XII DARMSTADT INTERNATIONAL CHOPIN PIANO COMPETITION

21.10.2022 – 31.10.2022

A reproduction of a fragment of a picture depicting Chopin painted by Ludomir Sleńdziński (1951?)
The Eighteenth Century Orangery, Darmstadt

XII Darmstadt International Chopin Piano Competition

Awards Ceremony and Prizewinners’ Concert

After nine days of competition for prizes totaling €30,000, the six main prize winners played a celebratory final concert. On the program: solo piano works by Chopin and improvisation

For detailed information about this concert which took place on
October 31st at the Orangerie, Darmstadt at 19.00

https://chopin-gesellschaft.de/events/event/xii-darmstadt-international-chopin-piano-competition-prizewinners-concert/

Running assessment of the Competition

Shigeru Kawai piano is used exclusively

Official Results of the Competition

A First Prize was not awarded

Second Prize ex aequo:
Mateusz Tomica (Poland) Vojtech Trubach (Czech Republic)
Vojtech Trubach (Czech Republic) and Mateusz Tomica
Third Prize: Andrey Zenin (Russia)
‘The Boys’ : Trubach, Zenin and Tomica about to do a Cossack Dance – great camaraderie among participants
Fourth Prize: Da Jin Kim (South Korea)

Fifth Prize: Fantee Jones (USA/Taiwan)

Sixth Prize: Zvjezdan Vojvodic (Croatia)

Prize for the Best Mazurkas: Mateusz Tomica (Poland)

Prize for the Best Improvisation: Andrey Zenin (Russia)
The Prize Winners
From Lt. Mateusz Tomica, Vojtech Trubac, Andrey Zenin, Da Jin Kim, Fantee Jones, Zvjezdan Vojvodic
From Lt. Martin Kasik, Kevin Kenner (announcing the Prize Winners), Alexander Kobrin
The Jury Chair Kevin Kenner announcing the Prize Winners. Alexander Kobrin on the right

I anticipated this result but felt the missing First Prize award was, with all the best intentions, an error of public relations rather than music. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire competition as I met on unexpectedly intense terms, some of the most outstanding professors, teachers and pianists of my generation.

I simply reflected that for the conventional music-lover, not awarding a First Prize to any candidate in this competition indicated that none of them were sufficiently outstanding to deserve a First Prize. This is not entirely true for me as interpretation has become increasingly standardized of late, but then I am neither a musicologist nor professor of music, simply a literary author and lecturer who studied the piano and harpsichord seriously. I must try and make the candidates ever so slightly less deadly serious about their competitive task. Life is to take joy from as well as to study hard.

I felt the inclusion of an improvisation stage was a rare and profitable musical excursion for young pianists into a world completely familiar to a composer-pianist such as Fryderyk Chopin and many other great composers before and after him.

Finals

WORKS FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA
Saturday, 29.10. and Sunday, 30.10.2022,  
18:00-21:00
Orangerie, Bessunger Str. 44

Works for Piano and Orchestra by Chopin
Piano Concerto in F minor, op. 21

The orchestral part was performed by the Polish string quartet
„Apollon Musagète Quartet“ and Sławomir Rozlach, double bass.

The following candidates advanced to the
Third and Final Concerto Stage

No.Name
16Jones, Fantee – USA/Taiwan
17Kim, Da Jin – South Korea
39Tomica, Mateusz – Poland
41Trubac, Vojtech – Czech Republic
42Vojvodic, Zvjezdan – Croatia
48Zenin, Andrey – Russia

As the modest competition reviewer, I feel I really must say a few personal words about how highly enjoyable this competition has turned out to be.

The pleasure and joy of making music in the name of Fryderyk Chopin by these highly talented candidates is tangible in their obvious camaraderie and intense group motivation. The members of the distinguished jury, all eminent professors, are a delight to know and work in perfect co-operation and friendliness – added to which their respect for the candidates is unbounded and their integrity beyond question. This is all quite apart from the social pleasure of staying and eating together leavened by a shared sense of exuberant humour and companionship. The organisation has been flawless under the guiding and tireless hand of Jill Rabenau, Executive Vice President and Competition Director of the Chopin-Gesellschaft in Darmstadt.

Michael Moran (Reviewer’s Notebook) and Jill Rabenau, Executive Vice President
Competition Director of the Chopin-Gesellschaft in Darmstadt.
From Lt. Jill Rabenau (Executive Vice-President), Stanisław Leszczyński (Artistic Director of the National Fryderk Chopin Institute), Agnieszka Kłopocka (Assistant to Stanisław Leszczyński) Kevin Kenner (Chair of the Jury)

The competition takes place in the magnificent surroundings of the eighteenth century Orangery, a small palace built in 1721 by Remy de la Fosse in a baroque garden as winter quarters for orange trees. At present it is late autumn in Darmstadt but we are immersed in an Indian summer of sun, warmth and in addition are working in a glorious venue. The fine XII International Chopin Piano Competition is organized by the Chopin-Gesellschaft in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland E.V. who are celebrating their 50th anniversary.

The Orangery, Darmstadt – Venue for the XII International Chopin Competition

A reminder of the Jury members 2022

Kevin Kenner (USA, Chair)

Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń (BUL/PL)

Dina Yoffe (LET)

Alexander Kobrin (USA)

Christopher Elton (GB)

Martin Kasik (CZ)

Sabine Simon (D)

Aleksandra Mikulska (PL / D) President of the Chopin-Gesellschaft

The Jury and the Audience at the Final Round III Concerto Section
From Lt. Alexander Kobrin, Christopher Elton, Aleksandra Mikulska, Martin Kasik, Dina Yoffe, Sabine Simon,Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń, Kevin Kenner

* * * * * * * * *

Reviews of Round III

The „Apollon Musagète Quartet“

Paweł Zalejski (violin)

Bartosz Zachłod (violin)

Piotr Skweres (Gennaro Gagliano
cello from 1741)

Słowomir Rozlach (double bass)

Piotr Szumieł (viola) 

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

All the candidates decided to play the

Chopin F minor concerto Op.21 with the Quintet

The return of squads of Polish army from Wierzbno to Warsaw (1831)

Marcin Zaleski (1796-1877)

First of all, a few notes on the Chopin Concerto in F-minor Op.21

This concerto, the first Chopin wrote, follows the Mozart model and was directly influenced by the style brillante of Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles or Ries. Here in this early work, Chopin magically transforms the Classical into the Romantic style. The work itself was written 1829-30. As we all know by now,  this concerto was inspired by Chopin’s infatuation, or was it youthful love, for the soprano Konstancja Gładkowska..Strangely it was published a few years later with a dedication to Delfina Potocka.

The first performance of his first piano concerto took place for a group of friends in the Chopin family drawing room at the Krasiński Palace on March 3, 1830. Karol Kurpiński, the Polish composer and pedagogue, conducted a chamber ensemble. One must remember that contemporary full orchestral forces were rare in the performance of concertos in Warsaw in the early 19th century.

The outer movements revolve like two glittering, enchanted planets around the moonlit, sublime melody of the central Larghetto movement, a nocturnal love song inspired by the soprano Konstancja Gładowska, Chopin’s object of distant sensual fascination whom he would soon leave in Poland. The well-known conflict of duty to one’s career and love. Liszt regarded the movement as ‘absolute perfection‘. Zdzisław Jachimecki, a Polish historian of music, composer and professor at the Jagiellonian University regarded it as ‘one of the most beautiful pages of erotic poetry of the nineteenth century.’

Versions for the concerto for chamber ensemble, such as this evening arranged by Kevin Kenner, were easier to assemble, less expensive and far more common. Our music world is comparatively overwhelmed with riches in terms full orchestra availability and such a multiplicity of recordings.

Fantee Jones

Maestoso

I was immediately struck by the intimate, chamber music impact of this concerto played on reduced forces. The richness of sound of this ensemble.

The opening  Maestoso (quite a favourite stylistic indication in Chopin) was noble, even rhapsodic and considered with inner musical logic and coherence. Expressive and compositional details were placed as if under a magnifier and were never lost in the orchestral sound. In this movement there was a fine sense of youthful excitement and thoughtful keyboard exhibitionism, just as Hummel had laid the groundwork.

Jones seemed rather transformed tonight and I found more expressive than in her previous rounds. Quite passionate and committed without hectic tempi and dynamics. The solo violin counterpoint and devoted cello playing emerged as affecting, highly musical instrumental reductions of the orchestra. The fiorituras were perfect embellishments, seamlessly incorporated into the melodic lines. The L H counterpoint was inspiringly clear. A sense of youthful urgency pervaded the movement and Jones seemed emotionally transported by the music.

Larghetto

The opening on pure minimalist strings was intimately moving. The glorious melody rose over us like an aria or nocturne of love. Jones phrasing was sensitive and she created a seductive tone colour. There was much affecting cantabile and the fiorituras were graceful, elegant and grew as an organic part of the melody. I felt her playing of this movement rather a revelation. There were authentic feelings of yearning for an inaccessible love here, a sensitive sense of longing. Dynamic variations were moving and persuasive, particularly when the longing turns to the resentment of the unrequited lover but subsides again in nuances of pianissimo resignation to grim, rather sad reality. The pizzicato on the double bass was rather ominous and suggestive of hidden forces at work.In many ways you could say that the whole work revolves around this movement.

I always think of the sentiments contained in the 1820 poem by John Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci when I hear this music with its passionate interjections

I met a lady in the meads,

       Full beautiful—a faery’s child,

Her hair was long, her foot was light,

       And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,

       And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;

She looked at me as she did love,

       And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,

       And nothing else saw all day long,

For sidelong would she bend, and sing

       A faery’s song.

That final forty-note fioritura of longing played molto con delicatezza always carries me away into Chopin’s dreamy Romantic poetical world. Jones phrasing was most poetic.

Allegro vivace

 

The Kujawiak

In this ebullient movement she brought the sensual expression of the style brillante to lifeThere was energy, virtuosity and drive in this Rondo  final movement, composed in the exuberant style of a kujawiak dance. She had already demonstrated this energy in previous rounds. There was an eruption of youthful style brillante which broke over us like the waves of the sea. It may even have been somewhat too up tempo. The col legno on the strings was most effective in expressiveness. The great Polish musicologist and pedagogue Mieczyław Tomaszewski writes of it:

A different kind of dance character – swashbuckling and truculent – is presented by the episodes, which are scored in a particularly interesting way. The first episode is bursting with energy. The second, played scherzando and rubato, brings a rustic aura. It is a cliché of merry-making in a country inn, or perhaps in front of a manor house, at a harvest festival, when the young Chopin danced till he dropped with the whole of the village. The striking of the strings with the stick of the bow, the pizzicato and the open fifths of the basses appear to show that Chopin preserved the atmosphere of those days in his memory.

How Chopin must have loved the bucolic nature of the Polish countryside and its music! The Chopin extension of the Hummel piano concerto was here fully realized. Melody and bravura figuration were wonderfully and authoritatively brought off with a balance of formal structure. At times, however, I did hope for more expressiveness as I feel her fine articulation needs to breathe more in her phrasing to create its full effect. This composition that lies between Mozart and the flowering of the style brillante was clearly created as were the gestures towards the concertos of Weber (following the splendid horn Cor de signal but tonight on the viola whose uniqueness always causes a smile). Fine technical delivery at the keyboard, tone and touch and a rather expressive conclusion of the dazzling coda concluded an excellent performance.

Da Jin Kim

Maestoso

I do encourage you to read of the genesis of the concerto in the previous review as I do not wish to repeat myself.

This rich and eloquent quintet began their reduced orchestral introduction with intense commitment. I have praised the actual refined and crystalline sound this pianist produced throughout the competition and it was similar here. This diminutive figure seemed to sculpt her phrases with rare musical insight. I found that her phrasing, rubato, tone, touch and use of silence resulted in a great poetic heightening effect. She was particularly sensitive to a musical phrase evolving with its own internal life. This is of significant importance in the creation of a true yet not superficial style brillante and bringing together the structure of this noble movement into a coherent whole. She does not rush but carefully builds the drama. The L.H. counterpoint was particularly attractive as she sings that melody at the keyboard. The only reservation I had was that the intensity of the communication of her ideas did not always wrap me with attention.

Larghetto

Her pianistic qualities and musical gifts were eminently suitable for this movement so imbued with the yearning of unfulfilled love. Delicate, graceful and intimate tone and touch in addition to an expanded time scale gave this movement rare qualities. There was a feeling of awaiting doom in the pizzicato  on the double bass. Again, however, I felt my attention slipping away slightly during the rather slow tempo she adopted.

Allegro vivace

In this movement, whose Rondo  has a very specific Polish element of dance, rhythm and drive, I felt an inability to project her involvement with these qualities. I felt that there was a bucolic and physical exuberance missing here in the rhythm although her tone and keyboard articulation remained brilliant. Not many pianists in the competition had a strong feeling for the Chopin period style, panache and élan of the Polish dance rhythms – mazurka, waltz and in this case, the kujawiak. May I just requote Tomaszewski on this movement:

A different kind of dance character – swashbuckling and truculent – is presented by the episodes, which are scored in a particularly interesting way. The first episode is bursting with energy. The second, played scherzando and rubato, brings a rustic aura. It is a cliché of merry-making in a country inn, or perhaps in front of a manor house, at a harvest festival, when the young Chopin danced till he dropped with the whole of the village. The striking of the strings with the stick of the bow, the pizzicato and the open fifths of the basses appear to show that Chopin preserved the atmosphere of those days in his memory.

This was a superbly refined performance of great aristocratic detachment which I appreciated greatly. However, I kept wondering about the absence of the bucolic and rather fun-filled nature of Chopin’ s youth – an actor, mimic, practical joker, satirist in print and sketches, writer of energetic style brillante compositions, playing dance music into the small hours, yearning for love….

Mateusz Tomica

I do encourage you to read of the genesis of the concerto in the previous review as I do not wish to repeat myself.

Maestoso

The opening was again in a noble and certainly Maestoso tempo with again a superb solo violin. I felt Tomica to be more ‘solid’, self-confident perhaps, in his phrasing and melodic line. I felt a degree of individuality I could not  identify in the other candidates. There were a few blemishes and solecisms but he also he developed a close rapport, both emotive and musical, with the quintet (perhaps because he is Polish and so are they). This was a particularly noticeable comparison with the other candidates this evening who were more ‘distant’ from the quartet. I felt his whole approach was more dramatic, idiomatically ‘Polish’ and felt what Chopin remarked that ‘….in otherwise excellent performances, the Polish element was missing.’ Not in this case. There seemed to be far more driving energy than in the other performances.

Larghetto

Here I felt he could have been far more lyrical and poetic in his expressive range – something this movement requires, being as it is the focus of the entire concerto. However, he did nicely cultivate the fiorituras into meaningful emotionally expressive and ornamental sentiments within the melodic line. Period sensibility was at times charmingly in evidence. The whole movement was balanced and well structured.

Allegro vivace

Tomica developed an energetic and rather refreshingly muscular dance rhythm in the kujawiak. Perhaps his tone did not sparkle as brightly as the style brillante requires but it was foot-tappingly lively in essence. I felt they all had a heartfelt and physical appreciation of this dance rhythm which is so irresistible under the right fingers in this movement. Excellent driving energy. The entire ensemble play so well together, integrated as they all are by temperament including the composer. The Apollon Musagète Quartet with Słowomir Rozlach (double bass) were in fine form.

Wojtech Trubac

For the interpretation of concerto, do read my historical and cultural notes above for Festee Jones.

Maestoso

After the always moving introduction by the Quintet, I felt Trubac entered at just the right noble, Maestoso  tempo that Chopin may have had in mind. I felt his piano tone on the Kawai  blended well with the rather mahogany sound of this ensemble. I felt he created well-judged dynamic variations as the emotion and passion heightened, following the quintet and communicating well with them. As I listened I could not help reflecting on the extraordinary skill of Chopin to offer the audience exactly what they wanted and still want musically.  A painting of the emotional landscape of a young man. I felt Trubec was familiar and in control of the piano part with the lyricism well balanced with bravura playing. He had a strong sense of structure and the style brillante left nothing to be desired.

Larghetto

I felt his approach to be sensitive, lyrical and poetic in feeling for this seductive melody. I found the simplicity of his playing of this movement most affecting, ‘simplicity’ being a quality Chopin admired above almost all others. Musically his fine legato  allowed the melodic line to move forward naturally, sketching an eloquent aesthetic arc. His tone and touch were never harsh or rough and I admired  his finely cultivated poignant and expressive arabesques when introducing the fiorituras. They were often caressed with love into ardent gestures. The counterpoint melody on the cello (a favourite instrument of Chopin) was so moving. The doubts that beset one when in love rose inexorably. The string tremolos of emotional agitation, above which the piano sings, were most affecting. This focal movement of the concerto was most satisfying for me.

Allegro vivace

This fiendishly difficult, long Rondo movement emerged with Trubac as a joyful kujawiak dance where the phrases blended seamlessly into one another. Again the col legno on the strings was touching with such reduced forces. The hunting cor de signal transferred from a solo horn to the viola was quite successful. I liked very much his style brillante and optimistic rhythms that pressed forward with an impetus all their own. The audience clearly admired this rhythmic drive. The Chopin aesthetic comes naturally to Trubac and I admired his expressive variation in dynamics.

Zvjezdan Vojvodic

Maestoso

Fine, astonishing, intense but naturally still youthful playing as one might expect from a lad of nineteen. I found his communication of inner detail and transparency ‘inside’ the piece remarkable as was his L.H. counterpoint. His execution of this complex movement tended to be uneven on occasion and small errors from nervousness and inexperience crept in, but this was an astonishing demonstration of musical and pianistic preciosity. Vojvodic is only slightly younger than Chopin’s age when he wrote the work. Here we have a remarkable developing talent who has already been rewarded with a place in the finalists line-up.

Larghetto

I found it surprising that such a young talent has such a poetic insight into this movement, but then again Chopin wrote it when he was much the same age. I noticed also that Vojvodic had an excellent and quite emotional connection with the chamber musicians. The eloquent fiorituras were touched with romantic yearning and the variation in dynamics and dynamic contrast built up a coherent picture of the romance and sentiments that Chopin intended to convey.

Allegro vivace

I was again astonished at this precocious talent and his command of the keyboard in this long challenging Rondo. He is certainly on the way to developing an individual voice, even if a few errors crept into this energetic, demanding movement. I felt he possessed a perceptive understanding of the musical gestures and phrases that imbue this Allegro vivace with its irresistible momentum. He seemed rather possessed by the music at times and already has a command of the style brillante with his digital facility and strength. As long as he can control and moderate the impatience of youth and work consistently,  allowing his talents to grow organically and unforced in time as in Nature, all will be well to outstanding!

Andrey Zenin

Maestoso

From the beginning of Round I I felt this pianist was possessed of an authority in his playing most of the others had not yet achieved. This became evident too in Round II in the Boléro and the Scherzo in B flat minor Op. 31.

With this fine and passionately committed quartet he also made a significant musical impact in the concerto. Perhaps understandable nervousness caused his first entry to be slightly early but this was  soon forgotten as he began to present Chopin as a ‘grand maître’ of the instrument. His high virtuoso, noble and majestic style of presentation does suit this opening Maestoso movement well. He maintained a strong internal pulse throughout but I felt his expressiveness occasionally wanting in the grand flourishes of this passionate writing. He has great authority in his playing.

Larghetto

He was not tempted, as many pianists are, to sentimentalize the glorious love theme of this movement. His phrasing brought occasional gestures of sweet tenderness to the Larghetto. This made the eruption of the mood change all the more disturbing and appropriately violent, imbued as it is with that untranslatable Polish emotion of żal. The resonant double bass gave an under-carpet of potential doom to the sunny, untroubled lyricism of young love winging above the turmoil of ‘reality’ which I found quite unsettling.

The ensemble clearly felt a rather close connection with his phrasing and they worked together in quite a symbiotic relationship. The transparency of Chopin’s writing is so clear with the smaller ensemble (the brilliant cello ‘playing’ a number of the transcribed orchestral instruments). The polyphony and counterpoint evolve into a pianistic  Adagio mood that may well have moved Mozart.

Allegro vivace

This movement was played with great style and impressive virtuosity but for me missed some of the essential qualities of the style brillante. This style was characterized by lightness, delicacy, charm, sonority, purity,  precision and a rippling execution resembling pearls.  Although brilliantly played, these qualities were not present with Zenin in this Rondo for me. Naturally the movement can be played in this accomplished virtuoso and effective manner, if this is your view of Chopin. As I have said many times, everyone has their ‘own Chopin’ and will defend it to the death. I can think of no other composer than perhaps Bach that elicits such hotly defended views! There was powerful, authoritative, irresistible forward impetus here and a feeling of ‘pressing on’ but the expressive gestures were somewhat limited in scope. Overall, a triumphal and well formed interpretation of the concerto that was most impressive.

 

Jill Rubenau and Andrej Zenin

Round II

Reviews of Round II Candidates

Anton Drozd – Ukraine

a) Polonaise-Fantaisie A flat-major op. 61

Again I make no apology for repeating my introduction to this and other works as such background facts do not change although the interpretative approach by various pianists is always completely different. Once mentioned I shall not repeat the genesis of a work when it appears again in the competition.

The Polonaise-Fantaisie contains all the troubled emotion and desire for strength in the face of the multiple adversities that beset the composer at this late stage in his life. This work, the first in the so-called ‘late style’ of the composer, was written during a period of great suffering and unhappiness. He laboured over its composition. What emerged is one of his most complex of his works both pianistically and emotionally. Chopin produced many sketches for the Polonaise-Fantaisie and wrestled with the title. He had written: ‘I’d like to finish something that I don’t yet know what to call’. This uncertainty indicates surely he was embarking on a journey of compositional exploration along untrodden paths. Even Bartok one hundred years later was shocked at its revolutionary nature. The work is an extraordinary mélange of genres and styles in a type of inspired improvisation that yet maintains a magical absolute musical coherence and logic. He completed it in August 1846.  

The opening tempo is marked maestoso (as with his two concerti)which indicates ‘with dignity and pride’. I was impressed with Drozd’s deliberate phrasing of the opening, the dreamlike, poetic fantasy of his opening phrases of considered expressive emotion contrasted with the passionate expression which immediately sets the atmosphere. I felt the piece was being searched for and discovered as a type of improvisation which I feel it needs. The invention fluctuates as if with the irregular circulation of the heart and the blood. Some passages were rather rushed in their urgency and the considered musical narrative was at times uneven.

However, I felt Drozd had touched many polyphonic and normally concealed expressive structures and was moved as ever by this remarkable music. His bravura playing suffered technical limitations and solecisms. There is much rich counterpoint and polyphony to be explored here (of which Chopin was one of the greatest masters since Bach). This work also conveys a strong sense of żal, a Polish word in this context meaning melancholic regret leading to a mixture of passionate resistance, resentment and anger in the face of unavoidable fate. Yes, a complex work for a young man to master, written when Chopin was moving towards the cold embrace of death. 

b) Impromptu G sharp major op. 51

I feel this work carries an atmosphere of elegance, refinement and the grace of another age, possibly that of the Parisian salons Chopin inhabited – yet is not in the slightest degree superficial. Perhaps Drozd could have introduced more of a feeling of spontaneity and shifting moods (albeit of a restrained type) and even more invention ‘on the spot’ (the choice of title ‘Impromptu’ surely indicates such an aspect of interpretation).

André Gide, who was also a fine pianist as well as a writer, wrote affectingly of the impromptus in his  Notes on Chopin :

 ‘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.’ 

I liked the whimsical feeling Drozd gave to the work and the improvisational atmosphere that overlaid his conception.

c) Rondo E flat major op. 16

The essential nature of the style brilliant of which the Rondo is representative of Chopin’s early Varsovian style, seems rather a mystery to modern pianists outside of those living in Poland. Perhaps I am hopelessly wrong. The style involves a bright light touch and glistening tone, varied shimmering colours, supreme clarity of articulation, in fact much like what was referred to in French as the renowned jeu perlé. There are also vital expressive elements of charm, grace, taste and elegance.

One must not forget that Chopin astonished Vienna by his pianism but perhaps even more by the elegance of his princely appearance. The limpid, untroubled and joyful nature of the early polonaises, mazurkas, rondos,  sets of variations  on  Polish  themes  and  piano  concertos were written in this virtuosic  style brillante fashionable  in Warsaw. This style was characterized by lightness, delicacy, charm, sonority, purity,  precision and a rippling execution resembling pearls. These works could only have been composed in a state of happiness and youthful ‘sweet sorrows’ living in his native land.

However this interpretation was not entirely the style brillante as I understand it. The many fiorituras were not always presented as decorative Venetian lace, the hand and touch rather too focused on bravura than cultured refinement, charm and affected elegance. Even though brilliantly performed, the work was somewhat stylistically inaccurate for me. In this work by Chopin the young man, I felt we needed more of the grace, elegance and refinement that lies within this style brillante piece that I feel has no deeper intention than to entertain the listener with beauty in the most civilized and sophisticated manner we can imagine.

d) Waltz C sharp minor op. 64/2

I found this familiar piece approached in a particularly attractive and unique manner at a slow tempo. It appeared veiled as if in a remembered dream in a ballroom that honoured it as a guest.

e) Polonaise G flat major op. posth.

‘Chopinek’ composed his first Polonaise at the age of seven. The nineteenth-century poet and critic Kazimierz Brodziński defined the dance:

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

A clear distinction must be made between these early polonaises which were far more of a dance genre than an angry, militaristic atmosphere of resentment, vengefulness, regret and that untranslatable Polish term żal so applicable to much of Chopin’s later music. Drozd gave us a delightful energetic statement, but the impulsive, youthful nationalism of the work was slightly rushed at times.

Balazs Fazekas – Slovakia

a) Variations brillantes B flat major op. 12

In the 1830s, in Paris, Chopin returned to variations. In 1833 he composed Variations in B flat major, Op. 12, on the theme ‘Je vends des Scapulaires’ from the Hérold/Halévy opera Ludovic. This work, elegant, sparkling and of shallow expression, is regarded as a further nod in the direction of the style brillante, this time in the ‘Parisian’ style, bringing little to his oeuvre.

His tone was rounded and clear and his touch light, stylish and refined. Excellent qualities for the Chopinesque style brillante in these Variations.

 

Ferdinand Hérold  (1791-1833)

b) Polonaise G sharp minor op. posth.

I found his approach to this piece rather charming with his bright tone and elegant touch. In this rarely performed work. the rhythm he maintained was infective and gave rise to the urge to dance.

c) Impromptu A flat major op. 29

I found his presentation of the work slightly rushed but perfectly acceptable in terms of a feeling of improvised spontaneity.

d) Fantaisie-Impromptu C sharp minor op.66

The romantic emotions inseparable from this familiar work were held back for some reason especially in the lyrical central cantabile  song.

e) Scherzo B minor op. 20

A strong and convincing declamatory opening. Frederick Niecks quotes Robert Schumann who wrote of the Chopin Scherzos (the Italian word scherzo meaning ‘joke’) ‘How is ‘gravity’ to clothe itself if ‘jest’ goes about in dark veils?’. I found this account fittingly mercurial with good L H counterpoint and transparent polyphony. The lyrical section was finely legato and had much affecting phrasing. There was an eruption of żal (an untranslatable concept used often in relation to Chopin – moments passionately lyrical, then introspective, then expressing that characteristic Polish bitterness, passion and emotionally-laden disturbance of the psyche – melancholic regret leading to a mixture of passionate resistance, resentment and anger in the face of unavoidable fate)

Adam Gozdziewski – Poland

a) Sonata in C minor op. 4 (Movments I & II)

The decision of the organizers in favour of the first sonata in C minor forced them to exclude from the repertoire the two famous sonatas in B minor and B-flat minor due to time limitations. This decision was not taken lightly.

 

The Young Chopin

This work was written by Fryderyk Chopin in 1828. It was written during Chopin’s time as a student with Józef Elsner, to whom the sonata is dedicated. Despite having a low opus number, the sonata was not published until 1851 by Tobias Haslinger in Vienna, two years after Chopin’s death. This work is unaccountably for me considered to be a less sophisticated work. It is considered less musically advanced than the later sonatas, and is thus far less frequently performed and recorded.

The sonata has four movements of which we heard the first two. I very much enjoyed hearing these two movements. Chopin only ever wrote one Minuet. Gozdziewski made it formally quite acceptable and respectable to be a work in the repertoire.

Allegro maestoso

Menuetto

Larghetto

Finale: Presto

b) Polonaise B flat major op. 71/2

This work written in 1828 rests on the cusp of change. It shows Chopin beginning to introduce personal moods and emotions into his work and move away from conventional expressions in the shackles of previous forms and genres. This Polonaise seems to be one of the documents of an imminent breakthrough. It was composed in the virtuosic style brillante. Really it is a piece of chamber music for an intimate room. As Frederick Niecks noted, in Chopin’s music from that time ‘The bravura character is still prominent, but, instead of ruling supreme, it becomes in every successive work more and more subordinate to thought and emotion’. This work admirably reconciles the conventional with the original, the coquetry of the salons with the approaching Romantic watershed (Tomaszewski)

Gozdziewski gave an excellent account of the work even if lacking slightly in finesse and sense of period style.

c) Impromptu G flat major op. 51

A string sense of improvisation was obvious here but I still felt it was not quite spontaneous enough to contribute the feeling of ‘on the spot’ invention. These are not grand serious works but lighter salon or chamber pieces to uplift the spirits – and none the worse for that.

d) Barcarolle F sharp major op. 60. It was a fine performance but without great personal distinction and could have been a little more spontaneous as the moods fluctuate and take hold on this romantic excursion across the lagoon or bay.

Fantee Jones – USA/ Taiwan

a) Ballade A flat major op. 47

In the music of the A flat major Ballade, which unfolds a dizzying array of events, attempts have been made to discern and identify the separate motifs, characters and moods. Two possible sources of inspiration have been inferred. Interestingly, they can be reduced to a common, supremely Romantic, denominator. Schumann was captivated by the very ‘breath of poetry’ emanating from this Ballade. Niecks heard in it ‘a quiver of excitement’. ‘Insinuation and persuasion cannot be more irresistible,’ he wrote, ‘grace and affection more seductive’. In the opinion of Jan Kleczyński, it is the third (not the second) Ballade that is ‘evidently inspired by Adam Mickiewicz’s  Undine. That passionate theme is in the spirit of the song “Rusalka.” The ending vividly depicts the ultimate drowning, in some abyss, of the fated youth ‘in question’.

A different source is referred to by Zygmunt Noskowski: ‘Those close and contemporary to Chopin’, he wrote in 1902, ‘maintained that the Ballade in A flat major was supposed to represent Heine’s tale of the Lorelei – a supposition that may well be credited when one listens attentively to that wonderful rolling melody, full of charm, alluring and coquettish. Such was surely the song of the enchantress on the banks of the River Rhine’, ends Noskowski, ‘lying in wait for an unwary sailor – a sailor who, bewitched by the seductress’s song, perishes in the river’s treacherous waters’.

Penetrating the expressive core of the Chopin Ballades requires an understanding of the influence of a generalized view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material. I have always felt it helpful to consider the Chopin Ballades as miniature operas being played out in absolute music, forever exercising one’s musical imagination. The work contains some of the most magical passages in Chopin, some of the greatest moments of passionate fervour culminating in other periods of shattering climatic tension. 

This was a fine performance of the Chopin Ballade in A flat major Op. 47 with ‘narrative’ musical force. In Round 1 her performance was quite satisfying apart from the Études. Pianistically here, there could have been more expression and dynamic variation.

b) Tarantelle A flat major op. 43

I hope I’ll not write anything worse in a hurry’ – Chopin’s rather unflattering assessment of the Tarantella. Shortly after arriving in Nohant, Chopin wrote to Julian Fontana with the manuscript of the Tarantella (to be copied): ‘Take a look at the Recueil of Rossini songs […] where the Tarantella (en la) appears. I don’t know if it was written in 6/8 or 12/8. Both versions are in use, but I’d prefer it to be like the Rossini’  

It did have some feeling of frenzy from the growing effects of the poisonous tarantula bite but for me it lacked the characteristic joyfulness and gaiety of the Italian dance, the rhythm and tempo seemed incorrect. I thought Jones could have given us a more convincing rhythmic account of the victim of a poisonous spider bite (by the Tarantula) and the growth of the insidious, destructive chemical circulating in the blood. Traditionally the victim became well and truly beside himself, increasingly and madly so by the triumphant conclusion. 

d) Polonaise E flat minor op. 26/2

I found the haunting, deeply expressive ominous  beginning followed by a burst of raw energy developed into an exciting but rather uneven pattern where the tensions and relaxations of passion vital to the work were not sufficiently cultivated. The Italian monographer Ippolito Valetta called the work a ‘revolt against destiny’. The mood swings throughout the work required a variety of colour and articulation. Strength emerged from depression and despair in this, the darkest of all Chopin polonaises. She could have made a great deal more of this remarkably dark work.

However, I am not Polish and always feel my Western cultural background insufficient in plumbing the true nature of Polish suffering. It is hard to comment seriously on the existential and historical significance of the Chopin polonaise as a distillation of Polish nineteenth century anguish. I can but try….The eminent Polish philologist Tadeusz Zieliński (1859-1944) ventured a thought-provoking assessment: ‘The Polonaise in E flat minor is one of the most beautiful – or perhaps the most beautiful – of Chopin’s polonaises’. Certainly it is one of the most emotionally moving.

c) Sonata C minor op. 4

Jones courageously decided to play the entire sonata which gave us a more balanced view of this rather unpopular work. She adopted a rather serious view of the piece where it may benefit from an approach that concentrates more on the period atmosphere. The opening  Allegro maestoso (in C minor) is cast in sonata form. I much liked the charm and pleasant simplicity of the Menuetto and Trio and the Larghetto which also possessed an uncomplicated attractiveness. The Presto was the most successful from the compositional point of view, The final movement is undoubtedly the most successful and Chopinesque movement of them all. Jones gave it fire, virtuosity, inventiveness and passion although I felt her approach rather unvaried dynamically as it hurtled forward.

Da Jin Kim – South Korea

a) Rondo E flat major op. 16

The first aspect of her playing that I noticed was the crystalline tone and refined touch. It seems to be a cultivated speciality of South Korean pianists. There is an alluring charm and elegance in her playing in the stye brillante. Her approach would have been even more impressive if she breathed the phrases more expansively and expressively. This would give the listener time to react emotionally, to decode what she is saying within the piece and convert the feeling into meaningful emotion. All too often the pianist is so familiar with a work through practice they forget the listener is not as familiar with the perhaps inner polyphonic detail and has to actually follow what is evolving musically. This is not always possible at rapid tempi. Kim showed great energy and exuberance with an excellent sense of structure.

b) Polonaise in G flat major op. posth

Here Kim attractively highlighted the melody. I felt a charming division into sections based on the style of the musical writing. She introduced a great deal of creative dynamic variation.

c) Ballade F minor op. 52

The narrative began well with the ‘balladeer’ opening the musical narrative. She produced many golden cantabile expressive sections and possessed an excellent sense of structure. I found this a most impressive recital that was not drowning me in dynamic sound. She has a far more accurate sense of period style that many in the competition. The inner workings of the work in terms of polyphony and harmonic transitional detail were often transparent. Again however, I simply wish that there was a little more discipline of tempo instead of being carried away by virtuosity and its physical excitements and satisfactions. A question of age? In Round 1 I wrote in my notes of similar feelings of sensitivity as above and my reservations concerning expression being sacrificed on the altar of virtuosity in the Études.

d) Impromptu G flat major op. 51

I found this wonderfully light in mood as she presented this blithe and untroubled work

Haeun Kim – South Korea

a) Ballade F major op. 38

Again there was this captivating, crystalline sound from the instrument. Kim opened the work with captivating childish innocence and adorable simplicity of melody. This was followed by explosive passions of the grim reality of war or love, the suffering, the feast of the tigers of experience followed a naive lack of knowledge of the world. I have always felt this work to be traversing the emotional landscape of a broken love affair. Technically in terms of articulation, tone and touch his performance was formidably impressive with occasional lapses of deeper expressiveness as dynamic exaggerations tended to rear their ugly heads. I felt the dynamic contrasts could have been moderated.

b) 3 Nouvelles Etudes Although played ‘perfectly’ I always feel such glorious melodies should be ‘dwelt upon’ or played with particular expression and attractiveness and as they are so full of guileless charm.

c) Polonaise B flat major op. 71/2

I dealt with the detailed genesis of this work in the Adam Gozdziewski review above if you are curious. The shadows of Polish nationalism hover over the work even suffusing its charming melody. Kim played the work with an ingratiating tone and seductive touch,attractive phrasing gleaned from her active imagination and more than a little style brillante. Kim presented us with a convincing polonaise. She pianist has an enviable natural fluency at the instrument.

d) Rondo E flat major op. 16

I can do no better than quote in full the fascinating historical note on this Rondo written by the great Polish musicologist  Mieczysław Tomaszewski.

” The Rondo in E flat major, Op. 16 was possibly composed during a beautiful summer spent at Côteau, and it was published in the autumn of 1833 with an unusually long dedication: ‘dedié à son élève Mademoiselle Caroline Hartmann par…’ (‘dedicated to his pupil Miss Caroline Hartmann by…’). This work is pure virtuosic display.

It scurries by in a single breath – allegro vivace, as befits a rondo. It wavers between risoluto and dolce, falling here and there into rubato, brillante and leggiero. In the opinion of Jachimecki, who is rather critical of this work, ‘the themes slide smoothly over the keyboard, without disturbing the varnish…’ The refrain brings a distant echo of a krakowiak – of the ballroom, rather than country tavern, variety.

The Rondo in E flat major – like the Variations on a theme from the opera Ludovic and the Grand Duo Concertant on themes from Robert le diable – bears testimony to a time that might be called a period of adaptation. The young pianist from Warsaw is trying to find his place in Paris – a city that has bewildered and partly also enslaved him. ‘For a while’, as he confessed to Elsner – he wanted to put aside ‘loftier artistic vistas’ and he wrote ‘I am forced to think about forging a path for myself as a pianist’. As a pianist composing music that was in vogue, like that being composed by all those around him, such as Kalkbrenner, Herz, Moscheles and Thalberg – music intended for the Parisian salons. This sparkling Rondo, which dazzles with its pianistic virtuosity, was composed in that Parisian bon goût.

Kim, befitting the work, played in a spectacular, sparkling fashion with an attractive rhythm. She did however slightly rush over the affecting harmonic transitions (a common fault among most candidates in this competition). I dearly wanted to be taken ‘inside’ the work. Her performance was full of attractive excitement and winning impulsiveness.

Ballade in G minor op. 23

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

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

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

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

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

Kim gave the work a fine narrative opening, however I did not feel it evolved episodically in musically felt scenes. It engaged me pianistically but only on a high virtuosic level, very satisfying in its way but not realizing the full poetic and associative potential of the work.

Uram Kim – South Korea

c) Variations brillantes B flat major op. 12

In the 1830s, in Paris, Chopin returned to variations. In 1833 he composed Variations in B flat major, Op. 12, on the theme ‘Je vends des Scapulaires’ from the Hérold/Halévy opera Ludovic. This work, elegant, sparkling and of shallow expression, is regarded as a further nod in the direction of the style brillante, this time in the ‘Parisian’ style, bringing little to his oeuvre.

Kim gave the Variations an ostentatious, theatrical opening. However, I found his pianism, although communicative and brilliant, rather heavy at times. Some of these variations are not intended to be so pedantic and loud. He has natural and illuminating musical phrasing which gave us a highly entertaining style brillante work of Chopin the young man.

b) Boléro op. 19

I enjoyed this fine performance of one of my favourite Chopin compositions immensely. Kim had an excellent feel for this dance although the opening was rather savage! He gave the work a fine improvised feel with excellent sprung rhythm. His tone and touch suited the work perfectly. He brought out the ‘jazz’ element of this piece, toning down the virtuoso display.

The boléro was originally a lively Spanish dance in triple metre originating in the 18th century and popular in the 19th. It bears a resemblance to the polonaise which is perhaps why Chopin wrote one.

 

A Boléro dancer from the time of Chopin

d) Polonaise G sharp minor op. posth.

Overall Kim played more sensitively than in Round 1 but the beginning was again too impulsive. This style brillante early work benefitted from the particular pianistic skills this Korean brings to the instrument. For reasons explained elsewhere I am not partial to the ‘fioritura streaks’. In the recent Julian Barnes novel The Man in the Red Coat, Count Robert de Montesquiou has a pet tortoise that expires after being painted gold and studded with jewels, and its carapace becomes “its metallic and gemmate tomb.” I sometimes feel an analogous case in pianism where glittering playing precludes exploration of any deeper content of a piano composition.

e) Scherzo E major op. 54

This image of the glittering turtle shell also took hold of me in the Scherzo. The internal irrationality and neurotic dislocation evident within this piece rather escaped Kim as he seemed more attracted to the surface virtuosity of the phrases rather than the complex living interior of the piece that the surface was concealing. The dynamic contrast seemed too extreme for me. The polyphony was obscured and much inner detail as the work became simply and only pianistic and so the living interior expired. Chopin seduces one inside his work but one must become sensitive to his gestures.

Leonhard Krahforst – Poland

a) 3 Nouvelles Etudes

He applied a fine legato and skilful pedalling to produce a highly expressive account of these charming pieces. The blithe good humour and happiness with the affecting melodies was much in evidence.

b) Ballade A flat major op. 47

I gave the genesis of this work in the Fantee Jones review above if you are further interested.

Krahorst gave this an unusual and low key narrative without hysteria which I much enjoyed. I was drawn into his narrative as one is with any outstandingly skilful teller of tales to which he added many varied dynamics. There was fine attention to tensions and relaxations within the work. His arcs of emotional disturbance were disciplined and controlled.

c) Polonaise B flat major op. 71/2

Again the genesis of this work is within the Adam Gozdziewski review above.

Krahforst gave a civilized and graceful yet strong performance of this work. The ornamentation was controlled and attractive in scale. His tone and touch were highly cultivated. He highlighted such a simple, poignant melody which I found most affecting. Overall this was a performance with great finesse with nothing overwrought, always the irresistible temptation to exaggerate that young pianists face with Chopin.

d) Variations sur “Là ci darem la mano” B flat major op. 2

 

‘Là ci darem la mano’ Walter Richard Sickert (1860–1942) 
(National Trust, Fenton House)

Then the youthful Chopin Variations in B-flat major on ‘La ci darem la mano’ from Don Giovanni. Chopin was seventeen when he composed this style brillante virtuoso work for piano and orchestra. The influence of Hummel is clear (Chopin greatly admired his playing as did the rest of Europe! His joyful, untroubled music is still undeservedly neglected. Audiences were said to stand on their chairs to see how Hummel accomplished his trills. Now that does not happen today!) The piano was an evolving instrument and each new development created great excitement among composers of the day. Chopin as a youth haunted the Polish piano factory of Fryderyk Buchholtzof in the role of what we might term an ‘early adopter’.

Chopin composed the ‘Là ci darem’ Variations in 1827. As a student of the Main School of Music, he had received from Elsner another compositional task: to write a set of variations for piano with orchestral accompaniment. As his theme, he chose the famous duet between Zerlina and Don Giovanni from the first act of Mozart’s opera Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni. In this opera overwhelming power and faultless seduction meet maidenly naivety and barely controlled fascination. (Tomaszewski)

In his famous first review of Chopin’s variations on Mozart’s ‘Là ci darem la mano’, Schumann gives us a striking description:

“Eusebius quietly opened the door the other day. You know the ironic smile on his pale face, with which he invites attention. I was sitting at the piano with Florestan. As you know, he is one of those rare musical personalities who seem to anticipate everything that is new, extraordinary, and meant for the future. But today he was in for a surprise. Eusebius showed us a piece of music and exclaimed: ‘Hats off, gentlemen, a genius! Eusebius laid a piece of music on the piano rack. […] Chopin – I have never heard the name – who can he be? […] every measure betrays his genius!’”

Chopin’s ‘Là ci darem’ variations are classical in form with an introduction, theme, five variations and finale. They are a marvellous example of the style brillante and clearly influenced by Hummel and Moscheles. 

It is well-known Chopin was obsessed with opera all his life, a fascination that began early. Liu applied phrasing that was uncannily as if the aria was being sung with vocal intonation and alluring and charming cantabile. Clara Wieck loved this work and performed it often making it popular in Germany. Her notorious father, who had forbidden her marriage to Robert Schumann, wrote perceptively and rather ironically of this work: ‘In his Variations, Chopin brought out all the wildness and impertinence of the Don’s life and deeds, filled with danger and amorous adventures. And he did so in the most bold and brilliant way’. 

Krahforst began with a thoughtful introduction. I feel this pianist has deep musicality, true musical fluent speech as the piece moved forward. He was slightly lacking in projected energy at times and the work began to sound drawn out despite the glittering style brillante execution. I felt also each variation could have been delineated more clearly from the next. I felt, although he began well, he slowly lost my attention as the piece progressed over such a long duration and the progression of the structure remained somewhat unclear.

Yuna Nakagawa – Japan

a) Polonaise C Minor op. 40/2 (1838-39)

The polonaise is believed to have been composed in the dark atmosphere of the Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa. It would be difficult to find an alternative to the definition advanced by the writer, historian and musicologist Ferdynand Hoesick who wrote of the ‘gloomy mood’ that emanates from this music, of its melancholy and ‘tragic loftiness’.

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

Nakagawa rather rushed this great polonaise and did not successfully build a structure. The Trio, a tragic and sublime, nostalgic sung cantilena rather fell apartCruel and brutal destiny hovers over it and reality erupts once again to destroy the dream.

b) Rondo E flat major op. 16

The genesis of this work is above in the review of Haeun Kim.

I felt Nakagawa’s approach unfortunately lacked grace, panache and élan which I feel this ultimate stye brillante work requires. I was looking for her to caress the melody and play repeated phrases in not exactly the same manner. I felt she could have lifted it out of the virtuoso exercise domain.

c) Impromptu G flat major op. 51

It contained the shadows of joyful gestures but overall was pleasant and played rather as a blithe and attractive work.

d) Nocturne F sharp minor op. 48/2 (1841)

There were some truly lovely, beautiful  poetic moments in this performance, but the profound sense of loss was not always apparent. This sublime unbroken song seems endless. That endless melody is what characterizes Chopin above all during the 1840s, in his last, reflective, post-Romantic phase. This is the source of Wagner’s unendliche Melodie.

e) Scherzo C sharp-minor op. 39

This scherzo opens in a ‘Gothic’, almost grotesque manner to become a fine and noble account approaching immense grandeur. Dedicated to his muscular pupil Adolf Gutman, this was last work the composer sketched during the Majorca sojourn and in the fraught atmosphere of the monastery at Valldemossa. The religiosity of the chorale was deeply affecting with its jeu perlé cascades of notes, diamonds falling on crystal. The sotto voce transition to the minor is deeply affecting and existentially tragic in the face of the abyss of death. Chopin was ill at the time which interrupted and perhaps affected the writing. ‘…questions or cries are hurled into an empty, hollow space – presto con fuoco.’ (Tomaszewski).

I felt Nakagawa failed to come to full terms with this demanding work. She was tempted into many solecisms. However, the deeply affecting transition to the minor key was accomplished superbly.

Eugene Nam – Australia

a) Ballade G minor op. 23

Again, the genesis of this work is above in the review of Haeun Kim

I felt Nam conceived an excellent ‘balladeer’ opening as the musical ‘story’ began to unfold. His tone is richly attractive and touch refined. The LH counterpoint was both moving and instructive and indicated that he was telling a ‘story’ in music, naturally not as programme music but as the destiny of feelings through a life. Excellent articulation and keyboard command. His phrasing and rubato were near perfect for this work, as were his rhapsodic dynamic variations. He utilized silence well as a powerful expressive device. Overall the rendition was dramatic yet poetically searching with a strong sense of musical structure.

b) Impromptu F sharp major op. 36

The Chopin genre of the ‘Impromptu’ is a challenge to master. Andre Gide wrote of the Impromptus: The impromptus are among Chopin’s most enchanting works. The great Polish musicologist and Chopin specialist Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski also wrote of them: 

The impromptus offer us music without shade, a series of musical landscapes prefiguring impressionism. 

The autonomous Impromptu genre was not that well established, even for Schubert, when Chopin composed his first but as the years passed he gave the form his own particular identity.

This was a charming interpretation but after the thoughtful beginning without a great deal of carefree rejuvenated joy or sense of improvisation.

c) Polonaise B flat major op. 71/2

For the genesis and significance of this work refer to the Adam Gozdziewski review above.

Nam was full of self-confidence in this work, especially in the expressiveness. One felt a genuine oscillation between personal feelings and the rather ‘classical’ polonaise genre that came before him. I felt, as mentioned before, that the embedded fiorituras should be caressed and developed depending on the context and not simply ‘tossed off’ as cosmetic excretions.

d) Variations sur „Là ci darem la mano“ B flat major op. 2

 

Don Giovanni and Zerlina

For the genesis of this work and interesting details, the review dedicated to Leonhard Krahforst above will assist.I felt the opening by Nam was rather too intense for a set of Variations on a Mozart aria. One should never forget the reverence that Chopin held for Mozart, so I am sure these youthful variations would have attempted to reflect the tasteful character of Chopin’s master. The first statement of the aria was pleasant and lively indicating the naturally gifted musicality of Nam the pianist. His L.H. is a particularly strong and balancing it in counterpoint with the R.H. together with revealing the polyphony within the composition, gave us a satisfactory performance. I found it impressive if lacking a little in period style and atmosphere.

Akhiro Sano – Japan

a) Polonaise B flat minor op. posth

There was nobility in this account but I felt the dynamics not sufficiently varied to be deeply expressive emotionally.

b) Impromptu A flat major op. 29

For a few words on the Chopin Impromptu as a genre look at the notes on Eugene Nam above. Chopin composed the Impromptu in 1837 and published it the following year, dedicating it to one of his pupils, Lady Caroline de Lobau. As Ferdynand Hoesick sees it, the A flat major Impromptu ‘has the brightness of sunlight playing in a fountain’s spray’. In Arthur Hedley’s opinion, it has ‘all the air of a carefree improvisation’, though ‘closer inspection of the first section reveals a skilful hand at work.’ The Impromptu was met with an amusing anonymous review in a periodical issued by a rival publisher – La France musicale. ‘The best thing one can say about this work is that Chopin composed very beautiful mazurkas […] at the end of the fifth page, Mr. Chopin is still seeking an idea… he ends at the bottom of the 9th page, [having failed to find one] by slapping down a dozen chords. Voilà l’Impromptu’.

This was an interpretation without a great deal of internal organic life. A feeling of joyful spontaneity Allegro assai, quasi Presto and improvisation was not as clear as I would have appreciated in this difficult Chopin genre. The more reflective central section, a piano song, was rather moving.

c) Variations brillantes B flat major op. 12

In the 1830s, in Paris, Chopin returned to variations. In 1833 he composed Variations in B flat major, Op. 12, on the theme ‘Je vends des Scapulaires’ from the Hérold/Halévy opera ‘Ludovic‘. This work, elegant, sparkling and of shallow expression, is regarded as a further nod in the direction of the style brillante, this time in the ‘Parisian’ style, bringing little to his oeuvre.

Although this interpretatively difficult work was played with commitment and charm, I felt Sano could have brought a little more panache and élan to his performance.

d) Nocturne F sharp minor op. 48/2

This sublime unbroken Chopin song seems attractively endless. Such a melody is what characterizes Chopin above all during the 1840s, in his last, reflective, post-Romantic phase. This is the source of Wagner’s unendliche Melodie (unending melody).

There were some poetic moments in this performance, but the profound sense of loss depicted in music was not always apparent. We were rather drifting softly through the night.

e) Fantaisie F minor op. 49

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

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

An expressive performance certainly but seemed to lack a little the feeling of improvised fantasy playing like globes of mercury in the composer’s mind, sometimes merging and sometimes autonomous but never controllable. This being said the account was fluent and authoritative. The devotionals and reflective chorale was most affectingly played followed by a passionate spontaneous eruption of emotion like a volcano of pent up energy released.

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

Seungyeop Sim – South Korea

a) Rondeau à la Mazur F major op. 5 (1825-1826)

 

Mazurka de Chopin (1911) Edward Okuń (1872-1945)

This piece was written when Chopin was 16. He dedicated it to the Countess Alexandrine de Moriolles, the daughter of the Comte de Moriolles, who was the tutor to the adopted son of the Grand Duke Constantine, Governor of Warsaw. This rather unpleasant individual, the Grand Duke, often requested Chopin to play for him at the Belvedere Palace. Unable to sleep, on winter nights he would ostentatiously send a sleigh drawn by four-horses harnessed abreast in the Russian style to collect the young pianist from his home. Schumann first heard the Rondo à la mazur in 1836, and he called it ‘lovely, enthusiastic and full of grace. He who does not yet know Chopin had best begin the acquaintance with this piece’. Here, ‘folk’ elements (the ‘Lydian fourth’ in the melody, the stylisation of a country ensemble) are accompanied and augmented with highly bravura virtuoso sections.

There is charm, style, élan and panache in this work which should be brought to the fore with a light touch to create le climat de Chopin as Chopin’s pupil Marcelina Czartoryska referred to the atmosphere surrounding his works. Here in Chopin we have as a young, carefree, Polish adolescent with character and personality plus, wit, humour, theatrics – a young man striving to please with his massively precocious talent.

A period feel is vital for this elegant and exuberant piece. Despite the keyboard discipline and style brillante execution required, I feel it is helpful to ask the question ‘How did Fryderyk Chopin actually live?’. The first question is, can one imagine a world in 2022 without electricity ? Almost everything we take for granted would be absent and the choices of ‘entertainment’ vastly limited. Sim possesses that luminous Korean piano sound that appears inimitable. With some sense of style gave a very good performance.

b) Polonaise B flat major op. 71/2

I wrote about the genesis of this work in my notes on Adam Gozdziewski above. Sim has the expressive nature of the polonaise genre ‘at his fingertips’. Many period emotions were present but emotionally he became rather exaggerated in his presentation of the work.

c) Fantaisie F minor op. 49

My remarks below on the performance by Akhiro Sano of this work may be useful to read.  The long introduction is difficult to manage meaningfully and his forte verges on the harsh. The Chorale was very beautiful as he presented it, this introspective pause from considerations of war and defiance. The technical difficulties facing the pianists are not insignificant. The conclusion was affectingly meditative

d) Impromptu F sharp major op. 36

The Chopin genre of the ‘Impromptu’ is a challenge to master. Andre Gide wrote of the Impromptus: The impromptus are among Chopin’s most enchanting works. The great Polish musicologist and Chopin specialist Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski also wrote of them: 

The impromptus offer us music without shade, a series of musical landscapes prefiguring impressionism. 

The autonomous Impromptu genre was not that well established, even for Schubert, when Chopin composed his first but as the years passed he gave the form his own particular identity.

This was another genre I felt not completely mastered by the candidates. This was a pleasant and considered, thoughtful interpretation but without a great deal of later expressed carefree and rejuvenated joy or sense of improvisation.

Mateusz Tomica – Poland

I was most impressed with much of his Round 1 performance (his fine set of the Mazurkas Op.24 and the Études) and expected some excellent playing from this young tyro in Round 2. I was not disappointed!

a) Polonaise D minor op. 71/1

Chopin wrote his Three Polonaises, Op. 71, probably as early as 1820, though they remained unpublished until six years after his death. In 1855 the works were released although Chopin had asked for his manuscripts to be burned after his death. i was unable to be present at this opening performance of his programme.

b) Barcarolle F sharp major op. 60

The work is a charming gondolier’s folk song sung to the swish of oars on the historic Venetian Lagoon or a romantic canal, often concerning the travails of love, a true song of love. It is a grand, expansive work from the late period of Chopin, written in the years 1845–1846 and published in 1846. Chopin refers in this work to the convention of the barcarola – a song of the Venetian gondoliers which inspired many outstanding composers of the nineteenth century, including Mendelssohn, Liszt and Fauré. Yet surely his barcarolle is incomparable…

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

Tomica handled the aesthetic fluctuations of mood well and created a charming water colour of the rather contemplative yet fraught emotions of love on the lagoon. This was a good performance but not a particularly individual vision.

c) Rondo C minor op. 1

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

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

Tomica brought an alluring, sparkling tone and refined touch to the work in sound. Stylistically it was perfectly correct, taken at a moderate tempo and not hysterically exaggerated. Charming, elegant and stylish. All I would say is that it could have had a trifle more internal energy and drive. Overall an excellent performance reminding us of the budding greatness of the young Chopin.

d) Impromptu A flat major op. 29

A lively performance taken at the possibly correctly joyful ‘up tempo’ but without a feeling of improvisation, which is rather essential to this work. It was certainly spontaneous, lively and a joyful celebration of life. A most enjoyable performance.

e) Ballade G minor op. 23

I strongly suggest you read the genesis notes above for this work contained in my remarks for Haeun Kim. Tomica began as a true ‘balladeer’ narrating a story but in musical emotions. A few solecisms crept in unfortunately in this rather conventional interpretation. However many of the graphic episodes Chopin wrote were presented in a dramatic and exciting fashion. I felt he needed to cultivate more expression coming from the internal details. Many aspects were rushed which disrupted the narrative  flow which in turn led to experiencing sensations rather than deep emotional reflections and soulful , spiritual contacts.

Vojtech Trubac – Czech Republic

a) Ballade G minor op. 23

I strongly suggest you read the genesis notes above for this work contained in my remarks for Haeun Kim.

The work opened well with a narrative ‘balladic’ feeling that a musical drama would unfold. The approach the work was dramatic and theatrical, which was arresting and remarkably powerful. At times however, I felt Trubac approached the work as a virtuoso exercise than a charting of spiritual and physical destiny. An entirely valid approach in highly impressive pianism.

b) Variations brillantes B flat major op. 12

In the 1830s, in Paris, Chopin returned to variations. In 1833 he composed Variations in B flat major, Op. 12, on the theme ‘Je vends des Scapulaires’ from the Hérold/Halévy opera Ludovic. This work, elegant, sparkling and of shallow expression, is regarded as a further nod in the direction of the style brillante, this time in the ‘Parisian’ style, bringing little to his oeuvre.

I felt Trubac could have brought some cultural context to bear and a clearer sense of period atmosphere and the sensibility of the day rather than 2022. Certainly the playing was in the  style brillante.

c) Polonaise C minor op. 40/2

The general atmosphere of this work is elegiac, even tragic in expression. Arthur Rubinstein remarked that the Polonaise in A major is the symbol of Polish glory, whilst the Polonaise in C minor is the symbol of Polish tragedy. The work features an even rhythm of quaver chords in the right hand and a mournful melody played in octaves by the left, with occasional lines played by the right hand. It is interspersed with a more serene theme, before switching to the trio section in A flat major, which incorporates typical polonaise rhythms.

This was presented as rather a virtuosic piece of theatre with nobility in the main these. The Trio was charming and alluring but perhaps could have been slight more aesthetic in mood (but this is just me!). i felt the expression of this tragic destiny rather unsubtle and expressd without resswrvation. Very much a żal imbued performance.

d) Impromptu A flat major op. 29

This work bubbled along like a mountain stream at an elevated tempo. the theme was articulated detaché instead of legato, but i still felt and excess of pedal. There was a strong element of spiritual resignation at the conclusion.

 e) Scherzo B minor op. 20

This work affects me as being formidably disturbed emotionally, even if it is his first scherzo. Trubac gave a strong and convincing declamatory opening. Here he was much the powerful virtuoso pianist driven by a vision. Soft expression was kept to a minimum except when used as a heartbreaking contrast of emotion. Frederick Niecks quotes Robert Schumann who wrote of the Chopin Scherzos (the Italian word scherzo meaning ‘joke’) ‘How is ‘gravity’ to clothe itself if ‘jest’ goes about in dark veils?’. 

I really must quote the great Polish Chopin musicologist Miczysław Tomaszewski verbatim as his description of this work simply cannot be bettered by any modest commentary I might make.

When did Chopin write his first Scherzo? When did it occur, this ‘fulminating’ at the piano, this documenting of an eruption of emotion stronger than anything he had ever expressed? When did he conceive of a work that seems to anticipate that formula for a well-constructed drama, attributed to Tolstoy: start fortissimo, then just carry on crescendo to the end? Did Chopin write these bars around the turn of 1831 in Vienna, in an atmosphere of acute solitude, when he confessed to one of his Warsaw friends: ‘if I could, I would move all the tones that my blind, furious, unfettered feelings would incite’? Or a couple of years later, in Paris, when in white gloves and brillant mood, ‘pulled from all sides’, as he related to another of his friends, he entered the foremost society, since thence, as he wrote, ‘apparently issues good taste; at once you possess great talent if […] the Princess de Vaudemont was protecting you’?

In Chopin’s letters from that time spent in Vienna, certain motifs recur obsessively: ‘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’.

The peculiarity of Chopin’s scherzos lies in the fact that between the music of that framework (and so the scherzo itself) and the music of the interior (the traditional trio) there is a contrast that is so fundamental that it resembles the collision of two worlds. The inner world brings anxiety and menace, whilst the outer world offers us refuge. It transports us to a realm of recollection and dreams.

The music is becalmed in expectation, and we are engulfed in the unrepeatable and unforgettable aura of a Christmas carol – like a voice from another world. The lullaby carol ‘Lulajże Jezuniu’ [Hush little Jesus] is summoned forth, by the strength of recollection, from deep silence and sung with the utmost simplicity, in a luminous B major, accompanied by a discreet ostinato, which reinforces the peace and calm of a Christmas Eve night.

I found this account fittingly and viscerally mercurial with good L H counterpoint and transparent polyphony. Trubac plays with great authority and security with a powerful, full rounded tone and secure touch. A communicative pianist. The lyrical Trio central section was gloriously and finely legato and had much affecting phrasing. There was an eruption of incandescent żal throughout which graphically moved our emotional responses ( żal is an untranslatable concept used often in relation to Chopin – moments passionately lyrical, then introspective, then expressing that characteristic Polish bitterness, passion and emotionally-laden disturbance of the psyche – melancholic regret leading to a mixture of passionate resistance, resentment and anger in the face of unavoidable fate).

Zvjezdan Vojvodic – Croatia

a) Polonaise G sharp minor op. posth.

I often mention in my performance notes the limited feel by many pianists for the period. This polonaise was composed by Chopin around 1824 when he was taking private lessons with Elsner. The work, was dedicated to one of the two Du Pont ladies – the mother or the daughter, Ludwika. Witnesses recall that Chopin often played with her four-handed.

Vojvodic allowed winning sentiment to appear here. Sentimental feeling, born out of the Enlightenment and depicted in novels such as The Sorrows of Young Werther by Göethe, were still lively, with their emphasis on tenderness with hints of melancholy. They coincide with the development on the cusp of diminished classicism and the blooming of romanticism. New possibilities and delightful temptations arose before the young Chopin, and he did not fail to succumb. He was attracted  by the fashions introduced by that generation of pianist-composers which invaded the concert halls and salons of Europe in the early nineteenth century.

The style brillant had two different aspects: the one that could be admired above all on the concert platform, in concert works full of sparkle and élan, and the one that addressed a small, private circle of listeners in a salon or drawing-room. In that second variety, grazioso prevails over brillante, rococo-style grace over dazzle. And it is this second variety that the G sharp minor Polonaise represents. Among this work’s ‘stage directions’ – the specifications of character and expression that Chopin wrote in the music – the terms ‘with grace’ or ‘gently and with grace’ appear time and again. Chopin has the very first theme of the polonaise played dolce con grazia. The second theme is defined with the word grazioso. (Tomaszewski)

Vojvodic, with judicious pedalling, refined touch, rhythm and sensitive employment of dynamics in his tone production gave us a satisfying performance. 

b) 3 Nouvelles Etudes

Again Vojvodic with great sensitivity and refinement of phrasing, lingered over these affecting melodies which offer a balm and consolation to the troubled hearts of those beset by sentimental doubts and fears. He offered a gentle, tender approach which was more than appropriate.

c) Rondo C minor op. 1

Do read the notes above on this work written for Mateusz Tomica. He played with fine attention to artistic detail and consummate articulation. It was not quite what I had imagined for the much discussed style brillant but it came very close. The melodies were cultivated with carefully graded dynamics with expressive variation. He created a meticulously evolved soundscape which became a meaningful piece in many dimensions both structurally and emotionally. He adopted a different sound for the cantabile sections which used more pedal and a controlling legato  than the former style brillant passages. I admired this performance a great deal.

d) Ballade F major op. 38

Chopin was working on this Ballade in Majorca. In January 1839, after his Pleyel pianino had arrived from Paris, he wrote to Fontana ‘You’ll soon receive the Preludes and the Ballade’. And a few days after, when sending the manuscript of the Preludes: ‘In a couple of weeks, you’ll receive the Ballade, Polonaises and Scherzo.’ So the conception took place in the atmosphere of a haunted monastery, threatened by untamed nature. Here was conceived the idea of contrasting a gentle and melodic siciliana with a demonic presto con fuoco – the music of those ‘impassioned episodes’, as Schumann referred to them. The Leipzig encounter with Chopin Schumann experienced in 1840 is instructive. ‘A new Chopin Ballade has appeared’, he noted  in his diary. ‘It is dedicated to me and gives me greater joy than if I’d received an order from some ruler’. He remembered a conversation with Chopin: ‘At that time he also mentioned that certain poems of Mickiewicz had suggested his ballade to him.’ So the narrative balladic tradition did underlie this conception but naturally not in any programmatic way. 

Vojvodic opened with captivating childish innocence and adorable simplicity of melody. This was followed by explosive passion of the grim reality of war and suffering, the feast of the tigers of experience followed this lack of knowledge of the world. he was rather unrelenting but that is how passion operates in the emotional landscape of ours. The uncontrollability of passion was clearly communicated.

The Vojvodic Ballade in F-major Op.38 depicted to perfection the innocence of childhood before the operatic portrait of life’s spiritual journey began. The eruption of grim reality always arrived with an effective accumulation of anguish and anger. And so the passions of a broken life continued to erupt. There were moments of reflectiveness but the passion he brought to the work broke many rational barriers. The emotion often does this in real life, if it is authentic passion rather than simply a strong feeling. By definition, authentic passion cannot be controlled. Vojvodic’s yearning tone contrasted with the wild explosions of experience. Death at the conclusion. A brilliant performance I would wish to hear again as I would many other works performed by this pianist.

e) Ballade F minor op. 52 (1842)

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

The brilliant Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski describes the musical landscape of this work far more graphically than I ever could. The narration is marked, to an incomparably higher degree than in the previous ballades, with lyrical expression and reflectiveness […] Its plot grows entangled, turns back and stops. As in the tale of Odysseus, mysterious, weird and fascinating episodes appear […] at the climactic point in the balladic narration, it is impossible to find the right words. This explosion of passion and emotion, expressed through swaying passages and chords steeped in harmonic content, is unparalleled. Here, Chopin seems to surpass even himself. This is expression of  ultimate power, without a hint of emphasis or pathos […] For anyone who listens intently to this music, it becomes clear that there is no question of any anecdote, be it original or borrowed from literature. The music of this Ballade imitates nothing, illustrates nothing. It expresses a world that is experienced and represents a world that is possible, ideal and imagined.

He began with the simplicity of childhood once again but in scale, a far greater life opera opened. I found a deeply expressive narrative in this performance of one of the greatest masterpieces of Western keyboard literature. The history of a human destiny came into being like a tree coming into leaf in spring and passing through the seasons. His rubato concealed volcanic eruptions of emotion and turbulence beneath. They came to the surface in the manner of fraught soundscapes, a narrative of life unable to be depicted except though music. As often with young pianists  felt a need for the control of the extremes of emotion in dynamics, especially tempting on a modern instrument capable of any dynamic exaggeration.

Oscar Wong – Australia

 

Oscar Wong receiving constructive musical advice from jury member Martin Kasik

a) Polonaise C minor op. 40/2

In this work a noble soul stirs. Wong gave a strong sense of the tragic in his interpretation, a tragic destiny. He elucidated a great deal of internal polyphony and the cantabile transition was beautifully controlled into a true bel canto. He gave the work an extraordinary precipitate conclusion as if the tragedy was meant to continue through life followed by a pregnant, imaginative silence.

b) Barcarolle F sharp major op. 60

The work is a charming gondolier’s folk song sung to the swish of oars on the historic Venetian Lagoon or a romantic canal, often concerning the travails of love, a true song of love. It is a grand, expansive work from the late period of Chopin, written in the years 1845–1846 and published in 1846. Chopin refers in this work to the convention of the barcarola – a song of the Venetian gondoliers which inspired many outstanding composers of the nineteenth century, including Mendelssohn, Liszt and Fauré. Yet surely his barcarolle is incomparable…

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

The work began well by setting the mood in watercolours with a gentle L.H. accompaniment. I found his approach expressive with much dynamic variation which carried forward an imaginative picture on the lagoon. He plays this as a far less dynamically disturbed emotional piece. But then Chopin on one occasion was reputed to have played the work convincingly with all the dynamic markings reversed. Wong performed an individual interpretation of this celebrated work in his return to the romance of the beginning.

c) Impromptu G flat major op. 51

I was struck that there are many levels to his playing with quite a polyphonic approach to his performance of Chopin. Perhaps this can be justified by Chopin’s adoration of Bach. The conclusion seemed a little rushed and overall possibly slightly mannered in approach but certainly he has an individual voice in his view of Chopin.

d) Variations sur “Là ci darem la mano” B major op. 2

Wong played a highly expressive introduction to this work with much variety of expression. He seemed to know the opera well and was attempting to extract its essence in terms of drama, humour, devilry, romance and sentiment. I felt he adopted some rather unjustified contrasts of dynamic but the style brillante was in the ascendant.

His was a highly original view of this work. Each variation had a distinct individuality and a few were rather amusing at times. Clearly he has considered each variation as a separate musical entity, having its own character and life which he has filtered through his own imagination. I responded well to the somewhat controversial individuality of his perception of Chopin and his distinct energetic rhythms.

Andrej Zenin – Russia

 

Jill Rabenau in conversation with Andrej Zenin

a) Boléro

The boléro was originally a lively Spanish dance in triple metre originating in the 18th century and popular in the 19th. It bears a resemblance to the polonaise which is perhaps why Chopin wrote one.

I felt Zenin in his rhythm could have been lighter, even more dance-like and less ‘serious’ in this work, which yet in essence was still a finely performed piece. I felt it did not demand the sort of pianistic intensity he brought to the work. Chopin was an enthusiastic dance pianist, often playing late into the Warsaw nights and through to early morning light.

 

A Boléro dancer from the time of Chopin

b) Polonaise in E flat minor Op.26 No.2

Zenin had a deep understanding of the tormenting anguish that inspired this piece and the żal that transfigures it. This was an emotionally and musically convincing and commanding performance of one of the deepest and tormented of Chopin’s cries from the depths.

c) Rondo in C minor Op.1

Zenin fell tantalizingly just short of the sparkling élan and panache I seek in these early impressive style brillante works. However, he presented this challenging piece in a high virtuosic style that would be overlooked by those less critical of the finer points of this cosmetic past manner of piano artistry.

d) Mazurka in A minor ‘à Emile Gaillard‘ op. posth.

This unusual Mazurka was written in 1840. Zenin created a dialogue whence the melody appears in alternation in the bottom and top registers, and in the left and right hands. The middle section appears almost bizarre in the parallel A major before fading into a nostalgic dreamworld. Zenin gave us a fine performance of this strangely obsessive work.

e) Scherzo in B-flat minor Op.31

The opening repeated triplet group gives a perfect indication of the pianist’s conception of this popular work.

This apparently so simple phrase could never be played to Chopin’s satisfaction. ‘It must be a question.’ taught Chopin; and it was never played questioningly enough, never soft enough, never round enough (tombé), as he said, never sufficiently weighted (important). ‘It must be the house of the dead,’ he once said […in his lessons] I saw Chopin dwell at length on this bar and at each of its reappearances. ‘That’s the key to the whole piece,’ he would say. Yet the triplet group is generally snatched or swallowed.  Chopin was just as exacting over the simple quaver accompaniment of the cantilena, as well as the cantilena itself.’ (Russian writer Wilhelm von Lenz 1809-1883).

Did Zenin provide us with a dread existentialist question out of which the entire piece flowers dramatically in answer? He rather gave us a dramatic, theatrical account, rhapsodic and piantically virtuosic. The passion and lyrical cantabile sections of the work often carried him out of this prosaic world into a type of romantic musical cauldron which was possessed of its own logic. Often the density and tempo made it difficult for the listener to unravel the musical sense and internal life and structure. There was a brilliantly dynamic and dramatic narrative present and communicated here which was possessed of immense excitement and display. However, I see the work rather differently.

I felt that Zenin failed to understand the existential significance of the key triplet figure which gives such gravity and the atmosphere of darker philosophical intent to the entire work that develops. I felt we did not quite receive a sufficiently threatening and ominous vision of this much maligned and often performed  work, known informally and possibly pejoratively as the ‘governess scherzo’ (every musically accomplished governess of aristocratic children played it).

Mieczysław Tomaszewski writes of this scherzo: ‘The new style, all Chopin’s own, which might be called a specifically Chopinian dynamic romanticism, not only revealed itself, but established itself. It manifested itself à la Janus, with two faces: the deep-felt lyricism of the Nocturnes Op.27 and the concentrated drama of the Scherzo in B flat minor.’

Arthur Hedley thought about the work’s ecstatic lyricism, before concluding in a way even more appropriate today in the age of recording: ‘Excessive performance may have dimmed the brightness of this work, but should not blind us to its merits as thrilling and convincing music.’

Ailun Zheng – China

a) Polonaise in B flat minor op. posth

The description of the genesis of this Polonaise given by the great Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski is fascinating and cannot be bettered. I quote it in full without apology:

The Polonaise in B flat minor, known as ‘Les Adieux’, was composed spontaneously, at a moment in time that can be pinpointed exactly. Towards the end of July 1826, Karol Kurpiński staged at the National Theatre in Warsaw the new (following the recent Barber of Seville) opera by Rossini – The Thieving Magpie (La gazza ladra). Chopin saw the production in the company of his friend Wilhelm Kolberg, after which he incorporated into the new Polonaise that he was working on at that time, as a trio, a paraphrase of one of the melodies from the new opera. The tune in question is Gianetto’s cavatina beginning with the words ‘Vieni, vieni fra queste braccia’ [Come, come into my arms].

In the Chopin, of course, the cavatina melody is rendered in a distinctly polonaise rhythm. The vocal fioriture are transposed into piano ornamentation, although not yet the piano bel canto that would arise somewhat later, inspired by the operas of Bellini.

The paraphrased quotation from Rossini was given a special function in the Polonaise in B flat minor – as a gesture of farewell. Chopin was leaving the Lyceum, and in the autumn he would begin his studies at the Main School of Music. Besides that, just a few days later, he would embark on a journey to Duszniki, where he would spend the summer with his mother and two sisters ‘at the waters’. Within this Polonaise, the music of the trio sounds a little incongruous, as it brings a different style to the work. The B flat minor Polonaise was written at a time when Chopin had reached, and for a while would be borne upon, the tidal wave of the sentimental current – the current of ‘tender’ music, which at times could descend into affectation. In the salons of Warsaw, the cult of ‘sweet sorrow’ was rife.

This most ‘tender’, almost affected, of Chopin’s Polonaises is immediately characterised by the composer at the head of the work with the word dolente (doleful). He shed the grace and sparkle with which he illumined the Polonaise in G sharp minor. The emotional colouring of this Polonaise is darker. By leading the minor-mode melody in thirds, Chopin lent it tunefulness and a fullness of sound. Such a melody is meant not to wheedle and amuse, but to move.

Zheng could have made far more of the emotional ‘tender’ content of this polonaise and its hints of ‘sweet sorrow’. I found her account rather empty emotionally. Reading Tomaszewski on this work is a true indication of how it should be approached in performance. Again the vital importance of knowledge of context in the interpretation of the piece in that it is scarcely demanding technically!

b) Rondo in E-flat major Op. 16

 

A concert given by Fryderyk Chopin in the salon of Duke Antoni Radziwiłł in 1829 by Henryk Siemiradzki.

I found her articulation and diamond tone utterly convincing for the jeu perlé and style brillante of this Rondo. However, where was the elegance, charm, grace and bon goût of Warsaw salon life in 1833 ? I wish more young pianists would take time to breathe their musical phrases – it is a form of delightful speech after all. In these seductive, youthful works of Chopin, one must develop a period feel which has such a profound effect on performance and is not simply a cosmetic addition or ‘over-painting’. As Marcelina Czartoryska, one of Chopin’s favorite pupils once observed, ‘One must develop le climat de Chopin.’

c) Impromptu in A-flat major Op.29

This artist has such beautiful hands and fluid fingers – an aesthetic pleasure just to watch them. This was a charming interpretation but again her ability to express and communicate to the listener the emotion she undoubtedly feels within her heart needs attention.

d) Barcarolle in F-sharp major Op. 60

The work is a charming gondolier’s folk song sung to the swish of oars on the historic Venetian Lagoon or a romantic canal, often concerning the travails of love, a true song of love. It is a grand, expansive work from the late period of Chopin, written in the years 1845–1846 and published in 1846. Chopin refers in this work to the convention of the barcarola – a song of the Venetian gondoliers which inspired many outstanding composers of the nineteenth century, including Mendelssohn, Liszt and Fauré. Yet surely his barcarolle is incomparable…

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

 

Francesco Guardi (1712-1793) Mueo Correr, Venice

Zheng began the work most expressively observing all the eloquent dynamic markings and phrasal gestures. She showed a firm grasp of the complex structure of the piece and built an attractive shifting emotional landscape moving between ardent affection, fear,,anger and resignation.

e) Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat major Op.61

Again I make no apology for repeating my introduction to this and other works as such background facts do not change although the interpretative approach by various pianists is always completely different.

The Polonaise-Fantaisie contains all the troubled emotion and desire for strength in the face of the multiple adversities that beset the composer at this late stage in his life. This work, the first in the so-called ‘late style’ of the composer, was written during a period of great suffering and unhappiness. He laboured over its composition. What emerged is one of his most complex of his works both pianistically and emotionally. Chopin produced many sketches for the Polonaise-Fantaisie and wrestled with the title. He had written: ‘I’d like to finish something that I don’t yet know what to call’.

