Perhaps the most successful woman so far was Mariangela Vacatello (26, Italy, Yamaha) who began with the early and superficially flashy Chopin Rondo in E flat major (Op.16). Her success was in almost persuading one to believe it was a great work when it really isn’t. Her Rachmaninov Etude-tableau in F sharp minor (Op.39 No.3) was not not-perfect but came across as lyrical rather than tempestuous. What brought her the cheers were two varies Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues (Op.87), pieces which displayed mordant wit and more than a touch of schizophrenia.
Jose Menor (30, Spain, Steinway) truly understands the meaning of pianissimo, as he caressed and glided his way through Ravel’s Jeux d’eau, a reading to match Yemtsov’s Ondine. His Rachmaninov Etude-tableau in E flat minor (from Op.33) was predictably “wetter” than John Chen’s but no less successful. He truly came into his own in fellow countryman Granados’ Los Requiebros and El Pelele from the cycle Goyescas. The flatteries of the former sang through gloriously amid the filigree while the strawman’s exuberant dance in the latter brought the recital to a stunning close.
The lanky ginger-headed Christopher Devine (25, Great Britain, Steinway) had the nerves and steely control to negotiate Scriabin’s Sonata No.5 without disaster, but unlike the unfortunate Kazaoka fell short in the sensual and mystique department. It also takes some doing to make Schumann’s plain-speaking Arabeske (Op.18) sound interminable. Chopin’s Winter Wind Etude came through most convincingly, but didn’t everyone else who attempted this finger-twister?
The most prodigiously fingered participant is probably baby-faced Takashi Sato (24, Japan, Kawai). There is nothing he touches that does not come through brilliantly accurate or polished to a fine lustre. With such enviable ease he engages the Arpeggio Etude of Chopin (Op.10 No.1) that it isn’t even funny, and his Bach-Busoni Chaconne is calculated to make one jump out of the seat shouting bravo. Some day he might even find some personal characteristics to add to this arsenal of technical formidability. Meanwhile his cheeky Poulenc Presto (famously recorded by Horowitz) was a delicious dash of icing on a pretty mean cake.
Manuel Araujo (25, Portugal, Yamaha) probably regards this concours as a singing competition. He allowed Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor (WTC I) to speak and sing for itself, and its lament was a beautifully conceived one. More slow music in Mozart’s Sonata in E flat major (K.282), but he made one sit up and listen intently, never allowing any chance for a lovely turn of phrase to slip up. The Minuet and quicksilver finale never wanted for charm and comedy. Unfortunately his fraught and hectic Liszt Transcendental Etude No.2 in a minor proved to be a letdown.
Two Korean ladies rounded up the evening. Mi Yeon Lee (25, Korea, Steinway) stands accused of some unbalanced programming. A confident Winter Wind Etude (what else could be expected?) was followed by the rumbustious final Etude-tableau (Op.39 No.9) which came to grief after the opening flourish. To make up for that was Liszt’s indestructible Hungarian Rhapsody No.2. At least Lee came across as far more musical and unmannered compared with this morning’s Xixi Zhou.
Way past ten o’clock came the turn of Yoon Soo Rhee (26, Korea, Yamaha) whose Bach Prelude and Fugue in D major (WTC II) sounded a tad impatient, with the fugue’s tempo wavering like some cardiac condition. Who could blame her, after all she was the 21st pianist to make an appearance in a single day? The gallop rhythm in Chopin’s Etude in A minor (Op.25 No.4) was less than assuring, and there was more effort than inspiration in Liszt’s overworked Mephisto Waltz No.1. However in its central love music, she allowed some murmur of excitement to shine forth, thus providing some hope for Stage Two of the competition.