From reviewer’s notepad

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Michael Moran

XI Paderewski Competition: https://michael-moran.org/2019/10/23/the-11th-international-paderewski-piano-competition-10-24-xi-2019/ 

Website:  www.michael-moran.net

Blog:   www.michael-moran.com

 

 

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

 

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

Paderewski Competition

Official Website in English: http://konkurspaderewskiego.pl/en/competition/

The 11th Competition

THE 11th INTERNATIONAL PADEREWSKI PIANO COMPETITION

BYDGOSZCZ

Laureates of the 11th International Paderewski Piano Competition

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1st prize € 30 000 – LYNOV  Philipp Russia S

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2nd prize € 15 000 – PACHOLEC  Kamil Poland S

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3rd prize € 7 000 – FURUMI Yasuko Japan K

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Honorary mention € 2 500 – BELYAVSKY Sergey Russia F

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

FINALS

11th International Paderewski Piano Competition

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

BELYAVSKY Sergey – Russia F

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

I am in two minds whether it is a good strategic choice for a competition but there you are, one plays what one loves irrespective. Rachmaninoff commented in an interview ‘What I try to do, when writing down my music, is to make it say simply and directly that which is in my heart when I am composing.’ Certainly it seems everyone in the general public has heard and loves this work. He dedicated the concerto to his doctor Nikolai Dahl.

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

PACHOLEC Kamil – Poland S

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

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

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

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

LYNOV Philipp – Russia S

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

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Lermontov in the Caucasus  © Petrovich Konchalovky cir.1943

IT’S TIRESOME AND SAD

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

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

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

И СКУЧНО И ГРУСТНО

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

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

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

Январь 1840. Михаил Лермонтов.

(Translated by Maxim Litvinov)

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

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

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

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

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

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

KIM Saetbyeol – Republic of Korea F

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

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

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

FURUMI Yasuko – Japan K

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

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

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

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

SEMI-FINALS

Capella Bydgostiensis

Kai Bumann – conductor

 PIERDOMENICO  Leonardo – Italy F

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BELYAVSKY Sergey – Russia F

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

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

F. Liszt Scherzo and Marsch, S. 177

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

R. Schumann Carnaval, Op. 9

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

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

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

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

Serenade im Redoutensaal der Hofburg 1760 Martin van Meytens 

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

PACHOLEC  Kamil – Poland S

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mozart 43

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

LYNOV  Philipp – Russia S

F. Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 9 La ricordanza

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

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

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

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KIM  Saetbyeol – Republic of Korea F

E. Granados Los Requiebros from Goyescas, Book I

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

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

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

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

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

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

Stalingrad

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

Allegro moderato  
Allegretto
Tempo di valzer, lentissimo
Vivace

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

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

Allegro maestoso
Andante
Allegro vivace assai

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

CHEN  Xuehong – China F

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

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

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

Grave – Doppio movimento
Scherzo
Marche funèbre: Lento
Finale: Presto

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

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

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

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

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

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

M. Ravel Scarbo from Gaspard de la nuit

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

demon

A small literature lesson for you all:

‘Gaspard’ is the Persian guardian of the treasures and so ‘The Treasurer of the Night’ creates allusions to someone controlling everything that is jewel-like, dark, mysterious. The work was inspired by poems of Aloysius Bertrand, the French Romantic prose poet.

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

Oh! how often have I heard and seen him, Scarbo, when at midnight the moon glitters in the sky like a silver shield on an azure banner strewn with golden bees.

How often have I heard his laughter buzz in the shadow of my alcove, and his fingernail grate on the silk of the curtains of my bed!

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

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

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

HSU Yun Chih – Taiwan, F

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faust admits in the opening monologue of the play:

In me there are two souls, alas, and their 

Division tears my life in two. 

One loves the world, it clutches her, it binds 

Itself to her, clinging with furious lust; 

The other longs to soar beyond the dust 

Into the realm of high ancestral minds. 

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

In the Allegro moderato as Faust wrestles with his soul and its temptations. I felt that Hsu did not penetrate the emotional vortex of the movement or understand entirely this bout of metaphysical struggle. Her superb technique dominated the movement pianistically  of course and was deeply  satisfying on the virtuosic level but there is a profoundly serious internal emotional and spiritual battle played out here which must be explored.

