The Paderewski Festival celebrates composer, statesman, and virtuoso Ignacy Paderewski’s performances and associations with Raleigh. In the course of lobbying for nationhood for Poland after World War I, Paderewski gave three performances in Raleigh (in 1917, 1923, and 1939) and one in Durham (1931), inaugurating the performing arts series at Duke University. These appearances were influenced by his deep personal friendship with Raleigh resident Mary Lee Swann McMillan, who had been private secretary to Helena Paderewska, his wife. Besides Raleigh, Paderewski also gave recitals in Charlotte, beginning in 1905, as well as Asheville, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem.
This concert’s all-Polish program featured the return of Kamil Pacholec (b.1998), who was a hit on the 2017 Fourth Annual Paderewski Piano Festival. Pacholec racked up superlatives as the only high school student and eventual first-place winner in the 2016 Fryderyk Chopin 47 National Piano Competition in Katowice. Seven Chopin selections were leavened with pieces by Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) and Paderewski. The concert was held in the Daniels Auditorium of the North Carolina Museum of History.
Three Chopin Waltzes, No. 1 in A-flat, No. 2 in A minor, and No. 3 in F, Op. 34, opened the concert. They served as a sampler of Pacholec’s remarkable combination of solid technique with depth of musical insight. He brought considerable flair to the first waltz as he wove decorative treble touches with his right hand above the melody being played by his left. He brought just the right amount of rubato to the dark, melancholy second waltz. He generated crisp, clear articulation to the fast paced portions of the third waltz while giving it plenty of dramatic, dynamic contrast.
Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58, concluded the first half of the concert. Despite a surprising amount of applause between movements, Pacholec successfully integrated its four movements into a coherent whole. The first movement’s dramatic, martial first theme was successfully blended with its lovely, melodic second theme. His performance of the brief Scherzo was excellent. The Largo was particularly successful, as Pacholec sustained forward motion while weaving its seamless, haunting melodic line. Harmonic details were brought out superbly throughout. His Finale lacked nothing for drama or rhythmic vigor and brought the sonata to a jubilant conclusion.
Szymanowski’s remarkable early Variations in B-flat, Op. 3, opened the post-intermission part of the program. This student work reflects the composer’s influence by such Romantics as Schumann and Liszt as well as his dealing with existing models. It is a cycle of twelve variations on Szymanowski’s own nostalgic theme. With its rich harmony and strong saturation of chromaticism, it skirts the edge of the tonal system. Pacholec handled with aplomb the mix of almost impossibly fast variations and the more languid ones.
This was followed by Chopin’s Polonaise in D minor, Op. 71, No. 1. Pacholec brought out plenty of insouciance in the treble part as part of a brilliant, rhythmically vital performance.
Two selections from Humoresques de concert, Op. 14, by Paderewski came next. Pacholec conveyed a mixture of power and delicacy as well as charm and beautiful tone to the famous No. 1 Minuet in G while his performance of No. 6 Krakowiak in G was simply scintillating.
The printed program ended with Chopin's well-beloved Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante in E-flat, Op. 22. Pacholec’s treatment of the Andante spianato was exquisite, culminating in a breath-taking, powerful treatment of the polonaise.
Hearty audience response was rewarded by Chopin’s Mazurka in G minor, Op. 24, as an encore. Under Pacholec’s fingers, this was a delightful treat combining refined tone and stylish application of rhythm. I am sure music lovers and keyboard fanciers would welcome the return of Pacholec for the Sixth Annual Paderewski Piano Festival in Raleigh.