The Pocket Paderewski

The Beguiling Life of the Australian Concert Pianist
Edward Cahill (1885-1975)
Edward Cahill giving a wartime charity recital in the Kursaal Montreux, Switzerland, 1941

Preface, Prologue

Chapter 1

Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket

Preface

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 tantalizing 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.

Prologue

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.

Caper White butterflies drinking by a river in Queensland

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.

Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket

Installment 1

On the east coast of Australia in the State of Queensland, or ‘Deep North’ as some Australians call it, lies picturesque Moreton Bay, some twenty kilometres north of Brisbane. Captain Cook named but did not explore it on 15 May 1770 during his first voyage. ‘This veritable Garden of Eden’, teeming with fish, crustacea of all kinds, exotic flowers and colourful birds, subsequently became a ghastly penal outstation. Europeans began to settle the area, but the geography of impenetrable forest and river made farming difficult. This provided a challenge for the predominantly German, Prussian, English and Irish immigrants. The promise of a salubrious climate, orderly government, regular laws, excellent education and religious freedom were irresistible to many fleeing over-population, famine and poverty in Europe.

In 1862 John Davy, his wife Mary and his brother-in-law Francis Gooding emigrated to Queensland and established a sugar plantation between the Albert and Logan Rivers which they named Beenleigh after their old farm in Devon, England. The farm had been suffering severe financial difficulties despite the generally increased prosperity of agriculture in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. In their new home they were soon growing sugar cane and manufacturing rum, a business which developed into the famous Beenleigh Rum Distillery. A small township subsequently evolved at the junction of five roads and flourished under the same name, Beenleigh.

In 1863 the thirty-year-old farmer and blacksmith Johannes Dauth, his twenty-five-year-old wife Caroline and their three children emigrated to Australia from Stöckheim,  Brunswick, some three hundred kilometers north-east of Frankfurt-am-Main. Germans living west and east of the River Elbe had suffered from an increase in population too large for the resources of the land and were facing economic disintegration. These were the boom years for emigration to Australia. Only a few years before Queensland had been created a separate colony from New South Wales. The new colony required a labour force to populate its vast spaces.

The barque Susanne Godeffroy

After lengthy consideration the family sailed on 22 September 1863  on  the  maiden  voyage of the clipper Susanne Godeffroy. She put to sea from Hamburg and encountered a rough and stormy passage through the English Channel and particularly high seas around the Cape of Good Hope into the Roaring Forties. ‘Long ridges of water ran high and fast’ which damaged the masts.* Passengers often landed looking ‘like they had been in the grave for a week and dug up’ reported one migration official. The ship anchored in Moreton Bay over four months later. All the Dauth children survived and a baby was born to Johannes and Caroline whom they named Mary. This infant, so romantically ‘born at sea’, somehow managed to survive the long voyage and would ultimately become the mother of the brilliant Australian pianist Edward Cahill.

Upon arrival Johannes settled in the New Year first at Eagleby (also known as the ‘German Pocket’) but soon moved to nearby Beenleigh where he became one of the earliest settlers. He opened a blacksmith’s shop and built a residence in George Street. Germans were highly respected as hard workers and he became successful supporting his family in relative comfort.

By the mid 1870s Beenleigh was a thriving rural business centre, the main town of the Logan and Albert districts. Queensland had the largest number of German-born residents in the Australian colonies. A school opened in 1871 and one of the Dauth family was among its first pupils. The Beenleigh Hotel was soon established on the corner of George and Main Streets ‘a handsome new two storey building … which will favourably compete for accommodation  and situation with any hotel in the colony out of Brisbane’.

* I am indebted for most of the early history of Beenleigh to Anne McIntyre of the Logan River & District Family History Society Inc. who assisted me greatly in my research and also published They Chose Beenleigh: A Tribute to the Immigrant Landholders and Pioneers of the Beenleigh and Eagleby, Queensland, Australia prior to 1885 (Beenleigh 2009), Sailings, p. 47.

School of Arts, Beenleigh

In the first, six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearances dead, were huddled in a corner on some filthy straw, their sole covering what seemed a ragged horsecloth, their wretched legs hanging about, naked above the knees.

Thousands of inhabitants looking for a better life fled the Great Famine and emigrated to America, Canada or Australia, the Cahill family among them.Edward Cahill Senior was resident in colonial Queensland by 1869. In March of 1881 he was reported to have captained the Tambourine Cricket Club against Upper Logan and knocked up a creditable score as an excellent ‘all rounder’. On the Prince of Wales’s Birthday the following year he played for Beenleigh as a wicket keeper and fielded and batted outstandingly. He was remembered in the town with much affection as a jovial Irishman with a rough sense of humour.

By the 1880s the economy of this vast colony had moved into positive cycle. However the colony of Queensland remained ‘a rather puzzling mixture of success and failure.’§

* The School of Arts Movement originated in Scotland and spread throughout the English-speaking world in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Times of Christmas Eve 1846 quoted in Thomas Keneally The Great Shame: A Story of the Irish in the Old World and the New (London 1998), pp. 129–31.

Between 1841 and 1861 Queen’s County lost almost half its population from 154,000 to 90,600.

§ Raymond Evans, A History of Queensland (Cambridge 2007), p. 111.

Many immigrants felt misled by the rosy expectations their agents had given them. Unskilled labour faced a bleak future, but those who commenced‘the fierce battle with nature to form things’* could save and prosper if their health stood up to the rigours of the climate.

In November 1884 Edward Cahill Senior and Mary Dauth married in Brisbane and took up residence permanently in Beenleigh. Despite the economic gloom, he took over as the ‘Licensed Victualler’ of the Beenleigh Hotel in April 1894, renting it for 30/- per week. For the previous five years he had been the licensee of the nearby Yatala Hotel about three kilometres from Beenleigh.

The Beenleigh Hotel following the extensive remodelling by Edward Cahill Snr. in 1910. The hotel was regrettably demolished in 1977 despite an extensive National Trust of Queensland Report in 1975 recommending its preservation.

His new hotel became the centre of the town’s social life and the haunt for regular meetings of the local cricket club, jockey club and rifle association. The booking office and staging post for the legendary Cobb & Co transport and Royal Mail coaches was situated in the hotel. ‘Incidents’ in the life of the town tended to happen there. One anecdote tells of a day when a young man working in the cane fields near Eagleby felt a prick on his ankle and realised he had been bitten by a snake, probably the dreaded Coastal Taipan. Despite the swift efforts of the local Dr Sutton he died under ‘the best medical supervision’ in a room at the Beenleigh Hotel.

Edward Cahill Junior was born almost exactly a year after their marriage on 10 November in the boom year of 1885. Mary Cahill bore a child every year for the next eight years. She was to survive this gruelling experience without serious illness and only one was to die as an infant. In time the Cahills built a house they called ‘Roscrea’, which became a landmark in Beenleigh. The residence was named after the town near the border of Laois County and County Tipperary where Edward Cahill Senior was born.

The area around Beenleigh is quite flat, dotted with shrubs and eucalypts such as Ironbark and Forest Red Gum. Despite being only twenty kilometres from the Pacific Ocean, the town is stiflingly hot in summer. The Albert River where Eddie hunted butterflies still takes its slow and picturesque course through the rather arid landscape. When I visited Beenleigh there was no evidence of the site of the distinctive Cahill family home. Undoubtedly Roscrea would have been characterized by broad verandas shaded by a large, graceful Dutch gable roof of shingles or corrugated iron. Sadly I could find no photograph of it during my extensive research. However a few of the buildings Eddie would have known as a child are preserved in what is known as Old Beenleigh Town, an historical village situated on the outskirts of the town’s modern suburban sprawl. I attempted to reconstruct this early Australian community in my mind’s eye but it was an almost impossible task. Born in 1885 Eddie would find modern Beenleigh unrecognizable.

* Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 110.

Around £150 in 2020.

A Settler family in Beenleigh 1872
The ‘Carpenter’s Arms Public House Beenleigh District 1872
Main Street Beenleigh  Queensland ca. 1893  from the verandah of the  Beenleigh Hotel.
The town where Edward Cahill was born in 1885
Beenleigh in 1895
The handsome colonial Cahill family of Beenleigh

Top row from left:   James, Elizabeth, Mary, Caroline, Edward
Front row from left:  William, Edward Senior,  Margaret, Mary Cahill (née Dauth), Lilian

* * *

Eddie’s grandmother and mother were both particularly fond of music. As he grew older he spent hours experimenting with the sounds on his grandmother’s old piano, one of the few refined features of their colonial life. She wanted him to learn to play and spoke secretly to his mother about it. His father had no interest in butterflies or piano playing. ‘You women will spoil the boyo. The piano is for colleens! Your sisters can learn the piano if they want. He should learn to ride and shoot like a man!’

At the age of five, his mother decided he should begin lessons at his grandmother’s house with the milkman’s wife. She could play fluently and taught the boy to read music. A few times a week during her round she would tie up the horse, leave the milk cart outside and slip into his grandmother’s house to give Eddie a half hour ‘secret’ lesson. Our ‘jovial Irishman’ did comment rather unfavourably however when he saw his young son early one morning enthusiastically trotting down the dusty country road between the weatherboard houses dressed in a red velvet Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, his hair carefully pomaded and curled. He threatened to beat him black and blue.  ‘My  mother  loves  him so much!’ his wife assured her husband when he expressed exasperation and returned to the bar to serve some thirsty sun- burned pastoralists. Eddie seemed to know, seemed to have always known, what he wanted to do with his life. That was, of all unlikely things in this region of pitiless heat, pioneers and heartless bush, to be a musician and above all to play the piano. Eddie adored these lessons with the intensity of a vocation.

He was enrolled at the state primary school and was popular with his classmates. The teachers in the small school felt he was above average intelligence for his age. He seemed to be able to instantly communicate his friendliness, good temper and general happiness with life to everyone. Even at this early stage he was a particularly charming child. By the age of eight, the piano playing was coming along well and the lessons became far less of a secret, in fact the whole thing was rather out in the open. He was making extraordinary progress, far beyond what might be considered normal for a child of his age and far beyond the skill of Mrs Bale the milkman’s wife. ‘Lost in the music!’ she said one day. ‘Naturally gifted!’ she exclaimed on another.

Occasionally, now that he was old enough to keep quiet and cease fidgeting, his mother would take him to a concert at the School of Arts. There was an unusual degree of sophisticated cultural life in this small, isolated town, a place which surprisingly nurtured his dreams. His father was becoming increasingly irritable as the boy reached puberty. He had hoped ‘the boyo’ would eventually ‘grow out of it’ and come into the hotel business. ‘Music is no career for a man son! Musicians are unhappy, hopeless fellows. If you keep this up you’ll end up in the gutter. Wake up to yourself!’

The boy did not seem to care. Every time he sat on the piano stool he could imagine huge crowds of people listening to him in great halls, idolising his performance. He had particularly small hands but wonderful  dexterity  and  an  engaging  natural  way  of playing. He also seemed to have what was known as ‘perfect pitch’, a mixed blessing in some respects, and could improvise his own tunes on any melody that was given to him by members of an audience. In a diary reminiscence written for a radio broadcast made in Sydney as he approached middle age he underlined ‘I was a very happy little boy’. But in reality he contemplated with horror the idea of working in his father’s hotel among the rough drovers, cane cutters, cattlemen and rum drinkers.

One of the worst decades in Australian history opened as he began at the  rural  primary  school  in  Beenleigh.  From  1891–96 a severe economic depression crippled the country and was immediately followed by one of the longest-lasting droughts in the colony’s history lasting from 1898–1905.* Unemployment reached catastrophic levels. White settlers clashed with Aboriginals and Melanesian ‘Kanakas’ who were deemed to be a ‘doomed race of Heathens’.

* Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 124

Local papers brayed ‘no white woman is safe’. By the close of the century the lives of many immigrants and hundreds  of thousands of native people had been sacrificed in a genocidal mayhem that had lasted for years.*

* Grimly detailed throughout Evans, A History of Queensland.

* * *

As the eldest son, Eddie was expected to take up a trade after leaving school at fifteen. It is hard to imagine an environment less conducive to becoming a classical concert pianist than the Queensland of the early 1900s for such a cultured, aesthetic young man. The family decided that an excellent beginning for someone of Eddie’s sensitive temperament would be as a draper’s assistant in his father’s drapery business a few doors down from the Beenleigh Hotel.

Travelling Drapers – ‘Downes’ – Beenleigh

Wanting to please rather than follow the summons of his heart, he agreed to take up this dull trade. Each morning he swept the floor of the shop and sprinkled it with fresh damp sawdust, raised the blinds on the front window and adjusted the headless manikins freshly dressed by an eccentric window-dresser. In the evening he lit the oil lamps, which turned the shop into a glowing cavern with pockets of mysterious darkness. He learned to cultivate the charm of the professional salesman. He exuded a natural appeal which impressed the appreciative English colonial ladies who were keen to keep up appearances and deck themselves out in copies of the latest London or Paris fashions. For physical relaxation he played lawn tennis at the weekend, a choice over Rugby Union football, tennis being a sport which was considered askance by the men of Beenleigh. Yet he managed early each day to fit in an hour or more piano practice at his grandmother’s house and even more on Sundays.

He was already twenty-five when, by now a fully fledged draper, he decided he could not stand working in the shop a minute longer, even as the manager. He was chronically tired of measuring out lengths of cloth for elderly women with endless discussions of price. He could hardly wait until the doors closed for the day and he could rush to the joys of the piano and practise like a demon. He had given what might be considered his first piano recital in the School of Arts in 1907. But as he lay in bed at night listening to the raucous shouts from the verandah of the hotel, the drunken carousing in the streets, he planned to run away to Brisbane, embark on a ship bound for Europe, burn the shop down, anything to escape the drudgery that stretched endlessly before him. He wanted adventure, glamour and fame, the adulation of the glittering crowd as a performing musician. He was unashamedly convinced of his talent.

* * *

In 1909 Queensland celebrated its 50th year as a separate entity with a Jubilee Exhibition at the annual Brisbane Agricultural Show in the Botanic Gardens and the official opening of the University of Queensland. Eddie decided to enter the piano competition which was part of the celebrations. The event was judged by a Professor Ives. Eddie was proclaimed the ‘Piano Champion Solo’ for his performance of a Schumann Novelette and he was awarded a gold medal in addition to some prize money.

The Piano Champion Solo Gold Medal awarded to Edward Cahill, Brisbane Jubilee Exhibition 1909

This victory was followed by some serious tuition with a mysterious Miss Hilda Roberts, a Brisbane pianist who introduced him to the acclaimed method pioneered by Tobias Matthay in London.* These lessons gave him the self-confidence to seek new endeavours and challenges in music.

The early silent cinema had always fascinated Eddie as a teenager. He used to avidly attend the screenings of short documentaries and comedies at the School of Arts in Beenleigh and also played for Beenleigh Pictures, the firm who screened silent pictures  there. Often too he played for the dance that followed. In the early newsreel of the spring meeting of the Melbourne Cup filmed by the Frenchman Marius Sestier, he was captivated by the glamorous crowds of women in ornate Edwardian lace dresses.Eddie had his first taste of the bewitching theatre of royalty and upper-class life, the endless procession of elegant carriages, superb horses and court uniforms, cocked hats fluttering with ostrich feathers in the 1901 documentary The Inauguration of Australia.

* Tobias Matthay (1858–1945) was an outstanding English pianist, teacher, and composer. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music under the composer and pianist Sir William Sterndale Bennett and taught there from 1876 to 1925 as Professor of Advanced Piano.The English virtuosi Myra Hess, Clifford Curzon, Moura Lympany, Harriet Cohen and Irene Scharrer were but a few of his outstanding pupils. He founded a piano school in 1905 and published several books on technique.

The Frenchman Marius Sestier (1861–1928), came to Australia from India in 1896 and made some of the first Australian films and screened them at the Salon Lumière in Sydney.

At thirty-five minutes it was one of the longest films of the time made anywhere in the world. On one cloth-buying trip to Brisbane in 1907 he saw ‘Australia’s Greatest Drama’, The Story of the Kelly Gang, at the Centennial Hall, the world’s first full-length feature film advertised as being ‘over a mile in length’ and ‘over an hour in duration’.* The piano accompaniment included a ‘Lecturer’ who explained the story and characters using a pointer. Voices behind the screen added dialogue. A kookaburra had been trained to laugh when a limelight lamp shone on it.

* The Story of the Kelly Gang was photographed for J. & N. Tait by the talented Millard Johnson and William Gibson and first shown in Melbourne on Boxing Day 1906.

An Australian Outback Travelling Picture Show 1910
Outback Silent Picture Projection Equipment 1910

He slowly became aware of a possible avenue of escape from the drapery. One day a horse-drawn travelling picture show arrived in Beenleigh. A number of these forgotten touring companies wandered the vast outback of Australia offering silent cinema entertainment. Isolated towns lacking in electricity and the phonograph meant these shows were tremendously popular. They often mixed vaudeville acts with short films projected by limelight. Music was a vital ingredient although during the projection there was a good deal of mechanical noise. Devastating explosions were always likely. ‘Going to the pictures’ was an adventure in the early years of the Australian silent cinema, for both the audience and the projectionist.

He considered the job of ‘picture pianist’ something he could easily accomplish and auditioned for the Irish manager of a travelling show called Flaniken’s Films that  had  just  lost  its  accompanist. At the audition he improvised with great élan and spirit for The Eureka Stockade. The company presented silent stars such as Charlie Chaplin, ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and Mabel Normand as well as the rough and tumble of the Keystone Cops to entertainment-starved outback audiences. Eddie would also provide the music for the dance that followed the show.To the shock and dismay of the entire Cahill family, Eddie excitedly accepted the offer of this poorly paid, uncomfortable job with Flaniken’s Films travelling the outback as an accompanist.

He was beside himself with delight. The itinerary would take in much of central Queensland and northern New South Wales. This was to be his first professional musical engagement and the beginning of an enduring love affair with the stage and travel. His father was bitterly disappointed having purchased the Beenleigh Hotel in 1909 and radically remodelled the exterior. He had hoped Eddie would take over when he retired.

The evening programme could be a five-reel feature with two or three shorter comedies or ‘scenics’ as they were known. A singer travelling with them performed songs by the renowned Scottish entertainer Harry Lauder or popular numbers such as Meet Me To-night in Dreamland or I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now accompanied by lantern slides. As he toured with silent pictures Eddie learned how to ‘work’ an audience, to strongly communicate intense emotion with music. The type of vaudeville act that might accompany the films is breathlessly described in an advertisement in the Barrier Miner of 8 January 1912, published in the rough and isolated outback mining town of Broken Hill in far west of New South Wales where ‘Mr Eddie Cahill (A.R.A.M. Gold Medallist) and pianologist will preside at the instrument’.

‘Ching Sung Loo, the Chinese magician, is one of the star per- formers with his pretty lady assistant. His stage setting is said to be a blaze of Oriental grandeur. He does not speak during the performance, but glides about the stage stealthily and mysteriously. It is claimed that he makes steaming coffee from apparently nowhere, which is freely distributed to the audience; that he raises a lady into mid air utterly defying the laws of gravitation and places her on the points of three swords; that he raises a large bowl of water with living fishes in it from nowhere; that he shoots an arrow through a lady’s body, changes wine into water; and that the climax is reached when he eats paper and cotton wool, and the next moment clouds of smoke and streams of sparks issue from his mouth. Then he allows a rifle to be fired point blank at him, and he catches the bullet, which has been previously marked for identification purposes by one of the audience.’

In time, books of  musical  suggestions  were  published  such as the Edison Kinetogram to assist pianists and orchestras in their accompaniments.* Eddie learned to project his feelings directly through the piano in a variety of musical styles. Sinister and uncanny mood music for the night, agitato running passages for high tension dramas, seductive touches for the warmth of love, the disturbing chords of jealousy, heavy masses heralding impending doom, the grandeur of heroic combat or the tumult of battle. Eddie was talented at this task, had excellent technique, was a good sight-reader and knew a great deal of music by heart. It was a hard school but an invaluable apprenticeship. He felt that exploring the beauty of the Queensland countryside was ample compensation for the meagre pay.

A still from the silent movie The Story of the Ned Kelly Gang

It was not long before Eddie found himself in a more permanent position conducting an orchestra of eight at the King’s Pictures and the historic Princess Theatre in Brisbane. A lone pianist can watch the screen and improvise whereas an orchestra cannot accomplish this as an ensemble. One of the earliest scores composed especially for a silent film was by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns for L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise in 1908. Eddie was required to compile music from the classical scores of one composer or order selections from a number of composers to suit the emotional hue of the film. This technique reached its apotheosis in 1925 with the legendary score written by Edmund Meisel for The Battleship Potemkin directed by Sergei Eisenstein. The director wrote ‘The audience must be lashed into a fury and shaken violently by the volume of the sound…this sound can’t be strong enough and should be turned to the limit of the audience’s physical and mental capacity.’

On a less dramatic scale, Eddie believed that the music should not simply be background but become part of the fabric of the film itself. Such an idea was most unusual at the time and sadly his work in this area has not survived. One of his favourite silent features was The Cheat (1915) an early silent directed by Cecil B. DeMille starring Fannie Ward and the Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa. Famous for its dramatic low-key lighting, it explored the taboo of an extra- marital intrigue through erotic Orientalism, female masochism and forcible seduction. In one harrowing scene the flesh of the female character is branded like a prize heifer by the seducer in a gesture of possession. This would no doubt have required a significant leap of musical invention for the young pianist, inexperienced in such passions as were most of the audience.

* A beacon in the dearth of well-researched academic studies of the history of music in the silent film era is the excellent and informative Music and the Silent Film: Contexts and Case Studies 1895–1924 by Martin Miller Marks (New York 1997). Quoted p. 72.

A charming film of life on the road in an Australian travelling picture show in the early 1900s is The Picture Show Man (1977) directed by John Power and starring Rod Taylor, John Meillon, Judy Morris, John Ewart, Patrick Cargill and Harold Hopkins.

Edmund Meisel (1894–1930) is a neglected Austrian composer who was a pioneer and a truly avant-garde artist in his approach to silent film music.

Eddie’s work in the silent cinema was the beginning of his artistic career. However, whilst inhabiting the world of celluloid dreams, roaming the outback and playing in darkened cinemas, the world situation ….

Installment 2

Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket

[Footnotes are in red]

Eddie’s work in the silent cinema was the beginning of his artistic career. However whilst inhabiting the world of celluloid dreams, roaming the outback and playing in darkened cinemas Eddie did not really take much note of the worsening world situation. It was reported on 28 June 1914 that a European town called Sarajevo was in mourning for an Austrian royal personage who had been shot by a lunatic. Tributes to the nobleman, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, were paid by the British House of Commons. Sir Oliver  Lodge,  on his way to Melbourne in July for the meeting of the British Association, said it was most regrettable that Britain should fight over ‘a little bother in Serbia.’

The gravity of the European crisis was overlooked in general  in Australia as other matters were distracting the public. Dame Nellie Melba was on her way home. Through her influence the Commonwealth Government had acquired the Marconi patents for wireless broadcasting. Australia was beating Canada in the Davis Cup and Maurice Guillaux was setting out to carry air mail from Melbourne to Sydney, then the longest air mail flight in the world. When war was actually declared the Sydney Morning Herald drew itself up:

‘Above and beyond everything our armies will fight for British honour. It is our baptism of fire.’*

Eddie had chosen not to enlist for the Great War despite the pressure exerted by his younger and more jingoistic brother James. He did not particularly dislike Germans – his mother was one.

The whole idea of hatred, death and killing were abhorrent to him. The war had silently crept up on most people. His mother was secretly relieved. She had suffered and wept enough when his brother James had enlisted in 1916. Another son heading towards the trenches would have been too much to bear. His Irish father was strangely non-committal, yet he seemed to exert an invisible pressure on his artistic son not to be a shirker and do his duty.

* Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 6 August 1914, p. 6.

A man given the white feather of cowardice for not enlisting in the Great War

Eddie never forgot the shame of being handed a white feather in full view of the drinkers outside his father’s hotel by one of the pretty Beenleigh girls. For the entire period of the war he felt neurotically divided between the responsibility he felt towards his artistic calling and a nagging guilt for failing to enlist. An idea of the prevailing attitude to culture is contained in the earliest newspaper mention of Eddie in the Darling Downs Gazette of Saturday 19 June 1913. He is referred to as ‘the brilliant young pianiste’ in a society gossip column entitled Le Beau Monde, the writer having adopted the moniker ‘Pansy’. Of his concert in Toowoomba on 21 July a perceptive columnist was one of the first to describe qualities that remained throughout his career

Mr Cahill’s technique lacks nothing in accuracy, his taste is excellent and he has the enviable facility of making the audience firm friends by his unassuming manner and undoubted facility.

The German Dauth immigrant side of his mother’s musical family were silently marginalized as ‘enemy aliens’ although not interned during the Great War. The discrimination did not reach the heights it did in England where even dachshund dogs were attacked in the street. Some five percent of the population of Queensland was of German heritage, yet the state had a more moderate policy towards internees than most other Australian states. Overall, the pressure of immigration remained an inflammatory issue. The town of Innisfail was described by the notorious Smith’s Weekly as ‘a town of dreadful dagoes … a filthy foreign scum oozes from its highways.’

Darling Downs Gazette, 22 July 1913, p. 6. At this concert Eddie performed Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12, the Chopin Nocturne Op. 27 No. 2 and Prelude in C minor Op. 28 No. 20 as well as the Scherzo-Caprice Op. 22 by the now forgotten French composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95). At this time he played Gors and Kallman German pianos.

‡ Quoted Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 176.

 * * *

Another of Eddie’s few brief periods of formal study of the instrument entailed six months in 1912 with a Mr J. A. Johnstone of Melbourne, described by the Queenslander newspaper as being ‘a musician of broad views and great knowledge, a clear and commonsensible thinker and writer on musical subjects, and altogether one of the best equipped teachers in Australia.’ Overflowing with natural talent Eddie was largely a self-taught musician with the sustaining vanity that accompanies such gifts. He had left the family nest and was now committed to making his living from music, specifically piano playing.

Early in 1914 he was to be introduced to a man who would change his professional life considerably. The  English-born singer, variety artist, entrepreneur and businessman Edward Branscombe had arrived in Australia in 1896 with the English Concert Company. He had been a solo tenor at Westminster Abbey during much of the 1890s, but his career is primarily associated with Australia. In 1901, following a tour of South Africa, Branscombe assembled the Westminster Glee Party and toured the Commonwealth performing a repertoire of English part songs, glees, and madrigals. In addition to his role as soloist, he acted as music director, conductor, and arranger.

Unlike Britain where the musical  hall  and  vaudeville  attracted fairly exclusively working-class audiences, the average Australian audience comprised a considerable mix of classes and tastes. Australian theatre was not exclusively preoccupied with bushrangers, convicts and the harsh life of settlers in the outback although they took their rightful place as a reflection of the country’s history. Variety acts and plays from abroad were equally if not more popular than the home-grown product.

Branscombe pioneered the use of open-air venues in Australia with his 1909 season at the Melbourne seaside suburb of St Kilda. Open-air garden theatres were subsequently opened in Brisbane and other state capitals. By 1911, Branscombe had put together a number of troupes under the generic title ‘The Dandies’, the name reflecting the elegant style of costuming and stage decoration. Each troupe, comprising around a dozen performers and a music director/pianist, was distinguished by a colour. Beginning with the Orange Dandies, subsequent companies evolved in the manner of the rainbow to be the Green, Pink, Red, Violet, and Scarlet Dandies.

The Blue Dandies

These companies maintained a significant presence around Australia throughout the First World War, and in this respect played a particularly important role in the country’s cultural development, particularly in the smaller, more far-flung capital cities. They employed more than sixty performers at a time and each troupe had an almost exclusive repertoire of many original songs. They presented new material each season. The performers were experienced, multi-talented professionals from the worlds of music hall, vaudeville, or musical comedy. Eddie was taken on as the music director and pianist of the Violet Dandies for the 1914– 1915 season and the Orange company from 1916–17. The Orange Dandies had orange and black stage decorations and the men in the troupe wore evening suits faced with orange silk. He greatly respected Branscombe’s attention to detail and musical knowledge.

The home of the Brisbane cast was the Cremorne Theatre on the banks of the Brisbane River. The great Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski performed there on his tour of Australia and commented favourably on the musical discrimination of Brisbane audiences.*

Paderewski and a child from the film ‘Moonlight Sonata’

Eddie performed more serious classical works as well as vaudeville accompaniments, some composed by himself. In popular venues such as the Exhibition Gardens in Adelaide he was sometimes restricted to an upright piano by limited stage space. He loved Weber and performed the Invitation to the Dance with vocal accompaniment as well as the Konzertstück in F minor and the Grieg Piano Concerto A minor with his sister Lily (also an excellent pianist) who performed the keyboard reduction of the orchestral parts on a second instrument.

Glittering confections played with his characteristic élan and panache such as the Grand Polka de Concert Op. 1 by the forgotten American composer Homer Newton Bartlett (1845–1920) were tremendously popular. He was born in Olive, New York. A pianist and composer, he was considered one of the finest of American musicians.

*Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860–1941) was a Polish pianist, composer, politician and states- man who battled for Polish independence. He was well known and deeply respected on a global scale for both his musicianship and as a statesman. He was the prime minister and foreign minister of Poland in 1919, and represented Poland at the Paris Peace Conference in the same year.

The fine pianist Harold Bauer, a pupil of Paderewski who performed with Pablo Casals and Fritz Kreisler, was touring Australia early in 1913. He was greatly impressed with Eddie’s playing and encouraged him to study in Paris. The outbreak of war and financial constraints prevented any serious consideration of this idea.

The Brisbane Courier described what an audience might experience in this type of early Australian theatre during the capricious summer weather:

Open-air entertainments are delightful on summer evenings in Brisbane, and the popular ‘Cremorne’ theatre, situated on the river bank, South Brisbane, facing the south-east, and open to the cool breezes, is always a favourite resort. During the cool evenings, and when the weather is threatening or unpropitious, the popular theatre is converted into a huge canvas hall, and completely enclosed in waterproof awnings and side screens which afford protection against inclement weather.

A decisive meeting came about during this happy period when Eddie met the lyric tenor George Brooke (b. 1886), also a performer with the Violet and Orange Dandies. Eddie was very taken with his superb voice and together they performed English art songs, German Lieder and in particular Negro spirituals of which George was particularly fond. He had studied singing in Melbourne under a Professor Frederick Beard. The British minstrel show was enormously popular in Australia at this time and the more artistic and spiritual forms of its expression were greatly appreciated by ‘cultured’ audiences. In a broadcast for the BBC in the 1930s Eddie reminisced about his first meeting with George Brooke:

George Brooke (1886-1930)

‘I met my fate in the person of George Brooke. He became my partner in every musical venture, and my life-long friend. He had previously been a clerk in a bank but found it so desperately boring he decided to pursue his dream of being a singer.  I had gone over to Manly one warm summer evening to see the Dandy Show. There were about a dozen performers in the company which appeared to be a very popular one.

†Harold Bauer (1873–1951), a notable pianist born in Kingston upon Thames to a German father (a violinist) and an English mother.

‡ Brisbane Courier, 22 September 1917, p. 12.

But George Brooke the singer was even then the star attraction of the show. A man with expressive dark eyes and a smile that disclosed teeth of dazzling whiteness, he was noticeable on the platform by a certain aloofness, an expression almost of boredom, when he was not actually singing. The moment he opened his mouth he appeared to become another person, and seemed to exert on his audience, quite without effort, an extraordinary personal magnetism.

The atmosphere of the crowded audience changed imperceptibly as he sang his first number. People sat silent, attentive, not a dress rustling, not a cough or movement. He sang a simple ballad The Empty Nest. Another artist might have rendered it sugary sweet, an ordinary song. This young man lifted it into the realm of true art. I knew then he was destined for greater things than a Dandy show. It was not long now before I was in the same show playing for Brooke, and this was the beginning of a great partnership that lasted until his untimely death.

George, although he knew as well as I did, that he ‘had the goods’ was always more apathetic in business than I was and it was becoming more and more the rule between us for me to be the battling member of the firm. That was the difference in our respective temperaments. It has always been my way to rush in where angels fear to tread, but George was more of the ‘live and let live’ type. ‘Leave it to Ed’ in business matters was his slogan. He had less sense of money than anyone I ever knew. I have even known him to start out to do our household marketing with a five pound note returning with five pounds in change and an armful of purchases! ‘Why worry?’ was his motto and yet strange to say, he was wonderfully accurate and painstaking in things of real importance he wanted to carry through. It was always left to Brooke to look after the cash. In the job he was quite in his element, never made a mistake in the reckoning and never lost sight of it until it was safely in the bank.’

You can hear a rare recording by Edward Cahill’s musical partner George Brooke of My Love Parade from the American musical comedy film The Love Parade and Peasant Love Song from the film Married in Hollywood – Columbia Records 1928
(Permission from the National Sound & Film Archive Australia)

https://app.box.com/s/kxs7e8cfnn8bywz1flw33xh3618lfkh1

Another consequential moment occurred early in 1915 in Adelaide on one of their earliest Australian tours with the Dandies when Eddie and George met Dame Nellie Melba.*

*Dame Nellie Melba (1861–1931) was an Australian operatic lyric soprano of incalculable fame and renown in her day. She became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian period performing for Royalty across Europe, the Tsar of All the Russias and Leo Tolstoy. She was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician and became a household name. She actively supported her compatriots, like Eddie and George, if she felt that they, as she put it rather bluntly, ‘had the goods’.

Dame Nellie Melba in ‘La Traviata’.
Eddie was one of her protégées

Eddie continues in a broadcast reminiscence:

‘The diva at that time was giving a series of concerts in the Exhibition Building – a great barn of a place – in whose pleasant gar- dens our own show was also holding a season in the open air.

We frequently said to one another ‘What a bit of luck it would be for us if we could induce Melba to hear our work.’ The idea grew to be a sort of superstition in our minds. If Melba would hear us and approve, all would be well. I remember the clock striking 12 on the night when we finally sealed a letter containing our request to Melba to give us a private audition and I said to Brooke ‘Surely that is a good omen for us.’ George was just as keen on the idea as me, but, as usual I did all the talking!’

Next morning we were summoned to Government House, where Melba was staying as the guest of Lady Galway.* I had heard Melba sing. How can I describe her voice? To me it was as sparkling as silver. There was a coolness about it. It is almost impossible to describe the beauty of it. I can never forget that haunting white quality, or should I say that perfection of tone in Salce, Salce the Willow Song sung by Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello. Meeting her face to face on such an important mission was a very different matter. We knew of her erratic temperament, her moods, her sudden likes and dislikes, How would she act towards us?

Punctually at the appointed time Melba came into the drawing room with that quick, forceful step of hers that was so characteristic. We had heard from Lady Galway that Melba was exhausted under the strain of the previous night’s concert, but there was no evidence of it in her appearance. She immediately asked us to begin. I played one of my favourite works, the dramatic Bach-Tausig Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Brooke sang the German Lieder that he loved so well. Before Melba had spoken we both felt she was interested in our work. In her abrupt, spontaneous way she asked me to also play some work at two of her concerts.

As we were about to leave she said ‘Always keep something in reserve. Never give the public all you have.’ This of course was of great value to me as a professional pianist.

* Lady Galway (1876–1963), Marie Carola Franciska d’Erlanger, was a Baroness and the only daughter of the Irish Baronet Sir Rowland Blennerhassett and Countess Charlotte Julia de Leyden, a biographer and historian from Bavaria. She married Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Lionel Galway, KCMG, DSO (1859–1949) who was the spectacularly controversial Governor of South Australia from April 1914 until April 1920. During the Great War the Governor stirred up resentment against Australians of German descent despite the fact his wife was half German.

Subsequently Melba said to Brooke ‘You must both go to London after this terrible war is settled. Better to be a lamp post in London than a star in Australia.’ Naturally this gave us great heart. Melba had enormous strength of character. The Queenslander newspaper commented on the success abroad of Percy Grainger. Of the re- mark made by Madame Melba the paper observed ‘Paderewski is still on the throne, but the world is wide, and there is plenty of room and reward for pianists of exceptional quality.

When the time came she promised to give us letters of introduction to her manager in London and something special to my heart, a letter of introduction to the great Russian pianist Vladimir de Pachmann.* At the time he was considered one of the greatest Chopin interpreters in the world. I always likened Melba to a Roman Emperor.’

Performing with George he found it easier to calm his nervous tension. Described as ‘bright, alert, happy and breezy in speech, quite modest in regard to his attainments but an enthusiastic music lover’he occasionally and surprisingly suffered stage fright. They gave many concerts as a duo all over Australia  to great acclaim   in addition to their Dandies contract. The ‘sharing’ of musical discoveries rather than ‘presenting’ music would be the source of their continuing popularity. Their work with the Dandies helped them achieve a remarkable balance in skillful programme design within a variety of musical genres. A Schumann Novelette or the Chopin Grande Valse Brillante might jostle surprisingly well with the popular and stirring Maori song Waiata Poi; a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody may follow a Negro spiritual; serious Schubert Lieder or Puccini operatic arias hold hands with charming salon piano pieces by the largely forgotten composers such as Cécile Chaminade‡, Amilcare Zanella§ or Benjamin Godard.

* The Russian pianist Vladimir de Pachmann (1848–1933) was regarded as one of the greatest pianists of his day and considered by his public as the greatest interpreter of Cho- pin. He was possessed of extraordinary eccentricities during performances, often engaging the audience verbally, describing how he was playing, even praising himself lavishly and audibly in mid-piece. ‘Excellent Pachmann!’

Prahran Telegraph, 5 February 1916, p. 4.

‡ Cécile Chaminade (1857–1944) was a now largely forgotten French composer who had an extremely successful career performing her own works with inimitable Parisian chic and panache.

§ Amilcare Zanella (1873–1949) was an Italian composer and pianist who became famous in Argentina and later Director of the Conservatoire at Parma and then later a renowned musical figure at Pesaro on the Adriatic coast of Italy.

Not all the reviews were glowing (‘Mr Cahill’s fingers work faster than his feelings. He necessarily was not so successful where a deep note of feeling has to be sounded, but in others he was delightful … Mr Brooke also is too obvious in his intentions’, wrote the rather mean-spirited music critic of The Argus in Melbourne in November 1917). It was slowly becoming clear that if their star was to rise, a period of ‘study overseas’, preferably in London, would be the next sensible step.

Eddie was a neurasthenic individual, super-sensitive to criticism, and towards the end of 1917 had a complete nervous breakdown. This was the first of a number he suffered throughout his life that hints at a manic-depressive personality or bi-polar disorder. The source of his anxiety was perhaps only partly the result of his fear of audience and critical reaction to  his  playing. There was the prolonged guilt associated with not enlisting and grim apprehensions for his brother fighting at the front. As my researches deepened I began to wonder about his sexual orientation. In this censorious time it may have given him worsening inner conflicts. Certainly he was afflicted with what is now known as ‘free-floating anxiety’, generalized worry out of all proportion to the risk. Anxiety was the first inherited familial aspect of his personality I noticed in myself.

It was thought by the Dandy company that Eddie would need to give up the concert stage for at least a year. However, being a resilient personality and at base a bubbling optimist, he turned matters to his advantage, even attracting a fee for a newspaper testimonial praising the manufacturers of Elliott’s Beef, Iron and Malted Wine which apparently restored him to mental health ‘I am back at my piano again and now feel as ever I was. Your wonderful tonic is a real ‘pick me up’ saving me weeks of illness.’ So well in fact that he gave a ‘heartily applauded’ charity concert for the State War Council’s Appeal Fund at the Town Hall in Melbourne in March 1918.

The Armistice with Germany was signed on 11 November 1918. Eddie and George were suffering chronic financial need and cast about them for further opportunities. Eddie had become deeply depressed over the deaths in a single year of his brother James from influenza and his beautiful sister Mary, beloved for her selflessness, from acute rheumatism. A sense of mortality now lay heavy upon him. Unemployment was a chronic immediate post-war problem in a land hoping to become in the words of the British Prime Minister Lloyd George, ‘fit for heroes’.

Now that the war seemed to be haltingly drawing to a close they decided to leave the Dandies and take the risk of setting up alone as the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party. An account of a concert in the Brisbane Daily Standard of April 1917 indicates initial difficulties:

The Centennial Hall on Saturday night was too small to accommodate the enthusiastic audience that greeted them. The need for a decent hall for this class of entertainment was never so apparent as on this occasion. The promoters did their best to hide the ‘dinginess’, but were powerless to eliminate the noise of clicking billiard balls and roisterers in the backyard adjoining the hall. A tin of rubbish and offal made its presence felt in the outside passage until a soldier volunteered to remove it. Apart from these disadvantages the acoustic properties for vocalists are bad.

After a generally successful Australian tour (where the Moonlight Sonata was usually considered the high point) the primary critical observation, apart from their exhibition of great talent and attracting insistent encores, was that their immense popularity stemmed from ‘playing to suit the tastes of lovers of all classes of music’. Not all was cherry blossom. Classical music critics called for more seriousness from Eddie and more spontaneity from George. Yet most agreed on their tremendous musical promise. It was widely considered that Eddie would become one of the greatest pianists Australia had produced since Percy Grainger.

They were soon engaged by the famous Canadian impresario Frederick Shipman, who managed the tours of such stars as the Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba and the Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler. He planned an unprecedented tour by Western classical musicians of India and the Southeast Asia…..

Installment 3

Chapter 2

Of Maharajas and Palaces

Scroll down for Preface, Prologue and Installments 1&2

It was my songs that taught me all the lessons I ever learnt.

The beautiful, spiritual face of Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali

Frederick Shipman harboured immense ambition for the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party. He conceived the longest musical concert tour of the Southeast Asia and India ever attempted by Europeans. Over a period of more than a year, at times together with the operatic soprano Rita Erle (formerly Rita Kirkpatrick) and lyric soprano Miss Josie Westaway (the beautiful young soloist of St Mary’s Cathedral choir Sydney), they would tour India, the Philippine Islands, Siam (Thailand), Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Kashmir and Burma (Myanmar). In late September 1919 after a lavish farewell party thrown by Miss Westaway at her parents’ home, they embarked on the SS Montoro, a comfortable passenger vessel that plied between Australia, India, Java and Singapore. The paper streamers connecting them to friends and relations stretched taut and snapped. A great adventure lay ahead.

Edward Cahill at 25 before the beginning of the Far Eastern Tour
SS Montoro

Their first taste of the exotic East came unexpectedly in Darwin itself as they were marooned there for three dull weeks waiting for a passage. In 1919 Darwin was an unprepossessing town  prone to periodic destruction by cyclones. Unemployed Chinese, Europeans and Japanese lolled in the stifling heat. Bullock carts and camel trains passed lethargically along the wide streets while the occasional bean seed planter in a white sola topi and tropical suit emerged onto a wooden balcony. The evening before they sailed, an excited Eddie and George gave a concert using an ancient piano in a dilapidated ‘concert hall’.

Stokes Hill Wharf - Wikiwand
Stokes Hill Wharf, Darwin cir.1920

The voyage was smooth and uneventful, the gentle thrum of the engines reassuring, the movement of air on deck refreshing during velvet tropical nights. Their first appearance in ‘the East’ en route to India was at the imposing Victoria Theatre in Singapore for two nights on 22 October and 24 October. A few months before their arrival a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles had been erected before the tall signature clock tower to celebrate the centenary of the founding of Singapore.* They then sailed on to Bangkok for a brief appearance while the ship took on stores and cargo. Reviews of these concerts appear not to have survived. They would give further performances on the return voyage to Australia after their extended tour of India. After reaching the Bay of Bengal some hundred miles from Calcutta (Kolkata) Port, a highly skilled and immaculately dressed pilot boarded the ship with his assistant. He guided the ship through the swift and treacherous currents of the Hooghly (Hugli) River past the ruins of a Portuguese Fort to the berth at Diamond Harbour. Kipling described it as ‘the most dangerous river on earth’ with channels swollen with ‘the fat silt of the fields’. Eddie and George were taken by car from here to the Grand Hotel. They would perform their first recital of the tour at the dazzlingly white imperial Calcutta Club.

Automobiles parked along once-fabled Chowringhee Road where the pleasure seekers went. Firpo’s restaurant and night club was one of the best anywhere, and adjacent to it is Grand Hotel, still synonymous with luxury. In the distance is a tower of the sprawling Whiteaway Laidlaw, a famous department store, now an LIC property named Metropolitan Building. The pavements of Chowringhee have been appropriated by hawkers and Firpo’s is now a market.

Calcutta (Kolkata), known as the ‘City of Palaces’ had been the colourful and exotic capital of the East India Company and British Raj for over a hundred years. The imposing Calcutta Club had been founded in 1907 by Lord Minto successor to Lord Curzon as Viceroy of India§. Minto, a keen hunter (his shooting party bagged 4,919 inedible sand grouse in two days in 1906), once commented in a burst of imperial pride ‘The Raj will not disappear in India as long as the British race remains what it is …’. Wandering about in the enervating heat they admired Dalhousie Square (the present Benoy-Badal-Dinesh Bagh), the classically columned administrative centre of the city and the former headquarters of the East India Company.

*Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781–1826) was a British statesman most famous for his founding of Singapore on 6 February 1819. His legacy lives on along with his name.

‘An Unqualified Pilot’ from Rudyard Kipling Land and Sea Tales (London 1923), p. 35.

‡ Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 4th Earl of Minto (1845–1914) Viceroy of India 1905–10.

§ George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (1859–1925) was the pre-eminent Viceroy of India 1899–1905.

Like many young men of the day, the most Eddie and George knew of the city (and perhaps of the entire country) was that notorious myth of Empire, the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’.

The Black Hole Of Calcutta, In Which Drawing by Mary Evans Picture Library

Eddie was enraptured by the former capital and its extensive parks. They strolled through the hazy European Quarter along wide avenues of classical Palladian architecture. The  Royal Botanic Gardens, perhaps the finest in the Empire, were situated on the opposite bank of the Hooghly River. They admired the Great Banyan, traveller palms, mangoes, feathery casuarinas and mahogany. At the entrance to Government House a monumental classical arch was crowned with a British lion, its paw possessively resting on a globe in a statement of invincibility.

File:Government House, Calcutta in the 1860s (01).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Government House (Raj Bhavan), Calcutta (Kolkata)
Government House – Gateway, Calcutta, 1865 – PURONOKOLKATA
Gateway to Government House (Raj Bhavan), Calcutta (Kolkata)
The Raj Bhavan (Government House), Kolkata, India, by Charles Wyatt
The Throne Room, Government House (Raj Bhavan), Calcutta (Kolkata)

They explored the poor areas and dusty markets, the air beguiling them with spices and the aroma of rich roasting coffee.

It was a particularly sensitive time for a concert party to be touring India. By the time of their visit cracks in the edifice of imperial domination had inexorably begun to widen. The storm clouds of Indian nationalism were gathering. The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party had arrived to entertain but the Anglo–Indian administrators were teetering on the brink of profound change.* Ghandi had transformed the Indian National Congress into a powerful force demanding home rule. Our entertainers had sailed into a fraught political atmosphere.

Both Eddie and George believed that audiences wished primarily to be amused, women being far more sympathetic to music than men. This would certainly have been the case in colonial India. British men were judged on their preference for ‘hard bodily exercise’, their ability to ride, hunt game, show skill at pig-sticking, shoot and talk about tigers. These jungle wallahs preferred ‘knocking about in stained brown raiment’ and waking up for breakfast in virgin undergrowth to listening to classical music. When the blunt Irish-born Viceroy Sir John Lawrence learned that one benighted Civilian had brought a piano out to India he swore to ‘smash it’ for him.

*In the nineteenth and early twentieth century the term ‘Anglo–Indian’ was defined by the OED as ‘Of mixed British and Indian parentage, of Indian descent but born or living in Britain, or (chiefly historical) of British descent or birth but living or having lived long in India’.

† Sir John Lawrence (1811–79) was a British statesman who served as Viceroy of India 1864–69.

‡ Members of the Indian Civil Service were known as ‘Civilians’.

However, scattered among the prospective audience were the Collectors and Civilians of the Imperial bureaucracy.* They were the minority of cultured Oxford men, some even intellectuals, who read Plato, Horace and Homer whilst in India. Some studied and made significant contributions to knowledge of the languages and ethnography of the subcontinent. Most contributed significantly to advancing the infrastructure in India, ruling by a curious mixture of discipline, military might and moral force.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is calcuttaclub-anirbanmitra.jpg
The Calcutta (Kolkata) Club

The Calcutta Club concerts were highly successful (discounting the wayward tuning of the piano) with many encores being enthusiastically demanded. As well as performing his usual Liszt rhapsodies,  Chopin  polonaises  and  nocturnes,  Eddie  realized  it was close to Christmas. Many in the audience were separated  by their colonial duties from the comforting drawing room fires and festive cheer of ‘Home’. To conclude the classical section of his concerts Eddie performed the novelty piece ‘Trinity Chimes’ by the American composer Walter Decker. In this astonishing piece ‘Silent Night’ alternates with ‘Come All Ye Faithful’ in the bell-like upper registers of the piano, the charm and amusement of which was augmented by George ringing hand bells. This reminder of an English Christmas was rapturously received.

A period cartoon of Edward Cahill at the piano, Calcutta (Kolkata) 1920

*A ‘Collector’ was a principal position in the executive branch of the Indian Government (Indian Administrative Service).

                                                                                       * * *

A long train journey hugging the coast of  the  Bay  of  Bengal  took them through heat and dust to Madras (Chennai) on the Coramandel Coast, the landscape a mixture of palms, lagoons and white beaches. The climate of Madras was debilitating so the city was not a popular posting. The new, large capacity Wellington Cinema in the suburb of Tana welcomed them for a week-long season. Eddie received glowing reviews praising his musical temperament ‘which enables him to give interpretations of compositions which are full of expression, which seek to convey the meaning the composer intended to convey.’ He was forced  to perform on an indifferent baby grand piano with sweating, slippery fingers. The Madras Times wrote: ‘The chief praise must undoubtedly be given to Mr Cahill. He played magnificently, and the memory of at least one item, Zanella’s Minuetto will remain with us for a very long time.’* Eddie also played the Moonlight Sonata, the famous Rachmaninoff Prelude in G minor and some minor salon works of his own composition.

Wellington theatre Mount Road | Vintage photographs, Historical photos, Old  pictures
Wellington Theatre, Madras (Chennai) cir. 1930

*The Tempo di Minuetto No. 1 Op. 29.

                                                                                        * * *

A week-long season in Bangalore (Bengaluru) left them exhausted.

Bangalore 1900

The company were lodged in the fine West End Hotel. In the city Cubbon Park was named Rotten Row in a nostalgic reference to London’s fashionable ride in Hyde Park. Eddie was far more of a mannered aesthete than George and enjoyed what  he  called ‘the charm and extravagance of imperial life’. The  heat  and  exotic atmosphere excited his libido as he picnicked with ladies in Meade’s Park and listened to imperial military bands. George found the English rulers pretentious and often refused to accept formal invitations to white tie dinner parties. The need to adapt to English colonial manners soon led to frayed tempers. In addition a platonic romance seemed to be blossoming between Eddie and ‘the particularly charming’ soprano Josie Westaway. George sang duets with her and discovered his own heart similarly engaged. This lead to the boys leading rather separate social lives.

Bamboo Island & Cubbon Park Bangalore - Old Postcard 1905 - Past-India

The testimonials from Dame Nellie Melba gave them carte blanche to the highest cultural circles. Eddie was praised for possessing ‘the characteristic modesty of a true artist’. George was praised for the adventurous variety of his songs ranging from Schubert Lieder to Negro spirituals. In an interview he commented that as artists they wished to attract the casual lover of music, ‘the one who says he knows nothing about it but just likes it.’

