Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Sydney International Piano Competition 2012 / Singapore Auditions

The long journey to Sydney has begun, with the first auditions of the Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia (SIPCA for short) 2012 taking place in Singapore. Of the seven pianists originally listed, five have turned up to perform a 30-minute recital each, comprising works they will perform in Stages I and II of the Competition proper. A small audience of under 10 people turned up at the Recital Hall of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts to witness two hours of piano playing.

The first pianist, NIMA JARCHI (Iran) is a no-show, so the first music of the competition heard comes from LOUIS PAGE (USA, above). He began with Bach's Prelude & Fugue in B flat major (WTC Book 1), which sounded choppy and over-pedalled in the Prelude, but gets better with the Fugue which is crisp and well articulated. Next was Ravel's Sonatine, the first movement's theme does not come across well, again from over-pedalling, but his lightness of touch is a relief. The slow movement's Minuet, sensitively shaded, fared the best, while the perpetual movement of the finale sounded brittle. SIPCA allows for a generous choice of free repertoire, so it is a pleasure to encounter Oscar Espla's Suite de Pequenas Piezas, which consists of several short and atmospheric dances, for the first time. Coloured by Mediterranean sunshine, Page gave a nice account of its variegated pages. He closed with Liszt's Un Sospiro, which has both smoothness and brilliance, if one may overlook a few missed notes. A good start for the competition.

Next is JEREMY YEO (Malaysia), an A-level student from Seremban. His is a rather ambitious programme of virtuoso warhorses which seems rather unbalanced. The opening Scarlatti Sonata in G major is one of the fast etude-like ones, which he confidently dispatches with ease. It is a folly to programme Liszt's Feux follets, clearly the most difficult of his Transcendental √Čtudes, unless you have a Richterian authority to carry it through. He gets the notes, but misses out on its spirit of lightness and fantasy. The same applies to Schumann's Toccata (Op.7), which begins to sound like sewing machine music when churned out with industry rather than inspiration. His Scarbo from Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit comes close to a success. The Steinway grand's action stood up well to the repeated notes and there are genuinely exciting moments from his young hands. A talent to watch out for in future competitions.

POOM PROMMACHART (Thailand) was the most recent winner of the Thailand International Piano Competition, organised by Mahidol University in Nakhorn Pathom. From the very first note, he stands head and shoulders above the competition. Although one might quibble about the Romanticised approach to Bach's Prelude & Fugue in F major (WTC Book 2), the svelte beauty he coaxes from the piano is irresistible. Liszt's Funerailles is even better, as he fully comprehends the poetic and dramatic nature of this music, and tests the piano's sonorities to the max. The tolling of bells has that resonant glow, and the tragedy is palpable, down to the galloping hoofbeats in the thunderous central section. One senses and feels the volume of sound generated, but none of it is forced or ugly. A great performance this certainly was.

After breezing through Chopin's Etude in A flat major (Op.10 No.10), he closed with Nikolai Myaskovsky's rarely-heard Seventh Sonata. After its dissonantly declamatory opening, the reason for its inclusion in this recital becomes clear; it is a violent single-movement meditation on the Dies Irae (the medieval chant that appears in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and Rachmaninov's Paganini Rhapsody), thus the perfect foil for the preceding Funerailles. This is truly inspired programming, and performed with such hair-raising panache, I can already see the Thai flag flying in Seymour Centre come July.

NIMA JARCHI (Iran) finally turns up, about two hours late, appears unshaven, clad in a white polo shirt, denim jeans and sneakers (above). However he is unable to perform any of the pieces (including Mendelssohn, Liszt et al) he had listed in his audition repertoire. This is beginning to look like one of those episodes on American Idol. Although disqualified from the competition, the jury gives him a chance to play whatever he fancies (after all he had flown all the way from Tehran). He played one of his own arrangements, a New Age-styled improvisation much in the repetitious manner of the Michael Nyman school of pianism. He's actually quite good at it and gathers some momentum, before being stopped after the 5-minute mark as the last pianist is ready to perform.

The mystery as to two Chinese pianists having similar names (Wang Jing Jing and Wan Jin Jin) has been solved. They are both the same person, WAN JING JING (China) who studies in Singapore (thus being Singapore's sole representative in the competition). Despite her petite frame, she can certainly play. She polished off Beethoven's 32 Variations in C minor with conviction, and then followed up with a clean account of Chopin's Etude in C major (Op.10 No.1) with the left hand's chorale melody very well projected over the right hand's flying arpeggios.

For contrast, Debussy's Bruyeres from the Second Book of Preludes comes off prettily and evocatively. For the final fireworks of the session, she closed with Liszt's Spanish Rhapsody. There is little to fault in this sure-fire barnstormer. The introduction is brilliantly dispatched with the La Folia theme well brought out, before the prestidigitation and cascading octaves of the Jota Aragonesa. A strong performance all around.

There are still eleven more cities to go in the auditions, and a couple hundred more pianists for the judges to screen, and that's when the competition becomes stiffer. Who will make it from Singapore? For my money, POOM PROMMACHART looks (and sounds) like the best bet, followed by WAN JING JING. Sydney beckons.

The judging panel for the Singapore leg of auditions included Professor Warren Thomson (Chairman of Jury), Toh Chee Hung and Rena Phua-Cheung.


Chang Tou Liang said...

PIANOMANIA chalked up its 200,000th hit sometime during in Lunar New Year, probably on 23 January 2012. Here's to the next 100 thousand! Thank you for visiting PIANOMANIA!

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagreed with your personal comment on Jeremy Yeo's performance. Jeremy is under the tutelage of Prof Woon frm Geneva Opera Hse.He is young and very talented and he played his pieces with conviction and passion like no other.Many a times he received unjustified comment because of his place of birth and being born in a working class family.He will be performing in Carnegie Hall,New York in 2014 when a few professor felt he should be given a chance to show his God given talent.I hope he will come back to Singapore to either perform or compete for I really miss hearing his strong conviction to advocate his life and passion thru his music.

Chang Tou Liang said...

You are probably Jeremy's teacher or parent right?

Jeremy's talent is without a doubt, and I am thrilled to hear of his progress, and forthcoming Carnegie Hall performance in 2014. It is likely that he has gotten even better since January 2012 when he last performed here. He should not be discouraged for not making the Sydney Competition (inexperience rather than a lack of passion was the reason). I wish him all the best in his quest to become an artist.