The Lento second movement could well be interpreted as a lyrical poem expressing the love of Gretchen for Faust. Although moving in a way, the cantabile beautifully suspended above  other voices, she did not communicate a feeling of authentic lyrical improvisation. I did not experience the shadows of the ungoverned temptations of sensuality or the tension of  repressed passion which haunt this love song.

The wildness of the immense final movement Allegro molto with its references to the terrifying Dies Irae and death, we can well associate this massive declamation to Mephistopheles and his insidious and destructive evil. Here Hsu was at her most impressive.  However are we exploring the darker significance of Walpurgis Night with her?  Her technical dominance of this fiendish movement swept much before it but one must never neglect the deeper feelings and anguish of damnation Rachmaninoff was expressing here. A magnificent triumphal close.  With emotional maturity Hsu will hopefully mine a richer seam of emotional expression now that she has the sonata well in her fingers.

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

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

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

FURUMI Yasuko – Japan K

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When our two souls… (Sonnet 22)

When our two souls stand up erect and strong, 

Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher, 

Until the lengthening wings break into fire 

At either curvèd point,—what bitter wrong 

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

Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher, 

The angels would press on us and aspire 

To drop some golden orb of perfect song 

Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay 

Rather on earth, Belovèd,—where the unfit

Contrarious moods of men recoil away 

And isolate pure spirits, and permit 

A place to stand and love in for a day, 

With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

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

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

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

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

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

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

OVCHARENKO Ilia – Ukraine  F

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

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

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

F. Liszt Sonata in B minor, S. 178

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

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

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

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

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

KISELEVA Daria – Russia S

M. Dobrzyński Moving frames

A perfectly acceptable presentation of the commissioned work.

A. Soler Sonata in F major, R. 56

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STAGE II

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

November 15th, 2019

Leonardo PIERDOMENICO – Italy  (Fazioli)

Image result for paderewski

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

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

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

P. Rameau Gavotte et six doubles

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

F. Liszt Sonata in B minor, S. 178

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

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

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

Sergey Belyavsky Russia (Fazioli)

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

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

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

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

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

Allegro moderato
Allegretto
Tempo di valzer lentissimo
Vivace

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

Stalingrad

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

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

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

Liu Tianyuan – China (Kawai)

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

Image result for Paderewski Album de Mai:

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

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

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

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

Allegro moderato
Lento
Allegro molto

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

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

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

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

Faust admits in the opening monologue of the play:

In me there are two souls, alas, and their 

Division tears my life in two. 

One loves the world, it clutches her, it binds 

Itself to her, clinging with furious lust; 

The other longs to soar beyond the dust 

Into the realm of high ancestral minds. 

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

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

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

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

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

Kamil Pacholec – Poland (Steinway)  

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

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

S. Barber Nocturne Op. 33 (1959)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mateusz Krzyżowski – Poland (Kawai)

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

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

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

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

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

K. Szymanowski Fantasy in C major, Op. 14

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

Yilei Hao  – China (Kawai)

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

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

Scherzo. Molto commodo

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

Quasi variazioni. Andantino de Clara Wieck

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

Prestissimo possibile

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

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

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

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

Image result for 1913 forest paintings
André Derain Tree Trunks 1913

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

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

Łukasz Byrdy – Poland (Yamaha)

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

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

Modest Mussorgsky by Viktor Hartmann

 

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

The pictures by Hartmann mentioned in the music

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

Philipp Lynov – Russia (Steinway)

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for robert and clara schumann

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

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

When our two souls… (Sonnet 22)

When our two souls stand up erect and strong, 

Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher, 

Until the lengthening wings break into fire 

At either curvèd point,—what bitter wrong 

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

Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher, 

The angels would press on us and aspire 

To drop some golden orb of perfect song 

Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay 

Rather on earth, Belovèd,—where the unfit

Contrarious moods of men recoil away 

And isolate pure spirits, and permit 

A place to stand and love in for a day, 

With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

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

Saetbyeo Kim – Republic of Korea (Fazioli)

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

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

C. Debussy La plus que lente, L. 121

She presented this tender melody with absolute charm and grace.