                                                                                     * * *

The pleasantly mild winter weather continued until the end of January 1920. The steam locomotive of the Guaranteed State Railway Company pulled into the largely deserted fortress-like railway station at Secunderabad carrying the concert party to their next engagement. This small town, founded as a British cantonment at the turn of the eighteenth century, is separated from its better known twin sister Hyderabad by beautiful Lake Hussain Sagar.*

*A cantonment was a permanent military station.

Secunderabad at the turn of the century

Eddie and George performed at the Secunderabad Club, one of the five oldest clubs in India and at that time reserved exclusively for British officers and their wives and families. Enthusiasm greeted what was clearly an ‘event to pass the weary hours’. After the concert the audience clamoured for a return of the touring company. The local paper wrote pointedly

‘As a rule touring parties that come to small stations like ours are attended only by people who can think of nothing else to do or dinner parties the hostesses of which do not feel able to entertain their guest after the meal. This was not the case on Monday.’

Secunderabad Club - Wikipedia
The Secunderabad Club cir.1920

The travelling concert party were almost living on trains breathing in gritty smoke for hours. From Secunderabad they travelled on a narrow gauge railway into the thankfully cool nights of Poona (Pune). Pune is situated in Maharashtra at the confluence of the Mutha and Mula rivers, occupying a strategic position on the trade routes between the Deccan and the Arabian Sea. Poona was one of the best rest stations in India because of the climate, the gymkhana, the charming balls and ‘jolly regattas’ celebrated on the river.

Main Street, Poona (Pune)

The concert party performed at the weatherboard Gymkhana before a mixed audience of graceful ladies and stiff military officers. The ‘Poona Season’ began in June so they had arrived at an unfashionable time. Eddie worried about an initially ‘deep silence’ that reigned after each item. Society in Poona was rather straight-laced at any time but at the conclusion the audience erupted into ‘tumultuous applause’. The concerts were reviewed as ‘a musical treat of a very high order.’

Gymkhana High Resolution Stock Photography and Images - Alamy
The Gymkhana, Poona (Pune)

Eddie was curious to explore the other side of town, the alternative world of their ‘official’ engagements. The Imperial Poona lifestyle was in shocking contrast to the indigenous area, still locked into the Peshwa era. He noticed no broad roads here, simply unsealed tracks, numerous Hindu temples, a labyrinth of suffocating alleys and lanes swirling with dust and dirt. Stinking latrines were placed at the entrance to houses for the convenience of the sewage collectors creating terrible discomfort to those entering or leaving the dwellings. At night a shattered collection of kerosene lamps gave fitful illumination to the human shadows that flitted past seeking the safety of home.

                                                                                     * * *

From Poona to Bombay (Mumbai) was but a  short  distance.  They experienced a certain ‘Grandeur of Arrival’ at The Victoria Terminus, an imposing Venetian Gothic Revival building enlivened by exuberant Indian decoration.

Victoria Terminus (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) Mumbai (Bombay)

They were taken by horse-drawn carriage to the extraordinary Watson’s Esplanade Hotel, the grandest in the city. Poverty and wealth lay in close proximity; beautiful women and tall athletic men gave a theatrical atmosphere to street life.

Watson's Hotel, Bombay.
Watson’s Esplanade Hotel, Mumbai (Bombay)
The finest hotel in Bombay” now lies in a shambles | Condé Nast Traveller  India
Watsons Esplanade Hotel, Mumbai (Bombay)

Watson’s Hotel had been fabricated in wrought and cast iron by the Phoenix Foundry Company in Derby, shipped out and assembled on a wide Esplanade. One writer referred to the skeleton of the exceptional structure ‘like a huge birdcage had risen like an exhalation from the earth.* The floors were of precious teak, mahogany and Minton tiles. There was a central atrium with a restaurant, drapers, tailoring shops, drawing rooms and billiard rooms located below the hotel accommodation.

*James Douglas, Bombay and Western India: A Series of Stray Papers, 2 vols, 1893, vol. 1, p. 218.

The hotel was the first pre-skyscraper, multi-storey habitable building in the world in which all loads, including those of the brick curtain walls, were carried on an iron frame. Eddie and George took small rooms in the upper story reserved for ‘bachelors and quasi-single gentlemen’. The reception cannot have been so different for them than when Mark Twain stayed at the hotel at the turn of the twentieth century. He described his own arrival at Watson’s in his wonderfully prolix travelogue entitled  Following the Equator:

‘The lobbies and halls were full of turbaned, and fez’d and embroidered, cap’d, and barefooted, and cotton-clad dark natives, some of them rushing about, others at rest squatting, or sitting on the ground; some of them chattering with energy, others still and dreamy; in the dining-room every man’s own private native servant standing behind his chair, and dressed for a part in the Arabian Nights …*

The Times of India, 14 February 1870, p. 2.

*Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Round the World (Hartford, Connecticut 1897), p. 348.

Kipling fictionalized the hotel in two of his stories.

The first concerts Eddie and George gave were at the Bombay Gymkhana, originally a cricket pavilion that had grown into an exclusive club for British officers. After their evening and lunchtime concerts, which were extremely popular, they would relax, sip their Pimm’s or take a ‘peg’ of whiskey and watch a cricket match from the spacious veranda. Fans revolved lethargically in the high wooden ceilings. Their customary mixed musical program was ‘ferociously applauded’.

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Bombay (Mumbai) Gymkhana

The Bombay Advocate wrote that the customarily decorous audience were given to ‘enthusiastic cheers mingled with outbursts of applause when Mr Edward Cahill, the talented Australian pianist, finished his second number’. The response bordered on an actual ovation by the colonial ‘men of action’ normally bored to tears by piano playing. George was considered to have a ‘fine platform appearance’ and ‘a limpid quality of tone and fine phrasing’. Xaver Scharwenka’s spirited Polish Dances were tremendously popular, as was the Miserere scene from Il Travatore. As well as Chopin polonaises, Eddie repeated the novelty piece ‘Trinity Chimes’ with George once again enthusiastically setting to on hand bells. The nostalgia thus evoked almost brought down the house. They had also been secured for a long run of performances at the magnificent and relatively new Royal Opera House, the interior adorned with crystal chandeliers, precious marbles, cane seating and behind the stalls, rows of boxes with notorious couches.

The Bombay Chronicle perceptively noted that ‘Mr Cahill tries to arrange his programs that it may have a crescendo of interest, and by arousing the imagination to appeal to the casual theatre-goer as well as the trained musician.’ The hall was crowded to hear his ‘renowned singing tone’ in a selection of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words and to appreciate his lightness and elegance in the Andante and Rondo capriccioso. They leapt to their feet after the dramatic and popular Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No.12.‘His mastery of the piano suggests genius rather than talent. He is destined to become famous.’ Eddie commented on the intense musicality of the large number of Bombay Parsis who patronized their concerts, one family attending eighteen performances and following them to other points of call around the country.*

† A ‘peg’ was a miniature jug for a measure of alcoholic drink in colonial India. Also known as a chota-peg.

*The Parsis are an ancient minority Persian Zoroastrian racial group who fled religious persecution in Iran in the 10th century to settle in India, mainly in Bombay. They were particularly loyal to Britain during the period of Empire and their outstanding character qualities, moral stature and advanced culture were greatly respected by the imperial powers. The conductor Zubin Mehta is and the popular singer Freddie Mercury was a Parsi.

                                                                                           * * *

The Viceroy at the time of their visit to Jaipur was the much decorated Frederic Thesiger, 1st Viscount Chelmsford, ‘a lofty patrician with a Merovingian disdain for interference in any business at all and a man in the hands of his own officials. He had been a controversial Governor of Queensland from 1905–9 before being appointed Viceroy by George V in 1916. The soundness of his judgment was often called into question. Despite the grandeur and power of their position, the Viceroys were not always from the absolute top flight of administrative British talent. The enormous Rajputana Agency area was referred to disparagingly in personal letters as the ‘Great Sloth Belt’. The concert party had been invited to give a single concert of classical music before the Maharajah of Jaipur, HH Maharajadhiraja Sir Madho Singh II§. The Viceroy also communicated a wish to hear the Queensland pianist. This was the first occasion the music of Chopin had been performed before Maharajas.

† Frederic John Napier Thesiger, 1st Viscount Chelmsford (1868–1933), Viceroy of India 1916–1921.

‡ Nigel Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer (London 2005), p. 324.

§ HH Maharajadhiraja Sir Madho Singh II (1880–1922).

An adopted son of the Maharaja HH Ram Singh (1835–80), HH Madho Singh II was a just and progressive ruler. He extended the superb Rambagh Palace to lavishly accommodate guests. It had its own polo field attached to the pleasure gardens. Lord Curzon had a particular respect for this ruler who had made an historic visit to England in 1902 to attend the coronation of King Edward VII, now Emperor of India. Mounted Indian colonial troops had made the event into a superb pageant. To accommodate his orthodox Hindu lifestyle he chartered an entire P & O liner modified to include a temple to Krishna. Master silversmiths had cast two vast polished gangajalis (water containers) from some 14,000 silver coins filled with hundreds of gallons of sacred Ganges water for drinking and bathing while abroad.

May be an image of monument and text that says "A vintage photograph of the Rambagh Palace"
A vintage photograph of the Rambagh Palace Hotel

For their first concert in overwhelmingly sumptuous surroundings, the Maharajah sent two Sunbeam motorcars to collect the concert party. For the second concert he dispatched a richly caparisoned elephant. When entering the palace by motorcar they had wondered at the imposing gate what appeared to be a doorbell mounted high above the ground. Seated in the opulent howdah perched on the back of the elephant its high placement became clear.

A Royal elephant flanked by guards awaits the Marharaja 1929

The Maharaja, as Eddie noted, festooned in ‘more precious jewels, pearls and priceless fabrics than I have ever seen in my entire life’ appreciated the performance.

Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh.jpg
The Maharaja of Jaipur before whom Eddie and George performed

George almost caused a serious incident of etiquette before they began to perform by investigating in a mood of vague curiosity what was behind the Purdah Curtain in the Durbar Hall. The private secretary to the Maharaja rushed across preventing the cultural calamity of George gazing upon the ruler’s wives concealed there to hear the concert. Eddie and George in wonderment finally rested in the palace as honoured guests, touring and admiring the beauty of this princely city with its pink sandstone palaces and beautiful gardens.

jaipur street 1926
Street scene Jaipur with the famous pink buildings (Gervais Courtellemont)

                                             * * * * * * * * * * *

Installment 4

Chapter 2

Of Maharajas and Palaces

Scroll down for Preface, Prologue and Installments 1, 2 & 3

By the end of March 1920 the weather was heating up to an uncomfortable degree and the company were pleased to learn that after an unnoticed concert they gave in New Delhi, their next point of call would be the cool, pleasure-loving hill station of Mussoorie.

Rudyard Kipling wrote of Mussoorie in Kim:

‘Who goes to the hills goes to his mother.’

Under the great ramp to Mussoorie he drew together as an old hunter faces a well-remembered bank, and where he should have sunk exhausted swung his long draperies about him, drew a deep double-lungful of diamond air, and walked as only a Hillman can. Kim, plains-bred and plains-fed, sweated and panted astonished.

As summer strengthened rendering the plains a sweltering crucible, the British, especially the women, fled the relentless heat like migrant birds. They settled in the clubs, hotels and rented houses of the hill stations of the Punjab from April to the end of June. Many single girls in optimistic and party mood were ‘fishing’ for a suitable aristocratic sun-burnished officer on leave when they made the two thousand metre ascent to beautiful Mussoorie, the ‘Queen of the Hills’. The husbands were abandoned to ‘do their lofty duty’ and baked on the plains while their wives adopted a young ‘bow-wow’ for the duration.* Mussoorie had a ‘rather naughty’ reputation for theatricals and loose moral behaviour. Here individualism was allowed a freer rein than the more famous and ‘proper’ Simla, the official summer capital ironically known as ‘The Abode of the Little Tin Gods’.

Mussoorie | Mussoorie, Tourist spots, Uttarakhand
Mussoorie 1920
The Mall, Mussoorie, 1920

The variety of its scenery and spectacular views marked it out from other hill stations. Mussoorie had two breweries, a polo field, a small golf course and at the glamorous centre of social gatherings, the Himalaya Club and the Happy Valley Club. Anglo–Indian bungalows, decorated with hanging baskets of sweet peas and geraniums, were named with nostalgic Englishness Holly Mount or Rosemary Cottage. At Stiffles Restaurant the tables overflowed onto the summer pavements. The restaurant had once catered for the visit of the Princess of Wales, later to become Queen Mary. Balls, dinners, theatricals and  tea  parties  attracted  all  manner  of respectable and louche aristocracy. Lovers languished in the exoticism of the East longing for leave. Maharajas built summer residences in the guise of French chateaux.

Maharaja of Kapurthala’s chateau (far left) seen from the gorge near Wild Flower Hall, Benares 1920
Kempty Falls, Mussoorie 1920

The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party were in great demand as by the early 1920s the hill station had become the epitome of the ‘roaring twenties’ in India. Dance teachers of German origin conducted classes on the finer points of ballroom dancing. After travelling by train from Delhi to Dehra Dún, the concert party were taken up the serpentine road to the main town by tonga. Fragile railings were the only barrier against terrifyingly precipitous drops. The first motorcar only managed to reach Mussoorie in 1920.

The Savoy Hotel – Agatha Christie used the circumstances of a murder here in her first novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles

They stayed at the fashionable Savoy Hotel, a place with a certain ‘reputation’. The American writer Lowell Thomas, who spent several weeks with Lawrence of Arabia in the deserts of Palestine, visited Mussoorie in 1926 during his extensive travels in India. In his book The Land of the Black Pagoda he wrote of what became known as the ‘separation bell’ at the Savoy. He laconically observed:

‘There is a hotel in Mussoorie where they ring a bell just before dawn so that the pious may say their prayers and the impious get back to their own beds.’

*A ‘bow-wow’ was an admirer who with the greatest rectitude would do all those little tasks a colonial lady so often required – fetching, carrying, standing on attendance for wants and needs, dealing with Indian tradesmen, providing company and status at afternoon tea, balls, soirees and so on.

† A romantic horse-drawn carriage.

* * *

The parents of many British children were not sufficiently well   off to send them to public school in England. Mussoorie had an equable climate, crystalline air and was more easily accessible than many hill stations. As a result many fine boarding schools opened to satisfy this demand for education. The teachers were recruited in England and the first students were mainly the daughters of British officers.

Some music students and staff at the Woodstock School. Mussoorie

The concert party had been invited to perform at Woodstock School, which at that time functioned as a finishing school for well- bred young ladies. Since its foundation in 1854, excellence in music had been a priority and the students and their guests were highly appreciative of Eddie’s mastery of the piano.* The  programme was similar to others on the tour but Chopin’s so-called ‘Military’ Polonaise was a particular hit together with Liszt’s stirring Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Eddie was surprised at their depth of knowledge as they requested specific works by Schumann, Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and even Borodin. George sang Grieg and Schubert songs as well as those of a more religious nature such as ‘Angels Guard Thee’ and ‘Song of Thanksgiving’. Throughout his life Eddie  preserved  great  enthusiasm  for  the talent of the rising generation. The musical education of the young was often at the forefront of his thoughts.

*Woodstock School continues to thrive. In 2021 it had around five hundred pupils from almost thirty different nationalities. It is considered one of the finest schools in India and its music department now has an almost legendary reputation for excellence.

He accompanied this recital with a short detailed talk on each composer and his inspiration in composing the piece. Vain certainly but never an egocentric performer, he cultivated a strong personal interaction with the audience.*

* * *

While wandering Bombay between their concert  engagements, the concert party had witnessed various street disturbances. They had been subject to mysterious personal taunts. They discovered these insults were the direct result of the turbulent atmosphere in the town of Amritsar, some three hundred kilometres distant. The reverberations of an atrocity that had recently occurred there destabilized the entire country and was the catalyst that began the disintegration of the British Empire in India.

The Golden Temple of Amritsar today

The reflection of a golden temple trembled in the breeze on the surface of the lake known as Sarovar (Holy Pool of Immortal Nectar). Turbaned Sikhs in scarlet robes sat cross-legged on carpets in the shade of spreading trees in contemplation and prayer. Eddie was rendered speechless by the sight. More thoughtfully he found it difficult to believe that only a year before, this holy city, the spiritual and cultural heart of the Sikh religion, had witnessed an unparalleled act of savagery.

As Herbert Asquith, former Prime Minister, put it to the Hunter Committee in 1920:

There has never been such an incident in the whole annals of Anglo–Indian history, nor, I believe, in the history of our Empire, from its very inception down to the present day.’

Mounting disorder in the Punjab had been fertilized by the passing of the notorious Rowlatt Act of March 1919 in response  to perceived threats of revolutionary  terrorism.  Suspects  could be imprisoned without trial or legal representation for up to two years. The spectre arose of a repeat of the vicious Indian Mutiny and Cawnpore Massacre of 1857, outrages that were deeply etched into the British imperial psyche.

*I am indebted to Ganesh Saili and his book Mussoorie Medley: Tales from Yesteryear (New Delhi 2010) for my descriptions of old Mussoorie. All the perfumes and spices of India erupted from the wrappers when I unpacked this book from the post in Warsaw.

Hansard: Punjab Disturbances. Lord Hunter’s Committee, HC Deb 8 July 1920, vol. 131.

Opinion | The Massacre That Led to the End of the British Empire - The New  York Times
Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer (1864-1927)

In the face of political activism in Amritsar, the officer in command of the area, the coercive and psychologically unbalanced Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, issued stringent proclamations against public meetings. Any assembly would be fired upon without warning, a proclamation ineffectively communicated to the populace at the time.

By April 1919 British civilians in Amritsar were being subjected to terrorist acts, looting and murders. On the evening of 13 April several thousand Indian men, women and children had assembled for a meeting in a walled open space of the town known as Jallianwalla Bagh. Dyer felt this group posed an unacceptable threat to law and order. He arrived in his Rolls-Royce armoured car (unable to pass through the narrow entrance) together with a small body of carefully selected Gurkha and Pathan troops whom he knew felt little affection for Punjabi civilians. He lined his men up and without prior warning ordered them to open fire on the unarmed crowd. The firing continued uninterrupted for ten to fifteen minutes with panic-stricken knots of people wildly fleeing bullets, unable to escape in any numbers from the enclosed walled field. He ceased firing only when the ammunition ran out, leaving hundreds dead and perhaps a thousand or more wounded.

The Jallianwalla Bagh in 1919, months after the massacre.
The Jallianwalla Bagh in 1919, some months after the massacre

He subsequently imposed a curfew which effectively prevented recovery of the dead, dying and wounded. ‘I thought I would be doing a jolly lot of good and they would realize that they were not to be wicked,’ he commented during the official investigation of the incident. The effects of doing ‘my horrible, dirty duty’ (as Dyer put it when he was relieved of his post) can hardly be overestimated. Huge support was given to Dyer by the British in India, at home and by the Army. This compliance with such savagery alienated Indians previously respectful of British moral prestige. The atrocity galvanized Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. He remarked after the long drawn out official inquiry ‘We do not want to punish General Dyer; we have no desire for revenge; we want to change the system that produces General Dyers.’

‘The Golden Temple Amritsar’ by the American artist Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903)

When Eddie and George arrived in Amritsar to give a concert barely a year later in April 1920, Dyer had just embarked for England in disgrace. A profound legacy of hatred remained and they were justifiably worried about appearing in such a light matter as a classical concert in these volatile surroundings. However exercising a degree of personal courage they ‘soldiered on’ and the evening performance passed off peacefully enough. Those British civilians and officers who attended said it was a welcome emotional release from the ‘trying times’ they were then experiencing.

* * *

A postcard of Jamrud Fort , Khyber Pass

Another long train journey followed through Rawalpindi to ancient Peshawar and the Jamrud Fort on the North-West Frontier at the entrance to the Khyber Pass that connects Afghanistan and Pakistan. While changing trains they noted with alarm a rough placard nailed up at Peshawar station. Eddie copied it into his notebook:

‘Active resistance will crush the viper’s head. Burn their offices, mutilate their railways and telegraphs, induce the police and Army to work with you and slay these dogs of Britain every – where you find them.’

They continued the short journey to the fort in a ‘blue funk’ as Eddie put it. He had read of the perennially imminent Russian threats to British India at this place, the ‘Great Game’ as it was known, but tried rather to concentrate on the music he would play, drumming his fingers on the dusty seat back of the railway carriage.

Khyber Pass Afghanistan/Pakistan -Train & Tunnel (Print #4405461)
Train emerging from a tunnel, Khyber Pass 1920

The line passed through awe-inspiring mountains, tunnels and over bridges and deep culverts. Fierce local Afghan tribesmen perched on the cowcatcher. Eagles swooped and at night the jackals howled. It is scarcely credible that a concert of European classical music was being given in this fortress during the Waziristan campaign surrounded by colourful caravanserai plying the Silk Road. The battered piano in the fort had not been tuned for years and Eddie finally abandoned his solo numbers leaving the floor mainly to George who sang stirring tunes to a gentle accompaniment. The officers and troops were delighted. The soprano Rita Erle had by this time returned to Australia, exhausted by the debilitating heat. Eddie and George continuing the tour as a double act.

* * *

Benares – Goddess Kali on Shiva – Kangra Painting (1800 – 1825)

The red tongue of the Hindu Goddess Kali sprang from her mouth in shame, the black female figure with flailing arms was surrounded by fire. Her powerful eyes skewered one’s heart as she stood on the indigo body of her husband, the Hindu deity Shiva. The image wore a necklace of skulls. The street down which Eddie was walking contained this forbidding mural, a dark and narrow alley littered with refuse and reeking of ordure, dissolution, death and decay yet the nearby bazaars teemed with life and colour. Bright stalls sold a riot of mortuary paraphernalia. Pilgrims wearing perfumed garlands of flowers prayed at tiny wayside shrines or passed in crowded knots seeming to flow like the tide towards the banks of the Ganges, like tributaries of the great river itself. Ascetic holy men (sadhus) were covered in ash with matted, dusty, hennaed locks, long beards and fierce expressions.

A sadhu (ascetic holy man) in Benares (Varanasi)1910
Benares (Varanasi) 1922

By early May 1920 the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party had reached Kashi (Benares or modern Varanasi) the spiritual capital of India, a city associated with death and its transcendence. They had travelled by train for days on the East Indian Railway from Bombay, some 1600 kilometres. This ancient site has produced great writers, thinkers, philosophers and a remarkable school of music, a city famous for its woven cloths and ornate silks. The British writer, photographer and painter Richard Lannoy describes it ‘a state of mind’ rather than a place. The Maharaja of Benares would be their host and they would play Western classical music for him.

Benares (Varanasi) – Ghats 1920

Eddie Cahill was a concert pianist but also a man possessed of  a passion for exploration and insatiably curious about unfamiliar cultures. He drifted through the pungent haze that lay over the city, clambering  down  myriad  steps  through  dizzying  levels  of complexity, passing ornately carved pinnacles of blackened temples, terraces, the bastions of palaces, arcaded blocks, cracked platforms, crumbling walls of brick, pyramids, domes, patios and hanging gardens with withering plants, desiccated leaves fluttering onto filigreed cast-iron balconies. Large grey monkeys skipped about.

Feeding the ‘sacred’ monkeys – Benares (Varanasi)
Bathing Ghats – Benares (Varanasi) – Ganges 1918

Suddenly the Ganges, the colour of old gold, lay before him. Beneath the terraces at the water’s edge a panoply of tattered woven leaf parasols sheltered bathers and Brahmins from the sun. On platforms over the water, men exercised in incredible postures or swung heavy batons. Temple bells mixed with chattering voices. The colours of draped cloth – yellow, mauve, saffron and green – radiated a festive atmosphere of a floral display while clouds of pigeons whirled in spirals. There was a solemnity, even nobility, in the draped figures of women carrying polished brass pots glittering in the sunlight.

‘On The Ganges River, Benares’ (Varanasi) by the American artist Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903)

Early one morning Eddie and George took a boat and glided down the Ganges at sunrise. The entire river bank was thronged with bathers and the river itself dotted with boatmen disposing of remains or ashes. An occasional corpse or dead dog floated past. The water was clearly polluted yet the pilgrims drank of it to purify themselves, believing it miraculous. The panorama reminded Eddie of Arcadian classical paintings by Poussin or Claude, Carthage in ruins. In the evening the shore was lit fitfully with oases of light. These were the Burning Ghats* of Kashi, the most exalted of them being the Ghat of Manikarnika.

The Burning Ghat of Manikarnika near Benares
Benares (Varanasi) Burning Ghats

In a mental state bordering on horror they saw wooden biers, shrouded bodies roped to them then immersed in the Ganges and allowed to dry. A pyre of selected woods was constructed, the body reverently placed upon it and lit with a flaming torch after incantations had been intoned. Waves of heat and smoke carrying the sound and smell of flames devouring flesh rose to the visitors’ viewing towers where they stood. Funeral priests moved through the haze like phantoms, striking the corpses with batons. Eddie was aghast to hear the cracking of the skull with a bamboo pole, to release the soul. They watched the compelling scene with fascination, their inexperienced natures stunned by the sight.

Ramnagar Fort Benares (Varanasi) around 1920

Eddie and George were to perform at the magnificent eighteenth-century Ramnagar Fort before HH Maharajadhiraja Sri Sir Prabhu Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur and his guests. He had been created Maharaja of Benares of the  new  Princely  State  by  the  British in 1911 and had been granted a personal salute of 15 guns. This imposing and exotic red sandstone confection of Hindu and Islamic architecture is situated some fourteen kilometers from Varanasi  on the opposite bank of the river. Monumental walls and bastions reminiscent of crusader castles line the river front. Airy open formal courtyards, fountains and carved arcades adorn the interior spaces.

Prabhu Narayan Singh, Maharaja of Benares (1855-1931) 1903 before whom Eddie and George performed

Chopin was historically performed before the Maharaja for the first recorded time

*A ghat is a defined length of river frontage between some 30–200 yards long. Most are in the form of terraces of steps leading down to the River Ganges. The ‘Burning Ghats’ are those where corpses are cremated.

