I’m in a spot of bother now that I’ve said “yes” to almost nine pianists yesterday, and eight more have to play today, and only 12 will progress to Stage IV. That means I’ll have to drop some poor souls from yesterday or disappoint some people today. That’s the dilemma with competitions, there are so many good musicians, but only so few places for prizes.
This very strong group begins with Konstantin Shamray (Russia), who reminds me a bit of Vladimir Ovchinikov, that tall and gaunt Russian who won the Leeds in 1987 and tied for second in Tchaikovsky in 1982. He has a stainless steel clad technique yet is totally musical. He opened with that quirky Shostakovich Prelude & Fugue in D flat major (No.15, which could be sung to We Wish You a Merry Christmas) and its wild, atonal fugue. A very good performance, which did not however overshadow Ilya Rashkovskiy’s in Hong Kong 2005. His Mozart Sonata in F major (K.533, there was a change in programme here) on more on the technical side, and its “music box” rondo could have a certain childlikeness. I’m just been finicky here, but I totally loved his choice of Schumann’s Fantasiestuck Op.111 No.2, which has full, gorgeous sound and resounded like a well-delivered sermon followed by a benediction. With the fearsome Schumann Toccata (Op.7), he couldn’t have had a better finish. Verdict: Da, yet again.
Tatiana Kolesova (Russia) will win the Audience Prize, no doubt about it. She is slim, pretty in the Slavic sort of way, with waist length hair, has a modest stage demeanor but is capable of packing in power. Yet she also exhibits feminine playing, that sort of caressing the keyboard is needed in slow movements, such those in Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy. In the more bombastic passages, she reserves her energy, delivering it only when it matters, and the effect is a very well-scripted one. Her Haydn Sonata in G minor (No.44) also receives the same delicate treatment. The crowd pleaser in her chose to close with a Nikolai Kapustin Concert Etude (from Op.40) called Intermezzo, which opened in an insouciant lounge lizard manner, but went accelerando and closed with flourishes of triplets, bringing loud cheers from the audience. Verdict: You need to advance to get that Audience Prize, and she has the chops for it.
Daniil Tsvetkov (Kazakhstan), with his cool Raybans, has that svelte touch to his playing that is sophisticated, with a pristine sound of the Kobrinesque quality. His Haydn Sonata in C minor (No.20) is as clear as a bell, but tinged with a sort of pathos that colours the music. Competition junkies will know what I mean by the reference to Alexander Kobrin (winner of the 2005 Van Cliburn), whose playing is cool, detached, close to perfect yet totally committed. Tvsetkov dropped Australian Gordon Kerry’s Figured in the Drift of Stars (a set piece for SIPCA 2004), instead going for broke in Liszt’s Reminiscences de Don Juan, a stupendous reading in which a sprinkling of dropped notes did not faze. The mercury rose, but he maintained a cool unflappable exterior throughout. Verdict: Another strong showing, which will get him through.
The last of this morning’s fearsome foursome was Ran Dank (Israel) who seems to have the Midas touch for everything he plays. He’ll most probably win the Mozart sonata prize with his sincere yet deeply Sonata in B flat major (K.570), the intensity in the slow movement kept the audience so rapt that one could hear a pin drop. He also brought out the connection in the disparate themes of Roger Smalley’s Morceau de concours, rather than merely making it sound like some concert etude. He’ll also win the Australian music prize, I reckon. The morning closed with Rachmaninov’s Second Sonata, in a performance with both passion and intelligence, and you won’t get more of that of electricity unless you’re named Horowitz. Verdict: A clear favourite at this stage, and a likely finalist.