Alexei Yemtsov (Ukraine/Australia) did his chances no harm with a Debussy Girl with the Flaxen Hair that was unfussy or mannered. I had wished that the two Brahms Intermezzos that he offered been more varied; the A minor (Op.116 No.2) and E flat minor (Op.118 No.6) were both darkly shaded and brooding, the latter with its faux-triumphant close. I can’t honestly say that Arcadi Volodos’ histrionics does much to improve Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.13, but Yemtsov had that bravura to pull it off. Verdict: Should get through.
Aiko Yajima (Japan) began her recital with Prokofiev’s Sarcasms (Op.17), an early work that defined him as the enfant terrible of Russian music. Essentially it amounts to a swag-bag of musical expletives and swear words, with enough vitriol to scandalise the St. Petersburg conservatives and establishment. Yajima succeeded in bringing out its shock value, with its unexpected turns, grinding dissonances and outright barbarism. Her Debussy Ondine was dreamy and evocative, and the water theme continued seamlessly with the Schubert-Liszt Auf dem Wasser zu singen (To be Sung on the Water). Verdict: Might get through on the strength of this recital.
Tomoki Kitamura (Japan) proved that age is no concern when it comes to music making. His anti-virtuosic recital began with the little-known Sibelius Sonnet (Op.94 No.3) – a breath of fresh spring air – and that little Beethoven Rondo in G major (Op.51 No.2) which children often play. His view was, of course, totally musical, and no barnstorming required here. Finally the swagger of Debussy’s General Lavine… eccentric was infectious, with little pause here and there for comic effect. Verdict: An injustice if he doesn’t make it into the next stage.
Miya Kazaoka (Japan) returned from her Stage I mishaps with a vengeance. Her vision of The Engulfed Cathedral was perhaps the best Debussy heard so far. Her judgement of colours and tints was close to perfection, with the statement of the first theme putting Zhu’s earlier reading far into the shade. What is it with Debussy that resounds so strongly with the Japanese aesthete? Her view of the Wagner-Liszt Isoldes Liebestod was equally enthralling, its theme of redemption through fatal love, was gloriously realised. After all, it is a woman who sings Mild und leise. Venom spewed unabated in Prokofiev’s Suggestion diabolique (Op.4 No.4), which unfortunately turned out to be the weakest performance here. Verdict: It was a privilege to hear a true artist today, but sayonara.
David Fung (Australia) reprised Debussy’s Girl with the Flaxen Hair, and I dare say he was even better than Yemtsov. Three Scarlatti sonatas in D minor followed, with a different palette dished out for each; fluency and agility in K.1, pensiveness in K.32 and a stupendous repeated note technique a la Argerich in the “guitar” sonata of K141. His poetic soul was bared in Chopin’s Ballade No.4 (Op.52), which seemed too discursive in parts and finally red hot when it could have been white hot. Some moron’s handphone went off somewhere through his recital, and this might have adversely affected him. Verdict: Should make it through, albeit in a very strong Australian contingent.
Balasz Fulei (Hungary) seems to have come out of his shell today. His Scarlatti Sonata in B flat major (K.545) displayed crystal-clear articulation, with each repeat sounding ever more delicious than the last. His chilling account of Debussy’s Footsteps in the Snow brought out bronchial coughs from not a few people in the audience, such is the power of suggestion. Finally, his Bartok Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs was performed to the manner born. His was a mini one-man-band with fifes, bagpipes, cimbalom and drums. Anyone wants to debate Bartok with a Magyar? Verdict: I have underrated him thus far, should advance.
Fernando Altamura (Italy) was a tad disappointing in Ravel’s Une barque sur l’ocean from Miroirs, which had not enough characterisation, and operated at a relatively low voltage throughout. His Debussy Hommage a Pickwick Q.C.M.P., which quotes God Save the Queen/King was also somewhat understated. No question the handful of shabby shockers in Prokofiev Sarcasms, which was more angular and spiky alongside Yajima’s, and in a word, ruder. Verdict: A mixed outing, let’s hope his Prokofiev does the trick.