Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holidays of varying descriptions

It's that time of year again. Food, drink, family gatherings, and horrible Christmas Carol shows on TV.

I would like to state that I have, thus far, managed to avoid said Christmas Carol shows. I intend to continue with this good form. Nothing makes me feel less Christmassy than having to watch a certain past-it tenor belt out a questionably 'classic' hymn.

This post starred LadyBlogger as The Grinch.

On a serious note, I wish all readers of this blog the happiest of holidays and hope that you all find much joy over the holiday season and the coming year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December will be magic again

There have been numerous times over the past few weeks when I have thought about updating this blog. Unfortunately there has been nothing worth updating about.

There still isn't. Soon, perhaps, I shall have more to say.

Monday, November 24, 2008

We are, after all, unfortunately human...

I just heard the sad news that Richard Hickox, current Music Director of Opera Australia, passed away suddenly following a heart attack.

Although I never had the privelege of meeting him, his reputation as a fine musician will stand for a long time in my mind, and in the minds of many of this country's operagoers. Hopefully the current controversy can be put aside for now as the opera community turns their thoughts to his family in this sad time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Du temps et de l'instant

Hesperion XXI live is an experience I will never forget. I've been a fan for some time, but I wasn't expecting quite the level of sublimity that was bestowed upon we, the lucky audience in the City Recital Hall last night. If I could stay a little longer, I would be there for the second concert on Saturday night - different program. That being impossible, however, I shall simply bask in the lasting afterglow of a supreme musical experience.

If angels have voices, I imagine they sound rather like Arianna and Ferran Savall. Such glorious purity of tone, musical intensity, and absolute rightness of expression. Sometimes, and it is rare, I experience a musical event that does not disturb my sensibilities in any way, because it is so completely right and perfect in itself. This concert was one such event. Jordi Savall's viol playing is so refined and beautiful, his sound tugging at the very centre of the soul. I was disappointed to find out that Montserrat Figueras was ill and unable to travel to Australia... however this disappointment didn't last long as the delights contained in the program, even without her, were immense.

Special mention must be made of Pedro Estevan's percussion. An unwavering sense of rhythm, inventiveness, and personality. What really struck me about this ensemble was the unity of purpose, whilst still maintaining the individual strengths of the members.

I have had the haunting melody of Arianna Savall's La Salve coursing through my veins since leaving the concert hall last night. The warm, crystalline purity of her voice, combined with the dulcet tones of her harp are wonders to behold. There is something very human about the music Hesperion XXI chooses to perform - both ancient and modern. The ancient is surprisingly modern, whilst the modern carries within it the essence of ancient humanity.

I wouldn't believe I'm the only person in the audience who fell a little in love with Ferran Savall, either... he's a little bit too gorgeous to be such a masterful theorbist and have that voice as well. Not to mention his composition, a vocalise entitled Jaroslaw, was spellbindingly beautiful.

Driss El Maloumi proved a masterful Oud player, and Dmitri Psonis enthralled whenever he took up his instruments. However, the evening's laurels really belong to the patriarch, the spellbinding Jordi Savall. Undoubtedly, the highlight of this concert were his Variations sur O Sonjal. Absolute mastery of his instrument, and a way of speaking directly to the heart and soul of the listener. The final pizzicato phrases were a marvel in their sonority, a few moments of pure magic. This is what music is all about.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I can't shake it either.

I love my classical music enormously. Yet sometimes a break is needed, even from one's dearest love...
I love good pop music. And no, that is not an oxymoron. My latest interest is Kate Miller-Heidke (who used to be an opera singer, which = WIN). Anyone who sings a hilarious song about not being able to dance (Can't Shake It) which includes the lyric "I don't really qualify for breakdancing, I just break it..." has got my vote. Admitting through song that you can't dance? That's just awesome. There's also an adorably quirky song about just wanting to ride on this guy's motorscooter (NOT a euphemism, I'm sure), and how it's not that cool because he's just so metrosexual... it cracks me up. I love it. Complete with zooming and beeping noises. There's also the fabulous song that says "If you're God's gift to women, then God got it wrong!" Love it. Love love love it. Mainly because it's so TRUE. I see men like that every time I go out, and it's just sad. About time someone called them on it.
Quirky and fabulous isn't all she does. There are beautiful, heartfelt songs as well. My personal fave of these is about a boy she went to school with, who was thought of as a bit of a weirdo... but she befriended him and then when he got beat up and hassled for having no friends, she didn't stand up for him, now knows better, and is sorry. It's lovely. Again, it's just so true and real and... well, it's life.
I think what I like most about Kate Miller-Heidke is that she just seems like a real person, flaws and all. I loved her first album, but I think the second is perhaps even better.
So, it's my soundtrack of choice at the moment. It's replaced Soile Isokoski's Strauss Orchestral Songs, which in turn replaced Martha Argerich's Debut Recital disc.
I love music. That's all.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

On reflection, and hearing the radio broadcast

I do love when my initial impressions are confirmed on second hearing. I listened, of course, to the Mathy Awards broadcast on the radio yesterday. It was fabulous for many reasons - one of the best being that I could hear Shane Lowrencev's singing FAR better, and I loved it. What an utterly fabulous voice and such intelligence in his singing!

Anyway. The radio microphone has a way of amplifying defects that may not be heard in the theatre. This was interesting. Sitiveni Talei came through this process relatively unscathed. A few short-breathed phrases aside (and everyone suffered from this - nerves are a nasty thing and entirely forgiveable!), his sound was rich and warm the whole way through, and the lovely musical phrasing was just as much in evidence. I liked his Papageno aria even better on second hearing.

Sometimes, when I hear music performed really well, I just smile and I can't stop smiling. This happened to me yesterday.

I shall be discreet about what I thought of the second singer, and simply say that she sounded an awful lot better from further away. The other two were polished and lovely. Sky Ingram seemed to be flatter in pitch than I remember hearing - perhaps the radio microphone wasn't picking up some of the higher overtones in the voice. Not sure. All the same, I enjoyed the Mathy Awards immensely on second listening. Still 100% behind their choice of winner, too! What a talented guy with a fabulous voice and huge potential for the future!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mathy Awards final

As promised, I did attend the final. Despite not feeling particularly well and facing a 1.5 hour drive just to see a concert on my own and then sleep on a friend's uncomfortable sofa bed. Would've been a shame to waste my ticket...

I went, I listened, I LOVED. What a fabulous night of singing! Sitiveni Talei started things off. Looking suave (yet cheeky) in his tails, he opened proceedings with a beautifully phrased The Call from Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs. I adore this cycle, and although Love bade me welcome has always been my favourite of the set, Mr. Talei's performance won me over immediately. I may have a new favourite... The warmth and effortless projection of his voice was immediately appealing, as was the heartfelt sensitivity and extremely musical phrasing. His English diction was almost faultless - a few words flew into the skies but mostly it was extremely clear. A stunning beginning which left the audience silent for a few moments before warm applause.
Nicole Car followed, looking lovely, with a beautifully sung Mahler song from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. This is a lovely warm voice and well-produced... very technically sound (if a little flat in pitch at times) yet I felt the connection to the text was lacking a little. Still, an impressive performance.
Michael Lampard contributed a lovely Ah per sempre from Bellini's I Puritani. His singing is very fine, the voice is delightful in quality and he is interesting to watch. Perhaps a little more bel canto line would be desired, yet I found his performance very pleasing.
Sky Ingram impressed far more this time, with a beautiful Morgen. She is lovely to watch on stage (and her elegant green dress far surpassed the more ostentatious purple number worn by Nicole Car) and her voice was warm, rich and lovely. I enjoyed her singing immensely.

Second time around, Sitiveni Talei was a characterful Papageno... the 'suicide aria' may have seemed a strange choice but as soon as he started it made perfect sense. Mr. Talei is Papageno. He has the cheekiness required as well as that stunning chocolate-hued voice. It was a very funny, beautifully sung performance that had the audience both laughing and completely in sympathy with poor Papageno's plight! I felt, then, that he would win the Audience Prize. He certainly got my vote (and before you ask, even though he was my favourite from the semis I went to the final with a clean slate and open mind!). "That's going to be hard to beat", I said, to nobody in particular... however the person in the seat next to me decided to chime in her agreement. "Magnificent", she said.
So Nicole Car followed with D'amor sull'ali rosee from Trovatore. An odd choice, perhaps. Again a lovely sound, but... No pianissimi, and a seeming lack of understanding of the Verdi style. Mind you, she is young and she will learn. However it left me wondering why. I think I would've preferred to hear her sing something like Micaela's aria. Still, very fine singing again and she is someone I look forward to hearing in the years to come.
Michael Lampard's Guglielmo (Rivolgete) was fine, very fine indeed. Full of character and vocal colour. I enjoyed this performance immensely. No more to add on that one.
Sky Ingram sang a stunning Song to the Moon from Rusalka. Gorgeous. Glorious. Beautiful. I am at a loss as to why I did not enjoy her singing last time. Simply stunning.

yet I was still hoping for Mr. Talei to come up trumps. While the judges were deliberating, we had the opportunity to hear this year's Opera Awards winner, bass Shane Lowrencev. Well, the opportunity to hear him wasn't fully enjoyed as quite often he was inaudible through the orchestral textures. After a decent Banco and a better-than-average Don Basilio, we were treated to a rather fabulous Soliloquy from Carousel. He seemed much more in his element here, and capped it off with some blazing high notes which leave me wondering if he is really a true bass. The colour of the voice is dark, yet the top is so well-produced (and much more audible). All the same it was frustrating as I enjoyed the timbre of his voice and wanted to hear it more.

Finally, the announcement. After the general prizes were announced, it was time for the winner: Sitiveni Talei. A huge roar went up from the crowd. Not surprising, as I was right in predicting he'd won the Audience Prize. He looked surprised, but spoke very well upon accepting the award.

I was pleased. I look forward to hearing him sing often. What a wonderful night out.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

why? Because I can.

Your result for Howard Gardner's Eight Types of Intelligence Test...


10% Logical, 22% Spatial, 45% Linguistic, 39% Intrapersonal, 18% Interpersonal, 80% Musical, 14% Bodily-Kinesthetic and 8% Naturalistic!

"This area has to do with rhythm, music, and hearing. Those who have a high level of musical-rhythmic intelligence display greater sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones and music. They normally have good pitch and may even have absolute pitch, and are able to sing, play musical instruments, and compose music. Since there is a strong auditory component to this intelligence, those who are strongest in it may learn best via lecture. In addition, they will often use songs or rhythms to learn and memorize information, and may work best with music playing in the background.

Careers which suit those with this intelligence include instrumentalists, singers, conductors, disc-jockeys, and composers." (Wikipedia)">Take Howard Gardner's Eight Types of Intelligence Test at

Monday, October 13, 2008

"What makes this emptiness?" "Tell me when these silences began..."

A variety of things, including persistent (but not life-threatening) ill-health and subsequent bed rest, have prevented me from updating this blog. I have little of musical merit to report on, so I shall merely say that I am here, and I will report on more when I have more to report on.

yes, I do love my long-winded, confusing sentences.

Music has taken the back seat, rather firmly, at this point in time. This will be remedied as soon as possible.

Oh - anyone who correctly identifies which opera my subject line comes from, you get... um... a comment saying you're clever.

Ciao for now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Travelling LadyBlogger

Lately, it is a rare occasion indeed when this blogger finds herself at home. This is a good thing in many ways, as it provides opportunities to attend performances in many different places. However, it is nice to be home and able to relax at last!

During my travels, I was fortunate enough to attend a performance of The Wicked Voice - four 'melodramas'. Well, three melodramas and one highly melodramatic song cycle (Intended with the utmost affection for the work, it is magnificent).

First, Georg Benda's setting of Medea. A young and beautiful actress named Claire Blumer, who I understand is a recent graduate of WAAPA, assumed the title role. A tough ask for one so young, especially when one is as angelic in appearance as Ms. Blumer happens to be. There is a magnetic quality to her performance, and the range is vast. Perhaps too vast. Or, rather, too much contrast, and not enough shading. However, she is a compelling performer and one I would gladly pay to see again. She held the stage wonderfully, alone for most of the performance. Other roles were well-taken, especially the two children who were simply adorable and let out blood-curdling screams when required!
Next, Christmas Eve, whose composer escapes me at the moment. Fibich, perhaps? All the same it was wonderfully evocative music. Another beautiful young actress, Miriam Miley-Read, assumed the role of narrator. I am led to understand that Ms. Miley-Read has mostly performed in opera, and the quality of her speaking voice suggests that her singing would be equally thrilling. She is tall and striking, with beautiful large eyes, and it is difficult to take your eyes off her. Lucky, as she commanded the stage alone for the duration of this piece (about 20 mins' worth). Hers was a vastly different performance to Ms. Blumer's, subject matter notwithstanding. A dark story about two girls who see their futures in the lake - one marries, and the other dies. Ms. Miley-Read's performance was almost sprechgesang in nature, following the highs and lows of the music intimately.
After the interval was Larry Sitsky's song cycle The Jade Harp, for mezzo-soprano and fortepiano. This is a wonderful new work from one of Australia's most revered composers. Utterly theatrical and gripping. Angela Giblin, who I had not previously heard but has an excellent reputation, is an utterly superlative artist. What her voice lacks in youthful sheen is more than made up for in the range of tonal and expressive quality. She, too, is a compelling actress. Even her hairstyle is theatrical! She was dressed simply yet strikingly in a lovely black silk chinese-inspired pantsuit. The performance took her all over the stage and yet her singing remained firmly centred and always controlled. Sometimes achingly beautiful, sometimes deliberately ugly, her performance was a revelation. One that will not be forgotten. Geoffrey Lancaster's fortepiano playing is absolutely beyond reproach, and he was a wonderful partner to Ms. Giblin, bringing a wealth of artistry and expression to this exciting score.
The final work was The Water Goblin, which saw four actors on stage. For me, this was the weak link. It would have been far better to finish with the Sitsky. Four performers in a line, writhing, speaking sing-song lines... yeah. OK. Fine, and all, but I preferred the rest of it. They all performed exceptionally and received a well-deserved rousing ovation from the appreciative audience. I am so glad I was visiting friends in the vicinity, even though I attended this performance alone ("Too weird for us!" they said... what a shame!).

Now for something completely different - Opera Australia's production of My Fair Lady. I will confess to loving this show inordinately. Always have. This production did not disappoint. Reg Livermore remains an absolute master of the theatre, and his Henry Higgins has developed immensely since I last saw him in the role many years ago. Although he is getting on in years, he still has a youthful charisma that allows us to believe that Taryn Fiebig's young and beautiful Eliza could well fall for him. I think I fell for him a little myself... Ms. Fiebig has a charming soprano voice. Light and airy yet full in the lower register, it is brightly coloured and crystalline. Her Cockney accent was slightly hit-and-miss, but she was always convincingly in character and looked superb. The supporting roles were absolutely WONDERFUL. Eliza's father had us all rolling with laughter, and his cronies in "With a little bit of luck" were full of ribald enthusiasm. A highly satisfying theatrical experience which left me with an enormous smile on my face.

I happened to be passing through Sydney the weekend just gone, which left me free to attend the semifinals of the Australian Singing Competition's Mathy Awards. Quite an experience! Ridiculously talented young people with voices to die for. I wasn't equally impressed with all four chosen finalists, but one singer stood out for me immediately - Sitiveni Talei. Purely because his baritone voice is... is... um. Words defy me. Sumptuous doesn't cut it. Bright and dark in equal measure, effortlessly produced, with heroic top notes. His art song didn't impress any great depths upon me, but I luxuriated in the gorgeous voice all the same. However, his Avant de quitter ces lieux from Faust absolutely sealed the deal. One of my favourite baritone arias, delivered with ease, panache, and commitment. He has a lovely, merry face, and a charmingly unassuming stage presence. He looked rather surprised to be named as a finalist, yet I suspect nobody in the audience was in any doubt. The other finalists are Nicole Car, Michael Lampard and Sky Ingram. Of the others, Jennifer Barrington impressed with her richly coloured soprano and easy high notes. WA seems to be producing a lot of fine singers at the moment, judging by the fact that half of the ten semifinalists hail from there. Thomas Wood's tenor sounded older than his years but was pleasantly lyrical, and Sam Roberts-Smith was a worthy recipient of the Encouragement Award and could easily have been a finalist in my humble opinion. Sky Ingram, although selected for the final, did nothing for me. She looks stunning and sings rather well, but something is lacking. There's a touch of vinegar to her sound which did not impress me. I far preferred Angela Edwards' sound, although she was perhaps not quite as polished.
I guess I should talk about the other two finalists - Nicole Car and Michael Lampard. Both lovely, well-produced voices and attractive stage manner. Ms. Car seems to be doing well for herself already, and rightly so. She is an exceptional young singer.

Now, I find myself in a bit of a performance drought for the time being. It has been a wild ride.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Watched the ABC Arts program this afternoon, and finally got to see the six finalists play. With the exception of Eric Zuber, who I missed because I wasn't home early enough to catch the start.

My perceptions were challenged somewhat. I expected, perhaps from G.W.'s comments, that Takashi Sato would be more theatrical and Tomoki Kitamura more subdued. Certainly in my eyes it was the other way around. Mr. Sato impressed me even further on TV than he did on the radio.

I still believe, even more so now, that Ran Dank was the outstanding artist in the competition. Konstantin Shamray was very fine, but not in Mr. Dank's league. I am still perplexed as to why Tatiana Kolesova was awarded the second prize after her poor showing in the two concerti. However not my decision.

I've been practicing a lot and watching the Olympics, and perhaps partying a little too hard. All of that = tired LadyBlogger. zzzz.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In which LadyBlogger has been... *gasp*... PRACTICING!

Indeed. I have been somewhat inactive with my blogging because I have been making music of my own, as opposed to commenting on the music-making of others. It is a pleasant change. I am preparing for a few different things coming up - getting up and trotting out my wares, so to speak...

One thing I tend to forget after a break from piano practice is that it takes time to rebuild callouses formed from practicing glissandi. Two of the pieces in my current repertoire have glissandi, and I've actually drawn blood from jumping in there a little too vigorously. Ouch!

Unfortunately, I have yet again proven that if I actually had the mental fortitude to give this piano thing a real go, I could be rather good at it. More than rather, in fact. Possibly tending towards very or even extremely. Every time I make this realisation it upsets me a little. I wonder if I have squandered a gift that I shouldn't have squandered. Then I remember that I actually really like doing what it is that I plan to do for a living. I like it a LOT. I love it, in fact. So I rest my case.

eventually. right now I'm at the point of saying that I remember that I love what I already do, and yet I haven't quite felt it yet. Part of me will always be wistful that I didn't take my last piano teacher's advice and go for it. Yet the larger part knows that I made the right decision, and I followed my heart.

Anyway I have dragged myself away from the big black shiny thing in the music room and I am going to have a well-deserved TV break. Give those cuticles some time to heal.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ode to Martha

Argerich, of course. I racked up a lot of kilometres in my car over the past few days, and listened to a lot of music. My final choice was the live Martha Argerich/Chailly/Berlin RSO Rachmaninoff 3 and her Tchaikovsky 1 with Kondrashin/Bavarian RSO.

She just OWNS it. Never mind that she misses notes here and there, that her tempi are sometimes wildly different from the orchestra when she comes in at a new section.

It's wonderfully distinctive, spontaneous, electric playing and reminded me yet again of why I love her so much.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

National anthems

Yes, I am obsessed with the Olympics. I can't help it. Once every four years isn't so bad, is it? In general I am somewhat ambivalent about most sports, but the Olympics gets the Aussie spirit out of me IN FORCE.

I was struck today, whilst watching the swimming finals (what else?), that Australia's national anthem is not one of the more interesting specimens. I heard the Japanese anthem for the first time today and was quite struck by it - austere, not at all westernised (unlike the Chinese anthem, which sounds like bad Verdi), and rather pentatonic.

Why doesn't Australia have a DECENT anthem? It's just so... meh. Admittedly, it's not as bad as the American... ("Oh, say can you see?" REALLY? Then again, is that worse than "With golden soil and wealth for toil, our home is girt by sea"? sigh...) but it's not good.

Our near neighbours, the Kiwis, have sort of got something going there. It's a nice tune, at the very least. Perhaps a bit simplistic... but a nice tune all the same. Not as complicated or as wordy as the Italian or Chinese anthems. The French, of course, is rousing as ever.

but I really think Australia should get a new anthem. Preferably composed by Carl Vine.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It has been some time since we last met...

Although there has been plenty of music in this LadyBlogger's life, as always, there has also been plenty of Olympics-watching. I tend to get a bit obsessed, as I do with SIPCA. This year is no exception. Having little to distract me from the television, I spend a lot of time with it, watching sports I never suspected I'd be interested in.

I was quite spellbound this evening watching a young Chinese woman lift almost three times her own body weight. It was very exciting!

Yet, as always, my heart belongs to the swimming. Whenever I mention this, I am asked this inevitable question: "Do you like it for the sport, or for the male bodies?" *wink* While I can assure you that I wouldn't leave Eamon Sullivan shivering on my doorstep if Stephanie Rice did decide she was really finished with him, I must admit that I like the female events just as much as the male. Therefore any question of eye candy is null and void. There's just something terribly exciting about the swimming. It's the one sport I will always go out of my way to watch. It's been a great few days in the pool. I've even enjoyed some of the races Australia didn't win. I admit to being terribly impressed with the Kiwi Moss Burmester, who mixed it with the big boys for most of the 200 freestyle final today before just fading into fourth place. Still, he took it out hard and led Michael Phelps at the first turn! That is nothing to sneeze at.

I also must confess to disliking Michael Phelps. There can be nothing but admiration for him as an athlete, but something about his personality just doesn't quite gel with me. Sure, I've never met him in person, so I'm just being judgemental... Yet there's something so refreshing about the Australian attitude, as evinced by a certain Eamon Sullivan after breaking the 100m world record this morning - he said he felt good in warmup so decided to have a go at the world record, and was pretty pleased that he got it. So unassuming... and not in-your-face like the American relay team in their (admittedly historic and amazing) victory.

I'm still sore that Ian Thorpe decided to give up the ghost before he should've. In my opinion. I, of course, am a dedicated armchair expert. I can swim decently enough but certainly nothing to write home about!

Well, tomorrow will be interesting. The 100m freestyle final. Three fastest men in the world... who will win? I'm betting the Aussie. I'm a firmly one-eyed patriot, yes, but also I think he's got the mental toughness to take them all out.

This has been an almost completely unmusical post, but I have one thing left to add: Upon hearing the Italian national anthem for the first time in recent memory, it struck me that it sounds just like it's been lifted from early Verdi. Very jaunty indeed!

on that note, I shall end. Goodnight!

Monday, August 4, 2008

What now?

SIPCA is over. I started this blog in a timely fashion. Spurred on by my desire to write SIPCA commentary. Now that it's over, I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to write about. However, there is so much music in my life that I'm sure there will be plenty to fill up internet space.

I feel like I'm emerging from a black hole...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

So, it's all over

I missed the announcements, being out for the evening, and I must confess to being both surprised and not surprised upon reading the results online.

Not particularly surprised at Konstantin Shamray's first placing. I'm sure it was well-deserved in some sense. I didn't like much of his playing until the Prokofiev this afternoon, but that was pretty magical.

But Tatiana Kolesova for second place? What? WHY? Surely Ran Dank and Takashi Sato both well and truly bested her. Sigh. Whatever... I liked her in the early rounds, but she lacked spirit later on.

Having had time to digest things, I think I would've put it like this:

1. Ran Dank
2. Takashi Sato
3. Konstantin Shamray
4. Eric Zuber
5. Tomoki Kitamura
6. Tatiana Kolesova

Bit of a change from my earlier preferences, excepting Ran Dank, but that's how I felt it.
One can't always agree with the judges, and this one doesn't. Not this time. But... such are competitions.

It's late, and I'm off to sleep.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The last hurdle of SIPCA

Prokofiev is very much in my psyche at the moment. Tortured and longing. Angry at the world. General feeling of unhappiness. Or perhaps I'm in Prokofiev's psyche? Either way, it seems very right for me to listen to Prokofiev at the present time.

Konstantin Shamray and Prokofiev are an intoxicating combination. I'm not sure if it's the drunk-makingly moody Second Piano Concerto's fault though... Mr. Shamray is endearing himself to me more than ever before. This is really wonderful playing. There's a hint of squareness where there shouldn't be, however. Unlike the wonderful performance of Daniel Hill (hang on, he calls himself Daniel De Borah these days) four years past. Still, Mr. Shamray is full of excitement and darkness. It's that wonderful Slavic moodiness, with which I have plenty of experience.

Sigh. It's getting slightly bangy and messy now. That said, it is very exciting all the same. I am having a visceral reaction to it. Yet in this case, unlike the earlier Prokofiev 3, I'm not sure if it's the pianist or the music or both. Ran Dank and Prokofiev were inseparable and awe-inspiring. This seems a bit... patchwork. Bits tacked together with little sense of a whole. Perhaps, however, that is the fault of the concerto.

The second movement is fleet and accurate. An odd thought just struck me - I'd like to hear Tomoki Kitamura tackle this piece. Anyway. It flew by in a haze of clean fingerwork. It strikes me as just a bit too studied. Mind you, I do quite like the macabre humour he's brought to the third movement. Somehow I get the impression that's about the only kind that would have made Prokofiev laugh...

Wow the finale takes off, and Mr. Shamray is firmly in the driver's seat at this stage. It's been an oddly uneven performance with moments of real brilliance yet lots of mis-hits. The beautifully rhapsodic second theme is glorious to behold. Oh. Until he gets to the chordal recapitulation of it, then it sort of gets square and bangy again. I'd adore his playing if he could get rid of the square bangy-ness.

Oh yes. That's smart, people. Clap at the wrong time... Seriously, is it THAT hard to know when a concerto's actually finished? I think not. If in doubt, wait it out.

There are wonderful moments where Mr. Shamray is truly inside the music and its scary moodiness. Just moments, however. The grand dash to the finish line is one of these moments, albeit a slightly extended one.

OK. So the audience really seemed to enjoy that. Sigh. I would not be surprised if he wins. I guess all along I've thought he'd be a safe choice for winner... I wouldn't pick him though. Yikes. Maybe he'll win the audience prize now? Goodness. They are absolutely loving him! Then again, I remember being at the final concerto session in 2004. The audience was absolutely packed full, and the atmosphere was one of incredible excitement. Much more so than any other session I'd attended. The young piano students were out in force, perhaps having saved their pennies for the final (I was sort of in that boat myself).

Well it certainly seems to have made an impression. I wonder what it was like live? That's always the test. G.W. loves it. Then again I don't always agree with him. However, from his description, Mr. Shamray sounds like quite a character. G.W. seems to have perceived the structure that I didn't. I'm not willing to admit that I was wrong, yet!

I find D. Beaumont rather likeable, but he does ask the most interminably frustrating questions at times... sigh.

Takashi Sato up next with Beethoven 5. A concerto I know very well, having played second piano several times for concerto exams at universities. Also somewhat of a teenage obsession of mine.
Well. Here we have a confident, extroverted opening. Very enjoyable indeed. I like Mr. Sato's way with Beethoven. I have mentioned before that I admire his tone - that beautiful sound is much in evidence here. It is all very well-controlled and accurate, right in time with the orchestra and beautifully shaped. Oh I love the B-minor/major section so much and it has just the right feathery touch. Gorgeous. Just a touch of rubato. Beethoven's romp through tonalities in this concerto is fascinating. I must confess to happily bopping away in the B-flat triplet section. It's so happy and it makes me happy! Couldn't be further from Prokofiev at this moment.

Oh yes, this is wonderful playing. Mr. Sato has won me over. Nothing jarring about it. Polished, beautiful, and interesting at last. A wonderfully wise choice by this pianist. Takashi Sato has saved his trump card until now, but was that a wise decision? Time will tell. What an exciting cadenza! So beautifully structured. This is big-boned yet very refined Beethoven. Simply glorious. A couple of cracked notes but this is one of those times it honestly doesn't matter.

The divine beauty of the second movement has gently crept upon me. This music, to me, is the expression of deepest, most profound love and beauty.
Mr. Sato's integration of the appogiature into the line is seamless and beautiful. So many pianists shock me there. This is pure, unadulterated gorgeousness.

I am crying. Big, fat tears pouring down my cheeks. This would be embarrassing if I were not at home alone. As it stands, I will simply relish being moved.

Love love love this finale - it seems to be almost the antithesis of the cruel dance in Shostakovich's E minor Piano Trio. (Makes me wonder if that's deliberate on Shostakovich's part, keeping in mind the slow movement of his 2nd piano concerto and its known links to the slow movement of this concerto) In this performance, Mr. Sato has it. Whatever it is. Just wonderful, wonderful playing. Now I want him in the top 3 too. Um. Whoops. A seriously misjudged run becomes atonal... ah well. With playing of such beauty I can forgive him that, and he's recovered magically. Magic! YES! Magic. Absolutely. Quite a bit of fierceness too. What a wonderful trill! Sigh. I am running out of superlatives for this amazing performance. Brilliant ending! However I feel it deserves far more applause than it's getting. Well, he won't win the audience prize. G.W. doesn't like it that much, either, which I expected. Especially given his self-styled "Beethoven expert" tag... (I don't mean that in a snide manner at all- he plays extremely fine Beethoven) I guess he has to show his expertise here. I liked it, anyway.

