Monday, 2 April 2012

PIANOMANIA POLL: Who is your favourite bald pianist?

There is no fear of being politically incorrect in Pianomania, which was why I created this crazy poll on favourite bald pianists, especially when yours truly is aspiring to be one. The bald part is leading the pianist part by a fair distance, I must confess. We had a respectable 93 votes over three months, averaging almost one vote a day, so obviously people having been reading.Thank You!


By far the overwhelming winner of this poll with 56 votes (60%) was the late great Russian with the notorious habit of cancelling concerts at the last moment. He often performed with a score with very dim illumination, but his performances had a devastating intensity, never mind the wrong notes. His recordings of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto and Prokofiev's Eighth Sonata (on Deutsche Grammophon) are the ones to have.

NO.2 RUDOLF SERKIN (1903-1991)

The great Austrian pianist (17 votes, 18%) settled in USA and became one of its legends. His memorable recordings included Brahms Piano Concertos (with George Szell), Mendelssohn Piano Concertos and much chamber music on Columbia Masterworks (now Sony Classical). For a purist who wouldn't touch Rachmaninov with a 10-foot pole, his Prokofiev Left Hand Concerto and Bartok First Piano Concerto are well worth hearing.

No.3 SHURA CHERKASSKY (1909-1995)

My personal favourite bald pianist (14 votes, 15%), having heard him perform "live" at the Victoria Concert Hall in 1994. His playing had an inimitable directness and swagger, only matched by his delicate mincing walk to the piano. On that evening presented by the National Arts Council (Thank you, Goh Ching Lee!), he played no less than 4 encores!

NO.6 SOLOMON (1902-1988)

Oldies but goodies, and it is great that people still remember them for their artistry, well documented in their recordings. Gieseking (11 votes, 11%) was king in Debussy, Ravel and Rachmaninov, besides his mastery in German composers. Curzon (10 votes, 10%, his original surname was Siegenberg) was at his best in Austro-German repertoire, gloriously captured in his Decca recordings. Solomon (9 votes, 9%) his surname Cutner was dropped) was unfortunate to have loss the use of his hands because of a stroke, but his EMI Classics recordings showed why he was one of the greats.


Two Russians, both well known as teachers, polled 7 and 5 votes respectively. I had the fortune of witnessing Krainev perform, just once in 2006 at The Joy of Music Festival (Hong Kong). He played music by Brahms and Shostakovich, and impressed with an air of authority and big sonority.


All (3 votes, except Toradze who had just 1 vote have performed in Singapore. Bela Siki, now in his 90s, is remembered for being the first person to perform Bartok's Third Piano Concerto with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (1981). He then followed several years later by playing Dohnanyi's Variations on a Nursery Tune and Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain in the same concert!

After starting this poll, I discovered to my horror that I had forgotten many more follicularly challenged pianists, including a number of great ones! So they appear here in this collage. See how many you can name!

1st row: Ignaz Paderewski (who once had lots of hair), Armen Babakhanian (prizewinner at Van Cliburn & Leeds), Robert Taub, Xu Zhong (Chinese virtuoso who gave the Singapore premiere of Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto), David Helfgott (remember him Shine?), Ivan Moravec (one of the greats), William Grant Nabore.

2nd row: Kong Xiang Dong (Winner at Sydney 1992), Alberto Portugheis (Ginastera champion), Christoph Eschenbach (became bald as a conductor), Sergei Prokofiev, Alexis Weissenberg (a late lamented great), Philip Fowke, Valery Afanassiev.

3rd row: Glen Inanga (the balder half of the Micallef-Inanga Duo), John Lill, Dan Zhaoyi (famous teacher of Li Yundi), Louis Lortie, Menahem Pressler (of the Beaux Arts Trio), Arie Vardi (another teacher of Yundi), John O'Conor.

4th row: Friedrich Gulda (how could I have forgotten him?), Michael Ponti (the Hamelin of the 1960s and 70s), Nikolai Medtner, Philippe Cassard, Wayne Marshall (perhaps better known as an organist), Rodion Shchedrin, Dag Achatz (of those famous BIS piano recordings).

Its not how much hair you have on your head, but how you play that matters.

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