Sunday, 10 July 2016


Piers Lane Goes To Town


Preliminaries Round Two, Daay One

Saturday 9 July 2016 (12.30 pm)

After hearing all 32 pianists in short 20-minute programmes (a sort of introductory “getting to know me” recitals), this competition has shown that there are no duds among the artists invited. At this early stage, the standard has already been shown to be far higher than previous editions of this competition in more advanced rounds. The second preliminary round features 30-minute recitals, where more substantial works are to be aired, thus deciding who the 12 semi-finalists will be.

LARRY WENG (USA, 28 years) has a better showing this time, with Ravel's Oiseaux Tristes (Miroirs) and its melancholic portrayal of sad birds in the afternoon coalescing with the impressionist hues in the beginning of Carl Vine's Bagatelle No.3. The ragtime dance of Bagatelle No.4 and the ensuing Threnody (Bagatelle No.5, a tender memory of AIDS victims) soon set the stage for a moving reading of Beethoven's Sonata in E major (Op.109). All three movements had much to recommend, including the wonderful final Theme and Variations. There was a small mistake towards the end, and that might prove costly in the final analysis.

ILYA RASHKOVSKIY (Russia, 31 years) gave a true masterclass of sound production in his no holds barred virtuoso showing. Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.12 is the most technically difficult of the 19 rhapsodies, but there was no hint of strain or frailty in Ilya's reading, which was very well nuanced in its slow and fast sections. Equally complete was his view of Rachmaninov's Second Sonata (Op.36, in the revised 1931 version), with drama, poetry and rhetoric all wrapped up in a thrilling encounter. Blessed with a big, generous sound with no harshness, and the fingers to match, Rashkovskiy who makes the most difficult scores appear like child's play, looks like the person to beat.

KENNETH BROBERG (USA, 22 years) has to be the most unlucky pianist, as midway through his splendid performance of Ravel's Jeux d'eau, a handphone carrying live-streaming (which has a lag of some eight seconds) of the recital blared out from within the audience, and another handphone signal going off as further insult to injury. Undeterred, he brought out some wonderfully limpid sounds before the one minute and some that was Carl Vine's Threnody (Bagatelle No.5), which has to be the shortest Australian contribution by any pianist. The balance of time was reserved for Samuel Barber's Sonata Op.26, which had a masterly performance equal to some of the best on record. The final coruscating fugue, described by Horowitz as a “virtuoso's paradise”, was unerring in its delivery.    

ALYOSA JURINIC (Croatia, 27 years) opened with Roy Agnew's Poem No.1 (1922), a short nocturne-like piece with some lovely, perfumed harmonies. His big work was Chopin's Third Sonata in B minor (Op.58), a performance that was both passionate and poetic, as if portending some kind of tragedy, but not technically flawless. There were a few slips in the first and final movements, but these were not calamitous (for the listener) by any account. Despite a strong and commanding finish, would these count against his progressing further?

Saturday 9 July (3.30 pm)

DAVID HUH JAE-WEON (South Korea, 29 years) chose to play Messiaen's L'alouette calandrelle from Catalogue d'Oiseaux, which was always an interesting gambit. One of its shorter movements, the warbling in the high registers, with echoes from the surrounding geography and sunshine, created a haunting impression of birdsong. As competitions like this go, there would be another reading of Chopin's Third Sonata in quick succession. His was a considerably lighter and less doom-laden view than Jurinic's, but also a cleaner one as well. Would that be good enough for this over-familiar and all-too often played warhorse?

RACHEL CHEUNG (Hong Kong, 24 years) continued the good impressions she made in the earlier round with Beethoven's Sonata in E minor (Op.90), its declamatory opening well-contrasted with the Schubertian song-like second movement which confirms her undoubted musicianship. In the Morceau de Concours by the late UK-born Australian Roger Smalley (himself a fine pianist), written for the 2008 competition, she let rip fearlessly as one would expect of an etude-like number. Unfortunately, both movements of Scriabin's Sonata-Fantasie No.2 would be her undoing, with memory lapses that will be detrimental to her making the semi-finals.   

The competition's youngest pianist HA GYU-TAE (South Korea, 19 years) also performed Beethoven's Sonata Op.90. His was a more sharply etched and delineated reading, slightly less poetic than Cheung's, but when it came to the melting lyricism of the finale, he brought it out with equally heartfelt emotion. The longer work was Australian Carl Vine's First Sonata (1990), now the most performed of late 20th century sonatas (if these things do exist). His heady mix of hard-edged tonality, rhythmic vitality and thrilling piano calisthenics, all winningly brought out by Ha, made for gripping listening and viewing. This youngster has it all in his hands.

ARSENY TARASEVICH-NIKOLAEV (Russia, 23 years) is the other Russian who stands out. In Peter Sculthorpe's short and reflective Evocation, albeit with some blues chords, he was painting an antipodean portrait of Debussy's Girl with the Flaxen Hair which followed quite logically. This innocence then turned mischievous and later malignant as Debussy's Puck's Dance led into Ravel's Scarbo (Gaspard de la nuit). It was a marvellous and dramatic performance, with the pianist's near-epileptic bodily jerks during the climactic chords. The programme was completed with three of Rachmaninov's Moments Musicaux Op.16, alternating fast and slow pieces through Nos.2 to 4. A strong candidate for best recital of the Second Round. 

Saturday 9 July (7.30 pm)

RACHEL NAOMI KUDO (USA, 29 years) presented an all 20th century programme beginning with Copland's Scherzo Humoristique, better known as The Cat and the Mouse. Lots of scampering runs, leaps and pauses in this cute little diversion, but there was nothing gimmicky in the playing and the first three Etudes by Debussy that followed. These had deftness of touch and plenty of colour. She would be the second pianist of the day to survey Vine's First Sonata, a coruscating reading that had little to separate from Ha's earlier performance. One has to ask how a slender young lady like Kudo could muster the power and heft needed for this work. Corny phrase of the day: All kudos to her. 

If anything can be said about SERGEY BELYAVSKIY (Russia, 22 years), he's a hard-hitter. But first he had to show a more elegant side in Debussy's La plus que lent, a “slower than slow waltz” from the belle epoque. Two more waltzes followed in Rachmaninov's transcriptions of Liebesfreud and Liebeslied, which was getting to be somewhat cloying in his well-turned accounts. Then he unleashed the full monty for Liszt's Reminiscences de Don Juan, a more hair-raising performance than the day before, but with not much room for subtlety. Banging seems to be the catch-word here, not the best thing for one's blood pressure.

DANIEL LEBHARDT (Hungary, 24 years) continues to surprise, not least in Beethoven's Sonata in G major (Op.31 No.1) which comes off with much humour (1st movement), drawing room grace with the pizzicato simulations (2nd movement) and bucolic charm (3rd movement). One of Beethoven's more underrated sonatas (which is overshadowed by its companions, the Tempest and Hunt), one suspects never to hear this piece the same way again. The intimate sound of Ravel's Jeux d'eau, expanding with ever-widening arcs soon filled the hall, and the bells from Rachmaninov's Etude-tableau in E flat major (Op.33 No.7) engulfed it thereafter. Another very satisfying recital that promises much to come.

XIE MING (China, 22 years) probably has the most refined and luscious piano sound of the 32, whether on a Fazioli or the Shigeru Kawai of this session. Is there a more sensuous performance than his reading of Percy Grainger's Ramble on Love from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier? The delicate melody and sumptuous harmonies were only equalled by his velvety touch and svelte pedalling. This could only spell more of the same for Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit, where Ondine occupies a similar swimmy atmosphere. Le Gibet, with its repeated tolling in B flat, came on like a trance, and Xie's Scarbo proved to be an even more manic denizen of the forest than Arseny's. A journey from sacred to profane from this exciting talent.

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