†Lt. Colonel HH Maharajadhiraja Kashi Naresh Sir Prabhu Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur (1855–1931).

The Maharaja lavished gifts of diamond-encrusted cigarette cases and diamond cuff links upon them and placed his magnificent Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost at their disposal. Early motoring in India was a dramatic activity as they discovered en route to their concert. As the car made its stately progress past bullock carts, their occupants tumbled out in fear onto the road, the animals plunging into nearby ditches at the manic blowing of its klaxon. The ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ wafted past sacred cows and elephants, supplicants before wayside altars, screaming children and colourfully turbaned pilgrims. Dogs fearlessly charged the car head on emerging unscathed from beneath barking wildly in the choking dust. One of the British guests, a Deputy Collector, told them of an elderly Indian woman walking in the middle of the road who was run over and killed by a speeding car carrying the Nizam Mahbub Ali Pasha of Hyderabad. His Highness being troubled by the event sent a generous gift to the family. Observers noticed that from then on whenever the Nizam went driving the road suddenly filled with the elderly poor placed there by impecunious and optimistic relatives.

Thank you Letter from the Maharaja of Benares

The concert was a great success and an historic occasion. They performed in the opulent Durbar Hall within the Maharajah’s palace, a room lined with precious marbles, brocades of silver  and gold, inlaid ivory furniture, a sandalwood throne, crystal chandeliers and tiger skins. For the first time in the history of the palace Eddie performed Chopin (the first time his music had been performed for a Maharaja), Liszt, Beethoven and Chaminade whilst George sang Schubert and Brahms Lieder, English art songs as well as Negro spirituals. A Hindustani late-night raga native to Benares was movingly performed on the sarod, mridangam and tabla at the conclusion of their concert

Installment 5

Chapter 3

‘The East of the ancient navigators’

The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party were exhausted from their Indian tour as they again boarded the SS Montoro in Calcutta bound for a reappearance in Rangoon (Yangon), Bangkok and Singapore on the return voyage to Australia. The tour of India was reported to be one of the most successful ever attempted by Western classical musicians. They looked forward to resting on the  ship  in  the cool sea breezes. However the water was as still as glass, the sky leaden and the air oppressive. The listlessness, irritable moods and lack of sleep engendered in the deep tropics enervated them, yet Eddie enjoyed the sense of impermanence created by travel. It gave him a heightened sense of reality. George, a more grounded personality, often found himself irritated by the closeness and Eddie’s fluctuating moods.

Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon (Rangoon)

Rangoon. The heat, humidity and thunderstorms of May 1920. The opulent Golden or Shwedagon Pagoda nestled among the palms, its pinnacle dominating the skyline of the city from every angle. Somerset Maugham referred to it as the ‘sudden hope in the dark night of the soul’. Eddie wrote in his travel journal of the vibrant colours of the city, crammed to bursting with golden pagodas and Chinese temples:

I feel I have entered a sort of paradise. The Queensland coast is beautiful but the sense of the exotic East is very strong here.The air itself seems perfumed. How Debussy would have loved this place and painted it in impressionistic sound pictures! The refined Burmese dancing girls wear lilac, pink, green and lapis lazuli silks and ornaments. They have a natural elegance of carriage, graceful hand movements and seductiveness imitating mystical birds or guardian spirits, all moving in a manner as beautiful as a musical phrase.’

90 Amazing Myanmar ( Burma ) ideas | myanmar, burma, myanmar (burma)
Burmese (Myanmar) Dancers 1920

During the Calcutta season Josie Westaway had met an admirer, the dashing Captain H.A. Keywood. Unknown to the boys they had become secretly engaged during their appearances in Quetta in Balochistan (now Pakistan). Keywood ardently followed the party to Burma (Myanmar) where the couple were married in Rangoon in a small but picturesque ceremony.

Gymkhana Jive – Taj Mahal Foxtrot
Gymkhana Club Rangoon 1920

Reluctantly the happy party broke off touring the resplendent sights to prepare for the concerts at the Gymkhana Club. The Rangoon News wrote of their second concert: ‘Saturday night’s audience was larger and even more enthusiastic than that on Friday … Cahill showed his mastery of the instrument.’ Eddie and George slept on board ship for the few nights of their stay. They impatiently waited for the stevedores to load fuel, mail and supplies before sailing on to Singapore and a short season at the legendary Raffles Hotel. With the marriage and departure of the femme fatale their own relationship resumed its usual friendly course.

* * *

Although certainly no intellectual, Eddie had always been a great reader and was particularly fond of the novels of Joseph Conrad. Lazing in a deckchair on a rare sparklingly clear day at the beginning of the southwest monsoon of late May 1920, he marked a passage in a dog-eared copy of the narrative story Youth as they sailed close to the coastline of the Malay peninsula to take up their engagement at Raffles.

The fronds of palms stood still against the sky. Not a branch stirred along the shore, and the brown roofs of hidden houses peeped through the green foliage, through the big leaves that hung shining and still like leaves forged of heavy metal. This was the East of the ancient navigators, so old, so mysterious, resplendent and sombre, living and unchanged, full of danger and promise.*

*Joseph Conrad, Youth (London 1902) pp. 45–6.

When in 1819 Sir Stamford Raffles signed a trade treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah on behalf of the British East India Company, the current idea of Empire was rather more idealistic than our later corrupted perception of it.

He wrote:

If the time shall come when her empire shall have passed away, these monuments will endure when her triumphs shall have become an empty name.’*

Raffles Hotel Singapore

Raffles remains one of the great symbols of British imperial colonial life and yet it was founded neither by Sir Stamford Raffles or any other British national. Four sharp entrepreneurial Armenian brothers, the Sarkies, recognized the trade potential of the port. They purchased the Raffles Girls’ Boarding School in Singapore to convert to a hotel. Raffles opened in 1887. Rudyard Kipling, an early distinguished guest, commented ‘the food is as excellent as the rooms are bad.’

In time the port of Singapore grew to become the seventh biggest in the world. Opium dens rubbed shoulders with luxury hotels. Between 1897 and 1899 Raffles was extensively renovated transforming the modest hotel into ‘The Savoy of Singapore’. Renaissance-style architecture with cool verandahs, a vast columnar dining room paved with Carrara marble, bronze statues and sweeping staircases illuminated by ‘decadent’ electric light. Fans circulated lazily although punkahwallahs were retained to foster an exotic Eastern atmosphere. Fortunately the last Singapore tiger had been shot under the billiard room in 1902.

Arriving at Raffles Hotel Singapore 1920

Eddie and George were collected from the ship by hotel jinricksha for their concert season. Their suite had its own sitting room, bedroom and dressing room with an attached bathroom and direct telephone, luxuries unheard of outside the great European capitals. They looked forward to ‘all the comforts of home’ with an English breakfast of porridge, bacon and eggs or kippers followed by tea, toast and rough-cut Seville orange marmalade. Later in the day a tiffin would be served.

*Quoted in James Morris, Pax Britannica (London 1968) p. 154.

† A ‘coolie’ who moved a large hinged fan attached to the ceiling above the hotel guests via a pulley system. At Raffles they were operated with sublime lethargy by way of a string attached to the big toe.

‡ A light afternoon meal often of delicately curried dishes originating in British India.

The ‘Bright Young Things’ of Singapore had begun to patronize Raffles in the 1920s and tea dances had become de rigueur. An orchestra played every night. The atmosphere of the city tended to the morally casual. In the exaggerated class-conscious atmosphere of the Straits Settlement, white tie and tails together with long   ball gowns were insisted upon even in the stifling humidity. Eddie and George with their vaudeville experience kept everyone entertained. They sweated through the night and failed to sleep in the afternoons. In competition with their classical repertoire, jazz was the predominant musical passion at Raffles.

The entertainment provided by the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party was particularly welcome in an atmosphere of colonial ennui. The sheer enthusiasm that greeted these two talented musicians, the relief from boredom they offered, comes as no great surprise. The Singapore Times wrote:

‘Because his name does not end with a ‘ski’ or a ‘vitch’ some people would think that Mr Cahill’s playing would not compare with that of the great foreign pianists but the pitch of enthusiasm aroused last night soon dispelled this idea. He is undoubtedly the best pianist heard in Singapore for many a rainy year.’

Eddie and George were a close team both emotionally and musically, discussing and noting accounts of the formidably eccentric colonial characters they encountered. Many distinguished writers were to paint literary portraits of such bizarre personalities. Somerset Maugham described the White man in Malaya as ‘a pale stranger who moves through all this reality like a being from another planet … they are bored with themselves, bored with one another.’*

File:COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Dr. P.V. van Stein Callenfels TMnr 10018797.jpg  - Wikimedia Commons
Professor Pieter van Stein Callenfels

One such eccentric they encountered was a commanding figure who haunted the Raffles Bar of an evening. The archaeologist and anthropologist Professor Pieter van Stein Callenfels was a distinguished graduate of Leiden University.He was rumoured to have eaten human  flesh  when  living  among  the  cannibals of Sumatra. This giant of a man entered Raffles mythology by insisting on quarts of beer and consuming ten bottles of gin at breakfast. According to one report ‘his monstrous body heaved and shuddered like a shaken blancmange’. Arthur Conan Doyle modelled Professor Challenger on him in his novel The Lost World. Raffles was probably where Eddie also first made the

*Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook (London 1949), Readers Union Edition, 1951, p. 169.

† Pieter van Stein Callenfels (1883–1938).

acquaintance of the notorious and glamorous Russian physician Dr Serge Voronoff who grafted monkey glands (thyroid and testicles) into humans in pursuit of the secret of eternal youth. Little did he realize at the time what an important role this mournful-looking individual, accompanied in the tropics by a statuesque young blonde, would play during his own declining years on the Côte d’Azur.*

Serge 001
Dr. Serge Voronoff

* * *

After this entertaining season of concerts the Cahill–Brooke Concert Party took passage in late May 1920 on a Danish freighter from Singapore to Bangkok. Officials in white ducks and solar topi leaned against the rails of the promenade deck, gazing vacantly out to sea. Siam (Thailand) had held its mysteries in the European imagination for centuries. Eddie was increasingly attracted to the high social status and luxurious lifestyle of the aristocratic audiences that patronized them in Southeast Asia. They had been summoned by His Majesty Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (Thailand) to play Chopin and sing at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

👍 1920S THAILAND SIAM THAI KING VAJIRAVUDH RAMA VI PHOTO POSTCARD -  $180.00 | PicClick
Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (Thailand) in 1920 (1880–1925)
Coronation portrait of King Vajiravudh (Ram VI) on 11 November 1911. by RAMA  VI. | Krul Antiquarian Books
Coronation portrait Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (Thailand) (1880–1925).

As Crown Prince, Rama had led a remarkably cosmopolitan life, opening up his previously isolated country to foreign influence. He represented his father in Europe for the first time at the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and subsequently at her funeral. He also attended the coronations of King Alfonso XIII of Spain as well as King Edward VII and his consort Queen Alexandra in England. He invited many crowned heads of Europe to his own coronation ceremony in 1911, the first time foreigners had been invited to any royal event in Siam.

Educated at Sandhurst and Christ Church Oxford he was a member of the notorious Bullingdon Club and read law and history. Unusually fascinated with the eighteenth-century history of Poland and the piano music of Fryderyk Chopin, in 1901 at the age of twenty he published the recondite volume The War of the Polish Succession.

In 1904 he temporarily became a monk according to Siamese tradition. After accession to the throne in 1910 he carried through many wide-ranging reforms, in the face of fierce opposition from the aristocracy.

*Ilsa Sharp, There is Only One Raffles: The Story of a Grand Hotel (London 1981), pp. 101–3

† Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (1880–1925).

During the Great War this Anglophile brought Siam (Thailand) in on the side of the Allied Powers. He became effectively the father of modern Thai nationalism. A gifted writer and poet he produced modern novels, short stories and plays. He translated three Shakespeare plays into Thai – The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet. After a remarkably colorful sex life and many tragic love affairs involving various marriages, broken engagements, concubines and homosexual lovers, he passed away in November 1925, a mere two hours after his only daughter was born. Such was the remarkable man for whom Eddie and George were to play and sing in private audience.

The Royal Palace, Bangkok

The exoticism of the palace and its opulent interiors were breathtaking. Tears formed in the eyes of the King as Eddie  played Chopin nocturnes on a fine English Broadwood grand. The nationalist spirit of the polonaises seemed to inspire the king with a curious fervour. He leant forward attentively on his throne at climactic moments. His love and knowledge of European music also became apparent as the unaccustomed harmonies of Schubert and Schumann songs filled the oriental space.

Their concert of undemanding classics was also very successful in the rather less august surroundings of the Bangkok Sports Club. George was singled out for particular praise by the Siam Observer: ‘We have never heard a tenor whose enunciation was so perfect  or who so manifestly sets himself to interpret the meaning, the spirit, the message of a song.’ Eddie’s charismatic personality was favourably commented on, but so too was the frightful state of the piano.

The clubhouse in around 1910
Royal Bangkok Sports Club around 1910

The Observer continued:

‘That he should attempt one of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies for example, on a piano which seemed likely every minute to fall to pieces left one aghast; yet he scored perhaps his greatest triumph here. If Bangkok does not pack the halls at the remaining place, then it may be set down as a soulless place and a disgrace.’

Without complaint Eddie always dealt with the unpredictable instruments he often encountered.

Bangkok canals and Markets around 1920
Thai Dancers Bangkok c.1920

* * *

Eddie and George paced the deck of the steamer Kuching taking their morning constitutional. An early morning thunderstorm had cleared the air. The soft tropical sunrise over Sarawak revealed distant mountains framing a wide bay dotted with islands. Mount Santubong rose almost a thousand meters directly from the northern end of the bay. The two friends had almost recovered from their concert a few days earlier at the Jesselton Hotel in Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu), the capital of the West Coast Residency of the British Protectorate of North Borneo. They found the exoticism of the location tremendously exciting. The concert took place on the broad verandah among the British officials of the British North Borneo Company reclining on rattan chairs in white ducks sipping gin pahits.

The town of Jesselton. North Borneo c.1911

Western classical music was unexpectedly accompanied on instruments by hundreds of local Bajau people known generically as the ‘Sea Gypsies’. These native peoples, dressed in bright cloth and ornamented with seashells and turtle shell, had come ashore from their boats and were sitting on the grass outside the hotel. The men played drums while the women enthusiastically performed on suspended brass gongs and large wooden xylophones. They completely drowned out the romantic melodies of Chopin and gave Eddie moments of great hilarity. His inborn sense of Irish theatre played up to this ‘spontaneous madness’.The Liszt piano pieces and Maori songs attracted even more frantic beating on the drums and gongs. An unprecedented scene unfolded with dances, singing and general gaiety. The eruption of such wild spontaneity exhausted Eddie and George. ‘What a devilish racket but such fun! This is living! More please!’ Eddie noted in his journal.

* * *

Some weeks before, during one of the regular tea dances at Raffles in Singapore, Eddie and George had encountered HH the Ranee Sylvia Brooke *, daughter of Reginald Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher and the wife

*Sylvia Brooke née Brett (1885–1971)

† Reginald Baliol Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher (1852–1930) ‘Reggie’ was an historian and Liberal politician. This rather modest description entirely belies the extraordinary ‘behind the scenes’ influence of this éminence grise on virtually every important aspect of British government and royal policy of the day. The marriage had its moments.

of the third and last White Rajah of Sarawak, Vyner Brooke*.This wild eccentric lady was slowly but surely building a reputation for cultivated outrageousness. In later life she adopted a flamboyant Hollywood-inspired social style, wrote books, painted, piloted wood and wire biplanes and led a Technicolor love life of outstanding mendacity. The popular press adored her.

File:Sylvia Brooke.jpg
Sylvia Leonora Brett (1885-1971)
Ranee of Sarawak (1917-1946)

Opinions could be mixed however as evidenced by two MPs sent from Westminster to sound out local opinion as to the possible cession of the Kingdom of Sarawak to Britain. The Labour MP D.R. Rees-Williams thought she had ‘brought  the  charm  of Mayfair to the Tropics and  some  of  the  exotic  perfume  of  the  Tropics to Mayfair.’ The Conservative MP David Gammans however objected to her dancing with prostitutes at the Cathay Cabaret in Kuching, remarking in a private memo to the Secretary of State: ‘She has these girls to the Palace and paints their pictures. A more undignified woman it would be hard to find.’ Sex in marriage she once described to her sister Doll ‘As an act it is both ridiculous and awkward, and I take a very poor view of it indeed.’ Despite her physical aversion to ‘the act’ three ‘dangerously beautiful’ Brooke daughters were produced during the marriage. They would add to their mother’s fitful lustre by marrying eight times between them including an earl, a band-leader and an all-in wrestler.

During the cocktail hour one evening Eddie and George had found themselves chatting animatedly to the  Ranee, lubricated by quite a few of the hotel’s notorious Singapore Slings, a drink invented by a Raffles’ barman, a Hainanese immigrant named Ngiam Tong Boon. They were tipsily attempting to trace a highly unlikely family connection via surnames between George Brooke and Vyner Brooke. When she learned of their coming concert in North Borneo and later heard them perform at the hotel, she insisted that they give a concert at the Astana Palace in Kuching, the capital of the Brooke’s jungle kingdom.

*Charles Vyner Brooke GCMG (1874–1963) the third and final White Rajah of Sarawak was born in London. His life is more than worthy of the wildest fiction.

† I am indebted for details of Sarawak and Sylvia to Philip Eade, Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters (London 2007). The detailed history of the Kingdom, the relationship of Sylvia and Rajah Vyner Brooke and the antics of the rest of the remarkable Brooke family is chronicled in this hugely entertaining volume.

The Cahill–Brooke Concert Party thus found themselves on a tramp steamer sailing down the Malaysian coast of the South China Sea. Steaming up the Sarawak River towards the capital Kuching they passed small Dayak villages clinging to the muddy banks. Scattered groups of amber-skinned women and children stood motionless in the sea as the steamer passed, figures in a landscape of mangrove swamps, screeching monkeys and head-hunter’s jungle. Eddie and George were taken ashore to the landing stage by canoe. Sarawak in 1920 was a brilliant and entertaining British colonial anomaly. Originally part of the Sultanate of Brunei, it was ceded to the British adventurer James Brooke in 1842 as a reward for assisting the Sultan put down a local rebellion.*

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-3.png
Sir Charles Vyner de Windt Brooke; Sylvia Leonora (née Brett), Lady Brooke, Ranee of Sarawak
(National Portrait Gallery – Bassano)

As the first White Rajah, James ruled Sarawak as his personal kingdom and greatly increased the area under his control. However by May 1946, submerged in an intrigue of bureaucratic smoke and mirrors, Sarawak had become the last colonial possession to be acquired by Britain. The Astana, where Eddie and George were to perform, had been built by the acerbic second White Rajah, Charles Brooke. The Ranee Sylvia Brooke was musical and played the piano. Before her marriage she was the percussionist of the Grey Friars Orchestra, a band made up entirely of eligible young girls. This band had been cunningly formed by Margaret de Windt, the mother of the future Rajah, Vyner Brooke, in order to provide potential spouses for her three shy sons. The idea was successful.

The Astana, Sarawak, around the time of the Cahill-Brooke Party Concert 1920

*James Brooke (1803–1868) the first White Rajah of Sarawak was born in Benares, India. He never married. Like many adventurers associated with the British East India Company his actions in Sarawak were directed to expanding the British Empire, assisting the local people (by whom he was treated as a type of deity) in fighting piracy and slavery and expanding his own personal fortune in the process. Brooke features in much English literature including The White Rajah by Nicholas Monsarrat and Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim as well as the Kipling short story ‘The Man Who Would be King’.

† Charles Brooke (1829–1917) the second White Rajah of Sarawak was born in Burnham, Somerset in England. He ruled Sarawak from 1868 until his death. He adopted similarly stern patrician values to his uncle James and improved the lot of the native peoples of the region and suppressed the passionate head-hunting activities of the Dayaks.

The Brookes had a unique relationship with the Dayak head-hunting chieftains and their people. Many hundreds of Dayaks assembled in the beautiful gardens of the Palace in the late afternoon before the concert. Vyner was a passionate gardener and the native people sat almost suffocated by the heady perfume of gardenias, tuberoses and frangipani. Again Chopin and Schubert were accompanied by brass knob gongs, xylophones and drums. Sadly, the Sarawak Gazette has left us no account or critical musical assessment of the concert. Can you imagine this extraordinary scene of an opposition of cultures in 1920 ? Eddie and George were not particularly dejected to leave the poor instruments and the disappointing rooms of the dilapidated Astana.

BORNEO THE LAND OF THE HEAD HUNTERS | Gaming Hero
Ibu Dayak warrior headhunters from Longnawan, North Borneo
The Dayak Head Hunter from Kalimantan, In Search of the headhunting tribes  of Borneo – BE BORNEO
Gallery inside a Kayan Dayak house with skulls and weapons lining the wall
The shrunken, smoked heads of slain enemies (Photo circa 1912: Charles Hose)
Pin on RETRO
Shaven-headed Dayak bearing a spear with a parang hanging from his side

To be continued …….

The Pocket Paderewski

The Beguiling life of the Australian Concert Pianist Edward Cahill

Michael Moran

[Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, November 2016]

https://scholarly.info/book/the-pocket-paderewski-the-beguiling-life-of-the-australian-concert-pianist-edward-cahill/

You might like to begin reading this already published biography of my great-uncle, the glamorous Australian concert pianist Edward Cahill (1885-1975), issued some time ago (Melbourne, 2016). It took me six years to write. I feel it is an important biographical contribution to Australian cultural history of an outstanding but now forgotten musical figure who performed internationally at a time when Australian concert artists were relatively unknown in Europe.

I was prompted to this serialization by my detailed coverage of the magnificent, inspired yet in some ways controversial 2020 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. I attended every session.

Cahill lived a colorful and exciting life during the golden age of classical pianism in the London, Paris and the Riviera of the 1920s and 1930s. The brilliant young pianists who took part in the Chopin Competition today can only dream of such a flamboyant concert and social life.

* * * * * * * * *

The book is being serialized, illustrated and the chapters divided into installments

An illustrated edition of the original publication was not possible owing to printing costs

* * * * * * * * *

Edward Cahill (1885-1975)

Synopsis

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. He was known as ‘The Pocket Paderewski’ owing to his diminutive stature, shock of tousled hair and brilliant keyboard technique. 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 in Cannes 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 Vienna he took lessons from Leonie Gombrich (mother of the great art historian Ernst Gombrich), a onetime assistant and pupil of the great Polish pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky. In London, Cahill gave some of the first recitals in the modern revival of the Pleyel harpsichord by Wanda Landowska.

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 of Chopin for Polish 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, colonial 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.’

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/booksandarts/the-life-of-a-concert-pianist/8285406

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 of Chopin and Liszt 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
, London
(Author’s Private Collection)

https://app.box.com/s/w470tiq0qbbckttbjb4wvj8936zl60vn

When judging the quality of these recordings, bear in mind 78 rpm shellac recordings were made in one take with no patching possible as can be achieved today. Any slight performance blemishes remained permanently recorded in those days.

However, there is great conceptual and interpretative integrity maintained in single-take recordings. The recording quality only slightly resembles the high fidelity obtainable today.

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 will be publishing one installment per week

Scroll down for past installments

The Preface, Prologue and Installment 1 were published on 29 October 2021

Installment 2 was published on 3 November 2021

Installment 3 was published on 10 November 2021

Installment 4 was published on 15 November 2021

Installment 5 was published on 27 November 2021

Installment 6- Chapter 3 – The East of the Ancient Navigators – will be published on 4 December 2021

* * * * * * * * * * *

Installment 5

Chapter 3

‘The East of the ancient navigators’

Scroll down for Preface, Prologue and Installments 1, 2, 3 & 4

The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party were exhausted from their Indian tour as they again boarded the SS Montoro in Calcutta bound for a reappearance in Rangoon (Yangon), Bangkok and Singapore on the return voyage to Australia. The tour of India was reported to be one of the most successful ever attempted by Western classical musicians. They looked forward to resting on the  ship  in  the cool sea breezes. However the water was as still as glass, the sky leaden and the air oppressive. The listlessness, irritable moods and lack of sleep engendered in the deep tropics enervated them, yet Eddie enjoyed the sense of impermanence created by travel. It gave him a heightened sense of reality. George, a more grounded personality, often found himself irritated by the closeness and Eddie’s fluctuating moods.

Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon (Rangoon)

Rangoon. The heat, humidity and thunderstorms of May 1920. The opulent Golden or Shwedagon Pagoda nestled among the palms, its pinnacle dominating the skyline of the city from every angle. Somerset Maugham referred to it as the ‘sudden hope in the dark night of the soul’. Eddie wrote in his travel journal of the vibrant colours of the city, crammed to bursting with golden pagodas and Chinese temples:

I feel I have entered a sort of paradise. The Queensland coast is beautiful but the sense of the exotic East is very strong here.The air itself seems perfumed. How Debussy would have loved this place and painted it in impressionistic sound pictures! The refined Burmese dancing girls wear lilac, pink, green and lapis lazuli silks and ornaments. They have a natural elegance of carriage, graceful hand movements and seductiveness imitating mystical birds or guardian spirits, all moving in a manner as beautiful as a musical phrase.’

90 Amazing Myanmar ( Burma ) ideas | myanmar, burma, myanmar (burma)
Burmese (Myanmar) Dancers 1920

During the Calcutta season Josie Westaway had met an admirer, the dashing Captain H.A. Keywood. Unknown to the boys they had become secretly engaged during their appearances in Quetta in Balochistan (now Pakistan). Keywood ardently followed the party to Burma (Myanmar) where the couple were married in Rangoon in a small but picturesque ceremony.

Gymkhana Jive – Taj Mahal Foxtrot
Gymkhana Club Rangoon 1920

Reluctantly the happy party broke off touring the resplendent sights to prepare for the concerts at the Gymkhana Club. The Rangoon News wrote of their second concert: ‘Saturday night’s audience was larger and even more enthusiastic than that on Friday … Cahill showed his mastery of the instrument.’ Eddie and George slept on board ship for the few nights of their stay. They impatiently waited for the stevedores to load fuel, mail and supplies before sailing on to Singapore and a short season at the legendary Raffles Hotel. With the marriage and departure of the femme fatale their own relationship resumed its usual friendly course.

