Festival Overview

2019 is the first year this four day festival has been held. Karlskrona sits at the heel of Sweden and was built in 1680 to host the navy as an alternative (and ice free) base to Stockholm during King Karl XI’s wars with Denmark. The naval base closed only in the 1980s and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Karlskrona is surrounded by an archipelago of small islands, giving the area great charm. The Piano Festival has been started by Peter Jablonski who has returned to his home territory after 30 years resident in London. The programme largely consisted of concerts by Jablonski, his students and friends.

Directors: Peter Jablonski and Anastasia Belina

Saturday 9 November

Karlskrona Concert Hall

Bach, arr. Brahms Chaconne in D minor for the left hand
A. Backer Grondahl Sommervise
Serenade
Debussy La puerto del vino
Copland, arr. Bernstein El Salon Mexico

Julia Marin Piano

Saturday 9 November

Galleons Hall, Karlskrona Naval Museum

Chopin Four Mazurkas, Op.24
Mazurka, Op.17 No.4
Nocturne, Op.62 No.1
Clara Schumann Fleeting Pieces Op.15 No.1
Chopin Fantasy in F minor, Op.69
Polonaise Fantasy Op.61

Jean-Marc Luisada Piano

Szymanowski Don Juan Serenade
Scriabin Mazurkas
Johanna Muller-Hermann Romanze & Intermezzo
Copland, arr. Bernstein El Salon Mexico

Peter Jablonski Piano

The Review

That Leonard Bernstein’s piano version of his friend, Aaron Copland’s picture of dance halls in the 1930s, El Salon Mexico should have appeared twice in the same day in Karlskrona was a coincidence waiting to happen. Julia Marin had heard Peter Jablonski play it in Bucharest a year ago and immediately decided she must add it to her repertoire. She has, very successfully, though playing it at lunchtime before her inspirer was due to tackle it in the evening was daring.

Even given the proximity, they were playing it in very different circumstances and these meant that the performances had distinctively varied characteristics. Marin was performing to a gently attentive audience in a darkened auditorium with a heavy velvet curtain behind her dampening the sound. Jablonski had a brightly lit glass box, with a tightly packed audience, overlooked by the huge figureheads from 18th and 19th century Swedish warships (for the record, 30 foot high admirals with their arms cut off and steel girders where their legs should be just look thoroughly fed up).

Marin’s was inevitably the more sober reading. There was no harm in that, though, because it meant she was able to highlight the superb pianism of Bernstein’s arrangement, the way he complemented the lithe portraiture of Copland’s music with intricate counterpoint and wry commentary – as if teasing his friend with the occasional pinch.

For Jablonski, this was the perfect party piece to end his first festival. In his Mexican dance saloon the punters were tipsy, lurching against the furniture and emerging too soon from a desperate dawn snooze after a night in tawdry halls – you could almost taste the heat and dust among the stale tequila fumes. You could also, magically, sense the choreography; not just the gliding and angular stomping of the 1940s (it was not Copland’s regular collaborator Martha Graham but her competitor Doris Humphrey who staged the music for Jose Limon’s company in 1943), but the dissolute energy that Jerome Robbins gave Bernstein in West Side Story a decade later.

Julia Marin really showed her stature as a pianist, though, in Brahms’ arrangement for the left hand of Bach’s great D minor Chaconne. It is a stupendously difficult arrangement to play, and Brahms meant it to be, so that the pianist would have to struggle not just in reaching the notes but in preserving the music’s flow. By restricting the movement to five fingers Brahms came close to the challenge faced by a violinist in bowing technique. He set the test of how to use finger and pedal control to keep the contrapuntal voices distinct while fooling the ear that many of the notes were being sustained against each other. Marin did more than pass the challenge; she gave a reading of compelling beauty and grandeur.

In between her and Jablonski, the first part of the final festival evening was given over to the distinguished French pianist, Jean-Marc Luisada. He has been something of a Chopin specialist for over thirty years, though it was in the first of Clara Schumann’s Fleeting Pieces that he was most beguiling. If that was moderate and sensitive, Luisada’s approach to Chopin is muscular and uncompromising. In the very live acoustic and on the bright Yamaha piano installed in the Hall of Galleons, Chopin became almost as loud and violent as the battleships surrounding us. Luisada relishes the complications of a work like the F minor Fantasy, where the fights that are never far below the surface break through the form: the anger of the composer at the unfairness of illness, exile and the turmoil of love. Luisada’s Chopin is often considerate, brilliantly articulate, at times suave, but never pretty.