The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores

Concert Review: Four California Recitals

Performing at the Escalon Community Center
Performing at the Escalon Community Center.
Photo by Sunita Doktorski

Henry Doktorski: Victoria 140-bass convertor/free-bass piano accordion


1) Johann Ludwig Krebs: Prelude: Christ lag in Todesbanden
2) Handel: Suite for a Musical Clock
3) Brahms': Hungarian Dance #5
4) Monti: Czardas
5) Hovhaness: Suite for Accordion & Hymn
6) Bartok: Variations on Rumanian Folk Dances V
7) Astor Piazzolla: Oblivion
8) Stanley & David Darrow: Meteor Showers
9) Willard A. Palmer: Chorale on Old Hundredth
10) Henry Doktorski: Rondo Polska
11) Pietro Frosini: Three Pieces: Rag in D Minor; Florette; Omaggio a Pietro
12) Guido Deiro: Deiro Rag; Musketeers March; Deirina Mazurka; I Don't Care Polka; Lido Tango; Queen of the Air March; Valse Caprice #1; My Florence.

Review by Dr. Paul A. Magistretti

During the month of July, Henry Doktorski came to California for a series of solo recitals. He was brought to the Golden State under the auspices of MAP, Major Accordion Performers. MAP is chaired by Lou Soper; it's a new, not-for-profit organization which wants to encourage national and international artists to travel west—hopefully, to increase recognition of their talent, promote the beauty of the accordion and permit people in our area to enjoy the very best performers in the world.

Henry's reputation preceded him. Many people on the West Coast know him for his work in creating and maintaining the best website dedicated to classical free-reed instruments on the Internet. Also, he is known for several fine CDs, scholarly work and a sincere dedication to the accordion and related instruments. Henry's recitals took him from Petaluma in the north, to San Francisco, then San Jose (in Silicon Valley) in the south, to Escalon in the east, hear Modesto(a hundred miles from San Francisco).

During the trip Henry combined work and pleasure by bringing along his two children, planning to vacation and go camping following the recitals. His daughter, Sunita, is an attractive young woman of fourteen; tall, slender, serious and she bears a great resemblance to Henry. His youngest child is a lively boy named Siddhartha, or Sid; he's ten, and as befits a ten year old if he gets a chance to play pool while his father is performing Brahm's Hungarian Dance No. 5, no contest: nine ball in the corner pocket. They're great kids and it was nice to meet them.

The concerts were excellent. Henry chose a diverse and challenging program. He offered selections ranging from the baroque era, a Prelude (on "Christ lag in Todesbanden") by Johann Ludwig Krebs (a student of J. S. Bach) that was quite lovely, Handel's Suite for a Musical Clock, and he went on to play more modern works: Hovhaness (Suite for Accordion and Hymn, the latter written for Henry), Bartok (dances based on Rumanian folk tunes) Piazzolla (Oblivion), Monti (Czardas), an original work of his own (Ronda Polska), as well as Stanley & David Darrow's Meteor Showers and Willard Palmer's Chorale on Old Hundredth—and don't forget the aforementioned Brahms' Hungarian Dance #5; and that my friends, was only the first half.

Henry has a fine stage presence and engaged the audience with his comments about the music at hand and anecdotes about himself, including a charming story about how he came to study the accordion through the wiles of a door-to-door music teacher.

The second half of the program was dedicated to the Golden Age of Vaudeville: three works by Frosini and nine by Guido Deiro. Henry in association with Guido Deiro's son is working on a full-length study of the great star of vaudeville: documenting the man's life and works and creating a new CD devoted to Guido's compositions. The second half of the concert effectively gave us a preview; the results of which can be heard on the limited edition companion disk he published for the tour. Some copies may still be available, so contact Henry if you're interested—I will do a review later. He also announced that in the future there will be a retrospective CD of Guido Deiro playing his own works.

