Charlie Albright (USA) will soon have to call himself Charles Albright Esq. very soon if he is going to be taken seriously. Can you imagine a Carnegie Hall poster with the name Charlie on it? More like “Charlie Albright (Trumpeter) and his All-Star Jazz Band”, or some brand of women’s scents. Anyway, his Haydn Sonata in B minor (No.32) was super – it had lot of colour and integrity; the lightness in the final, with its repetitive notes never sounded boring. Then came the 3rd and 4th movements of Beethoven’s Sonata in A major (Op.101). The return of the 1st movement’s theme (last heard two days ago) was meant to be a recollection of past loves and lives, but its appearance now was rendered meaningless. Such egregious dismembering of a great composer’s music is unforgivable. Yet, the four Chopin Etudes (Op.25) presented by Master Etude himself (No.3,7,8 and 10) were so well played and beautifully voiced that one tends to dismiss past sins as those of youthful mindlessness. Verdict: Such a wilful talent should not be denied. So let’s hear the last four of Chopin’s Op.25 in Stage IV.
Sean Chen (USA) presented an aurally decadent programme of Lanesque (Piers, not Lois) dimensions. He begun with the Godowsky transcription of Schubert’s The Trout, its outrageously camp and unexpected turns brought out a few giggles from the jury seated behind me. Percy Grainger’s Ramble on Love from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier was however too tame for my liking. Chen appears to be a charmer, not a seducer but this music needs a certain steaminess that ought to fog up windscreens (like Leonardo de Caprio in Titanic). His “serious” work came in Mozart’s Sonata in B flat major (K.333) which seemed too fast and had little tenderness in the first movement, and a Chopin Ballade No.3 that was as plain-speaking as Yemtsov’s yesterday. And he closed with the lovely Serenade by Richard Strauss, by way of Godowsky again. Verdict: Could have done with less Godowsky and Grainger, but more of the established classics. Sorry, I don't think there will be a chance of another Chen winning SIPCA this year.
Sergei Saratovsky (Canada/Russia) did not charm me with the rough handling of Haydn’s Sonata in D major (No.37), its odd and exaggerated accents seemed calculated and trite. There is a fine line between showing character in playing, and overplaying for effect, and I think he crossed it. In Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, his Ondine began evenly but did not build up sufficiently for a rapturous climax, unlike Yemtsov. His Le gibet was probably the best in the trilogy, while the Scarbo he offered seemed more mischievous than downrightly evil. Although the playing was accomplished, it lacked a certain characterisation that made it memorable. Verdict: His journey stops here.
I’m getting to really like Eric Zuber (USA, now with a correct photo, I hope), who possesses that all-American honest, big-hearted and wholesome kind of playing. This rang true in Mozart’s Sonata in C major (K.330), which was as bright as daylight, and had none of that posturing for effect’s sake. He was also brave in attempting the audacious Nutcracker Suite transcription by Mikhail Pletnev. However one needs a chutzpah of transcendental proportion to pull it off; its delicate dancing (Sugar Plum Fairy), rumbustious galumphing (Trepak) seemed lost to Zuber, who was more dutiful, intent of getting the notes right rather than emoting fantasy. Only in the final Andante maestoso did his largesse come though gloriously. I’m now thinking of some lyrics to that big, big melody. Verdict: On these counts, he may not progress.