The concerto finals were an arduous affair for each of the six finalists but provided much event and entertainment for the audience. The pianist had to overcome a Mozart concerto followed by a Romantic / 20th century concerto played consecutively, with barely a pause for a breath. This means over an hour of music with the London Chamber Orchestra / Hong Kong Sinfonietta conducted by Christopher Warren Green.
The graceful Colleen Lee suffered nerves, which marred her otherwise very musical accounts of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor (K.466) and Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody, and it wasn’t a huge surprise that she placed sixth. Andrey Ponochevny was far more solid in the same Mozart concerto and had a good outing with Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto (Op.16) despite not being note-perfect. He placed fifth, which seemed a downer given his overall consistency.
Foo Mei Yi, who is also a composer, wrote her own fancy cadenza for Mozart’s K.466, sounding a little too smart at times, but her devil-may-care take on Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto (Op.26) was breathtaking, with its live-for-the-moment spirit and spontaneity one of the most inspiring aspects of “live” music-making. My comparison of her with Argerich was not far off the mark, I thought. She got the creditable fourth place, which was unfortunately not rewarded with cash.
Both Ilya Rashkovskiy and Wen-Yu Shen (left) picked the indomitable warhorse that was Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto (Op.30). Rashkovskiy was politically correct, almost perfect with not a hair out of place, while Shen took liberties, some which worked while others did not. Guess which one the judges preferred. In the Mozart segment, Rashkovskiy’s K.491 also had the edge over Shen’s K.466. So it was Rashkovskiy who prevailed over Shen, although there were times when I was more swayed by Shen’s individuality.
That left Kim Sunghoon (left) to take the third spot, after his big-boned Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto (Op.23) resurrected a somewhat enervating Mozart Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor (K.491) where he seemed to be running out of steam. I thought there was little separating Kim, Foo and Ponochevny, and the judges’ point system – generously revealed in public by Ashkenazy himself – seemed to bear that out.
The following month, Colleen Lee placed sixth at the Chopin International Piano Competition, in a field that numbered over 300 participants (!). Rashkovskiy went on to win fourth prize at the Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition in 2007. Kim starred at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2006, bagging fifth place. Foo won second prize at the Maria Callas Competition in Greece early this year, with no first prize awarded. Rashkovskiy, Kim, Foo and Shen got to perform in Singapore within the past year.
Rashkovskiy’s solo recital Inspired by Dance was very well received in December 2007. Shen gave the Singapore premiere of Edward MacDowell’s Second Piano Concerto with the Singapore Festival Orchestra at this year’s Singapore Arts Festival. Kim gave arguably the best recital at this year’s Singapore International Piano Festival, and Foo’s recital at Singapore’s first-ever Beethoven Sonata Cycle had the lion’s share of plaudits.
The value of a piano competition lies in the quality of the pianists it promotes and introduces to the global community of music lovers. On this fact alone, the first Hong Kong International Piano Competition succeeded on all counts. This year’s edition has much to live up to.