Czerny-Stefanska’s first piano teacher was her father who was a professor at the Kraków Conservatory and a descendant of Carl Czerny. At the age of ten she won the City of Warsaw Award and also won the Alfred Cortot Prize. This enabled Czerny-Stefanska to travel to Paris to study with Alfred Cortot for six months at his École Normale de Musique. Only twelve when she returned from Paris, Czerny-Stefanska completed her normal schooling at Saint Ursula’s Gymnasium in Kraków, meanwhile continuing her study of the piano under Józef Turczyński, a pupil of Paderewski, at the Warsaw Conservatory. Czerny-Stefanska appeared regularly in public and on Polish radio, but World War II interrupted her burgeoning career.
After the war Czerny-Stefanska, by now twenty-three, continued her studies at the State Higher School of Music with Zbigniew Drzewiecki. Her international career was launched by her winning of the joint first prize at the first International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. She shared the prize with Bella Davidovich and won the Polish Radio Award for the best performance of Chopin’s mazurkas. There followed a career in which Czerny-Stefanska toured throughout Europe, playing in Paris, Vienna, Brussels, The Hague, London, Prague, Moscow and Budapest and performing with such conductors as Adrian Boult, George Solti and Zubin Mehta. She also toured the United States and played in China and Japan. Czerny-Stefanska also spent much of her time teaching, particularly at Kraków University.
Czerny-Stefanska recorded for a number of labels including Deutsche Grammophon, HMV, RCA, Decca and Supraphon. Throughout her career she was known for being a specialist in Chopin, and many of her recordings are of his music. After her win at the International Chopin Competition, Czerny-Stefanska gave a successful recital at London’s Wigmore Hall, and recorded some discs of Chopin for HMV in London from 1949. However, with the introduction of the LP record, most of Czerny-Stefanska’s 78rpm discs were deleted by 1954. Some LPs appeared on the Deutsche Grammophon label, most notably Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor Op. 11 taken from a Supraphon recording of 1955. It was this recording that achieved notoriety when it was issued by EMI in 1971 as a recently-discovered recording by Dinu Lipatti. When reviewed by The Gramophone magazine as a recording by Czerny-Stefanska in June 1958 it was described thus: ‘The pianist is neat and intelligent, but I would not put this performance in the same class as Rubinstein’s.’ When reviewed in September 1971 by Trevor Harvey as a recording by Lipatti he wrote, ‘There is a wonderful variety of playing, from refined delicacy to great power; from singing cantabile to playing of dazzling brilliance. And behind all this, as always, there is such a feeling of deep sincerity and understanding. In short, it is difficult to imagine a more beautiful, a more deeply rewarding, account of this concerto.’ A Chopin recital disc issued by Deutsche Grammophon has an excellent selection of mazurkas and powerful accounts of the Ballades Nos 1 and 4 as well as a fine rendition of the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Op. 22. In 1957 The Gramophone described her playing of the mazurkas as ‘…an extraordinarily poetic performance of these dances… altogether outstanding’.
Other recordings have appeared on the Supraphon label, such as Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major K. 488 with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Karel Ančerl; and for the Polish label Muza, Czerny-Stefanska has recorded Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16 and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat Op. 19. It is her Chopin playing, however, for which she will be remembered. Supraphon have remastered the 1955 recording of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and issued it on compact disc, whilst in 2004 Pearl issued many of the HMV Chopin recordings.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).