Thursday, 30 May 2013

Direct from THE CLIBURN / Preliminary Rounds (Phase Two) 29 May 2013 Recital 3

Preliminary Rounds
Day 5 Recital Three (7.30 pm)
Wednesday 29 May 2013

Everybody seems to love YEKWON SUNWOO (South Korea), and they cannot believe he was merely a substitute pianist in this competition. The unusual choice of the Strauss-Grunfeld waltz that opened his first phase now becomes more apparent. He has built both his preliminary round recitals on the subject of Vienna. This is truly inspired programming indeed. For the second phase recital, he began with Scarlatti’s Sonata in D minor (K.213), a gem of a piece which showed that sadness has its own voice.  Then came Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien (Carnival Jest in Vienna), a series of dances and interludes which sparkled in his hands. After Leon Kirschner’s brief and palate-cleansing Interlude No.2, his closing piece was Ravel’s La Valse, in a performance that began lean, shorn of cholesterol and corpulent excesses, rhythmically steady, but built up a head of steam to finish with the perfect embodiment of decadence and chaos. A thrilling performance, to say the least. Standometer: ***1/2

My view: A strong performer that gets even better.  


SEAN CHEN (USA), the Beatles mullet guy, had the courage to programme only one work in his recital, which happened to be Beethoven’s mighty Hammerklavier Sonata (Op.106). I won’t yet call it a travesty but his interpretation sounds like a revisionist one. What are they teaching them at Juilliard and Yale these days? He nails every page with the determination of a power-lifter and hardly misses a note, but it is the glib superficiality of it all that rankles. He treats the great work like some exercise workout routine and morning calisthenics, and having done that, ponders what the next conquest will be. This is a Hammerklavier as conceived by Ringo Starr and Carly Rae Jepson. Call me maybe? The charm and grace he exuded in the first phase had all but evaporated. Standometer: *** (quite amazingly, probably because he’s American)

My view: Sorry to spoil the party, but this doesn’t do it for me.  


To be honest, I had pre-ordered the DVD of this second phase recital by China doll FEI-FEI DONG (China) in anticipation of her sterling performance of Scarlatti, Debussy and Liszt. Thankfully she did not disappoint. The two Scarlatti sonatas – in D major (The Chase) and F minor – were wonderful studies in contrasts, while she made most of Debussy’s early Danse or Tarantelle Styrienne, which sounded balletic and almost orchestral in her hands. And the Liszt B minor Sonata was quite splendid. Even if she did not have the same blood and guts as Alex McDonald (which firmly sticks in the mind), she certainly had the raging hormones that mummy’s boy Khozyainov lacked. Although Dong is only two years older than the Russian, this sounded like a real performance from the cauldron of life. Standometer: ***

My view: Win or lose, Fei-Fei is on her way to Singapore. They will love her here (or there).

Wrap–up: Possibly the strongest day of the competition so far, I look forward to seeing KHOZYAINOV, DELJAVAN, GILLHAM, ZUBER, CHERNOV, SUNWOO and DONG all advancing.

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