Henry demonstrated a fine sense of showmanship when he opened one recital with a solid rendition of Brahm's Hungarian Dance #5. Brahm's Dance #5 is a familiar work on the accordion, but Henry made it fresh. Then, he settled into the baroque era for two pieces, doing very well with Krebs and Handel. The interplay and balance between the two manuals was controlled and musical, demonstrating a fine command of the free bass and a particular affinity for baroque music. There were moments that reminded me of Mie Miki's excellent baroque performances. Piazzolla's Oblivion was deeply felt—Henry made the piece his own by providing a different and touching perspective on it: he portrayed a lyrical, introspective quality, which I liked. Monti's overly performed Czardas was a crowd pleaser for the many accordionists in the audience, most of whom no doubt have played this piece since childhood. Henry performed it with clarity and precision—taking his time and giving full expression to each of the several parts. I've heard this piece on the accordion a thousand times and almost every accordionist I've heard blows through it at 100 mph, sans breathing, phrasing and expression. For years I thought it was a speed test, until I heard Victor Borge play it on the piano and give it its musical due. Henry gave it its full musical due—it came alive and he proved Monti's Czardas is lovely music and much better when played on an accordion than on a speedway.

Henry has a definite feeling for Hovhaness and played his Suite with authority, which was true of the short, lovely Hymn, the latter written for Henry by Hovhaness. Henry's polka composition (Rondo Polska) was humorous and he unpeeled the many variations on a simple theme like the skins of an onion; in the process, he revealed a fine sense of humor (not often a trait found in accordion recitals; we usually get camp, funny hats and corny jokes).

In the second half of the show Henry performed three works by Frosini and a series of nine by Guido Deiro. Henry has scrupulously researched the material and bases his performances on the best published and unpublished sources. In the case of Guido Deiro, he found that the published versions were often at variance with the way Guido recorded the pieces. So Henry made revisions in the score to conform to what appeared to be the composer's obvious intentions. In the process he may have edited what are the most definitive versions of Guido Deiro's texts. [Henry and Guido Deiro, Jr. are planning to release an authoritative edition of the complete works of Guido Deiro in the near future.] Now, noting all this research should in no way suggest that in performance Henry imitates anyone else; he interprets the pieces in his own way and does an excellent job. As a performer, Henry is demonstrating a growing command of the material, which isn't easy. The various rags, marches, mazurkas and tangos are very much part of a long, lost era, and at this point in the twenty-first century it may be difficult to completely appreciate them, let alone replicate the experience. To be sure, the music is good, enjoyable and worthwhile, but the pieces were also vehicles for the vaudeville experience as served up to large, diverse and unsophisticated audiences. Many pieces were intended to be showstoppers—after all, a performer had (dependent upon his rank on the playbill) from five to fifteen minutes (unless encored or booed offstage) to deliver the goods. So, the Deiro material may require an extroverted larger-than-life approach. Vaudeville was the rock and roll of its day and not much about it was subtle. Musicians were in competition with automated pianos and orchestras mécanique. MAP's audiences were neither large nor unsophisticated enough to inspire adrenal overdrive. But Vaudeville and the machine age aside, maybe this kind of presentation is better for our times; Henry brought the music to life and put his own stamp on it—all to good effect. The music should be brought to our attention. In time it will be interesting to see how he chooses to inhabit it. If I were to criticize, I would say there might be more size, fire and swing. It should be kept in mind, however, that Henry was performing under some physical constraint, which I'll mention later. Proof that he what he did was good was confirmed by the fact that afterwards on the drive home I was lost in an infinite loop of the Lido Tango.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the recitals in California was Henry's command of a broad range of music and his talent for finding the life of each piece. It should be noted that Henry suffered a back injury (herniated disc) prior to coming to California and for a while the recitals were in doubt; it has to be counted as a factor. With that in mind, let me note there were a few tentative moments, minor errors—but nothing that detracted from the overall performance or from Henry's status as one of our country's premier performers.

To read Henry's comments about his trip, go to HenryDoktorski.Com.

A compact disc of these selections has been released. To read a review of this CD, Click Here.

About The Free-Reed Review
Invitation to Contributors / Submission Guidelines

Back to The Free-Reed Review Contents Page

Back to The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Home Page