. The composer wrote a short ‘programme’ for the sonata:

The first part evokes the calm of a night by the seashore in the South; in the development we hear the sombre agitation of the depths. The section in E major represents the tender moonlight which comes after the first dark of the night. The second movement, presto, shows the stormy agitation of the vast expanse of ocean.

Hsu possesses all the qualities of a fine Scriabin interpreter –  an intensity beyond that of the conventional artist, a metaphysical vision, an inspired skill with the pedal and finally  enormous dynamic range.

She approached the shifting moods of this work with intense musicality. Cantabile melodies rose above the sea with delicate figuration like sparkling sun on the wavelets. This performance possessed immense authority yet there was relaxation in the playing with breathtaking refinement and finesse which mysteriously remained passionate at the core. The articulation of the Presto had the transparency of crystal. A wonderful performance.

F. Liszt Sonata in B minor, S. 178

The 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)

I found this highly virtuosic and incandescent account of the sonata rather overwhelming in intensity. It was clearly an extremely personal view of the work performed at maximum high voltage. Again her transparency from superb articulation was much in evidence. I am not so fond of hyperbole but many figurative passages were as if pearls were falling on glass. She verged on the rather too savage dynamically at times but still carried us unresisting and willing on this journey through the masterpiece. The deeply introspective pianissimo introduction to the astonishing energy of the detaché fugato was something I shall not forget. Lightning seemed to flash across the heavens for me.  I was reminded of the dramatic paintings by Salvator Rosa.

Image result for salvator rosa
The Finding of Moses (1660-1665) by Salvator Rosa (1615-73)

So many episodes were rhapsodic with an alluring tone quality – like the waterfall of glistening drops in the painting above. The performance was an absolute drama of quite debilitating intensity. We ascended to heaven or the stars at the conclusion of the work in an ineffable fading away of life to the last heartbeat of the final pianissimo note.

Something rare and magical had occurred. With its fierce virtuosity one might be tempted to look in vain for literary, literal or even conventional musical meaning. However I felt the meaning was somehow contained there embodied in itself, the performance a reality in itself  that seemed to me to express happiness, a celebration and manifestation of the life force in its essence. Yes, for me this became an example of what can be achieved in the expression of human nature on the piano.

Yasuko Furumi (Japan) (Kawai)

I. J. Paderewski Miscellanea: Legende, Op. 16 No. 1
Humoresques de Concert: Menuet, Op. 14 No. 1

The Menuet was not interpreted correctly. It is not a virtuoso, declamatory exercise. One should listen to Paderewski play it himself to achieve the true period, salon feel of this piece. It is a Mozart pastiche after all. The Legende needed a little more charm also.

M. Ravel Valses Nobles et Sentimentales (1911)

Ravel wanted to identify with Schubert. As he said himself:

The title sufficiently indicates my intention to compose a succession of waltzes, after Schubert’s example.

Unlike Schubert (who wrote separately arranged in sets of noble and sentimental waltzes), Ravel did not differentiate the noble waltzes from the sentimental ones. Other than the name and the form of the waltz form, there is little similarity between Ravel’s and Schubert’s works.

  1. Modéré – très franc
  2. Assez lent – avec une expression intense
  3. Modéré
  4. Assez animé
  5. Presque lent – dans un sentiment intime
  6. Vif
  7. Moins vif
  8. Épilogue: lent

I will not examine each waltz here but make a general commentary. The first had tremendous rhythmic drive, the second more refined and elegant whilst the third    seemed to me childlike and innocent. Others were full of tender yearning. The conclusion was an example of superb control and sensitivity. Quite wonderful.

F. Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 10 Appassionata

The tenth Étude is a tremendously powerful and emotional work despite not having the support of a title. But then F-minor and F-sharp minor are my favourite keys. Here Liszt embraces Chopin. His respect for the Chopin Études is as well known as Chopin’s admiration of Liszt’s performance of them. At times Liszt lays his own composition over the Chopin Étude Op. 10 No.9, borrowing and augmenting the idiom of the Pole.

A simply spectacular performance which I could not fault.

Ballade No. 2 in B minor, S. 171

This Ballade is one of Liszt’s greatest piano works and continues his thoughts in the key of B minor in the spring of 1853 after the composition of the great sonata. The immense narrative is based on Gottfried Bürger’s notoriously Gothic ballad Lenore (1773). The ballad profoundly influenced  the development of  wild and even gruesome Romantic literature in Europe. The English writer and Liszt fanatic Sacheverell Sitwell found in the work ‘great happenings on an epic scale, barbarian invasions, cities in flames—tragedies of public, rather than private, import’.

This was a fiercely dramatic and poetic reading overflowing with romantic intensity and sentiment. This was magnificent virtuosic playing with complete emotional penetration and understanding of this wild work. the legato was movingly rhapsodic and the musical logic inevitable and pure. This was a completely integrated and inspiring conception of the work.

Illia Ovcharenko  (Ukraine) (Fazioli)

A. Ginastera (1916-1983) Sonata No. 1 in C major

Allegro marcato
Presto misterioso
Adagio molto appassionato
Ruvido ed ostinato

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Gauchos rounding up sheep. Such scenes of native landless horsemen were often an inspiration to the musical imagination of Ginastera

I must confess to never having heard this piece before by the contemporary Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983).  He was commissioned by the Carnegie Institute and the Pennsylvania College for Women to write a piano sonata for the Pittsburgh International Contemporary Music Festival. His intention was to capture the spirit of Argentine folk music without explicit quotations from authentic folk songs.

I must say that I enjoyed his work immensely under Ovcharenko’s guidance. To me it sounded full of life, verve, vividness and energy.

I. J. Paderewski Humoresques de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 No. 6
Album de Mai: Chant d’amour, Op. 10 No. 2

Excellent playing but the fin-de-siécle charm of the period in these pieces escaped him as well it might given his youth and the year being 2019.

F. Schubert – F. Liszt Litanei, D. 343

The Vier geistliche Lieder (‘Four Sacred Songs’) were gathered together by Liszt from two sources: the first three originals were published three years after Schubert’s death, and the fourth was issued in a version with piano by Schubert himself. Only the first of them is well known in song recitals—Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen, D343a, (‘Litany for All Souls’ Day’) is a requiem prayer which Liszt treats with beautiful simplicity, even in the octave doublings of the second verse. (Leslie Howard).

Ovcharenko performed this work with fine simplicity and sensitivity. Extraordinarily beautiful playing with rich tone but tender touch.

S. Rachmaninov Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36 (1931)

Allegro agitato

He played the opening on a grand and noble scale with full emotional weight, power and conviction.

Non allegro – Lento

Ovcharenko achieved a superb cantabile in this intensely romantic movement that was deeply moving and performed at just the correct tempo to retain eloquence and sensibility.

Allegro molto

I felt Ovcharenko  developed the harmonic and rhythmic landscape of this movement to a high degree of musical intensity and penetration. As often the case here, I was on the verge of tears, especially during the rhapsodic entries to the coda, the inspiring close in B major, those rich Rachmaninovian harmonic progressions that move the soul. This was a most satisfying performance.

Denis Zhdanov  (Ukraine) (Fazioli)

I. J. Paderewski Miscellanea: Nocturne, Op. 16 No. 4
Humoresques de Concert: Sarabande, Op. 14 No. 2

The period charm escaped him I am afraid even if the pieces were well played.

G. Ligeti Etude No. 16 Pour Irina

His études beautifully combine virtuoso technical challenges with expressive content, something rarely achieved in the second half of the 20th century. This is an étude with a gentle beginning, becoming more and more frenetic due to the introduction of progressively shorter note-values and additional pitches.

‘Fonts are many, but my etudes are neither African music nor geometric fractal construction. They aren’t Nancarrow but virtuoso pieces for real pianists; they are etudes in the strictest sense of the word.

My rejection of avant-garde music also lays me open to attacks and accusations of being a postmodern composer. I don’t give a damn. I‘m a composer of the future, who looks with nostalgia to his past.’

[György Ligeti in Conversation with Péter Várnai, Josef Häusler, Claude Samuel and himself. (London: Ernest Eulenburg Ltd 1983)].

R. Schumann Fantasy in C major, Op. 17
Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen; Im Legenden-Ton
Mäßig. Durchaus energisch
Langsam getragen. Durchweg leise zu halten

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Of all the inspirations to composition given to Schumann, none achieved such a profound depth as that of the image of Clara Wieck that preoccupied his inner world. After their first kiss was exchanged in November 1835 (Schumann 25 and Clara 16) they forged a connection that withstood many challenging obstacles including a long enforced separation due to Clara’s father’s fierce opposition to their marriage.

Schumann continued in his compositions on so many occasions to unfold Walter Benjamin’s ‘fan of memory’ of Clara. Certainly this was the case of Clara’s image yearningly called up in the first movement of the Fantasie. Clara was the ‘distant beloved’ that imbues the entire work. 

I am afraid I found this interpretation rather lacking in the poetry of blighted love. The whole was altogether too pianistic and earthbound rather than poetic in its cantabile. His expressive range was rather limited to muscular variations in dynamics and tempi.

Reading literature of the period may assist in comprehending the sensibility of the age and how love was expressed in high-flown literature and poetry (say the poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning – she like Clara Wieck had a father who fiercely disapproved of her love for the English poet Robert Browning. They married in secret, ran away to Italy and her father disinherited her).

When our two souls… (Sonnet 22)

When our two souls stand up erect and strong, 

Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher, 

Until the lengthening wings break into fire 

At either curvèd point,—what bitter wrong 

Can the earth do to us, that we should not long

Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher, 

The angels would press on us and aspire 

To drop some golden orb of perfect song 

Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay 

Rather on earth, Belovèd,—where the unfit

Contrarious moods of men recoil away 

And isolate pure spirits, and permit 

A place to stand and love in for a day, 

With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

Kotaro Shigemori (Japan) (Steinway)

I. J. Paderewski Miscellanea: Melody, Op. 16 No. 2
Humoresque de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 No. 6.

The particular sensibility that Paderewski possessed before the Great War was rather inaccessible to this pianist. Not a great deal of charm or poetry.

J. S. Bach Prelude and Fugue No. 8 in E flat minor, BWV 853, WTC I

Chopin used to practice Bach for a week before giving a concert and not his own pieces. This was well performed at this extremely high level of pianism but not outstanding apart from making this enlightened choice.

F. Chopin Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58
Allegro maestoso
Scherzo. Molto vivace – Trio
Finale. Presto non tanto

This was passionately approached and is the essence of Romantic music. The first and last movements are rather in the character of ballades, the second is a scherzo, and the third is a nocturne. The narrative of the Allegro by Shigemori ranged from turbulent emotion that grew and faded to a beautiful singing cantabile like a nocturne. I felt he over-interpreted the work which led him into the trap of excessive dynamic variation before the work concludes in a mood of ‘lyrical exultation’. The Scherzo was glittering certainly, from the realm of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Largo which is replete feelings and reflections, is a true nocturne or ‘song of the night’, even an aria in its endless cantabile. I felt Shigemori did not make this challenging structure particularly coherent. The Presto finale was excellent and he drove it forward irresistibly with that demonic momentum so characteristic of this fantastic movement. However it is marked ‘non tanto’ which so few pianists observe as they are carried away on this bolting steed.

Polina Kulikova (Russia) (Kawai)

I. J. Paderewski Miscellanea: Nocturne, Op. 16 No. 4
Humoresques de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique, Op. 14 No. 6

I felt like so many of the participants in this competition she had not quite grasped the sensibility of the period of Paderewski. The Nocturne  was refined and graceful but the Cracovienne fantastique lacked the details that gave it that particularly Polish inner life.

J. Haydn Sonata in A-flat major, Hob. XVI: 46
Allegro moderato

This was an absolute delight from beginning to end, full of exuberance, energy, humour and Viennese refined exuberance. I loved it. The finest performance of Haydn I have heard for a long time.

I. Stravinsky Petrushka
Danse russe
Chez Pétrouchka
La semaine grasse

In 1921, Stravinsky transcribed a piano arrangement for Arthur Rubinstein entitled Trois mouvements de Petrouchka. The work did not entirely suit the Rubinstein refinement of pianistic style. This three movement piano work has  become particularly popular among young pianists. Kulikova gave an exuberant account of the work full of vivacity, verve and dance. It was clear she enjoyed the performance immensely. It was a powerful account of great virtuosity.

The puppets – The Moor, the Ballerina, Petrushka and the Charlatan
Photo © Dave Morgan

Petrushka tells the story of the loves and jealousies of three puppets. The burlesque ballet was composed by Igor Stravinsky in 1910–11 and revised in 1947.  The libretto was written together with the set and costume designer Alexandre Benois. Michael Fokine choreographed the ballet. The première of Petrushka was performed by the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 13 June 1911. Vaslav Nijinsky played Petrushka with Tamara Karsavina as the Ballerina,  Alexander Orlov the Moor and Enrico Cecchetti the Charlatan.

Scene I

  1. The Shrove-Tide Fair 2. Russian Dance

The Shrove-Tide Fair set design by Alexandre Benois

Scene II

  1. Petrushka

Scene III

  1. The Blackamoor 5. Waltz (Blackamoor and Ballerina)

Scene IV

  1. The Shrove-Tide Fair (Towards Evening) 7. Wet-Nurses’ Dance 8. Peasant with Bear 9. Gypsies and a Rake Vendor 10. Dance of the Coachmen 11. Masqueraders 12. The Scuffle (Blackamoor and Petrushka) 13. Death of Petrushka 14. Police and the Juggler 15. Apparition of Petrushka’s Double

‘Youth! Ah the joy of it!’ as Joseph Conrad once said. At times I felt Kulikova’s dynamics were a little exaggerated and unyielding but there were elements of great expressiveness, nuance and poetry.  Overall a very energetic, youthful and uplifting performance.

Daria Kiseleva (Russia) (Steinway)

I. J. Paderewski Miscellanea: Nocturne, Op. 16 No. 4
Humoresques de Concert: Cracovienne fantastique Op. 14 No. 6

This was particularly expressive Paderewski with a little invention of her own in the Cracovienne fantastique. The Nocturne rather moving.

C. Debussy Préludes, Book I:
No. 6 Des pas sur la Neige

This was superbly atmospheric and impressionistic that created an uncanny almost hypnotic presence in the concert hall. Remarkable.

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Alfred Sisley Under The Snow Farm Court

S. Prokofiev Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 82
Allegro moderato
Tempo di valzer, lentissimo

This is the first of the so-called ‘War Sonatas’. This piece is a deeply despairing and bleak Prokofiev work. In this first of the three ‘War Sonatas’, the composer expresses his true feelings after completing his somewhat sanitized work in the shadow of Stalin. Desperate, violent anger and the frustration of individual powerlessness in the face of the destruction of war is present in the violent coda that concludes the work. Mira Mendelson, who was Prokofiev’s partner for some twelve years and to whom he dedicated this sonata, wrote of these sonatas: ‘In 1939 Prokofiev began to write three piano sonatas…working on all ten movements at once, and only later did he lay aside the Seventh and Eighth and concentrated on the Sixth.’ Prokofiev spent five years (1939-1944) completing this set of sonatas expressing his profound personal anguish.


Kiseleva invested the opening with a degree of despair that was almost insupportable emotionally. So tragic this movement which led into a bitterly ironic Allegretto, with a brilliant  limping rhythm disillusionment. The Tempo di valzer, lentissimo emerged as some type of deeply moving ‘desperation waltz’ with the pleasures of life lost and destroyed. The Vivace was simply spectacular yet tragic, particularly with the despairing return of the original theme. One felt at times the twitching of a body close to death from the wounds of war. Kiselava with her astounding technique and disciplined almost terrifying power at the keyboard, presented us with a magnificent account of this sonata.


25-30 minutes

Sala koncertowa Akademii Muzycznej im. F. Nowowiejskiego

Concert hall of the Nowowiejski Music Academy

Bydgoszcz, ul. Gdańska 20

11th November 2019 

Leonardo PIERDOMENICO – Italy  (Fazioli)

Respighi Nocturne

What a remarkable piece to begin this competition. I knew nothing of it and no-one else I spoke to had heard of it either. The sound from the piano that  Pierdomenico produced was magical and conjured up the mysteries of a con amore night. The opening motif of descending thirds seems to be the key motif to this piece as it repeats throughout. He brushed the keys ever so lightly and gently. Avoiding a blur and excessive volume of sound would be difficult so he reduced his use of the pedal accordingly, creating this muffled, hazy sound pregnant with hidden night meanings. So haunting. A Nocturne to compare with the greatest written and an unexpected discovery. Not a piece for a pianist without a sensitive ear for sound and a velvet touch at the instrument.

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

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Allegro espressivo 
Lento e patetico

Italians seem to feel a cultural affinity with Clementi. This sonata was also skillfully under-pedaled with excellent and luminous classical style. Intimate and tender. His sonatas are so often underrated, something that Horowitz would disagree with being inordinately fond of the G minor sonata. He recorded many of them. The Lento e patetico (movingly with pathos) movement was seductively melancholic. This sensitive performer is a fine and expressive musician. The Presto was full of energy and there was air and breath control in the articulation.

F. Liszt Scherzo and Marsch S. 177

I am not terribly familiar with this work but the humour and ‘joke’ aspect of the word scherzo was clear. Judicious pedalling and dynamic sensitivity revealed the polyphony. Oddly I found the Lisztian contrasting  Marsch  rather lacking in nobility and rather noisy – militarily inexpressive but the conclusion was impressive and rather haunting. A magical and musically deeply sensitive and outstanding pianist beginning the competition.

Sergey Belyavsky Russia (Fazioli)

L. van Beethoven Rondo a capriccio in G major, Op. 129

I felt he approached this  rather too much of a virtuoso pianistic exercise and so lacked a little in the expressiveness I associate with Beethoven, at least for me.

S. Taneyev (1856-1915) Prelude and fugue in G-sharp minor, Op. 29

I am unfamiliar with this work by the Russian composer, pianist, teacher of composition, music theorist and author. The Fugue was particularly impressive and rather grand in conception.

F. Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 11 Harmonies du Soir

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

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

I feel Belyavsky might perhaps accelerate his imagination in such an imaginative way approaching this work, despite the fact it was a fine performance if a little superficial for me.

Rondo Fantastico on a Spanish Theme “El Contrabandista”, S. 252

Fancy Liszt writing a work based on contraband smugglers! Liszt’s piece was published in 1837, with a dedication to George Sand (Op. 5 No 3). The companion pieces are the Clochette-Fantaisie and the Fantaisie romantique sur deux mélodies suisses. A tremendously impressive early work often neglected. Sergey Belyavsky is to be congratulated on resurrecting it despite the supreme pianist difficulties he overcame!

Marek KOZAK – Czech Republic (Yamaha)

L. van Beethoven Sonata No. 13 „quasi una fantasia” in E-flat major, Op. 27 No. 1

I felt he could have invested this work with a great deal more musical meaning. Certainly he played the work outstandingly well but emotional significance was wanting at least for me.

Allegro molto e vivace
Adagio con espressione
Allegro vivace

F. Chopin Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor, Op. 39

I felt a lack of what one might call a strong personal or individual statement in his playing but undoubtedly this will come with time. Chopin completed this work during a period of convalescence in Marseilles. It is ‘one of Chopin’s most unusual and original works’ (Jim Samson). Certainly it is the closest Chopin came to the Lisztian idiom and in the bravura writing. I felt Kozac was not at home in this work. The contrasting drama which suffuses the piece was thus left somewhat in abeyance.

A. Skoumal is one of the foremost Czech pianists and composers. The Jongleur is a musical depiction of an itinerant medieval entertainer proficient in juggling, acrobatics, music, and recitation. An effective picturesque piece unfamiliar to me.

Liu Tianyuan – China (Kawai)

J. S. BachE. Petri Sheep may safely graze, BWV 208

Pleasantly played but the choice of this work for a competition performance defeats me.

L. Kirchner (1919-2009) Interlude II

A work unfamiliar to me by a contemporary American composer. He succeeded Walter Piston as Professor of Music at Harvard from 1966-1989. Well I do not respond well to rather modern abstract musical statements….

N. Medtner Sonata in G minor, Op. 22

This work was far more convincing and impressive. Here was more heartfelt rhapsodic passion but what emotional depth can one expect of such a young pianist. Medtner explores an extraordinary range and scope of emotion here which requires mature emotional as well as musical response.

Saya Ota – Japan (Kawai)

A. Grünfeld Soirée de Vienne, Op. 56

I adore the Grünfeld arrangements of Viennese waltzes and his own compositions as they call to mind a wonderful period of joy and happiness before the cruel disillusionment of the Great War from which we have never recovered. Ota never quite captured the authentic gemütlichkeit of this period as the work was so perfectly prepared pianistically that any spontaneity and informal charm, hallmarks of the period, was absent.

A. Scriabin Piano Sonata No. 7, Op. 64

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Again excellently prepared and performed but to deeply penetrate Scriabin one must have a deep sense of metaphysics and existential dis-ease if one is to communicate the strange psyche of the composer to an audience. His neurosis is so hard to create in the imagination, a movement of the soul in the universe reaching for the stars.

F. Liszt Concert Paraphrase on Rigoletto, S. 434 after Verdi’s opera

This was impressive and I felt the pianist fully understood the work and its implications. Her finely honed piano technique was evident and she employed a most affecting rubato that made me want to dance.

Kamil Pacholec – Poland (Steinway)  

Happy Birthday Kamil!

F. Chopin Barcarolle in F-sharp major, Op. 60

A warm and expressive Bacarolle with excellent expressive rubato. He gave us a fine narrative of lovers on the Venetian lagoon who have a not too serious emotional difference or even argument but return to the embrace of each other’s arms. His tone and touch at the instrument however could have more finesse.

C. Debussy Préludes, Book I:
No. 5 Les collines d’Anacapri
No. 9 La sérénade interrompue
No. 10 La Cathédrale engloutie

Superbly impressionistic….I have nothing to say other than I found La Cathédrale engloutie created indelible paintings in my mind.

C. GounodLiszt Waltz from the Opera Faust

Idiomatic and so joyful in its feeling of celebratory dance. Romantic playing (there will be a prize awarded in the competition for the most romantic playing – a wonderful idea!). Mood changes were swift and a terribly effective changing of gear. He captured the abandoned nature, even salacious reputation, of the waltz to perfection.

Bolai Cao – China (Yamaha)

D. Scarlatti Sonata in D minor, K. 1

From the first note a glistening, glittering tone and finessed touch that captivated me completely. No pedal and the Scarlatti was ravishing – more please!

L. van Beethoven Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major, Op. 81 a

Minimal pedal retained this wonderful tone and finger technique – fingerfertigkeit. The Adagio may have been a fraction too slow and deliberate, verging on the sentimental. I also felt despite his superb pianistic abilities that the emotions of L’Absence  did not come organically from the heart. All rather too cool and brilliantly ‘pianistic’ for my more romantic heartfelt tastes. Does he truly understand the gripping melancholy of a loved one’s absence as did Beethoven?

I. Les Adieux: Adagio – Allegro
II. L’Absence: Andante espressivo
III. Le Retour: Vivacissimamente

C. Debussy L’isle Joyeuse

I had much the same feeling of emotional detachment, emotional unavailability to quote a psychological term, in this work. Is the work based on sensual and erotic experiences of the island of Jersey where Debussy spent time with his lover Emma Bardac, secretly away from his wife. Tempting to believe but perhaps not entirely true if one carefully examines the dates of the composition. Or was it partly inspired by the air of romantic melancholy in the painting of Watteau L’Embarquement pour Cythère ? Gloriously played pianistically but where was the deeper emotional musical meaning ?

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Antoine Watteau L’Embarquement pour Cythère

F. Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 10 Appassionata

An absolutely brilliant performance that swept me away completely!  The glitter and glow in the tone of this pianist is absolutely ravishing and so suitable for Liszt. His use of the flutter pedal is hugely skillful. Great passion unleashed here and spine-tingling articulation.

Mateusz Krzyżowski – Poland (Kawai)

C. Debussy Préludes, Book II:
No. 1 Brouillards
No. 2 Feuilles Mortes
No. 3 La Puerta del Vino

Extremely fine impressionistic performance, especially La Puerta del Vino

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La Puerta del Vino

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K. Szymanowski 4 Etudes, Op. 4:
No. 1 in E-flat minor
No. 2 in G-flat major
No. 3 in B-flat minor
No. 4 in C major

Certainly one of the deepest interpretations of any works today. Sensitive, moving, atmospheric, deeply emotional and musically superb in its penetration of the soul of Szymanowski.

Kana Niiro – Japan (Kawai)

W. A. Mozart Piano Sonata No. 9 in D major, K. 311

Allegro con spirito
Andante con espressione

Kana Niiro plays with a feeling of immaculate preparation but needs to develop her own voice more and come to some deeper conclusions of the musical meaning of the work. Popular Mozart provides ambiguous and unpredictable interpretative challenges for the pianist.

B. Bartók Piano Sonata, Sz. 80

Allegro moderato
Sostenuto e pesante
Allegro molto

My comments above could be equally applied to this fiercely demanding work.

Yilei Hao  – China (Kawai)

D. Scarlatti

Sonata in G major, K. 14
Sonata in C minor, K. 11
Sonata in E major, K. 135

A well performed group but not sufficiently exciting, ‘Spanish’ or rhythmically distinctive for me who plays them on the harpsichord.
S. Rachmaninov Etudes-tableau, Op. 39 No. 5 Appassionato

I felt that the profoundly ‘Russian atmosphere’ of this magnificent piece, vital to its emotional life,  escaped the grasp of this pianist however well he had mastered the work at the keyboard.

L. Janáček In the Mists

I. Andante
II. Molto adagio
III. Andantino
IV. Presto

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An unusual choice this Leoš Janáček – In the Mists (1912). This is a collection of four piano pieces marked: Andante; Molto Adagio; Andantino; Presto. A rather introspective work that is hard to grasp physically, as if the piano itself were somehow lost in the clouds. It is not a virtuoso display piece but requires a refined touch to paint its watercolor phrases. He could have expressed the nebulous qualities, rhythmic and harmonic fluctuations as well as beautiful melodies rather more eloquently and sensitively.

Łukasz Byrdy – Poland (Yamaha)

C. Debussy

Préludes, Book I:
No. 5 Les collines d’Anacapri
No. 11 La danse de Puck
No. 12 Minstrels

Préludes, Book II:
No. 3 La puerta del Vino
No. 6 General Lavine – eccentric
No. 12 Feux d’artifice

How this pianist has developed since I last heard him some years ago! I liked the rhythmic refinement, danced energy and detaché articulation of his Debussy. His forte can on occasion verge on the exaggerated dynamically but in Book II he created fine impressionistic paintings in sound.

F. Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp minor, S. 244

I found this an excellent performance, full of the whimsical passionate nature of Liszt’s view of the Hungarian temperament. Perhaps a little more finesse and nuance might be in order but this is personal taste in such a robust work.

Philipp Lynov – Russia (Steinway)

L. van Beethoven Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major, Op. 31 No. 3

Scherzo. Allegretto vivace
Menuetto. Moderato e grazioso
Presto con fuoco

Some of the most exciting and virtuosic playing I have heard in a long time. In the Scherzo such brilliant articulation and forward momentum. His sfortzandos were like an electric jolt, a shock. The contrast between movements was almost exaggerated but I found the tempo of the Presto so exciting. A young man reveling in his keyboard capacities which are formidable indeed. The momentum he generated was unstoppable! However I did keep asking myself ‘Is this Beethoven?’ 

S. Prokofiev 4 Etudes, Op. 2

These formidable and demanding works simply exploded over us. I felt it was a staggeringly virtuosic, self-confident and brilliant performance the like of which I have rarely if ever heard. Utterly convincing in its power to excite and move.

If this young man matures and deepens his musical penetration and interpretative depth predict he will evolve as a truly powerful pianistic force on the horizon.

Saetbyeo Kim – Republic of Korea (Fazioli)

F. Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A minor, S. 244

I enjoyed the shifting moods and temperamental engagement she brought to this work very much. I harbored some shadowy doubts about her view of the work as a coherent structure, if it actually held together as a unified conception.

J. Haydn Sonata in A-flat major, Hob. XVI: 46

Overall a refined performance of Haydn with a grasp of his sense of humour which was enlivening. However I did not find the Adagio sufficiently moving  and the Presto stylistically worrying with a few solecisms creeping in.

Allegro moderato
Finale. Presto

D. Shostakovich Prelude and Fugue in D-flat major, Op. 87 No. 15

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A rather unusual programme altogether for me. I could not help reflecting on the vast musical development between Haydn and Shostakovitch. I was slightly discomforted at being forcibly transported from eighteenth century grace and civilized refinement to the violence and bitter irony of twentieth century Russia, even if this was a ‘baroque’ work from this monumental set of Preludes and fugues by Shostakovitch. Kim was magnificent in this fantastic fugue, with relentless forward drive, music that clearly suited her temperament.

Se-Hyeong Yoo  (Republic of Korea) (Steinway)

L. van Beethoven Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90
Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck
Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorzutragen

Composed in 1814, the Sonata in E minor Op.90 was written during years of severe stress and anxiety for Beethoven. From 1812-1817 he was preoccupied with the law-suit with his sister-in-law over the custody of his nephew Karl, a letter full of anguish and despair to the ‘Immortal Beloved’ and the tortuous progression of his deafness. Not a time of great productivity.

Instead of the tempo indications in Italian, Beethoven mines his emotional life to come up with, at the time,  unconventional expressive indications in German: Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck (‘With vivacity and with feeling and expression throughout’). The beautiful almost Schubertian cantablile rondo melody in the following movement is marked: Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorgetragen (‘Not too swiftly and conveyed in a songful manner). This movement is surely a foreshadowing of Romanticism in its legato and cantilena as well affecting poetry. The lean and delicate writing here with hints of struggle ends at peace in the extraordinary last two bars.

Donald Tovey writes of its ‘passionate and lonely energy’ whilst Charles Rosen refers to the sonata as ‘despairing and impassioned’. Yoo’s playing was most expressive, musical sentences with meaning at an acceptable moderate tempo that permitted reflection. He possesses a rich sense of the classical style. This being said, I still felt it a challenge to penetrate the organic core of this sonata.

A. Scriabin Waltz in A-flat major, Op. 38

Although at the time of its composition in 1903 Scriabin was turning to the mystical in life as his psyche became increasingly dislocated, some of his compositions were rather Romantic. This waltz is one such example. That said, it was quite advanced for its time. The waltz opens with an opulent Scriabinesque theme that seems to exude heavy perfumes or remind the senses of flowers slightly wilting in the hot sun’ as Robert Cummins writes incomparably in a sleeve note. ‘The melody is sweet and leisurely, quirky and hesitant, but can suddenly turn passionate and fiery.’ I felt Yoo captured this mood eloquently. 

S. Rachmaninov Etude-Tableau, Op. 39 No. 5 Appassionato

I found this utterly convincing Russian Rachmaninoff. In its passionate phrasing he gave us a powerful view of the work. He gave it time to breathe with pregnant silences and expectant hesitations that was most moving on an emotional level. An extremely satisfying recital altogether.

Marcin Wieczorek – (Poland) (Fazioli)

F. Chopin

Etude in C major, Op. 10 No. 1

Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20

All I can say here is that it is rather hard for me to come to terms with this pianist’s extremely youthful, controversial and exuberant view of Chopin.

K. Szymanowski Variations in B-flat minor, Op. 3

‘The cycle of twelve variations on Szymanowski’s own theme was composed during the years 1901-1903, while he was studying with Zygmunt Noskowski in Warsaw. The composition is in the late Romantic style, echoing the tradition of the nineteenth-century maestros of piano music, above all Robert Schumann and Ferenc Liszt. The majority of the variations are of strikingly virtuoso character, emanating with the brilliance of great piano playing, and demonstrating young Szymanowski’s perfect intuition for the technical and timbral possibilities of the piano.’ (Polska Music).

Wieczorek revealed a poetic side to his playing (as he did in the cantabile central section of the Scherzo.) However this was quickly eclipsed by his virtuoso wizardry. The spectacular variations tended to shadow the more introspective and thoughtful ones.

Yunling Zhang   (China) (Kawai)

S. Prokofiev Sarcasms, Op. 17

Prokofiev’s composed Sarcasms between 1912 and 1914. He rejoiced in the controversy provoked by such extravagant compositions and performances, and the subversive ironical element contained within this criticism of the Russian government. In 1941 he reflected on the fifth Sarcasm: ‘Sometimes we laugh maliciously at someone or something, but when we look closer, we see how pathetic and unfortunate is the object of our laughter. Then we become uncomfortable and the laughter rings in our ears, laughing now at us.’ 

I felt Zhang showed brilliant articulation here, forceful broken chords and great intensity of utterance. These miniatures were evidently inspired by those of Schoenberg and Bartok.

L. van Beethoven Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101 (1816)

There are 4 movements and this experimental sonata is generally regarded as the beginning of Beethoven’s final period when his forms became ever more dense and complex harmonically. It was the favorite Beethoven sonata of Richard Wagner with its seemingly endless melodies.

  1. Etwas lebhaft, und mit der innigsten Empfindung (Somewhat lively, and with innermost sensibility). Allegretto, ma non troppo
  2. Lebhaft, marschmäßig (Lively, march-like). Vivace alla marcia
  3. Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll (Slow and longingly). Adagio, ma non troppo, con affetto
  4. Geschwind, doch nicht zu sehr, und mit Entschlossenheit (Swiftly, but not overly, and with determination). Allegro

Great tenderness is evident in the first movement of this sonata. Zhang made the polyphony clear with judicious pedaling. Beethoven spoke of ‘impressions and reveries’ in this sonata. The German indications for each movement say much about the mood of the content. The Marcia was muscular under her fingers but the Adagio did not move me in any a particularly emotional way. One must never forget Beethoven was a mature and disappointed man who was totally deaf. There was not a great deal of evidence of Beethoven’s subtle humor which is present in the final movement. She should breathe more and adopt a moderate tempo in the magnificent fugue (grotesquely humorous perhaps) to give the listener time to unravel the complex inner voice content. A fine performance that simply requires maturity to ripen into a significant depth of utterance.

Xuehong Chen (China) (Fazioli)

This pianist won the 2016 Beijing Chopin Piano Competition so my hopes were high, hopes which were ultimately more than fully satisfied as we shall see.

D. Scarlatti

Sonata in E major, K. 380

I do not agree this should be played lyrically as nearly all pianists do. I play it on the harpsichord and there the triumphant fanfares of trumpets are ceremonially clear and present for  the splendid entry of Queen Maria Barbara to the Escorial.

Sonata in F minor, K. 48

This beautiful cantabile sonata could well have been played on a Cristofori piano. Queen Maria Barbara owned five such instruments. Chen played this piece in a most lyrical and affecting fashion.

Sonata in D major, K. 96

He performed this in a declamatory trumpet and brass filled manner with stunning articulated repeated notes as fine as Horowitz.

F. Chopin Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23

One immediately notices the alluring tone and refined touch this pianist produces. Once such qualities were regarded as the sine qua non of piano playing, but today I have my doubts with the adulation of volume, power and velocity. This performance was unusual and deeply satisfying in its emotional and expressive range that had at its heart a superb sense of narrative. A rather introspective interpretation of immense sensitivity and nobility of conception. The styl brillant passages glittered in sunlight like ‘strings of matched pearls’. I am not normally given to hyperbole, but this performance was without doubt one of the finest and most moving I have ever heard of this renowned Chopin Ballade.

A. Scriabin Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp major, Op. 30
Prestissimo volando

In the sonata that concluded the programme we explored the mystical and  metaphysical magic of Scriabin. For this work the composer wrote a programme: a poem describing flight to a distant star.

Thinly veiled in transparent cloud
A star shines softly, far and lonely.
How beautiful! The azure secret
Of its radiance beckons, lulls me …
Vehement desire, sensual, insane, sweet …
Now! Joyfully I fly upward toward you,
Freely I take wing.
Mad dance, godlike play …
I draw near in my longing …
Drink you in, sea of light, you light of my own self …

The poem works with the music in a creative symbiosis. The notion of flight is ever present in his extraordinary mind – Prestissimo volando  is the indication. In the first movement the ‘Tristan’ yearning of love and desire followed without a break to a movement of which Scriabin demanded ‘I want it even faster, as fast as possible, on the verge of the possible … it must be a flight at the speed of light, straight towards the sun, into the sun!’   Chen carried us into another world uniquely belonging to this composer.

The sonata ends in triumphal joy. Scriabin once wrote:

‘To become an optimist in the true sense of the word, one must have been prey to despair and surmounted it.’

Chen invested his interpretation with sensuality and eroticism in addition to refinement power, mystical flight, command of the abstract score and the deepest poetry. This pianist is a musical artist of the first water.

Gyu Tae Ha  (Republic of Korea) (Kawai)

J. Haydn Sonata in B minor, Hob. XVI: 32

Allegro moderato
Finale. Presto

This was a stylish and charming performance with a touch of affectation associated with conversational Viennese aristocratic society. No pedal. The Presto was slightly too fast for me but then modern life is moving at a greater speed than in the days of Haydn.

F. Chopin Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27 No. 2

An excellent, tonally seductive and nuanced performance.

F. Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1 in A major

This was a fine performance of this insidious piece. He brought far more interpretative depth to the work than mere virtuosity which one hears far too often.

Liszt was obsessed by Faust and he chose the account of the story by Nikolaus Lenau to set this piece of programme music. This passage from Lenau appears in the actual score:

“There is a wedding feast in progress in the village inn, with music, dancing, and drunken carousing. Mephistopheles and Faust wander by, and Mephistopheles persuades Faust to enter and join in the festivities. Mephistopheles grabs the violin from the hands of a sleepy violinist and draws from the instrument seductive and erotically intoxicating strains. The amorous Faust whirls about with a sensual village beauty [the landlord’s daughter] in a wild dance; they waltz in mad abandon out of the room, into the open, away into the woods. The sounds of the violin grow softer and softer, and the nightingale sings his love-soaked song.”

                                               A Lithograph from Delacroix’s Faust

Hyun Jin Roh (Republic of Korea) (Steinway)

J. Haydn Sonata in B minor, Hob. XVI: 32
Allegro moderato
Finale. Presto

This was particularly charming Haydn with much and welcome variation in expressive dynamics and articulation. A very attractive performance with delicacy and refinement as well as gracefulness in the Menuetto. Also not too hectic and virtuoso a Presto.

F. Chopin Etude in A-flat major, Op. 10 No. 10

An excellent performance of a challenging Etude.

M. Ravel La Valse 

There are three versions of this mysterious and sensual work – a ballet score, a version for piano duo and a solo piano version. Although Ravel denied the work was a panoramic description of the decay of civilization following the horrors of the Great War in 1919, I feel the implications are inescapable. I felt Roh introduced too many excessive dynamic contrasts which tended to disturb unduly the many details that fascinate.

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 Dance of Death or Delight? which I feel encapsulates perfectly the ambiguity inherent in this disturbing work. A composer can sometimes be a barometer that unconsciously registers the movements of history. This might well be the case here but such ambiguities tended not to be expressed in this performance.

Arisa Onoda  (Japan) (Yamaha)

F. Chopin Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49

This was an excellent performance of this profound work on the pianistic level but on th interpretative level it could have been deeper.

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. 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.

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 the incomprehensible onslaught of evil and barbarism. We need Chopin, his heart and spiritual force in 2019 possibly more than ever before.

C. Debussy Pour le piano (1901)


Onoda brought this movement off outstandingly well with its echoes of Java (recalling Pagodes from Estampes)


I felt more intimacy could have been brought here as Debussy so often imagines in pictures – ‘an old portrait in the Louvre’ in this case.

Toccata – the influence of Scarlatti was here and Onoda coped well with these shadows.

Rustam Muradov  (Russia) (Steinway)

J. Haydn Sonata in D major, Hob. XVI: 42
Andante con espressione
Vivace assai

The maturity and experience of this pianist was clear from the outset. The Haydn was perfect stylistically with all the Viennese conversational charm one needed.

G. Faure Barcarolle No. 2 in G major, Op. 41 (1885)

Muradov brought glowing colour to this ravishing and romantic work. It should be performed far more often in repertoire.

I. Stravinsky – G. Agosti Firebird Suite 
Dance infernale

I hoped that his wide experience might prevent Muradov from being carried away by virtuosity in his account of this magnificent work but I fear he tended to become rather rough in tone and touch as we progressed towards the tumultuous finale.

This work is most familiar from the orchestral version. The piano reduction Stravinsky made is rarely performed. The work almost defies translation from the orchestral version.

The ballet is a mixture the stories of the Firebird and Kashchei the Immortal, two of Russia’s most well-known legendary stories or fairy tales. Prince Ivan comes into an enchanted garden and captures the Firebird. The bird wants to be released and promises Ivan it will assist him in the realization of his desires.

Ivan falls in love with one of the thirteen princesses he meets. She informs him that he is in the realm of Kashchei the Immortal, a powerful wizard who captures and imprisons passing travelers making them slaves. Ignoring her warning, Ivan approaches Kashchei to request her hand in marriage. Kashchei orders his magic creatures to attack the prince and tries to turn Ivan to stone. The Firebird comes to Ivan’s aid, enticing the creatures into a dance and then putting them to sleep. The bird bewitches Kashchei in the same manner.

The screech at the beginning as the bird precipitously attacks is deeply disturbing. Then the ‘infernal’ dance rhythms with their relentless intensity begin to wear the attackers down. This movement is of immense pianistic difficulty with leaps at fortissimo and huge glissandi. One could easily visualise the bird in its various tempestuous rhythmic transformations during this demented attacking dance.

The creatures then fall asleep as depicted in the Berceuse. I loved Muradov’s magical transition to this Lullaby. The triumphal wedding celebrations of the Finale developed in a way that, although supremely virtuosic, seemed to lose tonal control and begin to break through the sound ceiling of the instrument. Rough treatment, possibly interpretatively justified here, tended to enter the proceedings as Muradov quite understandably was carried away in his attempt to fully penetrate this passionate and incredibly demanding Stravinsky score. 

