SYDNEY INTERNATIONAL PIANO
COMPETITION OF AUSTRALIA 2016
Preliminaries Round 2
Monday 11 July 2016 (12.30 pm)
EDWARD NEEMAN (Australia, 32 years) appears to have a better second round, opening with Mendessohn's Fantasy in F sharp minor (Op.28), sometimes referred to as his Scottish Sonata. There is a good mix of sensitive playing and prestidigitation, as expected from the German, before taking an interlude with Chopin's Mazurka in C sharp minor (Op.63 No.3), crafted with lilting charm. Then its all set for Scriabin's Fifth Sonata, his “Poem of Ecstasy” on the piano. As with the earlier pieces, there is lots of over-pedalling which results in blurring of passages, while concealing some missed notes.
The major contribution of WANG YINFEI (China, 30 years) is Beethoven's final Sonata No.32 in C minor (Op.111), which received an assured performance, despite missed notes in the first movement. At least he understands Beethoven's passion and concept of “brio”. The Arietta theme and variations in the second movement are beautifully negotiated, and that “jazzy” or “ragtime” variation gets the syncopated attention it deserves. Vine's Toccatissimo sounds over-pedalled in the beginning but gets better later. But will this be enough for him?
YUI FUSHIKI (Japan, 25 years) has been my preferred pianist of this session, and continued to impress with Haydn's Sonata No.34 in E minor, with some drama and humour to equal degree in the first movement, elegance and clear lines in the slow movement and a chirpy, cheery finale to close. Completely different is a rare hearing of Bartok's Dance Suite in his original piano transcription. Forget Franz Liszt, as this is a true Hungarian rhapsody with its multiple linked movements played with clear, incisive accents, with requisite colour and texture, through its journey of dissonance and pentatonics to a brilliant end. The opulence of an orchestra is not relived, but she got the spirit right.
LUU QUANG HONG (Vietnam, 25 years) is the only pianist to offer all five of Carl Vine's Bagatelles. These are perfect miniatures, like a suite, which got the varied and nuanced playing they deserved. The final Threnody never fails to touch, with its beguiling melody and sheer simplicity. Following that were the strident octave tritones of Liszt's Dante Sonata, arrestingly announced in a performance of sufficient contrasts. There was a minor stumble, and despite that, got his message across loud and clear. A stronger second round that may have come a little too late.
Monday 11 July 2016 (3.30 pm)
CHEN MOYE (China, 32 years) is another dark horse in this competition. As to the question whether Xie Ming's account of Percy Grainger's Ramble on Love from Der Rosenkavalier could be bettered, Chen provided that answer with an equally impressive performance of warm and generous tones, if not quite approximating the former's sensuousness. Chen however swept the board with Rachmaninov's Second Sonata in Vladimir Horowitz's version that combines both 1913 and 1931 editions. Its a slightly longer work than those offered earlier, and in certain ways better being more fleshed out. Unlike Horowitz's volatile and often jerky live performances, Chen is polished to a fine sheen but still possessing that always nervy edge that is simply thrilling. He will go through.
KONG JIANING (China, 30 years) is likely to join him with his 30 minutes of short pieces. First off were two Scarlatti Sonatas (K.454 and 455), both in G major and played fast with staccatos as the main emphasis. The twins were very well played, yet having a character and personality of their own. Just as impressive was Kong's traversal of 11 Etudes from Op.25 by Chopin. To fit the playing time, the slow C sharp minor Etude (No.7) was omitted. So we got to hear all the fast ones, each delicately yet prodigiously crafted. Special place go to the fearsome G sharp minor (No.6) in triplets, B minor (No.10) for bilateral octaves and A minor (No.11), the blustery “Winter Wind” which was breathtaking to say the least.
FANTEE JONES (USA, 22 years) provided an element of surprise by programming two Chopin Waltzes, the slow and nostalgic F minor (Op.70 No.2) contrasted with the vertiginous F major (Op.34 No.3) which were played much charm. The dance thread continued into Schumann's Carnaval Op.9, with its short Scenes Mignonettes involving characters of commedia delle arte and Schumann's own League of David, a number of which included waltzes. Her playing is of lusty immediacy which worked well with in louder Florestan pieces, but tends to get clattery with the virtuosic ones like and Reconnaissance and Paganini. Curiously she follows Rachmaninov's example by including the enigmatic Sphinxes, a mere sequence of bare notes based on the motto theme. Practically nobody else does that.
TONY LEE (Australia, 24 years) gave a very lucid account of Cesar Franck's Prelude, Choral et Fugue, a dead serious work that tends to get dragged down by its own seriousness and weight. Thankfully, he does none of that and his reading gets more and more engaging as the fugue progressed to its finality. The selection of Arthur Benjamin's Etudes Improvisees and Scherzino, very engaging short pieces, was also excellent. He finished off with Scriabin's Sonata No.4, which began with less allure than expected, but got airborne in the Prestissimo volando for an unerring finish.
|The attendances at the competition were very good|
despite being in the early rounds.
Unfortunately, my journey with the Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia (where else, Scotland?) ends here with an all too regrettable return “up above” to Singapore. At least I got to hear all 32 pianists, 50 minutes of each in total, some 15,100 minutes of piano playing and more if one considered the young Australian Showcase pianists, a veritable feast of music. My short capsule reviews were of the live performance as I heard them without recourse to viewing the archived videos later on.
The overall standard has been bewilderingly good, a vast improvement from the 2004 and 2008 competitions I attended (and 2012 which I followed on the Internet), when some pianists (including semi-finalists) could barely play themselves out of a paper bag. There will be a big number of excellent pianists who will be prematurely eliminated, and that will be because the cut is larger this time (from 32 to 12 this year, rather than 32 to 20, and 20 to 12 in previous editions). My guess is that several would have been cut just by a matter of a fraction of jury votes. It seems unfair, but that is the reality of competition. Suffice to say, there have been no duds, and the semi-finalists and finalists will all have been excellent and more.
So who gets to the semi-finals? My picks were as follows (in the order of playing):
Others to consider:
HA GYU TAE
Here are the judges' picks for the 12 semi-finalists:
HA GYU TAE
May the best man (or one woman) win!