Eric Zuber is the last one. I will have to cut my commentary short - I must get ready to go out for the evening! I'll be out when the announcement is made, which is a bit of a frustration but as I said yesterday I do adore my friends and one can't spend their life being a blog-writing hermit.
Tchaikovsky 1. I love this. Have even played it myself. A suitable vehicle for my rather fierce and masculine pianism.

Oh, yay. The horns didn't splat the first note. (Maybe the fourth or fifth). Mr. Zuber has the requisite big, warm sound in the opening chords. Very generous of spirit. In his hands at this moment they are not just chords - they are beautiful and expressive. I believe he really loves this piece. So generous! Goosebumps. Visceral reaction again. I knew his Tchaikovsky would interest me. It is only the beginning of the first movement and already I feel that like Takashi Sato, Mr. Zuber has saved the best for last. This is FIERCE! As well - proportioned as Michaelangelo's David, yet even more handsome. Oh. What a pity. He's dropped the ball a bit in the second theme. It's a bit clunky, not quite dancing enough. Still, I like it.

Getting a sense of deja vu here. In 2000, Marina Kolomiitseva played the same concerto, and was also the last competitor. I didn't think she was particularly good (dull as dishwater about sums it up) but she won. Eric Zuber far outstrips her. You can really hear his big-ness in this particular concerto. I felt his Mozart was underdone. A bit too pink in the centre. This is evenly roasted. (Yes, in my spare time, I love to cook!) I love the way he delays, ever so slightly, the climactic moments, which makes me want them all the more. (Whoever says music is nothing like sex is clearly uneducated in one or the other).

Mr. Zuber is clearly excited, and it is certainly infectious! Perhaps a little over-excited at times, but I can't fault him for that! It is Tchaikovsky, after all! Such a variety of interesting, pearly tone in the cadenza. This is great playing. What a fabulous end to the first movement!

It is easy to believe that Mr. Zuber has a deep love and respect for this concerto. He performs it with the utmost reverence. So often it's dashed off as a showpiece, but not today. Every note is music. The slow movement is utterly ravishing. The 'fairy wings' (my nickname for it) part is perfectly in place and dances gorgeously. I will stay until the opening of the third movement to give some general impressions but then I really must go and get ready.

Well, it's very good. Wondered if it could use more brutality, but that came in soon enough. It will take a HUGE mishap in the next few minutes to change my mind about how much I love this performance. Now, I'm off.

Goodness me. I just can't pick a winner. If you'd asked me this morning I would have said I'd like Ran Dank without a doubt, but with so many terrific showings it's difficult. Now, I think the only thing that would annoy me utterly is if Tatiana Kolesova was announced as winner. I just don't think she did enough, despite her wonderful early round. Also Tomoki Kitamura, who is just too young in spirit, although immensely talented.


As I drink a not-so-delicious (but necessary) cup of instant coffee, Tatiana Kolesova negotiates the thickets of the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2.

*side note - sinusitis makes it very difficult to sleep! Hence the necessary coffee.

Now, I've never been an enormous fan of this rather bombastic piece. Much as I love Saint-Saens in various incarnations (some of his art songs are utterly divine - La lever de la lune particularly), this concerto strikes me as being a bit low on ideas. I have, however, been a fan of Ms. Kolesova throughout. This is fine playing. It's a tiny bit messy, but that's to be expected really. The one thing that's bothering me is that her personality somehow doesn't seem really big enough to make something really interesting of this work. There's no doubt she's thought it through, probably performed it many times before, and is well on top of all the technical traps - yet, the concerto is playing her. She's chasing it down commendably, and is right behind it at every turn. Therein lies the problem. I want her to be on top of it, or dragging it along in her wake.

Personality makes the pianist. This is what I don't understand - Hoang Pham may have been a very gentle musician, but his musical personality was strong and immediately recognisable. Mariangela Vacatello was so immediately and strikingly individual.

All the same, Ms. Kolesova's beautiful playing is scintillating and exciting... In fact it's very fine indeed and I would like to see her in the top three placings. She's not a winner in my eyes though. I think structure was lacking in the Saint-Saens.

Mind you, we have some goosebump-inducing moments here towards the end of the finale. Finally, here's the fireworks I've been waiting for! If she'd done this from the beginning, I would be throwing her a parade. The live audience loves it, and rightly so. Very fine. Her playing reminds me somewhat of Alexei Volodin from the 2000 competition - incredibly competent, more than usually interesting, yet still lacking that all-important star quality.

Now, I'm going to fast forward through the interview with the conductor. No offense intended. Just lack of time. I have my own practice to do today!

Tomoki Kitamura. Beethoven 4. Always struck me as a concerto in which risks outweigh benefits. Perhaps young Tomoki can convince me otherwise. Oh, there is such heart in his playing of the introduction. It gets me misty-eyed almost immediately. Beautifully crisp double thirds. Textures so clean. He seems to be soaring above the orchestra with his refined phrasing. Triplets a little unruly but I can forgive him that.

I think it would be unfair for Mr. Kitamura to win this competition - yet. He still seems completely on a different level to John Chen (OK, let's accept this turntable is broken, not just the record...) Yet I hope to see him high up in the placings as he has that elusive gift of a recognisable personality. He seems to be truly enjoying himself.

As am I! This is far finer playing than Ms. Kolesova's. I think she had a bit of an off-day.

Such pearly tone and grand intentions! I love it. However I'm still not sure why anyone would choose this particular concerto for competition purposes. I guess he's not really a Rachmaninoff player... although he may surprise me in years to come! There is a quiet strength in his playing that is highly intriguing and will no doubt develop into something quite amazing.

It's just not there yet. This round has, unfortunately, highlighted the age difference between Mr. Kitamura and his fellow finalists. It is beautiful playing - far above that of Alexandre Loubiantsev in the last competition - yet... I will be very surprised if he wins.

The audience has gone crazy, as is to be expected. Audience prize? I think so. I also think the Classic FM presenters are able to engineer this quite a bit, and relish doing so. Who would wish to disagree with the kind, motherly tones of Marian Arnold? Not I. (tee hee).

I want to hear Mr. Kitamura in ten, fifteen, twenty years' time. I want to hear the previous winner NOW. And four years ago.

Interesting point that G.W. just made - Horowitz talking about not practicing too much and going to art galleries, etc... by that logic, I should be the greatest pianist in the world. (I'm not bad. I'm just not a world-class soloist. However, I do other things well!)

Ran Dank and Prokofiev seems a recipe for enjoyment - Oh, just so wonderful, right from the first entrance! Goosebumps, shivers, pinpricks of tears. Such joy! The second theme is so delightfully unbalanced.

I am basking in this. It's so wonderful. Can he be beaten? Not in my mind. Recap of first theme is so beautifully judged. I don't even notice the technical merits of his playing because it LIVES. The fact remains, however, that it is blazingly accurate playing with a huge range of colour, expression and attack. Mr. Dank is a very fine collaborative musician but a born leader in a concerto. I want to clap after the first movement! So I do, in the privacy of my own home.

This is wonderful Prokofiev. Wonderful pianism. Wonderful musicianship. I really want him to win the competition. The last movement is utterly intoxicating. Clouds of exotically perfumed air. Totally wonderful.

BRAVO, BRAVO, BRAVO. Actually, perhaps Mr. Kitamura will not clinch the audience prize this time... the audience have gone utterly nuts about Ran Dank. Rightly so. Absolute mastery.

Now I'd better go, and do some of my own work.

Tomorrow morning LadyBlogger will attempt a grand feat...

six concerti in one day.

No, not playing... just listening. My head was far too fuzzy upon my arrival back home to even consider listening to SIPCA.

now, LadyBlogger takes this fuzzy head off to bed.

Friday, August 1, 2008


I adore my friends, I really do. Yet... I am going to a significant birthday celebration tonight when I'd like to be sitting in listening to SIPCA with multiple cups of tea.

I'll just have to record it...

By the way, I'm very pleased to see that people are visiting my blog!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ran Dank's Mozart - a belated listen

I was in a seemingly unassailable good mood earlier today. However, this mood has since been assailed in a rather serious manner. What else for it but to take the reminder from a kind blog commenter and have a listen to Ran Dank's Mozart on the ABC website?

Very glad I am doing so. It is indeed masterful playing and if this man doesn't win the competition I will be very cross. Therefore I am preparing to be very cross, because aside from the extremely mind-bogglingly brilliant John Chen, my favourites have never won. In 1996 (when I was just a slip of a girl but still had very clear opinions) it was the incredible Gabor Rosza, who shockingly didn't make it past the semifinals... with Brahms like his? For goodness' sake. I still remember it. Ah well. In 2000, Ayako Uehara was the clear winner in my mind, followed closely by Henry Wong Doe (yet another wonderful pianist from New Zealand. Is there something in the water?) and yet the utterly boring Marina Kolomiitseva took the honours. Unbelievable.

Such maturity and refinement. Glorious. I really do love this concerto, especially when played as well as this. Oh, what a wonderful cadenza! Spellbinding. Stunning. Ran Dank, although one of the older competitors, falls into the 'ageless genius' category I keep harping on about.

The start of the second movement is utterly wow. W.O.W.

I don't have much to say. This is good. Final movement is incredibly exciting. Well, I remember it from the other night.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

SIPCA Mozart take 2

The last 30 seconds of Takashi Sato's Mozart B flat major sounded rather facile, but I can't comment on the rest of it as I came in late to this broadcast.

The red wine head-fuzzy has given way to an unfortunate attack of the winter ills. So perhaps clarity will still be lacking in my prose this evening!

Nicholas Milton is talking a lot again. I guess it's interesting but my head hurts. I'm looking forward to hearing Eric Zuber play the D minor concerto, followed by Konstantin Shamray with another B flat minor.

