Day 4 Recital One (11 am)
Monday 27 May 2013
This morning, we hear the last trio of pianists from the 30, marking an end to Phase One of the Preliminary Rounds. FRANCOIS DUMONT (France) is listed to be 27 years of age, but the balding Frenchman appears to look at least twenty years older. A distinguished demeanour on stage lends that bit of gravity that commands, “I’ve got something special to say, so you had better listen well.” And when (and not if) Dumont ends up in the money, he also appears to be the one most ready to make the big stages. He is the only pianist to programme a Mozart sonata in the first round. Bravo to that, because his Mozart Sonata in A minor (K.310), arguably his most virtuosic, makes a bold statement. He is unafraid to let rip, and even that sounds intensely musical.
Very special is his Ravel Gaspard de la nuit, arguably the most mature conception of the three performances heard so far. He does not strive for effect, nor he does not need to, as his Ondine and Le gibet are both marvellously characterised. His Scarbo is also the most volatile, not a caricatures but the real thing. He closed his recital with Chopin’s Scherzo No.3 in C sharp minor (Op.39), aligning steel and satin like no other performance. Standometer: ***
My view: A certainty for the next round.
Coming so soon after Dumont, RUOYU HUANG (China) may be at a disadvantage but this big-striding young man will have none of that. His confidence is apparent from the word go, opening with a crisp Haydn Sonata in E major (Hob.XVI: 31), that sparkles with lightness and humour. This work finds a perfect foil in Chopin’s Etude in E minor (Op.25 No.5), with its hiccoughing rhythm contrasted with a silky central interlude. He does it very nicely, setting the stage to more Chopin that follows.
I’ve used the word journey or voyage before in these pages, and I’ll use it again to describe Huang’s traversal of Chopin’s 24 Preludes (Op.28). He is a master story-teller who instinctively knows how to string along each prelude, every single one a rare gem, into a priceless necklace. He seemed to build his arch with the D flat major Raindrop Prelude (No.15) as its capstone, and never have I heard so much emotion invested into this “simple” number. The ferocious etude-like B flat minor (No.16) was flawless until he hit a speed bump near the end, but that did little to dampen his spirits which never flagged all the way to the final three low Ds. Standometer: **1/2
My view: A very encouraging start.
No.30, the last participant to perform is YURY FAVORIN (Russia), who has the most unconventional programme choices of all, the sort of stuff that appears in the Schloss vor Husum Rarities of Piano Music Festival. Schubert’s Sonata in E flat major (D.568) only appears in integrale recordings, and hardly in concert programmes, and he makes you want to discover more. It’s in 4 movements, about 25 minutes long, and makes very pleasant listening even if it isn’t as memorable as the late sonatas. He performs its sensitively and with a lot of charm, contrasted by a desolate slow movement in G minor right out of Schubert’s world of Lieder.
For his obligatory showpiece, he chose the Liszt over-the-top transcription of Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture. In this performance, he just about dispels the memory of Bolet, Cziffra and Moiseiwitsch’s vintage recordings. The sheer sound he generates is orchestral, and it’s not just loudness and volume, but also intensity and depth. How his fingers negotiate the tricky turns and grace notes in the Pilgrim’s Chorus defies belief, and he closes with stunning panache. That should have closed his recital, but he tagged on Andre Boucourechliev’s Orion 3, five minutes of post-Messiaen atonal music of the spheres, the sound when two galaxies collide and get sucked into a black hole. Standometer: **1/2 (could have been more had he finished with the Wagner).
My view: Another amazing Russian. The Americans should feel threatened.
HALF-TIME (End of Phase One of the Preliminaries)
30 pianists have performed their first recitals, so who do I fancy? Here are my 12 picks for the semi-finals just based on this phase (in order of appearance):
Possibles: HUANGCI, STEVEN LIN, GRECO, POLIYKOV, KHOLODENKO, CHEN, YUAN, HUANG & FAVORIN.
Dark horse: BURATTO. I really would love “Supermarket boy” (as described by a musically-savvy couple who organise concerts in New England) to succeed, but he appears to be unmarketable at present. On the other hand, he could become the James Rhodes of Italy.
I know this a kaisu cop-out by naming so many people, but the standard of the Cliburn has been so high that it really is that difficult to call. In the fair number of competitions I have attended, none has impressed me than the overall standard of playing in the Cliburn. There are semi-finals of other competitions where players are still grappling for notes, having memory lapses, playing messily and blundering their way to the next round, Not so, the Cliburn. Let’s see what the Second Phase of the Preliminary Rounds offers. The picks could very well change.