This uncertainty indicates surely he was embarking on a journey of compositional exploration along untrodden paths. Even Bartok one hundred years later was shocked at its revolutionary nature. The work is an extraordinary mélange of genres and styles in a type of inspired improvisation that yet maintains a magical absolute musical coherence and logic. He completed it in August 1846.  

The opening tempo is marked maestoso (as with his two concerti)which indicates ‘with dignity and pride’. I felt Zheng had not quite grasped the structure of this mighty piano work. The piece should give a feeling of being searched for and discovered as a type of improvisation. The invention fluctuates as if with the irregular circulation of the heart and the blood. She did not really embrace the emotive gestures and power of silences in her phrasing sufficiently meaningfully. One must possess a true empathy for these imagined conflicts and deprivations. The considered musical narrative was at times uneven.

The music in such a work must come from ‘within’ rather than overlaid ‘on top’ as it were. There are so many emotional implications that must be indicated with subtlety and finesse. Towards the conclusion we move haltingly and with suffering from despair to final resignation. the periods of introspection are intense but short.

There is much rich counterpoint and polyphony to be explored here (of which Chopin was one of the greatest masters since Bach). This work also conveys a strong sense of żal, a Polish word in this context meaning melancholic regret leading to a mixture of passionate resistance, resentment and anger in the face of unavoidable fate. Yes, a complex work for a young woman to master, written when Chopin was moving towards the cold embrace of death. 

Xinhan Zhu – China

a) Impromptu in A-flat major Op.29

The Chopin genre of the ‘Impromptu’ is a challenge to master. Andre Gide wrote of the Impromptus: The impromptus are among Chopin’s most enchanting works. The great Polish musicologist and Chopin specialist Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski also wrote of them: The impromptus offer us music without shade, a series of musical landscapes prefiguring impressionism. The autonomous Impromptu genre was not that well established, even for Schubert, when Chopin composed his first but as the years passed he gave the form his own particular identity.I felt she chose an excellent tempo (so important with the impromptus of Chopin) with a feeling of improvised spontaneity.The work flowed like a joyful mountain stream.

b) Polonaise in C minor Op. 40 No. 2

 

The Carthusian Monastery at Valldemossa

This polonaise is believed to have been composed in the dark atmosphere of the Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa. It would be difficult to find an alternative to the definition advanced by the writer, historian and musicologist Ferdynand Hoesick who wrote of the ‘gloomy mood’ that emanates from this music, of its melancholy and ‘tragic loftiness’.

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

This is one of my favorite polonaises. It was performed with Polish idiomatic gestures but I felt the lyricism of the cantabile section could have been performed with more yearning and nostalgia as a contrast to the remainder of the work.

c) Rondo in E-flat major Op. 16

In her approach I heard that crystalline, light touch one yearns for in the style brillante. Glistening tone and brilliant articulation.The melody Chopin conjures for us is so affecting. I felt the affectation and theatrical gestures could have been even more pronounced and ‘artificial’. This early music of Chopin’s exuberant youth is predominantly for entertainment and display on the part of the composer-pianist.

d) Mazurka in C-sharp minor Op.50 No.3

The third Mazurka of the Op.50 set in C sharp minor, is truly a masterpiece. At the turn of the 1840s, Chopin’s interest in polyphony and texture was aroused by a book published in Paris in 1837: a handbook on counterpoint by Cherubini. Chopin introduced polyphony into his mazurkas from then on.The dances of the oberek and kujawiak are both here laid among the most remarkably adventurous harmonic transitions. Georg Sand wrote to Eugene Delacroix: ‘Chopin has composed two adorable mazurkas that are worth more than forty novels and express more than all the literature of the century’.

I felt Zhu had not yet penetrated the kernel of the Polish mazurka as filtered by Chopin. These are pieces are recalled in a mood of nostalgia and not prone to emphatic sforzandos scattered about randomly.

f) Ballade in F-minor Op.52

Penetrating the expressive core of the Chopin Ballades requires an understanding of the influence of a generalized view of the literary, musical and operatic balladic genres of the time. In the structure there are parallels with sonata form but Chopin basically invented an entirely new musical material. I have always felt it helpful to consider the Chopin Ballades as miniature operas being played out in absolute music, forever exercising one’s musical imagination. The work contains some of the most magical passages in Chopin, some of the greatest moments of passionate fervour culminating in other periods of shattering climatic tension. 

The brilliant Polish musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski describes the musical landscape of this work far more graphically than I ever could. The narration is marked, to an incomparably higher degree than in the previous ballades, with lyrical expression and reflectiveness […] Its plot grows entangled, turns back and stops. As in the tale of Odysseus, mysterious, weird and fascinating episodes appear […] at the climactic point in the balladic narration, it is impossible to find the right words. This explosion of passion and emotion, expressed through swaying passages and chords steeped in harmonic content, is unparalleled. Here, Chopin seems to surpass even himself. This is expression of  ultimate power, without a hint of emphasis or pathos […] For anyone who listens intently to this music, it becomes clear that there is no question of any anecdote, be it original or borrowed from literature. The music of this Ballade imitates nothing, illustrates nothing. It expresses a world that is experienced and represents a world that is possible, ideal and imagined.

Zhu understood the narrative nature of this masterpiece well and gave an excellent performance. I felt, however, there could have been a great deal more narrative emotional drama and variety of spiritual mood invested in her phrasing and structure of the work, this opera of the drama of life.

Iva Zurbo – Albania

a) Impromptu in G-flat major Op.51

The Chopin genre of the ‘Impromptu’ is a challenge to master. Andre Gide wrote of the Impromptus: The impromptus are among Chopin’s most enchanting works. The great Polish musicologist and Chopin specialist Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski also wrote of them

The impromptus offer us music without shade, a series of musical landscapes prefiguring impressionism.

The autonomous Impromptu genre was not that well established, even for Schubert, when Chopin composed his first but as the years passed he gave the form his own particular identity.

I felt this interpretation could have been lighter and ‘lifted’ by more precise articulation into more joyful and carefree regions. The balance of L.H. and R.H. polyphony left much to be desired. Zurbo was rather ‘studied’ in this work without a feeling of spontaneous improvisation which is vital to carry the Chopin Impromptu as a distinct genre.

b) Polonaise in E-flat minor Op.26 No2

The haunting, deeply expressive ominous  theme of the beginning is followed by a burst of raw energy. The Italian monographer Ippolito Valetta called the work a ‘revolt against destiny’. The mood swings throughout the work require a variety of colour and articulation. Strength emerges from depression and despair in this, the darkest of all Chopin polonaises and aches to be expressed. Zurbo presented a rather ‘pianistic’ version of this deep tragedy without plumbing any deeper dimensions of emotion and anguish. She could have made a great deal more of this remarkably dark, inturned work.

I am not Polish and always feel my Western cultural background insufficient in plumbing the true nature of Polish suffering. It is hard to comment seriously on the existential and historical significance of the Chopin polonaise as a distillation of Polish nineteenth century anguish. The eminent Polish philologist Tadeusz Zieliński (1859-1944) ventured a thought-provoking assessment: ‘The Polonaise in E flat minor is one of the most beautiful – or perhaps the most beautiful – of Chopin’s polonaises’. Certainly it is one of the most emotionally moving and the one I respond to most profoundly.

c) Polonaise in A-flat major Op.53

 

The Husaria or Polish Winged Cavalry by Jerzy Kossak

This renowned ‘heroic’ polonaise was composed at Nohant in 1842 and resembles a narrative ballade in its depiction of heroism and resistance. Every pianist, renowned or modestly endowed, approaches the powerful romanticism and rebellion of this work through a different personal filter formed by their personal experience of life and their personal character.

The opening bars, heralding the entrance of the polonaise, possesses nobility, passion and a confidence of musical gesture, as well as dignity and forcefulness. The theme of the polonaise and its incessant repetition, possesses great strength and aspires upwards to the valiant heights of military victory. Chopin indicates it is to be played forte and maestoso. The strength and panache of the Polish cavalry comes from the famous repetitive octaves of the bass, while the characteristic stubborn Polish persistence is generated by the insistent repetition of the opening theme.The sostenuto is only scarcely emotionally calming which is its normal function.

Arthur Hedley called this polonaise ‘a work whose praises it is unnecessary to recite’. Jachimecki considered it ‘the most perfect work in the history of the genre’. Hugo Leichtentritt expressed his admiration in the following words: ‘everything that the polonaise contains in terms of sparkle, distinction, strength and enthusiasm was expressed in this masterpiece in the most exhilarating way possible’.

I felt Zurbo was unfortunately lured into a landscape of unrelieved dynamic inflation which was impressive but spiritually lacking. The emotional complexity and heroic mood swings of the piece were often hidden under a cloud of gunpowder smoke and exploding shells. Convincing however in a rather monochromatic manner by its unrelieved expression of military force.

d) Rondo in C minor Op.1

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

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

The tempo Zurbo chose was rather too deliberate for this superb musical confection. The actual style brillante as I conceive of it was rather absent. She did not seem to have much idea of the sound quality and texture required for this genre of early, youthful Chopin. This style championed by Hummel (whose compositional style had a deep influence on that of early Chopin) was characterized by lightness, delicacy, charm, sonority, purity,  precision and a rippling execution resembling pearls. These works could only have been composed in a state of happiness and youthful ‘sweet sorrows’ living in his native land.

However, with Zurbo, there were some extremely beautiful reflective lyrical moments that were not overplayed with excessive pedal and retained their elegance, refinement, good taste and purity.

e) Ballade in G minor Op.23

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

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

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

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

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

Zurbo interpreted this magnificent work with broad, impressive, virtuosic ‘pianistic’ gestures but which did not take hold of me as a dramatic musical narrative. There was little dynamic variation of a meaningful type and I, perhaps unjustly, found her approach somewhat mannered.

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

Round 1 – Some general thoughts

Day 4

25th October 2022

Four candidates remained to be heard this morning in Round 1, followed by lunch, then the six candidates who chose to demonstrate their skills in improvisation. Those who pass into Round 2 will be announced around 17.00 followed by advice to those who were excluded if they request it.

A few thoughts occurred to me during the candidates this morning. I feel the mazurkas are too often played as if they were existing in present time, describing the present reality of a dance. However, one must remember in many cases they are recalled dances, memories of past joys with a significant weight of melancholic nostalgia. These reminiscences of dance and associated experience are all viewed through the obscuring veils of past time, a musical À la recherche du temps perdu. They cannot be considered in an over-passionate recall or even visceral recreation of experience. Life is simply not like this as the gauze of memory descends.The mazurkas were published as sets and Chopin himself may have had some organisational musical mystique, a musical or philosophical connection in grouping them together in their compositional arrangement in collections.I found it fascinating that the competition designers saw fit to insist of sets of mazurkas being played rather than isolated pieces.

The fiorituras, especially in the nocturnes, carry with them deep emotional potential which should be explored through variation of tempo, dynamic and articulation. Not simply thrown aside as a trivial ornement appliqué which is denied their essential function to augment the melodic line. 

I was most interested in the far from standard suggestion of this competition that the pianists experiment with an improvisation based on one or two given themes. On this occasion one was a Polish Folk Song and the other the famous  Zerlina aria from Don Giovanni entitled Batti, Batti o bel Masetto. It is not a mandatory requirement nor does it add to or detract from the scoring of each round.

Stream W. A. Mozart - Batti Batti (Arie der Zerlina aus "Don Giovanni") by  Magdalena | Listen online for free on SoundCloud

There were six candidates who selected an improvisation round. I do admire the courage of these improvisers. One may recall that during the 19th century most pianist composers were all admired improvisers (Chopin, Liszt, Schumann…). They performed largely their own music in recitals with perhaps an occasional piece they respected by another composer. The creative art of improvisation, regarded as normal and even mandatory in previous centuries began to fade as the nineteenth century progressed and pianists began to perform entire programmes of music not of their own composition. More modern pianists such as Dinu Lipatti retained the vestiges of this practice by improvising briefly in the key of a piece just before embarking on the performance of it. One of the greatest compliments that can be paid to a pianist today is to say that it sounds as if he is improvising or recreating the work before us.

The winner of the improvisation prize was Andrej Zenin from Russia. After a spectacular chordal beginning, he transposed an improvisation on the Zerlina aria into the Polish folk song and return in almost symphonic texture. Highly effective, entertaining and authoritative considering the limited preparation time they are allotted to prepare their thoughts.

I was not in the least surprised that Mateusz Tomica from Poland was awarded the prize for the finest mazurkas by the jury. I wrote in my notes at the time ‘The best set of mazurkas so far. Highly expressive and idiomatic. Some of the best I have heard anywhere.’

Day 3

Monday October 24th 2022

In some ways today was Poland and the Czech Republic’s musical opportunity among the contestants and also a day for some excellent idiomatic mazurkas at last. In one case I was quite emotionally moved by a group of mazurkas, the first time I have been really touched in this competition. I certainly felt as if I was wandering nostalgically along a river bank among the willows in Chopin’s beloved Mazovia, remembering nostalgically happier days or rumbustuously taking part in a village festivity. All these pleasant activities I have engaged in.

Some of today’s contestants with their significant musical gifts will definitely move into the second round. However with some competitors I did keep asking myself what does this interpretation actually mean? Does the pianist have something meaningful to say about this piece? Too often one receives no answer to the question. While listening to many renditions ‘Does this young pianist know in any detail the true historical significance, cultural context and style of Chopin’s waltzes, nocturnes, mazurkas and Études as artistic genres of spiritual and musical significance?’ How important is this to know?

 

At the Arthur Rubinstein Festival, Łodz, October 2019

The ‘call to the floor’ for the waltz or polonaise by the piano, as if in a ballroom, is not well understood. Hardly anyone playing Chopin waltzes in the competition has any idea of ballroom dancing in the nineteenth century. Chopin in his youth was mad about dancing, a fine dancer and also an excellent dance pianist playing into the small hours, hence his need for ‘rehab’ at Bad Reinerz – now Dusznki Zdrój. Certainly Chopin waltzes are not meant to be danced but the sublimated idiom remains. Chopin waltzes nearly always open, except say the Valse triste, with an energetic and declamatory fanfare or ‘call to the floor’ for the dancers as was customary. A slight pause and then the scandalous Waltz begins.

Please, that is not to say waltzes were not extremely well played, even brilliantly performed, just that it was often stylistically inaccurate with an absence of waltz rhythm. They often lacked grace and finesse.

Occasionally in some Études I felt as if the accelerator had pushed to the floor on a Lamborghini Aventador with the caption ‘Never Lift’! Velocity without taste or expression. Occasionally they were brilliant and convincing but any expressive intention could suffer because of simple technical limitations. They are extraordinarily complex pieces that demand a technique actually in advance of what appears to be required.

Although the intention may be  ‘expressive’, nocturnes sometimes could have been more cohesive as they had been harmonically over-analyzed or became rather overloaded with emotional sentiment hindering proper forward movement and development. Ornamentation, so common in nocturnes in the form of fiorituras should be considered in detail and integrated into the melodic line. They should not sound like someone ringing the bell at the door. Should they begin slowly and accelerate towards the end? Should they be dwelt upon and emerge and considered as jazz-like agréments. Some nocturnes I heard however were particularly emotionally moving, a rare enough occurrence where the extra-musical dimension and associations of these works can be rather superficially approached without imagination.

I repeat without apology. James Huneker, the renowned American music critic, writer and pianist, author of a book devoted to Chopin, wrote of the Nocturne genre:

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

One question I like to ask myself is ‘Would I like to hear this pianist again and in a different repertoire?’ The answer is always instructive and revealing. At least for three pianists today I would answer in the affirmative. I felt at least two would reach the final. They were able to project strong individual personality traits with various degrees of charisma. In a couple of cases, tone and touch had clearly been worked on intensively which is not always the case. This despite Chopin’s own teaching method, as I have said before, which emphasized the development of a beautiful tone and touch above much else in piano playing. Given patience, a good ear and proper guidance a beautiful tone and refined touch will slowly, even painfully, emerge as a butterfly from the chrysalis. This is a surprisingly neglected area of pianism in 2022 keeping in mind the history of piano playing and the priorities of fine pianists of the past.