So. Eric Zuber. I do love this concerto, just for the record. I'm so predictable... I'm not sure yet if I'm enjoying Mr. Zuber's performance or if I just love the music. Actually, I believe Mr. Zuber's playing lacks a little backbone at this point. It's just a bit faceless. It's very nice, yes, but it's lacking personality. He's also dropping a fair few notes, which is playing around with the harmonic structure. Oh, I'm such a hard mistress... Not so much loving this cadenza, which just about made me think we were in the middle of Rachmaninoff 3.

I want to like this, yet somehow I'm failing to. This is perhaps my problem and not Mr. Zuber's. Or perhaps it is his problem. The second movement is soporific. Again, that could be just me... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

How can the opening of the 3rd movement be so underwhelming? AND an accidental E-flat instead of E in the WORST possible place... sigh. Not helping his cause here, I'm afraid. However I'll listen to his Tchaikovsky with interest. I hope it has more personality than this Mozart. Perhaps he's holding back. Well the concerto sounds like misplaced Rachmaninoff again. Sigh. Afraid I'm not convinced. He's dropping loads of notes too. I did hear this part of Ran Dank's performance and it absolutely left this one in the dust. G.W. likes it, because of the 'intellect'. Really? sigh...

I hope that Konstantin Shamray has some inspiring pianism to keep me awake. Well this is at least a bit more interesting. There's not a lot to say, it's pretty smooth and flawless. It doesn't jump out at me, however, that might just be a good thing. Wonderful crispness of attack, beautifully phrased and polished. Not overtly muscular. Lovely first movement. Oh there is some exquisite playing in the slow movement. It's interesting and beautiful.

My hope has been fulfilled! I'm awake and enjoying this very much. Thank you, Mr. Shamray!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

SIPCA Mozart... take 1!

Ran Dank has just finished a very well-received Mozart D minor.

I wish I'd heard the rest of it, only managed to catch half of the final movement. Ah well. I was actually watching Scrubs on Foxtel... nothing like a bit of silly comedy!

Pity, though, I missed probably the one pianist I'd really like to see win this thing. Well anyway I'll hear his Prokofiev 3, which will be something to behold I'm sure.

G. W. likes it. he's saying MASTERFUL. I wish I'd heard it. Whoops.

Next we have Tomoki Kitamura, who will play the first of the two G major concerti he has chosen.

I have had several glasses of red wine, and am rather head-fuzzy so my commentary may become less than lucid. Then again, it might just get better!!!

Nicholas Milton is talking talking talking. I want to hear Tomoki!

OK here we go. K 453 in G major. Very nice. Very clean. Excellent choice for him. Pretty flawless and beautiful so far. Very nice 1st movement cadenza.

Just spilled red wine on self, must clean up before posting further. Oops!

Loved the 1st movement. 2nd movement has wonderful simplicity and directness. There's a boldness of attack that I very much like. Boldness and delicacy. There's not a lot else to say. Or I can't think of it anyway.

3rd movement is whizzing by in a very pleasant manner. I like Mr. Kitamura's playing very much. I don't know if it inspires devotion in me, but it is nice all the same. I certainly envy his ability to not make mistakes. Something I never quite mastered.

Audience loves it. I'm sure I love it too... or am I? Hmm. He's no John Chen, but he's damn good for his age. Mind you he is small and cute-looking which the punters always like. G. W. is back now. He likes it. Of course. Apparently it suited Tomoki very well. Yes. I think so too.
Except G. W. doesn't like it as much as he liked Ran Dank I think. Me neither, I think. However I am not so sure.

I don't care so much anymore, now that Mariangela Vacatello and Hoang Pham aren't in it anymore. Or maybe it's the red wine? Wheeeeeee!

OK. Interval. So. I didn't like The Piano Shop on the Left Bank when I read it myself. I like it even less when I hear someone else reading it. Oh thank goodness it's over.

Oh GOOD! Tatiana Kolesova. She better not be vanilla, or I'll scream. She's convincing me thus far. It's full of passion and vitality. Chocolate, maybe. Cherries? Hmm.
Oh yes. I like a cadenza that goes to the furthest possible key (E flat major) immediately! Very good. Some dropped notes but who cares? I sure don't. Especially given I can't do it myself so who am I to criticise?

In fact, one could say that about this entire blog. Therefore I retract that comment.

Yes. This is nice, but I liked what I heard of Ran Dank better. Yup. definitely. He's my new pick, based on tonight's head-fuzzy observations. However, this is a romantic, soulful interpretation from Ms. Kolesova, that has many meritous qualities. Is that a word? Well it is now.

Audience is going madly crazy! the deep voice of Gerard is now upon us. He says she was more physical and muscular than Ran Dank and he thinks overstated. Fair enough. Yes, agreed that it's very capable. He thinks Mozart isn't her. Fair enough.

Well. That's it for my red wine-induced commentary for this evening! Back tomorrow!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Similar - but different.

Over the weekend I found myself partaking of the delights offered by an International Film Festival, whilst visiting a friend in another city. We used the "eenie, meenie, miney, mo" method of film selection, which worked out quite well.

Friday evening we watched The Truth about Queen Raquela, which was based on true events surrounding Raquela, a Ladyboy living in Cebu City, Phillipines, who desires to go to Europe and make a new life for herself (and meet the man of her dreams). Not everything went quite to plan for her, but she acquitted herself with the utmost grace and seems a very warm-hearted, humorous person. We enjoyed it thoroughly.

Saturday we ended up seeing "811", a Singaporean musical about a Getai group called the Papaya sisters. The movie description gave us the idea it would be fluffy bubblegum with little real story - not at all. As well as being incredibly colourful and full of joy, there was a much darker side to the story which we didn't expect but found very welcome.

Two great films that I probably wouldn't normally go and see, but I'm glad I did.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Not too sure why they picked the six they did. 

Where is Hoang Pham? Yoon Soo Rhee

Hmm. Whatever. I can't see a clear winner from this six. Bring back 2004, when it was all easy and exciting.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's been an interesting afternoon session of SIPCA semifinals...

Miyeon Lee gave us some seductive Scriabin, bite-less Beethoven, fascinating Holliger, and an up-and-down Dante Sonata. I find much to enjoy in her playing, but much to quibble with also. Her Dante had me jumping out of my skin at times, only to fall so very flat at others. I still find her an interesting artist, however, so I wouldn't mind seeing her progress.

Charlie Albright brought us the Archduke Trio, which was a bit young-sounding, although beautifully played. He is an interesting musician, that is for sure. Yet... still I'm not 100% convinced.

Yoon Soo Rhee is well and truly besting her countrywoman. I'm glad I'm listening to her in the afternoon, because I am enjoying her playing THOROUGHLY. Especially the Five Klavierstucke by Yun, which were very fine indeed. Not music I'm familiar with, but I'd like to be. Her Ravel is also extremely fine - Oiseaux tristes a dark rainbow of colour; Une barque given an exciting, stormy feel; and the Alborada full of passion and virtuosity. It lacks some of the polish given to it by Hoang Pham, however, so I'll have to put it in second place thus far. Her Beethoven, to start, was beautifully shaded... yet so full of presence. So much presence!

Well, well, this is a great Rigoletto-Paraphrase! One that singers could keep up with, for the most part! Scintillating fingerwork, and gorgeous singing melodic lines. I am a fan. BRAVO, Yoon Soo Rhee. A wonderful, wonderful recital!

I admire female pianists who aren't afraid to (or are capable of) making a big sound, with big ideas and DARING.

Now we have Eric Zuber, with the Mendelssohn Trio in D minor. Thank goodness not everyone's playing it this time... in 2000 and 2004, this and the Arensky were almost all anybody did. This year there's a bit more variety, however, there are quite a few Brahms B minor...

So far, so good. He seems to be attentive to his strings, even with all the bubbling notes of the Mendelssohn piano part. I like this better than I liked his last recital. Gorgeous second movement. A beautifully shaped performance that was attentive and a pleasure to listen to. Nothing like his crash, bang, bash performance of the Nutcracker suite!

I'm listening, but...

I'm going away tomorrow, for the weekend, and have stuff to do. So my update will be less comprehensive this time, and after the fact as opposed to a running commentary.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

SIPCA Semifinal 2

Mariangela Vacatello was well into her Beethoven E major sonata by the time I'd managed to turn on the radio this evening. So I missed my favourite part, the first movement.

I'm a bit head-fuzzy this evening, so when I found myself thinking "This Beethoven sounds a bit too much like Chopin" I realised that she had, in fact, moved on to the Chopin Scherzo in E major, which was very fine indeed. Virtuosic, romantic, open-hearted playing. Simply gorgeous. The Beethoven had a few rough edges, but she certainly meant every note. I like her. It's easy to see how she's won a few 2nd prizes in major competitions but not a 1st... she's not careful enough to win. Then again, John Chen was a winner and he's hardly careful...

Now we have Gaspard de la nuit. Ondine starts beautifully - I am biased, perhaps, because she's a woman.

*side note - I was practicing the piano this afternoon and reacquainting myself with the considerable difficulties of this piece. I've been playing it for almost ten years now, performed it numerous times and there is still much to learn and grasp about it.
It's unfolding just as I like it. Yes, this is glorious playing, absolutely spot-on. Full of colour and lightness. Surprising, after hearing her full-throttle (and slightly messy) Beethoven, that she's capable of such feather-light Ravel. Also, Ms. Vacatello is completely on top of the technical difficulties, especially those nasty double intervals! Very impressive. She's nailed the climax - a few dropped notes, but just the right feeling, so it doesn't matter.

This is a living, breathing, feminine Ondine.

Le Gibet gives me chills immediately. This is leaving Sergei Saratovsky's reading in the dust, I'm afraid. The tolling bell is ominously clear at all times, no matter what else is going on. I almost feel like blocking my ears to shut the bells out. Which is exactly what I should feel like. It's just wonderful. Not over-romanticised. Not stretched out. Simple, dark, and chilling. Perfect.