F. Mendelssohn Fantasy, Op. 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcin Wieczorek – (Poland) (Fazioli)

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

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

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

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

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

Xuehong Chen (China) (Fazioli)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for Rachmaninoff
Allegro agitato

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

Non allegro – Lento

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

Allegro molto

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

Rustam Muradov  (Russia) (Steinway)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ilia Papoian   (Russia) (Yamaha)

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

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

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

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

M. Ravel La Valse

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

Diaghilev had requested a four-hand reduction of the original orchestral score. Reports say that Stravinsky when he heard Ravel perform this with Marcelle Meyer in this version, he quietly left the room without a word so amazed was he. Ravel however would not admit to the work being an expression of the profound disillusionment in Europe following the immeasurable human losses and cruel maiming of the Great War. However one must recall in Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus that the composer Adrian Leverkühn, although isolated from the clamour and destruction of the cannons of war, composed the most profound expression of it in his composition Apocalypsis cum Figuris by a type of metaphysical osmosis. Ravel’s note to the score gives one an insight to his intentions:

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

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

Yun Chih Hsu  (Taiwan) (Fazioli)

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

All the pieces were played with intense musicality and sensitivity.

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

Related image
Claude Monet

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

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

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

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

F. Liszt Sonata in B minor, S. 178

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yasuko Furumi (Japan) (Kawai)

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

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

M. Ravel Valses Nobles et Sentimentales (1911)

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

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

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

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

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

F. Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 10 Appassionata

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

A simply spectacular performance which I could not fault.

Ballade No. 2 in B minor, S. 171

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

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

Illia Ovcharenko  (Ukraine) (Fazioli)

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

Allegro marcato
Presto misterioso
Adagio molto appassionato
Ruvido ed ostinato

Image result for paintings of argentinian gauchos
Gauchos rounding up sheep. Such scenes of native landless horsemen were often an inspiration to the musical imagination of Ginastera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allegro agitato

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

Non allegro – Lento

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

Allegro molto

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

Denis Zhdanov  (Ukraine) (Fazioli)

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

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

G. Ligeti Etude No. 16 Pour Irina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When our two souls… (Sonnet 22)

When our two souls stand up erect and strong, 

Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher, 

Until the lengthening wings break into fire 

At either curvèd point,—what bitter wrong 

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

Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher, 

The angels would press on us and aspire 

To drop some golden orb of perfect song 

Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay 

Rather on earth, Belovèd,—where the unfit

Contrarious moods of men recoil away 

And isolate pure spirits, and permit 

A place to stand and love in for a day, 

With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

Kotaro Shigemori (Japan) (Steinway)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polina Kulikova (Russia) (Kawai)

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

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

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

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

I. Stravinsky Petrushka
Danse russe
Chez Pétrouchka
La semaine grasse

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

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

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

Scene I

  1. The Shrove-Tide Fair 2. Russian Dance
The Shrove-Tide Fair set design by Alexandre Benois

Scene II

  1. Petrushka

Scene III

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

Scene IV

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

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

Daria Kiseleva (Russia) (Steinway)

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

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

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

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

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Alfred Sisley Under The Snow Farm Court

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

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

Stalingrad

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

STAGE I

25-30 minutes

Sala koncertowa Akademii Muzycznej im. F. Nowowiejskiego

Concert hall of the Nowowiejski Music Academy

Bydgoszcz, ul. Gdańska 20

11th November 2019 

Leonardo PIERDOMENICO – Italy  (Fazioli)

Respighi Nocturne

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

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

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Allegro espressivo 
Lento e patetico
Presto

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

F. Liszt Scherzo and Marsch S. 177

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

Sergey Belyavsky Russia (Fazioli)

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

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

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

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

F. Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 11 Harmonies du Soir

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

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

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

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

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

Marek KOZAK – Czech Republic (Yamaha)

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

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

Andante
Allegro molto e vivace
Adagio con espressione
Allegro vivace

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

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

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

Liu Tianyuan – China (Kawai)

J. S. Bach – E. Petri Sheep may safely graze, BWV 208

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

L. Kirchner (1919-2009) Interlude II

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

N. Medtner Sonata in G minor, Op. 22

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

Saya Ota – Japan (Kawai)

A. Grünfeld Soirée de Vienne, Op. 56

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

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

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

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

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

Kamil Pacholec – Poland (Steinway)  

Happy Birthday Kamil!

