Sunday, 20 July 2008

SIPCA Stage II Day One / Evening session

Evening session

Mariangela Vacatello (Italy) was the crowd favourite among the women. Her stock was to rise with an infectiously ebullient Haydn Fantasy in C major, a work that would have given Beethoven some ideas in his First Piano Concerto. Her Debussy La puerta del vino was very sultry and atmospheric, with its rhythms beguiling and sensuous. It was left to Busoni’s Ten Variations on a Prelude by Chopin, with its dense harmonies, textures and thrilling runs – magnificently read – to bring down the house, again. Verdict: With hits on both outings, she ought to progress.

Jose Menor (Spain) was next with Scarlatti’s La Chasse Sonata, which could have been more effective had he omitted the repeats. Debussy’s The Fairies are Exquisite Dancers might as well have been athletic dancers too, judging by this acrobatic rather than graceful reading. Graceful would not be used to describe Ginastera’s First Sonata, which is “Bartok on the Pampas”, with dissonance and percussiveness galore in its outer movements. The misterioso and pianissimo achieved in the murky second movement was wonderful, and the extremes dished out by Menor were well in place. Not bad for a musically barren quarter-hour or so. Verdict: A hit in the Iberian and Latino American selections. Should get a pass.

There is something about Christopher Devine (Great Britain) that eludes me. He seems like a fine pianist and musician, but somehow fails to connect with my music-seeking inner self. His Debussy Terraces of Moonlit Audiences sounded as if illuminated by halogen lamps, and despite the obvious bravura displayed in Two Rhapsodies (Op.79) by Brahms, he sent me into dreamland. Even the brief scintillating thriller that is Ligeti’s Der Zauberlehling (The Sorceror's Apprentice), does not rouse any great enthusiasm in me. Verdict: Like a certain Simon Cowell said, the X factor or charisma seems to be missing.

No charisma problems, however, with the sterling Takashi Sato (Japan) whose Chopin Barcarolle sang and smiled like a Venetian gondolier who had just fallen in love. Such cultured and refined playing is rare, and I would liked it better had he treated Debussy’s Les collines d’Anacapri like a poem to be cherished than an out and out virtuosic showpiece. Finally, the love song in the Schumann-Liszt Widmung was rapturously realised. Verdict: No question about him advancing.

I had been enthralled by the Mozart from Manuel Araujo (Portugal) two nights ago, but he was disappointing tonight. His Debussy Terraces of Moonlit Audiences was slightly better than Devine’s, with gaslights in its place. The Malambo by Ginastera was perhaps his most successful piece, rumbling like punch-drunk gauchos on their steeds. Then came the killer blow in Liszt’s Dante Sonata, where over-pedalling submerged all the finer details. There was neither hellfire nor damnation, only regret of what might have been. Verdict: Adios, amigo.

The two Korean ladies gave vastly improved showings this evening. Miyeon Lee began with a very well-crafted Bach Prelude & Fugue in D minor (WTC II) which in my mind was faultless. Then came a truly inspired choice of programming; the opening triads of Debussy’s gentle Canope peered into the future, right smack into the sound world of Olivier Messiaen. When the latter’s Regards de l’esprit de joie (Look of the Spirit of Joy) from Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus arrived, the transition seemed so natural. The manic opening with octaves should have gone a clip faster but when the big melody (if one could call it that) descended from heaven, it became an ecstasy-charged frenzy all around. She never allowed for it to be submerged beneath the pulverising chords, and closed with stunning aplomb. Verdict: Jesus saves, but don’t bet on the jury.

Yoon Soo Rhee also redeemed herself, beginning with Beethoven’s Rage Over a Lost Penny, which seemed like child’s play and putty in her hands despite being deceptively tricky. The most popular Debussy prelude – Les collines d’Anacapri (now in its 4th coming) - had a most arresting opening from Rhee but ended up being yet another piece of virtuoso fodder. Finally, her Brahms Paganini Variations (Book Two) was a perfect way to close the evening. Well conceived but not without a few mishits, it topped John Fisher’s account from Day One. “Look ma, no hands!”, as she took a modest bow with a discreet hand over her lowish neckline. Verdict: A good chance as any, but tomorrow is yet another day.

No comments: