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
Wednesday 6 November
Karlskrona Concert Hall
Peter Jablonski Ballade No.1 on a Swedish Folk Song
Farhad Poupel Fantasia on One Note
Peter Jablonski Piano
Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition
Julius-Jeongwon Kim Piano
Thursday 7 November
Karlskrona Concert Hall
The Seasons, Piano Concerto No 1
Peter Jablonski Pianos
The delightful thing about instituting a festival of your own is that you can programme and schedule as eccentrically as you like. Peter Jablonski is anyway an unconventional virtuoso. He likes experiments and is happy to take risks on repertoire and people.
He opened the festival himself, playing two pleasant if untaxing late romantic pieces by the female Swedish pupil of Massenet, Valborg Aulin, then – at the insistence of his partner, Anastasia – resurrected something of his own, written many years earlier when he was 18. Although it has a grown-up title, it could just as easily be called ‘the ballad of the gloomy young troll’ but it was accomplished enough to suggest that he should pick up his pen more often.
Jablonski also showed considerable faith in giving the world premiere of Farhad Poupel’s work. Poupel is, hardly surprisingly, unknown. This fantasia is only the second piece that he regards as professional enough to have an opus number. He is Iranian, based in Isfahan, and his journey to obscure Karlskrona was his first visit to Europe. For all that, though, Poupel is knowledgable, highly competent and a serious musical thinker. As so often with works anchored to a single note, in this case B natural, the note itself can outstay its welcome but around it he weaves a a thread of considerable ingenuity in a style that could be described as eclectic post-modernism; it has bite but few terrors. It will be rewarding to follow his progress.
For the second half of the concert Jablonski ceded the stage to Julius-Jeongwon Kim, a colleague with whom he toured Korea a couple of years earlier. Kim’s reading of Pictures at an Exhibition, though hampered by the desperately dry acoustic of the hall, restored faith in a score that can too often sound hackneyed. He has an ear for subtle detail that goes beyond the usual bombastic portrayal and the dexterity to make the faster movements dance.
Kim began his section by marking the 125th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s death with an excerpt from The Seasons, the poignant October. It was up to the young Slovenian pianist, Ermin Tkalec, to give us the complete cycle of 12 months the following evening. Sadly his performance was a disappointment, with too many inaccuracies to allow the sort of narrative thoughtfulness Kim had found to come through. That was hardly his fault, however, since he was playing with a fever and it was impressive that he appeared on stage at all. Even if his reading was imperfect, there was enough quality to suggest that he will shine on another evening.
The finale that second night was both great fun and something of an eye-opener. The old warhorse that is Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto turns out to be a far more intelligent work when played at two pianos, without the orchestra. Integrating the solo and orchestral parts and redividing them between the players makes the music considerably more coherent and less bombastic. It also brings Tchaikovsky much closer to Grieg in musical language. The work still has its irritating moments but, in the brilliant hands of Jack Campbell and Peter Jablonski, it gained new respect.