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

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

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

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

C. Gounod – Liszt Waltz from the Opera Faust

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

Bolai Cao – China (Yamaha)

D. Scarlatti Sonata in D minor, K. 1

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

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

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

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

C. Debussy L’isle Joyeuse

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

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Antoine Watteau L’Embarquement pour Cythère

F. Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 10 Appassionata

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

Mateusz Krzyżowski – Poland (Kawai)

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

Extremely fine impressionistic performance, especially La Puerta del Vino

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La Puerta del Vino

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

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

Kana Niiro – Japan (Kawai)

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

Allegro con spirito
Andante con espressione
Rondeau

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

B. Bartók Piano Sonata, Sz. 80

Allegro moderato
Sostenuto e pesante
Allegro molto

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

Yilei Hao  – China (Kawai)

D. Scarlatti

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

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

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

L. Janáček In the Mists

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

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

Łukasz Byrdy – Poland (Yamaha)

C. Debussy

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

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

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

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

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

Philipp Lynov – Russia (Steinway)

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

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

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

S. Prokofiev 4 Etudes, Op. 2

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

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

Saetbyeo Kim – Republic of Korea (Fazioli)

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

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

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

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

Allegro moderato
Adagio
Finale. Presto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcin Wieczorek – (Poland) (Fazioli)

F. Chopin

Etude in C major, Op. 10 No. 1

Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20

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

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

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

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

Yunling Zhang   (China) (Kawai)

S. Prokofiev Sarcasms, Op. 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xuehong Chen (China) (Fazioli)

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

D. Scarlatti

Sonata in E major, K. 380

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

Sonata in F minor, K. 48

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

Sonata in D major, K. 96

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sonata ends in triumphal joy. Scriabin once wrote:

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

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

Gyu Tae Ha  (Republic of Korea) (Kawai)

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

Allegro moderato
Menuetto
Finale. Presto

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

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

An excellent, tonally seductive and nuanced performance.

F. Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1 in A major

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

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

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

                                               A Lithograph from Delacroix’s Faust

Hyun Jin Roh (Republic of Korea) (Steinway)

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

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

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

An excellent performance of a challenging Etude.

M. Ravel La Valse 

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

Ravel described his composition as a ‘whirl of destiny’ – his concept was that the work impressionistically begins with clouds that slowly disperse to reveal a whiling crowd of dancers in the Imperial Court of Vienna in 1855. The Houston Symphony Orchestra programme note for the orchestral version performed in 2018 poses the question Dance of Death or Delight? which I feel encapsulates perfectly the ambiguity inherent in this disturbing work. A composer can sometimes be a barometer that unconsciously registers the movements of history. This might well be the case here but such ambiguities tended not to be expressed in this performance.

Arisa Onoda  (Japan) (Yamaha)

F. Chopin Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49

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

Carl Czerny wrote perceptively in his introduction to the art of improvisation on the piano ‘If a well-written composition can be compared with a noble architectural edifice in which symmetry must predominate, then a fantasy well done is akin to a beautiful English garden, seemingly irregular, but full of surprising variety, and executed rationally, meaningfully, and according to plan.’

At the time Chopin wrote this work improvisation in public domain was declining. With many of Chopin’s apparently ‘discontinuous’ works (say the Polonaise-Fantaisie) there is in fact an underlying and complexly wrought tonal structure that holds these wonderful dreams of his tightly together as rational wholes.

As I listened to this great revolutionary statement, fierce anger, nostalgia for past joys and plea for freedom I could not help reflecting how the artistic expression of the powerful spirit of resistance in much of Chopin is so desperately needed today – not in the restricted nationalistic Polish spirit he envisioned but with the powerful arm of his universality of soul, confronted as we are by the incomprehensible onslaught of evil and barbarism. We need Chopin, his heart and spiritual force in 2019 possibly more than ever before.

