Wednesday, 22 October 2008

HKIPC 2008: Winners' Gala Concert

And here are the winners:
(Top row from L) Huang & Tysman
(Front row from L): Kim, Lee & Park

Gala Concerts Evening One
Sunday 19 October 2008

The first evening of the Gala Concerts – an especially enticing feature of this competition – showcased the five prize winners in solo repertoire and one last look at the winner of the last competition, Ilya Rashkovskiy.


The young French lady, who suffered nerves in the concerto finals, is similarly afflicted in her uneven account of Scriabin’s Fifth Sonata (op.53). Why did she pick this extremely violent and yet extremely sensual work, when all she did was to play the notes – and not always accurately – without a feel of its rush of pent-up hormones? Sure, there were fleeting moments of beauty, moments of agitation, but that was all, I’m afraid.


This extremely musical young lady chose to perform on the walnut Steinway, and the sound she coaxed from Haydn’s Sonata No.50 in C major was just lovely. There was lightness humour in the 1st movement, and that luminosity in that “music box” passage. The slow movement was warm and conversational in its tone, capped off with the lively “wrong note” finale. I wished she had played the repeats in the latter, which would have made it double the fun.


The Chinese-born German had totally distinguished herself in her concerto finals, and it was her handling of the slow movements that had impressed me the most. Her ability to bring out every lingering phrase and nuance was again ever present in Chopin’s Ballade No.4 in F minor (Op.54), which was a little too deliberate, as if to savour all its longeurs for as long as it takes. This is not the perverse Lang Lang-like pulling and stretching out of shape every detail, but I wished she could have gradually turned on the heat and pace as the music rolled along. No quarrels about the tempestuous close, which was splendid.


His was a competition-perfect account of Chopin’s Scherzo No.2 in B flat minor (Op.31), that overflogged of warhorses. Steadiness, sturdiness, confidence and a clean delivery was one got, and there was not a moment’s doubt that he would bring out the music’s edginess and ultimately, bravura.


One might be tempted to say that had Rashkovskiy (now only just 24) taken part this year, he would have won the top prize again. His selection of five varied Schubert-Liszt song transcriptions showed that he had even progressed within the intervening three years. Adding to his clean, pristine technique was also a singer’s sensibility and further range of colours. The long-breathed singing tone was immediately evident in the popular Ave Maria, and those tricky pages with the left hand’s melody gilded by right hand filigree came off with great tenderness. The Barcarolle was indeed Auf dem Wasser zu Singen (To be Sung on the Water), which had lilt and languor. Drama and tragedy in Wanderer (the one that inspired the Wanderer Fantasy), regret in Fruhlingsglaube, and the demonic galloping of hoof beats in Erlk├Ânig completed the picture. Ilya Rashkovskiy is surely coming of age as an all-round artist.


Lee looks much younger than his supposed 27 years. No matter, it’s the musicianship that counts for most. He always appears quietly confident, and that showed in his slick and highly polished account of Schumann’s Etudes symphoniques (op.13). His technical armamentarium lacks nothing as he whipped off each variation and study with the greatest of ease.

There were no repeats (some could have done for added effect) and the slow posthumous variations were omitted. What he will develop in the years to come is a personality that will shape and colour the music to his own personal sensibilities. Like Shura Cherkassky, whose recording of the same work is not perfect, it is character that distinguishes one pianist and artist from another. I do look forward to hear more of Lee in Singapore soon.

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