* * *

Although certainly no intellectual, Eddie had always been a great reader and was particularly fond of the novels of Joseph Conrad. Lazing in a deckchair on a rare sparklingly clear day at the beginning of the southwest monsoon of late May 1920, he marked a passage in a dog-eared copy of the narrative story Youth as they sailed close to the coastline of the Malay peninsula to take up their engagement at Raffles.

The fronds of palms stood still against the sky. Not a branch stirred along the shore, and the brown roofs of hidden houses peeped through the green foliage, through the big leaves that hung shining and still like leaves forged of heavy metal. This was the East of the ancient navigators, so old, so mysterious, resplendent and sombre, living and unchanged, full of danger and promise.*

*Joseph Conrad, Youth (London 1902) pp. 45–6.

When in 1819 Sir Stamford Raffles signed a trade treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah on behalf of the British East India Company, the current idea of Empire was rather more idealistic than our later corrupted perception of it.

He wrote:

If the time shall come when her empire shall have passed away, these monuments will endure when her triumphs shall have become an empty name.’*

Raffles Hotel Singapore

Raffles remains one of the great symbols of British imperial colonial life and yet it was founded neither by Sir Stamford Raffles or any other British national. Four sharp entrepreneurial Armenian brothers, the Sarkies, recognized the trade potential of the port. They purchased the Raffles Girls’ Boarding School in Singapore to convert to a hotel. Raffles opened in 1887. Rudyard Kipling, an early distinguished guest, commented ‘the food is as excellent as the rooms are bad.’

In time the port of Singapore grew to become the seventh biggest in the world. Opium dens rubbed shoulders with luxury hotels. Between 1897 and 1899 Raffles was extensively renovated transforming the modest hotel into ‘The Savoy of Singapore’. Renaissance-style architecture with cool verandahs, a vast columnar dining room paved with Carrara marble, bronze statues and sweeping staircases illuminated by ‘decadent’ electric light. Fans circulated lazily although punkahwallahs were retained to foster an exotic Eastern atmosphere. Fortunately the last Singapore tiger had been shot under the billiard room in 1902.

Arriving at Raffles Hotel Singapore 1920

Eddie and George were collected from the ship by hotel jinricksha for their concert season. Their suite had its own sitting room, bedroom and dressing room with an attached bathroom and direct telephone, luxuries unheard of outside the great European capitals. They looked forward to ‘all the comforts of home’ with an English breakfast of porridge, bacon and eggs or kippers followed by tea, toast and rough-cut Seville orange marmalade. Later in the day a tiffin would be served.

*Quoted in James Morris, Pax Britannica (London 1968) p. 154.

† A ‘coolie’ who moved a large hinged fan attached to the ceiling above the hotel guests via a pulley system. At Raffles they were operated with sublime lethargy by way of a string attached to the big toe.

‡ A light afternoon meal often of delicately curried dishes originating in British India.

The ‘Bright Young Things’ of Singapore had begun to patronize Raffles in the 1920s and tea dances had become de rigueur. An orchestra played every night. The atmosphere of the city tended to the morally casual. In the exaggerated class-conscious atmosphere of the Straits Settlement, white tie and tails together with long   ball gowns were insisted upon even in the stifling humidity. Eddie and George with their vaudeville experience kept everyone entertained. They sweated through the night and failed to sleep in the afternoons. In competition with their classical repertoire, jazz was the predominant musical passion at Raffles.

The entertainment provided by the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party was particularly welcome in an atmosphere of colonial ennui. The sheer enthusiasm that greeted these two talented musicians, the relief from boredom they offered, comes as no great surprise. The Singapore Times wrote:

‘Because his name does not end with a ‘ski’ or a ‘vitch’ some people would think that Mr Cahill’s playing would not compare with that of the great foreign pianists but the pitch of enthusiasm aroused last night soon dispelled this idea. He is undoubtedly the best pianist heard in Singapore for many a rainy year.’

Eddie and George were a close team both emotionally and musically, discussing and noting accounts of the formidably eccentric colonial characters they encountered. Many distinguished writers were to paint literary portraits of such bizarre personalities. Somerset Maugham described the White man in Malaya as ‘a pale stranger who moves through all this reality like a being from another planet … they are bored with themselves, bored with one another.’*

File:COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Dr. P.V. van Stein Callenfels TMnr 10018797.jpg  - Wikimedia Commons
Professor Pieter van Stein Callenfels

One such eccentric they encountered was a commanding figure who haunted the Raffles Bar of an evening. The archaeologist and anthropologist Professor Pieter van Stein Callenfels was a distinguished graduate of Leiden University.He was rumoured to have eaten human  flesh  when  living  among  the  cannibals of Sumatra. This giant of a man entered Raffles mythology by insisting on quarts of beer and consuming ten bottles of gin at breakfast. According to one report ‘his monstrous body heaved and shuddered like a shaken blancmange’. Arthur Conan Doyle modelled Professor Challenger on him in his novel The Lost World. Raffles was probably where Eddie also first made the

*Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook (London 1949), Readers Union Edition, 1951, p. 169.

† Pieter van Stein Callenfels (1883–1938).

acquaintance of the notorious and glamorous Russian physician Dr Serge Voronoff who grafted monkey glands (thyroid and testicles) into humans in pursuit of the secret of eternal youth. Little did he realize at the time what an important role this mournful-looking individual, accompanied in the tropics by a statuesque young blonde, would play during his own declining years on the Côte d’Azur.*

Serge 001
Dr. Serge Voronoff

* * *

After this entertaining season of concerts the Cahill–Brooke Concert Party took passage in late May 1920 on a Danish freighter from Singapore to Bangkok. Officials in white ducks and solar topi leaned against the rails of the promenade deck, gazing vacantly out to sea. Siam (Thailand) had held its mysteries in the European imagination for centuries. Eddie was increasingly attracted to the high social status and luxurious lifestyle of the aristocratic audiences that patronized them in Southeast Asia. They had been summoned by His Majesty Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (Thailand) to play Chopin and sing at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

👍 1920S THAILAND SIAM THAI KING VAJIRAVUDH RAMA VI PHOTO POSTCARD -  $180.00 | PicClick
Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (Thailand) in 1920 (1880–1925)
Coronation portrait of King Vajiravudh (Ram VI) on 11 November 1911. by RAMA  VI. | Krul Antiquarian Books
Coronation portrait Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (Thailand) (1880–1925).

As Crown Prince, Rama had led a remarkably cosmopolitan life, opening up his previously isolated country to foreign influence. He represented his father in Europe for the first time at the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and subsequently at her funeral. He also attended the coronations of King Alfonso XIII of Spain as well as King Edward VII and his consort Queen Alexandra in England. He invited many crowned heads of Europe to his own coronation ceremony in 1911, the first time foreigners had been invited to any royal event in Siam.

Educated at Sandhurst and Christ Church Oxford he was a member of the notorious Bullingdon Club and read law and history. Unusually fascinated with the eighteenth-century history of Poland and the piano music of Fryderyk Chopin, in 1901 at the age of twenty he published the recondite volume The War of the Polish Succession.

In 1904 he temporarily became a monk according to Siamese tradition. After accession to the throne in 1910 he carried through many wide-ranging reforms, in the face of fierce opposition from the aristocracy.

*Ilsa Sharp, There is Only One Raffles: The Story of a Grand Hotel (London 1981), pp. 101–3

† Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (1880–1925).

During the Great War this Anglophile brought Siam (Thailand) in on the side of the Allied Powers. He became effectively the father of modern Thai nationalism. A gifted writer and poet he produced modern novels, short stories and plays. He translated three Shakespeare plays into Thai – The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet. After a remarkably colorful sex life and many tragic love affairs involving various marriages, broken engagements, concubines and homosexual lovers, he passed away in November 1925, a mere two hours after his only daughter was born. Such was the remarkable man for whom Eddie and George were to play and sing in private audience.

The Royal Palace, Bangkok

The exoticism of the palace and its opulent interiors were breathtaking. Tears formed in the eyes of the King as Eddie  played Chopin nocturnes on a fine English Broadwood grand. The nationalist spirit of the polonaises seemed to inspire the king with a curious fervour. He leant forward attentively on his throne at climactic moments. His love and knowledge of European music also became apparent as the unaccustomed harmonies of Schubert and Schumann songs filled the oriental space.

Their concert of undemanding classics was also very successful in the rather less august surroundings of the Bangkok Sports Club. George was singled out for particular praise by the Siam Observer: ‘We have never heard a tenor whose enunciation was so perfect  or who so manifestly sets himself to interpret the meaning, the spirit, the message of a song.’ Eddie’s charismatic personality was favourably commented on, but so too was the frightful state of the piano.

The clubhouse in around 1910
Royal Bangkok Sports Club around 1910

The Observer continued:

‘That he should attempt one of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies for example, on a piano which seemed likely every minute to fall to pieces left one aghast; yet he scored perhaps his greatest triumph here. If Bangkok does not pack the halls at the remaining place, then it may be set down as a soulless place and a disgrace.’

Without complaint Eddie always dealt with the unpredictable instruments he often encountered.

Bangkok canals and Markets around 1920
Thai Dancers Bangkok c.1920

* * *

Eddie and George paced the deck of the steamer Kuching taking their morning constitutional. An early morning thunderstorm had cleared the air. The soft tropical sunrise over Sarawak revealed distant mountains framing a wide bay dotted with islands. Mount Santubong rose almost a thousand meters directly from the northern end of the bay. The two friends had almost recovered from their concert a few days earlier at the Jesselton Hotel in Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu), the capital of the West Coast Residency of the British Protectorate of North Borneo. They found the exoticism of the location tremendously exciting. The concert took place on the broad verandah among the British officials of the British North Borneo Company reclining on rattan chairs in white ducks sipping gin pahits.

The town of Jesselton. North Borneo c.1911

Western classical music was unexpectedly accompanied on instruments by hundreds of local Bajau people known generically as the ‘Sea Gypsies’. These native peoples, dressed in bright cloth and ornamented with seashells and turtle shell, had come ashore from their boats and were sitting on the grass outside the hotel. The men played drums while the women enthusiastically performed on suspended brass gongs and large wooden xylophones. They completely drowned out the romantic melodies of Chopin and gave Eddie moments of great hilarity. His inborn sense of Irish theatre played up to this ‘spontaneous madness’.The Liszt piano pieces and Maori songs attracted even more frantic beating on the drums and gongs. An unprecedented scene unfolded with dances, singing and general gaiety. The eruption of such wild spontaneity exhausted Eddie and George. ‘What a devilish racket but such fun! This is living! More please!’ Eddie noted in his journal.

* * *

Some weeks before, during one of the regular tea dances at Raffles in Singapore, Eddie and George had encountered HH the Ranee Sylvia Brooke *, daughter of Reginald Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher and the wife

*Sylvia Brooke née Brett (1885–1971)

† Reginald Baliol Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher (1852–1930) ‘Reggie’ was an historian and Liberal politician. This rather modest description entirely belies the extraordinary ‘behind the scenes’ influence of this éminence grise on virtually every important aspect of British government and royal policy of the day. The marriage had its moments.

of the third and last White Rajah of Sarawak, Vyner Brooke*.This wild eccentric lady was slowly but surely building a reputation for cultivated outrageousness. In later life she adopted a flamboyant Hollywood-inspired social style, wrote books, painted, piloted wood and wire biplanes and led a Technicolor love life of outstanding mendacity. The popular press adored her.

File:Sylvia Brooke.jpg
Sylvia Leonora Brett (1885-1971)
Ranee of Sarawak (1917-1946)

Opinions could be mixed however as evidenced by two MPs sent from Westminster to sound out local opinion as to the possible cession of the Kingdom of Sarawak to Britain. The Labour MP D.R. Rees-Williams thought she had ‘brought  the  charm  of Mayfair to the Tropics and  some  of  the  exotic  perfume  of  the  Tropics to Mayfair.’ The Conservative MP David Gammans however objected to her dancing with prostitutes at the Cathay Cabaret in Kuching, remarking in a private memo to the Secretary of State: ‘She has these girls to the Palace and paints their pictures. A more undignified woman it would be hard to find.’ Sex in marriage she once described to her sister Doll ‘As an act it is both ridiculous and awkward, and I take a very poor view of it indeed.’ Despite her physical aversion to ‘the act’ three ‘dangerously beautiful’ Brooke daughters were produced during the marriage. They would add to their mother’s fitful lustre by marrying eight times between them including an earl, a band-leader and an all-in wrestler.

During the cocktail hour one evening Eddie and George had found themselves chatting animatedly to the  Ranee, lubricated by quite a few of the hotel’s notorious Singapore Slings, a drink invented by a Raffles’ barman, a Hainanese immigrant named Ngiam Tong Boon. They were tipsily attempting to trace a highly unlikely family connection via surnames between George Brooke and Vyner Brooke. When she learned of their coming concert in North Borneo and later heard them perform at the hotel, she insisted that they give a concert at the Astana Palace in Kuching, the capital of the Brooke’s jungle kingdom.

*Charles Vyner Brooke GCMG (1874–1963) the third and final White Rajah of Sarawak was born in London. His life is more than worthy of the wildest fiction.

† I am indebted for details of Sarawak and Sylvia to Philip Eade, Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters (London 2007). The detailed history of the Kingdom, the relationship of Sylvia and Rajah Vyner Brooke and the antics of the rest of the remarkable Brooke family is chronicled in this hugely entertaining volume.

The Cahill–Brooke Concert Party thus found themselves on a tramp steamer sailing down the Malaysian coast of the South China Sea. Steaming up the Sarawak River towards the capital Kuching they passed small Dayak villages clinging to the muddy banks. Scattered groups of amber-skinned women and children stood motionless in the sea as the steamer passed, figures in a landscape of mangrove swamps, screeching monkeys and head-hunter’s jungle. Eddie and George were taken ashore to the landing stage by canoe. Sarawak in 1920 was a brilliant and entertaining British colonial anomaly. Originally part of the Sultanate of Brunei, it was ceded to the British adventurer James Brooke in 1842 as a reward for assisting the Sultan put down a local rebellion.*

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Sir Charles Vyner de Windt Brooke; Sylvia Leonora (née Brett), Lady Brooke, Ranee of Sarawak
(National Portrait Gallery – Bassano)

As the first White Rajah, James ruled Sarawak as his personal kingdom and greatly increased the area under his control. However by May 1946, submerged in an intrigue of bureaucratic smoke and mirrors, Sarawak had become the last colonial possession to be acquired by Britain. The Astana, where Eddie and George were to perform, had been built by the acerbic second White Rajah, Charles Brooke. The Ranee Sylvia Brooke was musical and played the piano. Before her marriage she was the percussionist of the Grey Friars Orchestra, a band made up entirely of eligible young girls. This band had been cunningly formed by Margaret de Windt, the mother of the future Rajah, Vyner Brooke, in order to provide potential spouses for her three shy sons. The idea was successful.

The Astana, Sarawak, around the time of the Cahill-Brooke Party Concert 1920

*James Brooke (1803–1868) the first White Rajah of Sarawak was born in Benares, India. He never married. Like many adventurers associated with the British East India Company his actions in Sarawak were directed to expanding the British Empire, assisting the local people (by whom he was treated as a type of deity) in fighting piracy and slavery and expanding his own personal fortune in the process. Brooke features in much English literature including The White Rajah by Nicholas Monsarrat and Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim as well as the Kipling short story ‘The Man Who Would be King’.

† Charles Brooke (1829–1917) the second White Rajah of Sarawak was born in Burnham, Somerset in England. He ruled Sarawak from 1868 until his death. He adopted similarly stern patrician values to his uncle James and improved the lot of the native peoples of the region and suppressed the passionate head-hunting activities of the Dayaks.

The Brookes had a unique relationship with the Dayak head-hunting chieftains and their people. Many hundreds of Dayaks assembled in the beautiful gardens of the Palace in the late afternoon before the concert. Vyner was a passionate gardener and the native people sat almost suffocated by the heady perfume of gardenias, tuberoses and frangipani. Again Chopin and Schubert were accompanied by brass knob gongs, xylophones and drums. Sadly, the Sarawak Gazette has left us no account or critical musical assessment of the concert. Can you imagine this extraordinary scene of an opposition of cultures in 1920 ? Eddie and George were not particularly dejected to leave the poor instruments and the disappointing rooms of the dilapidated Astana.

BORNEO THE LAND OF THE HEAD HUNTERS | Gaming Hero
Ibu Dayak warrior headhunters from Longnawan, North Borneo
The Dayak Head Hunter from Kalimantan, In Search of the headhunting tribes  of Borneo – BE BORNEO
Gallery inside a Kayan Dayak house with skulls and weapons lining the wall
The shrunken, smoked heads of slain enemies (Photo circa 1912: Charles Hose)
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Shaven-headed Dayak bearing a spear with a parang hanging from his side

Installment 4

Chapter 2

Of Maharajas and Palaces

Scroll down for Preface, Prologue and Installments 1, 2 & 3

By the end of March 1920 the weather was heating up to an uncomfortable degree and the company were pleased to learn that after an unnoticed concert they gave in New Delhi, their next point of call would be the cool, pleasure-loving hill station of Mussoorie.

Rudyard Kipling wrote of Mussoorie in Kim:

‘Who goes to the hills goes to his mother.’

Under the great ramp to Mussoorie he drew together as an old hunter faces a well-remembered bank, and where he should have sunk exhausted swung his long draperies about him, drew a deep double-lungful of diamond air, and walked as only a Hillman can. Kim, plains-bred and plains-fed, sweated and panted astonished.

As summer strengthened rendering the plains a sweltering crucible, the British, especially the women, fled the relentless heat like migrant birds. They settled in the clubs, hotels and rented houses of the hill stations of the Punjab from April to the end of June. Many single girls in optimistic and party mood were ‘fishing’ for a suitable aristocratic sun-burnished officer on leave when they made the two thousand metre ascent to beautiful Mussoorie, the ‘Queen of the Hills’. The husbands were abandoned to ‘do their lofty duty’ and baked on the plains while their wives adopted a young ‘bow-wow’ for the duration.* Mussoorie had a ‘rather naughty’ reputation for theatricals and loose moral behaviour. Here individualism was allowed a freer rein than the more famous and ‘proper’ Simla, the official summer capital ironically known as ‘The Abode of the Little Tin Gods’.

Mussoorie | Mussoorie, Tourist spots, Uttarakhand
Mussoorie 1920
The Mall, Mussoorie, 1920

The variety of its scenery and spectacular views marked it out from other hill stations. Mussoorie had two breweries, a polo field, a small golf course and at the glamorous centre of social gatherings, the Himalaya Club and the Happy Valley Club. Anglo–Indian bungalows, decorated with hanging baskets of sweet peas and geraniums, were named with nostalgic Englishness Holly Mount or Rosemary Cottage. At Stiffles Restaurant the tables overflowed onto the summer pavements. The restaurant had once catered for the visit of the Princess of Wales, later to become Queen Mary. Balls, dinners, theatricals and  tea  parties  attracted  all  manner  of respectable and louche aristocracy. Lovers languished in the exoticism of the East longing for leave. Maharajas built summer residences in the guise of French chateaux.

Maharaja of Kapurthala’s chateau (far left) seen from the gorge near Wild Flower Hall, Benares 1920
Kempty Falls, Mussoorie 1920

The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party were in great demand as by the early 1920s the hill station had become the epitome of the ‘roaring twenties’ in India. Dance teachers of German origin conducted classes on the finer points of ballroom dancing. After travelling by train from Delhi to Dehra Dún, the concert party were taken up the serpentine road to the main town by tonga. Fragile railings were the only barrier against terrifyingly precipitous drops. The first motorcar only managed to reach Mussoorie in 1920.

The Savoy Hotel – Agatha Christie used the circumstances of a murder here in her first novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles

They stayed at the fashionable Savoy Hotel, a place with a certain ‘reputation’. The American writer Lowell Thomas, who spent several weeks with Lawrence of Arabia in the deserts of Palestine, visited Mussoorie in 1926 during his extensive travels in India. In his book The Land of the Black Pagoda he wrote of what became known as the ‘separation bell’ at the Savoy. He laconically observed:

‘There is a hotel in Mussoorie where they ring a bell just before dawn so that the pious may say their prayers and the impious get back to their own beds.’

*A ‘bow-wow’ was an admirer who with the greatest rectitude would do all those little tasks a colonial lady so often required – fetching, carrying, standing on attendance for wants and needs, dealing with Indian tradesmen, providing company and status at afternoon tea, balls, soirees and so on.

† A romantic horse-drawn carriage.

* * *

The parents of many British children were not sufficiently well   off to send them to public school in England. Mussoorie had an equable climate, crystalline air and was more easily accessible than many hill stations. As a result many fine boarding schools opened to satisfy this demand for education. The teachers were recruited in England and the first students were mainly the daughters of British officers.

Some music students and staff at the Woodstock School. Mussoorie

The concert party had been invited to perform at Woodstock School, which at that time functioned as a finishing school for well- bred young ladies. Since its foundation in 1854, excellence in music had been a priority and the students and their guests were highly appreciative of Eddie’s mastery of the piano.* The  programme was similar to others on the tour but Chopin’s so-called ‘Military’ Polonaise was a particular hit together with Liszt’s stirring Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Eddie was surprised at their depth of knowledge as they requested specific works by Schumann, Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and even Borodin. George sang Grieg and Schubert songs as well as those of a more religious nature such as ‘Angels Guard Thee’ and ‘Song of Thanksgiving’. Throughout his life Eddie  preserved  great  enthusiasm  for  the talent of the rising generation. The musical education of the young was often at the forefront of his thoughts.

*Woodstock School continues to thrive. In 2021 it had around five hundred pupils from almost thirty different nationalities. It is considered one of the finest schools in India and its music department now has an almost legendary reputation for excellence.

He accompanied this recital with a short detailed talk on each composer and his inspiration in composing the piece. Vain certainly but never an egocentric performer, he cultivated a strong personal interaction with the audience.*

* * *

While wandering Bombay between their concert  engagements, the concert party had witnessed various street disturbances. They had been subject to mysterious personal taunts. They discovered these insults were the direct result of the turbulent atmosphere in the town of Amritsar, some three hundred kilometres distant. The reverberations of an atrocity that had recently occurred there destabilized the entire country and was the catalyst that began the disintegration of the British Empire in India.

The Golden Temple of Amritsar today

The reflection of a golden temple trembled in the breeze on the surface of the lake known as Sarovar (Holy Pool of Immortal Nectar). Turbaned Sikhs in scarlet robes sat cross-legged on carpets in the shade of spreading trees in contemplation and prayer. Eddie was rendered speechless by the sight. More thoughtfully he found it difficult to believe that only a year before, this holy city, the spiritual and cultural heart of the Sikh religion, had witnessed an unparalleled act of savagery.

As Herbert Asquith, former Prime Minister, put it to the Hunter Committee in 1920:

There has never been such an incident in the whole annals of Anglo–Indian history, nor, I believe, in the history of our Empire, from its very inception down to the present day.’

Mounting disorder in the Punjab had been fertilized by the passing of the notorious Rowlatt Act of March 1919 in response  to perceived threats of revolutionary  terrorism.  Suspects  could be imprisoned without trial or legal representation for up to two years. The spectre arose of a repeat of the vicious Indian Mutiny and Cawnpore Massacre of 1857, outrages that were deeply etched into the British imperial psyche.

*I am indebted to Ganesh Saili and his book Mussoorie Medley: Tales from Yesteryear (New Delhi 2010) for my descriptions of old Mussoorie. All the perfumes and spices of India erupted from the wrappers when I unpacked this book from the post in Warsaw.

Hansard: Punjab Disturbances. Lord Hunter’s Committee, HC Deb 8 July 1920, vol. 131.

Opinion | The Massacre That Led to the End of the British Empire - The New  York Times
Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer (1864-1927)

In the face of political activism in Amritsar, the officer in command of the area, the coercive and psychologically unbalanced Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, issued stringent proclamations against public meetings. Any assembly would be fired upon without warning, a proclamation ineffectively communicated to the populace at the time.

By April 1919 British civilians in Amritsar were being subjected to terrorist acts, looting and murders. On the evening of 13 April several thousand Indian men, women and children had assembled for a meeting in a walled open space of the town known as Jallianwalla Bagh. Dyer felt this group posed an unacceptable threat to law and order. He arrived in his Rolls-Royce armoured car (unable to pass through the narrow entrance) together with a small body of carefully selected Gurkha and Pathan troops whom he knew felt little affection for Punjabi civilians. He lined his men up and without prior warning ordered them to open fire on the unarmed crowd. The firing continued uninterrupted for ten to fifteen minutes with panic-stricken knots of people wildly fleeing bullets, unable to escape in any numbers from the enclosed walled field. He ceased firing only when the ammunition ran out, leaving hundreds dead and perhaps a thousand or more wounded.

The Jallianwalla Bagh in 1919, months after the massacre.
The Jallianwalla Bagh in 1919, some months after the massacre

He subsequently imposed a curfew which effectively prevented recovery of the dead, dying and wounded. ‘I thought I would be doing a jolly lot of good and they would realize that they were not to be wicked,’ he commented during the official investigation of the incident. The effects of doing ‘my horrible, dirty duty’ (as Dyer put it when he was relieved of his post) can hardly be overestimated. Huge support was given to Dyer by the British in India, at home and by the Army. This compliance with such savagery alienated Indians previously respectful of British moral prestige. The atrocity galvanized Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. He remarked after the long drawn out official inquiry ‘We do not want to punish General Dyer; we have no desire for revenge; we want to change the system that produces General Dyers.’

‘The Golden Temple Amritsar’ by the American artist Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903)

When Eddie and George arrived in Amritsar to give a concert barely a year later in April 1920, Dyer had just embarked for England in disgrace. A profound legacy of hatred remained and they were justifiably worried about appearing in such a light matter as a classical concert in these volatile surroundings. However exercising a degree of personal courage they ‘soldiered on’ and the evening performance passed off peacefully enough. Those British civilians and officers who attended said it was a welcome emotional release from the ‘trying times’ they were then experiencing.