Seunghui Kim  (Republic of Korea) (Steinway)

W. A. Mozart Sonata No. 18 in D major, K. 576

This was fine Mozart but I felt more could have been made of the operatic nature of some of the writing in the sonata. So much of what Mozart wrote is opera.

I. Albéniz Iberia
No. 6 Triana

Image result for gypsies iberia paintings

Claude Debussy once said of Iberia, a work which was to influence his own composition: ‘Never has music achieved such diversified, such colourful impressions: one’s eyes close, as though dazzled by beholding such a wealth of imagery.’ This suite is arguably the greatest piece of Spanish music and paints landscapes in sound of Spanish life and country. Triana is named after the gypsy quarter of Seville. Kim was quite effective in her rhythmic painting and colorful evocations of gypsies.

K. Szymanowski Variations in B-flat minor, Op. 3

We have heard these Variations before and some are quite delightful However occasionally Kim’s pyrotechnics at the keyboard tended to obscure any poetry that may have lain there.

Shogo Mizumura   (Japan) (Steinway)

K. Szymanowski Variations in B-flat minor, Op. 3

‘The cycle of twelve variations on Szymanowski’s own theme was composed during the years 1901-1903, while he was studying with Zygmunt Noskowski in Warsaw. The composition is in the late Romantic style, echoing the tradition of the nineteenth-century maestros of piano music, above all Robert Schumann and Ferenc Liszt. The majority of the variations are of strikingly virtuoso character, emanating with the brilliance of great piano playing, and demonstrating young Szymanowski’s perfect intuition for the technical and timbral possibilities of the piano.’ (Polska Music).

I have similar reflections to those made above on this performance – the virtuoso character obscuring the poetry.

S. Prokofiev Sonata No. 7 in B-flat major, Op. 83

I felt this to be a mightily courageous choice for a competition. The percussive anger of the Allegro inquieto was not deeply expressed. The lyrical contrast of the emotional and romantic Andante caloroso also lacked a sense of penetrating tragedy and emotion. That plaintive repeated note expresses all the intense loneliness, existential angst and the isolation of the human soul in the firmament confronted by the cruelty of war. I felt Mizumura was not sufficiently experienced at 20 years of age to capture these implications. I anticipated the Precipitato final movement with some apprehension knowing what had come before and this was well founded. It was played simply as a virtuoso movement with scarcely any attempt to search for  deeper meaning.

Allegro inquieto – Andantino
Andante caloroso

Ilia Papoian   (Russia) (Yamaha)

M. Clementi Sonata in A major, Op. 33 No. 1

Although Papoian had mastered up to a point the ‘classical dynamic’, I felt his tempo could have been less hectic and the entire approach lighter and more elegant. In his day Clementi and Mozart were considered to be the best composers in Europe.
S. Rachmaninov Etude-Tableau, Op. 33 No. 6 in E-flat minor

S. Rachmaninov Etude-Tableau, Op. 39 No. 5 Appassionato

I felt some rather rough handling of these Etude-Tableau (a type of painting presented in sound). The presentation was rather noisy, quite loud with an element of playing too strenuously and muscularly. Not unlike being down in the quarry excavating stone.

F. Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp minor, S. 244

Perhaps nervousness pushed him to rush this work and so leave it unfinished. I felt the work to be over-interpreted with an unattractive tone. A great pity.

Ting Chia Hsu   (Taiwan) (Kawai)

L. van Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major, Op. 14 No. 1
Rondo. Allegro comodo

This poetic sonata was particularly attractively played. The optimistic melody was given a great deal of expression with fine nuances throughout. Perhaps the Beethovenian masculine sentiments could have been given more prominence. The Rondo was joyful and slightly up tempo with wit, humour and delight.

A. Scriabin Sonata No. 5, Op. 53

I felt a coherent structure eluded him which I I felt he dynamically exaggerated certain episodes. It is hardly surprising with this composer who remains elusive. This work was a supplement to the orchestral Poem of Ecstasy of 1907 and was the first sonata Scriabin wrote in one movement, a form he retained from then on. Scriabin provided a poem:

I call you to life, mysterious forces!
Drowned in the obscure depths
of the creative spirit, timid
Embryos of life, to you I bring audacity!

At the centre the so-called ‘Mystic’ or ‘Promethean’ harmony marked ‘with delight’ makes its appearance. A remarkable sonata which remained elusive.

S. Rachmaninov Etude-Tableau, Op. 39 No. 6 Allegro

I felt here the the opening was almost brutal and that Hsu needed to breathe the phrases far more.

Anna Khomichko (Russia) (Kawai)

D. Scarlatti Sonata in E major, K. 380
Sonata in A minor, K. 149

Khomichko added some decorations to these sonatas which did not go amiss but overall they were pleasantly played.
L. van Beethoven Sonata No. 6 in F major, Op. 10 No. 2 (1797)

This sonata was given an attractive light ‘classical’ dynamic range and of course is a type of comedy. There were competitions between pianists in the Vienna of Beethoven’s day such as the one between the composer and the Czech-born composer Joseph Gelinek who lived in Vienna at the time. Gelinek told Czerny’s father one day that he was going to compete with ‘some foreigner’  commenting ‘we must make mincemeat out of him’. When asked about the outcome, he said: ‘I’ll never forget yesterday evening! Satan himself is hidden in that young man. I have never heard anyone play like that! He improvised on a theme which I gave him as I never heard even Mozart improvise … He can overcome difficulties and draw effects from the piano such as we couldn’t even allow ourselves to dream about.’ (quoted by Angela Hewitt).

This pianist plays so softly she is the diametrical opposite of others in this competition. I loved her interesting interpretation and sonority.

S. Gubaidulina Chaconne (1963)

Image result for S. Gubaidulina

This extraordinary work is by this extraordinarily prolific Tatar-Russian composer (b.1931). Again we were in a Star Trek time warp transported from the late eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth in a twinkling. It is an arresting piece containing indications of this composer’s sense of transcendence and mystical spiritualism in rebellion against Soviet Russia. An authoritative performance of this demanding piece expressing confrontation and courage, spiritual exhilaration and debilitation.

Yun Chih Hsu  (Taiwan) (Fazioli)

W. A. Mozart Sonata No. 3 in B-flat major, K. 281
Andante amoroso

Image result for mozart

This was the most illuminating and refined Mozart I have head for many years, full of internal life and joy. There was no excessive dynamic inflation and her sonority was superb, like a vitrine of polished Viennese porcelain. She was most expressive in the Andante amoroso – so brimming with ardent love yet filled with the doubts and inner contradictions of all passionate romantic connections. Her articulation was immaculate, pedaling inspired but most of all she communicated that rare quality, her joy in playing the piano. This pianist is what one might certainly call a ‘blithe spirit’.

F. Chopin Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor, Op. 39

This account retained, if a little hectic in mood with inflated dynamics, a good sense of narrative drama and cumulative structure. This was a noble rendition of this demanding scherzo containing almost theatrical rubato. Chopin greatly expanded the original musical content of the ‘scherzo’ (meaning at the time ‘jest’) to a work of extraordinary power and expressive range. He willfully did this with many genres of the day. Schumann penetratingly observed ‘How is gravity to clothe itself if humour wears such dark veils?’

B. Bartók Etudes, Op. 18

Related image

Her playing of these fiendish works seemed possessed of rare galvanic energy. Brilliant. Powerful yet retaining finesse and transparency through skillful pedaling, particularly in the third etude. She retained tremendous authority at the instrument and altered her sonority to suit this tumultuous composer’s atonal conceptions. Her intensity was electrical….fabulous playing that rendered these tonally inaccessible etudes overwhelming.

Alina Smirnova  Russia

L. van Beethoven Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major, Op. 81a
Das Lebewohl. Adagio
Abwesenheit. Adante espressivo
Das Wiedersehen. Vivacissimamente

There is some disagreement over whether Beethoven intended this as a type of ‘program’ for describing departure, separation and reunion. However one feels it certainly is an accurate depiction of the departure of a loved one for a distant place.

I found Smirnova’s account full of heartfelt reflection on departure. Attractive dynamic  variation suffused the work with minimal use of the pedal. The tempo also was not exaggerated which was a relief to me. The Andante theme was played expressively with a true sense of yearning after separation. Emotionally I find this very moving. However as is often the case for me, there was too abrupt a transition to Vivacissimamente. The movement itself was possessed of irresistible forward momentum although her phrasing and breathing could be slightly improved.

M. Ravel La Valse

I must confess to having some reservations about her performance of this work. I felt that the waltz could be more charming, seductive, impressionistic and alluring. A degree of expressiveness and and hints of sensuality seems to be missing from her approach to this work. I would like to feel the change of moods within the piece arise organically from within her.

There are three versions of this mysterious and sensual work – a ballet score, a version for piano duo and a solo piano version. Although Ravel denied the work was a panoramic description of the decay of civilization following the horrors of the Great War in 1919, I feel the implications are inescapable.

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 Dance of Death or Delight? which I feel encapsulates perfectly the ambiguity inherent in this disturbing work. A composer can sometimes be a barometer that unconsciously registers the movements of history.

Anna Szałucka  (Poland) (Steinway)

G. Ligeti Etude No. 10 Der Zauberlehrling, Book II

I was not particularly taken with this piece and asked myself the question why she would include it on her programme.

L. van Beethoven Sonata No. 6 in F major, Op. 10 No. 2

This sonata was given an attractive light ‘classical’ dynamic range and of course is a type of comedy. There were competitions between pianists in the Vienna of Beethoven’s day such as the one between the composer and the Czech-born composer Joseph Gelinek who lived in Vienna at the time. Gelinek told Czerny’s father one day that he was going to compete with ‘some foreigner’  commenting ‘we must make mincemeat out of him’. When asked about the outcome, he said: ‘I’ll never forget yesterday evening! Satan himself is hidden in that young man. I have never heard anyone play like that! He improvised on a theme which I gave him as I never heard even Mozart improvise … He can overcome difficulties and draw effects from the piano such as we couldn’t even allow ourselves to dream about.’ (quoted by Angela Hewitt).

I think the tempo she adopted in the Allegro prevented the listener from savouring the harmonic transitions. The Allegretto sounded slightly ‘over-interpreted’ to me and the Presto was fine but musically I asked myself what as she trying to say in her performance of this work.


F. Chopin Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52

I am afraid I found her conception of this great masterpiece somewhat mannered which meant it lacked coherence and emotional impact. I felt that the internal anguish and drama had been rather glossed over and not fully addressed musically, only pianistically.

Jonas Stark (Germany) (Steinway)

S. Gubaidulina Chaconne

I felt this to be a very fine performance of this demanding work. It is an arresting piece containing indications of this composer’s sense of transcendence and mystical spiritualism in rebellion against Soviet Russia. The work expresses confrontation and courage, spiritual exhilaration and debilitation. I felt Stark achieved the expression of all these inaccessible features and emotions.

J. Haydn Sonata in G major, Hob. XVI: 40
Allegro innocente

I felt the direction ‘Allegro innocente’ provided him with quite a challenge – as it would any interpretative pianist. How is one to interpret the word  ‘innocente’ as a musical direction in the eighteenth century ? He made a strong and largely successful attempt to come to terms with this sonata but in the Presto movement one could not help asking how ‘Presto’ should ‘Presto’ be in the days of Haydn?

F. Liszt Spanish Rhapsody, S. 254

Image result for Spanish painting 1860

This is an extraordinarily technically taxing and magnificent work by any standard. The Spanish Rhapsody is one of Liszt’s best-known compositions. He had written the piece in recollection of his Spanish travels whilst in Rome in about 1863. The work was published in 1867—subtitled Folies d’Espagne et Jota aragonesa.  I found his performance most impressive and evoked the images and dancing of Spain most effectively. It is one of Liszt’s best known works and was written after a tour he made of Spain.

Yasuko Furumi (Japan) (Kawai)

J. Haydn Sonata in C major, Hob. XVI: 48
Andante con espressione
Rondo. Presto

This flamboyant sonata was unprecedented in Haydn’s output for the fortepiano. Here was immaculate playing in high degree but feelings of fond affection and love, which I believe is implied in the first movement indication ‘con espressione’, was not obvious. Her sound is tremendously refined. The Rondo was very charming and articulated so skillfully it almost approached artificiality, so was the totality of its ‘perfection.’ A most charming performance.

K. Szymanowski Etude in B-flat minor, Op. 4 No. 3

A fine and sensitive performance of this ardent and yearning work.

D. Shostakovich Sonata No. 1, Op. 12

This was a most impressive performance of this magnificent and impassioned composition. It seemed to me that more than a complete technique is required to dominate the technical difficulties (which she possesses) and to bring into being this highly atmospheric ambiance. The work involves leaps of the entire compass of the keyboard at high velocity which this remarkable pianist accomplished, it appeared, without undue stress.

Jong Ho Won  (Republic of Korea) (Kawai)

W. A. Mozart Piano Sonata No. 9 in D major, K. 311

This was a performance full of joy in playing the piano. The Andante was glorious melodically but I did feel a few dynamic vagaries in the Rondo. However this may well have been aspects of the Mannheim style which invests this sonata, sudden alterations of dynamic contrasts. At times though I felt he was merely playing the notes supremely well but this doubt passed as more expression emerged.

Allegro con spirito
Andante con espressione

D. Scriabin Sonata No. 5, Op. 53

This work was a supplement to the orchestral Poem of Ecstasy of 1907 and was the first sonata Scriabin wrote in one movement, a form he retained from then on. Scriabin provided a poem:

I call you to life, mysterious forces!
Drowned in the obscure depths
of the creative spirit, timid
Embryos of life, to you I bring audacity!

At the centre the so-called ‘Mystic’ or ‘Promethean’ harmony marked ‘with delight’ makes its appearance. I felt Won did not engage the mystic element in any really meaningful or metaphysical sense which is so vital to Scriabin interpretation and this sonata.

F. Liszt Grandes études de Paganini, S. 141 No. 3 La Campanella

This is a remarkable work on many levels and should not really be played at too rapid a tempo as I felt this was. Won’s conclusion was also too powerful for me. This is a ‘campanella‘ (a small bell tower with little bells) not a ‘campanile’ (a large free-standing bell tower with large bells)!

Illia Ovcharenko  (Ukraine) (Fazioli)

D. Scarlatti Sonata in E major, K. 20
Sonata in F minor, K. 466

Beautifully and appealingly phrased Scarlatti with an embracing tone on the Fazioli. K. 466 was particularly attractive through revealing articulation and some added decorative ornamentation. The tonal depth was light and no pedal or scarcely any pedal was used. Excellent performance.

L. van Beethoven Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major, Op. 81a
Das Lebewohl. Adagio
Abwesenheit. Adante espressivo
Das Wiedersehen. Vivacissimamente

There is some disagreement over whether Beethoven intended this as a type of ‘program’ for describing departure, separation and reunion. However one feels it certainly is an accurate depiction of the departure of a loved one for a distant place. However one must consider the emotions on the departure and return of the fond one and not become involved in the work only as a pianistic challenge. What does the pianist want to say here? The Adagio and Andante espressivo were emotionally moving but even here one has to maintain some tension. I felt Ovcharenko launched into the Vivacissimamente  movement rather too abruptly and then proceeded at too cracking a pace to adequately express the depth of the joy of return. This is not simply a virtuoso pianistic exercise. Overall however a fine interpretation to build on with some reservations.

F. Liszt Grandes études de Paganini, S. 141 No. 3 La Campanella

Image result for painting of a campanella
The Old Italian Campanella  by Eleonora Gudenko,

This was a faultless interpretation of La Campanella to my mind – crystal tone for small bells, correct tempo, immaculate runs and glittering trills, driving energy, thoughtful phrasing, judicious use of the pedal … I really have nothing negative to say.

Denis Zhdanov  (Ukraine) (Fazioli)

J. Haydn Sonata in C major, Hob. XVI: 50

I am afraid that the view of Haydn presented here, although of course perfectly well played in all respects, did not match my interpretative view of the composer.
Allegro molto 
E. Rautavaara (1928-2016) Études, Op. 42

1. Terssit
2. Septimit
3. Tritonukset
4. Kvartit
5. Sekunnit
6. Kvintit

This choice to play and present in competition a relatively obscure Finnish composer was an adventurous and courageous decision. His prolific output includes eight symphonies, fourteen concertos, choral works, sonatas, string quartets, chamber music. and operas. Of his intentions in these Études he wrote that he intended to  “…reintroduce a sonorous, broad piano style using the entire compass of the keyboard, presenting this wonderful instrument in its full abundance.”  I was completely unfamiliar with this work but found it its dissonance and his handling of the complex and demanding score tremendously impressive. 

Kotaro Shigemori (Japan) (Steinway)

W. A. Mozart Sonate No. 3 in B major, K. 281
Andante amoroso

I felt that here the winning Viennese grace, charm and conversational gemütlichkeit so characteristic of this composer, reminiscent to my mind of J.C.Bach rather escaped Shigemori.

F. Chopin Etude in A-flat major, Op. 10 No. 10

An excellent and impressive account of this demanding piece.

Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat major, Op. 61

A grand conception of this late work presented with passion and conviction. It may have at times been a little overwrought but he manged to express the psychological complexity and tragic instability of Chopin’s disintegrating world during his final years.

Polina Kulikova (Russia) (Kawai)

G. F. Haendel Chaconne in G major, HWV 435

I found this a fascinating and instructive choice which she brought off successfully on an instrument for which it was not envisioned – the piano. The harpsichord gives the work an type of inner masculine spine but this alternative, rather softer view on the piano, was absolutely acceptable to me. Rather in the manner of Bach, the use of the pedal and crispness of ornamentation must be quite sparing and judicious for the performance to be convincing.

S. Rachmaninov Prelude in B-flat major, Op. 23 No. 2

This was a refined and gentle Rachmaninoff and such a contrast to the manner in which he is usually presented.

Image result for rachmaninoff quote on music
Prelude in D minor, Op. 23 No. 3

Here was a truly magisterial view of this popular work, the counterpoint and melodic cantabile was transparent and quite ravishing.

F. Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A minor, S. 244

She opened this supremely musical, almost operatic narrative view of the work, with a type of seductive, long oriental dreamlike sequence played piano.  Then came various changes of mood but not too abrupt and superficially sensationalist. I thought it an inspired view of this Hungarian Rhapsody that elevated its often hackneyed nature to the realm of true musical art.

Joo Yeon Ka (Republic of Korea) (Fazioli)

M. Ravel Jeux d’eau

She created a radiant, impressionistic sound that was supremely appropriate to this alluring music.

J. Brahms Variations on a theme by Paganini, Op. 35, Book II

She approached this great work purely as a virtuoso exercise it seemed to me but it was magnificent in its conception. There was not a great deal of expressiveness here but her luminous tone and refined touch carried all before it. She produced a huge tone without roughness.

F. Chopin Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52

I unfortunately felt a lack of forward narrative movement in this ‘opera of life’ as her interpretation became rather too dreamy and ‘lost’. I look for a more rhapsodic complex Chopin after the innocence of the opening in this masterpiece rather than stasis and meditation. I would like to quote the great Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski, so recently sadly departed to a possibly finer place, concerning this Ballade and his unsurpassed penetrating view of it:

The narration is marked, to an incomparably higher degree than in the previous ballades, with lyrical expression and reflectiveness. It does not flow so smoothly as the G minor Ballade. The work’s lyrical narrator seems to waver, hesitate, come to a halt, seek the way forwards and begin his tale anew in slightly different words; he imparts to his thoughts a different tonal illumination. Then later, the Ballade’s principal theme, relating, ‘in a voice at first lowered and uncertain’, what appear to be its own experiences and states of mind rather than anyone else’s, takes on a succession of different guises and characters, becoming transformed, more alive, losing its diffidence, boosted by the strength of the sound. Finally, it reaches a peak, arriving at the point where it loses itself in an ecstatic fullness of sound.

The narrative does not lead us down a straight path. Its plot grows entangled, turns back and stops. As in the tale of Odysseus, mysterious, weird and fascinating episodes appear. Then there is a sudden halt, a literal pause for thought over the fascinating phenomenon expressed in the pianistic cadenza, after which – not without difficulty – the narrative returns, via imitation, to spinning out the thread that had been broken.

Joanna Goranko (Poland) (Yamaha)

J. Haydn Sonata in E-flat major, Hob. XVI: 52

A finely performed sonata, stylistically correct, minimal pedal and finely honed tone and touch. She presented the gentle drama of the Allegro (Moderato) successfully. Haydn intended the sonata for his dear friend and confidante Maria Anna von Genzinger. ‘This sonata is in E flat, entirely new and forever meant only for Your Grace’, he wrote to her, adding that the Adagio was ‘somewhat difficult, but full of feeling’. She asked Haydn to simplify it. She wrote: ‘I like the Sonata very much, but there is one thing which I wish could be changed (if by so doing it does not detract from the beauty of the piece), and that is the passage in the second part of the Adagio, where the hands cross over; I am not used to this and thus found it hard to do, and so please let me know how this could be altered.’ Haydn may well have been in love with Maria Anna from this affectingly sensitive and intimate music. Goranko gave this movement a great deal of ardent feeling and emotion in the turbulent middle section. The fast sonata-form Finale: Presto was dispatched with panache and verve.

F. Chopin Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52

I would like to quote the great Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski, so recently sadly departed to a possibly finer place, concerning this Ballade and his unsurpassed penetrating view of it:

The narration is marked, to an incomparably higher degree than in the previous ballades, with lyrical expression and reflectiveness. It does not flow so smoothly as the G minor Ballade. The work’s lyrical narrator seems to waver, hesitate, come to a halt, seek the way forwards and begin his tale anew in slightly different words; he imparts to his thoughts a different tonal illumination. Then later, the Ballade’s principal theme, relating, ‘in a voice at first lowered and uncertain’, what appear to be its own experiences and states of mind rather than anyone else’s, takes on a succession of different guises and characters, becoming transformed, more alive, losing its diffidence, boosted by the strength of the sound. Finally, it reaches a peak, arriving at the point where it loses itself in an ecstatic fullness of sound.

The narrative does not lead us down a straight path. Its plot grows entangled, turns back and stops. As in the tale of Odysseus, mysterious, weird and fascinating episodes appear. Then there is a sudden halt, a literal pause for thought over the fascinating phenomenon expressed in the pianistic cadenza, after which – not without difficulty – the narrative returns, via imitation, to spinning out the thread that had been broken.

This was an excellent performance depicting le climat de Chopin (as Marcelina Czartoryska put it) and idiomatically ‘Polish’.

Aya Hirakawa (Japan) (Steinway)

F. Liszt Années de pèlerinage I, S. 160:

No. 5 Orage  This was a powerful and almost visual depiction of a storm

No. 6 Vallée d’Obermann

I adore this work above almost anything Liszt wrote. The literary background to La Vallée d’Obermann is the novel Obermann by Étienne Pivert de Senancour.

‘The vast consciousness of Nature, everywhere overwhelming and everywhere unfathomable, universal love, indifference, ripe wisdom, sensuous ease – all that the mortal heart can contain of desire and profound sorrow, I felt them all.’
(Obermann from Letter 4)

One should never underestimate the influence of literature on Liszt (he was a brilliant writer himself) and the profound influence throughout artistic and creative Europe of the poems of Lord Byron. I have been in love with the work since my teens. Hirakawa gave quite a poetic impression of the grand Swiss landscape but it was not always coherent. I looked for more Romantic urgency in the performance. She employed silences effectively but they were on the verge of mannerism at times – one has to be so careful not to overdo this. Horowitz was fond of this work and his interpretation at his 1966 Carnegie Hall recitals was always the greatest to my mind. Liszt himself wept on hearing it again later in his life – the memories it evoked for him were so strong.

F. Chopin Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 45

The contrast with Liszt of this music was dramatic! A tender and beautifully sensitive performance.

S. Prokofiev Toccata, Op. 11

A tremendously powerful, tempestuous and effective performance from such a small person!

Gen Li (China) (Fazioli)

The first thing I noticed about this pianist was the extraordinary crystalline sound he produces from the instrument – a type of platinum glow. The Chinese in this competition have extraordinary refinement of tone and touch – certainly outstanding. They perform with ultimate intensity, commitment and rhythmic brilliance.

J. S. Bach Prelude and Fugue No. 11 in F major, BWV 880, WTC II

To preserve the legato he tended to over-pedal this beautiful Prelude in a manner I would refer to now as the ‘old school’ such a revolution has taken lace in performance practice. A finger legato is certainly possible here. The fugue was arrestingly articulated and detaché and not pedalled at all. The voices were finely delineated through his skilled use of staccato and demi-staccato.

L. Liebermann Gargloyes, Op. 29

I am completely unfamiliar with either the composer or the work. I have now listened to Yuya Wang give a fabulous performance of it and find it an interesting and highly entertaining piece with definite melodic gifts – astonishing certainly but not moving.

C. Debussy Etude No. 10 Pour Les Sonorités Opposées

This peaceful, meditative and experimental Etude of Debussy’s ‘late style’ reveals him as searching for sonorities in a manner that must have appeared almost incomprehensible in 1915. Li produced a illuminatingly impressionistic interpretation that was seductive in its sonorities.

S. Prokofiev Sonata No. 3 in A minor, Op. 28

Prokofiev in 1917

Completed in 1917, this sonata is subtitled D’après de vieux cahiers (from the Old Notebooks), and is a re-construction of a composition from 1907-1908. This single movement rather positively energetic work calls on the pianist to balance a motivic motoric scherzando-lie forward irresistible momentum with sections of almost ardent, reflective lyricism. Li gave a highly impressive, fantastically articulated conclusion – account of this sonata with ravishing crystalline tone.

An outstanding first stage recital that will be almost certain to carry him forward.

Daria Kiseleva (Russia) (Steinway)

N. Medtner Fairy Tales, Op. 34
No. 1 Magic Fiddle
No. 3 Wood Goblin

I had not known these pieces on what was clearly a carefully designed programme. The four Fairy Tales of Op. 34 (Skazky) were published in 1919. These are actually more ‘Folk Tales’ than ‘Fairy Tales’ but charming and childlike in much the same manner. After the defeat of the Russian Revolution of 1905 (‘The Great Dress Rehearsal’ for the October Revolution of 1917 commented Lenin), descriptive passages depicting nature and wind, snowstorms, or blizzards became fertile imagery and themes in the works of poets and composers. In Fairy Tale op. 34 No. 2, Medtner gives an epigraph from the poetry of Feodor Tutchev (1803-1873) : ‘When we have called a thing ours, it departs from us forever.’  Kiseleva was marvellously expressive particularly in Wood Goblin. The pieces an authentic discovery for me.

M. Ravel Gaspard de la nuit

Kiseleva gave us a particularly sensitive treatment of Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel. ‘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.

In Ondine Kiseleva was refined with great delicy of impressionistic sound. She created the seductive image of a nymph. She performed with a controlled and luminous tone with an alluring legato to conjure the sense of water enclosing a seductive water sprite.

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

The Waves or Ondine by Paul Gaugin (1889)

Le Gibet although gloomy and lugubrious was not quite as haunting and horrifying as one might desire with those doom-laden repeated notes. Bleak certainly but stasis should be even more isolated and lonely in death or punishment for serious transgressions – a body swaying in the wind.

Image result for salvator rosa body on a gibbet
Scene of Witchcraft Salvator Rosa c. 1646–49

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

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

In Scarbo, Kiseleva exaggerated the grotesque rhythms of this rightful goblin terrifying a sleeper in his bed. Her pedaling and articulation were quite brilliant, threatening and ominously energetic. However I felt that the insidious sexuality that pervades his character as depicted by Ravel could have been more strongly and revoltingly presented. One feels it Scarbo could be an irrational erotic dream. Kiseleva has a magnificent sense of sweeping rhapsodic rhythm. The climaxes were terrifying.

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!

I consider this to be a truly outstanding performance of an ultimately demanding work which should take Kiselva into the competition finals. A marvelous recital altogether indicating complete technique and a full meeting of the expressive demands of her programme.

Linda Lee (Republic of Korea) (Fazioli)

J. S. Bach Prelude and Fugue No. 4 in C-sharp minor, BWV 849, WTC I

Not a particularly distinctive Bach performance but excellent polyphony delineation in the Fugue

J. Brahms 7 Fantasien, Op. 116

How marvelous that a competitor chose these dense and reflective late Brahms piano works  to perform in the first stage of a competition!

As the ringing virtuosic chords of the Capriccio (Presto energico) rang out I was transported into that other world Brahms explores beyond the physical, of the nature of love. The heart-breaking yearning melody of the second Intermezzo (Andante) was performed in as sensitive and reflective a style as it should be presented. The third Capriccio (Allegro passionato) returned us to the fiery virtuosity of the first piece in the set. Perhaps she lacked the sheer Brahmsian weight for this work. The fourth harmonically complex, almost experimental, Intermezzo (Adagio) was so sensitively reflective and had a fine legato and cantabile in what must really be regarded as a love song. The fifth piece, the Intermezzo (Andante con grazia ed intimissimo sentimento) seems to hold at its heart a struggle with the cruel doubts of love. Security of affections followed by clouds passing across the face of ardent emotions in that curious limping rhythm. I felt Lee captured these rarefied feeling very well indeed, intimacy retained as requested by the composer. The sixth Intermezzo (Andantino teneramente) cast the doubts of the previous piece into the outer darkness and celebrates the unsullied beauty of his own tender then rhapsodic feelings towards his beloved. The Intermezzo was played with expression and grace. In the final Capriccio (Allegro agitato) we return to the fierce resolution of the first Capriccio. The conclusion contains not so much resignation as courageous yet unwilling, almost angry acceptance of unrequited love.

Motohiro Sato (Japan) (Kawai)

A. Scriabin Sonata No. 9 Messe Noire, Op. 68

Hieronymus Bosch (via Wikimedia Commons)
A Black Mass by Hieronymus Bosch

I can do no better than quote the brilliant and perceptive 1996 description of this inaccessible sonata by Simon Nicholls to the Hyperion recording by Marc-André Hamelin.

The Sonata No 9, Op 68 (‘Black Mass’), is perhaps the most famous of all Scriabin’s sonatas. Its title is the invention of Alexei Podgayetsky, a pianist, admirer, theosophist and companion. It certainly reflects the nature of the music: framed by bare, strictly imitative writing, the atmosphere is Satanic. The repeated notes marked ‘mystérieusement murmuré’ which answer the first, harshly dissonant climax distantly recall the ‘Mephistopheles’ motive in Liszt’s B minor sonata, and the technique by which the lyrical second subject appears in increasingly seductive guises and finally emerges as a grotesque march is a parody in the spirit of Berlioz’s ‘Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat’ in the Symphonie fantastique. A figure of crescendoing trills, which raises the tension, is like a conjuration. After a sensual but ‘poisonous’ (Scriabin’s description) interlude, where pleasure and pain seem to be inextricably mingled, every subsequent tempo marking is an increase in speed; the first idea is recapitulated with its figuration speeded up and spread widely over the keyboard, a breath-taking innovation which completely removes the traditional drop in tension associated with recapitulation to which Boris de Schloezer objected. After the carefully calculated peak of dissonance reached in the march, which the composer described as a ‘parade of the forces of evil’, the music breaks for a few bars into whirling fragmentation—writing just three years after the piece was composed, A E Hull coined the memorable phrase ‘molecular vertigo’. The return of the opening bars leaves us wondering where, or how, this vision or dream has vanished.

I feel this overambitious  pianist (for a competition piece) approached this profound work purely pianistically and should read the above and then listen to Vladimir Sofronitsky perform it in his visionary and metaphysically deeply settling manner. Not a work for the young. There must be more evil threateningly hovering here and more variation in dynamics to give the work an authentically ominous ‘evil’ atmosphere.

L. van Beethoven Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp major, Op. 78

Adagio cantabile – Allegro ma non troppo
Allegro vivace

Apart from getting around the notes exceptionally well with a good sense of the classical keyboard style pianistically, I could not help asking myself what is this pianist trying to say to us about the work in terms of expression? This sonata immediately followed the ‘Appassionata’ and was a work that Beethoven himself liked a great deal. It has always been known as the sonata ‘A Thérèse,’ as it was dedicated to Countess Therese von Brunswick. This composition is blithe and even joyful and exuberant in nature and seems to be a work that has put to rest the passionate devils unleashed in the ‘Appassionata’. We must feel this….

F. Chopin Nocturne in E major, Op. 62 No. 2

I am afraid I felt Sato lacked any deep understanding of this work or Chopin, a popular but in many ways inaccessible composer. I would suggest he read this penetrating description of this work by the great Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski:

The melody of the second of the Nocturnes from 1846, in the key of E major, proceeds lento sostenuto – slowly and with a stifled voice. It stifles the emotions here, which are present beneath the ostensibly calm declamation, wending its way over accompaniment chords measured out with demureness and implacable consistency. The narrative emerges from silence and returns to silence, after relishing a plenitude of sound. The strength of emotion is articulated by the expression of the melody which complements the initial idea. It explodes, shattering the melody’s calm passage with sudden leaps and runs, before picking up the broken thread a moment later. The hitherto pent-up emotions are given their head in the middle section of the Nocturne. Chopin has this music – restless, even convulsively tense – played forte and agitato, and so like nervous speech. The agitation soon subsides, however, giving way to the principal melody. This comes about in a wondrously beautiful way: the melody returns with greater calm and poise than before the eruption of that inner storm – absent, aloof.

F. Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 12 Chasse-neige

This technically immensely demanding, fabulously descriptive piece was rather beyond this pianist technically to do it full justice. One must be able to wing effortlessly above the demands of Liszt to convince.

Michal Mossakowski (Poland) (Yamaha)

F. Chopin Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20

In Chopin’s letters from his time in Vienna: ‘I curse the moment I left… In the salon I pretend to be calm, but on returning home I fulminate at the piano… I return, play, cry, laugh, go to bed, put out the light and dream always of you… Everything I’ve seen thus far abroad seems to me […] unbearable and only makes me long for home, for those blissful moments which I couldn’t appreciate… It seems like a dream, a stupor, that I’m with you – and what I hear is just a dream’. Robert Schumann famously wrote of the Chopin scherzos  ‘How should gravity array itself when jest is already so darkly dressed?

The beginning Presto con fuoco is certainly fast and fiery. Discontinuous, full of sharp, unexpected accents: a ‘furious storm of motives’ or ‘tongues of flame bursting upwards’ or ‘a nerve-fraying mood’ opening with ‘two shattering cries at the top and the bottom of the keyboard’. I felt much of the opening was too fast in tempo to achieve the necessary clarity of running passages of the atmospheric ‘infernal banquet’ required by this dark ‘joke’ (as the word  ‘scherzo’ is supposed to mean in Italian).

The lyrical lullaby central section (based on the Polish Christmas Carol  Lulajze Jezuniu) however was quite superb with an ardent singing tone that was deeply affecting. Such a basic contrast it seems as if two worlds impact on each other. The outer world brings war, anxiety and horror, whilst the inner world is one of nostalgia and remembrance of past family joy. However the return for me of ‘the infernal’ remained rather rushed and ‘over-hectic’ for Chopin, again not sufficiently clearly articulated. But others  I spoke to afterwards loved this individual approach and interpretation full of a breathless rush of passion. A very Polish interpretation indeed….

C. Debussy Images, Book I

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) wrote in a letter to Edgar Varèse: ‘I love pictures almost as much as music.’ The connections between creative arts has always preoccupied me. Robert Schumann in the mid-19th century wrote: ‘The painter can learn from a symphony by Beethoven, just as the musician can learn from a work by Goethe.’  Debussy painted pictures with tones and became associated with Impressionism in the manner of the French painter Monet.

Image result for paintings of pebble thrown into water
Pebble thrown into Loch Katrine, Scotland

Mystery lies in the quiet opening of the Reflets dans l’eau. The pianist Marguerite Long, a contemporary of Debussy, said that the composer referred to the opening motif as ‘a little circle in water with a little pebble falling into it’. Mossakowski gave us a pleasantly impressionistic account but a few unfortunate solecisms crept in.

Debussy greatly admired French culture of the 18th century, so the choice of inspiration being Jean Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) is not unexpected. I would havw thoght the clavecin pieces of François Couperin and Watteau closer to Debussy’s temperament but obviously he considered not. The Hommage is ‘in the style of a Sarabande’ a slow, stately 18th-century dance with a deeply affecting melody. I found his account attractive but he was tempted into rather rough homophonic playing where different colours and voices can be brought forward with subtlety and the judicious use of the pedal.

Mouvement  is pure piano virtuosity of breathtaking difficulty by Debussy as if an endless etude. Mossakowski performed this impressively certainly but calls for even more lightness to create the agitated impressionistic effect of leaves in the wind that develops into thew gusts of a storm with internal voices as Debussy surely intended.

Hristeya Markova (Bulgaria) (Steinway)

F. Mendelssohn Variations sérieuses, Op. 54

On July 15, 1841 Mendelssohm wrote to his friend Karl Klingemann : ‘Do you know what I am composing now ? A set of variations for piano, eighteen in one stroke on a theme in D minor : and this gives me divine pleasure… it seems that I have to make up for the fact that I had not written any before.’ As with the Schumann Fantasy, the Variations sérieuses were written to assist the financing of the Beethoven monument in Bonn.

The great pianist Paul Badura-Skoda illuminatingly wrote of this work:

The title is an understatement. These variations are not only “serious”, they are tragic : a suffering man lays his soul bare. This is not the happy [latin felix] Mendelssohn we know from other works, but a man who has suffered setbacks and disillusions. Yet he rarely puts his deeper emotions in words, he rather expresses them in music, too eloquent for words as he once stated in a letter. The theme itself bears witness to his state of mind : Its sighs and chromaticisms remind us of Bach’s Weinen, Klagen… (Crying and Lamenting Cantata BWV 12), and it is perhaps not by coincidence that the agitated, tormented final presto quotes a motif (Blute nur, du liebes Herz) from the Saint Matthew Passion, which Mendelssohn had resurrected from its oblivion in 1829, hundred years after its first performance.

Although pianistically in command of the work, she pursued a rather disappointingly  same dynamic throughout without a great deal of expressive variation. The tempo she adopted was rather too fast which tended to erase expressive possibilities and made it difficult for me to follow the piece properly. I find it difficult to understand she was allowed to prepare this great work in this rather superficial manner.

C. Debussy Images, Book I:
Reflets dans l’eau

Pleasantly impressionistic

A. Vladigerov (1933-1993) Dilmano Dilbero Variations

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A. Vladigerov (1933-1993)

I am sadly completely ignorant of the compositions of the Bulgarian composer Alexander Vladigerov (1933-1993).

Alexander Vladigerov graduated from the State Academy of Music in 1956 where he studied Conducting with Professor Vladi Simeonov and Piano and Composition with his father. He specialised for two years with Natan Rahlin, chief conductor of the Kiev Philharmonic. Since 1958 he was conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestras in Pleven, Plovdiv and Ruse and since 1969 to the end of his life of the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra. He toured Europe, Japan and Cuba. He made multiple performances and gramophone recordings of the stage and symphony works of Pancho Vladigerov. 

He composed three musical plays for children, which became very popular and were frequently performed; works for symphony orchestra; chamber works and songs. His piano works were prize-winning at the international composition competitions in Warsaw, Moscow (1955) and Bolzano, Italy (1957).  (Union of Bulgarian Composers)

Alexander Vladigerov was Pancho Vladigerov’s son. Written in 1954, the Variations are an incredible work combining 20th century percussive style, Romantic and Folk elements with traditional Bulgarian folklore. The piece itself is a journey of variety of rhythm changes and jazzy harmonies which blend with romantic ocean-like melodies and all themes and climaxes lead to one big final climax (pianist Tania Stavreva).  I enjoyed these pieces immensely. A real discovery for me! Thank you Hristeya Markova for introducing me to his music.


November 10th 2019 at 17.00

Paderewski Pomeranian Philharmonic Concert Hall

 Paderewski Pomeranian Philharmonic Orchestra

conducted by Kai Bumann

Soloist – Nikita Mndoyants

1st prize 7th International Paderewski Piano Competition (Bydgoszcz, 2007) 

Portrait of the composer Sergei Prokofiev, 1934 – Pyotr Konchalovsky

  1. Prokofiev – Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16


Scherzo: Vivace

Intermezzo: Allegro moderato

Finale: Allegro tempestoso

This concerto is a great work, possibly one of the most difficult in the concerto repertoire and was performed tonight by Nikita Mndoyants, one of finest of Prokofiev interpreters playing today. The work was completed in 1913 and then destroyed by fire in the Russian revolution. Prokofiev reconstructed this work in significantly different form in 1923 and dedicated it to the memory of the young pianist and composer Maximilian Schmidthof, a friend of Prokofiev’s at the St. Petersburg conservatorium.   He had committed suicide in 1913 by shooting himself after leaving a nihilistic note. His suicide note to Prokofiev read partly ‘I am reporting the latest news to you. I have shot myself. Don’t grieve overmuch. The reasons were not important.’ and he quoted in a letter a dark poem by Mikhail Lermontov:


It’s tiresome and sad, and there’s no one to lend you a hand
In your heart’s hour of trials and fears.
What you want is… What use, though, forever in vain to demand?
And the years pass you by, all the very best years.

Try loving, but whom? For the time, it’s not worth all the trouble,
And no one keeps loving forever.
Look into yourself – All the past disappears like a bubble,
Both the joy and the torment, to naught your endeavour.

Your passions? Once, sooner or later, when Reason has found you,
Their sweet sickness will pass at her stroke;
And life, as you look with cold, distant attention around you,
Is just such a stupid and meaningless joke.

January, 1840. Mikhail Lermontov.


И скучно и грустно, и некому руку подать
В минуту душевной невзгоды…
Желанья!.. Что пользы напрасно и вечно желать?..
А годы проходят” все лучшие годы!

Любить… но кого же?.. На время” не стоит труда,
А вечно любить невозможно.
В себя ли заглянешь?” Там прошлого нет и следа:
И радость, и муки, и всё там ничтожно…

Что страсти? ” Ведь рано иль поздно их сладкий недуг
Исчезнет при слове рассудка;
И жизнь, как посмотришь с холодным вниманьем вокруг, ”
Такая пустая и глупая шутка…

Январь 1840. Михаил Лермонтов.

