Sunday, 30 October 2011

Hong Kong International Piano Competition 2011 / Finals Day 2, Part 2


Finals Day 2 (Saturday 29 October 2011), Part 2


Sato Keina is a serious looking young Japanese lady for whom a hint of a smile might even seem a tad too forward. Her maroon evening gown is elegant and understated. She performed the Blake with the score as safety net, when she need not have. Using the sustaining pedal a little more than the others, she achieved an impressionistic glow to her performance, again sounding different from the other versions we have heard. First it began Debussy-like, and later with the onset of chimes and bells, the dissonances were highlighted and it gradually morphed to sound like the ecstatic pages of Messiaen. Again it was different, and a lady friend seated next to me commented on Sato’s “feminine mystique”. I think she hit the nail on the head.

Her Beethoven Third Piano Concerto was also different from Tsai’s. First it sounded more urgent and serious, and she had none of the youngster’s extraneous gestures. Fact: at 27, she is almost double his age. One could also feel a more mature and subtler mind at work, but could apply power and voltage when the need arose. On her debit side, her performance was less clean, having flubbed some of the arpeggio runs in the first movement cadenza. Here she appeared a little vulnerable alongside Tsai’s rock-steady confidence.

I however preferred her view of the slow movement, which had a reverential air besides the requisite poetic beauty. Yet there was a sense of world weariness and fragility that coloured the reading, and a missed note and French horn raspberry seemed to underline that fallibility. The concluding Rondo had a nervous edge that was missing in the young man’s performance, with an emphasis on clearer accents and contours. Much as both pianist and orchestra tried, those moments at the end of the pianist’s dazzling runs which coincided with orchestral cadences did not come off cleanly. It would have been the equivalent of catching lightning in a bottle had those split-second decisions clicked. Conductor Ashkenazy knew it, but he smiled nonetheless. A slightly grim–faced view turned to pure joy from the coda to the final page, and that itself was worthy of good cheer.

My verdict: A more mature but less clean vista of already familiar music. Sato’s self-effacing and embarrassed look summed up her outing. Tsai’s youth and confidence has the edge.

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