* * *

A postcard of Jamrud Fort , Khyber Pass

Another long train journey followed through Rawalpindi to ancient Peshawar and the Jamrud Fort on the North-West Frontier at the entrance to the Khyber Pass that connects Afghanistan and Pakistan. While changing trains they noted with alarm a rough placard nailed up at Peshawar station. Eddie copied it into his notebook:

‘Active resistance will crush the viper’s head. Burn their offices, mutilate their railways and telegraphs, induce the police and Army to work with you and slay these dogs of Britain every – where you find them.’

They continued the short journey to the fort in a ‘blue funk’ as Eddie put it. He had read of the perennially imminent Russian threats to British India at this place, the ‘Great Game’ as it was known, but tried rather to concentrate on the music he would play, drumming his fingers on the dusty seat back of the railway carriage.

Khyber Pass Afghanistan/Pakistan -Train & Tunnel (Print #4405461)
Train emerging from a tunnel, Khyber Pass 1920

The line passed through awe-inspiring mountains, tunnels and over bridges and deep culverts. Fierce local Afghan tribesmen perched on the cowcatcher. Eagles swooped and at night the jackals howled. It is scarcely credible that a concert of European classical music was being given in this fortress during the Waziristan campaign surrounded by colourful caravanserai plying the Silk Road. The battered piano in the fort had not been tuned for years and Eddie finally abandoned his solo numbers leaving the floor mainly to George who sang stirring tunes to a gentle accompaniment. The officers and troops were delighted. The soprano Rita Erle had by this time returned to Australia, exhausted by the debilitating heat. Eddie and George continuing the tour as a double act.

* * *

Benares – Goddess Kali on Shiva – Kangra Painting (1800 – 1825)

The red tongue of the Hindu Goddess Kali sprang from her mouth in shame, the black female figure with flailing arms was surrounded by fire. Her powerful eyes skewered one’s heart as she stood on the indigo body of her husband, the Hindu deity Shiva. The image wore a necklace of skulls. The street down which Eddie was walking contained this forbidding mural, a dark and narrow alley littered with refuse and reeking of ordure, dissolution, death and decay yet the nearby bazaars teemed with life and colour. Bright stalls sold a riot of mortuary paraphernalia. Pilgrims wearing perfumed garlands of flowers prayed at tiny wayside shrines or passed in crowded knots seeming to flow like the tide towards the banks of the Ganges, like tributaries of the great river itself. Ascetic holy men (sadhus) were covered in ash with matted, dusty, hennaed locks, long beards and fierce expressions.

A sadhu (ascetic holy man) in Benares (Varanasi)1910
Benares (Varanasi) 1922

By early May 1920 the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party had reached Kashi (Benares or modern Varanasi) the spiritual capital of India, a city associated with death and its transcendence. They had travelled by train for days on the East Indian Railway from Bombay, some 1600 kilometres. This ancient site has produced great writers, thinkers, philosophers and a remarkable school of music, a city famous for its woven cloths and ornate silks. The British writer, photographer and painter Richard Lannoy describes it ‘a state of mind’ rather than a place. The Maharaja of Benares would be their host and they would play Western classical music for him.

Benares (Varanasi) – Ghats 1920

Eddie Cahill was a concert pianist but also a man possessed of  a passion for exploration and insatiably curious about unfamiliar cultures. He drifted through the pungent haze that lay over the city, clambering  down  myriad  steps  through  dizzying  levels  of complexity, passing ornately carved pinnacles of blackened temples, terraces, the bastions of palaces, arcaded blocks, cracked platforms, crumbling walls of brick, pyramids, domes, patios and hanging gardens with withering plants, desiccated leaves fluttering onto filigreed cast-iron balconies. Large grey monkeys skipped about.

Feeding the ‘sacred’ monkeys – Benares (Varanasi)
Bathing Ghats – Benares (Varanasi) – Ganges 1918

Suddenly the Ganges, the colour of old gold, lay before him. Beneath the terraces at the water’s edge a panoply of tattered woven leaf parasols sheltered bathers and Brahmins from the sun. On platforms over the water, men exercised in incredible postures or swung heavy batons. Temple bells mixed with chattering voices. The colours of draped cloth – yellow, mauve, saffron and green – radiated a festive atmosphere of a floral display while clouds of pigeons whirled in spirals. There was a solemnity, even nobility, in the draped figures of women carrying polished brass pots glittering in the sunlight.

‘On The Ganges River, Benares’ (Varanasi) by the American artist Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903)

Early one morning Eddie and George took a boat and glided down the Ganges at sunrise. The entire river bank was thronged with bathers and the river itself dotted with boatmen disposing of remains or ashes. An occasional corpse or dead dog floated past. The water was clearly polluted yet the pilgrims drank of it to purify themselves, believing it miraculous. The panorama reminded Eddie of Arcadian classical paintings by Poussin or Claude, Carthage in ruins. In the evening the shore was lit fitfully with oases of light. These were the Burning Ghats* of Kashi, the most exalted of them being the Ghat of Manikarnika.

The Burning Ghat of Manikarnika near Benares
Benares (Varanasi) Burning Ghats

In a mental state bordering on horror they saw wooden biers, shrouded bodies roped to them then immersed in the Ganges and allowed to dry. A pyre of selected woods was constructed, the body reverently placed upon it and lit with a flaming torch after incantations had been intoned. Waves of heat and smoke carrying the sound and smell of flames devouring flesh rose to the visitors’ viewing towers where they stood. Funeral priests moved through the haze like phantoms, striking the corpses with batons. Eddie was aghast to hear the cracking of the skull with a bamboo pole, to release the soul. They watched the compelling scene with fascination, their inexperienced natures stunned by the sight.

Ramnagar Fort Benares (Varanasi) around 1920

Eddie and George were to perform at the magnificent eighteenth-century Ramnagar Fort before HH Maharajadhiraja Sri Sir Prabhu Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur and his guests. He had been created Maharaja of Benares of the  new  Princely  State  by  the  British in 1911 and had been granted a personal salute of 15 guns. This imposing and exotic red sandstone confection of Hindu and Islamic architecture is situated some fourteen kilometers from Varanasi  on the opposite bank of the river. Monumental walls and bastions reminiscent of crusader castles line the river front. Airy open formal courtyards, fountains and carved arcades adorn the interior spaces.

Prabhu Narayan Singh, Maharaja of Benares (1855-1931) 1903 before whom Eddie and George performed

Chopin was historically performed before the Maharaja for the first recorded time

*A ghat is a defined length of river frontage between some 30–200 yards long. Most are in the form of terraces of steps leading down to the River Ganges. The ‘Burning Ghats’ are those where corpses are cremated.

†Lt. Colonel HH Maharajadhiraja Kashi Naresh Sir Prabhu Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur (1855–1931).

The Maharaja lavished gifts of diamond-encrusted cigarette cases and diamond cuff links upon them and placed his magnificent Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost at their disposal. Early motoring in India was a dramatic activity as they discovered en route to their concert. As the car made its stately progress past bullock carts, their occupants tumbled out in fear onto the road, the animals plunging into nearby ditches at the manic blowing of its klaxon. The ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ wafted past sacred cows and elephants, supplicants before wayside altars, screaming children and colourfully turbaned pilgrims. Dogs fearlessly charged the car head on emerging unscathed from beneath barking wildly in the choking dust. One of the British guests, a Deputy Collector, told them of an elderly Indian woman walking in the middle of the road who was run over and killed by a speeding car carrying the Nizam Mahbub Ali Pasha of Hyderabad. His Highness being troubled by the event sent a generous gift to the family. Observers noticed that from then on whenever the Nizam went driving the road suddenly filled with the elderly poor placed there by impecunious and optimistic relatives.

Thank you Letter from the Maharaja of Benares

The concert was a great success and an historic occasion. They performed in the opulent Durbar Hall within the Maharajah’s palace, a room lined with precious marbles, brocades of silver  and gold, inlaid ivory furniture, a sandalwood throne, crystal chandeliers and tiger skins. For the first time in the history of the palace Eddie performed Chopin (the first time his music had been performed for a Maharaja), Liszt, Beethoven and Chaminade whilst George sang Schubert and Brahms Lieder, English art songs as well as Negro spirituals. A Hindustani late-night raga native to Benares was movingly performed on the sarod, mridangam and tabla at the conclusion of their concert

Installment 3

Chapter 2

Of Maharajas and Palaces

Scroll down for Preface, Prologue and Installments 1 & 2

It was my songs that taught me all the lessons I ever learnt.

The beautiful, spiritual face of Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali

Frederick Shipman harboured immense ambition for the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party. He conceived the longest musical concert tour of the Southeast Asia and India ever attempted by Europeans. Over a period of more than a year, at times together with the operatic soprano Rita Erle (formerly Rita Kirkpatrick) and lyric soprano Miss Josie Westaway (the beautiful young soloist of St Mary’s Cathedral choir Sydney), they would tour India, the Philippine Islands, Siam (Thailand), Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Kashmir and Burma (Myanmar). In late September 1919 after a lavish farewell party thrown by Miss Westaway at her parents’ home, they embarked on the SS Montoro, a comfortable passenger vessel that plied between Australia, India, Java and Singapore. The paper streamers connecting them to friends and relations stretched taut and snapped. A great adventure lay ahead.

Edward Cahill at 25 before the beginning of the Far Eastern Tour
SS Montoro

Their first taste of the exotic East came unexpectedly in Darwin itself as they were marooned there for three dull weeks waiting for a passage. In 1919 Darwin was an unprepossessing town  prone to periodic destruction by cyclones. Unemployed Chinese, Europeans and Japanese lolled in the stifling heat. Bullock carts and camel trains passed lethargically along the wide streets while the occasional bean seed planter in a white sola topi and tropical suit emerged onto a wooden balcony. The evening before they sailed, an excited Eddie and George gave a concert using an ancient piano in a dilapidated ‘concert hall’.

Stokes Hill Wharf - Wikiwand
Stokes Hill Wharf, Darwin cir.1920

The voyage was smooth and uneventful, the gentle thrum of the engines reassuring, the movement of air on deck refreshing during velvet tropical nights. Their first appearance in ‘the East’ en route to India was at the imposing Victoria Theatre in Singapore for two nights on 22 October and 24 October. A few months before their arrival a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles had been erected before the tall signature clock tower to celebrate the centenary of the founding of Singapore.* They then sailed on to Bangkok for a brief appearance while the ship took on stores and cargo. Reviews of these concerts appear not to have survived. They would give further performances on the return voyage to Australia after their extended tour of India. After reaching the Bay of Bengal some hundred miles from Calcutta (Kolkata) Port, a highly skilled and immaculately dressed pilot boarded the ship with his assistant. He guided the ship through the swift and treacherous currents of the Hooghly (Hugli) River past the ruins of a Portuguese Fort to the berth at Diamond Harbour. Kipling described it as ‘the most dangerous river on earth’ with channels swollen with ‘the fat silt of the fields’. Eddie and George were taken by car from here to the Grand Hotel. They would perform their first recital of the tour at the dazzlingly white imperial Calcutta Club.

Automobiles parked along once-fabled Chowringhee Road where the pleasure seekers went. Firpo’s restaurant and night club was one of the best anywhere, and adjacent to it is Grand Hotel, still synonymous with luxury. In the distance is a tower of the sprawling Whiteaway Laidlaw, a famous department store, now an LIC property named Metropolitan Building. The pavements of Chowringhee have been appropriated by hawkers and Firpo’s is now a market.

Calcutta (Kolkata), known as the ‘City of Palaces’ had been the colourful and exotic capital of the East India Company and British Raj for over a hundred years. The imposing Calcutta Club had been founded in 1907 by Lord Minto successor to Lord Curzon as Viceroy of India§. Minto, a keen hunter (his shooting party bagged 4,919 inedible sand grouse in two days in 1906), once commented in a burst of imperial pride ‘The Raj will not disappear in India as long as the British race remains what it is …’. Wandering about in the enervating heat they admired Dalhousie Square (the present Benoy-Badal-Dinesh Bagh), the classically columned administrative centre of the city and the former headquarters of the East India Company.

*Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781–1826) was a British statesman most famous for his founding of Singapore on 6 February 1819. His legacy lives on along with his name.

‘An Unqualified Pilot’ from Rudyard Kipling Land and Sea Tales (London 1923), p. 35.

‡ Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 4th Earl of Minto (1845–1914) Viceroy of India 1905–10.

§ George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (1859–1925) was the pre-eminent Viceroy of India 1899–1905.

Like many young men of the day, the most Eddie and George knew of the city (and perhaps of the entire country) was that notorious myth of Empire, the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’.

The Black Hole Of Calcutta, In Which Drawing by Mary Evans Picture Library

Eddie was enraptured by the former capital and its extensive parks. They strolled through the hazy European Quarter along wide avenues of classical Palladian architecture. The  Royal Botanic Gardens, perhaps the finest in the Empire, were situated on the opposite bank of the Hooghly River. They admired the Great Banyan, traveller palms, mangoes, feathery casuarinas and mahogany. At the entrance to Government House a monumental classical arch was crowned with a British lion, its paw possessively resting on a globe in a statement of invincibility.

File:Government House, Calcutta in the 1860s (01).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Government House (Raj Bhavan), Calcutta (Kolkata)
Government House – Gateway, Calcutta, 1865 – PURONOKOLKATA
Gateway to Government House (Raj Bhavan), Calcutta (Kolkata)
The Raj Bhavan (Government House), Kolkata, India, by Charles Wyatt
The Throne Room, Government House (Raj Bhavan), Calcutta (Kolkata)

They explored the poor areas and dusty markets, the air beguiling them with spices and the aroma of rich roasting coffee.

It was a particularly sensitive time for a concert party to be touring India. By the time of their visit cracks in the edifice of imperial domination had inexorably begun to widen. The storm clouds of Indian nationalism were gathering. The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party had arrived to entertain but the Anglo–Indian administrators were teetering on the brink of profound change.* Ghandi had transformed the Indian National Congress into a powerful force demanding home rule. Our entertainers had sailed into a fraught political atmosphere.

Both Eddie and George believed that audiences wished primarily to be amused, women being far more sympathetic to music than men. This would certainly have been the case in colonial India. British men were judged on their preference for ‘hard bodily exercise’, their ability to ride, hunt game, show skill at pig-sticking, shoot and talk about tigers. These jungle wallahs preferred ‘knocking about in stained brown raiment’ and waking up for breakfast in virgin undergrowth to listening to classical music. When the blunt Irish-born Viceroy Sir John Lawrence learned that one benighted Civilian had brought a piano out to India he swore to ‘smash it’ for him.

*In the nineteenth and early twentieth century the term ‘Anglo–Indian’ was defined by the OED as ‘Of mixed British and Indian parentage, of Indian descent but born or living in Britain, or (chiefly historical) of British descent or birth but living or having lived long in India’.

† Sir John Lawrence (1811–79) was a British statesman who served as Viceroy of India 1864–69.

‡ Members of the Indian Civil Service were known as ‘Civilians’.

However, scattered among the prospective audience were the Collectors and Civilians of the Imperial bureaucracy.* They were the minority of cultured Oxford men, some even intellectuals, who read Plato, Horace and Homer whilst in India. Some studied and made significant contributions to knowledge of the languages and ethnography of the subcontinent. Most contributed significantly to advancing the infrastructure in India, ruling by a curious mixture of discipline, military might and moral force.

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The Calcutta (Kolkata) Club

The Calcutta Club concerts were highly successful (discounting the wayward tuning of the piano) with many encores being enthusiastically demanded. As well as performing his usual Liszt rhapsodies,  Chopin  polonaises  and  nocturnes,  Eddie  realized  it was close to Christmas. Many in the audience were separated  by their colonial duties from the comforting drawing room fires and festive cheer of ‘Home’. To conclude the classical section of his concerts Eddie performed the novelty piece ‘Trinity Chimes’ by the American composer Walter Decker. In this astonishing piece ‘Silent Night’ alternates with ‘Come All Ye Faithful’ in the bell-like upper registers of the piano, the charm and amusement of which was augmented by George ringing hand bells. This reminder of an English Christmas was rapturously received.

A period cartoon of Edward Cahill at the piano, Calcutta (Kolkata) 1920

*A ‘Collector’ was a principal position in the executive branch of the Indian Government (Indian Administrative Service).

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A long train journey hugging the coast of  the  Bay  of  Bengal  took them through heat and dust to Madras (Chennai) on the Coramandel Coast, the landscape a mixture of palms, lagoons and white beaches. The climate of Madras was debilitating so the city was not a popular posting. The new, large capacity Wellington Cinema in the suburb of Tana welcomed them for a week-long season. Eddie received glowing reviews praising his musical temperament ‘which enables him to give interpretations of compositions which are full of expression, which seek to convey the meaning the composer intended to convey.’ He was forced  to perform on an indifferent baby grand piano with sweating, slippery fingers. The Madras Times wrote: ‘The chief praise must undoubtedly be given to Mr Cahill. He played magnificently, and the memory of at least one item, Zanella’s Minuetto will remain with us for a very long time.’* Eddie also played the Moonlight Sonata, the famous Rachmaninoff Prelude in G minor and some minor salon works of his own composition.

Wellington theatre Mount Road | Vintage photographs, Historical photos, Old  pictures
Wellington Theatre, Madras (Chennai) cir. 1930

*The Tempo di Minuetto No. 1 Op. 29.

                                                                                        * * *

A week-long season in Bangalore (Bengaluru) left them exhausted.

Bangalore 1900

The company were lodged in the fine West End Hotel. In the city Cubbon Park was named Rotten Row in a nostalgic reference to London’s fashionable ride in Hyde Park. Eddie was far more of a mannered aesthete than George and enjoyed what  he  called ‘the charm and extravagance of imperial life’. The  heat  and  exotic atmosphere excited his libido as he picnicked with ladies in Meade’s Park and listened to imperial military bands. George found the English rulers pretentious and often refused to accept formal invitations to white tie dinner parties. The need to adapt to English colonial manners soon led to frayed tempers. In addition a platonic romance seemed to be blossoming between Eddie and ‘the particularly charming’ soprano Josie Westaway. George sang duets with her and discovered his own heart similarly engaged. This lead to the boys leading rather separate social lives.

Bamboo Island & Cubbon Park Bangalore - Old Postcard 1905 - Past-India

The testimonials from Dame Nellie Melba gave them carte blanche to the highest cultural circles. Eddie was praised for possessing ‘the characteristic modesty of a true artist’. George was praised for the adventurous variety of his songs ranging from Schubert Lieder to Negro spirituals. In an interview he commented that as artists they wished to attract the casual lover of music, ‘the one who says he knows nothing about it but just likes it.’

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The pleasantly mild winter weather continued until the end of January 1920. The steam locomotive of the Guaranteed State Railway Company pulled into the largely deserted fortress-like railway station at Secunderabad carrying the concert party to their next engagement. This small town, founded as a British cantonment at the turn of the eighteenth century, is separated from its better known twin sister Hyderabad by beautiful Lake Hussain Sagar.*

*A cantonment was a permanent military station.

Secunderabad at the turn of the century

Eddie and George performed at the Secunderabad Club, one of the five oldest clubs in India and at that time reserved exclusively for British officers and their wives and families. Enthusiasm greeted what was clearly an ‘event to pass the weary hours’. After the concert the audience clamoured for a return of the touring company. The local paper wrote pointedly

‘As a rule touring parties that come to small stations like ours are attended only by people who can think of nothing else to do or dinner parties the hostesses of which do not feel able to entertain their guest after the meal. This was not the case on Monday.’

Secunderabad Club - Wikipedia
The Secunderabad Club cir.1920

The travelling concert party were almost living on trains breathing in gritty smoke for hours. From Secunderabad they travelled on a narrow gauge railway into the thankfully cool nights of Poona (Pune). Pune is situated in Maharashtra at the confluence of the Mutha and Mula rivers, occupying a strategic position on the trade routes between the Deccan and the Arabian Sea. Poona was one of the best rest stations in India because of the climate, the gymkhana, the charming balls and ‘jolly regattas’ celebrated on the river.

Main Street, Poona (Pune)

The concert party performed at the weatherboard Gymkhana before a mixed audience of graceful ladies and stiff military officers. The ‘Poona Season’ began in June so they had arrived at an unfashionable time. Eddie worried about an initially ‘deep silence’ that reigned after each item. Society in Poona was rather straight-laced at any time but at the conclusion the audience erupted into ‘tumultuous applause’. The concerts were reviewed as ‘a musical treat of a very high order.’

Gymkhana High Resolution Stock Photography and Images - Alamy
The Gymkhana, Poona (Pune)

Eddie was curious to explore the other side of town, the alternative world of their ‘official’ engagements. The Imperial Poona lifestyle was in shocking contrast to the indigenous area, still locked into the Peshwa era. He noticed no broad roads here, simply unsealed tracks, numerous Hindu temples, a labyrinth of suffocating alleys and lanes swirling with dust and dirt. Stinking latrines were placed at the entrance to houses for the convenience of the sewage collectors creating terrible discomfort to those entering or leaving the dwellings. At night a shattered collection of kerosene lamps gave fitful illumination to the human shadows that flitted past seeking the safety of home.

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From Poona to Bombay (Mumbai) was but a  short  distance.  They experienced a certain ‘Grandeur of Arrival’ at The Victoria Terminus, an imposing Venetian Gothic Revival building enlivened by exuberant Indian decoration.

Victoria Terminus (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) Mumbai (Bombay)

They were taken by horse-drawn carriage to the extraordinary Watson’s Esplanade Hotel, the grandest in the city. Poverty and wealth lay in close proximity; beautiful women and tall athletic men gave a theatrical atmosphere to street life.

Watson's Hotel, Bombay.
Watson’s Esplanade Hotel, Mumbai (Bombay)
The finest hotel in Bombay” now lies in a shambles | Condé Nast Traveller  India
Watsons Esplanade Hotel, Mumbai (Bombay)

Watson’s Hotel had been fabricated in wrought and cast iron by the Phoenix Foundry Company in Derby, shipped out and assembled on a wide Esplanade. One writer referred to the skeleton of the exceptional structure ‘like a huge birdcage had risen like an exhalation from the earth.* The floors were of precious teak, mahogany and Minton tiles. There was a central atrium with a restaurant, drapers, tailoring shops, drawing rooms and billiard rooms located below the hotel accommodation.

*James Douglas, Bombay and Western India: A Series of Stray Papers, 2 vols, 1893, vol. 1, p. 218.

The hotel was the first pre-skyscraper, multi-storey habitable building in the world in which all loads, including those of the brick curtain walls, were carried on an iron frame. Eddie and George took small rooms in the upper story reserved for ‘bachelors and quasi-single gentlemen’. The reception cannot have been so different for them than when Mark Twain stayed at the hotel at the turn of the twentieth century. He described his own arrival at Watson’s in his wonderfully prolix travelogue entitled  Following the Equator:

‘The lobbies and halls were full of turbaned, and fez’d and embroidered, cap’d, and barefooted, and cotton-clad dark natives, some of them rushing about, others at rest squatting, or sitting on the ground; some of them chattering with energy, others still and dreamy; in the dining-room every man’s own private native servant standing behind his chair, and dressed for a part in the Arabian Nights …*

The Times of India, 14 February 1870, p. 2.

*Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Round the World (Hartford, Connecticut 1897), p. 348.

Kipling fictionalized the hotel in two of his stories.

The first concerts Eddie and George gave were at the Bombay Gymkhana, originally a cricket pavilion that had grown into an exclusive club for British officers. After their evening and lunchtime concerts, which were extremely popular, they would relax, sip their Pimm’s or take a ‘peg’ of whiskey and watch a cricket match from the spacious veranda. Fans revolved lethargically in the high wooden ceilings. Their customary mixed musical program was ‘ferociously applauded’.

bombay gymkhana club, mumbai gymkhana, mumbai news, maharashtra, once upon a time, bombay gymkhana history, bombay gymkhana club information
Bombay (Mumbai) Gymkhana

The Bombay Advocate wrote that the customarily decorous audience were given to ‘enthusiastic cheers mingled with outbursts of applause when Mr Edward Cahill, the talented Australian pianist, finished his second number’. The response bordered on an actual ovation by the colonial ‘men of action’ normally bored to tears by piano playing. George was considered to have a ‘fine platform appearance’ and ‘a limpid quality of tone and fine phrasing’. Xaver Scharwenka’s spirited Polish Dances were tremendously popular, as was the Miserere scene from Il Travatore. As well as Chopin polonaises, Eddie repeated the novelty piece ‘Trinity Chimes’ with George once again enthusiastically setting to on hand bells. The nostalgia thus evoked almost brought down the house. They had also been secured for a long run of performances at the magnificent and relatively new Royal Opera House, the interior adorned with crystal chandeliers, precious marbles, cane seating and behind the stalls, rows of boxes with notorious couches.

The Bombay Chronicle perceptively noted that ‘Mr Cahill tries to arrange his programs that it may have a crescendo of interest, and by arousing the imagination to appeal to the casual theatre-goer as well as the trained musician.’ The hall was crowded to hear his ‘renowned singing tone’ in a selection of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words and to appreciate his lightness and elegance in the Andante and Rondo capriccioso. They leapt to their feet after the dramatic and popular Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No.12.‘His mastery of the piano suggests genius rather than talent. He is destined to become famous.’ Eddie commented on the intense musicality of the large number of Bombay Parsis who patronized their concerts, one family attending eighteen performances and following them to other points of call around the country.*

† A ‘peg’ was a miniature jug for a measure of alcoholic drink in colonial India. Also known as a chota-peg.

*The Parsis are an ancient minority Persian Zoroastrian racial group who fled religious persecution in Iran in the 10th century to settle in India, mainly in Bombay. They were particularly loyal to Britain during the period of Empire and their outstanding character qualities, moral stature and advanced culture were greatly respected by the imperial powers. The conductor Zubin Mehta is and the popular singer Freddie Mercury was a Parsi.