Tomorrow the decision on who passes to the Second Round will be made.  Also the contestants who opted to do an improvisation segment will be given this opportunity to display their talents for this art. I think this is a fascinating addition to this competition, although it is not considered as significant in the overall score for a contestant or considered in any way when judging their performance overall.  It does not contribute to the competition result. At 1.00 pm they will each be given a popular theme or tune from Chopin’s day, perhaps from an opera or something similar, and have a couple of hours to prepare the improvisation.  This is an historical art of much importance that should certainly be encouraged today.

Day 2 

Sunday October 23rd 2022

My comments below from Day 1 apply to the second set of 11 contestants today with a few further general observations.

Of course in such a competition there are many positive things to say as well as negative. Clearly some of the contestants are very musical and hopefully will develop strongly under correct guidance. My main observation is the extraordinary command of the instrument in pianists that are so young. They possess an astonishing sense of musical structure and amazing digital command over the keyboard. There are some aspects to consider however if they are to progress to a successful concert career.

Taking as assumed an established a competent ‘technique’, some fail to show organic playing from the heart but rather have absorbed their interpretative gestures (perhaps from excessive listening to recordings) rather than coming to personal conclusions about the music. The pianist must impart musical meaning and have something to say. Many candidates played ‘on top of’ the work rather than ‘moving within it’. However among the contestants there are always beautiful personally considered and imagined moments. Yet none of the candidates today penetrated the Viennese or Parisian nature of the Chopin waltz. Learn to dance! Again I keep asking myself, where is the poetry, gracefulness, elegance, le bon goût and refinement so vital to Chopin interpretation?

Often a solid grasp of the style and genre that is required for a piece is absent or not understood. Again, the mazurka can be easily misunderstood in terms of its intimacy, rhythm and dynamics. This becomes even clearer if the intimacy of these works is experienced on an instrument of the period of Chopin. The significance of silence being as important as sound is often overlooked. I was both excited and moved by the authoritative performance of one contestant and admired the beautiful tone and command of style and sheer tonal beauty of another.

A couple of the contestants seemed to me unprepared for such a demanding challenge as a piano competition. This was especially clear in the chosen Chopin Études. I have always felt that they should contain a significant element of expression in addition to the high degree of accurate virtuosity demanded in order to master them. Much heartfelt expression implicit in the ‘submerged’ melodic polyphony and writing of Chopin was sacrificed on the altar of spectacular but obscurantist virtuosity. Many candidates were hammering and mining ‘down in the quarry’ interpretatively speaking. Phrases must breathe. Chopin admired Liszt’s playing of his Études but one must wonder how Liszt actually played them. Was it as dynamically as forceful as we might imagine, possibly erroneously, of the ‘titan of the piano’ Franz Liszt? As a renowned Hungarian professor once remarked to me ‘Liszt is desperately in need of rehabilitation.’

Dynamics were often forced or operated at unjustified extremes with a resulting loss of finesse. The modern instrument makes almost exaggerated contrasts of dynamics and velocity possible which would simply not be achievable or even desirable on a period instrument such as a Pleyel or Erard with a minimal or no iron frame.  This is quite apart from the comparatively undeveloped action of earlier instruments which limits various aspects of sound production. One cannot assume that Chopin would have adored the possibility of these massive dynamic contrasts that so tempt young pianists in 2022. He was temperamentally against ‘noise’ of any type and his own playing was often described as gentle and soft yet penetrating and deeply moving. He remarked that one should ‘never bash’ the instrument. This is not to say performances should or even could be limited to such period instruments, but the pianist could learn by experiment on them to even out disturbing and excessive dynamic contrasts. This was especially clear today in the Nocturnes, Études and occasionally the mazurkas.

Musical imagination may sometimes be wanting in performance. The individual  personality and character of the pianist needs to be present, an individual ‘voice’ cultivated but perhaps one cannot expect this in the very young. Spontaneous expression can be often absent in a few cases and in its place an uninspiring ‘learned template’ of rhetorical interpretative gesture is adopted. 

The Nocturnes surely must be imagined as a musical poetic reflection and internal emotional agitation that takes place at night when the imaginative mind operates in relative silence and isolation at a different and sometimes fantastical level of consciousness. Chopin lived in a world without electricity. Just imagine this for a moment … The Nocturnes should retain a sense of improvisation in the internal exploration and discovery of sensibility. I repeat a quote from my above review of the jury concert. James Huneker, the renowned American music critic, writer and pianist, author of a book devoted to Chopin, wrote of the Nocturne genre:

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

However without making invidious or unfair comparisons, the candidates could listen constructively to the unique historic and personal sound and voice of say a Josef Hofman, Ignaz Friedman, Sviatoslav Richter or Arthur Rubinstein. Finding your own voice, identity and style is becoming more and more necessary and difficult as we are flooded with standardization in all walks of life. I also felt at times scarcely any projection and authentic contact with the audience. It was as if the recital were taking place behind a pane of clear glass. Of course this could come from sheer nervousness and apprehension of being in a competition.

Could there not be more awareness of poetry, grace, charm and refinement for this ‘Ariel of the piano’ in 2022? We need not all be victims of our time. In the past the heart and its human reasons dominated musical motivation and appreciation, above structure and Urtext for many great pianists. One only has to listen to the music classes of Nadia Boulanger that emphasize feeling above all. However, as a critic, one must always remember that the experience of playing in competition for the first time is vital for younger pianists who wish to build a career.

 

The Jury at work in the Orangerie, Darmstadt

Day 1

Saturday October 22nd 2022

I do not intend to review each of the 11 contestants today that took part in the first stage eliminations but rather give a general impression of the talents so fearlessly on display. It would be a huge workload that would prevent me from listening to all of them and deprive me of sleep entirely. I will begin individual reviews in Round II.

As usual the first day of Round I was rather mixed with a few outstanding talents showing great musical promise, beautiful tone, refined touch and one recital whose technical command moved me more than the others. I would however make some general observations that apply to a few of the contestants.

As you might expect, many of the younger pianists have not yet found a distinct identity, an individual ‘voice’ and I felt could have shown more spontaneity and an organic feeling for the musical structure as a whole. However, I simply find their command and authority at the keyboard at such a young age simply miraculous. It is all too possible to become blase about what all these years of practice and study ‘from the age of four’ have actually achieved. I tried and know the grueling work involved! All are ‘gifted’ to my mind.

There does seem to be in some cases a neglect of the imperative to produce a beautiful tone and seductive touch. Pedaling requires attention in many cases. As we know Chopin referred to beautiful tone production as paramount in his teaching and the use of the pedal as ‘a study for life’ or similar significant remark referring to his music. So many over-pedal his music on the modern instrument. I prefer to be seduced into submission as a listener rather than beaten into submission as some of these young tyros seem to believe. Chosen tempos and excessive dynamic contrasts can be sometimes be astray. Where is the poetry, le bon goût and refinement of Chopin I keep asking myself?

Overall I venture to say there is not a deep understanding of the Polish mazurka as it is in the compositional hands of Chopin. They are generally rather intimate pieces of nostalgic, yearning emotional music or rumbustious memories of past joys. All this is quite apart from the rhythmic solecism that may turn it into a waltz. In fact the grace, elegance and style of the waltz itself, of which one waltz is compulsory, seems little understood. I feel young pianists should take dancing lessons in the waltz and mazurka! This is not met merely a cosmetic decision but a need to feel the rhythm within your body so you can transfer it to the keyboard.

Many young pianists could breathe more musically, listen to themselves more closely, think more deeply about phrase lengths, characteristic rhythm and rubato. One must not forget in 2022 and the age of electronic technology that it remains a real challenge for the young to understand what the composer’s best pupil Princess Marcelina Czartoryska described as le climat de Chopin. This lack could be alleviated from more background reading in literature and art with professorial guidance to contextualize the music they are performing historically, culturally and artistically.

Inaugural Concert

As usual members of the Jury give the opening recital, surely a unique feature of this competition!

A small group of pieces were performed by each member of the distinguished competition Jury. Being of a nervous disposition myself, I felt it was absolutely remarkable that without exception they summoned up the courage to perform before their peers. It will be an absolutely unique experience 

 

After the Jury Concert ….

Review of the Jury Concert

KATARZYNA POPOWA-ZYDROŃ 

Fryderyk Chopin  (1810-1849)

From Préludes op. 28 Nos. 1 – 12

It would of course have been impossible for Chopin to have ever considered performing this complete radical cycle in his own musical and cultural environment (not least because of the brevity of many of the pieces). It is unlikely ever to have even occurred to him to do this, the way programmes were designed piecemeal at the time. In some of his programmes and others of the period, a few preludes are scattered randomly  through them like diamond dust. Each piece contains within it entire worlds and destinies of the human spirit and deserves individual attention rather than being a brick in a monumental edifice.

It is now well established by structuralists and Bach scholars as a complete and symmetrical work, a masterpiece of integrated yet unrelated ‘fragments’ (in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century sense of that aesthetic term). Each prelude can of course stand on its own as a perfect miniature landscape of emotional feeling and tonal climate. But ‘Why Preludes? Preludes to what?’ André Gide asked rather gratuitously. One possible explanation is that the idea of ‘preluding’ as an improvisational activity in the same key for a short time before a large keyboard work was to be performed was well established in Chopin’s day but has been abandoned in modern times.

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

She opened this much anticipated group of Preludes with the expressive and lyrical, not over-agitated,  C major. The A minor  Lento  was a dark and haunting account with dark clouds overshadowing the bleak and tragic melody, the harmonic transitions leading us towards the Styx. The contrast with the G-major Vivace was all the more joyful, reminiscent of a rushing mountain stream with much dynamic variation and refinement in touch and tone.

She expressed a deep melancholic yearning in the fourth in E minor marked Largo by Chopin and played on the organ at his funeral in Paris. She made the piano sing before the emotional disturbance and rich, balanced chords. The exuberant Molto allegro of the fifth in D major again lifted the spirits as we moved into the beautiful cantabile L.H. song of the Lento assai of the sixth in B minor.

We were given a flicker of alluring perfumed memory in the refined Polish dance with number seven. The highly virtuosic Molto agitato prelude number eightin F sharp minor was full of existential disturbance which evoked the fraught emotions and disease suffered on Mallorca. The ninth, a Largo in E major, was a serious meditation with much polyphony revealed. The dynamic rose in strength but never became harsh. The Molto allegro tenth in C sharp minor always puts me in mind of swallows in diving flight through the azure of early morning light.

The eleventh Vivace reminded Alfred Cortot of the desire of young girls. No comment! The final one in her selected group, number twelve in G sharp minor marked Presto, is a technical  challenge. I found it communicated an agitated and distracted mind, a true representation of fractured consciousness with the expressive silences Popowa- Zydroń gave to it.

CHRISTOPHER ELTON 

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Variations in F minor

Elton gave a charming and innocent presentation of the beautiful opening theme at a moderate tempo. He has a fine tone and refined touch (almost as if on an instrument of the period) which gave rise to such graceful fioraturas. His phrasing and polyphony in the L.H against the R.H. as separate voices ‘in conversation’ was perfect.The variations are actually a double set, one in F minor and the other in F major. Each variation was given a distinct character and identity. The entire performance was most affecting emotionally, the pianissimos expressively moving with a fine conclusion. These rare qualities are rarely encountered in many inferior performances.

Fryderyk Chopin  (1810-1849)

Mazurka in A minor Op. 59 No. 1

His Chopin mazurka emerged as a song, singing phrases with a superb return of the melody. I could not help marvelling at Chopin’s adventurous harmonic transitions which must have sounded revolutionary, if not inaccessible, in the day.

DINA YOFFE 

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

From “Colorful Leaves” op. 99

    1. A major Nicht schnell mit Innigkeit (Not fast with intimacy)

Surely another yearning musical love note intended for Clara. Yoffe played this with deep sensitivity.

2. E minor.  Sehr rasch (Very quickly)

A feeling of a more negative mood, even rage, born of frustration at difficult circumstances

3. E major.  Frisch (Fresh)

Yoffe communicated a fine burst of fresh, revivifying energy and great exuberance. Most affecting.

From “Album Leaves”:

1. F sharp minor. Ziemlich langsam (Relatively slow) 

Yoffe created with superb tone and touch a reflective and nostalgic mood of great subtlety. Pianissimo in a remarkable dynamic arc evolved, full of intense emotional yearning

2. B minor. Schnell (Quickly)

Again, Yoffe created these articulate, expressive arcs of music and sound with magnificent virtuosity.

Fryderyk Chopin 

Mazurka “à Emile Gaillard” without opus number

Yoffe’s performance elucidated and presented perceptively the wonderful L.H. counterpoint that answers the R.H. melody within the work. She possesses a deep understanding of mazurka rhythm, highlighting many glorious layers of polyphony. The implied improvisatory quality of the piece, such a fundamental quality of growth in the composition of Chopin’s mazurkas, was clear as the work fades into the ether at the conclusion.

As an encore, she appropriately and poignantly played a work entitled The Messenger (originally for synthesizer, piano and string orchestra (1996–1997) by the Ukrainian composer, Valentin Silvestrov.

This was a deeply moving, symbolic work that brings us a message, so important a means of communication today, through the ether from another time and place. Yoffe played it with complete simplicity augmented by her refined tone and touch. There were many beautiful harmonic transitions and nostalgic reminiscences evoked by Nature in transformation, also many memories of past musical styles were evoked. This was a profoundly affecting piece, much of the emotion coming from the superb reflective pianissimos Yoffe was able to conjure for us and our own reflections on this inconceivable tragedy of our time.

 

Velentin Silvestrov

SABINE SIMON 

Fryderyk Chopin 

“Wiosna” in G minor, Op. 74 No. 2

A fine performance of perhaps the best known of Chopin’s songs, played with a beautiful internal swaying rhythm.

Presto con leggierezza in A flat major (Prélude without opus number) Excellent rendition if slightly unkempt occasionally, which may have simply been my tired ‘little grey cells’ after travelling!

“Allegro de Concert” A major op. 46

The work is immensely difficult technically for pianists. Rather dense musical writing, complex style brillante and execution, large left-hand chord jumps, trills, scales of thirds, and difficult octaves. For this reason it is considered one of Chopin’s most difficult pieces. It is rarely performed and this is one of the first times I have heard it played live apart from once in a past International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. Despite the triumphalism of much of the writing, Simon executed the work brilliantly and the beautiful cantabile sections with great introspection and nostalgia. This was a fine virtuosic and energetic performance that gratefully lifted our spirits out of the general air of despond that prevails over the planet just at present.

The piece has received relatively few performances or recordings, and it is not generally well-known among music lovers, even of Chopin. The composer himself seems to have been very proud of it. He told Aleksander Hoffmann: “This will be the first piece I will play in my first concert when I return home to a free Warsaw.”  

Intermission

MARTIN KASIK 

Leoš Janáček   (1854-1928)

 

Leoš Janáček

“Po zarostlém chodníčku” (On an Overgrown Path)

This piano cycle On an Overgrown Path, composed around 1900, had a particularly complicated genesis. The seven pieces were originally written for harmonium.The title for the work, On an Overgrown Path, had been decided by 1901, but the titles of the individual movements changed a great deal. For example, No. 2, began as ‘A Declaration of Love,’ then changed to ‘A Love Song’ and finally became the mysterious imagist title of ‘A Blown-Away Leaf’.

Janáček described the work as having two strands of ‘distant reminiscences’ of his childhood and reflection on the death of his 20-year-old daughter Olga in 1903. Janáček’s change in the work from childhood memories to the tragedies of the parent’s loss of a child make this ‘a unique statement of the human condition.’ (Maureen Buja)

    1. “Naše večery” (Our Evenings)

Kasik gave the fluctuating imagist, literary, poetic moods and dynamic emotional contrasts of this intense feeling of loss, intense yet lyrical expression.