Scarbo's quietly creeping out from under the bed... Goodness me. How WONDERFUL! Ms. Vacatello is taking risks, giving it space to breathe, and it is wonderfully imaginative. I LOVE IT! She's so in control of this she's capable of playing around with it. That's a tough ask. A couple of bung notes, but in the pursuit (and catching) something absolutely incredible. I hope it doesn't hurt her chances of a finals berth - she's a wonderful artist.

Oh, wow. I absolutely adored that Gaspard. She's got my vote.

Daniil Tsvetkov is turning out a very idiomatic Shostakovich E minor. I love this trio, in fact it was a subject of obsession in my mid-teens. The first movement was very exciting, but it didn't really breathe. A bit rushed. Wow, I thought the first was rushed. The second is so fast the violinist can barely manage it. Mr. Tsvetkov is handling it very well, however. It's exciting, although I'd prefer a bit more rough-edged in this movement. It's a sort of brutal, crushing dance, and I'm not feeling that. It all seems a bit "Let's just go for it and I'll (hopefully) see you at the end". I'm not sold. I wasn't really sold on this pianist yesterday, either. It's very rushed. He sort of makes it work but not quite.

The chords at the opening of the third movement are too ostentatiously dramatic for my liking. Sorry, Mr. Tsvetkov, I don't buy it. It's like a soapie actor 'doing Shakespeare'. Well, now that the strings have come in, it's a bit more believable. I'd like the fourth movement to be ominous yet darkly funny, but I'm not sure I'll get my wish. Nope. It's just a bit harsh. Pity.

The really great competitors (whether they win or not) make something magical in the chamber music stage. This isn't it. Finally we have some excitement happening, but whether it's due to the pianist or the music itself, I can't be sure. The cruel, mocking waltz just comes across as a bit nice. Oh, well.

Gerard Willems and I certainly concur on Ms. Vacatello's Gaspard. Surprise of all surprises, we also concur about Mr. Tsvetkov. Two for two! That's unusual.

Takashi Sato, on the Kawai, starts with Beethoven Op.27 no.1 in E flat. I'm a bit bored, which surprises me with this pianist. He's been so interesting thus far.

Bored, then startled. It's all a bit nice! What's happening?? Oh, here we go, with the martial theme of the 2nd movement he hits his stride. Now I'm listening. The rest of the sonata is excellent. Very interesting indeed, and impeccably well-handled.

The Chopin begins gorgeously, yet it seems pallid after hearing Mariangela Vacatello. It is very tender, expressive playing, all the same. However I keep tuning in and out. Is it my short attention span, or is it Mr. Sato's playing? Not quite sure. It is poetic, and lovely, but slightly pallid. Well, the second movement finds Mr. Sato much more in his element with its sparkling filigree. Gorgeous! Exciting!

The slow movement is... square. It's lovely, but Chopin needs more air to please my ears. It's so perfectly rhythmical. Why? If I want to hear perfectly defined quavers, I'll listen to Bach. I will allow Mr. Sato this - he makes a lovely sound. Quite feminine, actually. Not harsh or driven.

Why does the incredibly exciting final movement sound drab? This is not easy to do. I once heard a very drab pianist play this and I still enjoyed it more than this. Maybe Mr. Sato is tired. There's no triumphance (I just invented that word) in the cascading semiquavers, although they are perfectly in place. The audience loved it, but they're loving everyone by this stage.

Oh, dear. Didn't grab me at all. Nothing like when John Chen played it back in 2004. I was there in the audience, and I was spellbound. (Yeah, yeah, broken record...)

Ran Dank now. Brahms trio again. One of my favourite competitors. Hopefully he will remain so. Immediately it's obvious that he is a sensitive collaborative musician, he's really with his strings. This is chamber music. I'm a bit spellbound. I don't even have much to say, it's gorgeous. I don't really know the piece well enough to go into detailed comment.

However, this is by far the finest chamber music performance so far. I shall end this post on that note.

My comments on John Chen's Ravel Trio in 2004

I should have known. With all my compliments to Charisse Baldoria's Ravel piano trio (and it was indeed respectably lovely), John Chen's blew it out of the water!! John Chen is the man. Without a doubt. Luckily I had the presence of mind to stick a tape in the machine and record his chamber music. I just had a feeling it would be something special. From the moment it started, you could sense his complete control and love of every note in every phrase. You knew that he was always aware of the string parts and exactly what they were supposed to be doing. The ensemble was impeccable. Thing is, the competitors got very little rehearsal time with the strings, therefore most of the chamber music performances have been fairly perfunctory with little sense of real ensemble. Not so John Chen's. His wonderful musical spirit obviously uplifted the string players he worked with and there were a lot of moments where it felt like real teamwork and not just three people playing at the same time. The colours, the expression, the overall shape of the music, was all just something to glory in constantly. I was tidying my room and packing for my trip while listening, and I found myself frozen still because I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was in this state of disbelief until he finished the piece and when the audience started cheering (and they ERUPTED!) I couldn't help myself, I just jumped up and down like a loony. I had tears in my eyes, it was such an amazing performance. It was some of the most convincing Ravel playing I have ever heard, and I'm a hard one to please when it comes to Ravel. So I listened for Gerard Willems' comments and he was similarly flabbergasted and said it was "an astounding performance on every level." And then I found out HE PLAYED THE WHOLE THING FROM MEMORY! Gaaaah! I mean, the Chamber Music is the only thing it's *not* compulsory to memorise! And nobody ever memorises chamber music because it's so risky! He must have a photographic memory because to remember *all those notes* in the piano part and also the string parts to make sure everything fits in perfectly (which it did, at no point was the ensemble the slightest bit disurbed) is a really titanic feat. What a talent. I was saying yesterday that I can see John Chen being a major international artist in a few years. *shakes head* I'm just so astounded by his playing. And I get to hear him in recital tonight! Whee! I can't even describe the feeling of elation I felt after hearing his performance yesterday. It was a truly special thing. John Chen was transcendent. Now there's someone who really really really REALLY understands Ravel on every level.

(As you can see, I was quite enamoured. As I still am and probably always will be.)

SIPCA Semi-Final 1

Hoang Pham is playing Schubert as we speak and I'm happy to mention his first few minutes has me utterly converted. I feel the artistry now. Such glorious sound and, as another blogger has already said, "pure poetry". I misjudged him on hearing his Chopin Scherzo, which I didn't like. Even Argerich has performances that I don't like...

This, I like VERY much. The first movement was perfectly structured, warm and gentle. It's so very beautiful. I'm floating away on clouds of bliss. (Not something I ever thought I'd say about this pianist). I'm happy to admit that I was extremely wrong. This is some of the best playing I've heard in the whole competition. The variety of tonal shading is astonishing. I don't think he dropped a single note in the whole sonata. Absolutely breathtaking. The last two chords seemed somehow out of place, but that's a very minor quibble with a stunning performance.

He's playing three Ravel pieces next: Une barque sur l'ocean (my old warhorse), Alborada del gracioso and La vallee des cloches (my old anti-warhorse). I'm very, VERY picky about my Ravel, and I'm hoping he measures up. If he does, I'll have a new favourite.

Oh yes. The perfect pearly tone for Une barque. Chills of delight.

I'm utterly spellbound. I would've liked more bite at one point, but it's so exquisitely crafted that I'll pass on the bite this time. A few dropped notes, nothing major, just reminds us of the incredible difficulty of this piece. It's so slippery. I can vouch for that... Evenness in the right hand arpeggios that I can only dream of. Limpid and glorious. The nasty g minor section is near-flawless. Nice build to the climactic point, which is just... oh, so beautifully done.

I have a new favourite, and I'll make the bold pronouncement that if he continues to play like this, and there's any justice in the world, he will win this competition.

Ideally, I'd like more Spanish passion in the Alborada, but it's GORGEOUS. Oh there we go, he's letting it out a bit. I like that. Strike my earlier comment, he's got it just right. For a competitor who rarely drops a note, he's had a few slips in the Ravel. Which just goes to show how HARD Ravel is. Actually I've rarely heard anyone make such light work of this treacherous piece. I tried to tackle it, but quickly lost interest due to an extreme case of 'can't be bothered'. Mr. Pham, however, can be bothered and did a marvellous job.

Don't even need to comment about La Vallee. It's right up his alley and utterly superlative.

Wow. The Hough (I'm assuming this means Stephen?) arrangement of the Radetzky March is just wonderful. It's almost over and I hadn't managed to type. BRAVO, Hoang Pham.

Konstantin Shamray leads off the Chamber Music section with Brahms B major. He doesn't seem to be quite with his string players, although his playing is beautifully warm.

It doesn't grab me. So therefore I find it difficult to objectively assess its merits because my mind is wandering. Sorry.

Perhaps this has something to do with the extreme cold in my house.

Well, Mr. Shamray has done himself justice. It just doesn't excite me. I feel bad not being excited by such warm, passionate playing, but I'm just not. I don't think the failing is mine, in this case. Gerard Willems liked it, though...

Tomoki Kitamura must be an old, old soul. Remarkable maturity, allied with flawless technique and attack. Brilliant. Grieg's Holberg Suite is an inspired choice. Mr. Kitamura is inspiring in his choice of Grieg's Holberg Suite. Now we have Schubert, Op 122 in E flat major. I'm not familiar with this piece, but Mr. Kitamura represents its beauty in a splendid manner. He is such a unique musician, which I adore. Not quite as shiny and pretty as Hoang Pham, perhaps, but equally gifted, if not more so, perhaps... ageless genius, as yet still a little undeveloped. Such depth of feeling in the slow movement. It's playing like this that makes me wonder whether Mr. Kitamura has a lifetime of untapped sadness to draw from. Ran Dank is another pianist whose playing inspires thoughts of a not-so-happy life. I could be completely wrong about this, but it's certainly an interesting thought. I'm enjoying the Schubert immensely, but am most looking forward to the Stravinsky Firebird Suite which closes his program. The tone this young man produces is miraculous. Just beautiful, and I suspect not lacking in power.