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The Viceroy at the time of their visit to Jaipur was the much decorated Frederic Thesiger, 1st Viscount Chelmsford, ‘a lofty patrician with a Merovingian disdain for interference in any business at all and a man in the hands of his own officials. He had been a controversial Governor of Queensland from 1905–9 before being appointed Viceroy by George V in 1916. The soundness of his judgment was often called into question. Despite the grandeur and power of their position, the Viceroys were not always from the absolute top flight of administrative British talent. The enormous Rajputana Agency area was referred to disparagingly in personal letters as the ‘Great Sloth Belt’. The concert party had been invited to give a single concert of classical music before the Maharajah of Jaipur, HH Maharajadhiraja Sir Madho Singh II§. The Viceroy also communicated a wish to hear the Queensland pianist. This was the first occasion the music of Chopin had been performed before Maharajas.

† Frederic John Napier Thesiger, 1st Viscount Chelmsford (1868–1933), Viceroy of India 1916–1921.

‡ Nigel Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer (London 2005), p. 324.

§ HH Maharajadhiraja Sir Madho Singh II (1880–1922).

An adopted son of the Maharaja HH Ram Singh (1835–80), HH Madho Singh II was a just and progressive ruler. He extended the superb Rambagh Palace to lavishly accommodate guests. It had its own polo field attached to the pleasure gardens. Lord Curzon had a particular respect for this ruler who had made an historic visit to England in 1902 to attend the coronation of King Edward VII, now Emperor of India. Mounted Indian colonial troops had made the event into a superb pageant. To accommodate his orthodox Hindu lifestyle he chartered an entire P & O liner modified to include a temple to Krishna. Master silversmiths had cast two vast polished gangajalis (water containers) from some 14,000 silver coins filled with hundreds of gallons of sacred Ganges water for drinking and bathing while abroad.

May be an image of monument and text that says "A vintage photograph of the Rambagh Palace"
A vintage photograph of the Rambagh Palace Hotel

For their first concert in overwhelmingly sumptuous surroundings, the Maharajah sent two Sunbeam motorcars to collect the concert party. For the second concert he dispatched a richly caparisoned elephant. When entering the palace by motorcar they had wondered at the imposing gate what appeared to be a doorbell mounted high above the ground. Seated in the opulent howdah perched on the back of the elephant its high placement became clear.

A Royal elephant flanked by guards awaits the Marharaja 1929

The Maharaja, as Eddie noted, festooned in ‘more precious jewels, pearls and priceless fabrics than I have ever seen in my entire life’ appreciated the performance.

Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh.jpg
The Maharaja of Jaipur before whom Eddie and George performed

George almost caused a serious incident of etiquette before they began to perform by investigating in a mood of vague curiosity what was behind the Purdah Curtain in the Durbar Hall. The private secretary to the Maharaja rushed across preventing the cultural calamity of George gazing upon the ruler’s wives concealed there to hear the concert. Eddie and George in wonderment finally rested in the palace as honoured guests, touring and admiring the beauty of this princely city with its pink sandstone palaces and beautiful gardens.

jaipur street 1926
Street scene Jaipur with the famous pink buildings (Gervais Courtellemont)

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Installment 2

Chapter 1

Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket

Scroll down for Installment 1, Preface and Prologue

[Footnotes are in red]

Eddie’s work in the silent cinema was the beginning of his artistic career. However whilst inhabiting the world of celluloid dreams, roaming the outback and playing in darkened cinemas Eddie did not really take much note of the worsening world situation. It was reported on 28 June 1914 that a European town called Sarajevo was in mourning for an Austrian royal personage who had been shot by a lunatic. Tributes to the nobleman, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, were paid by the British House of Commons. Sir Oliver  Lodge,  on his way to Melbourne in July for the meeting of the British Association, said it was most regrettable that Britain should fight over ‘a little bother in Serbia.’

The gravity of the European crisis was overlooked in general  in Australia as other matters were distracting the public. Dame Nellie Melba was on her way home. Through her influence the Commonwealth Government had acquired the Marconi patents for wireless broadcasting. Australia was beating Canada in the Davis Cup and Maurice Guillaux was setting out to carry air mail from Melbourne to Sydney, then the longest air mail flight in the world. When war was actually declared the Sydney Morning Herald drew itself up:

‘Above and beyond everything our armies will fight for British honour. It is our baptism of fire.’*

Eddie had chosen not to enlist for the Great War despite the pressure exerted by his younger and more jingoistic brother James. He did not particularly dislike Germans – his mother was one.

The whole idea of hatred, death and killing were abhorrent to him. The war had silently crept up on most people. His mother was secretly relieved. She had suffered and wept enough when his brother James had enlisted in 1916. Another son heading towards the trenches would have been too much to bear. His Irish father was strangely non-committal, yet he seemed to exert an invisible pressure on his artistic son not to be a shirker and do his duty.

* Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 6 August 1914, p. 6.

A man given the white feather of cowardice for not enlisting in the Great War

Eddie never forgot the shame of being handed a white feather in full view of the drinkers outside his father’s hotel by one of the pretty Beenleigh girls. For the entire period of the war he felt neurotically divided between the responsibility he felt towards his artistic calling and a nagging guilt for failing to enlist. An idea of the prevailing attitude to culture is contained in the earliest newspaper mention of Eddie in the Darling Downs Gazette of Saturday 19 June 1913. He is referred to as ‘the brilliant young pianiste’ in a society gossip column entitled Le Beau Monde, the writer having adopted the moniker ‘Pansy’. Of his concert in Toowoomba on 21 July a perceptive columnist was one of the first to describe qualities that remained throughout his career

Mr Cahill’s technique lacks nothing in accuracy, his taste is excellent and he has the enviable facility of making the audience firm friends by his unassuming manner and undoubted facility.

The German Dauth immigrant side of his mother’s musical family were silently marginalized as ‘enemy aliens’ although not interned during the Great War. The discrimination did not reach the heights it did in England where even dachshund dogs were attacked in the street. Some five percent of the population of Queensland was of German heritage, yet the state had a more moderate policy towards internees than most other Australian states. Overall, the pressure of immigration remained an inflammatory issue. The town of Innisfail was described by the notorious Smith’s Weekly as ‘a town of dreadful dagoes … a filthy foreign scum oozes from its highways.’

Darling Downs Gazette, 22 July 1913, p. 6. At this concert Eddie performed Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12, the Chopin Nocturne Op. 27 No. 2 and Prelude in C minor Op. 28 No. 20 as well as the Scherzo-Caprice Op. 22 by the now forgotten French composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95). At this time he played Gors and Kallman German pianos.

‡ Quoted Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 176.

 * * *

Another of Eddie’s few brief periods of formal study of the instrument entailed six months in 1912 with a Mr J. A. Johnstone of Melbourne, described by the Queenslander newspaper as being ‘a musician of broad views and great knowledge, a clear and commonsensible thinker and writer on musical subjects, and altogether one of the best equipped teachers in Australia.’ Overflowing with natural talent Eddie was largely a self-taught musician with the sustaining vanity that accompanies such gifts. He had left the family nest and was now committed to making his living from music, specifically piano playing.

Early in 1914 he was to be introduced to a man who would change his professional life considerably. The  English-born singer, variety artist, entrepreneur and businessman Edward Branscombe had arrived in Australia in 1896 with the English Concert Company. He had been a solo tenor at Westminster Abbey during much of the 1890s, but his career is primarily associated with Australia. In 1901, following a tour of South Africa, Branscombe assembled the Westminster Glee Party and toured the Commonwealth performing a repertoire of English part songs, glees, and madrigals. In addition to his role as soloist, he acted as music director, conductor, and arranger.

Edward Branscombe

Unlike Britain where the musical  hall  and  vaudeville  attracted fairly exclusively working-class audiences, the average Australian audience comprised a considerable mix of classes and tastes. Australian theatre was not exclusively preoccupied with bushrangers, convicts and the harsh life of settlers in the outback although they took their rightful place as a reflection of the country’s history. Variety acts and plays from abroad were equally if not more popular than the home-grown product.

Branscombe pioneered the use of open-air venues in Australia with his 1909 season at the Melbourne seaside suburb of St Kilda. Open-air garden theatres were subsequently opened in Brisbane and other state capitals. By 1911, Branscombe had put together a number of troupes under the generic title ‘The Dandies’, the name reflecting the elegant style of costuming and stage decoration. Each troupe, comprising around a dozen performers and a music director/pianist, was distinguished by a colour. Beginning with the Orange Dandies, subsequent companies evolved in the manner of the rainbow to be the Green, Pink, Red, Violet, and Scarlet Dandies.

The Blue Dandies

These companies maintained a significant presence around Australia throughout the First World War, and in this respect played a particularly important role in the country’s cultural development, particularly in the smaller, more far-flung capital cities. They employed more than sixty performers at a time and each troupe had an almost exclusive repertoire of many original songs. They presented new material each season. The performers were experienced, multi-talented professionals from the worlds of music hall, vaudeville, or musical comedy. Eddie was taken on as the music director and pianist of the Violet Dandies for the 1914– 1915 season and the Orange company from 1916–17. The Orange Dandies had orange and black stage decorations and the men in the troupe wore evening suits faced with orange silk. He greatly respected Branscombe’s attention to detail and musical knowledge.

The home of the Brisbane cast was the Cremorne Theatre on the banks of the Brisbane River. The great Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski performed there on his tour of Australia and commented favourably on the musical discrimination of Brisbane audiences.*

Paderewski and a child from the film ‘Moonlight Sonata’

Eddie performed more serious classical works as well as vaudeville accompaniments, some composed by himself. In popular venues such as the Exhibition Gardens in Adelaide he was sometimes restricted to an upright piano by limited stage space. He loved Weber and performed the Invitation to the Dance with vocal accompaniment as well as the Konzertstück in F minor and the Grieg Piano Concerto A minor with his sister Lily (also an excellent pianist) who performed the keyboard reduction of the orchestral parts on a second instrument.

Glittering confections played with his characteristic élan and panache such as the Grand Polka de Concert Op. 1 by the forgotten American composer Homer Newton Bartlett (1845–1920) were tremendously popular. He was born in Olive, New York. A pianist and composer, he was considered one of the finest of American musicians.

*Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860–1941) was a Polish pianist, composer, politician and states- man who battled for Polish independence. He was well known and deeply respected on a global scale for both his musicianship and as a statesman. He was the prime minister and foreign minister of Poland in 1919, and represented Poland at the Paris Peace Conference in the same year.

The fine pianist Harold Bauer, a pupil of Paderewski who performed with Pablo Casals and Fritz Kreisler, was touring Australia early in 1913. He was greatly impressed with Eddie’s playing and encouraged him to study in Paris. The outbreak of war and financial constraints prevented any serious consideration of this idea.

The Brisbane Courier described what an audience might experience in this type of early Australian theatre during the capricious summer weather:

Open-air entertainments are delightful on summer evenings in Brisbane, and the popular ‘Cremorne’ theatre, situated on the river bank, South Brisbane, facing the south-east, and open to the cool breezes, is always a favourite resort. During the cool evenings, and when the weather is threatening or unpropitious, the popular theatre is converted into a huge canvas hall, and completely enclosed in waterproof awnings and side screens which afford protection against inclement weather.

A decisive meeting came about during this happy period when Eddie met the lyric tenor George Brooke (b. 1886), also a performer with the Violet and Orange Dandies. Eddie was very taken with his superb voice and together they performed English art songs, German Lieder and in particular Negro spirituals of which George was particularly fond. He had studied singing in Melbourne under a Professor Frederick Beard. The British minstrel show was enormously popular in Australia at this time and the more artistic and spiritual forms of its expression were greatly appreciated by ‘cultured’ audiences. In a broadcast for the BBC in the 1930s Eddie reminisced about his first meeting with George Brooke:

George Brooke (1886-1930)

‘I met my fate in the person of George Brooke. He became my partner in every musical venture, and my life-long friend. He had previously been a clerk in a bank but found it so desperately boring he decided to pursue his dream of being a singer.  I had gone over to Manly one warm summer evening to see the Dandy Show. There were about a dozen performers in the company which appeared to be a very popular one.

†Harold Bauer (1873–1951), a notable pianist born in Kingston upon Thames to a German father (a violinist) and an English mother.

‡ Brisbane Courier, 22 September 1917, p. 12.

But George Brooke the singer was even then the star attraction of the show. A man with expressive dark eyes and a smile that disclosed teeth of dazzling whiteness, he was noticeable on the platform by a certain aloofness, an expression almost of boredom, when he was not actually singing. The moment he opened his mouth he appeared to become another person, and seemed to exert on his audience, quite without effort, an extraordinary personal magnetism.

The atmosphere of the crowded audience changed imperceptibly as he sang his first number. People sat silent, attentive, not a dress rustling, not a cough or movement. He sang a simple ballad The Empty Nest. Another artist might have rendered it sugary sweet, an ordinary song. This young man lifted it into the realm of true art. I knew then he was destined for greater things than a Dandy show. It was not long now before I was in the same show playing for Brooke, and this was the beginning of a great partnership that lasted until his untimely death.

George, although he knew as well as I did, that he ‘had the goods’ was always more apathetic in business than I was and it was becoming more and more the rule between us for me to be the battling member of the firm. That was the difference in our respective temperaments. It has always been my way to rush in where angels fear to tread, but George was more of the ‘live and let live’ type. ‘Leave it to Ed’ in business matters was his slogan. He had less sense of money than anyone I ever knew. I have even known him to start out to do our household marketing with a five pound note returning with five pounds in change and an armful of purchases! ‘Why worry?’ was his motto and yet strange to say, he was wonderfully accurate and painstaking in things of real importance he wanted to carry through. It was always left to Brooke to look after the cash. In the job he was quite in his element, never made a mistake in the reckoning and never lost sight of it until it was safely in the bank.’

You can hear a rare recording by Edward Cahill’s musical partner George Brooke of My Love Parade from the American musical comedy film The Love Parade and Peasant Love Song from the film Married in Hollywood – Columbia Records 1928
(Permission from the National Sound & Film Archive Australia)

https://app.box.com/s/kxs7e8cfnn8bywz1flw33xh3618lfkh1

Another consequential moment occurred early in 1915 in Adelaide on one of their earliest Australian tours with the Dandies when Eddie and George met Dame Nellie Melba.*

*Dame Nellie Melba (1861–1931) was an Australian operatic lyric soprano of incalculable fame and renown in her day. She became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian period performing for Royalty across Europe, the Tsar of All the Russias and Leo Tolstoy. She was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician and became a household name. She actively supported her compatriots, like Eddie and George, if she felt that they, as she put it rather bluntly, ‘had the goods’.

Dame Nellie Melba in ‘La Traviata’.
Eddie was one of her protégées

Eddie continues in a broadcast reminiscence:

‘The diva at that time was giving a series of concerts in the Exhibition Building – a great barn of a place – in whose pleasant gar- dens our own show was also holding a season in the open air.

We frequently said to one another ‘What a bit of luck it would be for us if we could induce Melba to hear our work.’ The idea grew to be a sort of superstition in our minds. If Melba would hear us and approve, all would be well. I remember the clock striking 12 on the night when we finally sealed a letter containing our request to Melba to give us a private audition and I said to Brooke ‘Surely that is a good omen for us.’ George was just as keen on the idea as me, but, as usual I did all the talking!’

Next morning we were summoned to Government House, where Melba was staying as the guest of Lady Galway.* I had heard Melba sing. How can I describe her voice? To me it was as sparkling as silver. There was a coolness about it. It is almost impossible to describe the beauty of it. I can never forget that haunting white quality, or should I say that perfection of tone in Salce, Salce the Willow Song sung by Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello. Meeting her face to face on such an important mission was a very different matter. We knew of her erratic temperament, her moods, her sudden likes and dislikes, How would she act towards us?

Punctually at the appointed time Melba came into the drawing room with that quick, forceful step of hers that was so characteristic. We had heard from Lady Galway that Melba was exhausted under the strain of the previous night’s concert, but there was no evidence of it in her appearance. She immediately asked us to begin. I played one of my favourite works, the dramatic Bach-Tausig Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Brooke sang the German Lieder that he loved so well. Before Melba had spoken we both felt she was interested in our work. In her abrupt, spontaneous way she asked me to also play some work at two of her concerts.

As we were about to leave she said ‘Always keep something in reserve. Never give the public all you have.’ This of course was of great value to me as a professional pianist.

* Lady Galway (1876–1963), Marie Carola Franciska d’Erlanger, was a Baroness and the only daughter of the Irish Baronet Sir Rowland Blennerhassett and Countess Charlotte Julia de Leyden, a biographer and historian from Bavaria. She married Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Lionel Galway, KCMG, DSO (1859–1949) who was the spectacularly controversial Governor of South Australia from April 1914 until April 1920. During the Great War the Governor stirred up resentment against Australians of German descent despite the fact his wife was half German.

Subsequently Melba said to Brooke ‘You must both go to London after this terrible war is settled. Better to be a lamp post in London than a star in Australia.’ Naturally this gave us great heart. Melba had enormous strength of character. The Queenslander newspaper commented on the success abroad of Percy Grainger. Of the re- mark made by Madame Melba the paper observed ‘Paderewski is still on the throne, but the world is wide, and there is plenty of room and reward for pianists of exceptional quality.

When the time came she promised to give us letters of introduction to her manager in London and something special to my heart, a letter of introduction to the great Russian pianist Vladimir de Pachmann.* At the time he was considered one of the greatest Chopin interpreters in the world. I always likened Melba to a Roman Emperor.’

Performing with George he found it easier to calm his nervous tension. Described as ‘bright, alert, happy and breezy in speech, quite modest in regard to his attainments but an enthusiastic music lover’he occasionally and surprisingly suffered stage fright. They gave many concerts as a duo all over Australia  to great acclaim   in addition to their Dandies contract. The ‘sharing’ of musical discoveries rather than ‘presenting’ music would be the source of their continuing popularity. Their work with the Dandies helped them achieve a remarkable balance in skillful programme design within a variety of musical genres. A Schumann Novelette or the Chopin Grande Valse Brillante might jostle surprisingly well with the popular and stirring Maori song Waiata Poi; a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody may follow a Negro spiritual; serious Schubert Lieder or Puccini operatic arias hold hands with charming salon piano pieces by the largely forgotten composers such as Cécile Chaminade‡, Amilcare Zanella§ or Benjamin Godard.

* The Russian pianist Vladimir de Pachmann (1848–1933) was regarded as one of the greatest pianists of his day and considered by his public as the greatest interpreter of Cho- pin. He was possessed of extraordinary eccentricities during performances, often engaging the audience verbally, describing how he was playing, even praising himself lavishly and audibly in mid-piece. ‘Excellent Pachmann!’

Prahran Telegraph, 5 February 1916, p. 4.

‡ Cécile Chaminade (1857–1944) was a now largely forgotten French composer who had an extremely successful career performing her own works with inimitable Parisian chic and panache.

§ Amilcare Zanella (1873–1949) was an Italian composer and pianist who became famous in Argentina and later Director of the Conservatoire at Parma and then later a renowned musical figure at Pesaro on the Adriatic coast of Italy.

Not all the reviews were glowing (‘Mr Cahill’s fingers work faster than his feelings. He necessarily was not so successful where a deep note of feeling has to be sounded, but in others he was delightful … Mr Brooke also is too obvious in his intentions’, wrote the rather mean-spirited music critic of The Argus in Melbourne in November 1917). It was slowly becoming clear that if their star was to rise, a period of ‘study overseas’, preferably in London, would be the next sensible step.

Eddie was a neurasthenic individual, super-sensitive to criticism, and towards the end of 1917 had a complete nervous breakdown. This was the first of a number he suffered throughout his life that hints at a manic-depressive personality or bi-polar disorder. The source of his anxiety was perhaps only partly the result of his fear of audience and critical reaction to  his  playing. There was the prolonged guilt associated with not enlisting and grim apprehensions for his brother fighting at the front. As my researches deepened I began to wonder about his sexual orientation. In this censorious time it may have given him worsening inner conflicts. Certainly he was afflicted with what is now known as ‘free-floating anxiety’, generalized worry out of all proportion to the risk. Anxiety was the first inherited familial aspect of his personality I noticed in myself.

It was thought by the Dandy company that Eddie would need to give up the concert stage for at least a year. However, being a resilient personality and at base a bubbling optimist, he turned matters to his advantage, even attracting a fee for a newspaper testimonial praising the manufacturers of Elliott’s Beef, Iron and Malted Wine which apparently restored him to mental health ‘I am back at my piano again and now feel as ever I was. Your wonderful tonic is a real ‘pick me up’ saving me weeks of illness.’ So well in fact that he gave a ‘heartily applauded’ charity concert for the State War Council’s Appeal Fund at the Town Hall in Melbourne in March 1918.

The Armistice with Germany was signed on 11 November 1918. Eddie and George were suffering chronic financial need and cast about them for further opportunities. Eddie had become deeply depressed over the deaths in a single year of his brother James from influenza and his beautiful sister Mary, beloved for her selflessness, from acute rheumatism. A sense of mortality now lay heavy upon him. Unemployment was a chronic immediate post-war problem in a land hoping to become in the words of the British Prime Minister Lloyd George, ‘fit for heroes’.

Now that the war seemed to be haltingly drawing to a close they decided to leave the Dandies and take the risk of setting up alone as the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party. An account of a concert in the Brisbane Daily Standard of April 1917 indicates initial difficulties:

The Centennial Hall on Saturday night was too small to accommodate the enthusiastic audience that greeted them. The need for a decent hall for this class of entertainment was never so apparent as on this occasion. The promoters did their best to hide the ‘dinginess’, but were powerless to eliminate the noise of clicking billiard balls and roisterers in the backyard adjoining the hall. A tin of rubbish and offal made its presence felt in the outside passage until a soldier volunteered to remove it. Apart from these disadvantages the acoustic properties for vocalists are bad.

After a generally successful Australian tour (where the Moonlight Sonata was usually considered the high point) the primary critical observation, apart from their exhibition of great talent and attracting insistent encores, was that their immense popularity stemmed from ‘playing to suit the tastes of lovers of all classes of music’. Not all was cherry blossom. Classical music critics called for more seriousness from Eddie and more spontaneity from George. Yet most agreed on their tremendous musical promise. It was widely considered that Eddie would become one of the greatest pianists Australia had produced since Percy Grainger.

They were soon engaged by the famous Canadian impresario Frederick Shipman, who managed the tours of such stars as the Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba and the Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler. He planned an unprecedented tour by Western classical musicians of India and the Southeast Asia…..

Installment 1

Chapter 1

Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket

[Footnotes are in red]

On the east coast of Australia in the State of Queensland, or ‘Deep North’ as some Australians call it, lies picturesque Moreton Bay, some twenty kilometres north of Brisbane. Captain Cook named but did not explore it on 15 May 1770 during his first voyage. ‘This veritable Garden of Eden’, teeming with fish, crustacea of all kinds, exotic flowers and colourful birds, subsequently became a ghastly penal outstation. Europeans began to settle the area, but the geography of impenetrable forest and river made farming difficult. This provided a challenge for the predominantly German, Prussian, English and Irish immigrants. The promise of a salubrious climate, orderly government, regular laws, excellent education and religious freedom were irresistible to many fleeing over-population, famine and poverty in Europe.

In 1862 John Davy, his wife Mary and his brother-in-law Francis Gooding emigrated to Queensland and established a sugar plantation between the Albert and Logan Rivers which they named Beenleigh after their old farm in Devon, England. The farm had been suffering severe financial difficulties despite the generally increased prosperity of agriculture in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. In their new home they were soon growing sugar cane and manufacturing rum, a business which developed into the famous Beenleigh Rum Distillery. A small township subsequently evolved at the junction of five roads and flourished under the same name, Beenleigh.

In 1863 the thirty-year-old farmer and blacksmith Johannes Dauth, his twenty-five-year-old wife Caroline and their three children emigrated to Australia from Stöckheim,  Brunswick, some three hundred kilometers north-east of Frankfurt-am-Main. Germans living west and east of the River Elbe had suffered from an increase in population too large for the resources of the land and were facing economic disintegration. These were the boom years for emigration to Australia. Only a few years before Queensland had been created a separate colony from New South Wales. The new colony required a labour force to populate its vast spaces.

The barque Susanne Godeffroy

After lengthy consideration the family sailed on 22 September 1863  on  the  maiden  voyage of the clipper Susanne Godeffroy. She put to sea from Hamburg and encountered a rough and stormy passage through the English Channel and particularly high seas around the Cape of Good Hope into the Roaring Forties. ‘Long ridges of water ran high and fast’ which damaged the masts.* Passengers often landed looking ‘like they had been in the grave for a week and dug up’ reported one migration official. The ship anchored in Moreton Bay over four months later. All the Dauth children survived and a baby was born to Johannes and Caroline whom they named Mary. This infant, so romantically ‘born at sea’, somehow managed to survive the long voyage and would ultimately become the mother of the brilliant Australian pianist Edward Cahill.

Upon arrival Johannes settled in the New Year first at Eagleby (also known as the ‘German Pocket’) but soon moved to nearby Beenleigh where he became one of the earliest settlers. He opened a blacksmith’s shop and built a residence in George Street. Germans were highly respected as hard workers and he became successful supporting his family in relative comfort.

By the mid 1870s Beenleigh was a thriving rural business centre, the main town of the Logan and Albert districts. Queensland had the largest number of German-born residents in the Australian colonies. A school opened in 1871 and one of the Dauth family was among its first pupils. The Beenleigh Hotel was soon established on the corner of George and Main Streets ‘a handsome new two storey building … which will favourably compete for accommodation  and situation with any hotel in the colony out of Brisbane’.

* I am indebted for most of the early history of Beenleigh to Anne McIntyre of the Logan River & District Family History Society Inc. who assisted me greatly in my research and also published They Chose Beenleigh: A Tribute to the Immigrant Landholders and Pioneers of the Beenleigh and Eagleby, Queensland, Australia prior to 1885 (Beenleigh 2009), Sailings, p. 47.

