Different faces of Scheherezade [REPORT]

The morning session of the 2nd stage of the 2nd Stanisław Moniuszko International Competition of Polish Music in the piano category was marked by a plethora of expressive contrasts presented by the respective participants. A high degree of liberty repertoire-wise allowed the pianists to showcase their skills across diverse interpretations, although not all contestants opted for such diversity.

    The auditions began by the performance of the Russian pianist Ekaterina Richter, who went for a dynamic program that stood out for its strong sound. Focused and overhanging the keyboard, Richter opened with three surprising pieces from Leopold Godowski’s Triakontameron cycle, from the melodic Memories, straddling high and low registers, through the short and ephemeral A Little Tango Rag and the forthright, fleshy bass sounds of Poëme Macabre. Counterbalancing the latter piece was Miłosz Magin’s Toccata, hung up on sharp, high-pitched tones. With each bar, Richter seemed to settle more and more in amidst the complex structures of the successive pieces. After Magin’s Toccata, Chorale, and Fugue Richter shifted into a lower gear in Karol Szymanowski’s Mazurkas op. 50, only to return with an impetuous rendition of his Serenade de Don Juan. The Russian’s performance concluded with two pieces by Moritz Moszkowski: a light-hearted, soft interpretation of Esquisse Vénitienne in A minor op. 73, and a highly focused interpretation of his concerto transcript of Chanson bohème from Bizet’s Carmen. All in all, Ekaterina Richter impressed with her strength and conviction.

    Ukraine’s Ivan Shemchuk went for a completely different opening of his audition. Having taken a moment to compose himself, he started with Stanisław Moniuszko’s thoughtful Waltz in E flat minor. In contrast to Ekaterina Richter, whose quick transitions between the successive pieces helped her keep the high tension, Shemchuk prolonged the intermissions between the respective compositions, approaching them as separate entities. Nonetheless, his performance quickly perked up as he played Karol Szymanowski’s Twelve Etudes op. 33, which he rendered with uncanny intensity. Shemchuk left the most intriguing pieces for last, as the second part of his program featured Henryk Pachulski’s romantic Sonata in C minor op.10, filling it with lignite-like, near-aggressive timbre, followed by Mieczysław Karłowicz’s gorgeous Chant de mai, which resounded with both the melancholy he put on display in his earlier interpretation of Moniuszko’s waltz and the dynamism that marked his rendition of Szymanowski’s etudes, intertwining them in a way that perfectly encapsulated his performance.

    The order of auditions coincidentally underscored the contrast between Ivan Shemchuk and the subsequent participant, Mikołaj Sikała, whose program was almost entirely based on reflective and delicate sound. The Polish pianist gave the audience a taste of such an approach in his very first piece, Ludomir Różycki’s Ave Maria op. 50 no.1, contemplating sounds and building an ambience for his subsequent interpretations. Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s Chant d’amour in G major sounded as if the pianist was creating the composition as he played it, considering each and every note, creating his own space, and extending the duration of the piece by prolonging the final chord. Also pensive and thoughtful was Sikała’s rendition of Szymanowski’s Scheherezade op. 34 from the Masques cycle, which stood out for its exquisite intimacy when compared with the interpretations presented by two subsequent pianists. Sikała concluded his audition with a performance of Godowski’s fantastic and colorful Java Suite.

    In turn, Michał Karol Szymanowski went for a comprehensive program: he opened with a confident performance of Józef Wieniawski’s flashy Polonaise triomphale in A flat major op. 21, followed by Paderewski’s Legend in A flat major op. 16. After playing Zygmunt Stojowski’s Vers l’azur op. 39, the audience listened to the second performance of Karol Szymanowski’s Scheherezade, this time in a more compounded, lively rendition, with quick runs played with self-assured sound. One should especially notice the finale of Scheherezade, which kept the audience in suspense until the very last note. Michał Szymanowski’s audition finished with an intriguingly dynamized rendition of Miłosz Magin’s Polish Triptych, whose contentious interpretation sent the entire keyboard into tremor.

    The final contestant performing during the morning session was Jakub Cetnarowski, whose play was marked by unforced nonchalance and a high dose of naturalness. He, too, opted for Szymanowski’s Scheherezade, which he performed swiftly, as it lit up in the opening bars and quickly faded away with the final notes. Cetnarowski then played Władysław Żeleński’s Thème varié op. 26, consistently guiding the audience through the successive variations. He also performed pieces by Ignacy Friedman, choosing the highly intimate Klavierstücke op. 27, whose last movement Im Volkston brought one of the most unique moments of today’s auditions. Playing the melody with his right hand only, Cetnarowski introduced an element of suspense and granted the audience a moment of respite from the dynamic, dense, and complex pieces the resounded in the hall throughout the morning session. The pianist concluded the audition with Friedman’s spirited and lucid Cracovienne in A major op. 14, playing it with extraordinary liberty and joy.

Author: Zofia Kubaszewska