Sunday, 26 May 2013

Direct from THE CLIBURN / Preliminary Rounds 25 May 2013 Recital 2

Preliminary Rounds
Day Two Recital Two (3 pm)
Saturday, 25 May 2013

And it gets better and better. TOMOKI SAKATA (Japan) is, at 19, the youngest pianist in this edition of Cliburn. But don’t you underestimate teenagers, as Haochen Zhang (Joint 1st prize, 2009) and Joyce Yang (2nd prize, 2005) proved so convincingly. His choice of Beethoven’s two-movement and rather short Sonata in F major (Op.54) was very astute, since it isn’t so contemptuously familiar and everything gets said under 12 minutes. He combines a rare polish with superb octave playing in the 1st movement and simply blew all away with a mercurial fluidity in the perpetual motion 2nd movement, one that defies belief.

His Liszt Dante Sonata was a true journey into the abyss, terrifying in turn but in certain ways reassuring because he is your guide through the infernal torments of the damned. His awesome octave technique again was on show, but it is not a blind display but something transcendent. If this weren’t enough, his programming of an alternative and more fiendish version of the Paganini-Liszt La Campanella, one that interpolates the finale of the First Violin Concerto, was a stunning act of pique. The fact that this was brilliantly recorded by the late Nikolai Petrov (runner-up in the 1962 First Cliburn Competition) is probably not lost to him. His recital was completed by Scriabin’s Fifth Sonata, and I am scratching my head how someone this young would be acquainted with sensual caresses to full-blown orgasmic ecstasy. On the other hand, I may be mistaken. Young people do get around a bit these days. Standometer: ***

My view: The second coming of Haochen Zhang. I’ll be damned if he does not make the semi-finals.

Official records (ie. The Cliburn “booklet” which gets heavier by the pound every edition) show that the last non-Asian American lady pianist to compete in the Cliburn was Jennifer Cecilia Hayghe in 1993, two decades ago. Now meet LINDSAY GARRITSON (USA), who has truly earned the honour to be the first and only NAALP of this millennium. She is an epitome of keyboard elegance, but one armed with an Amazonian technique and refined tastes. She began with Liszt’s Second Ballade, a vision that had more light than shade compared with the conception by El Greco last evening. She also gave the music more latitude to breathe, and when the climax arrived, it did so with shattering force.

Her other big work was Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata in B flat major (Op.83), which combined brute force with uncanny lyricism. The latter was never in the expense of the memory of cruel wanton waste in the Great Patriotic War, but instead heightened the irony. The infamous “precipitous” machine gun finale was launched at a furious pace, and if one thought she could not sustain its initial impact, one would be dead wrong. In between the two juggernauts, she inserted the second of Schubert’s three Klavierstucke (D.946), amply demonstrating a different side, a sensitivity wholly attuned to the Austrian’s magical world of Lieder.  Standometer: **** 

My view: My friend the Singaporean violinist Siow Lee Chin sang me her praises of Ms Garritson, and she is completely right.  

The afternoon’s session was completed by VADYM KHOLODENKO (Ukraine), who offered a most unusual programme. No one had ever thought of coupling John Adams with Rachmaninov, and it worked a dream. The short China Gates by Adams is the first of a meagre handful of American pieces (there will be no Barber, Copland, Bernstein, Griffes nor Carter) to be heard in this competition. Its delicate minimalist tinkling sonorities, reminiscent of miniature gamelans, seemed at odds with the Russian’s monumental First Sonata in D minor (Op.28) but it was in effect an elegant play on the glorious sound world of bells. While the 40-minute sonata, symphonic in conception, begged to be orchestrated, the Ukrainian ably provided a one-man-orchestra.   

Its purported inspiration was the Faustian legend, with each movement based on Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles. While the Faust bit passionately rumbled on with great purpose, the innocent Gretchen interlude seemed to echo the Adams (not just a bit of serendipity here but excellent programming). The tour de force was the Mephistophelean finale, a hair-raising ride into Hades which Kholodenko brought off most impressively. Standometer: ***

My view: When will wonders ever cease? He had just upped the ante, and this competition gets even stiffer.

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