School of Arts, Beenleigh

In the first, six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearances dead, were huddled in a corner on some filthy straw, their sole covering what seemed a ragged horsecloth, their wretched legs hanging about, naked above the knees.

Thousands of inhabitants looking for a better life fled the Great Famine and emigrated to America, Canada or Australia, the Cahill family among them.Edward Cahill Senior was resident in colonial Queensland by 1869. In March of 1881 he was reported to have captained the Tambourine Cricket Club against Upper Logan and knocked up a creditable score as an excellent ‘all rounder’. On the Prince of Wales’s Birthday the following year he played for Beenleigh as a wicket keeper and fielded and batted outstandingly. He was remembered in the town with much affection as a jovial Irishman with a rough sense of humour.

By the 1880s the economy of this vast colony had moved into positive cycle. However the colony of Queensland remained ‘a rather puzzling mixture of success and failure.’§

* The School of Arts Movement originated in Scotland and spread throughout the English-speaking world in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Times of Christmas Eve 1846 quoted in Thomas Keneally The Great Shame: A Story of the Irish in the Old World and the New (London 1998), pp. 129–31.

Between 1841 and 1861 Queen’s County lost almost half its population from 154,000 to 90,600.

§ Raymond Evans, A History of Queensland (Cambridge 2007), p. 111.

Many immigrants felt misled by the rosy expectations their agents had given them. Unskilled labour faced a bleak future, but those who commenced‘the fierce battle with nature to form things’* could save and prosper if their health stood up to the rigours of the climate.

In November 1884 Edward Cahill Senior and Mary Dauth married in Brisbane and took up residence permanently in Beenleigh. Despite the economic gloom, he took over as the ‘Licensed Victualler’ of the Beenleigh Hotel in April 1894, renting it for 30/- per week. For the previous five years he had been the licensee of the nearby Yatala Hotel about three kilometres from Beenleigh.

The Beenleigh Hotel following the extensive remodelling by Edward Cahill Snr. in 1910. The hotel was regrettably demolished in 1977 despite an extensive National Trust of Queensland Report in 1975 recommending its preservation.

His new hotel became the centre of the town’s social life and the haunt for regular meetings of the local cricket club, jockey club and rifle association. The booking office and staging post for the legendary Cobb & Co transport and Royal Mail coaches was situated in the hotel. ‘Incidents’ in the life of the town tended to happen there. One anecdote tells of a day when a young man working in the cane fields near Eagleby felt a prick on his ankle and realised he had been bitten by a snake, probably the dreaded Coastal Taipan. Despite the swift efforts of the local Dr Sutton he died under ‘the best medical supervision’ in a room at the Beenleigh Hotel.

Edward Cahill Junior was born almost exactly a year after their marriage on 10 November in the boom year of 1885. Mary Cahill bore a child every year for the next eight years. She was to survive this gruelling experience without serious illness and only one was to die as an infant. In time the Cahills built a house they called ‘Roscrea’, which became a landmark in Beenleigh. The residence was named after the town near the border of Laois County and County Tipperary where Edward Cahill Senior was born.

The area around Beenleigh is quite flat, dotted with shrubs and eucalypts such as Ironbark and Forest Red Gum. Despite being only twenty kilometres from the Pacific Ocean, the town is stiflingly hot in summer. The Albert River where Eddie hunted butterflies still takes its slow and picturesque course through the rather arid landscape. When I visited Beenleigh there was no evidence of the site of the distinctive Cahill family home. Undoubtedly Roscrea would have been characterized by broad verandas shaded by a large, graceful Dutch gable roof of shingles or corrugated iron. Sadly I could find no photograph of it during my extensive research. However a few of the buildings Eddie would have known as a child are preserved in what is known as Old Beenleigh Town, an historical village situated on the outskirts of the town’s modern suburban sprawl. I attempted to reconstruct this early Australian community in my mind’s eye but it was an almost impossible task. Born in 1885 Eddie would find modern Beenleigh unrecognizable.

* Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 110.

Around £150 in 2020.

A Settler family in Beenleigh 1872
The ‘Carpenter’s Arms Public House Beenleigh District 1872
Main Street Beenleigh  Queensland ca. 1893  from the verandah of the  Beenleigh Hotel.
The town where Edward Cahill was born in 1885
Beenleigh in 1895
The handsome colonial Cahill family of Beenleigh

Top row from left:   James, Elizabeth, Mary, Caroline, Edward
Front row from left:  William, Edward Senior,  Margaret, Mary Cahill (née Dauth), Lilian

* * *

Eddie’s grandmother and mother were both particularly fond of music. As he grew older he spent hours experimenting with the sounds on his grandmother’s old piano, one of the few refined features of their colonial life. She wanted him to learn to play and spoke secretly to his mother about it. His father had no interest in butterflies or piano playing. ‘You women will spoil the boyo. The piano is for colleens! Your sisters can learn the piano if they want. He should learn to ride and shoot like a man!’

At the age of five, his mother decided he should begin lessons at his grandmother’s house with the milkman’s wife. She could play fluently and taught the boy to read music. A few times a week during her round she would tie up the horse, leave the milk cart outside and slip into his grandmother’s house to give Eddie a half hour ‘secret’ lesson. Our ‘jovial Irishman’ did comment rather unfavourably however when he saw his young son early one morning enthusiastically trotting down the dusty country road between the weatherboard houses dressed in a red velvet Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, his hair carefully pomaded and curled. He threatened to beat him black and blue.  ‘My  mother  loves  him so much!’ his wife assured her husband when he expressed exasperation and returned to the bar to serve some thirsty sun- burned pastoralists. Eddie seemed to know, seemed to have always known, what he wanted to do with his life. That was, of all unlikely things in this region of pitiless heat, pioneers and heartless bush, to be a musician and above all to play the piano. Eddie adored these lessons with the intensity of a vocation.

He was enrolled at the state primary school and was popular with his classmates. The teachers in the small school felt he was above average intelligence for his age. He seemed to be able to instantly communicate his friendliness, good temper and general happiness with life to everyone. Even at this early stage he was a particularly charming child. By the age of eight, the piano playing was coming along well and the lessons became far less of a secret, in fact the whole thing was rather out in the open. He was making extraordinary progress, far beyond what might be considered normal for a child of his age and far beyond the skill of Mrs Bale the milkman’s wife. ‘Lost in the music!’ she said one day. ‘Naturally gifted!’ she exclaimed on another.

Occasionally, now that he was old enough to keep quiet and cease fidgeting, his mother would take him to a concert at the School of Arts. There was an unusual degree of sophisticated cultural life in this small, isolated town, a place which surprisingly nurtured his dreams. His father was becoming increasingly irritable as the boy reached puberty. He had hoped ‘the boyo’ would eventually ‘grow out of it’ and come into the hotel business. ‘Music is no career for a man son! Musicians are unhappy, hopeless fellows. If you keep this up you’ll end up in the gutter. Wake up to yourself!’

The boy did not seem to care. Every time he sat on the piano stool he could imagine huge crowds of people listening to him in great halls, idolising his performance. He had particularly small hands but wonderful  dexterity  and  an  engaging  natural  way  of playing. He also seemed to have what was known as ‘perfect pitch’, a mixed blessing in some respects, and could improvise his own tunes on any melody that was given to him by members of an audience. In a diary reminiscence written for a radio broadcast made in Sydney as he approached middle age he underlined ‘I was a very happy little boy’. But in reality he contemplated with horror the idea of working in his father’s hotel among the rough drovers, cane cutters, cattlemen and rum drinkers.

One of the worst decades in Australian history opened as he began at the  rural  primary  school  in  Beenleigh.  From  1891–96 a severe economic depression crippled the country and was immediately followed by one of the longest-lasting droughts in the colony’s history lasting from 1898–1905.* Unemployment reached catastrophic levels. White settlers clashed with Aboriginals and Melanesian ‘Kanakas’ who were deemed to be a ‘doomed race of Heathens’.

* Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 124

Local papers brayed ‘no white woman is safe’. By the close of the century the lives of many immigrants and hundreds  of thousands of native people had been sacrificed in a genocidal mayhem that had lasted for years.*

* Grimly detailed throughout Evans, A History of Queensland.

* * *

As the eldest son, Eddie was expected to take up a trade after leaving school at fifteen. It is hard to imagine an environment less conducive to becoming a classical concert pianist than the Queensland of the early 1900s for such a cultured, aesthetic young man. The family decided that an excellent beginning for someone of Eddie’s sensitive temperament would be as a draper’s assistant in his father’s drapery business a few doors down from the Beenleigh Hotel.

Travelling Drapers – ‘Downes’ – Beenleigh

Wanting to please rather than follow the summons of his heart, he agreed to take up this dull trade. Each morning he swept the floor of the shop and sprinkled it with fresh damp sawdust, raised the blinds on the front window and adjusted the headless manikins freshly dressed by an eccentric window-dresser. In the evening he lit the oil lamps, which turned the shop into a glowing cavern with pockets of mysterious darkness. He learned to cultivate the charm of the professional salesman. He exuded a natural appeal which impressed the appreciative English colonial ladies who were keen to keep up appearances and deck themselves out in copies of the latest London or Paris fashions. For physical relaxation he played lawn tennis at the weekend, a choice over Rugby Union football, tennis being a sport which was considered askance by the men of Beenleigh. Yet he managed early each day to fit in an hour or more piano practice at his grandmother’s house and even more on Sundays.

He was already twenty-five when, by now a fully fledged draper, he decided he could not stand working in the shop a minute longer, even as the manager. He was chronically tired of measuring out lengths of cloth for elderly women with endless discussions of price. He could hardly wait until the doors closed for the day and he could rush to the joys of the piano and practise like a demon. He had given what might be considered his first piano recital in the School of Arts in 1907. But as he lay in bed at night listening to the raucous shouts from the verandah of the hotel, the drunken carousing in the streets, he planned to run away to Brisbane, embark on a ship bound for Europe, burn the shop down, anything to escape the drudgery that stretched endlessly before him. He wanted adventure, glamour and fame, the adulation of the glittering crowd as a performing musician. He was unashamedly convinced of his talent.

* * *

In 1909 Queensland celebrated its 50th year as a separate entity with a Jubilee Exhibition at the annual Brisbane Agricultural Show in the Botanic Gardens and the official opening of the University of Queensland. Eddie decided to enter the piano competition which was part of the celebrations. The event was judged by a Professor Ives. Eddie was proclaimed the ‘Piano Champion Solo’ for his performance of a Schumann Novelette and he was awarded a gold medal in addition to some prize money.

The Piano Champion Solo Gold Medal awarded to Edward Cahill, Brisbane Jubilee Exhibition 1909

This victory was followed by some serious tuition with a mysterious Miss Hilda Roberts, a Brisbane pianist who introduced him to the acclaimed method pioneered by Tobias Matthay in London.* These lessons gave him the self-confidence to seek new endeavours and challenges in music.

NPG x41788; Tobias Matthay - Portrait - National Portrait Gallery
Tobias Matthay (1858-1945) NPG

The early silent cinema had always fascinated Eddie as a teenager. He used to avidly attend the screenings of short documentaries and comedies at the School of Arts in Beenleigh and also played for Beenleigh Pictures, the firm who screened silent pictures  there. Often too he played for the dance that followed. In the early newsreel of the spring meeting of the Melbourne Cup filmed by the Frenchman Marius Sestier, he was captivated by the glamorous crowds of women in ornate Edwardian lace dresses.Eddie had his first taste of the bewitching theatre of royalty and upper-class life, the endless procession of elegant carriages, superb horses and court uniforms, cocked hats fluttering with ostrich feathers in the 1901 documentary The Inauguration of Australia.

*Tobias Matthay (1858–1945) was an outstanding English pianist, teacher, and composer. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music under the composer and pianist Sir William Sterndale Bennett and taught there from 1876 to 1925 as Professor of Advanced Piano.The English virtuosi Myra Hess, Clifford Curzon, Moura Lympany, Harriet Cohen and Irene Scharrer were but a few of his outstanding pupils. He founded a piano school in 1905 and published several books on technique.

The Frenchman Marius Sestier (1861–1928), came to Australia from India in 1896 and made some of the first Australian films and screened them at the Salon Lumière in Sydney.

At thirty-five minutes it was one of the longest films of the time made anywhere in the world. On one cloth-buying trip to Brisbane in 1907 he saw ‘Australia’s Greatest Drama’, The Story of the Kelly Gang, at the Centennial Hall, the world’s first full-length feature film advertised as being ‘over a mile in length’ and ‘over an hour in duration’.* The piano accompaniment included a ‘Lecturer’ who explained the story and characters using a pointer. Voices behind the screen added dialogue. A kookaburra had been trained to laugh when a limelight lamp shone on it.

* The Story of the Kelly Gang was photographed for J. & N. Tait by the talented Millard Johnson and William Gibson and first shown in Melbourne on Boxing Day 1906.

An Australian Outback Travelling Picture Show 1910
Outback Silent Picture Projection Equipment 1910

He slowly became aware of a possible avenue of escape from the drapery. One day a horse-drawn travelling picture show arrived in Beenleigh. A number of these forgotten touring companies wandered the vast outback of Australia offering silent cinema entertainment. Isolated towns lacking in electricity and the phonograph meant these shows were tremendously popular. They often mixed vaudeville acts with short films projected by limelight. Music was a vital ingredient although during the projection there was a good deal of mechanical noise. Devastating explosions were always likely. ‘Going to the pictures’ was an adventure in the early years of the Australian silent cinema, for both the audience and the projectionist.

He considered the job of ‘picture pianist’ something he could easily accomplish and auditioned for the Irish manager of a travelling show called Flaniken’s Films that  had  just  lost  its  accompanist. At the audition he improvised with great élan and spirit for The Eureka Stockade. The company presented silent stars such as Charlie Chaplin, ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and Mabel Normand as well as the rough and tumble of the Keystone Cops to entertainment-starved outback audiences. Eddie would also provide the music for the dance that followed the show.To the shock and dismay of the entire Cahill family, Eddie excitedly accepted the offer of this poorly paid, uncomfortable job with Flaniken’s Films travelling the outback as an accompanist.

He was beside himself with delight. The itinerary would take in much of central Queensland and northern New South Wales. This was to be his first professional musical engagement and the beginning of an enduring love affair with the stage and travel. His father was bitterly disappointed having purchased the Beenleigh Hotel in 1909 and radically remodelled the exterior. He had hoped Eddie would take over when he retired.

The evening programme could be a five-reel feature with two or three shorter comedies or ‘scenics’ as they were known. A singer travelling with them performed songs by the renowned Scottish entertainer Harry Lauder or popular numbers such as Meet Me To-night in Dreamland or I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now accompanied by lantern slides. As he toured with silent pictures Eddie learned how to ‘work’ an audience, to strongly communicate intense emotion with music. The type of vaudeville act that might accompany the films is breathlessly described in an advertisement in the Barrier Miner of 8 January 1912, published in the rough and isolated outback mining town of Broken Hill in far west of New South Wales where ‘Mr Eddie Cahill (A.R.A.M. Gold Medallist) and pianologist will preside at the instrument’.

‘Ching Sung Loo, the Chinese magician, is one of the star per- formers with his pretty lady assistant. His stage setting is said to be a blaze of Oriental grandeur. He does not speak during the performance, but glides about the stage stealthily and mysteriously. It is claimed that he makes steaming coffee from apparently nowhere, which is freely distributed to the audience; that he raises a lady into mid air utterly defying the laws of gravitation and places her on the points of three swords; that he raises a large bowl of water with living fishes in it from nowhere; that he shoots an arrow through a lady’s body, changes wine into water; and that the climax is reached when he eats paper and cotton wool, and the next moment clouds of smoke and streams of sparks issue from his mouth. Then he allows a rifle to be fired point blank at him, and he catches the bullet, which has been previously marked for identification purposes by one of the audience.’

In time, books of  musical  suggestions  were  published  such as the Edison Kinetogram to assist pianists and orchestras in their accompaniments.* Eddie learned to project his feelings directly through the piano in a variety of musical styles. Sinister and uncanny mood music for the night, agitato running passages for high tension dramas, seductive touches for the warmth of love, the disturbing chords of jealousy, heavy masses heralding impending doom, the grandeur of heroic combat or the tumult of battle. Eddie was talented at this task, had excellent technique, was a good sight-reader and knew a great deal of music by heart. It was a hard school but an invaluable apprenticeship. He felt that exploring the beauty of the Queensland countryside was ample compensation for the meagre pay.

A still from the silent movie The Story of the Ned Kelly Gang

It was not long before Eddie found himself in a more permanent position conducting an orchestra of eight at the King’s Pictures and the historic Princess Theatre in Brisbane. A lone pianist can watch the screen and improvise whereas an orchestra cannot accomplish this as an ensemble. One of the earliest scores composed especially for a silent film was by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns for L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise in 1908. Eddie was required to compile music from the classical scores of one composer or order selections from a number of composers to suit the emotional hue of the film. This technique reached its apotheosis in 1925 with the legendary score written by Edmund Meisel for The Battleship Potemkin directed by Sergei Eisenstein. The director wrote ‘The audience must be lashed into a fury and shaken violently by the volume of the sound…this sound can’t be strong enough and should be turned to the limit of the audience’s physical and mental capacity.’

On a less dramatic scale, Eddie believed that the music should not simply be background but become part of the fabric of the film itself. Such an idea was most unusual at the time and sadly his work in this area has not survived. One of his favourite silent features was The Cheat (1915) an early silent directed by Cecil B. DeMille starring Fannie Ward and the Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa. Famous for its dramatic low-key lighting, it explored the taboo of an extra- marital intrigue through erotic Orientalism, female masochism and forcible seduction. In one harrowing scene the flesh of the female character is branded like a prize heifer by the seducer in a gesture of possession. This would no doubt have required a significant leap of musical invention for the young pianist, inexperienced in such passions as were most of the audience.

* A beacon in the dearth of well-researched academic studies of the history of music in the silent film era is the excellent and informative Music and the Silent Film: Contexts and Case Studies 1895–1924 by Martin Miller Marks (New York 1997). Quoted p. 72.

A charming film of life on the road in an Australian travelling picture show in the early 1900s is The Picture Show Man (1977) directed by John Power and starring Rod Taylor, John Meillon, Judy Morris, John Ewart, Patrick Cargill and Harold Hopkins.

Edmund Meisel (1894–1930) is a neglected Austrian composer who was a pioneer and a truly avant-garde artist in his approach to silent film music.

Eddie’s work in the silent cinema was the beginning of his artistic career. However, whilst inhabiting the world of celluloid dreams, roaming the outback and playing in darkened cinemas, the world situation ….

Prologue

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.

Caper White butterflies drinking by a river in Queensland

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.

Preface

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 tantalizing 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.

Contents


Preface ix
Prologue xiii

  1. Little Lord Fauntleroy in the German Pocket 1
  2. https://michael-moran.org/2021/11/08/the-pocket-paderewski-chapter-1-episode-1/
  3. Of Maharajahs and Palaces 22
  4. ‘The East of the Ancient Navigators’ 40
  5. Bach and other fearful wildfowl 56
  6. A Collar of Diamonds 76
  7. ‘See the Conquering Hero Comes’ 97
  8. Brooklands and the Court Circular 107
  9. Vienna and Das süsse Mädel 123
  10. Catastrophes 139
  11. High Society and Le Train Bleu 158
  12. Into the Jungle of Germany 170
  13. Lost in the Darkness of Change 194
  14. ‘Skeletons Copulating on a Tin Roof ’ 210
  15. Nostalgie Pour La Patrie 231
  16. Cheating the Dance of Death 251
  17. Brideshead Not Revisited 267
  18. Room 855, Le Grand Hôtel, Boulevard 287
    des Capucines, Paris
  19. Grand’Uff. Eddie Cahill contemplates 298
    the Ruin of Europe
  20. Ja, Baas – The Colonisation of the Mind 310
  21. Life in the Fairy Kingdom 331
  22. Et In Arcadia Ego 345
    Bibliography 359
    Acknowledgements 371
    Map of Contents 373
    Index 382
    About the Author

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

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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: http://konkurspaderewskiego.pl/en/competition/

The 11th Competition

THE 11th INTERNATIONAL PADEREWSKI PIANO COMPETITION

BYDGOSZCZ

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

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3rd prize € 7 000 – FURUMI Yasuko Japan K

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Honorary mention € 2 500 – BELYAVSKY Sergey Russia F

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

FINALS

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:

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Lermontov in the Caucasus  © Petrovich Konchalovky cir.1943

IT’S TIRESOME AND SAD

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 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.

SEMI-FINALS

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
Andante
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.

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

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
Largo
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.

Stalingrad

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  
Allegretto
Tempo di valzer, lentissimo
Vivace

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

elvira-madigan-main-review
Pastoral love scene from the film Elvira Madigan (1967)

Allegro maestoso
Andante
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
Scherzo
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.

demon

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

elvira-madigan-main-review
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.

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

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.

STAGE II

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

November 15th, 2019

Leonardo PIERDOMENICO – Italy  (Fazioli)

Image result for paderewski

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
Allegretto
Tempo di valzer lentissimo
Vivace

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.

Stalingrad

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
Lento
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

Allegro
Andante
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)

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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

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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. 

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

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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
Precipitato
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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
Andante
Allegro

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)

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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

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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)
Andante
Presto

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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.

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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
Largo
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
Adagio
Finale

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
Allegretto
Tempo di valzer, lentissimo
Vivace

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.

Stalingrad

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.

STAGE I

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
Presto

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.

Andante
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
Rondeau

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


Allegro
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
Adagio
Finale. Presto

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

Image result for shostakovich

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
Andante
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
Menuetto
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
Menuetto
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)

Prelude

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

Sarabande

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
Lullaby
Final

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
Allegro
Adagio
Allegretto

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
Precipitato

Ilia Papoian   (Russia) (Yamaha)

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

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
Allegro
Allegretto
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)
Allegro
Allegretto
Presto

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
Allegro
Andante amoroso
Allegro

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.

Allegro
Allegretto
Presto

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
Presto

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
Rondo

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
Adagio
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
Allegro
Andante amoroso
Allegro

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

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

demon
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

Related image
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.

THE INAUGURAL CONCERT

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

Andantino-Allegretto

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

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 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

REPERTOIRE OF THE COMPETITION

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.

2. NOTICE
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

162-104-000-webimage

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.

SEMI-FINAL

A.

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.

mozart-glasses
Wolfgang Amadeus 2016

B.

W. A. MOZART PIANO CONCERTOS

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

FINAL

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

STATUTORY PRIZES

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.

SPECIAL PRIZES

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

https://michael-moran.org/blog/

For the 9th International Paderewski Piano Competition November 2013

http://www.michael-moran.com/2013/10/ix-international-paderewski-piano.html

 *  *  *  *  *  *

piotr-betlej-op-10-n-1-2016-copyright-galerie-roi-dore
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.

concerto-poster

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!

the-best-of-paderewski-cdb018-a

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:

http://www.bearton.pl/en/the-best-of-paderewski-en/

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

https://soundcloud.com/piotr-paleczny-2/1-polish-fantasy-for-piano-and-orchestra-op-19

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

https://soundcloud.com/piotr-paleczny-2/ij-paderewski-piano-concerto-in-a-minor-op-17-1st-mov-allegro

  • 2nd mov. Romanza. Andante

https://soundcloud.com/piotr-paleczny-2/ij-paderewski-piano-concerto-in-a-minor-op-17-2nd-mov-romanza-andante

  • 3rd mov. Allegro Molto Vivace

https://soundcloud.com/piotr-paleczny-2/ij-paderewski-piano-concerto-in-a-minor-op-17-3rd-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.

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

ON THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF PADEREWSKI’S DEATH (29  June 1941)

‘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.

 9780689112485-uk

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

http://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/SearchResults?an=zamoyski&bi=0&bx=off&ds=30&recentlyadded=all&sortby=17&sts=t&tn=paderewski

THE STANISŁAW MONIUSZKO INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION OF POLISH MUSIC IN RZESZÓW (20 – 27 SEPTEMBER 2019)

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)

piotr-betlej-op-10-n-1-2016-copyright-galerie-roi-dore
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.

Luto
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’.

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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

Pawlak

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.  

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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.

POLISH COMPOSERS:  http://www.konkursmuzykipolskiej.pl/en/composers-and-works

PARTICIPANT PROGRAMMES AND BIOGRAPHIES CATEGORY II (Chamber Works):

http://www.konkursmuzykipolskiej.pl/en/home-en/participants-category-ii

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.

MOS-duo

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.

POLISH COMPOSERS:  http://www.konkursmuzykipolskiej.pl/en/composers-and-works

PARTICIPANT PROGRAMMES AND BIOGRAPHIES CATEGORY II:

http://www.konkursmuzykipolskiej.pl/en/home-en/participants-category-ii

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.

TRIO LONTANO

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

ANDRIUTI-SHEMCHUK PIANO DUO

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.

ARTERIA STRING QUARTET

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.

ÃTMA QUARTET

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.

CRACOW GOLDEN QUINTET

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!

CUORE PIANO TRIO

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.

DUET KATARZYNA BĄKOWSKA, KATARZYNA NOWACZEWSKA-MANTHEY.

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.

DUO ARAE

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.

EFFIMERO DUO

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.

EUFONICO DUO

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!

GIDASZEWSKA/ŁAGUNIAK DUO

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.

APEIRON TRIO

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.

ROKSANA KWAŚNIKOWSKA / ŁUKASZ CHRZĘSZCZYK

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.

                                                                                                      MOS-DUO

SECOND STAGE AUDITIONS CATEGORY I (Piano)

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.

POLISH COMPOSERS:  http://www.konkursmuzykipolskiej.pl/en/composers-and-works

PARTICIPANT PROGRAMMES AND BIOGRAPHIES CATEGORY I: http://www.konkursmuzykipolskiej.pl/en/home-en/participants-category-i

IVAN SHEMCHUK

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.

DANIEL ZIOMKO

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.

SZYMON ATYS

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

TYMOTEUSZ BIES

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.

PAVEL DOMBROVSKY

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.

ANDRII DOROFEIEV

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

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.

ROZALIA KIERC

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 </