2.“Lístek odvanutý” (A Blown-Away Leaf)

I could not help imagining the profound sadness of the loss of child at the tender age of 21, expressed metaphorically as the image of a leaf detached from the mother tree being carelessly carried by Nature on the winds of chance. Stronger gusts of wind on occasion carried the leaf more turbulent in graphic and turbulent musical impressionist imagery of the loss of a loved being.

 

Olga Janáčková (1882-1903)

Fryderyk Chopin 

Ballade in G minor op. 23

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

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

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

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

Kasik gave us an impressive, virtuosic and rhapsodic account of this great work. It had the feeling of a poem in music from the outset – dramatic, dynamic and yet poetic. He gave the work tremendous passionate forward drive in a commanding, almost theatrical and exciting performance. Certainly, nineteenth century Poles would have ‘read’ this unleashing by Chopin of revolutionary musical expression in a visceral manner, this unfolding of the emotional history of a tormented soul.

ALEKSANDRA MIKULSKA

Fryderyk Chopin

Mazurka in B flat minor Op. 24 No. 4

Here we were given a beautifully lyrical and poetic approach with a fine dance rhythm. The Nostalgic fading into oblivion at the conclusion was both effective and affecting

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)

Variations in B flat minor op. 3

I would like to quote the pianist Ariel Lanyi who described this set of variations in the most succinct way I know.

To me, this work’s uniqueness lies in the effect of mirage that it creates. In Szymanowski’s variations, we drift from tradition to deviation, from past to future, from earnestness to irony, and from sorrow to triumph in an equally wonderful mirage, which organically builds its own form and shape.

Mikulska in this rarely performed work produced some eloquent, varied, dynamic and poetic Romantic variations that were subtle yet most affecting in expression.

ALEXANDER KOBRIN

Fryderyk Chopin

Berceuse in D flat major op. 57

One of the finest performances of this beguiling work I have ever heard in live concert. Kobrin showed extreme delicacy, innocence and refinement with his glorious tone and a velvet touch. These feather-like qualities, patterned like lace yet solidly grounded in an unvaried accompaniment to the cultivated rubato , were all perfectly appropriate for this lullaby. The dynamic never rose beyond piano or pianissimo.

Barcarolle F sharp major op. 60

A perfect opening that painted the prevailing mood in a watercolor wash on the lagoon. It was a romantic dream voyage from the outset, as if sailing into a late Turner watercolour of Venice. He followed all the correct dynamic marking in the score which so few pianists do. Here we were gifted a perfect rubato, phrasing and convincing dynamic variations depending on the emotional agitation of the lovers. There was a careful retention of the complex structure of this long and difficult work. A deeply satisfying performance of a Chopin work that often defeats even the most talented.

 

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

KEVIN KENNER 

Fryderyk Chopin

Nocturne in F minor Op. 55 No. 1

The first dozen bars of the Nocturne in F minor were written into the album of Elizabeth Sheremetev. The opening theme is melancholic and elegiac which Kenner ‘sang’ so affectingly on the piano. This atmosphere of poetic nostalgia soon gave way to a depiction of the dark night of the soul. Kenner proceeded into the darker regions of internal exploration of the deeper heart in a dramatic and theatrical fashion. These agitated passages lead the narrative back into the melancholy aura from which they emerged. I agree completely with James Huneker, the renowned American music critic, writer and pianist, author of a book devoted to Chopin, who wrote of the Nocturne genre:

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

 

Karol Szymanowski painted by his close friend Witkacy

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)

Etude in B flat minor, Op. 4, No. 3

I must admit to adoring this rarely performed Szymanowski work, unaccustomed for me. His early works show the influence of the late Romantic German school as well as the early works of Scriabin. The magnificent melody explores one’s internal psyche. Kenner presented this magnificent work as such a statement of triumph over adversity. A desperately moving melody, a life, a romance.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)

Nocturne in B flat major, Op. 16, No. 4

I am rendered speechless and near tears every time I hear this affecting work. It was an inspiration of Kenner to couple this with the Szymanowski and I could barely control my emotions.

Kevin Kenner : Born in California, winner of the XII. International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1990, the Terence Judd Award in London and the bronze medal at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition in the same year. In London he was a professor at the Royal College of Music for many years. Since 2015 Professor at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Concerts worldwide as a soloist and chamber musician. A longtime chamber music partner is the great Korean violinist Kyung-Wha Chung. 2021 deputy jury president of the XVII. International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw.

Katarzyna Popowa-Zydron : Originally from Bulgaria, long-time professor of piano at the music academies in Bydgoszcz and Gdansk, from 2000 to 2007 taught Rafal Blechacz, winner of the 2005 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. She is a much sought-after teacher and juror, in 2015 and 2021 she was the jury president of the Warsaw International Chopin Competition. Nowadays she appears less often as a soloist, much more often as a chamber musician.

Dina Yoffe , born in Riga, Latvia, has won multiple prizes, including second prize behind Krystian Zimerman at the IX. International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1975. Concerts worldwide as a soloist and with orchestras, leads master classes worldwide and is a much sought-after juror. Former professor at the conservatories in Tel Aviv, Hamburg and Aichi, Japan. Currently professor at Katarina Gurska Centro Superior Madrid and at euroArts Academy.

Alexander Kobrin , born in Moscow, studied at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, first prize winner in important international competitions such as Van Cliburn , Busoni, Hamamatsu and Glasgow. At the XIV International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2000 he received 3rd prize. Concerts worldwide as a soloist and with orchestras. Currently professor at the renowned Eastman School of Music in New York.

Christopher Elton , born in Edinburgh, studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he managed to graduate with honors in both piano and cello. Multiple winner of national and international piano competitions. He was a long-time Professor and Head of the Keyboard Department at the Royal Academy of Music and Professor Emeritus at the University of London.

Martin Kasik , born in Moravia in the Czech Republic. Multiple first prize winners at international piano competitions. In particular, the 1st prize in New York at the Young Concert Artists Competition catapulted him into an international concert career. He gives concerts worldwide as a soloist, with orchestras and as a chamber musician. Martin Kasik has been president of the Chopin Festival in Marianske Lazne (Marienbad) since 2008 and lecturer in piano at the Prague Conservatory since 2009. He also teaches at the Music Academy in Prague.

Sabine Simon studied at the Hanns Eisler Music Academy in Berlin, at Indiana University, Bloomington (USA) and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. Early winner of national and international competitions. Her concert activities have taken her throughout Europe, North and South America and Japan. Since 2005 lecturer at the Academy of Music in Darmstadt. She regularly teaches piano and chamber music courses and is a jury member at national and international piano competitions. In addition to classical music, she is also interested in new music.

Aleksandra Mikulska , born and raised in Warsaw and President of the Chopin Society in the Federal Republic of Germany in Darmstadt since 2014. Studied in Karlsruhe, then in Imola in Italy (Lazar Berman, Michel Dalberto) and finally in Hanover with Arie Vardi. Winner of international piano competitions and active concert activities in European countries. Aleksandra Mikulska has been a professor of piano at the Carl Maria von Weber Hochschule für Musik in Dresden since 2021.

The Competition is in 3 rounds 

Works exclusively by Fryderyk Chopin:

Works for piano solo

Works for piano and orchestra (Concertos in E minor op. 11 and F minor op. 21, Krakowiak in F major op. 14, Fantasy on Polish Airs in A major op. 13)

Improvisation on a given theme (optional)

PRIZES

€ 30.000 altogether, plus concert engagements

COMPETITION REPERTOIRE 2022

Concerning the competition repertoire:

The guiding principle when compiling the repertoire was to place an emphasis on early and less frequently performed works by Chopin, which are exemplary for the “style brilliant“, e.g. rondos and some early polonaises in the 2nd Round, without entirely foregoing works from the different genres and creative periods of the master.

The decision to eliminate the two famous sonatas in B flat minor and B minor this time was not taken lightly and was mainly the result of time constraints and the desire to give priority to less frequently performed works. The choice of improvisation at the end of the 1st Round should be an incentive for candidates to discover the art of improvisation, which is largely neglected nowadays, especially since Chopin was a great master in this field.

For the first time in the final round, a string quintet will take over the orchestral part. This results both from practical considerations and from the desire to present these works in an instrumentation that Chopin himself thoroughly advocated and practised. We hope the choice of other works for piano and orchestra in addition to the two famous concertos in E minor and F minor, might give rise to a varied final round.

To be performed from memory in any chosen order, except for the études and mazurkas, which should be performed as a set.

Any reliable edition of Chopin’s works is permitted, although we strongly recommend the National Edition (edited by Jan Ekier).

CANDIDATES

There were 45 candidates from an encouragingly and interestingly wide range of countries

Birth are dates before the names

*12.12.94 2 BENSON Léo Frankreich

*30.07.00 3 BYKH Yaroslav Ukraine

*19.12.93 5 DROZD Anton Ukraine

*21.04.95 6 FAZEKAS Balazs Slowakei

*21.02.01 8 GOZDZIEWSKI Adam Polen

*05.12.96 9 HAFTMAN Artur Polen

*18.06.94 10 HENKE Adrian Deutschland

*11.04.00 11 HUAI Jiaxuan China

*01.10.98 12 IBIC Vid Slowenien

*06.02.02 13 IGAWA Hana Japan

*13.03.93 14 JÄSCHKE Marie Deutschland

*27.07.93 16 JONES Fantee USA/Taiwan

*19.11.93 17 KIM Da Jin Korea

*13.01.95 18 KIM Haeun Korea

*21.11.93 19 KIM Jooyoung Korea

*18.03.97 20 KIM Nasung Korea

*07.03.92 21 KIM Uram Korea

*16.05.97 22 KIMURA Momoko Japan

*14.01.99 23 KRAHFORST Leonhard Polen

*20.11.01 24 KRUCZEK Wojciech Polen

*09.03.95 25 LAI Yiting China

*09.06.97 27 LU I-Shan Taiwan

*21.10.96 28 MENG Fan Yi China

*10.07.98 29 NAKAGAWA Yuna Japan

*10.07.99 30 NAKAMURA Fuyuko Japan

*29.01.93 31 NAM Eugene Australien

*17.10.97 33 SANO Akihiro Japan

*07.05.95 34 SIM Seungyeop Korea

*08.08.95 35 SOIC Barbara Kroatien

*16.07.94 36 SUMNIKOVA Marie Tschechien

*26.08.06 43 38 SUZUKI Naho Japan

*18.01.93 39 TOMICA Mateusz Polen

*14.04.97 40 TRAN LE BAO Quyen Vietnam

*05.08.94 41 TRUBAC Vojtech Tschechien

*05.01.97 42 VOJVODIC Zvjezdan Kroatien

*11.04.03 43 WANG Jie China

*25.01.01 44 WONG Oscar Australien

*04.06.98 45 WU Zijun China

*21.11.95 46 YERMALAYEVA Yuliya Weißrussland

*28.09.92 47 ZAJAC Tomasz Polen

*22.02.94 48 ZENIN Andrey Russland

*18.01.95 49 ZHAO Ziji Zoe China

*13.09.99 50 ZHENG Ailun China

*02.01.99 51 ZHU Xintian China

*07.07.98 52 ZURBO Iva Albanien

* * * * * * * * * * *

 First Round (approx. 25 minutes)

 Two études, one from each group (a, b) indicated below:

a) C major op. 10/1 b) A flat major op. 10/10
  C sharp minor op. 10/4   E flat major op. 10/11
  G flat major op. 10/5   F major op. 25/3
  F major op. 10/8   E minor op. 25/5
  C minor op. 10/12   G sharp minor op. 25/6
  A minor op. 25/11   D flat major op. 25/8
  C minor op. 25/12   B minor op. 25/10

 One complete opus of mazurkas (free choice)

 One of the following waltzes:

E-flat major op. 18

A flat major op. 34/1

A flat major op. 42

C sharp minor op. 64/2

A flat major op. 64/3

G flat major op. 70/1 (posth.)

E minor Op. posth.

One of the following nocturnes:

B major op. 9/3

F sharp major op. 15/2

C sharp minor op. 27/1

D flat major op. 27/2

C minor op. 48/1

E flat major op. 55/2

B major op. 62/1

E major op. 62/2

 Optional: Candidates in the first round may, in addition to the above, choose to improvise for a maximum of 5 minutes on a theme which will be given to them shortly before, on the same day. The improvisation is voluntary and no marks will be deducted for a poor attempt. It will be timed separately. A prize of € 500 will be awarded for the best improvisation.

 Second Round (35 – 40 minutes. Play may be interrupted if the time limit is exceeded.)

 One of the following pieces:

Ballad in G minor op. 23

Ballad in F major op. 38

Ballade in A flat major op. 47

Ballade in F minor op. 52

Allegro de Concert in A major op. 46

Fantasy in F minor op. 49

Barcarolle in F sharp major op. 60

Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major op. 61

Scherzo in B minor op. 20

Scherzo B flat minor op. 31

Scherzo in C sharp minor op. 39

Scherzo in E major op. 54

One of the following pieces:

Impromptu in A flat major op. 29

Impromptu in F sharp major op. 36

Impromptu in G flat major op. 51

Bolero op. 19

Tarantella in A flat major op. 43

3 Nouvelles Etudes (F minor, A flat major and D flat major)

One of the following pieces:

Rondo in C minor op. 1

Rondeau a la Mazur in F major op. 5

Rondo in E flat major op. 16

Rondo in C major op. 73

Variations on “Là ci darem la mano“ in B flat major op. 2

Variations brillantes in B flat major op. 12

Movements 1 and  2 of the  Sonata in C minor op. 4 (Exposition in the 1st movement not to be repeated)

Movements  3 and 4 of the Sonata in C minor op. 4

One of the following polonaises:

It’s flat minor up. 26/2

C minor op. 40/2

D minor Op. 71/1

B flat major op. 71/2

F minor op. 71/3

G sharp minor (posth.)

B flat minor (posth.)

G flat major (posth.)

If necessary, one or more pieces by Chopin of the candidate’s own choice, to ensure a total playing time of 35 – 40 minutes. No works played in the first Round may be repeated in the second Round.

 Final Round

 Concerto for piano and orchestra in F minor op. 21

OR

Krakowiak (Grand Rondeau de concert)  in F major op. 14 with orchestra plus any one movement of the concerto for piano and orchestra in E minor op. 11

OR

Fantasy on Polish Airs in A major op. 13 with orchestra plus any one movement of the concerto for piano and orchestra in E minor op. 11

 About the repertoire

The guiding principle in the compilation of the repertoire was to include examples of works from different genres and periods of Chopin’s life, while placing strong emphasis on Chopin’s early works, such as the rondos and some early polonaises in the second round and op. 13 and 14 in the final round, these youthful and charming works being fine examples of the style brillante so undeservedly neglected on today’s concert platforms. Our decision in favour of the first sonata in C minor forced us to exclude from the repertoire the two famous sonatas in B minor and B-flat minor due to time limitations. This decision was not taken lightly.

The opportunity for improvisation in the first round should be seen as an incentive for young pianists to explore and develop this nowadays widely neglected art, of which Chopin was such a great master.

 SCHEDULE 2022

 OPENING CONCERT

Friday, 21. October,  2022, 20:00 h

Orangery, Bessunger Str. 44

COMPETITION IN 3 ROUNDS, open to the public

Saturday 22.10. to Sunday 30.10.2022

Orangery, Bessunger Str. 44

PRIZEWINNERS’ CONCERT AND AWARDS CEREMONY

Monday, 31.10.2022,  19:00 h

Orangery, Bessunger Str. 44

Works for piano solo

 Jury

The jury for the 2022 competition will consist of:

Kevin Kenner (USA, Chair), Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń (BUL/PL), Dina Yoffe (LET), Alexander Kobrin (USA), Christopher Elton (GB), Martin Kasik (CZ) , Sabine Simon (D), Aleksandra Mikulska (PL / D).

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