I really do like Schubert. This is a bit of a new revelation to me. I've always preferred the flashier stuff in the past.

Here we go. Stravinsky. Tricky stuff. Well, not so as you'd notice with Mr. Kitamura. Wow. Goosebumps. More like cold chills, perhaps. Such wonderful rhythmic thrust! I don't know the piece well so I can't say absolutely, but it sounds like all the notes are firmly in place. It's exciting stuff. Another inspired choice. THUNDEROUS! I'd love to be in the York Theatre right now. Magical playing. BRAVO!
I'd love to see Hoang Pham and Tomoki Kitamura go straight through to the final six. They've been absolutely inspirational today.

(Yet still, nobody grabs me the way John Chen did four years ago. Then again, I can't expect that to happen all the time...)

Tatiana Kolesova is essaying the Ravel Piano Trio shortly. This is always interesting. Last time there were two performances - one quite acceptable by Charisse Baldoria, and one simply outstanding, superlative, wonderful, amazing, genius by John Chen.
Ms. Kolesova begins beautifully, but that's not difficult to do in this piece. She is right with her strings, however. The first movement is beautiful. Just as I expected from this wonderful pianist. Still one of my favourites. I am loving this.
The Pantoum movement is swinging along. Perfect clarity and wonderful sound. It lacks a little bite, though. I just long for John Chen. But, when do I not? Especially in Ravel. Ms. Kolesova is playing well, very well indeed... but I didn't buy that movement. Now for the true heart and soul of the work - the slow movement. Ravel wasn't a happy man... you can tell. Not so impressed with her handling of the introductory theme. It could have a lot more heart and gravitas.
This is highly, highly competent. However this music, for me, has a deep sense of irretrievable loss, which is missing here. Still, I'm crying. This music, no matter how it's played, makes me cry without fail. This is a superbly crafted performance well worthy of accolades. And yet... I think John Chen's performance in 2004 ruined me for life... I hope I can find the cassette I recorded it on. I'd love to listen again, even though it's permanently etched in my mind's ear.

Well. The final movement. A killer. Ambitious tempo - fast. It's beautiful, shiny, sparkling even, but I still long for John Chen. Perhaps I should stop judging other pianists against one who isn't even in this year's competition, and go and buy some CDs to feed my musical obsession.

Oh, come on, Ms. Kolesova! I liked you so much, and you're boring me in this most exciting of final movements. It's such good playing, but I'm BORED! (I feel like a small child, but hey, it's my right!) I don't understand the dramatic slow-down, either. Why? Started too fast maybe? It takes away a lot of impact. Oh dear. In the completely DEMENTED crazy chords, it's just slow and impactless. Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I should be jumping out of my skin right now. I want to be excited in the triumphant ending chords, but it's all just too darned facile. I'm getting passionate about this, but for the wrong reasons. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! The music itself is amazing, but she's taken the edge off. Such a shame. Well, the audience cheered. I didn't want to. Sorry.

OK. Now I'm going to hunt down commentary I wrote about John Chen's Ravel four years ago, to compare. That's the end of the afternoon session. Time for some practice of my own. Inferiority complex, here we come!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

8 out of 12 - not bad!

So I didn't pick Daniil Tsvetkov, Charlie Albright, Yoon Soo Rhee or Eric Zuber. Fine players, but didn't do it for me. Well at least I get my wish of hearing Yoon Soo Rhee at a kinder time of day.

I'm silly, anyway, because I forgot to put Sergei Saratovsky on my list. His Gaspard was quite excellent. Perhaps the rest of his program let him down. Of the other four I chose, I'm most disappointed by the loss of Sean Chen, followed by Alexey Yemtsov.

Ah well. The proof is in the pudding.

My picks - let's see how many I get!

Tomoki Kitamura
Mariangela Vacatello
Hoang Pham (he seems to be well-liked, anyway)
Alexey Yemtsov
Jose Menor (despite the Vine)
Miyeon Lee
Takashi Sato
Ran Dank
Tatiana Kolesova
Konstantin Shamray
Sean Chen
Christopher Devine (I'm curious)

More SIPCA Stage III

After lunch, it's Charlie Albright, American wunderkind, on the Steinway piano. Such crispness of attack in his Haydn Hob XVI/32 in B minor. This strikes me as a wonderful sonata on first hearing. The opening figurations are played with much humour and character. Dynamic contrasts are clear and it is simply delightful playing.

Yet it seems that Mr. Albright's youth is more obvious than John Chen's was, or Tomoki Kitamura for a current example. He has polish and talent in abundance, yet seems to be a fantastic young player as opposed to an ageless genius. I must confess to being slightly disinterested after a few minutes. Everything's in the right place, it's all so... right... and yet all I can do is look forward to his Chopin Etudes and hope that the rightness stops and the inspiration begins. A bit of harsh sound and uneven passagework in the final movement mars what is otherwise pleasant and delightful. Yet, somehow, adds to the excitement.

Well, the Beethoven (Movements 3&4 of Sonata Op.101) certainly starts interestingly. Here is the mystery the Haydn lacked. It's quite breathtaking. Until he ruins it with harshness of tone when the moving thirds come back in. Mr. Albright's tone can be beguiling, but under pressure turns metallic and this isn't so appealing.

Another Smalley Morceaux de Concours... this is the messiest reading, still interesting, and very youthful. Quite harsh in tone. I'd love to hear Mr. Albright again in a few years, I think he will develop into a very fine artist.

Wow, this is aggressive Chopin. Very. A selection of Etudes. I am craving soft edges and beautiful sound, yet knowing that they are very technically polished and, in a way, musical. It's just not my sort of Chopin.

I don't really imagine hearing him in the semifinals, but I may well be surprised. The sixths etude is full of flash and dash, which usually goes down well... Octaves etude is thunderous. My question is: why so many extraneous accents? I've played this one myself and know how hard it is, but Mr. Albright seems well in command so this doesn't make any sense from a technical point of view.

Well, the crowd loves him.

Another American youngster, Sean Chen, is up now and immediately makes a more positive impression. Interestingly, he has chosen an array of lieder and opera transcriptions. At last, somebody who has listened to the vocal lines. Die Forelle sings, sparkles and floats beautifully. Such warmth of tone, virtuosic yet not obviously so, and an enormous range of dynamic variation. So refreshingly human and real!

Playing like this makes me believe that he loves vocal music, and would be a very fine singer's accompanist. Very interesting.

I find it's easy to tell when a pianist truly loves and identifies with the repertoire they are playing, as opposed to "I'm playing this because it's a great competition piece" or "my teacher said this would be a good choice". There's so little of the former and so much of the latter.

Oh, yes. I love this pianist. The Smalley is colourful, exciting and spellbinding.

The opening of his Mozart (KV 333, a favourite of mine) is somehow very masculine. I like this approach. Clean textures, warm tone and a smile in the sound. The more I hear Mr. Chen, the more I am convinced that he chose pieces he loves to play. He seems a little rushed in the semiquaver passages here and there, but that only detracts in a minor way. The second movement is beautifully judged. Not too slow.

I keep wanting to use the word 'sparkling' to describe this movement, yet I am well aware I have used that word a lot today. So I shall merely leave it at that and allow my readers to draw their own conclusions.

The beautiful and elusive Chopin A flat major Ballade is next, and it's unmannered, straightforward, and full of lightness. I like this approach - so different to the search for profundity this piece often encounters from lesser musicians (I have been guilty of this crime myself...). In Mr. Chen's hands, this piece is full of whimsy at first, and a slightly darker side begins to reveal itself as it moves to the minor mode. The sound quality is just right. Sharp enough yet still warm and welcoming. This is not a particularly serious work in his hands, and I like that! It is a beautiful song, as it should be. It's so finely structured that it all makes perfect sense and leaves me hanging on every note.
And the R. Strauss/Godowsky Standchen - simply perfect.
I hope very much that Sean Chen will be in the next round, and the next. I think he is another ageless musician, mature beyond his years. The audience wasn't quite as enthusiastic, but somehow I think that cheers and foot-stamps after the Strauss/Godowsky isn't quite the appropriate thing...

After the break, Sergei Saratovsky begins with the rather startling Haydn Hob XVI/37 in D major. He is another pianist I like immediately. Lovely clarity and full of sunshine! I'm glad I like him, because he is playing Gaspard de la nuit later, and if that's not good, he's immediately lost points with me. The Haydn is bubbling along nicely, full of brio, a little unevenness in the fingerwork but not enough to really grate. I'm curious about his choice of a rather hard tone in the slow movement. Well, he softened it, but by that point I'd lost interest a little. The last movement flies by at a cracking pace. The word that keeps popping into my head, however, is 'rude'. It's a bit insolent at times, when I feel it should be chivalrous and charming.

Although I began by immediately liking Mr. Saratovsky, my feelings are a little more mixed now. We shall see... He's a very bold musical personality, which may or may not translate well to Gaspard.

The Smalley is, well, the Smalley. I'm getting a little bored with it to be honest. It's a great piece, but I can only listen to it so many times. The fast fingerwork is beautifully handled, and the dissonant chordal passage makes me wince a bit, as I feel it should! I must get around to downloading the score so I can make more informed comments.

The opening of Ondine is not quite the shimmering gossamer I desire, yet it's pretty decent. I tend to dislike men playing this piece, it's so very feminine, even though written by a man. Oh, now it's getting better as we get past the first page. It's very fine, but a little harsh-toned for my liking. Perhaps in the hall it is sweeter.

It's just a bit boxy and bangy for Ondine. Commendably well-handled, however, with much to recommend. It's just that... the climactic moment doesn't sound like a woman scorned. And why rush the last few systems before her plaintive plea? And yet, the final page is so beautifully articulated. If the rest of the piece had been like this... heavenly. Disappears in a shower of droplets. Le Gibet... now he's in his element here. This is masterful. Chills me to the bone. Scarbo is fabulous. It's slick, sharp and dangerous. Edgy and unbalanced in just the right way, and so sinister. This Scarbo jumps right out of the piano! I can see him... Strangely, here we have the gossamer I so desired with Ondine. Chills and shivers all the way to the end! I want to jump out of my seat and cheer!