(Translated by Maxim Litvinov)

It is a work full of magnificent energy and life – an affirmation to live. This truly avant-garde work was attacked as ‘shameful’ in early performances as one of the worst examples of ‘modernism’ causing Prokofiev to be branded an ‘anarchist’ or ‘futurist’. Progressive artists of the day loved it. It is exceptionally demanding on the pianist, orchestra and conductor. Of the premiere a newspaper review reported that Prokofiev was ‘either dusting the keys or trying out the notes at the beginning of the Concerto’ and that the audience was ‘scandalized, the majority hissed.’ Protests abounded: ‘Such music is enough to drive you crazy!’ ‘The devil with such futuristic stuff!’ The eminent music-historian and critic Vyacheslav Karatygin, described the audience as ‘frozen with fright, hair standing on end’. I felt the work continues to inhabit the world of the avant-garde  and is unsettling even today.

Before the official review, I would like to quote from comments I wrote of Mndoyants’s outstanding approach to Prokofiev at Duszniki Zdrój in August 2017, when I first heard him. 

‘I had been greatly anticipating this recital from the winner of the 2016 Cleveland International Piano Competition, winner of the 2007 Paderewski International Piano Competition with which I am particularly familiar and a finalist in the 2013 Van Cliburn International Competition. Here we have a rare combination of composer and executant in an irresistible combination. 


He concluded his recital with another work by Prokofiev, the last of the so-called ‘War Sonatas’, that masterpiece, the Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat major Op.84 (1944).  Mndoyants captured the melancholy, that suppressed and not so suppressed suffering, the desolation of war which suffuses the opening movement Andante dolce. A deeply moving account. The indication to the second movement is curious Andante sognando (dream-like) which is predominantly lyrical, harmonically predictable and rather like seeing a waltz in a distant ballroom from a garden though shifting mists, lovers fitfully passing the golden illuminated windows of a mansion. Perfect poetic imagery with this pianist. The final Vivace was an absolute triumph of feathery lightness, glorious tonal quality, timbre and pointillist articulation – brilliant in a word with unrelenting forward movement. Quite fantastic this movement and unlike any Prokofiev I have ever heard. Tumultuous applause and an instant standing ovation.

Among the very greatest Prokofiev I have ever heard in a concert hall. One of the greatest recitals at Duszniki Zdrój for years.’

Related image
Prokofiev at 22, the age when he composed the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op.16

The pianism he displayed tonight simply confirmed my initial judgement of his temperamental affinity with Prokofiev. The concerto is in four movements. Mndoyants opened  the extensive Andantino with great sensitivity, colour and refinement. The piano writing here is a long slow movement followed by a development which is a solo cadenza which has the reputation of being the longest and most demanding in the piano literature, specifically an Allegretto.  Such panache and élan he brought to it! He was quite breathtaking in the transparency he expressed in this movement and the polyphonic details we were able to hear. It had the sweep of some variety of avant-garde Rachmaninoff. His formidably skillful and artistic pedaling had a great deal to do with the achievement of this astonishing result.

The second movement Scherzo: Vivace is short. I found it remarkably humorous in a rather dark mocking manner, ironical, a rather mechanistically driven perpetuum mobile. Mndoyants was buoyant in rhythm, expressive and his lightish detaché articulation which suited this puckish Stravinsky-like movement perfectly. The third Intermezzo: Allegro moderato is also dark in atmosphere as well feeling rancorous and malign. Yet in the absence of melody, Mndoyants managed to bring to it a high degree of expressiveness, the brittleness and acidic nature of Prokofiev much in evidence. 

The Finale, as its heading Allegro tempestoso indicates, begins lyrically but is replete with sharply contrasting themes, uncomfortable melodies and pounding passages in the piano. The orchestra under Kai Bumann could have been far better balanced dynamically with the soloist in all the movements. I felt they were not so familiar with this work. Fortunately his solo exuberance was more than sufficient to blow us away with admiration. More opportunities for brilliant display were offered to the pianist Mndoyants in the second formidably bravura cadenza which snarls and writhes in its capture. The visual acrobatics were as astounding as the sound he produced.

A highly rewarding concerto performance followed by a fine and surprisingly emotional Beethoven Bagatelle Op. 126 as an encore.

Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) – Concerto for Orchestra

One is of course reminded immediately of Béla Bartók’s landmark 1943 score of the same name.  Lutosławski commented on his Concerto:

‘The folk material and all of its consequences … have found an application in ‘Concerto for Orchestra’. The folklore was, however, merely a raw material used for building a large music form of a few movements that originated neither from a folk song or dance. A work which I could not rank among the most important ones in my music, ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ thus originated in a way which I had not quite expected, as a sort of a result of what was my episodic symbiosis with folk music’ (“Witold Lutosławski. Materiały do monografii”, ed. Stefan Jarociński, Kraków 1967, p. 44-45).

Image result for lutoslawski

The Bydgoszcz musicologist Andrzej Chłopecki comments:

‘The ‘Concerto’ is an artistic summit of what could have been done in the Polish music of the early 1950s without undermining the principles which were set for music by the system. The Bartók-Roussel-like eclecticism, practised with responsibility to Szymanowski’s spiritual testament, with acceptance of Polish folk bias and without challenging the Social Realist utopia, sits by the doctrine, putting it into parenthesis. The doctrine does not apply, for this eclecticism escapes it, finding shelter in the history of European music … There is no answer to the question whether the ‘Concerto’ could have been written without Social Realism in the Polish music. Social Realism, however, may use the score as an alibi gained at the end of its life.’ (Andrzej Chłopecki, “Witolda Lutosławskiego pożegnania z modernizmem” in: “Muzyka – słowo – sens”, Akademia Muzyczna w Krakowie, Kraków 1994, p. 106).

The Concerto for Orchestra was premiered in Warsaw’s Roma Hall on 26th November 1954. It was performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra (known at the time as the Grand Symphony Orchestra of the Warsaw Philharmonic) under Witold Rowicki, to whom the work was dedicated. Oskar Kolberg’s five-volume Mazowsze collection of Polish folk music from the Mazovian region was clearly utilized. These folk tunes, although considerably modified and transformed, recur throughout the Concerto, underlying all of the key themes and motifs. Enthusiastically received, the Concerto was given state awards the following year. The work secured the reputation of Lutosławski as the greatest living Polish composer. It is three movements:

1. Intrada (Allegro maestoso)
2. Capriccio notturno e arioso (Vivace)
3. Passacaglia, toccata e corale (Andante con moto. Allegro giusto)

The first movement produces overwhelming climaxes with strident brass fit for Judgement Day. The music reaches several overwhelming climaxes, punctuated by strident brass. Lutosławski uses at least two themes are based on Polish folk songs.

The middle movement gives one a feeling of secretiveness not unlike Bartók’s ravishing Night Music. This fluctuates like liquid mercury, brilliant droplets combining and separating in terrifying, electrical intensity and suddenness, passing through a panorama of intense sound palettes. Kai Bumann appeared to lose his bearings at times although overall it was quite a strong performance, a work clearly familiar to this orchestra unlike perhaps the Prokofiev. There is not a great deal of finesse with this orchestra or its conductor. From the climax the music flickers out like a bonfire extinguished—the final bars are an extremely sensitive pianissimo duet for tenor and bass drum.

The final movement opens with a Passacaglia. Harps and double basses express a finale of fifteen variations, all carefully dovetailed and growing in intensity and activity until the last, which recedes into silence. This intensity increases until the final agitated toccata. The music evolves into a solemn wind chorale before it rushes to a triumphant conclusion.

The introductory commentary throughout the concert given by the famous Polish film director Krzysztof Zanussi was charming, sophisticated and imbued with all the qualities of sophisticated and refined sensibility and genteel wit that we have come to associate with Polish society before the unleashing of the dogs of war and occupation.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

November 10th – 24th, 2019

The Competition is open to pianists of all nationalities, born between 1987 -2003.

The Competition is organized to commemorate Ignacy Jan Paderewski, a remarkable pianist, virtuoso, composer, politician and statesman.

The schedule:

April 20th, 2019 – the final deadline of sending the written applications

April 20th, 2019 – the deadline for pianists of send the entrance fee

April 30th, 2019 – the candidates are informed about the acceptance of their application or about the invitation to the preliminary audition

May 2019 – the preliminary auditions

June 15th, 2019 – the deadline of sending the DVD recordings of the preliminary repertoire (accepted only in particularly important cases)

July 30th, 2019 –  the announcement of the final list of the candidates, invited to take part in the Competition

September 15th, 2019 – after this day, any changes of the repertoire will not be accepted

The 11 International Paderewski Piano Competition:

November 9th, 2019 – the Competition participants’ arrival to Bydgoszcz

November 10th, 2019 – the Orientation Meeting and the drawing of the  performances order

November 10th, 2019 – the Inaugural Concert

November 11th, 2019 – the beginning of the I stage audition

November 14th, 2019 – the announcement of the I stage results

November 15th, 2019 – the beginning of the II stage audition

November 17th, 2019 – the announcement of the II stage results

November 18th, 2019 – day off – rehearsals with the chamber orchestra (Semi-finalists)

November 19th, 2019 – the beginning of the Semi-final audition

November 20th, 2019 – the announcement of the Semi-final results

November 21st, 2019 – day off – rehearsals with the orchestra (Finalists)

November 22nd – 23rd, 2019 – the Final of the Competition

November 24th, 2019 – the Closing Ceremony

November 24th, 2019 – the announcement of the Prize winners & the presentation of the Awards

November 24th, 2019 – the Prize Winners’ Concert

November 24th , 2019 –  presentation of the Additional Prizes

November 25th, 2019 – the I, II and III Prize Winners’ Concert in the National Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw.

 *  *  *  *  *  *

Jury of 11th Competition

JURY of the 11th International Paderewski Piano Competition

Bydgoszcz, November 10th – 24th, 2019

Piotr Paleczny, Poland – Chairman of the Jury, Artistic Director of the Competition

Lilian Barretto, Brazil

Manana Doijashvili, Georgia

Janina Fialkowska, Canada

Vladimir Ovchinnikov, Russia

Zbigniew Raubo, Poland

Waldemar Wojtal, Poland

Ying Wu, China

Yukio Yokoyama, Japan

Final List of pianists qualified to the 11th International Paderewski Piano Competition

The Competition’s office announce, that Prof. Piotr Paleczny, the Artistic Director of the 11th International Paderewski Piano Competition in Bydgoszcz, has considered the written applications & results of the preliminary audition and recordings (DVD option).

Out of 185 original applications, the competition approved 56 pianists from 15 countries to the 11th International Paderewski Piano Competition in Bydgoszcz.

However 11 potential participants have withdrawn from the competition. Here is the order chosen by ballot this afternoon of 45 pianists from 11 countries

  1. BELYAVSKY Sergey – Rosja/Russia
  2. BYRDY  Łukasz – Polska/Poland
  3. CAO  Bolai – Chiny/China
  4. CHEN  Xuehong – Chiny/China
  5. FURUMI Yasuko – Japonia/Japan
  6. GORANKO  Joanna – Polska/Poland
  7. HA Gyu Tae – Republika Korei/ Republic of Korea
  8. HAO Yilei – Chiny/China
  9. HIRAKAWA Aya – Japonia/Japan
  10. HSU Ting Chia – Tajwan/Taiwan
  11. HSU Yun Chih – Tajwan/Taiwan
  12. KA Joo Yeon – Republika Korei/ Republic of Korea
  13. KHOMICHKO  Anna – Rosja/Russia
  14. KIM  Saetbyeol – Republika Korei/ Republic of Korea
  15. KIM Seunghui  – Republika Korei/ Republic of Korea
  16. KISELEVA Daria – Rosja/Russia
  17. KOZÁK Marek –Republika Czeska/Czech Republic
  18. KRZYŻOWSKI  Mateusz – Polska/Poland
  19. KULIKOVA  Polina – Rosja/Russia
  20. LEE Linda – Republika Korei/ Republic of Korea
  21. LI Gen – Chiny/China
  22. LIU  Tianyuan – Chiny/China
  23. LYNOV  Philipp – Rosja/Russia
  24. MARKOVA  Hristeya – Bułgaria/Bulgaria
  25. MIZUMURA  Shogo – Japonia/Japan
  26. MOSSAKOWSKI Michał – Polska/Poland
  27. MURADOV  Rustam – Rosja/Russia
  28. NIIRO Kana – Japonia/Japan
  29. ONODA Arisa – Japonia/Japan
  30. OTA Saya  – Japonia/Japan
  31. OVCHARENKOIlia – Ukraina/Ukraine
  32. PACHOLEC  Kamil – Polska/Poland
  33. PAPOIAN Ilia – Rosja/Russia
  34. PIERDOMENICO  Leonardo – Włochy/Italy
  35. ROH Hyun Jin – Republika Korei/ Republic of Korea
  36. SATO Motohiro – Japonia/Japan
  37. SHIGEMORI Kotaro – Japonia/Japan
  38. SMIRNOVA  Alina – Rosja/Russia
  39. STARK  Jonas – Niemcy/Germany
  40. SZAŁUCKA Anna – Polska/Poland
  41. WIECZOREK Marcin – Polska/Poland
  42. WON JongHo – Republika Korei/ Republic of Korea
  43. YOO  Se-Hyeong – Republika Korei/ Republic of Korea
  44. ZHANG Yunling – Chiny/China
  45. ZHDANOV Denis – Ukraina/Ukraine

45 pianists from 11 countries

  1. Korea – 8
  2. Russia – 8
  3. China – 6
  4. Japan – 7
  5. Poland – 7
  6. Taiwan – 2
  7. Ukraine – 2
  8. Bulgaria – 1 
  9. Czech Republic- 1
  10. Germany – 1
  11. Italy – 1


1. The Paderewski Piano Competition offers its participants an opportunity to perform the repertoire of their own choice. Thereby, the Organizers give pianists the chance to present their artistic personality, imagination and individuality.

Free choice of the repertoire is restricted by one condition only.
The repertoire to be performed throughout the Competition should contain works
representing at least three different music styles.
3. The Jury shall assess the selected repertoire and its rendition taking into account pianists’ ability to construct the program of a recital, understand and render the depth of works representing a variety of musical styles, thereby display musicality and artistic personality.

1st STAGE – performance duration 25-30 minutes

Free choice repertoire


2nd STAGE – performance duration 40-45 minutes

1. All competitors of the 2nd stage shall perform two or more works by
I. J. Paderewski.
All competitors shall select works from group A and B – at least one from each group.
A. from the series – Polish Dances op. 9:
No. 3. Mazurka in A major
No. 4. Mazurka in B major
from the series – Album de Mai op.10:
No. 1. Au Soir
No. 2. Chant d’amour
from the series – Miscellanea op.16:
No. 1. Legend
No. 2. Melody
No. 3. Thėme variė in A major
No. 4. Nocturne
No. 6. Un moment Musical
B. from the series – Polish Dances op. 9:
No. 6. Polonaise in H major
from the series – Album de Mai op. 10:
No. 3. Scherzino
No. 5. Caprice Valse
from the series – Humoresques de Concert op. 14:
No. 1. Menuet
No. 2. Sarabande
No. 3. Caprice /genre Scarlatti/
No. 4. Burlesque
No. 5. Intermezzo polacco
No.6. Cracovienne fantastique

2. The selection of the remaining works of the 2nd stage repertoire is determined by the pianist.



RECITAL – duration time 40–45 minutes

1. All the participants of Semifinal A shall perform a piece composed by Michał
Dobrzyński (ca. 5 minutes long), specially commissioned by and for the Competition.
The score of said composition shall be made available as soon as the list of
Competition finalists has been published.
2. The selection of remaining pieces performed in A semifinal shall be determined by
a pianist.

Wolfgang Amadeus 2016



Competitors in the semi-final stage shall perform one of W. A. Mozart piano concertos
with the Chamber Orchestra:
No. 15 in B-flat major, K.450
No. 17 in G major, K. 453
No. 19 in F major, K. 459
No. 20 in D minor, K. 466
No. 21 in C major, K. 467
No. 23 in A major, K. 488
No. 24 in C minor, K.491
No. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595


The participants of the final stage shall perform with the I. J. Paderewski Pomeranian
Philharmonic Orchestra one of the following piano concertos:
I. J. Paderewski – Concerto in A minor op. 17
– Polish Fantasy op. 19
L. van Beethoven – Concerto No. 3 in C minor op.37
– Concerto No. 4 in G minor op. 58
– Concerto No. 5 in E flat major op. 73
F. Chopin – Concerto No. 1 in E minor op. 11
– Concerto No. 2 in F minor op. 21
R. Schumann – Concerto in A minor op. 54
F. Liszt – Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major
– Concerto No. 2 in A major
J. Brahms – Concerto No. 1 in D minor op. 15
P. Tchaikovsky – Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor op. 23
S. Rachmaninov – Concerto No. 2 in C minor op.18
– Concerto No. 3 in D minor op. 30
– Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini op. 43
S. Prokofiev – Concerto No. 2 in G minor op.16
– Concerto No. 3 in C major op. 26
K. Szymanowski – Symphonie concertante No. 4 op. 6


I prize € 30 000
II prize € 15 000
III prize € 7 000
Honorary mention € 2 500
Honorary mention € 2 500

The Finalists shall also be awarded the title

Laureate of the 11th International
Paderewski Piano Competition in Bydgoszcz.


a) € 2 000 – for the best performance of I. J. Paderewski’s
Sonata in E flat minor op. 21 or Variations and Fugue in E flat minor op. 23
or in the Final of the Competition Concerto in A minor op. 17 or Polish Fantasy op. 19.
b) € 1 000 – for the best performance of W. A. Mozart piano concerto
c) € 1 000 – for the best semi-final recital
d) € 1 000 – for the best Polish participant classified to the semi-final or final
Special Paderewski Prize – awarded by the Paderewski Foundation in Morges and the
Geneva International Music Competition
3 000 CHF – for a pianist playing in a particularly expressive way in a romantic tradition and a concert in Switzerland.

 *  *  *  *  *

For the 10th International Paderewski Piano Competition November 2016

For the 9th International Paderewski Piano Competition November 2013

 *  *  *  *  *  *

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)

Piotr Betlej Op 10 N 1 2016 © Galerie Roi Doré

Paderewski is such an underestimated composer of affecting lyrical and poetic piano music which speaks directly to the heart and sensibility rather than burdening the intellect with high seriousness.

Naturally being a great patriot he writes many Polish mazurkas and polonaises but much of his solo piano music reminds me of a superb film score for say an intensely romantic French love affair set in Provence directed by Francois Truffaut. In our imaginations we could be bowling along a poplar lined route secondaire past hills of vineyards with Catherine Deneuve or Stephane Audran in the passenger seat of a Chapron Citroen cabriolet. Her hair is wonderfully awry in the wind as we head towards une belle gentilhommiere and nights of sophisticated sensual bliss, days of cultivated tastes, food and wine.  Ah…what we have lost of true civilization and culture in 2016…Paderewski had it all.

The music of Paderewski wears its learning lightly with poetry, charm, elegance and refinement of the highest order. The pieces chosen are an excellent introduction of this neglected repertoire for these young pianists and with luck the pieces might kindle poetry and charm in their playing.

My argument of neglect is validated by the only recording of his complete piano works I know of made by the pianist Karol Radziwonowicz in Warsaw in 1991 in a co-production for the French Le Chant Du Monde label and the Polish label Selene. To my knowledge it has never been reissued.  LDC 278 1073/5 distributed by Harmonia Mundi. Used copies are available but at inflated prices.


It is a great pity that the Paderewski Piano Concerto has been so rarely prepared by any participant in this competition. A special prize is even offered for the finest interpretation. Such a lyrical and grand work full of piano pyrotechnics, noble harmonies, dance energy and infectious charm. Audiences would adore it!


For me the finest interpretation of the Paderewski Piano Concerto in A minor Op.17 is by the Polish pianist and Chairman of the Competition Jury Piotr Paleczny with the Sinfonia Varsovia conducted by Jerzy Maksymiuk.

The BeArTon CD is available together with more information on Paderewski as well as the history and gestation of these two works using this link:

You can also hear the work on ‘SoundCloud’ together with the Polish Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra Op.19 here:

  • I.J. Paderewski – Polish Fantasy For Piano And Orchestra Op. 19

  • I.J. Paderewski – Piano Concerto In A Minor Op. 17
  • 1st mov. Allegro

  • 2nd mov. Romanza. Andante

  • 3rd mov. Allegro Molto Vivace

The fine English pianist Johnathan Plowright has recorded the Concerto in A Minor Op. 17, the Polish Fantasia Op. 19, the Sonata Op.21 and the Variations and Fugues Op. 11 & Op. 23 for Hyperion. 

Another outstandingly fine account of the Concerto and Fantasia is by Antoni Wit and the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice with the superb virtuoso Janina Fialkowska as soloist on the Naxos label.


You may like to read this excellent and heartfelt article on Paderewski whilst waiting for the competition to begin


‘Poland is immortal!’

Written by the sadly missed Stanisław Dybowski (1946-2019)

‘Poland is immortal!’ so exclaimed Ignacy Jan Paderewski on 23 January 1940 at the inaugural meeting  of the National Council of the Republic of Poland in Paris, when the situation of the country occupied by two invaders was being pondered. He once said about himself: ‘I am neither lured by power nor attracted to the prestige of being the father of the nation and the more modest  position of a useful son of his land would be more than sufficient to me’… and about himself as a pianist: ‘everybody told me – and I was beginning to believe it myself – that I would never be a pianist.’

 And yet, his strong belief that Poland is immortal led him right up to the pinnacle of art and politics. He worked in both those areas in order to further his patriotic goals, to which he subordinated everything else!

‘Ignacy Jan Paderewski , said the Primate of Poland in 1986, ‘died in the united States. The funeral ceremonies lasted several days. First, a grand memorial service was held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. Then, the body was carried to Washington, D.C., and, on 5 July 1941, was laid at Arlington cemetery with military honours. The coffin with the body was laid, but not interred. The funeral was not finished’. It was finished 51 years later, on 5 July 1992, in the presence of the Presidents of Poland and the united States, with the artist’s remains being placed in the crypt of St. John’s cathedral in Warsaw. Thus the will of the Great Pole was implemented, which was to be laid to rest in free Poland, for which he had fought as a politician and a statesman and the cause of which he had championed through his concerts, carrying the name of Frederic Chopin high on his banner.

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’.

He was formed as an artist at the Warsaw Institute of Music thanks to, among others, Professor Juliusz Janotha (1819–1883), an outstanding pianist and teacher. Professor Władysław Żeleński (1837–1921)gave the following correct assessment of the student’s personality:

‘A young eagle, of a noble breed, proud, courageous, ambitious, a bit aggressive and self-willed but, most of all, independent […]. He had an innate sense of what is right, rebelling against the existing state of affairs if he considered it wrong.’

The great Polish pianist and pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky (1830–1915), Paderewski’s last professor in Vienna, said the following about his pupil for the Tygodnik Ilustrowany weekly in 1899:

‘Paderewski… Paderewski…, repeated Leschetizky several times, as if caressing himself with that word. ‘My pride and honour … He will be a brilliant artist until the end of his days, because he has the character, because he did not and would not think of any goals other than his work … He studied under my guidance for four years, two of which were devoted by him solely to five-finger exercises, until he finally achieved what we call technique … Nowadays he may not be playing for months and will still not lose his skill; his fingers will play by themselves … This is how my system works – to make finger muscles independent from elbow and forearm muscles. It is then that you achieve total freedom … And the style? After the technique we worked on developing the style […], on reconciling the individuality of the virtuoso with the intentions of the composer. The artist’s individuality is a small nucleus contained within a large number of sheaths. The teacher may change the latter, but the nucleus should remain untouched. […] Paderewski is a model that demonstrates exactly how a teacher should instruct his pupil to ensure that everything that his heart may feel and his head may think gets to his fingers through tiny nerve and muscle threads.’

Paderewski achieved everything with hard work, setting high standards for himself expectations and, then, pursuing them mercilessly; he was also always an adamant guardian of the values that he believed in. This manifested itself in him as a virtuoso pianist, a Pole – fighting for his land’s independence, a composer and a teacher. Those traits of his character were noticed by everyone and it was them that drew people to him.

As a Bonner Zeitung critic wrote:

‘Paderewski has become one with the piano just like Chopin did before him. For him the piano is everything – the eye, the ear, the heart and the mouth; the world sings to him in piano tones, he lives the piano and uses it to interact with the world’

while a Kurier Warszawski reporter wrote:

‘For a whole hour the public was flocking to Paderewski’s third concert. In the vestibule downstairs the crowd was filling the staircase and the antechamber on the first floor was so packed with people that any movement towards the grand hall was hardly possible. It did not matter to anyone that other people were treading on his or her feet; even the ladies were not offended if anyone stepped on their train or got caught in their laces. Never mind the train or the laces – we are going to hear Paderewski!’

Edward Risler (1873–1929), a famous pianist and professor at the Consevatoire de Paris, described him briefly as ‘A poet of the piano, a moving performer, a dazzling wizard with a noble heart, great in war and peace.  Another piano master, Alfred Cortot (1877–1962), wrote the following in his letter to Paderewski:

‘Is it not to the marvellous charm of Chopin’s work that Poland owes its spiritual survival in human memory in the times of painful slavery? And is it not the inspired performer of his works that has been tasked with the mission of ensuring that his enslaved and martyred land becomes an independent state again? How wonderful and steeped in legend is the epic of a country that owes its liberation more to the lyre than to the sword! All of us who love and admire you are very happy to be able to honour you as a double hero – a hero of Art and of his Motherland!’

Paderewski was a virtuoso, but not in the colloquial, modern meaning of this word, i.e. a musician playing fast and loudly, but rather in the sense that it really expresses. The Latin ‘virtus’ means virtue, manhood, courage, strength and bravery, but also constancy. Those features were characteristic of him in all his activities. In this respect he was close to Chopin, with whom he shared similar views on art, the same love for music and the piano and the same strong uncompromising love for his Motherland!

Paderewski understood – better most people in the past and nowadays – these well-known truths when he said that ‘no country may be happy unless it is free and no country may be free unless it is strong’ and that ‘the cause of the nation is not an undertaking that one should abandon if it yields losses instead of profits. It is a continuous and regular effort, unwavering perseverance and uninterrupted devotion from  generation to generation. It can never stop and no penny should ever be spared on it.

In his portrait dedicated to Paderewski the great French composer Charles Gounod wrote only three, but very significant, words: ‘To my dear, great and noble Paderewski’.

On the 75th anniversary of the death of the Great Pole his compatriots will honour him with concerts and the 10th Ignacy Jan Paderewski  International Piano Competition to be held on 6–20 November in Bydgoszcz.


Although sadly out of print, many fine copies of this discerning biography of Paderewski by the masterful author Adam Zamoyski are still available on this link


Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872). Print by Jean Baptiste Adolphe Lafosse (1810-1879); publlié par l’Editeur J.K. Wilczyński (1850)/ public domain; source: Biblioteka Narodowa

All photos on this site by Piotr Droździk
I will complete all my competition reviews for the record (especially the pianists) in due course. There were so many and the music so new to me it is a massively time-consuming task. During the competition itself I scarcely had time to breathe or eat.
Please just return to this site every few days for updates

Competition Results of Category I (piano)

1st prize – 20,000 euros – Pavel Dombrovsky (Russia)

2nd prize – 10,000 euros – Piotr Ryszard Pawlak (Poland)

3rd prize – 5,000 euros – Mateusz Krzyżowski (Poland)

Three equivalent awards of EUR 1,500:

Ivan Shemchuk (Ukraine)

Tymoteusz Bies (Poland)

Michal Dziewior (Poland)

Competition Results of Category II (Chamber Music)

1st prize – 20,000 euros – Gidaszewska / Łaguniak Duo (Poland)

2nd prize – 10,000 euros – Cracow Golden Quintet (Poland)

2nd prize – 10,000 euros – Ãtma Quartet (Poland)

Third prize – EUR 5,000 – not awarded

Three equivalent awards of EUR 1,500:

Apeiron Trio (Poland)

Novi Piano Duo (Poland)

Roksana Kwaśnikowska / Łukasz Chrzęszczyk (Poland)

The awards were presented during the Winners’ Concert on September 27 at 7:00 pm at the Podkarpackie Philharmonic, Rzeszów. The performers of the concert were the Symphony Orchestra of the Podkarpackie Philharmonic Artur Malawski in Rzeszów under the direction of Jerzy Salwarowski and Tomasz Chmiel and of course the winners of the piano category of the Competition.

The winners’ concert was repeated on September 29 at the National Philharmonic in Warsaw at 6pm.

I  agree with the decisions of both juries except for not awarding a Third Prize  in the Chamber Music. I imagine there are great difficulties establishing common musical criteria to judge the musical quality of the different types of chamber groups – piano duos, piano and flute duos, piano and violin duos, trios, quartets, quintets. It was an unusual decision for me having listened to everything. I can only think of the many deserving musicians I heard.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The following pianists have qualified for the Final Stage of Category I (piano).

The Symphony Orchestra of the Artur Malawski Podkarpacka Philharmonic

in Rzeszów

conducted by

Jerzy Salwarowsky

Ivan Shemchuk (Ukraine)

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)
Piotr Betlej Op 10 N 1 2016 © Galerie Roi Doré

Ivan Shemchuk chose to play the Paderewski Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 17. Paderewski was only 28 when he composed this concerto and was scarcely known as a musical figure. He had made extensive studies with Theodor Leschetizky and in 1888, the year of its composition, he made his debut in Paris and Vienna. He wrote in his Memoirs:

When I finished [the] concerto, I was still lacking in experience. I had not even heard it performed—it was something I was longing for. I wanted to have the opinion then of a really great orchestral composer. I needed it. So without further thought I took my score and went directly to Saint-Saëns. But I was rather timid … I realised on second thoughts that it was, perhaps, presumption on my part to go to him. Still I went to his house nevertheless. I was so anxious for his opinion. He opened the door himself. ‘Oh, Paderewski, it’s you. Come in,’ he said. ‘Come in. What do you want?’ I realised even before he spoke that he was in a great hurry and irritable, probably writing something as usual and not wanting to be interrupted. ‘What can I do for you? What do you want?’ I hesitated what to answer. I knew he was annoyed. I had come at the wrong moment … ‘I came to ask your opinion about my piano concerto,’ I said very timidly. ‘I ——.’ ‘My dear Paderewski,’ he cried, ‘I have not the time. I cannot talk to you today. I cannot.’ He took a few steps impatiently about the room. ‘Well, you are here so I suppose I must receive you. Let me hear your concerto. Will you play it for me?’ He took the score and read it as I played. He listened very attentively. At the Andante he stopped me, saying, ‘What a delightful Andante! Will you kindly repeat that?’ I repeated it. I began to feel encouraged. He was interested. Finally he said, ‘There is nothing to be changed. You may play it whenever you like. It will please the people. It’s quite ready. You needn’t be afraid of it, I assure you.’ So the interview turned out very happily after all, and he sent me off with high hopes and renewed courage. At that moment in my career, his assurance that the concerto was ready made me feel a certain faith in my work that I might not have had then. (The Paderewski Memoirs  London 1939 p. 149-50)

Ivan Shemchuk (Ukraine)

This talented pianist being Ukrainian was perhaps disadvantaged in not being as familiar with this work as his Polish contemporaries. I felt the tempo he chose for the Allegro was rather too slow for the strong and noble Polish nationalist flavour that is announced at the beginning in the theme. He would have been more impressive in a more panoramic and rhapsodic sweeping line at a faster tempo for the movement. This meant the feeling was excessively deliberate without the important forward momentum the movement requires.

The Romanza: Andante was also taken at a pace that reduced the ardent simplicity of the harmonies here – one of my favourite piano concerto movements from the second half of the nineteenth century. It reminds me of a superb film score for say an intensely romantic French love affair set in Provence directed by Francois Truffaut. In our imaginations we could be bowling along a poplar-lined route secondaire past hills of vineyards with Catherine Deneuve or Stephane Audran in the passenger seat of a Chapron Citroen cabriolet. Her hair is wonderfully awry in the wind as we head through rolling sunlit pastures towards une belle gentilhommiere and nights of sophisticated sensual bliss, days of cultivated tastes, food and wine.  Ah…what we have lost of true civilization and culture in 2019…Paderewski had it all.

I am afraid this performance somewhat muted the idyllic picture which rises from the best accounts. The orchestral ensemble and conducting left a great deal to be desired as the conductor did not make any eye or even musical contact with the young soloist, even as a gesture of reassurance during movements. The Allegro molto vivace did not quite imbue the dance rhythms with sufficient stylish energy and driving tempo.

Tymoteusz Bies (Polska)

Tymoteusz Bies chose to play the Variations on a Theme of Paganini for piano and orchestra by Witold Lutosławski. Originally this was composed for two pianos. The premiere of the piece was performed in 1941, the same year as its composition by Lutosławski himself together with Andrzej Panufnik at the Aria Cafe in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Lutosławski earned his living and supported his mother through piano playing at cafes such as Art and Fashion and Aria. Many concerts at that time were held in secret in private homes.

The chamber version involves witty exchanges between the two pianos.  In the version for orchestra and piano we heard, this type of internal dialogue is less clear. However Lutosławski was able to indulge his rich imagination for colour and orchestral texture. The orchestration was composed in 1977-78 and dedicated to the pianist Felicja Blumental. It was premiered in 18th November 1979 by the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra with Felicja Blumental as soloist.

I do not know this work well but Bies dominated the unfortunate orchestral proceedings with his formidable musical talent in spectacular fashion. He gave total emotional commitment to this complex and dense work. One objection was I felt as that the orchestra was dynamically out of balance and often synchronization with him (such a common fault in performances of many piano concerti with many orchestras elsewhere too). They dynamically covered the technical pyrotechnics he was engaging in at the keyboard. I could scarcely hear him for long enough to judge much concerning his interpretation of the work, at least from my position in the hall.

Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994)

Michal Dziewior (Polska)

Michal Dziewior is an excellent musician as we have seen from his solo competition performances. This was a far more satisfying Paderewski Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 17. The tempo adopted was appropriate from the outset, set to inspire this excellent pianist to the heights he would naturally aspire to as a Pole playing patriotic Polish music.

I felt he played the opening Allegro with great authority and idiomatic grasp as well as commitment. He clearly understood both Paderewski and the often rhapsodic nature of the concerto in this expressive and nuanced performance. His tone and touch were clearly cultivated and refined. There was always a motivic feeling in his phrasing of moving forward. The orchestra and conductor also seemed slightly happier at this tempo, although again the conductor did not engage at all with the soloist musically which I feel is unfortunate considering the inexperience of these young talents in playing with full orchestral forces. There were rather too many musical solecisms among the orchestral players. The need for more rehearsal time is often a pressure in piano or violin competition finals.

The Romanza: Andante possessed just the right degree of sentiment and poetry, never veering into the mawkish or sentimental into which this movement can all too easily fall prey. It was not quite intense enough for me in its yearning for love, but that may simply be personal taste. The Allegro molto vivace revealed what a commanding technique this pianist possesses. He dispatched this movement with great emotional excitement,  élan and panache.

Madame Essipoff, the famous pianist and Leschetizky’s wife at that time said that ‘as she had introduced some of his (Paderewski’s) compositions already in Vienna, she would like to do this concerto too.’ She had been studying it for some time and Paderewski  ‘glad to have her do it, because I had not studied the concerto sufficiently for a great public performance.’ Paderewski dedicated the work to the great Polish pedagogue and pianist Theodor Leschetizky, and the first performance was conducted by the legendary and renowned conductor Hans Richter and had ‘an immediate success’.


Paderewski at 24 – a close likeness to his appearance during the writing of the concerto

Mateusz Krzyżowski (Polska)

The Symphony Orchestra of the Artur Malawski Podkarpacka Philharmonic

in Rzeszów

conducted by Tomasz Chmiel

The Symphony No.4 Op.60 (Symphonie concertante)  by Karol Szymanowski for piano and orchestra (dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein) was composed in only four months in the Spring of 1932. It is en effet a piano concerto and only later was termed a symphony. He wrote letter to Zofia Kochańska on 9 November 1932:

‘I started writing a piano concerto (but at present it’s a great secret). […] I don’t even know if this concerto is good or bad music, I am writing it without any of that self-criticism which is always so implacable. It just seems to be easy and pleasant to write (regardless of the fact that it might turn out to be a horrible piece of kitsch). […] I think I’ll have finished this piano concerto by the summer, at least in draft, and will slowly start the instrumentation…’

But later to the same correspondent

 ‘it seem as if, together with the Conservatory, I have been freed from some chains which had been binding me so far, and I am now working on this concert with the greatest ease and willingness (again, please keep it a total secret that this is a concert – you could say this is the Fourth Symphony) and, notabene, I have a feeling that it will be a first-class little piece…’

On 27 September he wrote to  Stanisław Wiechowicz:

‘That Fourth Symphony its really almost a concerto, fortunately not too difficult so perhaps I will manage to play it not too badly…’

Szymanowski was not a professional pianist and made compromises in the piano part. He augmented the role of the orchestra to evolve as a brilliant addition to the piano rather than more conventionally remain in dialogue with it. He called it a Symphonie concertante but it essentially remains a piano concerto.

Mateusz Krzyżowski Piotr Droździk

It is in three ‘movements’ with a lyrical and poetic middle movement and an exuberant Polish dance finale. The work is striking and contains unique orchestral writing, colours and textures. The work is optimistic, cheerful and bright and does not inhabit the dark caverns of philosophy or drama. At this time Szymanowski was attempting to escape various reversals in his professional life and ill health.

The first part of the work (Moderato), was described by the composer as “very cheerful, almost merry”. Certainly Mateusz Krzyżowski embraced the varied tempi, lively expressiveness and almost humorous contrasts and capriciousness with great abandon and evident pleasure. There was great charm here and a feeling for the civilized pleasures of life, perhaps even jazz.

The slow second movement (Andante molto sostenuto) appears to inhabit an almost dreamworld of expressiveness and what one might call ‘impressionistic lyricism’ suffuses a supremely beautiful melody. Krzyżowski made much of this, although I felt the orchestra thorough their conductor could have been rather more restrained and allowed the piano to sound transparently more often, rather than submerge it in an excessive symphonic dynamic.

The final third part (Allegro non troppo) which enters attacca, is a terrific stylisation of the Polish fiery oberek dance. The composer makes extensive use of percussion and bass drum. The theme highlights strong  rhythms rather than melodies (perhaps memories of his ballet score Harnasie). However a melodic kernel is introduced which grows inexorably in strength. A lyrical and melodic Polish kujawiak dance appears. Krzyżowski seemed to enjoy this danced aspect of the work a great deal and his enthusiasm communicated itself strongly to the rather young audience. He remained self-confident within the score and clearly knows its intricacies and complexity, colours and rhythms, nuances, and triumphs intimately. He has mastered and moulded them into a personal and coherent vision of he work. The so-called ‘great oberek’ returns on the strings to the accompaniment of the entire orchestra and piano. Here the joyous energy reached an intense and brilliant expression and conclusion.

Szymanowski felt the Symphonie concertante  was one of his best works which is hardly surprising given its inventive expressiveness in color, timbre and orchestral virtuosity (not obvious here). It is a spectacular and emotional work and should be performed more often as a piano concerto in masquerade, if the strongly positive emotional reception Krzyżowski received at the conclusion is any indication.

Eryk Parchański (Polska)

He chose to play the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Fantaisie polonaise sur des thèmes originaux in G sharp minor, Op. 19. In many ways this was an excellent competition choice, superior perhaps to the more familiar Piano Concerto. The work was composed and in 1893 and premiered during a festival in Norwich on October 4th that year. The soloist was Paderewski himself, and the orchestra was conducted by Alberto Randegger. Two years later, in June 1895 the piece was played for the first time in Warsaw during one of the concerts in the Dolina Szwajcarska / Swiss Valley garden. It was played by Henryk Melcer, the orchestra conducted by Zygmunt Noskowski.

Next to the Piano Concert in A Minor, this Fantasy is recognized as one of the most popular works in Polish piano literature. Paderewski repeatedly played this piece during his tours through various parts of the world. In 1895, after his concerts in New York and Philadelphia critics from important newspapers emphasized that the composition not only evoked Polish folklore, but was also a symbol of the whole nation, reminding everybody about its existence. A critic from the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote:

You can still hear the voice of the dwellers of the beautiful Polish lands. They dance no to the beat of the serious minuet, they are not dressed in lace and silk, they do not bend in courtly bows, and they do not exchange courtesies either. They are clad in peasant clothes, the hard day’s toil is over, the violin plays, and they spin, sway, and glide in jumps, skilfully stamping their feet to the beat of the music, which expresses their simple and modest joys. […] There is a melody which emanates sorrow in the slow passage. For the listener it feels like a requiem for the composer’s homeland’s dead past, a requiem for its bygone glory.” (Quote from Andrzej Piber “Droga do sławy. Ignacy Paderewski w latach 1860-1902”, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 1982, p. 281.)

The performance was straightforward and idiomatic with a firm understanding of Polish folk dances (although no direct quotations the rhythmic quotations are there). His use of the pedal seemed to agree with Paderewski’s own opinion but I sometimes questioned his use of it on pianos of today rather than the ones the composer was accustomed to using. Paderewski’s opinion on the importance of studying the pedal alone is described in his Memoirs:

The pedal is the strongest factor in musical expression at the piano, because first of all it is the only means prolonging the sound. […] I repeat, it is the principal factor in expression because it adds to the volume and the duration of the sound. It requires a great study, a special study when trying to produce a real effect with it. In a way it is a science, the use of the pedal. […] You must know it perfectly to be the master of the keyboard. Its importance cannot be overestimated.  

Although this pianist has great, at times decidedly impressive, virtuosic ‘technical’ command of the keyboard at such an extraordinarily young age, I felt he lacked sufficient emotional expressiveness which was not assisted by the whimsical nature of the orchestral playing (woodwinds sometimes uncertain, flutes rather loud, French horn sometimes unpredictable) which led to occasional musical solecisms of synchronicity. Again I felt the soloist/orchestral balance overwhelmed the piano part too often. The tempo selected was too deliberate for the mercurial play of imagination contained in this Fantasia. The pianist might well ‘blossom’ if given more rehearsal time with the orchestra.

Adam Piórkowski (Polska)

In the Final he chose to play the Karol Szymanowski Symphony No. 4, Op. 60 (Symphonie concertante). For the complex gestation and description of this work do read my entry for Mateusz Krzyżowski above.

In previous stages of the competition I had noticed with the greatest pleasure the refined and luminous tone as well as restrained touch Adam Piórkowski produces on the piano. He was very sparing in his use of the pedal in the opening Moderato which gave the piece a gentle ambiance he could work on later and develop. Unfortunately we soon began to lose him under the orchestral dynamic weight.

In the Andante molto sostenuto his captivating tone was much in evidence as he cultivated the mysterious dream nature of the piano writing. I feel he captured the sense of foreboding that is contained within this movement. It was unfortunate that the orchestra sounded too like a military band at certain moments. I am almost certain Szymanowski had not intended them to be so dynamically forward but perhaps I am wrong. Piórkowski brought a strong yet restrained atmospheric tension to the movement with the colours of his refined sound palette. The bass drum was so prominent, it gave this part of the work a definite “American Indians on the Warpath” distinction to Szymanowski. In the Allegro non troppo, ma agitato ad ausioso Piórkowski was certainly exciting to watch – pity we could not hear his achievements more clearly.

Piotr Ryszard Pawlak (Polska)

The Symphony Orchestra of the Artur Malawski Podkarpacka Philharmonic

in Rzeszów

conducted by Tomasz Chmiel


In the Final round, this highly talented pianist chose to play another adventurous and rarely heard work, the Grażyna Bacewicz Piano Concerto. This concerto (1949) received 2nd prize (the 1st was not granted) in the Frédéric Chopin Competition for Composers organised by the Polish Composers’ Union in Warsaw. Her violin concertos are far more familiar and I had never heard this work before.

It is in three movements. In the Allegro moderato, Pawlak was very authoritative and I always marvel at how this young man can commit to memory the complex works I have heard him play in this competition – the Godowsky Passacaglia  and the Gorecki Sonata No. 1. He will surely be highly placed in the results. The Andante gave Pawlak the opportunity to exercise his deep expressive grasp of music (it should not be forgotten he won the XI Darmstadt International Chopin Piano Competition 6 – 16 October 2017). The Molto allegro was filled with tremendous excitement and was full of emotional commitment on his part.

Pavel Dombrovsky (Rosja)

Dombrovsky Piotr Droździk

He chose the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 17.  Please read above my notes on Ivan Shemchuk and Michal Dziewior for information on the gestation of this work.

I felt his approach to the Allegro was significantly mature and showed a rich control of tone, touch and command of the keyboard. However in this movement I felt a slight lack of what one might term, the ‘Paderewski idiom’. It is hard to describe what this is in language exactly but it is more feeling for the Polish style, rhythm, emphasis and possibly rubato. The Paderewski character of the movement, as I perceive it, was slightly absent. The cadenza however was sensitive, virtuosic and deeply impressive.

The Romanze. Andante  on the other hand was luminous in tone, velvet in touch, highly sensitive, lyrical and simply beautiful in an intensely romantic sense. His phrasing and control was movingly expressive, the eloquent silences deeply affecting. Everything I hoped for in this movement, so dear to my heart, was present. In the Finale. Allegro molto vivace again I felt like the other finalists he was hampered and inhibited by the uneven and dynamically unbalanced orchestral playing. However overall it was a commanding, splendid, driven and energetic  conclusion to a fine performance.  

                *  *  *  *  *

Just to say I have no substantial argument with any of the choices made here apart from a couple of minor reservations.

The following Chamber Ensembles have qualified for the Final Stage of Category II (Chamber music)

The competition website is a mine of detailed information on composers as well as the programmes and biography of participants. You may wish to follow up and read further on the performers and composers when reading of my highlights and feelings below.



Septem Quintet

Andriuti-Shemchuk Piano Duo

Unfortunately time considerations simply did not permit me to attend the above Quintet and Piano Duo in Stage II. However, my Stage I assessment of this outstanding Duo is available and the Septem Quintet will be in due course.

Ãtma Quartet

Atma Quartet Piotr Droździk

I was only able to attend the final part of their much anticipated recital due to time considerations. I liked their refinement and ensemble sound a great deal in the first stage of the competition.

The opening of the Karol Szymanowski String Quartet No. 2, Op. 56 Moderato  dolce e tranquillo  was subtle and superb – a type of hushed rustling of the soul. Energy suffused the Vivace scherzando in a particularly stylish manner. The sense of ensemble is so strong with this exceptional quartet and their common communication so close, committed and engaging. This was obvious in the Lento ‒ Doppio movimento ‒ Moderato, tranquillo. The violin cantilena was especially moving and beautifully poised which led to the gradual building of agitation in this marvelous movement until its powerful and triumphal conclusion.

 Cracow Golden Quintet

Cracow Golden Quintet Piotr Droździk

I truly hope the jury have the critical judgement and criteria to realize that this wind quintet is a world class ensemble that could be proud to grace any Deutsche Grammophon label. They are a spectacular group of professional orchestral virtuoso soloists who have magically forged an intimate bond of musical understanding.

In the Grażyna Bacewicz Wind Quintet, the Allegro revealed the inner cohesion of this extraordinary blend of instruments. Every instrument manages to exchange subtle and endlessly varied dynamic, attack, articulation, timbre, colour and tone quality in a highly entertaining musical ‘conversation’. The Air. Andante revealed the most perfect intonation in French horn playing I have ever heard. The other winds oscillated around him like planets around the sun. The Allegretto  threw easy melodies from one to another with ease and virtuosity. The Vivo betrayed incredibly skillful exchanges without blemish or one wrong note (none in their first recital either). The movement also revealed a wonderful sense of humour which seems to cloak this quintet, radiating such a strong ‘feel good’ atmosphere towards the audience.

Then onto another Polish composer unknown to me, Tadeusz Paciorkiewicz and his Wind Quintet. Again the Allegro revealed this perfect wind ensemble that are completely instrumentally secure as an integrated group. In the Lento  a beguiling solo oboe floats above all the other instruments except the silent flute. The dynamics of each instrument on entry matched and blended impeccably. The immaculate horn in the  Allegro scherzando (e molto rustico) provided a type of ‘rustic drone’ over a polyphonic accompaniment from the other soloists.

Finally a Polish composer I know well, Wojciech Kilar and his Quintet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn (his chamber works are not so well known). The Sinfonia I found perfectly integrated and stylish. The opening flourish for the Scherzo was an experience in sheer sound I shall not forget. The whole movement emerged as such fun! The ‘pumping bassoon’ really presented this scherzo as an authentic ‘joke’ unlike those of Chopin. There were what can only be described as ‘waterfalls of notes’ between instruments. The whole movement was delightfully witty and humorous. In the Chorale variée I felt the bassoon ‘talking’ to the other instrumentalist in that she physically turned to them with a musical statement and they answered. The Rondo‒Finale possessed irresistible forward momentum. It is so clear that each player is a virtuoso soloist engaged in a musical conversation with others. The clarinetist was superb with a most brilliant type of Benny Goodman diving jazz flourish at one point. Yes the movement was like a joyful mountain stream with trout bounding upstream.

Cuore Piano Trio

I so enjoyed the intimate emotional connection of their first stage performance I looked forward very much to Stage II. They began with a most delightful period piece, the Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 17. Of course this composer was a fellow pupil of Chopin and they shared Elsner as a teacher. I suppose he is condemned to be forever living in the shadow of his great compatriot but better than utter anonymity after death. He was a significant Polish composer in his own right – opera, cantata, chamber music, symphonies, a lovely piano concerto….In 1835, he won second prize in a composition competition for his Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 15. This symphony was later called “Symphony in the Characteristic Spirit of Polish Music” and movements were conducted by Mendelssohn. His music contains the innate ‘Polishness’ we all celebrate. The I. Allegro moderato we heard was full of stylish enchantment. The trio have an excellent understanding of period charm and style. The pianist in particular has the fingers, touch, tone and understanding of the Hummel derived styl brillant, so vital to this work. All the players form a finely matched ensemble instrumentally and temperamentally.

Onto yet another Polish composer that Michael, as ‘a foreigner’, is not at all familiar. The Artur Malawski Piano Trio. The impressionistic conclusion to the Lento – Allegro moderato was most impressive in terms of dynamic control and colour. In the Andante sostenuto the solo piano obbligato was profoundly moving in this rather melancholic movement. The theme is intensely introverted and sensitive, a true examination of the psychic centre of this work. It is imbued with an immense sense of loss and grief which this trio understood deeply as they react on such an emotional level to each other. Remarkable. This was followed by the passionate agitation of the Scherzo‒Allegro molto. The Rondo–Vivace is a complex abstraction requiring perceptive musicianship to present coherently. There is an atmosphere of emotional dislocation and disorientation here. The internal kernel of human disillusionment goes through various transformations until it ultimately reaches a resolution.

This was a deeply satisfying concert on the spiritual and emotional level which I hope does not escape the jury.

Effimero Duo

I appreciated their Stage I and so looked forward to Stage II.

Overall I found this stage significantly superior to Stage I. They opened with the fine chamber composition by  Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the Sonata in A minor for violin and piano, Op. 13. The    Allegro con fantasia has such an ardent, deeply felt theme given to the violin. Here it was played with love and emotional penetration which betrayed itself through the superb tone and intimate ensemble playing with the pianist. The Intermezzo. Andantino has long, exquisitely beautiful phrases. The violinist’s phrasing was movingly eloquent and her tone has a purity not simple to achieve. In the Finale. Allegro molto quasi presto there was an eruption of exuberant spirits which simply confirmed the characteristically Polish melodic gift given to Paderewski. A curious wildness embedded or hidden in the civilized externals,  clearer of course in the world before the Great War. I felt this performance by the excellent pianist and violinist had style, panache and refined taste. What more can one ask of a Paderewski performance?

Then to the Karol Szymanowski Nocturne and Tarantella for violin and piano, Op. 28. I have been told this is a favorite work of violinists, but have ever heard it in all my concert-going years in London. The Nocturne  is at once haunting and possessed of a a cloak of ominous predestination. I felt an ‘Oriental’ quality to the harmonies, or even ‘Moorish’ or perhaps ‘Sarmatian’. I thought I heard a disguised reference in a dreamed transformation of the Chopin Tarantella, but perhaps this was only in my imagination.

So did the spider bite the victim during this night so pregnant with shades and ghosts? Ah yes, a story did unfold in the music. The Szymanowski Tarantella has a fantastically difficult piano part with the violin pizzicato. The work is replete with so many colours and rhythms as the poison of the tarantula spider works its way into the human organism to do its devastating work. Such a musical description can never have been achieved with this degree of intensity as death approaches inevitably. Wilder and wilder as the work approaches its climacteric of  a type of Liebestod. I cannot believe Szymanowski was approaching this composition simply as ‘programme music’. Deeper human physical, psychic and metaphysical dimensions abound….

A carefully imagined programme of significantly contrasting periods of Polish music that gave deep musical satisfaction to this listener at least.

 Eufonico Duo

I have not yet had the time during this intense competition schedule to post my notes on their Stage I, but looking back over them now I immensely enjoyed the passionate embrace of their Noskowski Sonata in A minor. But to Stage II if you do not object to me leaping ahead.

They began with the popular Karol Szymanowski Sonata in D minor for violin and piano, Op. 9. This work was first performed in Warsaw by two renowned musicians, the violinist Paweł Kochański and pianist Artur Rubinstein, on 3rd April 1909. It is the work of a young man but his unique voice is already manifest. He dedicated it to his school friend  Bronisław Gromadzki who was an amateur violinist. The Allegro moderato was played in an affectingly expressive and intense manner. .  There were two themes: the virtuoso element increasing expressively to con passione, and a  lyrical, dolcissimo, which at times had the qualities of a dream. The Andantino tranquillo e dolce is the beating heart of this work. The Duo were intensely  lyrical and explored contrasting colours and timbres with the violin pizzicato and the piano staccato.

The authority on the music of Szymanowski Tadeusz A. Zieliński wrote of this work:

‘…as such it must be the greatest instrumental work of Szymanowski’s early period. Only [its] unfamiliarity to musicians accounts for the fact that this wonderful ‘poem’ in A major did not become a famous and favourite item in violinists’ repertoires’.

The Finale. Allegro molto, quasi presto supported some fine and remarkable rhapsodic themes. The phrasing of this violinist and pianist was both sensitive and passionate, which made this virtuoso ensemble absolutely captivating. Szymanowski himself was eventually able to describe the Sonata as “a thing popular in every aspect.”

Then the Lullaby (La berceuse d’Aïtacho Enia) for violin and piano, Op. 52 which I always find hauntingly dreamlike like dusk settling over the earth under the velvet wings of a giant moth. The duo painted this subtle landscape with great insight and musicianship.

I was unfamiliar with the next work also, the Aleksander Tansman Cinq Pièces for violin and piano. The Toccata was highly rhythmic as one might have expected, with occasional reminiscences of the original function of the toccata as an instrumental exploratory device and then as a separate compositional genre. The high violin cantilena of Chanson et boîte à musique was insightfully performed by the Duo as a type of emotional plea. The Mouvement perpétuel emerged as exactly that with clever virtuosity in the pizzicato violin dialogue with the piano. The Aria is a truly beautiful song, an extensive expressive cantilena for the violin which moved one in a way that only true art is able. Heavenly in a word. The Basso ostinato precipitously removed us from this dream to what at times sounded like an Irish dance to me, bordering on a jazzy take on a folk tune. A curious contrast.

Gidaszewska/Łaguniak Duo

Gidaszewska Łaguniak Piotr Droździk

In a similar way I have not yet had the time during this intense competition schedule to post my notes on their Stage I. However, looking back over them now I was rather overwhelmed by the overt expression of emotional intimacy between these two violinists. This unique and sensitive musical engagement once seen can never be forgotten. Both emerged as inspired players who use what might be termed ‘para-musical’ human psychological understanding, the notion of a love bond that we all share, to deepen the musical performance laid before us. This unapologetic, almost theatrical intimacy on stage, is deeply affecting, taking us into a deeper dimension, a different realm of musical appreciation.

They began with the Grażyna Bacewicz Suite for two violins. There are a number of brief movements which I shall not attempt to describe here in detail. Allegro, Andante, Vivo,     Tempo di menuetto, Allegro, Andante. Fughetta, Allegro. This is accessible and pleasant Bacewicz (not the ‘dark night of the soul’), the musical texture satisfyingly like an modern recreation of an 18th century dance suite. The extreme intimacy and symbiotic communication  between these two players makes them appear before us as a single organism. The effect is quite uncanny and most rewarding on many levels, both psychological and musical.

The beautiful ball gown worn by Marta Gidaszewska was reminiscent of a lady from a Watteau painting as were the seductive gestures and attempts to woo her on occasion by Robert Łaguniak. Is this fancy just part of my Romantic imagination? Does it actually matter since it is so highly enjoyable ? All this gave the Duo Concertant in E flat major for two violins, Op. 10 No. 2 by the early 19th century Polish composer Joachim Kaczkowski a certain je ne sais quoi. The Allegro embraced an enchantingly intimate love theme which they ‘danced’ in perfect synchronization as superb virtuoso violinists. The Andante un poco allegretto gave us the most ardent violin playing imaginable. One was, without exaggeration, carried away ‘On Wings of Song’. Again in the Finale. Presto they appear to move as one organism in a type of dance movement that is wonderful to behold and even more to listen to as there was such a high degree of ‘conversation’ musical exchange in this movement. All one could feel was a wave of innocent joy in these two violinists being together.

Perhaps this was the reason I wondered why they decided to finish their concert with the Tadeusz Paciorkiewicz Sonatina for two violins. I had never heard this work before and the composer is unknown to me although he was eminent in Poland (d.1998). An injection of modern, late Romantic realism into the past dream worlds they had created ?

The Allegro con spirito was attractive in a late-Romantic style of music if you are partial to that sort of thing. The Andante gave me the impression of the poetic yearning  of unrequited love with some romantic agitation.

I must confess to asking what this music is trying to say and did not come up with a completely satisfactory answer. However the two violinists helped me. They gave more than sufficient musical meaning in their deeply communicative interaction. One of their great strengths is the rare ability to make contemporary classical music  meaningful, understandable and accessible in feeling. Too often this is not the case in modern performance. It was astonishing to watch this remarkable musical symbiosis. I found the content rather abstract even if passionate and wondered why they concluded on such an emotionally introspective note.

As I said in the beginning, the appearance of these two virtuoso instrumentalists is an unforgettable experience in one’s musical life.

Apeiron Trio

They began with the Aleksander Tansman Trio No. 2 for piano, violin and cello. The work has a rather lugubrious opening Introduction e Allegro which is suddenly torn apart by a burst of furious energy. This sudden explosion suits this particular trio as compared to other groups I feel they have a muscular, robust even on occasion athletic manner of playing which suits many modern compositions admirably. The Andante espressivo ‒ Allegro deciso features pizzicato on the violin and cello and staccato on the piano. The trio were most skillful in creating a particular atmosphere as an ensemble in this regard. The deciso is rather like a firework display with this Trio. This is followed by a Scherzo. Allegro vivace which spins like Catherine wheels (a firework that rotates when lit). The Arioso. Adagio quasi largo was movingly expressive with the trio, depicting an alluring cantilena which increases in intensity over time.  However in the Finale. Allegro moderato ma ben ritmato their adoption of a similar, even unremitting, dynamic does not maintain our interest. There surely should be variety and relief from this concentration on the physical. I also felt there could have been more variation in timbre and expressiveness in this movement. However I did not have the score before me so cannot verify if this is what the composer actually desired!

Then onto the Andrzej Panufnik Piano Trio. The opening Poco adagio ‒ Allegro – Poco adagio on the piano put me in mind of a Jewish lament which was taken up and transformed by the violin and cello. I was unavoidably put in mind of the conflagration in Poland during WW II. There is such profound sorrow expressed in these Adagios that frame the violent inner Allegro.  A frequent pattern in modern compositions concerned with war. The Largo gave the violinist another opportunity for poetic diction in this beautiful cantilena with supporting  ‘heartbeat’ repetitions on the piano. The cello provided an accurate counterpoint of reminiscence with violin and cello in creative unison.

The Presto caused me to ask myself some questions. Is this movement an expression of Panufnik’s personal emotions ? Highly likely. What would I be expected to identify with or recognize as a familiar human emotion in that case? Unfortunately I have no authentic idea. The movement is tremendously inventive but what is the musical meaning here? Perhaps a logical positivist philosopher such as Wittgenstein would prove that asking such a question is linguistically  meaningless in itself, such as posing the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’ No answer can be given as a Truth Table will prove the question cannot be asked.

Roksana Kwaśnikowska / Łukasz Chrzęszczyk

I have not yet had the time during this intense competition schedule to post my notes on their Stage I, but looking back over them now I immensely enjoyed the passionate embrace of their Noskowski Sonata in A minor is well as their Mozartian Elsner Sonata in F major Op.10 No.1. But now to Stage II if you do not object to me leaping ahead. 

They began with the Karol Szymanowski Lullaby (La berceuse d’Aïtacho Enia) for violin and piano, Op. 52. The violinist plays with outstanding refinement and delicacy. As she played this sweet ‘song of innocence’ I began to feel something ominous in the rocking motion of the Lullaby. there is a melody here, and an affecting one. However I could not help feeling that Szmanowsky has depicted the shadow of inevitable death hovering over the tiny one in its cradle. The violinist gave an ultra-pianissimo conclusion to the work.

Then to Myths. Three Poems for violin and piano, Op. 30.

I. The Fountain of Arethusa

The Fountain of Arethusa is a natural fountain on the island of Ortygia in the historical centre of the city of Syracuse in Sicily. According to Greek mythology, the fresh water fountain is the place where the nymph Arethusa, the patron figure of ancient Syracuse, returned to earth’s surface after escaping from her undersea home in Arcadia.

Arethusa by Benjamin West,  British North American artist, 1802

On the piano the impressionistic effect of water agitated by a zephyr called up the appropriate images, above which floated the haunting and lyrically beautiful violin cantilena, one of the most eloquent melodies Szymanowski ever wrote. The violinist is a fine, passionate player who expressively depicted the nymph and her travails as did the pianist provide  a suitably trembling aqueous medium.

    II. Narcissus

Echo and Narcissus, John William Waterhouse, 1903.
Echo and Narcissus – the English neoclassicist painter John William Waterhouse, 1903

Narcissus stares at his reflection, while his rejected suitor, Echo, looks on. The son of the river god Cephissus and the naiad, or nymph, Liriope, it was said that Narcissus would live to old age, if he never looked at himself. He had gained many female admirers, entranced by his beauty, but he rejected them all. One of them, Echo, was so upset by his rejection that she withdrew from the world to waste away. All that was left of her was a whisper. It was heard by the goddess Nemesis, who, in response, made Narcissus fall in love with his own reflection, at which he stared until he died. A narcissus flowered in his absence. The story of Echo and Narcissus is best known from book three of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. [History Today]

The violin, in a dreamy cantilena on the violin, perhaps representing Echo, seemed to me to be yearning for the unattainable love of Narcissus. This then seemed to be transformed into a romantic involvement with himself depicted on the violin with the piano creating the water of the pool. Then disaster is upon him as he gazes at his own reflection after being forbidden to do do.

III. Dryads and Pan

PAN AND SYRINX - By Jean François de Troy
PAN AND SYRINX (1722-1724)  – By Jean François de Troy

The god Pan lasciviously chases the wood nymphs. The refinement and seductiveness of the Greek God was perfectly captured by this sensitive violinist. Hypnotic writing by Szymanowski that imitates Pan’s flute with harmonics. Pan a mercurial and whimsical creature emerges in this work. Short ‘flying phrases’ depict him. The duo used a significant variation in dynamics, colour and penetration of sound. There are a number of unusual sounds extracted from the violin in this work which  were expressively used here – playing with and without the mute, two-note trills, tremolos, glissandi, artificial and natural harmonics, left hand pizzicati and quarter tones. Music of the most subtle sensuality.

The Witold Lutosławski Lullaby ‘for Anne-Sophie’ for violin and piano was a performance of extreme sensitivity and deeply affecting. How does one describe this extraordinary unearthly music in mere words?

In his Partita for violin and piano  the opening Allegro giusto was exactly that, strict observance of the allegro. The piano was percussive and the violin very agitated. A mixture of extreme violence and lyricism reigns in this movement. I felt this enormously talented violinist has compete command of the difficult Lutosławski idiom. Arresting violin and piano echoes contrasted with violent spasms in this acutely challenging work for both partners of the duo, especially the violinist. Supremely expressive playing. The Ad libitum had moments when the violin and piano imitated each other quite humorously. The work became almost rhapsodic at times with an atmosphere of ominous intent. Such a range of moods, colours, timbres. tempi and attack were explored by these versatile musicians I was in awe.

In the Largo I again began to ask myself one more ‘What does this music mean?’ or is this question inappropriate, as our logical positivist friends Wittgenstein or A.J.Ayer might have observed? The Ad libitum and Presto seemed fused together towards the conclusion and I must confess to having lost track. However, itwas always clear to me that was a triumphant, revelatory performance of a fiendishly complex and difficult work. Not only did this gifted duo need to penetrate the musical meaning and implications but also learn the work.  For a Lutosławski novice like myself to listen attentively and derive musical meaning from the panorama of kaleidoscopic sound, was no easy task.


Maria Belashuk

Stanislav Iaroshevskii









This outstanding duo began with the Aleksander Tansman Sonatina for flute and piano. Such a fine piece I had never heard before.

I was tremendously impressed with the virtuosity and artistry of their opening performance in Stage 1. This continued into this final. The Modéré opening movement was expressive and subtly nuanced. I have noticed his immaculate and remarkable embouchure. The Intermezzo. Andantino cantabile was graced with an alluring lyricism with seamless legato on the flute and ravishing tone. The rhythm of the Scherzo (Fox-trot). Allegro risoluto was highly entertaining as one noticed ‘the dancing flautist’. One cannot help reflecting on what a fine virtuoso on the flute he is and the marvelous co-ordination of these two instrumentalists in interpreting the amusing Fox-trot. The Notturno. Lento was a superb flute solo, as if Iaroshevskii was singing on the flute. I was able to concentrate on his timbre which I found so rich and varied in colour and texture. He has astonishing breath control, phrasing and embouchure as this night ecstasy progressed. I found their approach to the Finale. Allegro grazioso surprisingly gentle and refined with a remarkable variety of dynamics and entrancing phrasing which was movingly expressive. 

Then Tadeusz Szeligowski Sonata for flute and piano. The Allegro moderato contained some wonderful flute arabesques and marvelous themes. I observed tremendous authority in this playing and a perfect détaché and vibrato. When playing legato the sound is like liquid gold if you will forgive the hyperbole. An affectingly expressive concluding phrase to this movement. The Andante cantabile gave him an opportunity to ‘sing’ once again. Here we had beguiling pianissimos and a hypnotic  beauty in the diminuendos. The Allegro con brio allowed them to demonstrate their perceptive musical phrasing and close co-operation. He revealed even more virtuosity in effortless double and triple tonguing in some phrases. the playing became as transparent as glass. Quite brilliant. The virtuosic Molto vivace movement was dispatched without a blemish, the piano accompaniment balanced dynamically and discreet. Spectacular flute playing with double notes, trills…the entire arsenal.

What a Duo this is!  In perfect synchronization for the Wojciech Kilar Sonatina for flute and piano. In the Allegro molto  it was clear they could be immensely imaginative and yet the piano never intruded as it does far too often in chamber music. In the Andante con moto again his embouchure was unsurpassed and the result was a seductive love song of Pan. The sound envelope he creates is all embracing. In this movement the sensitivity of the pianist not to disturb in any way the flute ‘singing’ above, was of tantamount concern. The Rondo Allegro had an infectious  bouncing, buoyant rhythm. This was stunning and breathtaking music. The piano and flute balance was perfect. Then to an inspiring half-tempo decelerando, a return to life with effortless virtuosity from both instruments. I only hope the judges have the knowledge of the flute to recognize what a spectacular concert had just been performed.

Novi Piano Duo

The began with a truly delightful piece, the Juliusz Zarębski Divertissement à la polonaise. Deux morceaux sur des motifs nationaux for piano for four hands, Op. 12 No. 1 Andante This would have been so suitable for playing at home by pianist members of the family. What intimacy in family life we have lost with the isolationist iPhone and the cheap thrills of computer games!

Then the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Tatra-Album for piano for four hands, Op. 12 This is a fascinating group of variegated. descriptive but not too serious pieces which they perform quite idiomatically. They could easily have served a similar domestic entertainment purpose to the Divertissement above

No. 1 Allegro con brio What a catchy dancing tune! English I wonder ?

No. 2 Andantino molto espressivo pleasant and rather lyrical reminiscent of alpine      pastures

No. 3 Allegro con moto Perhaps a trifle simplistic

No. 4 Allegro maestoso. Vivace grazioso They gave it an infectious rhythm and the Vivace grazioso is delightful and charming

No. 5 Allegretto. Andantino Again the themes are a trifle bucolic and simplistic

No. 6 Allegro ma non troppo Rather a spectacular ending.

The Fryderyk Chopin Rondo in C major for two pianos [Op. 73] was finely balanced between the two pianos with a command of the styl brillant, of vital importance in the performance of the Chopin Rondo. They made no attempt to drown us in sound which must have been tempting. For my taste it was not quite stylish enough….

Finally the Witold Lutosławski Variations on a Theme by Paganini for two pianos.

The premiere of the piece was performed in the same year as its composition in 1941 by Lutosławski himself together with Andrzej Panufnik at the Aria Cafe in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Lutosławski earned his living and supported his mother through piano playing at cafes such as Art and Fashion and Aria. Many concerts at that time were held in secret in those dark years in private homes.

The chamber version involves witty exchanges between the two pianos and I looked for some humour here. However I felt they approached the work purely as a virtuoso exercise rather than a true dialogue between pianists and instruments. This made the work marginally less effective in performance.

Paulina Bujok & Joanna Sochacka Duo 

They began with the Grażyna Bacewicz Sonata No. 4 for violin and piano. For this work she won 1st prize at the Polish Music Festival in 1949. The Moderato has a rather lugubrious atmosphere followed by emotional agitation. However I found the shifting moods of this composition rather depressing as life in Poland certainly must have been under the Soviets immediately following the conflagration. There was a subtle conclusion with the resolution. The piano opened the Andante ma non troppo. I found great refinement and delicacy in the Bujok violin playing. This is a particularly meditative and introverted movement. Paulina Bujok was the only instrumentalist who tried to make eye contact with the audience and involve them with her performance. The Scherzo. Molto vivo  was witty from the outset – a true ‘joke’ in the running figuration on the piano and a pizzicato and piano staccato dialogue.

The duo performed this movement with grace, élan and panache. So many passionate phrases emerge from this duo and Bacewicz seems to create robust, possibly even bohemian, reminiscences of the Warsaw café and cabaret society before the war in the Finale. Con passione. This leads up to a tremendously dramatic coda and climax to the work.

Then onto the  Karol Szymanowski Sonata in D minor for violin and piano, Op. 9. I must say I admired the beautiful tone and perfect intonation this violinist extracts from her fine instrument. There was great variety of dynamics, timbre and expressive, nuanced phrasing in their interpretation. 

In the Allegro moderato, patetico  the melody is a deeply affecting yearning – an aching heart in the throes of unrequited passion. Well so it speaks to me emotionally. Szymanowski appears to willfully embrace rather abrupt changes of mood from violence to lyricism and back again, like the swing of a giant emotional pendulum, ‘human, all to human’ as Nietzche may have remarked of such a free spirit as was Szymanowski.

In the Andantino tranquillo the piano opened lyrically with a subtly touched introduction. There is a quite superb cantilena which I found both alluring and seductive. Violin pizzicato and piano staccato dialogue rises. It seemed I was watching a lark ascending into the azure. The association with beautiful birds seemed irresistible to me with a sound envelope so rich in color. The piano gave rhapsodic support while the violin inhabited the endless blue above. Such gentle and tender music this is which closed with a refined pizzicato/staccato. The Allegro molto, quasi presto bursts over us passionately with echoes of fin de siécle Vienna. I found great emotional connection between the two members of this rather recently formed duo. The movement rises passionately to a climax with the return of the rhapsodic theme. Again a ravishing cantilena which is so romantic in this movement.

Polish Art Duo

The Aleksander Tansman Sonatina for flute and piano has a rather pastoral Modéré opening. Rather light in texture which seems to betray the influence of the Javanese gamelan orchestra. In the Intermezzo. Andantino cantabile the duo showed a lovely control of the line of melody.

Scherzo (Fox-trot). Allegro risoluto. I like this movement a great deal with its nostalgia for ballroom dancing. The Notturno. Lento  takes us on a walk through a forest at night perhaps to a river bank (piano repetitions). The passions of the night begin to build. In immense contrast the Finale. Allegro grazioso seems a gracious wandering through summer fields in a state of innocent love sunflowers, insects, birdsong and sunshine.

Bolesław Woytowicz Sonata for flute and piano Lyrical arabesques on the flute in the Allegro are interrupted as so often in contemporary compositions by neurotic agitation . The Andantino alla canzona seems to me a lovelorn song by a wanderer through the dark and gloomy forest. Again a suitable contrast of a flourish to conclude the song. The piano and violin echoed each other so skillfully it demonstrated the intimate musical relationship they have built. The Vivo is a very jolly and humourous antidote to the emotionally serious Andantino. The filigree ornamentation by the duo was aesthetically and musically so satisfying and a welcome contrast in tone colour. After sincere reflection w return to the bubbling enthusiasms of life. The passage work by the duo runs like a waterfall to its ultimate resolution.

I expected to have some trouble understanding musically what Piotr Perkowski was intending in his Sonata for flute and piano. The Allegro molto was certainly in accordance with this indication – very Allegro and very molto. It was attractive in an abstract sense, but again I kept asking myself ‘What does mean musically exactly? What is the composer saying or confirming about human nature? Is this a valid question about music anyway as it reaches so deeply into the subconscious?’ With earlier classical music even up to as recently as the titanic compositions of Olivier Messiaen, one could relate emotionally to what was composed – bird song, the Catholic religion. For me it is four note phrase simply given inventive and imaginative expansion.

The Lento seem to place me in a floating almost zen state, like lying on one’s back in the summer grass and watching clouds drifting across an azure sky. The duo showed great refinement in their playing here. The Presto produced in me an image of children playing recklessly in a playground. There were most unusual sound abstractions here, perhaps fully intended, as if one was shaking a musical kaleidoscope. There is a theme here which was transformed so artistically by this duo but to what musical purpose? The rhythmic interest was substantial here and the work closed with an effective flourish.

Together with their first stage, a most impressive duo who acquitted themselves with fervor, vividness and verve.

Quartetto Nero

I so enjoyed hearing the warm embracing timbre and colour palette of a Moniuszko Quartet (No. 1 in D minor) played on period instruments in Stage I, I looked forward to this concert.

They began with Moniuszko once again, the String Quartet No. 2 in F major. In the Allegro  moderato I once again reflected how warm and embracing is the sound for Moniuszko on period instruments. They played well as an ensemble, highlighting counterpoint and even a fugal interlude, very effectively. The Andante I discovered had dark and rather ‘operatic’ theme. There is great charm in the playing of this quartet – they stand clustered around the resonant cello like bees feeding at a blossom – which pleasure communicates itself to the audience. The Scherzo. Allegretto (Baccanale monacale) had a delightful and infectious rhythm to which the quartet appeared to rise to the occasion and dance as an ensemble.  The Finale. Allegro is rather an anti-climax musically speaking, well for me anyway, so no significant emotion there.

Then to the Grażyna Bacewicz String Quartet No. 1 (composed in 1938 when she was a youthful 28 and the baleful shadow of war was approaching Europe inexorably). The Moderato – Più mosso had a precipitous beginning in a wild rhythm. I found it rather challenging to relate to as the rhythmic structure was complex. It was basically a series of interludes with different rhythmic, structural and tonal characteristics. The anachronistically titled second movement, Tema con variazioni, reminded me almost of film music – and none the worse for that. The variations were inventive but some are exceedingly mournful.  Others were rather spirited and the quartet with their inherent vibrancy and ability to inspire each other, made much of it. In the Vivo the quartet were certainly enjoying themselves.

Overall however I did not feel that Stage II was as impressive and coherent in ensemble and sound as Stage I. The timbre, tone colours and professionalism were present but a slight intonation uncertainty seemed to have curiously appeared and security seemed ever so slightly threatened. Such a mystery…

Chamber Ensembles 22 September 2019

I cannot possibly cover every work and every chamber group in detail so I will present some highlights of Stage I for me. The competition website is a mine of detailed information on composers as well as the programmes and biography of participants. You may wish to follow up individuals when reading of my highlights and feelings.



The TRIO LONTANO first of all performed the Franciszek Lessel Trio in E major for piano, violin and cello, Op. 5. This was the first time I heard this marvellous piece which I was to hear a few more times during the day. The Allegro brillante has a charming theme as Lessel has such a melodic gift. I felt it could have been a little more expressive. The Rêve. Adagio has the cantilena on the violin soaring above the pizzicato cello. This engaging theme could also have been treated rather more expressively I felt but  in the end it is personal taste. The Rondo. Allegro di molto came off well.


The ANDRIUTI-SHEMCHUK PIANO DUO were a particularly attractive combination. They introduced me to the Juliusz Zarębski Divertissement à la polonaise for piano for four hands, Op. 12 No. 1 which is rather an energetic piece bubbling over with Polish panache. I also was ignorant of the Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński Rondo alla polacca Op. 6 for piano for four hands which is a charming and extensive piece that would benefit greatly from an authentic style brillant performance. It was given a normal virtuoso rendition here but I felt the approach could have been lighter and more glittering in the style of Hummel.  The Stanisław Moniuszko Contredanses for piano for four hands were attractive, charming and infectious dance pieces that would have fitted so well on a festive evening in the ballroom of a grand Dwor  in the Polish countryside. The G minor with variations most appealed to me melodically.

    in F major [1st]

    in F major [2nd]

    in A major

    in C major

    in G minor

    in D major


The ARTERIA STRING QUARTET introduced me to the fine Stanisław Moniuszko String Quartet No. 1 in D minor. Played by such excellent ensemble musicians, this emerges as a fine work of high musical quality. there was much ‘conversational’ musical exchange between the players. The Stefan Kisielewski String Quartet was also unknown to me and opened with a spirited Allegro moderato. The Adagio was as mournful as I anticipated but the Tempo di gavotte and Presto con fuoco lifted the mood considerably especially with the catchy tune that begins on the cello.


The ÃTMA QUARTET played the Franciszek Lessel String Quartet No. 8 in B flat major, Op. 19 with tremendous emotional commitment. They have a fine ensemble sound and authoritative penetration. The Lessel with them was as full of charm and civilized refinement as always. The ensemble were harmonious both emotionally and temperamentally. The Stanisław Moniuszko String Quartet No. 1 in D minor opened with a lyrically treated main theme Allegro agitato. They play with a subtle approach and creative use of silence, as important in music as sound. The Andantino has a charming theme bordering on the seriously lyrical. The Scherzo was very lively and melodic with infectious rhythm and pauses in this dance. This was an excellent movement by the quartet in terms of energy. In the Finale. Allegro assai (Un ballo campestre) Moniuszko gives the cello a rather rustic timbre and the quartet a rather bucolic, country dance ambiance. The quartet captured this with verve and energy to give an excellent conclusion go the work. It was clear to me that this work by Moniuszko, performed by high quality musicians, should enter the predominant chamber music repertoire.


The spectacular appearance of the CRACOW GOLDEN QUINTET was for me one of the great highlights of this competition so far. The first aspect to notice is the remarkable choice of instruments – French horn, oboe, clarinet, flute and bassoon. They began with a work I was again ignorant of by Michał Spisak the Quintet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. The Allegro moderato was extraordinarily lively with this mixture of instruments in animated  ‘conversation’. The  Andante more reflective and the Andante‒Allegro a highly entertaining virtuoso effort by these outstanding orchestral musicians who have decided to band together.

The unfamiliar Tadeusz Szeligowski Wind Quintet was equally spectacular in the opening Allegro con brio – the control of timbre and unerring mixture of instrumental dialogue gave a remarkable texture to the sound palette. The Andante cantabile was dominated by the lyrical oboe which was utterly convincing and beautiful even though the musical material was highly abstract. A unique blend of musical sound. The Allegro scherzando opened with the bassoon decorated with a woodwind filigree – I can describe it in no other way. A melody of sorts appeared and was thrown about in a highly humorous fashion. Delightful. The final Allegro moderato reminded me of some type of high quality music you might hear behind a Walt Disney cartoon, but this did not diminish its compositional quality. The entire concert was such unique, deeply professional and high quality entertainment it astounded me.


I found the CUORE PIANO TRIO an intensely musical group with a particularly close emotional and musical connection in performance.  The Franciszek Lessel Trio in E major for piano, violin and cello, Op. 5 had a decidedly festive and engaging Allegro brillante opening. I adore this theme that sings with no emotional complications, just celebrating the joy of life. In their approach or interpretation of the second movement, the beautifully titled Rêve. Adagio emerged with a character quite different to others we have heard so far. The cantilena  on the violin was deeply affecting as were the remarkable exchanges with the cello pizzicato. In the Rondo. Allegro di molto they adopted an inspiring tempo which imbued the movement with an irresistible inner life – the pianist so light and stylish. The trio showed intimate internal musical communication throughout and for me were stylistically perfect in this movement. Lessel has become a favourite composer of mine mainly through the exuberant Piano Concerto in C major Op. 14 . It is such a treat for me to encounter his chamber music at such a high level of musicianship.

We then moved on to the Ludomir Różycki Rhapsody for piano, violin and cello, Op. 33.  I find the opening to this work rather Oriental or perhaps even Sarmatian in character. The trio presented an authentically rhapsodic approach to the work with this fine violin cantilena joining with the cellist in an inspiring  musical symbiosis. The conclusion was ‘rhapsodic’ in a profoundly moving and emotionally exciting sense. What a great undiscovered work (for me) this is!


Another definite high point for my particularly emotionally engaged fin de siècle temperament was the performance of the DUET KATARZYNA BĄKOWSKA, KATARZYNA NOWACZEWSKA-MANTHEY.

My belief in the recondite worlds hidden within the harmonies of critically so-called ‘miniatures’ or ‘small forms’ was validated in this truly wonderful concert. The Polish composer Roman Statkowski is completely unknown to me. I found his Three Mazurkas for violin and piano, Op. 8 full of the civilized charm of a more caring age of sensibility and moving emotions that touched the heart. No. 1 in G minor was an enchanting piece. The pizzicato opening of No. 2 in F major is the personification of charm and civilized emotion. This violinist is a fine instrumentalist, an artist and deeply sensitive musician but I could not help reflecting what a Heifetz or Kreisler might have made of these beguiling works. No. 3 in A minor seemed to me to deal with the melancholic reversals of life, the price we inevitably pay for the experience of joy and ecstasy. However after an emotionally agitated central section we do return to life and begin again with an optimistic outlook. A marvelous work.

Then the Romance for violin and piano, Op. 17 No. 1. The profound tristesse  and lyricism contained in this heartbreaking cantilena brought me to the point of tears. Truly the ‘song of an angel’ if that does not sound too trite. Certainly at the same level of inspiration or higher as similar tender emotional expressions by Wieniawski. The violinist used such discreet portamenti to carry one on this journey of sentimental education. The small audience and jury in the hall were utterly silent at the conclusion and one could feel the tangible atmosphere of love. Yes ‘you could hear a pin drop’.