C. Debussy Pour le piano (1901)

Prelude

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

Sarabande

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

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

Rustam Muradov  (Russia) (Steinway)

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

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

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

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

I. Stravinsky – G. Agosti Firebird Suite 
Dance infernale
Lullaby
Final

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seunghui Kim  (Republic of Korea) (Steinway)

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

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

I. Albéniz Iberia
No. 6 Triana

Image result for gypsies iberia paintings

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

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

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

Shogo Mizumura   (Japan) (Steinway)

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

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

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

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

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

Allegro inquieto – Andantino
Andante caloroso
Precipitato

Ilia Papoian   (Russia) (Yamaha)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ting Chia Hsu   (Taiwan) (Kawai)

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

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

A. Scriabin Sonata No. 5, Op. 53

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Khomichko (Russia) (Kawai)

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

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

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

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

S. Gubaidulina Chaconne (1963)

Image result for S. Gubaidulina

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

Yun Chih Hsu  (Taiwan) (Fazioli)

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

Image result for mozart

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

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

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

B. Bartók Etudes, Op. 18

Related image

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

Alina Smirnova  Russia

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

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

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

M. Ravel La Valse

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

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

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

Anna Szałucka  (Poland) (Steinway)

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

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

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

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

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

Allegro
Allegretto
Presto

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

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

Jonas Stark (Germany) (Steinway)

S. Gubaidulina Chaconne

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

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

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

F. Liszt Spanish Rhapsody, S. 254

Image result for Spanish painting 1860

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

Yasuko Furumi (Japan) (Kawai)

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

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

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

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

D. Shostakovich Sonata No. 1, Op. 12

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

Jong Ho Won  (Republic of Korea) (Kawai)

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

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

Allegro con spirito
Andante con espressione
Rondo

D. Scriabin Sonata No. 5, Op. 53

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

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

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

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

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

Illia Ovcharenko  (Ukraine) (Fazioli)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denis Zhdanov  (Ukraine) (Fazioli)

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

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

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

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

Kotaro Shigemori (Japan) (Steinway)

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

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

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

An excellent and impressive account of this demanding piece.

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

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

Polina Kulikova (Russia) (Kawai)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joo Yeon Ka (Republic of Korea) (Fazioli)

M. RaveJeux d’eau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joanna Goranko (Poland) (Yamaha)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aya Hirakawa (Japan) (Steinway)

F. LiszAnnées de pèlerinage I, S. 160:

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

No. 6 Vallée d’Obermann

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

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

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

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

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

S. Prokofiev Toccata, Op. 11

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

Gen Li (China) (Fazioli)

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

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

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

L. Liebermann Gargloyes, Op. 29

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

C. Debussy Etude No. 10 Pour Les Sonorités Opposées

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

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

prokofiev
Prokofiev in 1917

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

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

Daria Kiseleva (Russia) (Steinway)

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

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

M. Ravel Gaspard de la nuit

Kiseleva gave us a particularly sensitive treatment of Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel. ‘Gaspard’ is the Persian guardian of the treasures and so ‘The Treasurer of the Night’ creates allusions to someone controlling everything that is jewel-like, dark, mysterious. the work was inspired by poems of Aloysius Bertrand, the French Romantic prose poet.

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

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

The Waves or Ondine by Paul Gaugin (1889)
Le Gibet although gloomy and lugubrious was not quite as haunting and horrifying as one might desire with those doom-laden repeated notes. Bleak certainly but stasis should be even more isolated and lonely in death or punishment for serious transgressions – a body swaying in the wind.
 
Image result for salvator rosa body on a gibbet
Scene of Witchcraft Salvator Rosa c. 1646–49

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

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

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

Oh! how often have I heard and seen him, Scarbo, when at midnight the moon glitters in the sky like a silver shield on an azure banner strewn with golden bees.

How often have I heard his laughter buzz in the shadow of my alcove, and his fingernail grate on the silk of the curtains of my bed!

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

Linda Lee (Republic of Korea) (Fazioli)

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

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

J. Brahms 7 Fantasien, Op. 116

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

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

Motohiro Sato (Japan) (Kawai)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adagio cantabile – Allegro ma non troppo
Allegro vivace

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

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

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

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

F. Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 12 Chasse-neige

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

Michal Mossakowski (Poland) (Yamaha)

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

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

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

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

C. Debussy Images, Book I

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

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

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

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

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

Hristeya Markova (Bulgaria) (Steinway)

F. Mendelssohn Variations sérieuses, Op. 54

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

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

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

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

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

Pleasantly impressionistic

A. Vladigerov (1933-1993) Dilmano Dilbero Variations

Related image
A. Vladigerov (1933-1993)

 

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

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

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

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

THE INAUGURAL CONCERT

November 10th 2019 at 17.00

Paderewski Pomeranian Philharmonic Concert Hall

 Paderewski Pomeranian Philharmonic Orchestra

conducted by Kai Bumann

Soloist – Nikita Mndoyants

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

Portrait of the composer Sergei Prokofiev, 1934 – Pyotr Konchalovsky
  1. Prokofiev – Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16

Andantino-Allegretto

Scherzo: Vivace

Intermezzo: Allegro moderato

Finale: Allegro tempestoso

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

IT’S TIRESOME AND SAD

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

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

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

January, 1840. Mikhail Lermontov.

И СКУЧНО И ГРУСТНО

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

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

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

Январь 1840. Михаил Лермонтов.

(Translated by Maxim Litvinov)

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

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

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

[…] 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) – Concerto for Orchestra

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

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

Image result for lutoslawski

The Bydgoszcz musicologist Andrzej Chłopecki comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

November 10th – 24th, 2019

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

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

The schedule:

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

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

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

May 2019 – the preliminary auditions

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

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

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

The 11 International Paderewski Piano Competition:

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

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

November 10th, 2019 – the Inaugural Concert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 24th, 2019 – the Closing Ceremony

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

November 24th, 2019 – the Prize Winners’ Concert

November 24th , 2019 –  presentation of the Additional Prizes

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

 *  *  *  *  *  *

Jury of 11th Competition

JURY of the 11th International Paderewski Piano Competition

Bydgoszcz, November 10th – 24th, 2019

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

Lilian Barretto, Brazil

Manana Doijashvili, Georgia

Janina Fialkowska, Canada

Vladimir Ovchinnikov, Russia

Zbigniew Raubo, Poland

Waldemar Wojtal, Poland

Ying Wu, China

Yukio Yokoyama, Japan

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

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

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

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

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

45 pianists from 11 countries

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

REPERTOIRE OF THE COMPETITION

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

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

1st STAGE – performance duration 25-30 minutes

Free choice repertoire

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2nd STAGE – performance duration 40-45 minutes

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

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

SEMI-FINAL

A.

RECITAL – duration time 40–45 minutes

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

mozart-glasses
Wolfgang Amadeus 2016

B.

W. A. MOZART PIANO CONCERTOS

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

FINAL

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

STATUTORY PRIZES

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

The Finalists shall also be awarded the title

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

SPECIAL PRIZES

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

 *  *  *  *  *

For the 10th International Paderewski Piano Competition November 2016

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

For the 9th International Paderewski Piano Competition November 2013

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

 *  *  *  *  *  *

 

piotr-betlej-op-10-n-1-2016-copyright-galerie-roi-dore
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)

Piotr Betlej Op 10 N 1 2016 © Galerie Roi Doré

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

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

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

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

concerto-poster

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

the-best-of-paderewski-cdb018-a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 2nd mov. Romanza. Andante

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

  • 3rd mov. Allegro Molto Vivace

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

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

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

l1060416

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

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

‘Poland is immortal!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a Bonner Zeitung critic wrote:

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

while a Kurier Warszawski reporter wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 9780689112485-uk

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

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

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Międzynarodowy Konkurs Pianistyczny im. I. J. Paderewskiego jest organizowany w ramach projektu pt. "Kujawsko-Pomorskie Menu Kulturalne 2013-2014" współfinansowanego ze środków Europejskiego Funduszu Rozwoju Regionalnego w ramach Regionalnego Programu Operacyjnego Województwa Kujawsko-Pomorskiego na lata 2007-2013 oraz ze środków budżetu Województwa Kujawsko-Pomorskiego.