The morning opened with some well-crafted Bach from Elizaveta Ivanova (21, Russia, Steinway), four movements from the Partita No.5 in G major. I would have preferred her to have performed the entire suite, but her selections were quite gorgeous; lovely legato in the Allemande, playful staccato technique in the Corrente and a Gigue that delighted in its counterpoint, lightness and verve. Her Rachmaninov Etude-tableau in B minor (Op.39 No.4) was less poker-faced than Yemtsov’s and had more subtlety and contrasts. The Chopin Scherzo No.2 had a good outing, although its opening could have been more arresting, and the climax wanted for some raw power.
Marco Ciampi (26, Italy, Steinway) took a huge risk in playing the most popular of etudes by Chopin (Op.10 No.12, the Revolutionary) and Scriabin (Op.8 No.12, in D sharp minor), and both suffered from brief lapses towards the end. He made up with a thunderous reading of Rachmaninov’s Sonata No.2, which was distinguished by his insistence of making the church bells peal with luminous sonority whenever the chances arrived. By the way, he also slipped up a little in the finale – what a bother!
The tall and gaunt Konstantin Shamray (23, Russia, Steinway) looks like the pianist to beat, judging by his very strong showing. The recital started with the whole Partita No.5 by Bach – all seven movements - which came across as more of a technical exercise in his hands compared with Ivanova’s, but equally valid. Then came the showstoppers, a magnificent Wagner-Liszt Isoldes Liebestod which opened dramatically and unfolded gloriously till his fatal conclusion, and the Rachmaninov Etude-tableau in E flat minor (Op.39 No.5), whose pathetic quality could hardly be bettered. Shamray is born to play Rachmaninov.
Tatiana Kolesova (23, Russia, Steinway) is the only pianist among the 35 whom I’ve previously heard (Leeds, 2006). Beethoven’s Sonata in F major (Op.54) was an odd choice, but she bravely conquered the massive octave passages in the first movement, and whipped up a maelstrom in the mouvement perpetual in the second. Richter would have been proud. Her Brahms Intermezzos (Op.117 Nos.1 and 2) were sheer poetry, exposing their hidden disquiet with great transparency. Finally, the Liszt La Campanella could have rung with greater urgency, instead of being stuck in second gear until the very end.
Daniil Tsvetkov (24, Kazakhstan, Steinway) proves to be one of the most interesting pianists so far. In Bartok’s Improvisations, he brought a myriad of colours and fantastical images in the unexpected dissonances and “night music” that elaborated these folksong inspired short pieces. The two sonatas by Scarlatti (in D major and D minor) he offered were rarely heard ones, bringing to mind some regal procession and a baroque court dance. Finally, his flawless fingers flew over the chromatic Chopin Etude in A minor (Op.10 No.2) with the lightness of a wind-caressed feather. Just lovely.
Ran Dank (26, Israel, Yamaha) brought palpable tragedy in the dirge-like Bach Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor (WTC I), with an evenness in the fugue that did lacked nothing in intensity. What is there more to say about Chopin’s Arpeggio Etude (Op.10 No.1), which received the umpteenth perfect reading of the competition? Dank’s view of the Scriabin Sonata No.9, or the Black Mass, was very special; one could smell its evil intent and dark forces at work from its opening bars. Its trills teased and taunted, bringing the listener ever closer to the abyss before plunging headlong into an unholy apotheosis of Horowitzian angst. I’m now thinking of a limerick than rhymes stank with Dank.
Young Charlie Albright (19, USA, Steinway), an Asian face, closed the morning’s proceedings with a flurry of studies. Giancarlo Menotti’s Ricercare and Toccata (from his one-act opera The Old Maid and the Thief) is completely new to me. Its neo-Bachian opening included a quasi-Shostakovichian theme, which became the subject of the brilliant and effervescent Toccata. Three Chopin études from Op.25 (No.2, 6 and 12) were flawlessly delivered; even the fiendish study in thirds was tossed aside with consummate ease. If that wasn’t enough, a splendid Liszt La Campanella, topping that of Kolesova’s, completed the picture. “OK, we get the hint, Charlie’s got fingers,” thought I.