As an immediate and fitting contrast to lift is from this ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’, the Zygmunt Noskowski Caprice à la bourrée for violin and piano, Op. 24 No. 3. The contrast of inherent life, vitality and vivacity – the other side of the coin to an all too human sadness we had just experienced. Then the Melody for violin and piano, Op. 21 No. 1. Again we were transported into a world of heavenly sentiment, true lyrical emotion by a divine cantabile  of heart-breaking beauty. How is it that such works have fallen into obscurity? It is scarcely to be believed. The Leopold Godowski Waltz in D major No. 8 from Twelve Impressions for violin and piano is also a remarkable discovery for me. I was unaware Godowsky wrote any violin and piano works. It had a wonderful pre-war ‘period feel’, even humour as the waltz accelerates as all waltzes tend to do! The piano part, as might be imagined, appeared demanding as one might realize with Godowsky. To conclude the Artur Malawski Burlesque for violin and piano which brought us back, reluctantly in my case, to a more abstract modern sensibility.

This extraordinary acutely musical duo and in particular the sensitive and emotionally committed violinist, gave us some forgotten Polish gems from a superior age of heartfelt sensibility and sentiment and I for one am deeply grateful.


The DUO ARAE presented a fascinating programme of unashamedly modern work. The Bolesław Woytowicz Sonata for flute and piano which was particularly well performed, has a modern idiom Allegro that for me as music does not contain a great deal of emotion.  The Andantino alla canzona was lyrical and beautiful under the control of this fine flautist. The Vivo is a difficult movement for both piano and flute. They captured the whimsicality of its shifting moods well. I am not familiar with the music of Piotr Perkowski but was told by the flautist that the Intermezzo (Romantic Sonnet) for flute and piano was premiered in 1977 by Prof. Elżbieta Gajewska-Gadzina-flute and Prof. Szábolcs Esztényi-piano at the Polish Radio Studio in Warsaw. The performers played this piece from the autograph manuscript which was rather exciting and unique inmy experience. In 2012 Eufonium in Gdansk published this piece, edited by prof. E. Gajewska-Gadzina.


The EFFIMERO DUO played the Józef Elsner Sonata in E flat major for violin and piano, Op. 10 No. 3. The Allegro was classical in style but the composition did not possess the classical refinement that reminds one of Mozart sometimes. The  Andantino con variazoni did not reveal any particularly interesting variations on Elsner’s part. It was very pleasant undemanding music of the period.

They then chose to play, for me entirely unknown, Maurycy Moszkowski Quatre morceaux for violin and piano, Op. 82. Les Nymphes was was charm and civilization personified. However, as with many of the young musicians in this competition, I felt the cultural context needed to be further explored to bring additional depth to the interpretation.

If you read Arthur Rubinstein’s autobiography My Young Years you will discover an extraordinarily deep experience of cafe society and bohemian life in Paris before the Great War. There is a connection between the depth of his playing and his life experience, the filter through which he instinctively judges how music should be interpreted.

Caprice begins with a strikingly long period of unaccompanied violin before the piano joins.  Mélodie is enchanting salon music but for me none the worse for that. Salons were often gatherings of serious intellectuals and the music was never considered trivial., but decorative n the highest aesthetic sense. These artists acquitted themselves with taste and refinement. Humoresque has quite a complex piano part which is hardly surprising with Moszkowski. The pianist mastered this with great virtuosity and style, the sine qua non  of Moszkowski interpretation surely.


The EUFONICO DUO had gone to some trouble to dress in matching outfits which was much appreciated by the small audience. The work by Piotr Perkowski for violin and piano was dedicated To Szymanowski. A rather lugubrious piece of music.

Then a remarkable piece by Zygmunt Noskowski, the Sonata in A minor for violin and piano. The Allegro con brio has a slow melancholic opening with such yearning in the theme. Such a high degree and range of emotional development is contained in this rhapsodic music. The duo have an intense emotional connection when expressing the many eloquent themes contained in the work. Molto andante con variazioni has such a refined, civilized theme to develop but it is the always the emotional heart that is so moving, the appeal to the sensibility. These artists understand this rare quality. The piano has a strong role in this set of variations and the pianist acquitted himself brilliantly. The duo were artistically so poignantly poised at the conclusion. The Prestissimo is bursting with brilliant, passionate music, irresistible drive with even a brief Fugal section. There are inspiring sprung rhythms here and a tumultuous, emotional conclusion. Such a great piece of music played by such talented artists.


The LAGUNIAK DUO began with a suite by Michał Spisak, the Suite for two violins. One immediately notices the sensitive and charmingly intimate contact between these two fine violinists. The Allegro was impassioned and impressive. In the Tranquillo they produced an unearthly sound (with mutes?) which for me was reminiscent of the other-worldliness of that extraordinary instrument, the Ondes Martenot. The Largo (Choral nr 1) was disturbingly intense emotionally whilst the Adagio (Choral nr 2) emerged as a fragile plea and emphasized the intimate musical connection between these two extraordinary performers. The Scherzando. Vivo was a theatrical and highly engaging movement played simultaneously pizzicato. An Andante (Recitativo) movement followed by the final Allegro energico (Finale), This bordered on the histrionic but I gave myself over to its wildness without demur. This appeared as a sensual love duet and none the worse for that!

The Joachim Kaczkowski Duo Concertant in F minor for two violins, Op. 10 No. 1 revealed these violinists as superb virtuoso players. In the Allegro moderato their ‘conversation’ and exchange of voices was deeply affecting. Beautifully matched phrasing graced the Poco adagio quasi andante and the loving eye contact they expressed throughout this movement was poignant and touching, even to the extent of appearing to breathe together as one organism. An uncanny and unique symbiosis to experience as a member of the audience. One could not escape the idea of a ‘love bond’. The Allegro revealed them as consummate professionals and fabulous violinists. I am not at all surprised at the many prizes and awards they have garnered and I predict another!


The APEIRON TRIO first approached one of my favourite, rather overtly ‘nationalistic’ Polish composers, Henryk Melcer-Szczawiński and his Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 2. The Moderato‒Allegro is as opulent and rhythmical as one of my favourite piano concertos by Melcer, No. 1 in E Minor (notable particularly for its thrilling finale which is marked by its strong Polish character: starting as a mazurka, the accelerando through the movement increases the excitement of the piece, giving it the frenzy of a kujawiak or oberek). This trio is unashamedly nationalistic triumphalist music with straightforward themes and a substantial piano part that characterizes the Melcer rhetoric. The Andante con moto has a lovely theme which develops into magnificent culminations. In this trio it is so clear that Melcer thinks orchestrally and the Apeiron Trio with their muscular playing rose robustly to the challenge.

Next another rather ‘masculine’ work, the Ludomir Różycki Rhapsody for piano, violin and cello, Op. 33. I must admit I found the violin bordered on being harsh in his tremendous emotional commitment. A tremendously engaged and passionate interpretation of this powerful work – full-blooded and ‘red in tooth and claw’ concluding in triumphalist rhapsody.


ROKSANA KWAŚNIKOWSKA / ŁUKASZ CHRZĘSZCZYK chose a rather fine chamber piece by Józef Elsner, his Sonata in F major for violin and piano, Op. 10 No. 1. I found the Allegro rather Mozartian in its simplicity with a pleasant theme on the this fine violinist. The development is rather predictable as Elsner was nothing if not conservative in his chamber compositions. The Andante has pleasant if undemanding lyricism.

Next a real musical discovery of a Polish composer with whom I am becoming more enamoured with each new work I encounter from him. Zygmunt Noskowski Sonata in A minor for violin and piano. The  Allegro con brio movement has a passionate and energetic opening which develops into into a genuinely rhapsodic and opulent work. It has so many lovely affecting themes leading to a tremendous conclusion. I appreciated the musicality of both of these artists. The Prestissimo also opens dramatically with a fantastic tarantella. This is a truly great theme full furious energy at the tempo the Trio adopted. There were many dramatic pauses and a fugal section. A fine performance of light flight that concluded powerfully.


The MOS-DUO chose a modern composer and work Bolesław Woytowicz the Sonata for flute and piano. The Allegro was interesting in an abstract way with a these of sorts to give it coherence. The Andantino alla canzona was rather ‘abstractly pastoral’ if I may be allowed to use my imagination. Like gazing at an abstract expressionist painting on the wall of a bank. The Vivo movement was technically and musically challenging for both pianist and violinist. A very whimsical movement in its shifting moods. I always find it difficult to actually say what I might ‘enjoy’ in this music. Clearly a virtuoso work performed extremely well by the duo, but…

Then the Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński Andante e rondo alla polacca for flute and piano, Op. 42.  The theme is particularly lyrical and has true period charm. The Rondo is an elegant and spirited piece which revealed some superb flute playing in this duo. The section in the minor key is an affecting contrast. The timbre, embouchure, legato and phrasing as well as the sheer purity of sound was remarkable. It was as if the instruemntalist was singing on the flute – so glorious a sound. The piano was in the appropriate styl brillant  originally derived from Hummel yet remained discreet and perfectly balanced in dynamic with the flautist. A perfectly captivating piece of music that made no intellectual demands.



Ivan Shemchuk (Ukraina)

I was of course familiar by now with Juliusz Zarębski’s masterpiece, the Piano Quintet Op. 34 (1885) mainly through the the first performances I heard with Martha Argerich in Warsaw some years ago now. Shemchuk opened his Stage II recital with the Juliusz Zarębski Les roses et les épines (Roses and Thorns) Op. 13. First of all a little about the composer. The prominent Polish musicologist Zdzisław Jachimecki wrote that Zarębski’s numerous piano compositions are a continuation of Chopin’s style in terms of instrumental technique and the character of harmonic writing. The young composer, however, also developed the kind of devices that constitute the foundation of present-day French music; he sensed the exotic character of Debussy’s whole-tone scale and his harmonies based on that scale. With his compositional concepts Zarębski indeed was ahead of his time. The trail-blazing nature of his technique was also praised by another outstanding authority on music, Józef W. Reiss. He wrote: Juliusz Zarębski’s compositions contributed so many new elements to music and on account of the boldness of technique were so much ahead of their time, not only in our country but on a broader European scene, that they could not have won instant popularity. […] A Romantic by nature, Juliusz Zarębski became a representative of radicalism in music. […] Zarębski employed techniques which were to be introduced into music by French impressionists, notably Claude Debussy.

I was completely unfamiliar with the work Shemchyuk selected. Roses and Thorns Op. 13 (original title Les Roses et les Épines. I quote: ‘[The work] is among Zarębski’s showcase compositions and his most important creative achievements. It is a cycle of five piano miniatures. The roses and thorns of the title do not refer to any extra-musical content but to the general truth about the experience of love in which moments of disappointment and doubt usually occur alongside moments of sensuous rapture. The subtitle Cinq improvisations underlines the character of poetic transience of these atmospheric pieces which communicate the dynamic nature of feelings by means of highly refined devices. The inner cohesion of the work is achieved through the use of original tonality and harmonies, as well as the principle of expressive contrast in juxtaposing the work’s successive parts. Throughout the whole cycle, the composer gives prominence to timbre, to which other elements, including dynamics and articulation, are subordinated. Several original timbral ideas, meticulously planned and executed, testify to Zarębski’s mastery in differentiating sound and evoking a diverse palette of moods and colours. Roses and Thorns anticipates musical impressionism. (BeArTon notes). I found the work extraordinarily impressive and impressionistic, inhabiting the shades and seductive shadows of a fraught poetic romance – as the title indicates.

    Andante con moto

    Presto con fuoco

    Andante con moto

    Allegro molto (quasi presto)

    Allegretto moderato

Antoni Kątski

Esquisse mélodique sur la romance Rappele-toi op. 99

Artur Malawski

Mountaineers’ Triptych





Anna Szałucka (Polska)

Daniel Ziomko (Polska)

Szymon Atys (Polska)

Tymoteusz Bies (Polska)

Pavel Dombrovsky (Rosja)

Andrii Dorofeiev (Ukraina)

Michal Dziewior (Polska)

Rozalia Kierc (Polska)

Mateusz Krzyżowski (Polska)

Ewelina Panocha (Polska)

Eryk Parchański (Polska)

Piotr Ryszard Pawlak (Polska)

Adam Piórkowski (Polska)

Report on Saturday 21st September 2019

Although much Polish virtuoso piano music was known in Western countries before the Great War (Moszkowski, Godowski, some Szymanowski) detailed knowledge of this repertoire was rather restricted by the lack of independence of the Polish state until after 1918. Polish chamber works were scarcely ever performed outside Poland. The fact that Ignacy Jan Paderewski was also a fine composer, as well as pianist and statesman, was unknown except by the cognoscenti until fairly recently. Performances of say his piano concerto were few and far between.

Paderewski is such an underestimated composer of affecting lyrical and poetic piano music which speaks directly to the heart and sensibility rather than burdening the intellect with high seriousness. As an example of relieving humour, at the Paris Peace Conference Georges Clemenceau (the ‘old Tiger’) came up to Paderewski and wickedly asked ‘Are you a cousin of the famous pianist Paderewski?’ When Paderewski replied ‘It is I, Monsieur le Président,’ Clemenceau observed, acting as if greatly surprised ‘And you the famous artist have become Prime Minister? What a come-down!’

Ignorance of his opera Manru in the West as operas such as Halka by the father of Polish opera, Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872), was almost total. Manru has only been revived quite recently in Warsaw.

After the devastation of World War II, Poland being the theatre of that catastrophe, ignorance in the West persisted under the Soviet hegemony. The imaginative notion of an ‘Iron Curtain’ that divided Europe was created by Winston Churchill in a speech at Fulton, Missouri, on 5 March 1946. One forgets that it evolved as a cultural as well as political and military barrier. However after the death of Stalin, Polish composers began to be influenced by developments in Western music such as twelve-tone composition, serialism and pointillism. The ‘polnische Schule’, or Polish School of composition evolved from these influences. Also in tandem with these compositional influences,  the full panalopy of past Polish composers and their compositions began to be revealed by scholarly research both in Poland and abroad as politically motivated restrictions to libraries and source material largely disappeared.

This initiative of this competition is twofold. First of all it offers generous prizes and opportunities for those musicians, both Polish and ‘foreign’, who are willing to spend time and dedication discovering and learning forgotten Polish music. Secondly, through the media, it will hopefully make music lovers outside Poland aware of obscure or seldom performed works by known Polish composers as well as forgotten gems by complete unknowns.

One important observation is that one really has to seriously consider the first stage as a triumph of the ‘small form’. In the concert world we inhabit at present, ‘small forms’ are regarded with a certain disdain. This was certainly not the case when many of the Polish composers, especially for the piano, were writing fine pieces as ‘small forms’ as we see them. Each small piece can contain within it an entire world of musical significance. One reason the Chopin Preludes are usually now performed as an integrated cycle is that together they comprise a grand form which satisfies everyone. In Chopin’s own time this would never have been considered. At that time they were most likely to have be been scattered through an entire programme like diamond dust. Both approaches are justifiable if one eschews historicism.

Many ‘small forms’ became the staple of encores by virtuoso pianists such as Horowitz which in a way does them an injustice. So the first stage of this competition contained many of these gems which one would not want to miss. Later stages of the piano section will expand to sonatas and larger works as is normal in competitions of this type. So in our voyage of discovery the first stage is as important a discovery arena as any other stage.

I cannot possibly cover every piece and every pianist today so I will present some highlights of Stage I for me. The competition website is a mine of detailed information on composers as well as the programmes and biography of participants. You may wish to follow up individuals when reading of my highlights and feelings.




The Ukrainian IVAN SHEMCHUK was the only participant to choose a charming piece by the composer Zygmunt Stojowski Chant d’amour op. 26 nr 3. Also the extraordinary composer of genius now undergoing a true renaissance, Grażyna Bacewicz Study No. 5 from Ten Studies by him was most impressive. The Witold Lutosławski Study No. 1 from Two Studies  was performed by many participants. There is such an explosion of energy in this vibrant work and an exceptional level of virtuosity is required to bring it off convincingly. He was also the only pianist to choose a work by Ignacy Friedman Tabatière à musique op. 33 nr 3. This is a superb period piece as is the Stojowski, but one that requires a particular ‘period sensibility’ to convince which was rather absent here.


The Pole DANIEL ZIOMKO gave us a beautiful and affecting rendering of the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Mélodie in G flat major, Op. 16 No. 2. I also liked the improvisatory style he brought to the substantial and brilliant composition by Karol Szymanowski, the Study in E flat minor, Op. 4 No. 1. Although familiar the Maurycy Moszkowski Étincelles. Allegro scherzando Op. 36 No. 6 was delightfully light and airy with Ziomko with scarcely any pedal.


Although the playing of SZYMON ATYS was rather variable in quality for me, one modern piece he chose was impressive and fascinating. This was the lyrical, thought provoking and emotionally disturbing Andrzej Panufnik Pentasonata in four movements. I had never heard the work before.

    Allegretto scherzoso, molto ritmico

    Andante amoroso, molto cantabile

    Contemplativo, molto rubato

    Andantino amoroso, molto cantabile

    Allegretto scherzoso, molto ritmico


One of the finest recitals today was by that developing poet of the piano, TYMOTEUSZ BIES. When I first heard him in Chopin, Beethoven and Szymanowski at the Duszniki Zdroj Festival in August 2018 I wrote:

He opened his short recital with a delicate Chopin Berceuse performed with finesse and affecting nuance.  

I felt  the Beethoven Piano Sonata in C minor Op. 111 rather an ambitious choice for  a young spirit. However I need not have worried. This was a remarkably satisfying performance in appropriate classical style, in perfect tempo with a finely controlled an affecting Arietta. I really could not fault this account that only now requires the personal and musical maturity of the inevitable passing years.


Finally the Karol Szymanowski Variations in B-flat minor Op. 3. Again this was impressively idiomatic with a clear understanding of the composer’s intentions. Fresh, inventive and expressive. The composition is in the late Romantic style, reminiscent of Schumann and Liszt. The variations are virtuosic and demonstrate the young Szymanowski’s complete understanding of the piano as an instrument. Such a contrast to his later piano music in almost every way, at least for this listener. Loved the work and this performance of it. A young pianist already building an enviable reputation and far further to go.

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

The Ignacy Jan Paderewski Mélodie in G flat major, Op. 16 No. 2 by Bies was the finest, most expressive and poetic by far today. An excellent Polonaise in B flat major, Op. 9 No. 6. which showed complete understanding of the genre – the idiom of the Polish polonaise dance with its nobility and emphasis on the noble Polish male with his expressive moustache and his sabre, constantly adjusted ostentatiously in rhythm of the dance.  As expected the Karol Szymanowski Study in E flat minor, Op. 4 No. 1 was rhapsodic with velvet touch and tone. The Juliusz Zarębski Etude de concert in G major, Op. 3 was vividly brought off with superb articulation, style and panache. One of the few Chopin Etudes played that convinced me of its true character was the Bies Fryderyk Chopin Etude in F major, Op. 10 No. 8.


This recital was followed by possibly the best and most mature musicianship on offer today by PAVEL DOMBROVSKY. Few people realize the great Polish pedagogue and brilliant pianist Theodor Leschetizky was actually born in Lancut Palace close to where the competition is taking place. He was also a composer but few people have ever heard his piano pieces. Dombrovsky chose the Theodor Leschetizky Arabesque en forme d’Etude, Op. 45 No. 1. An interesting work considering his immense influence on the direction of modern pianism. I loved the Aleksander Tansman Sonata rustica in three movements. It has such a superbly simple theme and much rustic charm. The final movement was so festive and brilliant it took my breath away.

    Allegro agreste

    Cantilena. Largo

    Danza festiva. Molto allegro

The Witold Lutosławski Study No. 1 from Two Studies was by far the most technically secure, exciting and mature of all we heard today.


I felt great musical discrimination in the Ukrainian pianist’s choice of works. All were fine indeed, many quite unknown. His technique was scintillating, reminding me of a young Horowitz with his flat-fingered approach to the keyboard. The three studies  from the Karol Szymanowski Twelve Studies, Op. 33 were impressively performed, capturing the elusive temperament and psyche of this Polish composer of the greatest genius.

   No. 4 Presto

No. 5 Andante espressivo

No. 6 Vivace

The composition by Teodor Leszetycki,  Etude in F minor, Op. 43 No. 2 (‘La piccola’) was fascinating as most connoisseurs think of Leschetizky only as a hugely influential pedagogue. the theme is most attractive, however I felt Dorofeiev over-sentimentalized it rather for my taste. The Fryderyk Chopin Etude in A minor, Op. 10 No. 12 could have been more expressive being as it was overwhelmed with virtuoso technique at the expense of emotional content. This observation could also be applied to the fascinating  and charming piece by Leopold Godowski, the Grande valse romantique (1888). I was looking for far more ‘period feel’ and ‘salon affectation’, those emotions that existed before the Great War blanketed Europe with profound spiritual disillusionment.


MICHAŁ DZIEWIOR still has some way to develop but his programme was attractive and well performed. The Karol Szymanowski Study in E flat minor, Op. 4 No. 1 is such a fine piece and eloquently interpreted as was the Grażyna Bacewicz Vivace from Two Studies for Double Notes. This pianist was the only one who attempted this magnificently constructed work. But is was the Stefan Kisielewski Danse vive that I found highly entertaining. At times I was reminded of rush hour traffic in New York and then at others by Manuel de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance. Dziewior gave this unknown work by an unknown composer, a virtuosic, infectious liveliness that won me over completely.


I was so impressed by most of the recital by ROZALIA KIERC. The Grażyna Bacewicz Study No. 2 from Ten Studies was brilliantly performed. There is great joy embedded in this music and true love of the piano as both a percussion and lyrical instrument. This pianist clearly has a definite affinity for this extraordinary composer. This Karol Szymanowski Study in B flat minor, Op. 4 No. 3 for me is a divine work that contrasts a deeply poetic theme with rhapsodic passion. The Andrzej Panufnik Circle of Fifths again was a real discovery for me as it veers like a great pendulum between the introverted and the extrovert in passion.

No. 10 in B flat minor

No. 11 in E flat minor

No. 12 Postludium in A flat minor

Rozalia Kierc

I also loved the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Humoresques de concert, Op. 14 Book I (à l’antique). In the No. 2 Sarabande in B minor Kierc called up such intense images of the eighteenth century melancholic reflection on destiny and in contrast to this produced a fine and lively ornamentation and applied articulation to the No. 3 Caprice in G major. A satisfying recital on every musical level.


I first made the pleasant musical acquaintance of MATEUSZ KRZYŻOWSKI in concert and at Masterclasses at the Nohant Festival in Berry in France this year. I was anxious to hear  what he would play in this competition. The Ignacy Jan Paderewski Légende in A major, Op. 16 No. 5 was an engaging narrative. There are two versions of this work and he chose to play the less well-known but possibly the more musically engaging and longer of the two. The familiar Fryderyk Chopin Etude in E minor, Op. 25 No. 5 was an excellent interpretation as he made something of the work and had something to say concerning it. His developing and emerging unique voice was also evident in a fine performance the formidably through-composed Grażyna Bacewicz Study No. 4 from Ten Studies. The Karol Szymanowski Study in E flat minor, Op. 4 No. 1 is a magnificent piece, here given a splendid and satisfying performance.


Evelina Panocha is clearly a very fine pianist yet I found the Fryderyk Chopin Etude in F major, Op. 25 No. 3 rather conventional in interpretation. The three studies from Karol Szymanowski Twelve Studies, Op. 33 were idiomatically and movingly performed with a deep understanding of this composer’s temperament.

    No. 4 Presto

No. 5 Andante espressivo

No. 6 Vivace

I discovered great joy and love of the piano in the  Grażyna Bacewicz Study No. 2 from Ten Studies. Visually it is spectacular as a ballet for the hands danced on the keyboard. However the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Nocturne in B flat major, Op. 16 No. 4, one of the most emotionally moving pieces within the entire Paderewski piano oeuvre for me, I found lacking in the deeper poetry and sensibility  I search for.



ERYK PARCHAŃSKI has striking looks but I found his playing rather uneven in quality. However two works on his programme I found stimulating and enjoyable. The Maurycy Moszkowski Etude in A flat minor, Op. 72 No. 13 is a marvelous piece requiring great virtuosity and what is used to be termed in the nineteenth century fingerfertigkeit (finger dexterity). There is an impressive solo left hand section which is rather arresting visually speaking. I also responded to the attractive Artur Malawski two Miniatures for piano. Fine performances of all of these by the pianist.


One of the great highlights of the competition so far was the recital by PIOTR RYSZARD PAWLAK. I first heard him at the XI Darmstadt International Chopin Competition in 2017 where he was awarded the First Prize and Improvisation Prize. As anticipated it was a fine performance, one of the best today of my three outstanding pianists.

His programme was taxing physically, mentally and musically. A great account, certainly the best, I have heard of this much played magnificent work in the competition, the Witold Lutosławski Study No. 1 from Two Studies. Then the completely unknown (to me at least) Maurycy Moszkowski Etude in A flat minor, Op. 72 No. 13. So much of this composer is unknown and living in the shadow of the great encore so often performed by Horowitz who seemed to determine encore taste so often in musical life! Then an excellent Fryderyk Chopin Etude in A minor, Op. 10 No. 2.

Finally the quite incredible Henryk Mikołaj Górecki Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 6. The gestation of this work was long and rather painful for the composer. He was finally satisfied in 1990 when it was published.  The Sonata is composed in three movements, the two outer ones mostly fast, powerful, overwhelmingly dynamic and percussive. They frame an extremely short, lyrical central slow movement that is minimalist in content and deeply moving . The music has been described as ‘grindingly aggressive’ with a short purity of lyricism embedded in a furious climax. I cannot say I liked this work but it was quite breathtakingly effective and overwhelming in impact. One stands in awe of it and one can only praise the ambition and talent of this young pianist to present it to us in a competition ambiance.


Here I listened with the greatest pleasure to the immaculate articulation of this fine pianist. Both Paderewski pieces are alluring in different ways. The Chant d’amour, Op. 10 No. 2 is winsomely romantic and the Caprice in G major, Op. 14 No. 3 is a test of finesses and articulation. The ‘atmosphere’ surrounding the Maurycy Moszkowski Etude in D flat major, Op. 72 No. 12 would benefit so much from more of a feeling for the sensibility of the period. The Fryderyk Chopin Etude in A minor, Op. 25 No. 11 was ra5her indifferently executed unfortunately unlike the extraordinary and rather amazing Witold Lutosławski Study No. 2 from Two Studies which had élan and panache, albeit of an ultra-modern variety.

As the competition progresses I have come to a general conclusion concerning the participants that they perform contemporary and modern percussive and rhythmical works with much more conviction that early twentieth century or prewar pieces that require the expression of sensibility and emotional feeling. Imagining and projecting yourself into earlier historical and cultural contexts provides great challenges for young artists in 2019. The triumph of the physical and material today.

Official Website of the Competition:

Moniuszko 3

The Stanisław Moniuszko International Competition of Polish Music in Rzeszów (from 20 to 27 September 2019)

The Stanisław Moniuszko International Competition of Polish Music in Rzeszów is a new cultural initiative aimed at promoting Polish music worldwide and familiarising the listeners with the legacy of Stanisław Moniuszko himself and with that of many other exceptional nineteenth and twentieth century Polish composers.

The first edition of the Competition will be divided into two categories: one for pianists and the other for chamber ensembles. The musicians will present works from the repertoires of fifty Polish composers and mostly written in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Competition auditions will be held at the Artur Malawski Podkarpacka Philharmonic Hall in Rzeszów between 21 and 26 September 2019, and the Prize Winners Concert on 27 September. The prize winners of the Competition will perform alongside the Orchestra of the Artur Malawski Podkarpacka Philharmonic in Rzeszów directed by Jerzy Salwarowski and Tomasz Chmiel. The Prize Winners Concert will be repeated on 29 September at the National Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw.

The main prizes of the Competition will separately be awarded for both categories: First Prize – 20,000 euros, Second Prize – 10,000 euros, Third Prize – 5,000 euros and three equivalent honourable mentions of 1500 euros each. There will also be a number of special additional prizes.

The Competition is organised by the Institute of Music and Dance and co-organised by the Artur Malawski Podkarpacka Philharmonic in Rzeszów.

The first edition of the Competition has received the National Patronage of the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda as part of the official celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of Polish independence.

The Competition is funded by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and financially supported by the Local Government of Podkarpackie Voivodeship.

The partners of the Competition are: the Fabryka Cukierków (Candy Factory) Pszczółka, PGNiG S.A., the Podkarpacka Fundacja Rozwoju Kultury (Podkarpacka Foundation for the Development of Culture), the Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne (Polish Music Publishing House), Ruch Muzyczny, STOART, the Polish Society of Authors and Composers ZAIKS, the University of Rzeszów, Yamaha, the Karol Szymanowski Music School Complex No 1 in Rzeszów and the Wojciech Kilar Music School Complex No 2 in Rzeszów.

The media patrons of the Competition are: Polish Radio 2, TVP Kultura, Rzeczpospolita
and Magazyn Presto.

The Competition belongs to the Alink-Argerich Foundation.

List of participants of the competition

(with competition numbers)

Competition pianists

  1. Szymon Atys (Poland)
  2. Tymoteusz Bies (Poland)
  3. Pavel Dombrovsky (Russia)
  4. Andrii Dorofeiev (Ukraine)
  5. Michał Dziewior (Poland)
  6. Ruslan Kazakov (Russia)
  7. Rozalia Kierc (Poland)
  8. Mateusz Krzyżowski (Poland)
  9. Ewelina Panocha (Poland)
  10. Eryk Parchański (Poland)
  11. Piotr Ryszard Pawlak (Poland)
  12. Adam Piórkowski (Poland)
  13. Yau Kit Pun (Keith) (Hong Kong)
  14. Ivan Shemchuk (Ukraine)
  15. Andrey Stukalov (Russia)
  16. Anna Szałucka (Poland)
  17. Daniel Ziomko (Poland)

Chamber ensembles

  1. Andriuti-Shemchuk Piano Duo (Romania/Ukraine)
  2. Apeiron Trio (Poland)
  3. Arteria String Quartet (Poland)
  4. Ãtma Quartet (Poland)
  5. Cracow Golden Quintet (Poland)
  6. Cuore Piano Trio (Poland)
  7. Duo Katarzyna Bąkowska, Katarzyna Nowaczewska-Manthey (Poland)
  8. Duo AraE (Poland)
  9. Effimero Duo (Poland/Israel)
  10. Eufonico Duo (Poland)
  11. Gidaszewska/Łaguniak Duo (Poland)
  12. Jarosz & Putyra Duo (Poland)
  13. Roksana Kwaśnikowska / Łukasz Chrzęszczyk (Poland)
  14. Moniuszko String Quartet (Poland)
  15. MOS-duo (Russia)
  16. Novi Piano Duo (Poland)
  17. Paulina Bujok & Joanna Sochacka Duo (Poland)
  18. Polish Art Duo (Poland)
  19. Quartetto Nero (Poland)
  20. Rodak&Dynak Duo (Poland)
  21. Septem Quintet (Poland)
  22. Trio Lontano (Poland)
  23. Zakrzewska/Mglej (Poland)

Jury of the competition

Category I

Jarosław Drzewiecki (Poland) – Chairman

Matti Asikainen (Finland)
Philippe Giusiano (France)
Andrzej Jasiński (Poland)
Kevin Kenner (United States)
Vera Nosina (Russia)
Koji Shimoda (Japan)

Category II

Andrzej Tatarski (Poland) – Chairman

Gary Guthman (United States)
Józef Kolinek (Poland)
Krzysztof Meyer (Poland)
Irena Poniatowska (Poland)
Lew Zakopets (Ukraine)

Competition Schedule

Collage of Views of Rzeszow, SE Poland

The Last Day of the Round Reading Room at the British Museum – A Memory from 1997

Nostalgia has been sweeping over me recently, well submerging me really, as I contemplate republishing a few of my books in foreign language editions. I have such fond memories of the old Round Reading Room at the British Museum which have come flooding back. Two of my books on travelling in the seductive South Pacific and an historical novel set on Norfolk Island in Oceania were completed in that inspiring space. The blue dome arched above me as the azure sky over the Southern Ocean.  Turquoise leather seats were worn soft and comfortable by generations of researchers. The leather folding reading frames above each desk were illuminated by a green shaded lamp with brass fittings. Leather-bound volumes lined the higher reaches of the walls with gilt-lettered spines protected by gilded mesh screens. A rare perfume of scholasticism hovered about the place. The room possessed a singularly English character and style, something fast disappearing today, undefended.  Many of the greatest writers wrote great works of literature under this papier-mache covered dome modelled by Smirke on the Pantheon in Rome, the phantoms of their minds seemingly imprinted forever on the air. 

Books were ordered by filling out small slips of paper in duplicate by hand, outlining one’s requirements and desk number. I collected them for my bibliographies and have them still tied in bundles in a trunk in the attic. Then a short wait ensued for the delivery. Whispered advice could be obtained from selfless assistants who possessed a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of ‘the stacks’. It  was all terribly personal and cosy, even intimate in its reverential silence. Serious registered researchers used the library in those days, an elite in many ways. Just the possession of a Reader’s Card was an intellectual honour in itself at the time, a sign of being engaged on some ‘great endeavour’.

                                                                                                            Photograph attribution: ceridwen – British Library

The ghostly movement of silent beings drifting across the room wrapt in the intellectual demands of their arcane subject always fascinated me. The gentleman’s club atmosphere and hidden alcoves enabled the forbidden, the tachycardia of the illicit and the rendevous (I am told) of many affairs of the heart. Also the enchanted domain for the sudden meeting of brilliant minds and the interchange of the arcane knowledge that accompanies significant human intellectual endeavour.

Opened on the 2 May 1857, I was present on the last day in 1997. I had taken in a bottle of champagne to celebrate the years I had spent researching my ‘masterpieces’ and secretly opened it as the afternoon wore on. Suddenly an attendant came up behind me. 

“Are you drinking in the library?” she shot out accusingly. 

“Yes, I’m afraid I am afraid I am. Terribly sorry.” 

“You will be expelled immediately! You will lose your Reader’s Card and never return!” 

I noticed an affecting flicker of irony cross her smiling face, one that had been devoted to intellectual service for decades. After all it was the last day in those august surroundings for all the readers. None of us would be coming back. We all drank the champagne that was handed out that melancholic early evening to the few sentimental stragglers who chose to remain until closing time. We cheered sotto voce and shed a few tears. One of the most moving occasions of my life.

The immortal days were complete. The Reading Room was reopened in 2000, allowing entry to all visitors, and not just library ticket-holders. A collection of 25,000 books focusing on the cultures represented in the museum along with an information centre and the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Centre. In 2007 the books and facilities installed in 2000 were removed, and the Reading Room was relaunched as a venue for special exhibitions.

The new British Library is of course an astonishing facility, one of the great world libraries. However, like much in current life the enormous pressure of contemporary scholastic demands has caused it to evolve into a supremely technological machine and it has necessarily lost the monastic feel of a place frequented by  ‘the sacred seekers after knowledge’, an aura I infallibly experienced every day in the hushed atmosphere of the old Round Reading Room. After all I spent some of the best years of my youth immured in there…

The British Library today is a very different place. These days whenever I need to renew my British Library Reader Pass the procedure has changed and is becoming increasingly technologically automated. This is not surprising as I only need to renew it every few years and the number of ‘registered users’ of far wider persuasions has increased enormously and we are assured ‘democratically’. Scholarly privacy has evolved into a brisk competition for seats. Staff are increasingly pressured and may even resort to unprecedented strike action over conditions and pay. However under these more stressful conditions they remain as helpful, charming and friendly as ever they were. But we talked of the past.

Now as I age and Hercule Poirot’s ‘little grey cells’ increasingly flicker out, I stand bemused ‘with bicycle clips in hand’ before an illuminated screen displaying many options of ambiguous semantic meaning. Recently during a research visit to London I was afflicted by this state of paralysis when an official angel of mercy miraculously appeared at my side to assist. She was Polish.

Since I wrote this entry a fascinating post has appeared on the British Museum Blog written by Francesca Hillier, the Museum Archivist,  concerning the construction and details of the Round Reading Room with engrossing illustrations – even George Orwell’s and Joseph Conrad’s Reader Applications !

British Museum, Reading Room from The Sphere, 13 April 1907.

Bachfest Leipzig ‘Bach, Court Compositeur’ 14 June – 23 June 2019 – Reviews

Bach’s personal seal designed by him 
when appointed 

Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Court Compositeur

Bach, Court Compositeur

Although Bach was the cantor of the Thomaskirche for fifteen years he was also occupied as a court composer. In such aristocratic surroundings he produced sublime music in almost every imaginable style and genre, as well as ground-breaking church music. In this festival will be performed the complete cycle of cantatas he composed in the magnificent city of Weimar, incidentally one of my favourite cities of all time. Last year the Kantaten-Ring cycle was for many of us one of the greatest musical experiences of our lives. I am of course unable to attend all the multitude of the 158 events and over 3,000 participants (25 choirs, 34 orchestras, 39 conductors, 81 solo instrumentalists), but you can hopefully at least enjoy my choice for the limited period of a week I was able to attend.

My account of last year :

All photo credits: Jens Schlüter
*  *  *  *  *  *
Inaugural Concert June 14th  
Thomaskirche  17.00

J. S. Bach: Fantasie G-Dur, BWV 572 (Organ)

M. A. Charpentier: Te Deum D-Dur, H. 146

J. S. Bach: Ouvertüre D-Dur, BWV 1068

J. S. Bach: Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110

Thomasorganist Ullrich Böhme, Gesine Adler (soprano), Cornelia Samuelis (soprano), Elvira Bill (alto), Patrick Grahl (tenor), Tobias Berndt (bass), Thomanerchor Leipzig, Freiburger Barockorchester, direction: Thomaskantor Gotthold Schwarz.

There were many introductory speeches to the festival of both a light-hearted and serious tone and  nature by the Mayor of Leipzig, the Ambassador of Romania and the Executive and Artistic Director Dr. Michael Maul. The concert opened with a demonstration of  the wide-ranging musical fantasy and colourful ‘French’ sound landscapes contained in Bach’s fertile imagination. This was clear in the rather rarely performed G major Fantasy BWV 572 for organ. An exciting performance by Ullrich Böhme the present organist of the Thomaskirche.

This was followed by a splendidly noble and ostentatious performance of the grand polyphonic motet by Charpentier Te Deum (1688-1698). It was written in D-major, the Baroque ‘key of glory’ – how singularly appropriate. It is unknown however if Bach knew of the music of Charpentier.


 One must never forget the immense ‘mixed taste’ musical, even social, influence of the ‘Sun King’. The French and Italian styles were often in competition and had a great influence on German musicians and the behaviour of court life.  It clearly influenced the ‘Piece d’Orgue‘ that opened the concert written by the young Bach in Weimar around 1712. The great flautist at the court of Frederick the Great, Joachim Quantz, also described this ‘mixed taste’ phenomenon. The work was given by the outstanding Freiburger Barockorchester, under the direction of the Thomaskantor Gotthold Schwarz. The powerful, militaristic and dramatic opening strokes on the tympani focused our attention on the court theme of this festival from the very outset. The choir and singers catalogued above had a perfect command of the baroque idiom and performance practice.  

The composition consists of the following parts:

  • Prelude (Marche en rondeau)
  • Te Deum laudamus (bass solo)
  • Te aeternum Patrem (chorus and SSAT solo)
  • Pleni sunt caeli et terra (chorus)
  • Te per orbem terrarum (trio, ATB)
  • Tu devicto mortis aculeo (chorus, bass solo)
  • Te ergo quaesumus (soprano solo)
  • Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis (chorus)
  • Dignare, Domine (duo, SB)
  • Fiat misericordia tua (trio, SSB)
  • In te, Domine, speravi (chorus with ATB trio)


 The next work on the programme also illustrated the French influence on Bach – a joyful and uplifting performance of tremendous rhythmic drive and orchestral opulence, the great joi de vivre of the famous Orchestral Suite in D major, BWV 1068. Dr. Michael Maul eloquently refers to it as ‘hugely effervescent musical champagne!’ The fine Freiburger Barockorchester under Gotthold Schwarz gave us a stimulatingly energetic performance leavened with grace, beauty, charm and optimism in life.

What a wonderful title for the religious cantata the concluded this concert :“Unser Mund sei voll Lachens” (“May our mouth be full of laughter”) BWV 110 –  an expression of joy at the birth of God’s son. The onomatopoeic rendering of laughter was a supremely accomplished challenge, fulfilled brilliantly by the St. Thomas’ Boys Choir.

Eröffnung Bachfest Leipzig 2019

I so enjoyed bathing in the joyfulness of the opening concert, so splendidly performed by all involved. ‘Energy is eternal delight’ in the words of William Blake. This concert was such a rebirth of faith in the creative powers of human nature, seemingly in 2019 to be sliding beneath waves of cultural misunderstanding, military tensions and the lamentable misplacement of the true  priorities of our brief lives.

June 14th
Nikolaikirche, 20.00

Bach and Berlin

J. S. Bach: Musikalisches Opfer, BWV 1079
J. S. Bach: Ouvertüre h-Moll, BWV 1067
Le Concert des Nations: Marc Hantaï (transverse flute) • Manfredo Kraemer (violin), David Plantier (violin), Balázs Máté (violoncello), Xavier Puertas (violone), Pierre Hantaï (harpsichord), direction: Jordi Savall (viola da gamba)
For me this was a serendipitous concert as only the day before I had come from Berlin where I visited one of my beloved spots in Europe, the palace, park and gardens of Sans Souci in Potsdam.  On 11 May 1727, Bach was received at the Stadtschloss (City Palace) by the Prussian King, composer and flautist, Frederick II ‘The Great’. At that time Bach’s son C.P.E Bach held a position as harpsichordist at the court. Frederick played Bach rather an austere tune and asked him to improvise a fugue upon it. As so often with Bach, his fertile musical genius transformed this ‘royal theme’ into a cycle of different solo and ensemble pieces. He named it A Musical Offering and dedicated it to Frederick upon publication. The motivations of Bach in this great intellectual construction are not entirely clear and may even had have harboured a religious intention concerning Frederick.
This was a magnificent performance of the work under the direction of Jordi Savall, one of the finest I have ever heard, particularly the penetrating solo harpsichord performance by Pierre Hantaï. This magnificent intellectual abstraction was mesmerizing in the fugal construction achieved by the ensemble. The labyrinthine texture of polyphonic voices was transparent and logically evolutionary. Such pure tonal and structural beauty was always movingly present in the presentation of these austere intellectual emotions.
In the B minor Orchestral Suite, the transverse flautist Marc Hantaï was superb in his dominant instrumental role. The source is a partially autograph set of parts (Bach wrote out for flute and viola) from Leipzig in 1738–39. Rather nostalgically for me, as I live in Warsaw, the Polonaise is a stylization of the Polish Folk Song “Wezmę ja kontusz” (I’ll take my nobleman’s robe). The famous  Badinerie (meaning ‘a jest’ in French or a Scherzo in Italian) was brought off with a fine virtuoso flourish and panache.  As an encore the brilliant polymath Jordi Savall not unexpectedly directed the ensemble in an arrangement of a terribly familiar medieval folk song the name of which escapes me completely.
The Music Room at Sans Souci in Potsdam with Frederick II’s flute in the glass case on top of an early Silbermann fortepiano. Was this perhaps the same instrument on which he gave Bach the immortal theme of A Musical Offering ?

15th June 2019  17.00 
 »Hof-Cantatrice« Anna Magdalena Wilcke-Bach

J. S. Bach: Konzert d-Moll, BWV 1043

J. P. Krieger: Einsamkeit, du Qual der Herzen, aus: Procris (Oper)

J. S. Bach: Willst du dein Herz mir schenken, BWV 518
G. P. Telemann: Komm, o Schlaf, und lass mein Leid, aus: Germanicus (Oper)
J. S. Bach: Angenehmes Pleiß-Athen, aus: Erwählte Pleißenstadt, BWV 216a
J. S. Bach: Ich habe genung, BWV 82 (BC A 169b)
Instrumental works from the Klavierbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach

Nuria Rial (soprano), Céline Frisch (harpsichord), Café Zimmermann,

PD Dr. Michael Maul (presentation)

Anna Magdalena Wilcke was born into a musical family. By 1721 she was employed as a soprano at the ducal court of Köthen. Bach had been working there as Kapellmeister since December 1717. Bach married Anna on December 3, 1721, 17 months after the death of his first wife and they moved to Leipzig in 1723 when Bach accepted the post of Cantor at the Thomasschule. It was a happy marriage of shared musical interests as Anna Magdalena continued to sing professionally. Thirteen children were born of which seven died at a young age. She was a fine musical hostess and the household became a centre of Leipzig musical activity. After Bach’s death she fell into dire poverty, dealt in Bach manuscripts, but was inexplicably rather abandoned by her children, except for some significant financial assistance from their son C.P.E. Bach. She was reported to have spent time begging in alleyways and finally died in the street and was buried in a pauper’s grave in the Leipzig Johanneskirche. A frightful story even if only partially true.

This concert celebrated her as a professional soprano with a number of superb arias. Dr. Michael Maul presented anecdotes, letters and documents in a highly entertaining manner which lifted proceedings greatly onto a charmingly  informal plane. The soprano Nuria Rial was engagingly expressive, refined, subtle with the purest intonation in a soprano I have encountered for a long time. The entire recital by this tenderly eloquent, captivating voice and refined personality was deeply affecting. The support given by Café Zimmermann, especially by the harpsichordist and archlutenist was always understated, harmonically illuminating and never dominant. The flautist often had a highly reflective and sensitive counterpoint dialogue with the soprano. This recital took us into a world of civilized German salon refinement seldom encountered or envisaged in Bach’s grander religious conceptions. My increasingly completed picture of Bach the man is most welcome.
During the course of the festival weekends some concerts are streamed live (such as the one above) to the ‘Bach Stage’ in the Leipzig Market Square, where additional ‘alternative’ Bach events take place for the benefit of ordinary resident Leipzigers. A fine community democratic gesture I feel.
Mendelssohn at the Bach Festival
15th June 2019  20.00
Großes Concert
Kongresshalle, Großer Saal
J. S. Bach: Konzert E-Dur, BWV 1042
J. S. Bach: Konzert c-Moll, BWV 1060R
F. Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Symphony Nr. 3 A minor Op. 56, MWV N 18, (The Scottish)

Vilde Frang (violin), Domenico Orlando (oboe)

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, direction: Herbert Blomstedt

Most musicians know of the seminal role played by Felix Mendelssohn in the revival of intense interest in the music of J.S. Bach, particularly the St. Mathew Passion. It is almost impossible to believe attending this gigantic Bach festival that only a  hundred and fifty years ago his music languished largely unheard. I remember if one mentioned playing and studying Bach’s  Das Wohltemperierte Klavier one was almost looked at askance as ‘a dull intellectual’. The Bach and Mendelssohn families did interact. Mendelssohn had a great aunt – Sarah Itzig Levy (1761-1854) who was a sister of Bella Salomon, Mendelssohn’s maternal grandmother. Sarah had studied the harpsichord with Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and maintained a musical salon in Berlin where Bach’s music was often performed. Mendelssohn’s father collected Bach manuscripts and the first performance of the Passion was at the Singakademie on March 11, 1829. as a result the genius of Bach was resuscitated from obscurity not only in Germany but throughout the world.

St Matthew passion
Opening page of Felix Mendelssohn’s autograph score of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion

The Bach Violin concerto in E major BWV 1042 was finely played by the Gewandhausorchester with Vilde Frang as the expressive, emotionally committed and sensitive soloist. With the elderly Herbert Blomstedt (still active and energetic at 92 – a lesson to us all!) we quite understandably had a rather ‘old school’ performance with little of the ‘informed performance practice’ revolution of recent years in evidence. However of course the genius of this music makes any superficial performance observations, intellectually and musicologically convincing, entirely gratuitous.

Domenico Orlando then joined Vilde Frang in the Bach Concerto for oboe and violin  in C minor BWV 1060R. In this shared work as one of the soloists, he emerged for me as simply one of the greatest virtuosos on this instrument I have ever heard. The almost theatrical projection of his sound (he moved about a great deal, the instrument also in arcs) cascaded over us in waves of beauteous harmony. The dreamy Adagio was particularly affecting in its beautifully sculpted melodic arabesques. I was captivated by his extraordinary articulation and immaculate phrasing which gave such inner detailed polyphonic life to the work.

The Gewandhausorchester under Blomstedt really came into their own in the Symphony Nr. 3 A minor Op. 56 (The Scottish). Mendelssohn so loved in Britain, was originally inspired to compose this symphony when he visited the country first in 1829. After a series of successful musical engagements in London, Mendelssohn set off on a walking tour of Scotland with his friend Karl Klingemann. Mendelssohn visited the ruins of Holyrood Chapel at highly romantic and historic  Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, where he wrote in a letter to his family:

‘In the deep twilight we went today to the palace were Queen Mary lived and loved…The chapel below is now roofless. Grass and ivy thrive there and at the broken altar where Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything is ruined, decayed, and the clear heavens pour in. I think I have found there the beginning of my ‘Scottish’ Symphony.’

The ruins of Holyrood Abbey “Everything around is broken and moldering and the bright sky shines in. I believe I have found today in that old chapel the beginning of my Scottish symphony.” Mendelssohn wrote

The premiere took place on 3 March 1842 in the Gewandhaus here in Leipzig.
The work is scored in four movements that are performed without breaks, embuing the symphony with a feeling of organic unity, yet maintaining a great range of emotional response. 
  1. Andante con moto — Allegro un poco agitato
  2. Vivace non troppo
  3. Adagio
  4. Allegro vivacissimo — Allegro maestoso assai

Blomstedt extracted great inner life and detail, delicacy of feeling when required, dynamic variation from rich forte to delicate string pianissimo, the rhapsodic embracing of the power of Nature Mendelssohn adored in this island nation (‘the force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ in the words of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas). The energetic references to Scottish folk music, the ‘Scottish snap’ rhythm and the dance were energizing and inspired one to dance oneself. Although not programme music or a symphonic poem, the Allegro maestoso assai conclusion evoked the grandeur of the Scottish landscape, its immensity and monumentality, to anyone who has been fortunate enough to visit this bardic land of fierce yet beautiful emotion.

“It is in pictures, ruins and natural surroundings that I find the most music,” Mendelssohn wrote. This is his sketch of Ben More, on the Isle of Mull

Sun 16th June 2019  18.00 
Leipzig Opera


J. S. Bach Magnificat BWV 243 (Ballet)

G. B. Pergolesi Stabat mater (Ballet)

Indian ragas

Steffi Lehmann (soprano), Anja Binkenstein (soprano), Marie Henriette Reinhold (alto), Martin Petzold (tenor), Dirk Schmidt (bass)

Leipzig Ballet

Choir of Leipzig Opera, Thomas Eitler-de Lint (preparation of the choir)

Children’s Choir of Leipzig Opera

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

Indigo Masala

Thilo Reinhardt (libretto), Paul Zoller (set design, costumes), Mario Schröder (choreography), direction: Christoph Gedschold

An Opera Leipzig event
Magnificat 1
This was a fascinating, spectacularly accomplished and imaginative ballet. Unfortunately after some time I found the intensely physical choreography tiringly repetitive. The ideological conception behind the production is admirable but flawed in terms of musical and artistic conviction. However theatrically accomplished and ostentatious (certainly it was), I feel to secularize this profoundly Christian religious music and inspiration of Bach’s Magnificat (the earliest Marian hymn or Song of Mary), a misguided intention. I felt it should not be utilized as simple raw material to inspire a supremely athletic, purely physical transformation, with no theological element. The production was an inescapable, representative expression of the atheistic preoccupations of our day. None the worse for that, judging by the wildly enthusiastic audience reception at the close. It is arguably a positive development that the Leipzig Bach Festival is enhanced by outside injections of inspiration from other Leipzig institutions such as the Leipzig Opera, Leipzig ballet as well as the Gewandhaus Orchestra.
More to the point in this case, how can one possibly remove and justify the fervent religious inspiration of this profound Lutheran composer for purely visual physical entertainment? This is the Johann Sebastian Bach who wrote a cantata in Weimar in 1713 for the 51st birthday of William Ernest, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, entitled Everything with God and nothing without him BWV 1127.
The interaction achieved between the music of Bach and Pergolesi was instructive but attempting to meaningfully interweave this with music from a South Asian culture (India) is certainly a praiseworthy and laudable search for cross-cultural understanding. However I feel this attempted amalgam does a serious disservice to both social civilizations, making essentially superficial connections, as well as distorting for entertainment ends their highly evolved but supremely distinct musical cultures.
Magnificat 2


Sun 16th June 2019  22.30 
Stadtbad Leipzig
Bach and Dresden
Bach versus Marchand
L. Marchand: Prélude – Gigue – Chaconne

J. S. Bach: Fantasie a-Moll, BWV 922

J. S. Bach: Fuga, aus: Konzert C-Dur, BWV 1061a

Movements from the Suit in G minor by L. Marchand
Suite in G Major, BWV 816, J. S. Bach

Andreas Staier (harpsichord − J. S. Bach), Ton Koopman (harpsichord − L. Marchand),

PD Dr. Michael Maul (presentation)


This was a highly entertaining late night concert idea with two of the finest harpsichordists playing in the world today ‘fighting it out note for note, phrase for phrase’. Although this Bach – Marchand confrontation at the Dresden court never actually took place (Marchand fled in fear under cover of darkness back to Paris) the idea of a keyboard duel has had a long and distinguished history.

16th century St Mark’s in Venice witnessed the ‘Duel of Two Organs’ between Andrea Gabrieli and Claudio Merulo in an improvisation competition. In 1709, Handel confronted Domenico Scarlatti in Rome – Handel’s patron, Cardinal Ottoboni, judged it a drawn contest with Handel awarded the organ laurels and Scarlatti those of the harpsichord. Mozart and Clementi competed in Vienna in 1781. Mozart won. It was decided ‘While Clementi had only art, Mozart had both art and taste’. Beethoven, that elemental force of Nature, opposed three powerful opponents – Joseph Wölfl, Josef Gelinek and Daniel Steibelt. He defeated all of them and continued to dominate Viennese musical life.

In the present ‘contest’ and as a lover of the French classical tradition, I found the Marchand suites fine indeed especially the noble Chaconne and also the elegant and graceful Bach French Suite  No 5 in G minor BWV 816. However, an idiomatic and instinctive grasp of the intimacy, affectation, allure and charm of the French tradition escaped both these masters on occasion – a very personal conviction of mine as a lover of the music of Francois Couperin.

The entire concert was performed in a mood of great camaraderie and occasionally affected entertaining theatrical competitiveness. What a unique and splendid experience to hear two harpsichordists of such international stature playing together in such perfect unison dialogue, particularly the Bach double concerto in C-major in the version for two harpsichords without orchestra BWV 1061a. Quite wonderful.


Mon 17th June 2019  14.00

Summary of my interview with Dr. Michael Maul, Artistic Director of the Bachfest

I was attracted to the idea of organizing this interview by the entertaining personality of Dr. Maul reading a rather theatrical presentation of letters and documents during the concert »Hof-Cantatrice« Anna Magdalena Wilcke-Bach (see above). An unusual personality trait for a musicologist in my experience! We spoke for an hour over iced coffee in the attractive Cafe Gloria opposite the great statue of J.S.Bach at the side of the Thomaskirche. Dr. Maul studied the modern violin and baroque violin before becoming a musicologist and emerging as a highly respected and honoured academic in Bach studies, the author of many papers and monographs. His PhD thesis examined Baroque Opera in Leipzig 1693-1720. I was also particularly interested in the labyrinthine mysteries of his paper on the influence of  Count Adam von Questerberg on the gestation of the B-minor Mass.

We initially discussed last year’s outstanding Kantaten-Ring. With some other music journalists I had spent a remarkable hour or more discussing Bach with Prof. Dr. Peter Wollny, the Director of the Bach Archive, during that extraordinary weekend. Both of us had spoken to people who had attended and most said that it was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, musical experience of their lives. 

He mentioned how difficult it was years ago to persuade the Bach establishment that Baroque performance practice or ‘historically informed practice’ was the way forward. There are many Bach performances throughout the year in Leipzig but the annual Bachfest is the highlight. I mentioned the mainly elderly audience but he pointed out many young people come during the year when it is less expensive and also attend the market place events and other concerts which are free during the festival. He also mentioned how pleased he is that the festival is now co-operating with other eminent Leipzig cultural institutions such as the Gewandhausorchester, Leipzig Opera and Leipzig Ballet.

We also spoke of the recent almost self-evident appointment of Dr. Ton Koopman, who replaced Sir John Eliot Gardiner as President of the Leipzig Bach Archive Foundation and of his eminent years as a scholar, performer and archivist. I remember so well his early career with harpsichord recitals in London in the so-called ‘Early Music’ revival during the incredibly exciting 1970s. At ruinous expense such was my passion for Bach, I commissioned my harpsichord from David Rubio, a copy of an eighteenth century Flemish instrument by Johannes Dulcken. I dearly remember those early inspiring exploratory years of Trevor Pinnock, Gustav Leonhardt, Bob von Asperen, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Christopher Hogwood.

Naturally we spoke of future plans for the 2020 Bachfest which is thematically entitled BACH – We are a Family.

“It all started with the idea of holding a 2020 Bach Festival similar to the kind of celebration the much-ramified Bach family of musicians would once have held in Thuringia. Once a year, they met at a certain place to feast, sing and make music.

Today, the Bach family is a global one. All over the world, there are people who live out their love of Johann Sebastian Bach together – in Bach choirs and Bach societies. The oldest of all of these, the Neue Bachgesellschaft, will be celebrating its annual Bach Festival with us again in 2020.

But to turn our idea into a reality, we have also invited all the other ›family members‹ – that is, all the Bach associations around the globe – to Leipzig: more than 250. The response has been overwhelming. The 2020 Bach Festival is set to become the greatest ›family reunion‹ the global Bach community has ever held, and you are cordially invited to be part of it.”  wrote Dr. Michael Maul, the Artistic Director.

The 2021 Bachfest will be organised around compositions by various members of the Bach family.

On this highly optimistic, forward thinking and imaginative note we finished our delicious iced coffee (with cream and ice-cream) in the shadow of the statue of the great Cantor and concluded our interview.

Mon 17th June 2019  17.00 
Haus Leipzig
Bach and Dresden

Contest of the Gods

J. D. Heinichen La gara degli dei

J. S. Bach: Overture in D major BWV 1068

J. S. Bach: Geschwinde, geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde, BWV 201

Robin Johannsen (soprano), Miriam Feuersinger (soprano), Hanna Herfurtner (soprano), Julia Böhme (alto), Marie Henriette Reinhold (alto), Richard Resch (tenor), Patrick Grahl (tenor), Tobias Berndt (bass), Matthias Winckhler (bass),

La Folia Barockorchester, direction: Robin Peter Müller

Johann David Heinichen (1683 – 1729) was a German Baroque composer who brought the musical genius of Venice to the court of Augustus the Strong in Dresden.  So the choice of this work is most appropriate for ‘Bach, the Court Composer’. Both his father and himself attended the Thomasschule in Leipzig. He received organ and harpsichord lessons from Johann Kuhnau. He became a lawyer (as many musicians did – Goethe’s advice to budding poets was similar). He went later to Italy and spent seven years studying composition there, mainly in Venice. He achieved great success with two operas, Mario and Le passioni per troppo amore (1713).

Dresden in the year 1719 witnessed the opulently staged marriage between Prince Frederick Augustus II of Saxony to the Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria which took place on August 20 of that year in Vienna. The theme of these lavish festivities  were the planet deities Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, Diana, Mercury, Venus and Saturn. Opening this festival of the planets, the serenata La gara degli dei, composed by the then Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon kapellmeister Johann David Heinichen. This extraordinary work, first performed on the feast of Apollo, was simply a preview of the festivities to come.

The music is heavily and not unexpectedly influenced by the composer’s years in Italy. The work is replete with extraordinary rhythms, thirteen marvelous and increasingly demanding virtuoso arias as well as bizarre sound effects. Originally the ‘Gods’ were suspended on a ‘cloud’ above the audience, the performance ending with a firework display. The work is almost entirely in C major apart from Mars who sings an aria in C minor. The music was often intended to reflect the character of the bridal couple.

The La Folia Barockorchester and all the singers under the direction of Robin Peter Müller were absolutely spectacular in this performance. What an outstanding period orchestra this is with an energy level and communicative emotional musical life far above the so-called ‘average’. Both soloists and orchestra brought fiery musical energy and theatrical commitment of a high order to each characteristic ‘God’ and their ‘personality’. I have neither the time nor the space to analyse individual performances but to be honest I was completely bowled over by a work and composer previously unknown to me. May I plead for a staged performance and recording soon with original seductively naive, eighteenth century Baroque stage apparatus and ‘business’.





After the welcome interval (it is stiflingly hot in Leipzig just at the moment) I heard the finest, most breath-taking performance I have ever heard of the French influenced Bach Overture BWV 1068.  The driving forward energy of the dance, articulation, inner orchestral details, counterpoint and exciting tempo swept one along like an avalanche. This orchestra is unique in this motivic energy I felt, carrying one unresistant, like a river taken at the flood. Yet one did not feel the slightest rushed, the French style retained, a recognition of the inevitability in this energized manner of reading the score. A magnificent interpretation.

Finally a most amusing work by Bach, Geschwinde, geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde, BWV 201 (1729). With the Leipzig Collegium musicum, Bach often paid tribute to his patrons, the Saxon electoral family who had by now granted him the title Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Court Composer. In this cantata or  dramma per musica, an amusing setting of a song contest between Pan and Phoebus, Bach established himself as an advocate of ‘artful’  music as opposed to the music of ‘low entertainment’. Ovid in his Metamorphoses depicts a musical contest between the shepherd god Pan (master of the flute rather crudely sings an aria for ‘dancing, leaping’ in unrestrained style) and Phoebus Apollo a most lyrical and affecting aria expressing with longing his love of Hyacinth. The foolish King Midas selects Pan as the victor but the introduced figure of Momus, the god of rebuke. comments to him ‘You have yet more brothers like yourself / folly and unreason / would now be the neighbours of wisdom / people judge at random / and those who do so / all belong to your fraternity.’ This moral and musical lesson was performed with the greatest amusement and panache, the singer judges in T shirts bearing the mottoes ‘Pan for President’ and  ‘I ♥ Phoebus’ – a delightful conceit.

A highly enjoyable concert of music most of which was unfamiliar to me. Surely this educational and informative musical dimension is one of the greatest values of the Bach Leipzig Festival.

Mon 17th June 2019  20.00 
Bach and Weimar

Thomaskirche , Leipzig

Bach meets Vivaldi

 A. Vivaldi: Konzert D-Dur, RV 208
J. S. Bach: Konzert C-Dur, BWV 594
A. Vivaldi: Konzert a-Moll, op. 3 Nr. 8, RV 522
J. S. Bach: Konzert a-Moll, BWV 593
A. Vivaldi: Konzert d-Moll, op. 3 Nr. 11, RV 565
J. S. Bach: Konzert d-Moll, BWV 596
A. Vivaldi: Konzert h-Moll, op. 3 Nr. 10, RV 580

Jörg Halubek (organ), Chouchane Siranossian (violin), Katharina Heutjer (violin), La Cetra Barockorchester Basel, direction: Andrea Marcon

BF 19 Nr. 50_143
The modern organ in the Thomaskirche

Johann Sebastian was a young man of 23 when he moved from Mühlhausen to beautiful, forward-thinking, artistic and progressive Weimar. Prince Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar was intensely interested in music. The twelve concertos from Antonio Vivaldi’s L’estro armonico’ graced the court from a visit the prince made to Amsterdam where he purchased them. Bach made various organ transcriptions of these Italian concertos for the organ.

In this concert we first heard the Violin concerto in D major named ‘Grosso Mogul’ with the brilliant, award-winning young French virtuoso of Armenian background, Chouchane Siranossian. The La Cetra Barockorchester Basel under Andrea Marcon gave her stylish and energetic support. This concerto is one of Vivaldi’s most virtuosic. There are various ‘oriental’ associations in the music as the Great Mogul of India Aurangzeb (1618-1707) was a most feared potentate. Untypically, Bach transcribed this concerto for organ into the key of C major. Throughout this concert of educational contrasts, it was instructive to hear how difficult it was for Bach to transcribe these works for such an unenvisioned keyboard instrument, fluctuating as the writing does between virtuoso solo passages for violin and orchestral tutti ritornellos. One can hear Bach’s brilliant solutions to knotty difficulties for the hands and feet to accomplish. The future influence on Bach of Italian music (say in the Italian Concerto) is clear.


Tue 18th June 2019  17.00 
Kongresshalle, Weißer Saal
Bach and Cöthen

A virtuoso dialogue

J. S. Bach: Sonate E-Dur, BWV 1016
J. S. Bach: Partita d-Moll, BWV 1004
J. S. Bach: Sonate h-Moll, BWV 1014
J. S. Bach: Toccata d-Moll, BWV 913
J. S. Bach: Sonate G-Dur, BWV 1019

Isabelle Faust (violin)

Kristian Bezuidenhout (harpsichord − Artist in Residence)

The six (the magic number) sonatas for violin and harpsichord BWV 1014-1019 are outstanding works, early masterpieces in fact, based on the fashionable trio sonatas. They emerged for the composer’s sojourn in Köthen where many outstanding musicians performed. Certainly Bach exploited the virtuoso possibilities of both instruments in ‘dialogue’ to the maximum in these sonatas. Interestingly a two-manual harpsichord is essential for them. Bach traveled to Berlin to buy an instrument by the renowned maker Michael Mietke which may be connected to their composition..

Perhaps needless to say these two artists gave a remarkable account of these works. They appear to play in with beautiful symbiosis and musical understanding. The affecting melody of the divine Adagio ma non tanto from the E major sonata BWV 1016 was extraordinarily moving.

Isabelle Faust then gave a magnificently organic and structurally integrated performance of the Partita for unaccompanied violin in D minor BWV 1004. The closing Ciaconna was like a monumental sculpture that grew seamlessly from the previous movements – a great cathedral like Reims or Chartres rising triumphantly in sound. Kristian Bezuidenhout later gave us a splendidly expressive and virtuosic account of the fiendishly difficult Toccata in D minor BWV 913 for solo harpsichord. He managed to communicate a tremendously fluent, appropriate feeling of improvisation and drama to the work.


An informal talk with Kristian Bezuidenhout in the courtyard of the Bach Museum in Leipzig, 19th June 2019, during the Leipzig Bach Festival 

Bach, Court Compositeur

I was fortunate enough to be able to arrange an informal talk with this Artist in Residence. I neglected to write it up at the time so I will try to make amends here from my notes. He and Isabelle Faust the previous evening had given a superfine virtuoso performance of six Bach sonatas for violin and harpsichord. We sat in the attractive courtyard of the Bach Museum.
I spoke a little about my own background with the harpsichord in London in the 1970s, studying with Maria Boxall (editor of the keyboard works of John Blow and author of a n outstanding harpsichord method). I witnessed the extremely exciting early days of the so-called ‘Early Music’ revival in London. This was when Christopher Hogwood was just becoming known, a youthful Trevor Pinnock was playing in Hampstead parish churches, Ton Koopman was giving solo recitals as was Bob van Asperen, Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt – all revolutionizing the performance practice and study of Bach. Many performed at St. John’s Smith Square and the Spitalfields Festival. We spoke of his background in South Africa and Australia – with some animation me being Australian and also knowing South Africa well after researching in Cape Town a recent biography I wrote!
Kristian began with a surprising remark in view of his career, that his first experience with the harpsichord and fortepiano was an ‘alien encounter’. He had studied the modern instrument. However he was overwhelmed on first hearing Gustav Leonhardt playing the works of Antoine Forqueray and Jacques Duphly.
As the 2019 Leipzig Bach Festival was entitled Bach, Court Compositeur, we talked at length about the significant influence of French music and performance tradition on Bach. He considers that one must fully understand the cantatas and sacred works (his first love) to be able to meaningfully play the keyboard works. He pointed out the familiarity of the liturgical year to music lovers as art of the congregation in Bach’s day. The conclusion of the St. Matthew Passion is of course deeply tragic but the congregation knew that in the following week the Resurrection was coming.
We then talked about his remarkably close artistic relationship with the magnificent Freiburger Barockorchester (he is Artistic Director), his role as Principal Guest Conductor of the English Concert, his conducting association with the outstanding Les Arts Florissants and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. He was awarded the Gramophone  Artist of the Year in 2013. At this point he expressed his great enthusiasm for Paul McNulty’s reproduction period pianos. He has recorded the complete Mozart piano concertos on a McNulty copy of an Anton Walter & Sohn instrument, Vienna 1805 with the Freiburger Barockorchester under Gottfried von der Goltz. One of my favorite recordings of his is the  breathtakingly brilliant youthful and prodigious Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Double concerto for Violin and Piano (with Isabelle Faust) and the Piano concerto in A minor.
We then began to discuss in some detail the keyboard implications of the fascinating fingering of Francois Couperin and how each finger and key had been given its own character during the French classical tradition. I also mentioned that this was an influence on the penciled in fingerings of Fyderyk Chopin as well. Unfortunately at this point it began to rain and we had to leave the delightful open courtyard and draw the informal talk to a close, promising to meet in Warsaw on August 30th when he performs  and conducts the Mozart Piano Concerto in C Major K. 503 with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century as part of the 15th Chopin and His Europe Festival.
Tue 18th June 2019  20.00
Bach and Weimar

Music at the French Court

 J. S. Bach: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61
G. P. Telemann: Deus, judicium tuum, TWV 7: 7
J. S. Bach: Overture in C major, BWV 1066
J. B. Lully: Te Deum, LWV 55

Gesine Adler (soprano), Susanne Langner (alto), Stefan Kunath (altus), Tobias Hunger (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass)

Collegium Vocale Leipzig

Merseburger Hofmusik, direction: Michael Schönheit

Unfortunately, there was a conflict in the festival programming which made a decision which concert to attend particularly tormenting. How to decide between a performance of The Art of Fugue and a programme that explored the influence of French music in Bach. As I have been immersed in the fête galant world of the sensibility of Antoine Watteau and Francois Couperin for many years, I decided against the magnificent intellectual labyrinth of the fugue to embrace the more hedonistic delights of the French influence on Bach.

Voltaire called the seventeenth century in Europe the century of Louis XIV. This Apollonian Bourbon used the fine arts, monumental architecture, landscaped formal gardens and superbly refined music to give France a supremacy and influence in culture and politics that she has never regained but is certainly recalled. The king supported his luminaries and creative people to an unprecedented degree which ‘elevated him not only above the heroes of his race or those of other peoples, but beyond the scope and boundaries of the mortal condition.’ Bach was born towards the end of the century (1685) at a time when the French organ school of Nicolas de Grigny and Jean-Henri d’Anglebert was exerting influence on the North German organ school of Bach’s youth and when engaged as a Court musician. He heard much Italian and French orchestral and harpsichord music (predominantly that of Francois Couperin) which influenced him greatly. But where Louis XIV used music to extend the power and political influence of his royal absolutism to the point of decadence at the end of his life, Bach wrote in a religious church music context (the cantatas) to pay homage to the glory, the power and the omnipotence of the Christian God.

In the first work on the programme Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland  (Now come, saviour of the gentiles) BWV 61 (1714) for the 1st Sunday in Advent, Bach combines French elements and that of North German music. The opening chorus is written in the style of a grand French Overture, a great favourite for Bach opening movements (the arrival of the Sun King was often announced with such noble, stately music). The Collegium Vocale Leipzig and Merseburger Hofmusik, directed by Michael Schönheit gave a fine account of this work.

This was followed by a Grand Motet by Telemann Deus , judicum tuum, TWV7:7 (1738). This composer was a far more cosmopolitan figure than Bach and had spent almost a year in Paris meeting members of the royal court orchestra, Jean-Philippe Rameau and impressing Parisian audiences with his own compositions. The Grand Motet was a French genre that gave a musical focus to Louis attending the Chapelle Royale for daily mass. Again a fine performance that showed a deep understanding and familiarity with French baroque performance practice.

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687)

The ‘Florentine’ Jean Baptiste Lully controlled every aspect of operatic composition and motets (he wrote twelve) in the France of Louis XIV. He was a strict disciplinarian over his singers and instrumentalists insisting on the highest musical performance standards, obsessively centralizing the final outcome. The Te Deum which we heard this evening was composed in 1677 for the christening of his son Louis, a godchild of Louis XIV. It is an ostentatious and noble work for two choirs with prominent declamatory parts for timpani and trumpets.

In a later performance on January 8, 1687 to celebrate the recovery of the king from an illness, he accidentally stabbed himself in the foot with his baton. The wound turned septic and gangrene set in. The inscription on his tomb reads ironically in part, considering the cause of his death : ‘God , who endowed him with these talents over all men of his century, gave him as a reward for the inimitable hymns which he has composed to his praise with a truly Christian patience during the acute pains of illness….’ With unconditional support from the Sun King, Lully had little to fear from rival composers or cabals and high level accusations against him, although there were many. The rivalry between the French chorus and ballet and the vocal art of the Italians (Louis XIV was a brilliant dancer and often took part in his own court spectacles). The idea of a reconciliation between the rival French and Italian styles of composition inspired many composers. Francois Couperin wrote a fine work entitled Les goûts réunis (The Styles Reunited).

This was a splendid opulent performance, full-blooded and trumpet and timpani resplendent in the Nikolaikirche with tremendous forward impetus and grandeur. One was justifiably placed in awe of the genius of Lully and his unquestioned hegemony over the orchestral, operatic and religious French music of the day.

Wed 19th June 2019  17.00 
Haus Leipzig
Bach and Cöthen

 Bach Dances

J. S. Bach: Partita G-Dur, BWV 829

J. S. Bach: Partita a-Moll, BWV 827

J. S. Bach: Partita B-Dur, BWV 825

J. S. Bach: Partita c-Moll, BWV 826

J. S. Bach: Partita D-Dur, BWV 828

J. S. Bach: Partita e-Moll, BWV 830

Sir András Schiff (piano)

This was one of the highlights of the festival for me. First of all a few words about the gestation of the incomparable Bach Partitas. Clearly, Bach had been influenced by French music in his composition of the French and English Suites (all begin with a prelude) and  all of which conventionally contain an allemande, courante and sarabande. However, in the orchestral suites there are various combinations of familiar movements but a smattering of unique inventions such as the forlane, badinerie and rejouissance. In the partitas, published as the Clavierübung Op.1, the introductory pieces are all different and possibly experimental – prelude, sinfonia, fantasia, overture, preambulum and toccata. In their central sections he adds all manner of new and established forms such as the gavotte, menuet, passepied, air, rondeau, burlesca and scherzo. Were they conceived with the harpsichord, clavichord, Cristofori  or Silbermann piano in mind ? Should this concern us at all ?

Despite the almost oppressive heat, Sir András Schiff gave one of these flawless performances that on every level one was left with nothing left to say. Surely being reduced to awed silence is an incontrovertible sign of greatness. His complete understanding of the various French dance forms and performance practice, varied, subtle articulation, intensely musical phrasing, affecting expressiveness, minimal or no use of the pedal, polyphonic grasp and clarity of voice, eloquent left hand counterpoint, nobility of overall structure and conception, variation in dynamics, an air of courtly grandeur, organic musical growth, inspiring energy, seamless legato and glorious cantabile, perfectly judged note duration, buoyant rhythmic variety, lightness and a velvet quality of touch never bordering on the harsh even in forte, incandescent tone……need I continue?

An utterly satisfying artistic and aesthetic experience on every conceivable level by one of the greatest pianists performing today and undoubtedly one of the greatest living Bach exponents on the pianoforte.

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here

Shakespeare, Henry V



Wed 19th June 2019  20.00


J. S. Bach: Präludium B minor, BWV 544/1

J. Gallus: Ecce quomodo moritur justus

J. S. Bach: Johannes-Passion, BWV 245, (Fassung 1725)

Solomon’s Knot, direction: Jonathan Sells

Opening the theme ‘Passion’ for this concert note a little historical significance. In Leipzig on 17 October 1727, there was a memorial service for the departed Christiane Eberhardine der Starke, Electress of Saxony and the Queen of Poland. Bach wrote the cantata described as ‘funeral music in Italian style’ Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl, BWV 198. Bach played the organ at the ceremony, the piece performed may well have been this Prelude and Fugue in B minor. The associations of this key were considered melancholy and of plaintiff yearning in mood. It is a work of profound emotion.

The work was given a fine virtuoso performance on the impressive 19th century organ of the Nikolaikirche by Chad Kelley. The organ was built in 1862 by the Weissenfels organ builder Friedrich Ladegast and is the largest in Saxony. Kelley is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, was organ scholar and read music at Girton College, Cambridge, graduating in 2011 with double first-class honours.

The Motet by Jakob Handl (J. Gallus) Ecce quomodo moritur justus (See how the just dies) was performed by Bach as part of Good Friday Vespers at the principal churches in Leipzig 1724-1749. He often performed works by other composers during Passion week. This work was originally sung at Protestant burials in the 16th century as a funeral motet.

We tend to consider Bach’s Passions as competed, integrated and finished masterpieces. However, this is far from how he considered them at the time. Although he oversaw the performance of both the St. John and the St. Matthew Passions in Leipzig on many occasions they were rarely given in a similar form each time. There were many different arrangements of the St. John Passion given, assembled in ways we would find extraordinarily arbitrary but which were an obvious choice for the pragmatic Cantor given the prevailing circumstances of orchestral musicians available, choirs, singers and the place of worship. Even the censor may have been involved in toning down the graphic Baroque texts describing Christ’s suffering: Imagine, that his blood-bespattered body in every member is part of heaven above. We heard the 1724 version known as Version 1.

Solomon’s Knot under the direction of Jonathan Sells gave an engaging, even theatrically complex account of this Passion. Arias were directed at the ‘congregation’ almost operatically, as if attempting to engage in an authentic dialogue personally with every occupant of the Nikolaikirche, this in a manner that was both dramatic and highly emotional. A uniquely inclusive experience in my opinion as we were inexorably drawn into the anger and cruelty of the passion poetry and text. In choruses one felt one should be singing together with the choir in a state of piety. This even resulted in a feeling of religious deprivation as we did not so do.



And so this remarkable Bach pilgrimage to the ‘sacred places’ in Leipzig associated with this great composer, the greatest of harmonists, came to an end for me. The festival would however continue for another four days. As I left the Nikolaikirche and embraced the still Leipzig summer night for the last time this year, I could not help but feel a sense of loss, yet this emotion was mixed with the elation that I had fortunately managed to attend once again this remarkable affirmation of the human spiritual and creative spirit in the face of the dark side of human nature.

Next year the festival of 2020 will be devoted to the idea of the appreciation of Bach as a worldwide assemblage of acolytes. We are a FAMILY !  Yes, an international family of Bach choirs have been recruited from the farthest corners of the earth. They will assemble in Leipzig in June 2020 to once more scale the heights of immortal and shared inspirations of the greatest in music.  

Divine Intervention – Leipzig and the Ring of Bach Cantatas 8 – 10 June 2018

The interior of the Nikolaikirche
Saturday 9 June 2018  20.00   Nikolaikirche

The forces of Nature made the evening of Saturday 9 June 2018 particularly memorable. From my lofty seat in the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, lightning flashed across the copper-clad roof diffusing for a brief moment a sacred glow over the tall supporting Neo-classical ‘palm-tree Corinthian’ columns. Deep-throated thunder shook the church to its foundations. Theatrical enough in effect one might think in an empty church but the pews were full to capacity and the space filled, at first with the harmonies of Timor et Tremor by Giovanni Gabrieli, then with the uplifting spirituality of the Bach Cantata BWV 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort I (O eternity, O word of thunder I) for the First Sunday after Trinity. The almost operatic conjunction of the wild storm outside and the supplicant mood within the church would surely have satisfied the 17th century German poet and dramatist Johann von Rist who wrote much of the frightening text:

O eternity, O word of thunder…


As long as a God dwells in heaven

And moves above all the clouds,

Such torments shall never cease:

Men shall be plagued by heat and cold,

Fear, hunger, terror, fire and lightning,

Which shall, though, not devour them.

For this torment shall only end,

When God is no longer eternal.

Added to this scene, reminiscent in atmosphere of a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, was the brilliance of the performers of the cantata, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists under Sir John Eliot Gardiner. It was a magnificent performance, replete with energy, nuance and ardent spiritual weight.

At the beginning of this concert, a pastor had read aloud from the Gospel of John: ‘Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”‘  This was followed by the anguished cantata Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (Weeping, Wailing, Fretting, Fearing) BWV 12. 

The plea for steadfastness in the face of life’s afflictions was most movingly portrayed by this magnificent choir and soloists. One cannot help but be drawn to reflections on negative personal experiences and the healing effect Bach’s music has on one when in distress. They were supported seamlessly by the virtuoso orchestra under a ‘Gardiner’ who understood deeply in his personal life the planting of trees and the tending and bringing into glorious bloom any treasured plants given to his care.

Then two sung motets were sung before the Whitsun cantata BWV 103 Ihr Werdet Weinen und Heulen (You Shall Weep and Lament). The inclusion of motets, sung at the time by choristers of the Thomaskirche, is a practice I only recently learned was common in the liturgical performance of Bach’s Cantatas in Leipzig. They were mainly taken from the Floregium Portense (1618). This was a superb rendition of the cantata, impossible to fault, especially in such an original venue so intimately associated with Bach. The Nikolaikirche was frequented by the more affluent citizens of this great trading capital, unlike the more famous Thomaskirche for the more ‘ordinary citizen’.

Thomaskirche Leipzig

Nikolaikirche Leipzig

Whilst the storm began to break over us, another pastor again read aloud from the pulpit of the ‘Coming of the Holy Spirit’ from the Acts of the Apostles. The reading was theatrically driven from the heavens exactly on cue as if by divine intervention.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 

Then followed a festive and brilliant performance of the cantata O Ewiges Feuer, O Ursprung Der Liebe (O Eternal Fire, O Source of Love) BWV 34. Opening trumpets, timpani and chorus absolutely triumphant and splendid. Finally as described above the operatic O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort complete with astonishing deus ex machina stage effects courtesy of Mother Nature – rain, wind, thunder and lightning.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The ‘iron curtain’ that divided Europe after World War II was not only a political and militarized division. In addition the barrier was cultural and deeply personal. I had always wanted to visit those Central-Eastern European cities so deeply associated with the flowering and establishment of the Western literature and the musical canon, cities so ruthlessly isolated until 1989. Leipzig, Weimar, Dresden, Halle, Zwickau. The major composers associated with them – J.S. Bach, W.F. Bach, Handel, Wagner (born in Leipzig), Mendelssohn, Mahler, Zelenka, Quantz, Weber, Liszt, Chopin, Robert and Clara Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Richard Strauss and Grieg.

So now I was finally in the Leipzig of my imagination, a vibrant and ancient trade and cultural city populated predominantly by the young. This gives the air an affecting contemporary vitality and vibrancy. The city has undergone a spectacular rebirth since the grey communist days when it played such an important peaceful role in the collapse of the GDR. Construction, reconstruction and restoration are everywhere to be seen. The Gewandhaus is one of the greatest concert halls in Europe with an orchestra of intensely committed musicians.

Leipzig on this occasion did not attract me as a general ‘tourist’ but rather to draw into my heart the healing spirit of Johann Sebastian Bach. The story of the Leipziger Kantanten-Ring was an extraordinarily bold conception that was presented from 8-10 June 2018. Cycles determine our lives on many existential levels. The title of the 2018 Bach festival was in fact Cycles. After discussion concerning the Cantata Days, already a customary part of the Bach Festivals in Leipzig, Sir John Eliot Gardiner commented ‘We have to perform Bach’s 30 best cantatas one after the other in a short period of time. The pieces are so incredibly good, they’re in no way inferior to the Passions.’

One might reasonably ask how does one choose 33 among nearly 200 masterpieces to perform in 18 hours of music over one weekend alternately in the Thomaskirche and the Nikolaikirche? A sense of inevitability then that the marathon cycle would be named Kantanten-Ring after that operatic tetralogy composed by another great Leipzig composer Richard Wagner.

