As the Paderewski Festival 2017 wound down, one of the most eagerly anticipated events was the final Gala Recital by distinguished pianist Magadalena Baczewska on Saturday evening, November 4, in the Grand Ballroom of the Paso Robles Inn. In introductory remarks by the Honorable Mariusz M. Brymora, Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles, we were reminded that we are approaching next year the centenary of the 1918 restoration of the Independence of the Polish Republic, when Ignacy Jan Paderewski, as the representative of Poland signed the Versailles Treaty restoring Polish sovereignty after 123 years of partioning and subjugation by foreign powers. Influenced by the dramatic success of the historical musical, “Hamilton,” there are plans in the making to produce an English-language musical inspired by the life and elegance of Paderewski — hopefuly to appear next year on Broadway.
The pianist for this Gala evening, Magadalena Baczewska, came out on stage and proved to be charming and knowledgeable, as well as an outstanding pianist. It is often said that when a pianist begins to play you can tell in the first twenty seconds whether the artist’s attitude is “I am going to amaze you with my fantastic virtuoso technique,” or “I love these pieces and want to share them with you.” Her attitude was definitely the latter.
Not surprisingly the program was largely devoted to Polish composers Chopin and Szymanowski, although she included from Debussy’s Images, Book II, Cloches à travers les feuilles, Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut and Poissons d’or in lovely limpid performances.
The Szymanowski three Preludes and two Mazurkas represented two different periods in his life — the Preludes were early and strongly influenced by Chopin, while the two Mazurkas were more influenced by twentieth-century compositional trends. Baczewska succeeded in giving us charming accounts of both. These pieces deserve to be heard more often.
The Chopin portion of the program was substantial and included the lovely Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 45, the three mature Mazurkas from Op. 59, the great Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1 and ending with a brilliant and satisfying performance of the Scherzo in C-sharp minor, Op. 39.
Baczewska is an elegant pianist and thoroughly a master of her craft. She was able to cast a spell over us with her poetic imaginative playing in the Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 45. and the three Mazurkas of Op. 59, and then to make the well-known Scherzo in C-sharp minor seem fresh and new all over again.
Of course, since this event was taking place at the Paderewski Festival, we knew we were going to hear something by Paderewski. Sure enough, on the program she played the ubiquitous Minuet in G Major, Op. 14, No. 1, but then she also played one encore — a gorgeous rendition of the Nocturne in B-flat major, Op. 16, No. 4. This Nocturne never attracted much attention from pianists until Stephen Hough’s magical recorded performance gave us a new awareness of it. Well, move over, Stephen Hough, there’s a new girl in town!