Monday, 11 July 2016



Preliminaries Round 2

Sunday 10 July 2016 (12.30 pm)

After the extraordinary musical antics of MARTIN MALMGREN (Sweden, 29 years) in the first round, he was compelled to offer more conventional programming for the second round. The short and atonal Jubilee No.1 by the Finn Magnus Lindberg (dedicated to Pierre Boulez), as if a leftover from two days ago, made for an atmospheric prelude to Chopin's Berceuse, which was very nicely done. His view to Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit sounded less sensual than Xie's from the night before, and there a a few slips in the elusive Ondine. Another rapt Le Gibet and rapturous Scarbo sealed a a fine performance overall. He will be back for more unusual repertoire in the semi-finals, one hopes. 

AYESHA GOUGH (Australia, 21 years) is another pianist with offbeat repertoire, and it proved again in the second round. The thunderous bass notes of the Verdi-Liszt Miserere (from Il Trovatore) made for a huge impression in this unusual transcription that is a refreshing change from the Rigoletto Paraphrase (not heard in this competition!) Her sensitivity for the quieter bits also served her well in Schubert's Grazer Fantasy, surely the antithesis of his Wanderer Fantasy. In multiple sections, its cantabile passages, landler country-dance sequence and quiet end in C major was more than well served. But is this a great work? Michael Kieran Harvey's Toccata DNA, where fists of fury were applied in its build-up, brought the recital to an exciting close.

PETER DE JAGER (Australia, 26 years) offered even more “extra-competition” repertoire, but I wished he had performed Lyapunov's Lesghinka (from the 12 Transcdendental Etudes) last. It was a truly virtuosic work in the same hallowed tradition as Balakirev's Islamey, excitingly performed, but one fears he had used up his quotient of audience engagement (and perhaps the jury's as well) so early in the day. What followed was Chris Dench's Tiento de medio registro alto, the impression of which was immediately forgotten, and Karol Szymanowski's slow-burning Third Sonata. The sensuous, intoxicating harmonies and insinuating themes were well brought out, while a complex fugue and orgiastic close completed the show. But has all this flown over the heads of his listeners? 

The big-hitting ROMAN LOPATYNSKI (Ukraine, 23 years) opened with Elena Kats-Chernin's Page Turn, a quasi-minimalist number with repeated triads, chords and myriad harmonic changes. The irony of  the title is that its dynamic machinations allow for no page turns, and is probably best memorised. What followed was Brahms' darkly coloured Intermezzo in E flat minor (Op.118 No.6), which unfolded with much pathos and that ultimate Russian showpiece, Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrushka. His was a take no prisoners approach, which now seems loud and almost crude. Without dropping notes (or at least very few among the multitudes), one still fears if he'll make it to the next round.    

Sunday 10 July 2016 (3.30 pm)

One of  the most interesting second round programmes came from ANDREY GUGNIN (Russia, 29 years), with the five works seemingly having little in common. Zaderatsky's Prelude & Fugue in D major and Michael Kieran Harvey's G Spot Tornado (Fugue for Frank [Zappa] No.6) are strange bed-fellows, but the juxtaposition worked. The former's perky little fugue contrasted with the frantic jazzy figurations of the latter. Ditto to the pairing of Sibelius' Impromptu (Op.5 No.5) and Ravel's Un barque sur l'ocean (Miroirs). Both are water pieces, one evoking a glacial stream and the other the might of the ocean. As if to show off virtuoso credentials, he finished with Balakirev's Islamey, if any a positive demonstration of how a recital should end!

The 20th century journey of JEREMY SO (Australia, 25 years) continued with Roger Smalley's Chopin Variations, which opened with two loud Eroica-like chords and worked its way around the Mazurka in A minor (Op.30 No.4). There was a insane little waltz along that way by seemingly little more to hold the attention. Perhaps I should hear it again sometime. To complete the recital was Rachmaninov's Second Sonata, another impressive reading if possessing less dynamic contrasts as Rashkovskiy's. The mix of emotion and physical power worked well for a brawny and blustery close.

In the recital of ALEXEI MELNIKOV (Russia, 26 years), Peter Sculthorpe's Nocturne No.1 was the perfect calm before the storm. Its soft chords and beautifully evocative pages were the antithesis to Prokofiev's brutalist Sixth Sonata (the first of his War Trilogy), which roared with bare punched out chords and furious pounding. Fortunately, he has enough nous to vary his approach to the quirkily ironic Scherzo and the anguish of the third movement's slow waltz. It was pugilist central in the barnstorming finale, and even if there was a brief memory lapse near the end, it closed with percussive aplomb.

POOM PROMMACHART (Thailand, 26 years) is the dark horse of this competition, a late entry after Lukas Vondracek pulled out upon winning gold at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. His Australian contribution was Carl Vine's Toccatissimo, and got it spot on with its extremes in dynamics. There was never a need for banging here.

Perhaps the singular most complex work of the preliminaries was Nikolai Medtner's 25-minute long Sonata-Ballade Op.27 in three movements. It does not usually carry well in concert unless a special pianist takes it on. And Poom does the honours by clearly delineating its main themes and gorgeously filling in the developmental filigree. His spirit never flagged, even in the droll second movement (to be later rehashed in the famous Sonata Reminiscenza) and that fatal fugue of the third movement. The return of the first movement theme right at the end capped a most memorable outing But what would the Medtner specialists in the jury (Hamish Milne and Nikolai Demidenko) have thought. I think they would have been, like myself, thoroughly enthralled.

Sunday 10 July 2016 (7.30 pm)

PARK WOO-GIL (South Korea, 23 years) opened with Scriabin's Third Sonata, a declamatory entry qualified by rich sonority. There is a manic edge to the first two movements, which bubbled for most part under the surface, but emerging on occasion except in the most poetic of slow movements. In the tempestuous finale and its abrupt end, there was much fire in Park's performance, which continued in the umpteenth reading of Vine's Toccatissimo, fulminating and sparking in his hands all the way to its tumultuous conclusion.

LINDSAY GARRITSON (USA, 29 years) showed the two sides of Franz Liszt, first his Spanish Rhapsody with the requisite barnstorming in the La Folia and Jota Aragonesa, which was as exciting as it could possibly get barring a small lapse near the end. This was balanced by his tender transcription of Schubert's Standchen (from Schwanengesang) which was revealed in all its lyrical beauty. Still on the Hungarian page, to close was Bartok's percussive Sonata, rhythmically charged and often violent.  With a pentatonic feast of a finale, it got the tonic it needed in Garritson's performance, which also came across very well.  

DANIEL LE (Australia, 23 years) gave a very lucid and transparent account of the Vine Toccatissimo, very much in keeping with its title, to challenge its wide range of dynamics to the max. To continue on the same thread, Liszt's Transcendental Etude No.10 in F minor got an equally enthralling performance, but with a few missed notes. He completed his recital with Rachmaninov's Second Sonata, which got a very elegant performance (rather than the usual barnstorming one) for a change. The slow movement was taken leisurely but built up to a head of stream. The finale was thunderous but not note-perfect, but he should still receive more than a fair chance to proceed past the preliminaries.

OXANA SHEVCHENKO (Kazakhstan, 28 years) gave a very nuanced performance of Chopin's Polonaise-Fantasie Op.61, arresting in the opening and sometimes minces the notes to a fine puree such that one has to strain the ears to catch the narrative. Some might call it over-soft but she can raise the temperature when needed. That she did with Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrushka despite hitting a bum note even before beginning. Her very balletic and blow-by blow incident-filled reading made for stark differences with Lopatynski's running roughshod the evening before. I far preferred her playing, naturally.  

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