Friday, 18 July 2008

SIPCA Stage I Day One / Morning session

Morning session

Industrial action in the Antipodes resulting in massive delays caused a number of pianists arriving in Sydney later than they had bargained for. This played havoc on the scheduling, but for the sake of fair play, pianists from Australasia and those who had much shorter distances to travel played before their Continental counterparts. Instead of the Rome-based Miya Kazaoka opening the proceeding, Australian Adam Herd (who was initially rostered as No.35 out of 36) gallantly took up that challenge to be No.1.

Gallant might be the right word as the opening pianist invariably suffers from this bogey position. Adam Herd (23, Australia, playing on a Kawai) began with a lovingly-nuanced reading of Poulenc’s Melancolie, full of Gallic languor and insouciance, which was violently contrasted with Scriabin’s excoriating Etude Op.65 No.3. He took many chances in Ravel’s La Valse, with chords, clusters and glissandi galore, but may rue the number of dropped notes.

Next up was John Fisher (24, Australia, Steinway) with two etudes, Chopin’s first (Op.10 No.1) – with an unfortunate slip in the right hand – and Rachmaninov’s Etude-tableau in C minor (from Op.33), where he brought a more deliberate reading and richer sonority than John Chen’s the night before. It must have been the Steinway. He chose the second book of Brahms’ Paganini Variations, the more treacherous of the two sets, but was not note-perfect despite the obvious heroics. Ultimately, he did not make me forget that this was a set of extremely difficult studies.

The first of the Chinese competitors was Feng Zhang (22, China, Steinway), a hefty but coy-looking personality whose Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor (WTC Book1) spoke volumes; pathos and tragedy came through well. The “music box” Rondo from Mozart’s Sonata in F major (K.494) also displayed a sensitive side to someone who could also pull off Liszt’s Feux follets with delicacy and requisite aplomb.

His compatriot Xixi Zhou (23, China, Steinway) looked far more confident, and his Bach Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor (WTC Book 1) seemed cut from the same fabric as Zhang’s. The good start continued with a very sturdy Winter Wind Etude (Op.25 No.11) by Chopin but was diminished by a brusque view of Second Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt, which lacked finesse and subtlety. What is there new to say about this overplayed warhorse, except to tack on a quasi-Horowitz coda for effect? That does not quite work out unless you’re Horowitz or the Langster.

Hao Zhu (22, China, Yamaha) turned out to be my favourite Chinese pianist in the morning. Who would have guessed he bring out the sunshine and Iberian colours of Joaquin Turina’s Danzas Fantasticas, with its final Orgia bathed with tenderness and orgiastic delight and violence to equal degree? His Rachmaninov Prelude in D major (Op.23 No.4) displayed true cantabile despite a false big left hand note at its climax and closed with a finely agile Chopin Black Key Etude.

The Vietnamese-Australian Hoang Pham (23, Australia, Yamaha) seems like the most polished Ozzie thus far. Who could reject his sensitive playing in Beethoven’s short but deceptively tricky Sonata in F sharp major (Op.78)? The introduction was well-voiced, leading to a song-like first theme, and how he sang. The repeated notes fell well under his hands and the Britannia Rules The Waves motif of the second movement came through with humour. Rich polyphony flowed in Scarlatti’s Sonata in B minor (K.87, a Horowitz favourite) and a slick Liszt La Leggierezza – with its thrilling thirds – completed this understated artist’s confident showing.

Polish-Australian Wojciech Wisniewski (27, Australia, Steinway) had a mixed outing. His choice of two varied Scarlatti Sonatas in D minor was an excellent one, balancing barely contained grief (K.32) with a stunning staccato technique (K.1). His Chopin Scherzo No.4 (the most elusive of Chopin’s foursome), while technically impeccable, missed out on its element of fantasy and surprise. Closing with both hands off kilter in the final flourish of scales also did not help. No question, though, about his Rachmaninov Etude-tableau in C minor (Op.39 No.1) which was suitably stormy and menacing.

No comments: