After the usual slew of speeches by a host of important people (from the chairman of the organising committee to the Polish Ambassador to Singapore), the prizewinners concert for Category E, the oldest category of pianists below the age of 25, soon got underway.
But first, special dispensation was made for a prizewinner from Category B (under 12) who had not featured at an earlier concert to perform. Nicole Ong Shu En (Singapore) was not overawed in the presence of older pianists. Her view of Chopin’s Variations Brillante on Je vends du Scapulaires (Op.12) was a model of clarity, control and perfect phrasing. She seemed to know when to pause, breathe and apply herself to the highly technical (and often fussy) figurations of this early piece. Never unfazed by its difficulties, she also has that winning smile, often neglected by many young pianists. The fact that she only placed 5th in the second youngest category was a testament to the high standard of the competition.
Sixth place in Category E was awarded to the platinum blonde Kseniia Vokhmianina (Ukraine) who performed the Nocturne in B flat major (Op.55 No.2). She took the piece deliberately, perhaps too much so that the pace lagged. By the time the big melody arrived, there seemed not enough momentum or fire to carry the work through. No questions about her lovely sound projection though.
The highest placed Singaporean was the hearing-impaired Azariah Tan who won the 5th prize. His view of the Nocturne in B flat minor (Op.9 No.1) was simply so beautiful as to defy description. With an intuitive sense of rubato, his was a portrait of quiet desolation, a calm that belied underlying tensions which do not come to a boil. Beyond a mastery of the notes, he showed an understanding of the silences and deeper meanings implicit within the score.
Fourth prize went to the amusingly named Randy Ryan (Indonesia) who also bagged 1st prize in Category D (Under 16). At only 15, this batik-clad young man was impressive in the 1st movement of the Second Sonata (Funeral March, Op.35). Again, it was another example of one going beyond the confines of the printed notes to find an inner struggle, replete with turmoil and violence. There was passion aplenty, coupled with the fingers to match.
A Pole, Anna Grabowska grabbed the Third Prize. Her stunning blue evening gown seemed just right for the glittering showing of the Grande Valse Brillante in B flat major (Op.18). Lightness and buoyancy were the order of the evening, with that bit of rubato that helped the beat from becoming too rigidly metronomic.
The Audience Award went to the second placed Zhao Yangmingtian (China), with matinee idol looks, who performed the final five Préludes from Op.28. His was clearly the best performance of the concert, with a vast palette of sound and emotions. From gravity, flowing cantabile, overarching agitation, the limpidness of spring water to the final Prélude’s embodiment of appassionato, the sweep he achieved was awe-inspiring. Did the audience know something which the jury did not?
After that, the 1st prizewinner Fryderyk Hoang Dong (Vietnam), so appropriately named, came as an anti-climax of sorts. It was a pity as his performance of the First Scherzo in B minor (Op.20) had drive and contrasts, but was marred by messiness in the opening turbulence, and a prestidigitation that was far from clean. The central cradle song came as good respite and the final third which mirrored the first was a vast improvement.
Was it nerves? Had he performed far better in the competition proper? It only goes to show that artistry is never to be taken for granted, and you are as good as your last performance.