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In an era that has seen the dwindling of solo recitals nationwide, it is heartening to see the return of the Paderewski Festival for a second series of four recitals featuring imaginative and often rare repertoire played by rising prize-winning talent or distinguished teachers. This concert focused on a survey of music by great teacher Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915) and some of his students. Pedagogue Adam Wibrowski, himself one of a long line teacher-pupil relationships traced to Leschetizky, gave a brief lecture about Leschetizky's artistic evolution and his lasting impact.
The Polish-born Leshetizky studied with Karl Czerny, a student of Beethoven. Czerny was famous for his technical exercises. Leschetizky later became influenced by Carl Filtsch and Julius Schulhoff, students of Chopin, who espoused that the piano should sing. Leschetizky's method synthesized the two approaches and his influence continues through to today from the 1200 pianists he taught. Ignacy Jan Paderewski, for whom the festival is named, was one of those in the long line of performers.
This concert featured Emil Reinert (b. 1994), a student of Wibrowski at the Conservatoire Hector Berlioz in Paris, who has racked up an impressive number of prizes including the first prize in the 2015 Leschetizky Competition in Hamburg. Among the many master classes he has attended were those of Gabriel Tacchino and High Point, North Carolina native James Giles, who was long been associated with the Eastern Music Festival at Guilford College.
Reinert opened the concert with three intriguing pieces composed by Leschetizky. His "Venetian Ballade" (Barcarolle) from Souvenirs d'Italie, Op. 39 is an excellent example of the form. A rhythm of 6/8 suggests the stroke of a Venetian gondolier. Reinert's steady rhythm in his left hand provided this underlying beat supporting a singing melody while treble flourishes by his right hand hinted at splashes on water. His playing displayed the goals of Leschetizky's teaching – beautiful tone, clarity of a seamless line, and precise rhythm.
Pianist Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm during World War I. Composers such as Britten, Prokoviev, and Ravel composed concerted works for the left hand. Since Wittgenstein was a student of Leschetizky, it is hardly surprising he composed solo pieces for his student. Reinert played two fine examples: Andante Finale de Lucia di Lammermoor, Op.13 and Etude brillante, Op. 13 – both for the left hand. After an opening flourish in the Andante, Reinert spun out the lines of Edgardo's mournful farewell to life. Remarkable agility and precision were vividly on display in the demanding Etude.
Two selections by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) came next. Reinert brought rhythmic subtlety to Mazurka, Op. 50, No.1, a late composition in the composer's career. In contrast, an earlier work was also played - a poignant Etude in B-flat minor, Op. 4, No.3 that was influenced by Scriabin's style.
A fascinating rarity came next – a superb set of Theme and Variations, Op. 3 by Franciszek Brzezinński (1867-1944). This delightful example of the form by the Polish composer incorporates Polish folk elements, such as a mazurka. Brzeznński is better known as a music critic whose writings serve as important historical sources.
The inspiration for a free Poland, Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) was one of Leschetizky's most famous students, and his multiple Raleigh visits are the inspiration for this festival. Reinert gave a spirited, vivacious performance of "Intermezzo polacco," from Six Humoresques de Concert, Op. 14.
After intermission, Reinert brought out all the beauty and color in Nocturne in F, Op. 15, No.1 by Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849). The pianist's ability to spin a seamless melodic line and his refined palette of color was a constant pleasure. The wonderful Wanderer Fantasy in C, Op. 15 by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) brought the printed program to a dramatic and richly satisfying conclusion. Reinert's refined control of a wide range of dynamics was constantly evident from the powerful opening statement to some of the pianissimo episodes before its return at the conclusion. Reinert's interpretive maturity was manifest in his overall control of what could have been episodic in lesser hands.
In response to the well-earned standing ovation of keyboard fanciers in the auditorium of the North Carolina Museum of Art, Reinert played a lovely nocturne by Paderewski. A fine artist-produced CD of most of the pre-intermission works was on sale in the lobby as a treat for music lovers.