The cantatas were grouped according to their place in the church year. Corresponding Gospel or Epistle texts were read before each cantata and the motets from the anthology mentioned above were performed. This ancient musical practice was revived in the Ring and I felt added a powerful and religiously moving immanence to every performance in these historic churches. The attempt to restore a detailed religious context to the performances was a creative idea that was profoundly moving to this ‘lapsed Catholic’.

Invitations were extended to the finest Bach interpreters of our time: Sir John Eliot Gardiner with his Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists; Ton Koopman with his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir; Masaaki Susuki with his Bach Collegium Japan and the Gaechinger Cantorey under their conductor Hans-Christoph Rademann all accepted the invitation. I did not attend all the cantatas but a representative selection.

I am not a religious person by any means, yet felt compelled to write in the detail I have below as this cycle of cantatas In Leipzig became such a transformative musical and personal revelation.

Friday 8 June 2018 17.00   Thomaskirche

The opening concert at 5.00pm on June 8 in the Thomaskirche explored works that led to Bach. However it began with a tempestuous opening of the familiar Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565 superlatively played by the organist of the Thomaskirche, Ullrich Boehme. The organ is indeed impressive but not the original instrument which was destroyed by wartime bombs. I have always been inspired by the organ music of Bach as so many of us. I remember watching a film of the dancing feet of the neglected musical brilliance of Karl Richter on the organ pedals wearing patent leather pumps. An extraordinary and unique artistic sight in fugal passages.

Two motet cycles followed by two precursors of Bach, the former Cantor of the Thomaskirche, Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630), a master of the stylo madrigalesco, who introduced many modern spacial developments in musical performance from Venice.

Also we heard motets by Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672), ‘the father of German music’ who studied under Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice. Artfully performed by the Gewandhaus Orchestra and the eloquent choir of the Thomaskirche of such ancient tradition. The festive Gloria  of the Mass in F major BWV 233 by Bach was particularly successful with this orchestra and choir and a joyful contribution to the Cantata cycle.

The acoustic of the Thomaskirche is of honeyed, lightly reverberant sweetness when the church has a full congregation as on this occasion. I anticipated the coming cycle with some excitement. The concert concluded with a superb, rarely performed chorale cantata composed by the 21 year old  Felix Mendelssohn –  Verleih uns Frieden gnadiglich, MWV A 11 based on Luther’s hymn – only two years after his revival of the St. Matthew Passion.

The Gothic splendours of the Thomaskirche

The Leipzig city authorities are aware of the responsibility to make the Bach Festival as available to everyone as possible and not an expensive elitist musical indulgence. The tickets are rather expensive for many young people and students so there was a free open-air concert in the evening of  religious works by Bach and Bernstein (to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth), then later jazz improvisations on Bach by renowned groups. Sausages, beer and good cheer – all very much a baroque ‘techno town’ celebration.


Saturday 9 June 2018  Day Excursion   Leipzig City

On the morning of June 9th, I decided to some exploring of the city before the concert described above in the evening. The Museum der bildenden Künste (Museum of Fine Arts) is an important European art museum situated in Leipzig. In the face of music one tends to overlook the richness of Leipzig in art, book production and literature. The museum covers artworks from the Late Middle Ages to modernity.  I also decided to take part in a guided walking tour of the city. The museum possessed an extraordinarily eclectic collection of art works which I found faintly disturbing, imbued as I was with the positive faith and sense of direction cemented into the inherited tradition that Bach adopted and exemplifies.

Andy Warhol portrait between two eighteenth century ladies. 
A thought-provoking arrangement of traditional and modern as are many in this museum

The Magic of Love 
Lower Rhineland Master 1470

The walking tour was most diverting, highlighting many of the pivotal aspects of Leipzig through the ages – a vital European trading hub, seminal book and publishing centre, city of music and great composers and finally a centre of peaceful revolution against the GDR. Just outside the city one can find an extraordinary memorial and large museum to the Battle of Nations in 1813 when Napoleon was roundly defeated by a coalition army of Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden.

Many of the Baroque bourgeois town houses have been exquisitely renovated. The shopping arcades are impressive, alluring to any hedonist. The Maedler Passage arcade, built between 1912 and 1914, is of outstanding historic-architectural importance. Arcades were built to display samples of products – a revolutionary idea in retailing at the time. A rare survival as an architectural feature is the imposing inner courtyard of the Hansa House. Leipzig’s architectural uniqueness lies in the fact that the city possesses such a rich collection of Wilhelminian-style architecture, buildings dating from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

An original Leipzig shopping arcade

The sole surviving Hansa House Courtyard in Leipzig

The superb Art Nouveau facade of the Cafe Riquet Leipzig

Before the magnificent cantata with Sir John Eliot Gardiner described at the beginning of this account, I was taken on a guided tour of the Bach Museum by the Curator. The Bose House in St. Thomas Square used to be the home of friends of Bach who were wealthy merchants. There are twelve thematically designed rooms devoted to interactive exhibitions. Many precious items are on display and many original manuscripts which are deeply interesting. One can even ‘compose’ works using a remarkably imaginative method of adding and subtracting instruments from let’s say a Brandenburg Concerto. Of course one could spend years in the Bach Archive researching arcane Bachian matters. One feels an emanation here as Bach spent 27 years (1723-1750) living here, where he taught the boys of the St. Thomas choir and composed the St. Matthew Passion in addition to the B minor Mass. 

img_2743 (2)

I was hugely impressed by the Thuringian-Saxon Bach family tree initially compiled by Johann Sebastian himself. One wonders at the immense influence this single enormous family of 80 composers, musicians even visual artists must have had on European music and its development. The Bach Archive are working hard on tracing every document associated with each member of the family in a vast database called Bach Digital.

bach organ console - bach museum
Organ console by Johann Scheibe,1743, remodeled as a museum object and a treasured relic. One cannot help reflecting on the simplicity of means that Bach had at his disposal to create monumental organ compositions. Can our super-advanced technology be used to create comparable masterpieces of the creative human spirit ? Short answer is ‘No’

Bach’s immaculate autograph of orchestral parts

The final part of our tour was dinner at the famous restaurant the Auerbachs Keller.  This was quite a thrilling experience for a man born in Australia on the other side of the planet who has always had such a deep love of German literature. This renowned place is the second oldest restaurant in Leipzig. It was a famous wine bar even in the 16th century but its reputation lies with the role it pays in Goethe’s play Faust. The young student Goethe often visited Auerbach’s Cellar while studying at Leipzig University from 1765 to 1768.

There he saw two paintings on wood dating from 1625. One represented  the notorious magician and astrologer Johann Georg Faust carousing with students, and the other depicting Mephistopheles riding out the door astride a wine barrel – obviously in collusion with  the Devil. In the play Mephistopheles takes Faust to the Cellar at the beginning of his travels and introduces him to various visions and magic. After befriending some ‘jolly fellows’ Mephistopheles asks them what wine they like best.

Good, if I have my choice, the Rhenish I propose; 

For still the fairest gifts the fatherland bestows.

They also answer ‘Champagne’ and ‘Tokay’ ! He drills holes in their table, fills the holes with wax stoppers and encourages them to drink their choice. Astounded by the flow of wine, they do so, even ending up transported to a beautiful landscape. Faust is not terribly impressed and asks to leave. The ‘jolly fellows’ soon realize it was a magic trick after they see Mephistopheles and Faust ride out of the Cellar astride a wine barrel. Before the John Eliot Gardiner cantata concert we had rustic classic Saxon cuisine and dark beer in one of the Auerbach restaurants dating from 1912 known as the Grosse Keller.


Sunday 10 June 2018   11.30   Thomaskirche

The first cantata concert on 10 June was at 11.30 at the Thomaskirche given by Bach Collegium Japan under their conductor Masaaki Suzuki. We began with a reading from the New Testament Luke 16, 19-31 The Rich Man and Lazarus.

Then the cantata Die Elenden sollen essen, (‘The poor shall eat’) BWV 75.  This was Bach’s first official cantata in Leipzig after taking up his post and performed first on 30 May, 1723. There are fourteen movements that deal with poverty in opposition to wealth. The first part of the work is predominantly in the style of the fashionable French dance suite, dealing with the spiritual Christian moral dilemma of wealth confronted by poverty. The second part deals even more spiritually with the same opposition. For the first time I heard the perfect pitch, intonation and tuning of the Bach Collegium choir and soloists, a remarkable moment in this church. The orchestral ensemble was simply superb, extraordinarily refined and elegant.

The choir featured magnificently in the next cantata Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot (‘Break your bread with the hungry’) BWV 39 (Isaiah 58:7-8) which opens with an immense choral section. An extraordinary variety of musical forms and pathetic moods – fugal, chromatic and lyrical – flow between instruments and voices. The pathos explodes into joy at the conclusion. The Bach Collegium were heavenly and breathtakingly beautiful in this cantata.

It seemed to me that there was such a contemporary relevance to this theme when one considers the current immigrant crisis in Europe, the plight of the homeless, the hungry sleeping rough and the displaced. The settings of such relevant poetry and scripture in the cycle had begun to affect me, morally guiding me to ask rather deeper questions about the conduct of my own life. Bach often has the dual influence of examination of conscience and healing after reflection.

Maasaki Suzuki

The reading by the pastor before the next Cantata that of The Parable of the Great Banquet from the Gospel according to St. Luke 14, 15-24. Jesus spoke of a great man who had invited many eminent guests to his banquet but who at the last moment cancelled for selfish reasons. The man was furious and ordered his servant to go out into the roads, the lanes and slums and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame to the banquet.

The motet In Domino Deo Gaudebimus was performed as a type of spiritual prologue to the Bach cantata  Ach Gott, Von Himmel Sieh Darein (Ah, God look down from heaven) BWV 2. It is based on Martin Luther’s Paraphrase of Psalm 12 (the Second Sunday after Trinity 1724). ‘Resist heresy and all the spirit-babble…’ The effect is rather austere and even written in an archaic motet style whilst the contrasting arias are in what was known as the ‘modern style’ – concertante writing with solo obbligato (violin) instrumentation.

The efforts of man to base his own salvation on his own sad attempts are considered pathetic and hopeless. With the familiar Lutheran fierceness of metaphor ‘…they are like the graves of the dead which, though fine from the outside, contain only rottenness and stench and display nothing but filth.’ Bach turns to allusions of alchemy (incidentally pursued by Augustus the Strong in Dresden resulting not in gold but porcelain) referencing silver purified by fire.

The Bach Collegium again gave us superb ensemble in both choir and orchestra with perfect intonation it seemed to me (although I only possess good relative pitch). The subtly inflected and contrasting emotional melodic lines were eloquently expressed. In emotional moods both piteous and sometimes splenetic, the opposition of Bach’s archaic and ‘modern’ styles was finely accomplished. I found the passionate restraint of this entire cantata ‘Ring’ concert most affecting.

Sunday 10 June 2018   17.00    Thomaskirche

This concert, given by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under their conductor Ton Koopman, was devoted to the quartet of cantatas for the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity. The pastor read from Gospel according to St. Luke, Chapter 7, 11-17. This deals with the miraculous raising to life by Jesus of the only son of the widow of the town of Nain.

The refinement of the ensemble underpinned by rhythmic strength of the Dutch band was clear throughout the performance. In the opening cantata BWV 161 Komm, du süsse Todesstunde (Come sweet hour of death) composed during Bach’s Weimar period in 1715, the Lutheran yearning for death is clear and the call of death becomes a thematic trope. The sweetness of the world’s delights is as loathsome as poison until death transfigures life to shine like the sun. The emotions of this desire were sensitively cultivated in a perfect baroque idiom by the orchestra and Ton Koopman. The extreme nature of these thoughts I found hard to absorb with any spiritual equanimity.

The Motet by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612) Si bona suscepimus preceded the next Bach cantata BWV (1724) Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben  (Dearest God, when shall I die?). This ensemble has an intimate understanding of the extraordinary orchestral soundscape of this cantata (two oboes d’amore over a muted staccato quaver accompaniment by the upper strings and pizzicato in the bass). Above this a flute hovers and flutters like a bird chirruping, quite out of its normal range of flight. In his notes in the excellent programme book, Sir John Eliot Gardiner refers to the ‘elegiac and iridescent tenderness’ of this first chorus.

Ton Koopman maintained a touching feeling of the questioning Christian on the ultimate question of mortality with his usual robust yet understated strength of harmonic direction. Klaus Mertens in the bass aria (No.4 Doch weichet…) sang with great strength and joy-filled rhythmic drive of the dance (so suited to the Amsterdam Orchestra and Koopman) maintaining an optimistic faith in the better life offered by Jesus.


The next cantata presented was BWV 27 (1726)  We weiß, wie nahe mir ( Who knows how near is my end?). The lamentation and pulsating human heartbeat at the core of this moving opening with its interlocked chorale and recitatives by soprano, alto and tenor was desperately moving in the Thomaskirche whose acoustic seemed to concentrate the tragic utterances with deeply felt intensity. I was constantly reminded of both the St. Matthew and St. John Passions in the cries to the Lord. The bass aria ‘Good night, O turmoil of the world!’ was delivered with all the disturbed yearning of the Lutheran for heaven. The Amsterdam Orchestra and Choir expressed this aspiration for heavenly glory to perfection.

Another appropriate motet this time by Jacobus Gallus (1550-1591) Media vita in morte summus which was followed by the final cantata for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity by this orchestra, BWV 95 (1723) Christus, der ist mein Leben  (Christ is my life).

From the outset so many wondrous instrumental and vocal moments in this cantata! The battling dialogues of the corno and oboes introducing Martin Luther’s paraphrase of the Nunc Dimittis are full of Reformation conviction. Can one also interpret this conflict as the final struggle between the spirit of life and death? The ‘jazzy’ trumpets, violins, pregnant silences and vitality of these instrumental and vocal choral passages were beautifully realized in Ton Koopman’s intense sprung rhythms and energetic conducting of this brilliant orchestra and choir.

I particularly liked the Aria Ach, schlager doch bald, selge Stunde (Ah, strike then soon, blessed hour) with the marvellous pizzicato on the strings which seems to imitate the clicking of a clock mechanism as the final hour approaches for a man.

One might conclude from the simplicity of these beautiful cantatas that Bach was responding musically to a recent death in his family, his three year old daughter Christiane Sophia just a few months before composing BWV 27.

Sunday 10 June 2018   20.00   Nikolaikirche

I was indeed fortunate to obtain a scarce ticket for the final group of cantatas performed in the Nikolaikirche by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner.

‘Bach has been like a friend to me. I grew up with his portrait hanging at the top of our staircase and have been dealing with this bewigged, rather frowning character ever since. He spent his life dealing with grief and was not the dry academic everybody thinks.’

Of the 200 Bach cantatas : ‘What I find fascinating about them is this constant variation on two planes at once: you hear them horizontally, as a haunting and beautiful melody, or as counterpoint or polyphony, all against the fundament of the basso continuo; and at the same time you hear them vertically, with all Bach’s rhythmical bounce, his upward aspiration.’

The pastor read from Revelations 12, 7-12

There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; 
and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; 
neither was their place found any more in heaven.


This reading was followed Cantata BWV 19 (1726) Es erhub ein Streit (There arose a war).  This St. Michael’s Day work is conceived in monumental grandeur for the brass and in the opening chorus replete with bravura gestures of enormous theatrical variety and drama. Truly an instrumental ‘war in heaven’. The battle between St. Michael and the ‘raging serpent,  the infernal dragon’ then follows with more tumult.

Then at the other end of the expressive spectrum, as Sir John colourfully observes of the tenor aria No. 5 Bleibt, ihr Engel,bleiby bei mir! (Stay, ye angels, stay by me!), the tender plea ‘evoking the ever-watchful protection afforded by the guardian angels wheeling around in the stratosphere.’ The Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists under Gardiner communicated an intense air of authority and almost operatic involvement at an immanent level in this work. They bring to Bach both power and majesty.

The pastor then read from the Gospel according to St. Luke 19, 41- 48 wherein Jesus weeps over Jerusalem.

This was followed a fine performance of a cantata by that predecessor of Bach, the musical genius, Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) Nim von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott, (Take away from us, Lord, faithful God)BuxWV 78 with a plea to the Lord to preserve us from war, famine, epidemics, fire and the greatest harm.

The expressive power and sensitivity of the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists was brought to full account in the Bach cantata BWV 101 (1724) Nim von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott (Take away from us, Lord, faithful God). The text is based on a hymn by Martin Moller written during the time of the plague in 1584 and sung to the melody of Luther’s German version of the Lord’s Prayer (Gardiner). Here we have an inescapable musical statement of punishment as the wages of sin. The strokes of divine wrath are in the heavy blows of dissonance which Gardiner expressed without restraint. I found this personally rather unsettling.

There are some superb arias in this cantata. One is rather a furious and angry response to the punishment given to the bass No. 4 Warum willst du so zornig sein? (Why wouldst thou be so angry?). Peter Harvey was convincingly emotional in this protest. For me one of the most beautiful arias was the beautifully performed (if slightly theatrical) soprano and alto duet No. 6 Gedenk an Jesu bittern Tod! (Think on Jesus’s bitter death), a delicate imploring plea for compassion in the face of the distress of sin with a most eloquent and affecting presentation of the chorale tune alternating between the obbligato flute and oboe da caccia.  We are reminded of Jesus’s compassion in the face of his own ‘bitter death’. For me the emotions of compassion,  and the need to relieve suffering is of the highest importance.  Bach in the cantatas, possibly because of the religious texts, forces one into moments of self-examination as we are almost always tempted to inaccurately judge actions or motivations.

The pastor then read from the Gospel according to St. Luke 17, 11-19 wherein Jesus cleanses ten lepers. Leprous sin must be cleansed…

Jesus Heals Ten Lepers and Only the Samaritan Returns to Give Thanks

This was followed by a great masterpiece among the cantatas, BWV 78 (1724) Jesu, der du meine Seele (Jesus, who has wrested my soul). The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists are surely unsurpassed in the irresistible power and majesty they bring to the great choral lament composed as a passacaglia that opens this work. The sheer virtuosity of this choir and orchestra and Gardiner’s ‘relentlessly demanding’ standards of performance can never be overlooked.

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The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner

In addition this noble dance (dance obsesses Gardiner) speaks to us of tragedy and magnificence perhaps known to Bach through the profoundly tragic keyboard Passacaglia of Francois Couperin (1716), just possibly Purcell’s Dido’s Lament but not the Chaconne from Les Indes galantes (1735-6) by Rameau. To invest this solemn dance with religious significance was surely a uniquely expressive idea. Gardiner commented:

‘The way I approach Bach is ungermanic. I’m looking for the rhythmic zest. I believe passionately that you worship the gods in the Old Testament way, by dancing – and that of course comes from my upbringing. The aspiration [in Bach] comes from the voices, and above all the trumpets. Whenever Bach gets a trumpet out the heavens open for me.’

In the tenor’s recitative that follows we are movingly introduced to the nature of ‘leprous sin’ and the attendant regrets of the soul. A beautiful aria for tenor with tender flute obbligato then reminds us of grateful redemption through the shedding of Christ’s blood. The soloists of the Monteverdi Choir all have notable and superb voices with perfect intonation.

In perhaps an unusual indication in the recitative for Bass that follows we move from a meditation on the agony of the cross to redemption thorough His sacrifice. Reaching the words ‘When a terrible judge lays a curse upon the damned’ the bass is directed to sing con adore (with passion). I feel this indication more than justifies expressing full-blooded passion, emotion and temperament in Bach (just consider his extraordinarily rich musical and joyful yet tragic personal life). The modern view of Bach’s life is rather sanitized compared to the reality. Gardiner observes:

‘We yearn to know what kind of a person was capable of composing music so complex that it leaves us completely mystified, then … so irresistibly rhythmic that we want to get up and dance to it, and then … so full of poignant emotion that we are moved to the very core of our being.’

Certainly Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his musicians bring great passion, theatre and drama to all their performances of the Bach cantatas. On occasion, in our modern musicologically  and structurally dominated times, the strictly ‘historically correct’ minimalist performance too often results in the etiolation of heated human emotion. He commented on his intention ‘to make the singing extrovert, extravagant, passionately delivered, not done in that prissy English way.’ The final aria perfectly balances bass voice against the oboe (almost like a concerto for the instrument) offering ‘hope to the unquiet conscience’ (Gardiner). This was a majestically presented performance of this masterwork of the Baroque.

The current neglect of the Munich Bach Orchestra under Karl Richter is a mystery to my generation whose intense love of Bach was forged in their powerfully creative crucible. They possessed such an alternative, full-blooded rounded view of ‘mighty Bach’ compared to the ‘authentic’ Urtext concerns of our time. After all, Bach in his cantatas was partly limited by the forces at his disposal.

In the final work the pastor prepared us by reading from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

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Five of the Seven Wise Virgins

The final work in the Leipzig Ring of Cantatas was perhaps the best known of all the Bach cantatasBWV 140 (1731) Wachet auf, Ruft uns die stimme (Wake up, cries the watchman’s voice). The great Bach scholar William Whittaker (1876-1944) writes of this work that it exemplifies the ‘glorious ripeness of [Bach’s] maturity … it is a cantata without weakness, without a dull bar, technically, emotionally and spiritually of the highest order.’ 

The tremendous irresistible inertia of the forward-driving tempo Gardiner developed in the muscularly rhythmic and declamatory French Overture opening chorus was magnificent, bringing that unmistakable electricity streaking along the spine when one is confronted with the greatest in art. Heart-breaking tenderness and sensitive sensuality was brought to the duet Wenn kömmst du, mein Heil (When wilt thou come, my Salvation). In this eloquent siciliano on the violin,  can one imagine the glimmering of the virgins’ lamps?

The mood of the opening returns in the familiar choral ‘Zion hört die Wächter singen’ followed by the joy of the duet with oboe obbligato between the the Soul and Jesus Mein Freund ist mein. Here I was reminded of the sublimated religious ecstasy contained in the poetry of St. John of the Cross or St. Teresa of Avila. In such outpouring, of what one must admit speaks of the influence of operatic love, Bach weaves what I might call ‘intellectual emotions’ into his music.

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The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists with Sir John Eliot Gardiner just before, as an encore, he conducted the audience in a reprise of the final extraordinarily moving Wachet auf chorale, Des sind wir froh, Io,Io! Ewig in dulcet jubilo. The triumphal conclusion of this remarkable Leipziger-Kantaten-Ring

In a gesture of the finest human inclusion, a gesture of warmest ecumenism, Sir John Eliot Gardiner turned to the audience and movingly conducted us all in singing the reprise of the last chorale of Wachet auf once more, as it would have happened in 1731. At the words Des sind wir froh, Io,Io! Ewig in dulcet jubilo (Therefore we are glad, Io,Io! Eternally in dulcet jubilo) the roof of the Nikolaikirche was almost lifted from its palm pillars, the garden of God. Such was the fervent response to both Bach and the inspired conducting and deep inclusive humanism of Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

The fulcrum of the liturgical year is the last Sunday of Trinity before Advent. The rousing final chorale Gloria sei dir gesungen (Glory now be sung to thee) brought to a fitting conclusion my extraordinary experience, home of the Leipziger Kantaten-Ring, a musical epiphany that will remain with me to the end of my days. Listening to these Bach cantatas in the original liturgical arrangement, in virtuoso performances musically so close to the original, embraced by the unique ambiance of the churches for which Bach originally composed them, was a musical and spiritual experience of a unique and unforgettable kind.

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The grave of Johann Sebastian Bach in the Thomaskirche, Leipzig  at the time of the Kantaten-Ring June 2018

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

 A Different Virtuosity

From the Reviewer’s Notepad

To view the profile of Michael Moran, the author of ‘From Reviewer’s Notepad’ click his name on the left

Incidentally at home in Warsaw he has  an 1844 Pleyel pianino No: 11151 (the type Chopin composed on in Valldemossa) restored by David Winston of the Period Piano Company in Kent and a David Rubio copy (Duns Tew) of  the 1745 Johannes Daniel Dulcken harpsichord in the Smithsonian Collection

He has a passionate interest in period instruments and the performance practices associated with them. He seriously studied both piano and harpsichord in London

For my Final Report, Highlights and Conclusions on this Competition

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Tomasz Ritter

Tomasz Ritter

has won the First International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments.

Main Prizes:

1st prize (15 000 €) – Tomasz Ritter (Poland)

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2nd prize ex aequo (10.000 €) – Naruhiko Kawaguchi (Japan), Aleksandra Świgut (Poland)


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3rd prize (5 000 €) – Krzysztof Książek (Poland)

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Honorable mentions: Dmitry Ablogin (Russia), Antoine de Grolée (France)

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Special prizes:

Special Prize for the best performance of Mazurkas, founded by the Polish Radio (3000 €) – Krzysztof Książek (Poland)

Extra-statutory prizes:

Prize for the First Prize Winner; founded by: “Siemaszko” company, based in Szczecin (10 000 PLN ) – Tomasz Ritter (Poland)

PKN Orlen prize for the pianist representing Poland most highly rated by Competition Jury (€5000) – Tomasz Ritter (Poland)


An exciting award ceremony full of youthful joy!

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Lt. to Rt. Dimitry Ablogin, Tomasz Ritter and Aleksandra Świgut

Those of you generous enough to read my commentary will be aware of my feelings concerning Tomasz Ritter and his fine musicianship from my hearing of his very first notes at the outset of his remarkable Stage I recital

The other places were fairly predictable except Dimitry Ablogin whom I feel is a significant artist with a remarkable ability to re-imagine and recreate familiar works by Chopin and deserved a higher award

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The Competition Jury                                                                                                                                       [Lt. to Rt.] Wojciech Świtała, Andreas Staier, Dang Thai Son, Nelson Goerner, Nikolai Demidenko, Claire Chevallier, Janusz Olejniczak, Ewa Pobłocka, Tobias Koch, Alexei Lubimov,                     Artur Szklener (Chairman)
How did the jurors rate the participants? I found many point awards by jurors completely inexplicable.Point totals on this link:

Concerning the ‘Time Machines’ I must acknowledge the generosity and dedication of the Edwin Beunk (owner, restorer and competition tuner of the 1837 Erard and the 1842 Pleyel) and Paul McNulty builder of the extraordinary  Buchholtz copy, a piano so beloved of Chopin in his youth

For Stanisław Leszczyńsky, the Artistic Director of the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute and the Director Artur Sklener, staging the Competition was the realization of a long held ambition

Congratulations to all those young people who have won prizes and also to those who fell by the wayside on this artistic journey forward 

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The four major Prize Winners – Lt to Rt  Tomasz Ritter, Aleksandra Świgut,                                      Naruhiko Karaguchi, Krzysztof Książek

                 Photographs by Wojciech Grzedzinski/NIFC or  Darek Golik/NIFC 

The Period Instruments used in the Competition

Pleyel (1842, Edwin Beunk_s collection)
1842 Pleyel Collection of Edwin Beunk

Graf (copy of the instrument from c.1819, NIFC collection)_McNulty-042_G. M. Studio S.C.
1819 Graf – Copy by Paul McNulty NIFC Collection

Erard (1837, Edwin Beunk_s collection)
1837 Erard Collection of Edwin Beunk

Buchholtz (copy of the instrument from c.1825-26, NIFC collection)_fot.GRZEDZINSKI
1825-6 Buchholtz Copy by Paul McNulty NIFC Collection

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1847-1848 Broadwood Collection of Chris Meane

Lubimov Pleyel Pianino 1844
1844 Pleyel pianino No: 11151 (the type Chopin composed on in Valldemossa) restored by David Winston of the Period Piano Company owned by Michael Moran

Laureates Concert September 14

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Lt. to Rt. Artur Sklener (Chairman of the Jury) and the four major prize winners – Tomasz Ritter, Aleksandra Świgut, Naruhiko Karaguchi, Krzysztof Książek

Finals Day 1  September 12

6:00 PM Dmitry Ablogin (Russia)

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I have always considered the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century the perfect ensemble for the Chopin piano concertos. I remember with great fondness the performances in the Chopin i jego Europa Festival under their sadly departed conductor Frans Brüggen (1934-2014). With this orchestra Chopin’s much maligned ‘limited orchestration’ disappears completely as a judgment and in fact it emerges as the superb complement to the soloist.

He began the Maestoso well but it soon became apparent that he had perhaps somewhat underestimated the dynamic range of the Pleyel for this large hall. The sound was not carrying sufficiently and became rather overwhelmed by even this rather small period instrument orchestra. Oddly and tellingly this was a similar observation made on Chopin’s own playing and the instrument he used (a Buchholtz) at the orchestral performance in Warsaw in March 1830. I feel that Ablogin was possibly the only competitor who genuinely attempted to play in the manner described by Chopin’s pupils in the ‘bible’ of Chopin performance: Chopin Pianist and Teacher as seen by his Pupils by Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger (Cambridge 1986). Hector Berlioz described Chopin’s playing as soft as ‘the playing of elves’, even requiring one to place one’s ear against the instrument to hear him!

The conductor Grzegorz Nowak seems not particularly sensitive to the volume of the orchestra in relation to the soloist. I felt he could have achieved a far better dynamic balance between the period piano and the orchestra’s rich period sound which would definitely have assisted Ablogin. Audiences still seem to prefer the ‘thunderers’ even today, but not this listener.

The Larghetto, on the other hand being rather more exposed for the soloist, revealed his superb, refined tone and touch on this Pleyel. The movement was expressively ardent, refined and romantic in character particularly the phrasing. He produced a moving, beautiful cantabile and the eloquent bassoon counterpoint only added to the heartfelt yearning of this movement. Beautiful and finest I would hear.

I found the Allegro vivace similarly refined with a graceful even radiant  jeu perlé with most expressive dynamic variations and nuanced presentation. His style brillant had very affecting clarity of articulation. Here we had colour, charm and elegance. His ornamentation of the final phrases was appealing and the fioraturas had the texture of Venetian lace. His introduction of what one might call ‘echo effects’ into the Rondo was also delightful and relieved what can all too easily become (and does) a monochromatic virtuoso exercise.

It is a great shame the dynamic of this performance was rather subdued. I was seated quite close to the instrument so could actually hear what he was achieving although I suspect many could not.

7:00 PM Antoine de Grolée (France)

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He chose to play on the 1837 Erard which possibly gave him an advantage over the Pleyel dynamically and may have suited his keyboard style in a superior way. However I felt the Pleyel a finer instrument expressively for this early concerto.

The Maestoso  was quite straightforward without a great deal of personal vision of the work. Certainly he performed it in a virtuoso style. The Larghetto was occasionally persuasive but not often enough for this romantic reviewer who considers it one of the greatest of love melodies. I thought he could have brought more panache and variety of dynamic, nuance and articulation to the Allegro vivace  rondo. An admirable but not outstanding performance.

I have often felt at this concerto stage of the competition that young competitors would greatly benefit from a course at the Paderewski Piano Academy in Bydgoszcz where the skill of playing with orchestra is explored, studied and practiced by these young tyros of the instrument and possible Final Stage prizewinners.

8:00 PM Naruhiko Kawaguchi (Japan)

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Kawaguchi decided very much at the last moment not to perform this concerto on the McNulty Buchholtz but on the 1842 Pleyel. The first noticeable professional gesture was to shake hands with the conductor and the leader of the orchestra in order to set up an immediate rapport. This close connection continued throughout the performance.

In the Maestoso opening, the inspiring energy of youth was ever-present. The pianist also seemed emotionally committed to the performance. This movement was clearly well-planned, well molded and dynamically varied in an imaginative way anticipating what  was to come. Very satisfying.

The Larghetto was on the other hand not a sufficiently smooth arc of unrequited romantic yearning. I was not moved sufficiently by his phrasing nor achieved a feeling of yearning for an inaccessible and distant love. I felt the intensity was rather too extreme for adolescent disillusioned love which is rather a slightly melancholic dream for the inaccessible – if I remember accurately!

The Allegro vivace  showed great rhythmic invention and I felt came close to the original spirit of the style brillant. There was excellent forward impulsion and impetus here. Varied dynamics were always present and the final stages achieved a marvelous kujawiak dance. The first type is marked by Chopin  semplice ma graziosamente. Later there is also a highly energetic and rustic tavern quality to the writing which Kawaguchi captured well. The con legno pizzicato on the strings of this fine orchestra added greatly to this rustic flavour.

A most enjoyable performance.

Fryderyk Chopin
Piano concerto in F minor, Op. 21

Finals Day 2  September 13

6:00 PM Krzysztof Książek (Poland)

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Krzysztof Książek from the outset pursued a particularly close relationship with the conductor Grzegorz Nowak and the members of the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century. This was reflected in his excellent entry with the orchestra on one of the Chopin Institute’s Erard pianos. The military role of the timpani in this E minor concerto always diverts me. One must remember that a military, uniformed presence was visible everywhere in Warsaw during the Russian hegemony. Unfortunately the loudness permitted by Mr. Nowak again became rather unfortunate.

Książek’s phrasing in the Allegro maestoso was particularly convincing with a great deal of emotional expression. I however felt some absence of finesse and elegance in his articulation despite the obvious virtuosity of his playing, particularly in repeated phrases which were rather similar. His use of rubato was rather sparing in this movement. The Romance. Larghetto possessed a particularly alluring cantabile and remained a beautifully poised movement. However I was still hoping of more intensity in the yearning for unrequited love but that may just be my own romantic temperament. Perhaps I was hoping for a more personal expressiveness. In the Rondo. Vivace  Książek captured the required style brillante  extremely well with a lovely counterpoint in the left hand. The orchestral ensemble in this movement was outstanding.

An excellent performance of the concerto and hopefully Książek will be able to invest it with more personal expression as he achieves more freedom outside the competition environment.

Fryderyk Chopin
Piano concerto in E minor, Op. 11

7:00 PM Tomasz Ritter (Poland)

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As you know I have greatly impressed by this pianist so far in this competition. I looked forward very much to his performance with orchestra. It certainly did not disappoint.

In the Maestoso first movement his expression swayed correctly between Classical detachment and Romantic enthusiasm. The main theme of the exposition in the rhythm of a mazur was well preserved and the development was a flurry of activity. The style brilliant came off spectacularly well on the 1842 Pleyel with Ritter.  Hints of the Larghetto were subtly expressed in a touching cantabile.

The Larghetto itself avoided any sort of cloying sentimentality. Strength was supplanted or even augmented by poetry. So many levels of expression were present here, some bordering on the divine. His fiorituras were of breathtaking delicacy like cobwebs dew dusted. He performed pianissimos that are only really achievable on a Pleyel or just possibly another period instrument of quality. The explosions of emotion in the Chopin directions con forza and appassionato were utterly appropriate to the expressive doubts and slightly angry emotions of adolescent or young love so full of hopes and illusions. I was deeply moved by the sheer glowing sound he achieved on this glorious piano. The controlled pianissimo final note as the apotheosis of the structure and love song was possibly the most intense and moving  musical moment of the entire competition.

The Allegro vivace  revealed the orchestra in its true period splendor. Ritter made an expressive sound painting of this movement with perfectly graded crescendos and decrescendos mixed with the youthful joy of exercising virtuosity to its utmost. The exuberant dance of the kujawiak provenance was wonderful in its physical energy, exhilaration and high spirits. He gave us such a marvelous outpouring of the optimistic young Chopin – the dancer, pianist, actor, mimic, writer, practical joker and humorist – as well as composer of genius. The movement danced all the way to the final overflowing joyful chords of this, the expression of Chopin’s first love.

Fryderyk Chopin
Piano concerto in F minor, Op. 21

8:00 PM Aleksandra Świgut (Poland)

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One reason I admire the playing of Aleksandra Świgut  is its spontaneity. She often surprises me and makes unpredictable but creative interpretative gestures in her rather theatrical approach to the music. This concerto was no exception.

The Maestoso opening was distinguished for the woodwind section of this outstanding  orchestra. She had chosen the 1837 Erard. She made sensitive use of the expressive potential of the movement which is considerable as it moves seamlessly between the Classical and the Romantic. When the mood of the music changes mercurially so does her own mood, sometimes rather dramatically and often theatrically. An almost Latin temperament seems to lie in waiting. On occasion she verges on somewhat sentimental phrasing and dynamic contrasts but this is often the dilemma Chopin offers us. Taste is often such a personal decision can you legislate concerning it? Up to a point of course you can but where is the line to be drawn in 2018, so far in time from the source of the music?

The love song of the Larghetto was sensitively approached with a lyric gift for the cantabile and clearly appreciating the seductive harmonies and dreamy Romantic nature of the movement. She has cultivated an attractive tone and touch on the earlier instrument. The emotional agitation that is embedded within the movement she approached with a strong response perhaps expressing Chopin’s frustration with the unrequited nature of his silent admiration of the soprano Konstancja Gładkowska.

The Allegro vivace  has its first theme marked semplice ma graziosamente which she observed and then a sudden rush of temperament and slight accelerando which gave an urgency to the music. Some bucolic merry-making of the jolly tavern type but never crude, coupled with that lovely and inspirational col legno pizzicato-like sound on the strings. We danced along delightfully towards the notorious natural horn call (perfect on every occasion in the final) and the scintillating coda closing the work with a smile of pleasure.

Fryderyk Chopin
Piano concerto in F minor, Op. 21

Stage II Day 3 September 10

6:10 PM Aleksandra Świgut (Poland)

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Third day of the 2nd stage auditions of the International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments. 10th September 2018, Warsaw, Poland on picture: Aleksandra Swigut photo by Wojciech Grzedzinski/NIFC

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Warsaw 10.09.2018 Third day of the 2nd stage auditions of the International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments. on picture: Aleksandra Swigut fot. Darek Golik/NIFC

Do bear with me if I quote what I wrote in Stage I of this interesting and communicative pianist. I have followed her career for many years after I first heard her at the Duszniki Zdrój International Chopin Piano Festival in recital and at Master Classes there. I was interested in how she would approach these historical instruments. I wrote of her temperament in 2011 and it seems little has changed:

She was always a distinct personality that stood out and her choice of programme indicates she has very clear ideas of what she loves to play.The absolute joy and delight in playing that suffuses her features is quite affecting – the profound pain, sweat and suffering that produces the usual fraught countenance and distorts the face of a young pianist is usually absent. This ‘suffering’ sort of thing is hard to empathize with as a member of the audience when you are not actually playing the work yourself. So we all felt happy for once.

She opened her Stage II recital on the 1842 Pleyel with the four mazurkas Op. 33. I found the G-sharp minor affectingly reflective; The C-major pleasant and diverting; Adored the lively, energetic sprung rhythms of the D-major mazurka; the B-minor had a marvellous variety of dynamic expression as if improvised on the spot. This was coupled with a seductive tone and touch at the instrument. Particularly fine and outstanding mazurkas.

On the Erard she then embarked on the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante.  The Andante was as smooth as Thai silk with just enough texture to lift it off  the dull plains to the sunny uplands. The Grande  Polonaise was replete with theatrical style, élan and panache. There were tremendous contrast here of tone and attack which I enjoyed immensely. Some episodes were style brillante as I understand it and some were almost shocking in too rough a dynamic contrast –  a fascinating piece of theater which is perhaps as this work should be considered in many respects. It is not deeply philosophical but an utterly enjoyable brilliant confection written by a high-spirited young Pole named Fryderyk Chopin, a lover of dancing and acting.  Świgut also seemed to be enjoying herself immensely.

Her mood changed to something rather more serious when she approached the late Chopin Sonata in B-minor Op. 58. The opening Allegro maestoso combined nobility and strength in the initial statement and later even if dynamically overloading the Erard. The trio was lyrical with  a superb cantabile that made the piano really sing with elation. Moods shifted dramatically from turbulence to the quietude of a nocturne. The Scherzo was possessed of a Mendelssohnian atmosphere of fairy realms and dreams as it was articulated demi-staccato which gave it the required light and air. The trio again displayed her gift for outstandingly lyrical Chopin cantabile. Few pianists achieved this quality during the competition.

She adopted a moderate dynamic and tempo for the transition to the Largo. We began an exquisite extended nocturne-like musical voyage taken through a night of meditation and introspective thought. This great musical narrative was presented as a poem of the reflective heart and spirit. With Świgut the moods rose and fell like the tides of the ocean. At the conclusion of this poetic masterpiece, she allowed the  meditative flow to almost cease pianissimo. A very beautiful, moving and deeply felt presentation to this fortunate audience. In the Finale. Presto ma non tanto  she adopted a rhapsodic approach to this ‘ballade’.

Tomaszewski again who cannot be bettered:

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

Certainly Świgut transported us into a world of delirium at the close. A very satisfying competition recital.

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Third day of the 2nd stage auditions of the International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments. 10th September 2018, Warsaw, Poland Lukasz Byrdy photo by Wojciech Grzedzinski/NIFC

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Warsaw 10.09.2018 Third day of the 2nd stage auditions of the International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments. Lukasz Byrdy fot. Darek Golik/NIFC

His entire recital was performed on the 1837 Erard. He began with the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante. I am afraid I did not find the Andante spianato particularly poetic but  rather straightforward. The Polonaise was played accurately and well but for me lacked any real panache, style or elegance which is vital in executing the style brillante for all the reasons I have outlined already.  It is a great pity he seemed not to imagine the context in which such a piece might have been performed.

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A concert given by Fryderyk Chopin in the salon of Duke Antoni Radziwiłł in 1829 by Henryk Siemiradzki.

Liszt wrote in his Life of Chopin : 

‘…the most eminent minds in Paris frequently met in Chopin’s saloon. Not in reunions of fantastic periodicity, such as the dull imaginations of ceremonious and tiresome circles have arranged, and which they have never succeeded in realizing in accordance with their wishes, for enjoyment, ease, enthusiasm, animation, never come at an hour fixed upon before hand.’

I liked his Mazurkas Op. 30. the C-minor was a pleasant diversion; the B-minor uncomplicated; the D-flat major rather optimistic in mood and the C-sharp minor emotionally interesting.

Then to the final work in his programme, the Sonata in B-flat minor Op. 35. In the opening Allegro maestoso he gave a high degree of emotional commitment to this remarkable movement. There was weight, strength and menace present here, even perhaps sinister intentions. We were thrust forward certainly in the nature of a galloping horse.

