Monday, 27 May 2013

Direct from THE CLIBURN / Preliminary Rounds Day 3 Recital 2

Preliminary Rounds
Day 3 Recital 2 (3 pm)
Sunday 26 May 2013

YEKWON SUNWOO (South Korea) is the second of two substitute pianists, and like Abrosimov before him, I am thrilled that he was given the chance to perform here. Very unusually, he begins with an encore piece, Alfred Grunfeld’s Soiree de Vienne, a waltz fantasy that centres around the popular number from Die Fledermaus. It sparkles like bubbly champagne, and is polished to a fine sheen. Sunwoo has the full measure of Viennese gemutlichkeit.

Just as fine was his Beethoven. Sonata quasi una fantasia in E flat major (Op.27 No.1), the one which precedes the popular Moonlight Sonata, just bloomed into fulsome life. He mixes warmth with sensitivity and refinement, yet brings out the Beethovenian brio in the tempestuous 2nd and 4th movements. The moment at which the furiously driven finale screeches to a halt in order to take a final breath, recalling the 3rd movement’s hymn-like theme, was a bit of magic. All too often, Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy becomes a disaster zone for pianists, but not so for Sunwoo, who packs a mean punch in its hyper-virtuosic pages. It wasn’t all just big chords, fast octaves and splashy fugues; the 2nd movement, based on the Wanderer lied, was a fount of quiet and sober contemplation. Standometer: ***

My view: I cannot imagine him not being an earlier pick. A definite plus for this competition.

SEAN CHEN (USA) resembles the legendary Nobuyuki Tsujii (joint winner in 2009) in one respect; you can hardly see his eyes. The Chinese-American has a Beatles-like mullet that prevents any eye contact, even when you stare on the big video screen. That does not seem to impede his playing, which began with an extravagantly ornamented performance of Bach’s French Suite in G major. He plays all the repeats, and the ornamentations crawl out through the woodwork during the repeats, and even when you least expect them. The famous Gavotte (memories of childhood lessons are relived) comes through nicely and his dispatches the Gigue with super-fast aplomb.

His recital is built on small pieces, and he readily switches mode and styles to suit Bartok’s Three Etudes (which look forward to Ligeti’s) and to the relief of some, Chopin’s Three Mazurkas (Op.59), which had genuine lilt and charm. As for Scriabin’s Fifth Sonata, he gives a breathtaking account of its carnal pleasures. Compared with young Sakata’s from yesterday, Chen’s is more measured, and in some ways more believable. After all, he is older and has had five more years older of life experience. Standometer: ***

My view: Excellent. Good chance to progress.

FEI-FEI DONG (China) performed a very unusual programme that began with Clementi’s Sonata in F sharp minor (Op.25 No.5), which has become pretty popular in competitions when people try to reveal their Mozart credentials without actually playing the ruinously familiar Mozart sonatas. She gives a very smooth account, which allows her to display triplet runs in the finale (Chopin must have known this work) to positive effect. Schumann’s last Novelette in F sharp minor from Op.21, is much longer than one expected, but Dong brought out its contrasting sections very well. The storyteller in her also brought to life Chopin’s early Rondo in E flat major (Op.16) with it is florid filigree. The good thing is you don’t so much notice the technical prowess required for the work, but the music’s vital pulse.

Finally, she closed with the four Gargoyles by the American Lowell Liebermann. These are four vivid portraits of varied grotesquery, from Scarbo-like malevolence to ghostly reticence, overlaid with a Gothic sense of mystery. It is surprisingly easily listening, if you enjoy the thrill of a roller-coaster ride. The fifth gargoyle is Dong herself, whose often pained facial expressions are captured on screen. Having said that, she is a porcelain-skinned beauty whom most guys would be more than happy to bring home to mother. Standometer: ***

My view: A star in the making. Perhaps she should drop her last name and just stick with Fei Fei, and she’ll give Lang Lang a run on his market share. She is that good.

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