One should reflect after this comment that movement during Chopin’s time was restricted either to walking, horse or carriage. So when a composer wished to impart movement to a piece of music he could not envisage all of the extraordinary modes of travel we have at hand. Of the Scherzo the great Polish musicologist Tomaszewski comments: ‘…one might say that it combines Beethovenian vigour with the wildness of Goya’s Caprichos.’ I felt it could have been more energetic.

The beautiful trio could have taken us singing into the further dimension of ardent dreams which makes the Marche  funèbre such a shocking jolt from the force of destiny. The reflective trio of the Marche is a contrast of innocence, love and purity blighted by the reality of death (Chopin was terrified of being buried alive – often horrifyingly possible in those primitive medical times). Tomaszewski continues perceptively: ‘The Sonata was written in the atmosphere of a passion newly manifest, but frozen by the threat of death.’ A deep existential dilemma for Chopin speaks from these pages written in Nohant in 1839. The pianist, like all of us, must go one dimension deeper to plumb the terrifying abyss this sonata opens at our feet. Of the Presto which concludes the work, Chopin wrote characteristically with intentional irony of the ‘chattering after the march’ leaving Schumann to write in philosophical and literary frustration: ‘The Sonata ends as it began, with a riddle, like a Sphinx – with a mocking smile on its lips’. I felt Byrdy could have achieved more here to transport us.

12:20 PM Joanna Różewska (Poland)

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Period Competition photos 46
A lovely snap of Justyna Kreft  (Lt.) and Joanna Różewska (Rt.) and an unknown but terribly fortunate man

Ever since the first stage this pianist has lured me with her charm, elegance and refinement especially in early Chopin and music from less philosophically demanding composers of the period. And there is a very special achievement in that talent for historical and stylistic context let me assure you in 2018!

The set of three mazurkas Op. 50 were idiomatically Polish I felt in rhythm and phrasing and so beguiling. But as a foreigner can I accurately judge their quality?

The B-flat minor Sonata Op.35 opening Grave. Doppio movemento possessed a degree of tragedy and menace but not quite enough for me. I felt it not sufficiently impassioned. The Scherzo began forcefully and the trio had alluring, seductive cantabile tone and touch. The Marche  funèbre was begun at an impressive tempo that grew out of the pessimistic conclusion to the Scherzo. The innocence of the trio was as ever with such movements again beautifully expressed with a fine tone and so light a touch, the fragility of life was feelingly expressed. The return of the gloomy theme was unsettling until the Presto erupted in a virtuoso style, the counterpoint and harmonic complexities clearly indicated. There was a huge momentary crescendo at one point which was a shock but strangely relevant to grief and its wildly fluctuating moods.

In a fine Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante her beautiful cantabile tone was again on display. The polonaise was extremely charming, expressive and elegant in a style that may only have been possible before the Great War. Its profound human disillusionments erased much civilization from which we have never recovered and will never recover.

The internal polyphony she found within was rather a revelation to me, extremely beautiful and in the character of an ardent dream. She came close to the ideal of the style brilliant as described below in the review of Kamil Pacholec. There was great clarity and colour in her playing and the glittering tone and light touch she produced for this work and genre was ideal. For the sake of clarity she is sparing with the pedal. There is also an indispensable element of superficial personal affectation she can manage tastefully which is artful and correct for this genre of music.

A  recital of charm and elegance rather than exploring the dark night of the soul.

Fryderyk Chopin 
Mazurka in G major, Op. 50 No. 1
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in A flat major, Op. 50 No. 2
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 50 No. 3
Fryderyk Chopin
Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35
Fryderyk Chopin
Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante in E flat major, Op. 22

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His C sharp minor Polonaise revealed the wonderfully balance sound of this Pleyel  in all its registers. Any repeated phrase was played again with different sound, dynamics and articulation. An expressive performance. I found his rubato and phrasing highly musical. The Pleyel allows a particularly cantabile left hand below the right when required. Inner detail and voices were clearly revealed. The bass cantilenas revealed a pianist who understands the sound palette of the Pleyel.

The E-flat minor Polonaise had that profoundly ominous beginning that was deeply expressive. The mood swings throughout the work required a variety of colour (he used the pedals for this) and articulation. Strength emerged from depression and despair in this darkest of all Chopin polonaises. He utilized the power of silence in dramatic pauses and hesitations. However I am not Polish and always feel my Western cultural background insufficient in plumbing the true nature of Polish suffering. It is hard to comment seriously on the existential and historical significance of the Chopin polonaise as a distillation of Polish nineteenth century anguish. I can but try….

Staying with the Pleyel he embarked on the four Op.33 Mazurkas. From the exploratory C-sharp minor he modulated directly into the C-major. The D major was so energetic and  rustic in character I was a reminded of a tavern in the countryside. He utilized such natural, musical phrasing with a perfect conclusion it seemed to me. The B-minor possessed two moods of reminiscence – joyful and melancholic. His pauses were eloquent and emotionally charged. There were heartbreaking moments at the conclusion to this mazurka. But then again as a foreigner can I really understand the significance of a mazurka to a Pole and accurately judge any performance?

He chose the 1837 Erard  for the Op. 58 Chopin Sonata. Such a noble beginning of the Allegro maestoso was unpedaled. Ritter seems to have an inborn musicality and his phrasing speaks volumes of highly charged emotion. He did so much creatively with the embedded polyphony. The Scherzo was wonderfully light like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the trio full of ardent emotion.

The transition to the Largo was not as forceful as others in the competition. The tempo seemed absolutely appropriate to me. Ritter has a fine tone and  cultivated touch. The movement opened out like a great narrative poem of meditation. The voices he revealed possessed a singular life of their own. So many musical ‘destinies’ were played out and the expressive harmonies and transitions were carefully managed.

I could not avoid thinking of the opening lines from the Duino Elegies of Rainer Maria Rilke:

Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic orders?

And even if one of them suddenly pressed me against his heart,

I should fade in the strength of his stronger existence.’   

(trans. J.B. Leishman)

The Finale. Presto non tanto tempo was deliberate with much nobility rather than hysteria. Although the movement did not really hold together as perhaps it should structurally, (there were a few solecisms too), it was a three dimensional picture with a variety of dynamics, phrasing and breathing. For the listener there was time to follow the resolution of the harmonies.


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Period Competition photos 50

I have already written about how impressed I was with his master class at Duszniki Zdtoj last year and Stage I here so was greatly anticipating hearing him again in Stage II. He performed his entire programme on the 1837 Erard.

The four Mazurkas Op. 24 were very impressive. The G-minor possessed a lovely spontaneity of invention. The C-major and attractive bucolic spirit and much in the Polish idiom. In the A-flat major, the blithe nature of this mazurka was well captured. The B-flat minor had a very eloquent beginning and a most elegiac conclusion.

In the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante he was certainly ‘flowing and smooth’ with a beautiful rounded tone in the Andante. Fine legato and cantabile. His present teacher Wojciech Switała made a memorable recording of this work for Polish Radio Katowice some years ago (1992?) which is the most magnificent example I have ever heard of the style brillante.

I quote myself on the nature this genre:

The essential nature of the style brilliant of which the Grand Polonaise Brillante Op.22 is an essential and outstanding representative of Chopin’s early Varsovian style, seems rather a mystery to modern pianists outside of those living in Poland. Perhaps I am hopelessly wrong. Jan Kleczyński writes of this work: ‘There is no composition stamped with greater elegance, freedom and freshness’. The style involves 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 vital expressive elements of charm, grace, taste and elegance. One must not forget that Chopin astonished Vienna by his pianism but perhaps even more by the elegance of his princely appearance.

The Andante spianato (which Chopin often used to perform as an isolated piece he loved it so much) was pleasant, understood as a nocturne and a lovely introduction. The ‘call to the floor’ for the polonaise was strident and well handled (an instrumental custom well understood by Chopin who in his youth was mad about dancing, a fine dancer and also an excellent dance pianist into the small hours hence his need for rehab at Bad Reinherz – now Dusznki Zdroj).

However this was not entirely the style brillante as I understand it. The many fiorituras were not presented as Venetian lace, the hand and touch rather heavy, muscular and robust, at least on an Erard, an instrument capable of both refinement and volume not requiring weight. There was not sufficient early Chopinesque refinement or elegance here I thought.

Please, that is not to say it was not extremely well played, even brilliantly performed, just that it was somewhat stylistically inaccurate for me and especially I thought rather a waste of the marvellous potential of an Erard.

In the B-Minor Sonata Op. 58 the opening Allegro maestoso was begun with great nobility, power and resolve. The passionate, almost operatic balladic character of the development was ‘narrated’ well and movingly. The cantilena sang expressively without sentimentality. The Scherzo  was agitated and correctly light in texture but I felt the phrases in the trio could have been moulded rather more expressively.

The commencement of the Largo was not as brutal as some. The moderate tempo he chose allowed an expressively meditative atmosphere to bloom. The whole extensive and challengingly long movement was very well sculptured as a whole. The Finale. Presto non tanto tempo indication was observed but the truly frenzied nature of this extraordinary movement was not quite achieved but almost – which is not a particularly helpful observation but there it is. The particular brilliance lay in his instantaneous and seamless correction of a couple of memory solecisms without disturbing the rhythmic flow one iota. An astonishing feat. He was occasionally rough at climactic moments on the Erard through inexperience. The light action tempted him into too fast a tempo on occasion. There was however without doubt an inexorable and emotionally moving rhapsodic forward momentum to the movement which carried all before it with enormous weighty impetus.

All in all a tremendously satisfying recital that showed enormous musical achievement, talent and further promise in one so young. One of the highlights of the competition.


Stage II Day 2 September 9

6:10 PM Yui Nakamura (Japan)

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Second day of the 2nd stage auditions of the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition on period pianos. 9th September 2018, Warsaw, Poland on picture: Yui Nakamura photo by Wojciech Grzedzinski/NIFC

Period Competition photos 43

This stage was superior in some ways to her Stage I. She began with the C-minor polonaise on the 1837 Erard which I found was rather too amiable for this type of emotional work. The Trio was played with a tonally beautiful cantabile. The polonaise has been described as containing ‘melodies filled with longing, sorrow, suffering and unassuaged grief’. There is also present  ‘pain bordering on despair’, ‘heavenly delight’ as well as the ‘barely stemmed tears’. The E-flat minor polonaise had a suitably ominous and despairing, dark beginning and overall she was impressive in this tragically beautiful piece.

Then to the group of Mazurkas played on the 1842 Pleyel. My first observation was purely aesthetic. The appealing image of an elegant Japanese woman in a crimson silk ball gown, seated perfectly erect at a museum quality mahogany-veneered  1842 Pleyel, about to perform a group of Chopin mazurkas. Not something one encounters often in life…such refined beauty.

Although beautiful too in their way, the four Mazurkas Op.41 were too dominated by legato playing and the pedal for my taste. They did not have sufficient of the authentic Polish idiom and true mazurka rhythm. I wanted more ‘air’ to the phrasing, the articulation and more dynamic and rhythmic invention.

The opening  Grave. Doppio movemento of the Sonata in B-flat minor Op.35 certainly possessed tragedy and menace but later although restless and virtuosic, I felt it not sufficiently impassioned. The extreme contrasts in expression, although definitely present as contrasts, were not powerfully enough delineated. The Scherzo began with force and aggression and she allowed the trio to rise beautifully out that passionate section with alluring, seductive tone and touch. Perhaps not entirely appropriate as the Marche  funèbre grows out of the pessimistic conclusion to the Scherzo. Sorry to say, this tragic utterance did not communicate itself to me very affectingly. The childlike innocence of the trio, naive and exposed, was as ever again beautifully expressed with a fine tone and so light a touch. The return of the gloomy theme was unsettling in the extreme until the Presto erupted in a fine virtuoso style, the counterpoint and harmonic complexities indicated but avoiding the ‘teacher cliché’ approach. The approach to the counterpoint was highlighted yet understated.

All in all a surprisingly talented and convincing performance given her mixed performance in  the  First Stage.

Fryderyk Chopin
Polonaise in C sharp minor, Op. 26 No. 1
Fryderyk Chopin
Polonaise in E flat minor, Op. 26 No. 2
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in E minor, Op. 41 No. 1
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in B major, Op. 41 No. 2
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in A flat major, Op. 41 No. 3
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 41 No. 4
Fryderyk Chopin
Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35


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The Jury at their deliberations

5:00 PM Krzysztof Książek (Poland)

Period Competition photos 40

Krzysztof Książek has quite a high local profile in Poland and much is always anticipated of a recital. He used exclusively the 1837 Erard. He opened his recital with the F-sharp minor Polonaise. Certainly it was an excellent performance in all respects but I felt the tempo he adopted was rather slower and less ‘military’ than others (this being far more of a ‘military protest’ by Chopin than other polonaises). This robbed it a of a certain urgency, żal and grandeur which was a loss I feel. There was not the driving, almost neurotic, military energy I felt was necessary in this fierce protest against occupation and Russian military hegemony which lies at the heart of the piece.

The Mazurkas Op. 50 were fine indeed with imaginative use of rhythm and silence. This created a strong and attractive sense of relaxed improvisation. The A-flat major seemed perfectly and idiomatically Polish and the C-sharp minor has always appeared a remarkable composition to me. The mazurkas by Książek were  superb and it is hard for this foreigner to imagine anything more authentic.

In the Op. 58 Sonata in B minor he made much of the counterpoint in the Allegro maestoso. His playing was particularly transparent in terms of the polyphony. His cantabile is always unsentimental and this maintained the inexorable forward momentum of this movement. He is a player of great authority and seemed in complete control of he complex emotional structure of this movement.

The Scherzo presented as wild in atmosphere which was all to the good, even with a few solecisms. The Largo was also not sentimental or indulgent emotionally which is always tempting in this extraordinarily extended movement. The meditative bass voice was prominent in a way I had never heard before with eloquent dynamic variations, pauses and breathing between phrases. Tensions and relaxations. Is it fanciful to observe that he plays this movement rather beseechingly and offers it as a type of prayer, almost in a religious spirit ? He maintained a rounded tone and sensitive touch throughout. In the Finale. Presto non tanto he observed this tempo indication (which too many pianists ignore) which allowed the frenzied tumult and irresistible forward impetus to rush to its final triumphal conclusion.

12:20 PM Justyna Kreft (Poland)

Period Competition photos 44

She opened her recital with the two polonaises Op.26. The C-minor began well but I felt that the glorious song trio did not emerge with sufficient lyrical character. I think her fiorituras could be far better phrased and considered not simply dashed off. The E-flat minor polonaise was better conceived but requires maturity to fully explore. For me this is close to being his greatest expressive polonaise with an extraordinarily deep conception of tragic beauty from the opening. The remarkable use of silence, pauses and varied dynamics can be heartbreaking and requires close attention. Silence is as powerful or on occasion more powerful than sound. Explosions of energy occur in this extraordinary work and few pianists of any stature can grasp its dark implications.

Her Op.17 Mazurkas on the 1842 Pleyel were expressed with idiomatic Polish charm and grace. I would not presume to ever tell a Polish pianist or musician anything at all about mazurka rhythm. Even Chopin almost had fisticuffs with Meyerbeer over the question. I do not really understand it fully myself – much to the not so secret satisfaction of my Polish friends!

Then to that immense masterpiece of Western music, the Sonata in B minor Op. 58. The opening Allegro maestoso began strongly and purposefully the development of this ‘balladic’ form was handled well structurally certainly but I was yearning for more emotional possession and exaltation. The Scherzo and trio adequately ushered in that remarkably meditative Largo which possessed moments of moving nocturne-like cantabile (reminiscent of the Nocturne in C minor) achieving a remarkable immobility. During the Finale. Presto non tanto I was not always carried away unresistant by this frenetic, distraught, thrilling music with its inexorable forward drive teeming with images of galloping horses or the Furies. However it was a satisfying enough rendition on many levels.

This perceived limitation may well have been the Erard or the increasing dislocation of my own ears programmed with recorded utterances of sublime power and virtuosity on Steinways by the greatest pianists of last century or our own time. This is one aspect of the competition that I find supremely instructive and thought provoking. How programmed, even brainwashed we have become to a certain view of Chopin’s music through concerts and recordings on the D model Steinway. In this competition we are constantly presented with an alternative soundscapes for his music. Alternative instruments of great variety of timbre and sound palette would have been available to him for concerts (but not for us) and used to stimulate his imagination. He writes of these offered choices often in his letters.

Also the competition is an extraordinary opportunity to hear his music on period instruments with an intensity and variety never before experienced anywhere. Utterly unique. Perhaps in London or Warsaw one has attended an isolated concert now and then on an Erard, perhaps even a Pleyel, but at this all enveloping level of exposure all day for over two weeks ? Remarkable and utterly unique…..oh, and I have never become bored by the variety of sound. Incidentally the Erard seems to have largely supplanted some of the other instruments in Stage II like the Buchholtz, the Graf and the Broadwood. Perhaps not so surprising it is almost always the most popular choice. The action and feel resemble our modern instruments so closely.

Fryderyk Chopin
Polonaise in C sharp minor, Op. 26 No. 1
Fryderyk Chopin
Polonaise in E flat minor, Op. 26 No. 2
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in B flat major, Op. 17 No. 1
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in E minor, Op. 17 No. 2
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in A flat major, Op. 17 No. 3
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17 No. 4
Fryderyk Chopin
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58

11:10 AM Agnieszka Korpyta (Poland)

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Her conception of many works on her programme were so individualistic and so far at variance with my own I would prefer not to comment. Also her physical treatment of the period piano for me left a great deal to be desired. I still greatly miss Katarzyna Hajduk-Konieczna (Poland). I find this exclusion from Stage II inexplicable in light of other far less appropriate choices. 

Fryderyk Chopin
Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in G major, Op. 50 No. 1
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in A flat major, Op. 50 No. 2
Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 50 No. 3
Fryderyk Chopin
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58

10:00 AM Dinara Klinton (Ukraine)

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Anyone who reads my posts will realize I have had faith in the outstanding talent of this artist for some considerable time. She began her second stage with the Chopin F minor Polonaise Op.44 performed the 1837 Erard. Mme. Sand complained of Chopin to Marie de Rozières during its composition:
‘Two days ago, he said not a word to anyone the whole day. Has someone angered him? Did I say something to worry him?’ In a letter to Doctor Gaubert, her account was more colourful: ‘Chopin’s up to his usual tricks, fuming at his piano. When his mount fails to respond to his intentions, he deals it great blows with his fist, such that the poor piano simply groans. […] he considers himself idle because he’s not crushed by work’.
Klinton began with nobility, loftiness and dignity coupled with an heroic tone. Rather defiant and sinister with hammering chords and snarling trills. Liszt commented on the energetic rhythms of Chopin Polonaises that they  ‘thrill and galvanise the torpor of our indifference’. This is certainly true of this polonaise. The mazurka embedded at the centre had a beautiful glowing tone and fine legato, the music of moonlight. Despite rough handling on occasion, due I imagine to her relative inexperience on period instruments, the militaristic aspect of the polonaise returned unrelenting with an unbending, resolute vengeance until the powerful conclusion.
The four Mazurkas from Op.40  were replete with nostalgia and delicacy (C-minor); the B-minor captured extreme swings of mood; the B-flat minor  opposes the ‘rustic’ or the ‘tavern’ with the different nature of ‘civilized’ reminiscence; the extraordinary narrative of the C-sharp minor was performed with grace, refinement and elegance. As a foreigner what do I know about how mazurkas should be performed ? So often contradicted….
Finally the foray into the Sonata. The Sonata Op. 35 was perhaps modeled by Chopin on Beethoven’s own funeral sonata Op.26 which he taught and played. Here Klinton gave us a searching interpretation of immense individuality and fatalistic penetration especially the Marche funèbre. Threat and tragedy hovered above this entire reading. The Grave. Doppio movimento had a suitably hectic and powerful atmosphere, ominous with threats and foreboding. She made a great deal of the embedded polyphony, counterpoint and judicious use of rubato. The urgency and ominous passage of a rider, occasionally even in a reflective even nostalgic mood, yet galloping inexorably towards his doom. I still felt a certain classical restraint of emotion which is so important to this work. The Scherzo was neurotically agitated and the reflective trio sang in glowing tones like a true operatic aria. This movement, although wild, was splendidly structured with great internal melodic and harmonic logic.
A properly eloquent tempo and dynamic for the Marche funèbre is difficult to achieve. So many people seem to think it ought to accompany an imaginary military band with a heavy dull tread lacking in poetry. However pall bearers in a cemetery move and sway with the heavy bier rather in slow motion as she depicted. I felt the tragic inevitability of death for all of us, a deep and haunting melancholy, an almost childish innocence within the cantabile nocturnal central section, a forlorn cry of the soul facing its inevitable destiny. Played piano to pianissimo with great poetry, it was unsentimental and unaffected. The singing tone carried throughout the hall. Absolute silence reigned there as the force of destiny was revealed. Death floating over us – I was very moved – something that has happened rarely in this competition.
The polyphony and desperation of the grieving mind and heart, or wind over the graves or skeletons rattling (is it any wonder Chopin objected to the English titles) depicted in the  Presto was highly emotional in view of the Marche funèbre that preceded it. A fine performance that presented the sonata a cohesive structure (rather than four unruly children as Schumann perceived it) in competition or out of it. This was a reading suffused with a variety of melancholy, dare I say in 2018, specific to the Slavic soul.

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The Jury in full flight…

Stage II Day 1 September 8

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After the imaginative brilliance of his Stage I performance I was really anticipating this recital in Stage II.
He began with the C-sharp minor polonaise. His ‘attack’ on it (and I use the word advisedly in the military Samurai sense) I felt was exaggeratedly precipitate but this soon gave way to the superb cantabile  of the love song at the centre of the polonaise. True singing with glorious tone on the 1837 Erard. Hardly surprising poems have written abut this song. The E-flat minor polonaise had an ominous beginning with extensive but controlled  dynamic contrasts which only added to the drama of the presentation. the articulation was varied and full of imaginative gestures. I felt at times he was pushing the sound ceiling of the instrument. Highly imaginative conclusion.
The Mazurkas Op. 24 were performed on the Broadwood. Again, the G-minor was highly imaginative. In the C major I found a wonderful contrast of the ‘rustic’ or ‘bucolic’ with the nostalgia of a civilized mind for the reminiscences of Chopin’s youth in Mazovia. He was able to utilize the timbre of the Broadwood to great effect. The A-flat major mazurka was also remarkable as was the B-flat minor in articulation and rhythm. His conclusions to the mazurkas were almost always pianissimo which added greatly to the idea of a fondly remembered but slightly faded watercolour – if that does not sound too sentimental.
The Grave. Doppio movimento  of the B-flat minor Sonata on the 1842 Pleyel began with an extraordinary ‘rumble of destiny’ one might say before his rethinking of the work opened before us. Despite magnificent highlighting of the counterpoint, revelation of internal details, the inexorable forward momentum was maintained to a tremendously triumphal conclusion. The Scherzo could perhaps have been lighter if not particularly playful (as scherzos should be but not perhaps those of Chopin). The lyrical cantabile trio could have had more bel canto about it to my mind. The tempo he selected for the Marche funèbre certainly indicated the tread of the pall bearers. The trio or cantilena that lies at its centre sang beautifully – he also added discreet ornaments. The movement seemed to rise on gossamer wings and hover above us, disembodied memories perhaps of happier times with the departed. Dark and grim reality then returns as the Great Reaper cannot ever be stopped even by a Napoleon. The Presto on the Pleyel  achieved a fitting grotesquerie of extraordinary power to evoke sepulchral associations.


I felt from the first stage that although this pianist was certainly accomplished he had not sufficiently accommodated to the period piano to give of his best. This feeling was rather confirmed in his Stage II recital. He opened with the Sonata Op.58 on the 1837 Erard. A well prepared but not particularly individual view of the extraordinary Allegro maestoso as I felt it was not a true maestoso in character. The movement begins with great strength of character and then a doubt creeps in. Another resolute moment until the ecstatic lyrical rhapsodic theme takes over. The fluctuation of moods is extraordinary in this movement. I felt there was not quite enough dramatic differentiation of these moods in his account.

He began the unrealistic dream world of the Scherzo well but did not sufficiently utilize the fairy lightness achievable on the Erard. The beginning of the Largo was conventionally violent (when I feel it should be eased into despite the fortissimo indications which can simply be interpreted in this context as louder and certainly not as sforzandos  as we must soon come down to pianissimo then sostenuto) . The movement then moves a serious cantabile nocturne, a true meditation on life and entry into an almost Chopinesque stream of consciousness thought process. His cantabile was quite beautiful however and in this way he has cultivated a delicate touch on the Erard. We returned to the harshly masculine tone in the Finale. Presto non tanto. He was sensitive but tended to get carried away into ‘rough territory with the strength of his own virtuosic velocity. The movement did not emerge into a three dimensional rounded view.

The Mazurkas from Op. 30 on the 1842 Pleyel were pleasant but not sufficiently differentiated in character for me. I was most impressed with the C-sharp minor.

The essential nature of the styl briliant of which the Grand Polonaise Brillante Op.22 is an essential representative of Chopin’s early Varsovian style, seems rather a mystery to modern pianists outside of those living in Poland. Perhaps I am hopelessly wrong. Jan Kleczyński writes of this work: ‘There is no composition stamped with greater elegance, freedom and freshness’. The style involves 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 vital expressive elements of charm, grace, taste and elegance.

The Andante spianato (which Chopin often used to perform as an isolated piece he loved it so much) was pleasant, understood as a nocturne and a lovely introduction. The ‘call to the floor’ for the polonaise was strident and well handled  (an instrumental custom well understood by Chopin who in his youth was mad about dancing, a fine dancer and also an excellent dance pianist into the small hours hence his need for rehab at Bad Reinherz – now Dusznki Zdroj). However this was not style brillante I’m afraid. The many fiorturas were not presented as Venetian lace, the hand and touch far too heavy, too muscular and robust, at least on an Erard, an instrument capable of both refinement and volume not requiring weight. Not a great deal of early Chopinesque refinement or elegance here. Please, that is not to say it was not very well played, a courageous decision to perform it, just stylistically inaccurate and especially a waste of potential on an Erard.

12:20 PM Eric Clark(United States)

Period Competition photos 47

Eric Clark began his second stage with the three Chopin Op. 56 Mazurkas played on the 1842 Pleyel. The B major was energetic with good rhythm, the C-major impressively nostalgic and idiomatically Polish and the C-minor  maintained an impressive contrast between the ‘rustic’, ‘bucolic’ and ‘village tavern’ associations of the Chopin mazurka with the nostalgic reminiscences of a civilized and sophisticated mind.

His performance of the great F-sharp minor Polonaise on the Erard was an excellent choice given the anger and protest that suffuses this piece. The Mazurka ‘trio’ was presented as an extraordinarily lyric contrast to the fantasy nature of this polonaise. I felt it to be a rather uncomplicated and straightforward ‘masculine’ Chopin performance (as with much of his recital) if I might be so gender prejudiced in 2018. And none the worse for that point of view. From the piano sound aspect that insistent almost aggressive left hand repetition that on a Steinway in the wrong hands can become almost insupportable, but on an Erard or other period piano it is much attenuated in the bass (straight stringing on such instruments) and far better balanced.

The B-flat minor Sonata opens with a marvelous deep and mysterious resonance on this Erard. Clark here presented Chopin as a man of great strength of character in an eloquent  opening movement that did not explore other boundaries of interpretation to the usual magnificence of the music. The Scherzo was suitably agitated but the trio for me could have had far more of a bel canto song-like character. The Marche funebre was at an moderate, well-judged tempo – so important in this grief stricken work. The trio beautifully expressed the nostalgia of past joys experienced with the departed. The Presto was virtuosic and fascinating in its internal counterpoint which I felt on the Erard created an atmospheric scene of rattling skeletons and a mind in torment wandering through a blighted landscape by Salvator Rosa.

However I also felt his tone and touch at the instrument not particularly captivating.  This raises an important observation I have considered during the entire competition. Tone and touch, the quality of the sheer sound produced, are so little spoken of today in appraising a pianist, so obsessed are we with structural, historical and biographical concerns. Is this a result of the massively ready-made, technologically perfect sound of Steinway and Yamaha? On period instruments the player must work at producing an alluring sound, something that is becoming increasingly and interestingly obvious during this competition. The same instrument can sound dramatically different with each and every player. Chopin spoke obsessively of the absolute importance of producing a beautiful tone and touch (the Pleyel being more difficult than the ‘ready made’ tone on the Erard as did in more modern times the great pedagogue Heinrich Neuhaus.

Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurkas Op. 56
Fryderyk Chopin
Polonaise in F sharp minor, Op. 44
Fryderyk Chopin
Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35

11:10 AM Dmitry Ablogin(Russia)

Period Competition photos 49

Period Competition photos 31

He chose to play his entire programme on one instrument, the 1842 Pleyel. He began with two Polonaises. The C-minor could have been begun with slightly more nobility as it still contains elements of the highly stylized dance. The Trio has always been respected and as Tomaszewski writes:

Interpreters generally see this…[close to operatic aria]… as bringing highly-charged erotic moments to this generically heroic work, citing the contrast between ‘pain bordering on despair’ and ‘heavenly delight’, as well as the ‘barely stemmed tears’.

The E-minor was much more successful in terms of the nobility of protest. More yearning for freedom, despair and the overwhelming presence of Polish żal (melancholic bitterness). His phrasing was most eloquent and the whole emerged as most atmospheric. The greatest polonaise in so many ways to my mind but also the one containing the most darkness and despair.

More pleasant ‘preluding’ to introduce the Op. 50 Mazurkas. I liked them all but was particularly impressed with the extensive C-sharp minor where he controlled this developed narrative with great emotional insight. Then to a quite visionary and unique view of that masterpiece of composition, the  B-flat minor Sonata. George Sand wrote in her The Story of My Life:

‘His creativity was spontaneous, miraculous’, wrote Sand , ‘he found it without seeking it, without expecting it. It arrived at his piano suddenly, completely, sublimely, or it sang in his head during a walk, and he would hasten to hear it again by recreating it on his instrument.  […] But then would begin the most heartbreaking labor I have ever witnessed. […] He would shut himself up in his room for days at a time, weeping, pacing, breaking his pens, repeating or changing a single measure a hundred times, writing it and erasing it with equal frequency [here the writer seems to have got carried away], and beginning again the next day with desperate perseverance. He would spend six weeks on a page, only to end up writing it just as he had done in his first outpouring.’

The opening Grave. Doppio movimento was restless with remarkable forward impetus and a feeling of almost sinister mystery. The association of galloping horses on a dark night was inescapable. Ablogin often gives one this feeling of creative improvisation. The Scherzo continued the rather forceful mood already created and he made much of the song in the Trio. His tone glows without aggression and his touch is refined and elegant, so unlike the prejudices one might have concerning the Russian School of Chopinists.

One should not perhaps forget the patriotic associations of the Marche funebre. Lento for Chopin in commemorating the November Uprising. The universality and inevitability of death now associated with it has grown inexorably over the hundred and eighty years or so since its composition. The stories of the composer beset with sepulchral visions and monstrous forms emerging from his piano during performances and the composition of the piece may not be apocryphal.

Ablogin’s return of the Funeral March up tempo after the disembodied, reflective and melancholic Trio (superb and haunting pianissimos here) was quite otherworldly and utterly inspired. The unhinged mind and the madness of Lucia di Lammermoor were inescapable associations. The left hand began a deeply moving tolling of funeral bells – something I have never encountered before in performance and profoundly effective and affecting emotionally. The tragedy and the darkness of unavoidable grief. Ablogin revealed in the Presto a quite extraordinary control and transparency of polyphony and counterpoint, as he had done throughout the other movements, but with uncanny effect here. For me it was an expression of the unhinged grief of the mind.

Yes a visionary and unique view of this masterpiece of Western music. In competition terms this was a far finer stage for Ablogin than his initial presentation.

Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurkas Op. 50
Fryderyk Chopin
Polonaises Op. 26
Fryderyk Chopin
Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35

10:00 AM Aurelia Visovan(Romania)

Period Competition photos 41

Period Competition photos 34

The sonata began in the most seductive way imaginable on the 1842 Pleyel. The tempo was absolutely appropriate to the nobility inherent in the Chopin indication Allegro maestoso. The luminosity of the cantabile was divine in a word.  Visovan understands the sound and colour palette of this instrument intimately. The internal details became abundantly clear throughout but never dynamically overwhelming, never exaggerated or ‘hysterical’. Unsentimental, yet so desperately moving. The transparency and colour she extracted from this instrument put me in mind of gazing in wonder at the radiant stained glass windows of Chartres Cathedral.

The Scherzo was light and airy (as a Scherzo should be) using the sustain pedal with discretion as the sound simply warms and changes the timbre under its influence. The demi-staccato articulation was balanced and superb.

The Largo began at a far lower dynamic level than the usual aggressive statement which can often be so inappropriately brutal on a Steinway. The most striking aspect of this movement was the tempo. Rather fast for what one normally associates with the indication ‘Largo’. Do we really know accurately the nature of such an indication on the lightweight action of these pianos? Not all Italian tempo indications translate accurately in terms of their conception into all world languages. But her breathing and phrasing was so musical it became irrelevant. The Largo became almost rhapsodic rather than emotionally indulgent and dragging interminably which is all too common. There was a wonderful Pleyel sound in this movement with the balance of right and left hands. In short a revelation.

The Finale. Presto non tanto began with an ominous subterranean rumble in the bass. The movement as whole achieved what one might term an existential urgency. The counterpoint and polyphony were so clear and affecting as were the harmonic transitions. Inspired and utterly brilliant pedaling. Again the bass perfectly balanced against the treble and a rhapsodic conclusion.

In the Mazurkas, Visovan was so sensitive to harmonic transitions and rhythm. The C-major possessed an incandescent sound with the superb cantilena one can produce in the left hand, singing magically below the right. Pleyels can achieve this balance of voices like no other piano. The A-flat major with its legato and subtle changes of harmonic mood were so savoured by this artist. The undamped overtones provided a magical sound landscape. Not for the first time I was reminded of Dinu Lipatti. I suppose all Romanian pianists adore his Chopin. In the B-flat minor it was if we were witnessing a hesitant soul coming to life. So tasteful and deep a vision of life  did Visovan present: Joy to Reflection to Resignation to Acceptance.  Such a panorama of emotions and emotional narrative. Some of the most beautiful Mazurkas I have ever heard.

The so-called ‘Heroic’ Polonaise was not played in the conventional manner as ‘majestic and magnificent’ but more as a memory or reminiscence of heroism. The cavalry section in the whirling left hand sounded like real horses to me and conjured up pictures in my mind of the Uhlan paintings of Jerzy Kossak. No theatrical depictions here and not a single doubt of her self-effacing integrity.

After such a recital I have come to the conclusion that on this particular 1842 Pleyel the entire Chopin sound landscape has changed for me in a truly inspired way…

Fryderyk Chopin
Mazurkas Op. 24
Fryderyk Chopin
Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53
Fryderyk Chopin
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58

Stage 1 Day 3 September 6

 10:00 PM Sijia Ma (China)

Period Competition photos 20

Johann Sebastian Bach
DWK I – Prelude and Fugue in E major, BWV 854
Fryderyk Chopin
Polonaise in G sharp minor [op. posth.]
Michał Kleofas Ogiński
Polonaise “Farewell to the Fatherland”
Fryderyk Chopin
Etude in F minor, Op. 25 No. 2
Fryderyk Chopin
Ballade in A flat major, Op. 47

In her opening Bach on the Erard I felt the prelude lacked stylistically but the Fugue had excellent clarity and polyphonic lines. The Ogiński Polonaise was charmingly performed but lacked a ‘Polish’ feel for me, a quality Chopin referred to as the ‘Polish element’ he felt was missing from otherwise good performances. The Chopin Polonaise on the 1847 Erard revealed she has not handled the transfer from Steinway to period instrument particularly well. The sound she produced from the rather forgiving instrument was not at all seductive. Her need for more experience on these instruments  in terms of sound colour, touch and tone was obvious. In the Ballade, although perhaps acceptable  on a Steinway I received the distinct impression she was playing with far too much weight – period instruments benefit more from finger legato and lighter touch.

10:35 PM Yui Nakamura (Japan)

Period Competition photos 22

Johann Sebastian Bach
DWK I – Prelude and Fugue in F sharp major, BWV 858
Fryderyk Chopin
Etude in G flat major, Op. 10 No. 5
Karol Kurpiński
Polonaise in G minor
Fryderyk Chopin
Polonaise in D minor [Op. 71 No. 1]
Fryderyk Chopin
Ballade in A flat major, Op. 47

Her interesting CV indicates she is a prize-winner of many prestigious Asian piano competitions so I was keenly anticipating this recital.

The Bach Prelude and Fugue on the 1842 Pleyel were excellently performed with a good understanding of style and balanced polyphony. She adapted rather well to the 1847 Erard in the Kurpiński polonaise with an attractive tone extracted from the instrument and refined touch.

However with the Chopin Polonaise, also on the Erard, I came to the conclusion that she does not understand sufficiently deeply the idiom of the Polish polonaise dance with its nobility and emphasis on the noble Polish male with his moustache and sabre constantly adjusted ostentatiously in rhythm and ‘Maestoso’ throughout. However I felt she had natural musical gifts and a finely honed talent.

The Ballade on the 1842 Pleyel I found less satisfactory as it had clearly been almost too carefully prepared which gave little room for spontaneity, perceived spontaneity and deeply felt passionate emotions. This music must be felt to grow organically and powerfully from within the impassioned shifts of mood of the composer’s heart and spirit as well as maintaining its dramatic narrative flow. The Chopin Ballades are rather like small operas and should intensely reflect the fluctuating toy-shop of the heart. Is it possible for an interpretation to be over-refined?

11:10 PM Matthias Nauwelaerts (Belgium)

Period Competition photos 23

Johann Sebastian Bach
DWK II – Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 874
Fryderyk Chopin
Etude in G flat major, Op. 10 No. 5
Maria Szymanowska
Polonaise in F Minor
Fryderyk Chopin
Polonaise in B flat minor [Op. posth.] [op. posth.]
Fryderyk Chopin
Barcarolle, Op. 60

In the Bach I felt he was unused to he colors possible on an Erard and thus rather expressionless although certainly full of energy. I wanted to know what was happening within Prelude and Fugue.

The Chopin Etude and Polonaise seemed to me Steinway performances transferred directly the Erard without modification which is not what this competition is about. The Chopin polonaise indicated he was still rather locked into ‘Steinway Mode’ in a performance that may have worked well in a large hall on a D model concert grand but not here. Apart from this observation, these early youthfully illusioned works do not benefit from inflation to the ‘heroic’ proportions of political resistance inherent in the later Chopin polonaises.

The Szymanowska polonaise was pleasant enough but again I felt this player did not fully understand the feminine ‘salon style’ and the exquisite tonal range of the 1842 Pleyel he chose to play. Sometimes he showed a feeling for the unique qualities of the instrument but not often enough.

The Barcarole opened with rather a crash and developed not on a lagoon in Venice. I fondly imagine the work on an instrument of Chopin’s day as a romantic and tender dream that becomes somewhat agitated at times, not an unrelenting storm aboard the Titanic on the Atlantic. He should explore more the riches and the unique understated tonal qualities of the Erard.

12:10 PM Elizaveta Malysheva (Russia)

Period Competition photos 24

Johann Sebastian Bach
DWK II – Prelude and Fugue in B major, BWV 892
Fryderyk Chopin
Polonaise in B flat major [Op. 71 No. 2] 
Karol Kurpiński
Polonaise in D minor
Fryderyk Chopin
Etude in G sharp minor, Op. 25 No. 6
Fryderyk Chopin
Ballade in F major, Op. 38

Interestingly she has studied in the harpsichord class of Olga Filippova in the Department of Contemporary and Historical performance at the Pyotr Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. This may account for her very light touch on these instruments.

In the Bach on the 1847 Erard, apart from a far too up tempo Prelude, she extracted perhaps the best tone from the Broadwood of any competitor so far. The demanding Fugue was dynamically varied and the polyphony highlighted sufficiently for a listener to decode the conversation within.

The Chopin Etude was less successful as the thirds in the treble register could on occasion scarcely be heard which disrupted and unbalanced the work for me. The piano or the pianist? However it did sound less ‘hysterical’ and overbearingly virtuosic on the Broadwood than it can on a less expressive Steinway.

The Kurpiński polonaise did expressively capture the feminine, charming ambience of the ‘salon’ well. The Chopin polonaise on the other hand, also on he Broadwood, had attractive fiorituras, tone and touch but I felt she had no real feel for this piece. The Ballade  gave me the impression she has no real temperamental affinity with Chopin. There were all sorts of sudden sforzandos and bursts of energy for no apparent reason. The musical narrative she was engaged upon did not seem to be particularly coherent. There were quite a few solecisms as we progressed through it as there also were with the polonaise.

12:45 PM Kamil Pacholec (Poland)

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This talented young pianist is a laureate of many national and international competitions
 and has performed throughout Europe and the US.
He opened with Bach on the Erard  which was excellent but not particularly individual. The Kurpiński polonaise on the other hand was rather idiomatically Polish with interesting phrasing. Delightful. The early Chopin Polonaise caused some general questions to form in my mind. Should the early polonaises of Chopin have dramatic shifts in mood given his youth when composing them and the fashionable possibly ‘salon’ historical context? How should they be played? Pacholec was rather stylish but there was not a great deal of elegant polish or finesse. Again this is not an ‘heroic’ polonaise and Poles are rather moody creatures! So how to approach and judge these works?
The Chopin Etude did not indicate overwhelming command of ‘technique’ which for this particular Etude is useful. I felt there could have been a great deal more expressiveness. All this slightly quibbling criticism was rather overturned in his account of the G minor Ballade. He began with an excellent narrative tempo that allowed us as listeners to decode his harmonic intentions and also more importantly those of Chopin. A coherent musical story of great clarity and meaning began to evolve. Although sometimes perfunctory, an excellent sense of structure and a mood at once reflective and philosophical. His control over the Erard in terms of tone produced and touch indicated insufficient experience on period pianos but his understanding of the Ballade musically was never in question. There was a true triumphal conclusion to the musical ‘argument’ of the work. A fine accoun