The verdict? Yes please. I want to hear Mr. Saratovsky again. His boldness is incredibly intriguing.

Eric Zuber, another fine American pianist, begins with Mozart K330. It's very nice, but I'm not captured, despite a beautiful slow movement which is full of cantabile. He seems to skate on the surface of his emotions. And now he's speeding through the final movement... I think I'd like to hear him live. There's a hardness about Mr. Zuber's tone that I don't much like, however, I'd be interested to know whether that's a quirk of the broadcast. The Smalley, with benefit of a score, is messy, and the semiquavers marked 'very clearly' are... not. However it looks like a fiend to play, so I have respect for anyone who can do it!

Now for the Nussknacker... Well, he certainly has the fingers for it. Can't fault him there. Sugarplum fairy dances rather cutely. It's a bit facile for my liking, however. And a bit messy, especially compared with Rem Urasin's gargantuan effort four years past.

I'm not sold on Eric Zuber, but he intrigues me... I wouldn't mind hearing him again. It will be very interesting to see who the judges choose.

SIPCA Stage III continued...

Two Russians to start the morning, both 23 years old, very different indeed.

Konstantin Shamray, I must confess, was listened to through a sleepy haze. I enjoyed his Shostakovich. Wonderful control, great aural presence. Big sound. The Smalley was also excellent. Mozart, unfortunately, I don't remember much about. Not Mr. Shamray's fault but mine - no coffee yet! Definitely a very fine Schumann player, full of heart and wonder. Gorgeous recital which I enjoyed very much despite my lack of consciouness...

Tatiana Kolesova. Well, I finally have a favourite. She certainly woke me up with her Wanderer-Fantaisie. Such a colourful performance! On the edge, yet still completely in control. Demented! (In the best possible way) I wanted to stand up and cheer. Haydn was totally idiomatic and flowed like the most beautiful clear stream. I adored it. The Smalley was, in my mind, the very best performance so far. Every moment was sparkling and compelling. Gerard Willems quibbled with her final choice, a Kapustin Concert Study (very jazzy), but I LOVED it. The Audience clearly loved it, too.

I don't have a lot to say, because I just thought she was wonderful.

Now we have Daniil Tsvetkov from Kazakhstan. Opening with Haydn, Sonata Hob XVI/20 in C minor. I like his sound very much. I think it's a little too meaty, though. Very fine playing, wonderful sense of line and phrasing, yet I feel it's a little too heavy-handed. I'm not sure why I feel this way, because to listen objectively it doesn't necessarily sound that way. It just strikes me as heavy-handed even though his textures are clean and beautiful. Perhaps it's the piano.

It's just not grabbing me, I'm afraid. Except for some wonderfully fleet fingerwork in the final movement.

Now the Andrew Ford is a different story entirely. It's the most gripping account of the work I've heard. Completely different to other interpretations - grander, somehow, and darker. I like it very much. Mr. Tsvetkov has won me over with this. Wonderful textures!

The Mozart/Liszt Reminiscences de Don Juan starts promisingly, with a great sense of drama, but seems rather overpedalled. A great intensity, however. I did not expect to say this about a Liszt transcription, but I find myself wanting delicacy in the fingerwork. It's very powerful and clean, yet somehow I want more sparkle!

Now, I'm wondering if he's ever listened to La ci darem la mano... There's no difference between Zerlina and Don G except the fact they're written in diffent octaves. This is not a pianistic exercise, and Liszt would not have wanted it so. Ahhh here we go, some beautiful delicacy in the fingerwork. A softer tone quality, finally. Glorious relief! I still wish he'd studied the opera a little more, though. Well here I am making rash pronouncements. I could be completely wrong...

Such wonderful bravura pianism, though! Really exciting and certainly not as bombastic as Lang Lang (thank goodness for that). But Finch'han del vino doesn't sound very bubbly. I get that it's really hard to play, but come on! Bubbles! It got a bit... bangy in the final pages. The audience loved it, though.

Interesting that I've written much about a pianist I like less than Ms. Kolesova, and comparatively little about her.

I look forward very much to Ran Dank, whose first-round performance of Scriabin's "Black Mass" Sonata has been much talked-about. I haven't heard him yet, and have a feeling I'm going to like him. Oh, yes. Immediately. Mozart KV570 - big Mozart. It's wonderful. He's playing the Yamaha, if my ears don't deceive me. Singing tone, total control, such wonderment! I have another favourite, and he's only been going for 30 seconds. Refinement and substance all in one.

It seems I have less to say about playing that I really like, for I've been silent for a good ten minutes now. Enthralling. The slow movement is very spiritual, the tone a neverending string of lustrous pearls.

*shrug* I'm quite speechless.

Now we have scintillating Smalley. Mr. Smalley stated this morning that he felt none of the competitors had quite managed what he was after. Perhaps this is it? Certainly a persuasive reading. Grittier, darker, more compelling. I love that Mr. Dank doesn't hide behind the sustain pedal. It adds colour without subtracting articulation. What a technique this man has, yet I'm so often unaware of it because the music is so present.

I just gasped when he opened the Rachmaninoff B flat minor sonata. I can't even breathe properly, this is so magical. Pointedly expressive. This is saying something, not just flurries of (admittedly beautiful) notes. Oh, magical. Everything has its place, its own special meaning. Technique ceases to exist. Such darkness!

I will close this post by saying that Ran Dank is an utterly superlative pianist and I have no doubt I will be listening to him again.

Monday, July 21, 2008

SIPCA, Stage III, Evening Session

Having been out this evening due to one of my own musical pursuits, I recorded SIPCA and am trawling through it now. Trawling sounds like such an onerous task... and this is far from onerous, I assure you.

First up is Englishman Christopher Devine, who I found rather unobjectionable in the first round. He's won quite a swag of prizes in the past, therefore I was immediately disposed not to like him. A stupid quirk of mine...

His Mozart (KV 311 in D major) is passing me by and leaving a hint of sweet scent in the air. I mean that exactly as I say it. His tone is sweet, fingers fleet, yet the structure on the whole is lacking meat. The first movement was rather too facile for my liking, despite its very obvious merits. The second movement seems to suffer from too little tonal variation.

That said, however, there is much to commend his playing. Devine interests me. Such refinement isn't easy to acquire. The third movement is extremely polished, with transparently luscious texture and - oh, there we go, a bit of meaty bass for just a moment.

I'm a bit more of a realist about my Mozart, though. Yes, his piano sonatas are absolutely beautiful creations, full of sunshine and spun sugar, yet we must remember he also wrote Don Giovanni...

On the whole, a delightful, shining Mozart sonata with much to enjoy.

I find Mr. Devine's tone very beautiful. His Andrew Ford work is much more satisfying than the Mozart to my ears. Perhaps this is because he is also a composer, according to the website. He seems to have an instinctive feel for this idiom, and is making more sense of the work than others I have heard thus far.
Finally, the teeth are coming out. Quite a lot of bite, and a few more spiky textures. I would've liked some in the Mozart, too. The Ford is an oil painting, in sharp contrasts. The Mozart was more a neutral watercolour. Exquisite in its own way, yet commanded less attention.

I am certainly interested in his Prokofiev (Sonata in B flat, Op.83), one of my favourites and a fiend to pull off... It sounds like he's played it a million times. The whole thing is so well-controlled. I yearn for a slightly unbalanced wildness, which is not in evidence here. It is, however, beautifully voiced. The first movement sounds like the second sounds like the third. The dark dissonances are the same colour as the deceptively smooth E-major opening of the 2nd movement. It is sinister in its simplicity, yet this is just - pretty. Pretty Prokofiev? I'm not sure. The 3rd movement, which I adore, is so well under his control that I just know he's not going to miss a single note.
I just wish he WOULD! I find this pianist intriguing and would love to hear him more. I'd like to see him muss up his hair. Take a few risks... although it sounds like he has a technique that means nothing is really risky for him. Lucky man. Well, I want to hear him again.

Now on to the second performer of the night - Japan's Takashi Sato, who I hear has fingers of steel.

Starting with Couperin (Les roseaux), which I wasn't familiar with. Glorious opening - captured me immediately. This man creates a 3-dimensional landscape, with wonderful variety of attack and colour. Articulation is brilliant when called for and suitably languid otherwise. This is playing with real heart and naturalness.

The Roger Smalley set work is similarly interesting. I really enjoyed this piece, and found this interpretation convincing and theatrical.

The Clementi Sonata in G, Op.37 no.2 is finely spun and beautifully crafted yet Mr. Sato is not afraid of a spiky texture here and there! He takes the basically decent sound of the Kawai piano and weaves dreams out of it. Technically, he is beyond reproach. I like this pianist very much.
The 2nd movement is not quite as successful. I want it to sing more, yet it's a bit square and boxy. At odds with the rest of his playing. Still beautiful, and yet... The opening of the 3rd movement makes me smile instantly, and that smile remains throughout. It's full of humour and cheekiness, which strikes me as just right. It certainly whets my appetite for the Bartok!

BARTOK! Oh, yes! My first thought was "too fast", but within a few seconds I just grinned. It had just the right feel. Enough country and enough refinement. Spiky, interesting textures, transparent yet chunky. Love the ending of the first movement. The slow movement is suitably stark... oh, I just love this guy. However I would've liked more gravitas in the final phrases of the slow movement. Well... the 3rd movement is very exciting! Great build and shape, not too smoothed-out. Now this is the kind of demented I wanted from Christopher Devine. Can't type for being so enthralled. Wow.

Miyeon Lee from South Korea is next, beginning with Haydn (HobXVI/46 in A flat major). Beguiling sound and expression. I like her immediately. She's playing the Steinway and somehow manages to avoid the cloying syrupyness I've heard from this piano at other times. It's transparent and crisp. Slow movement is cantabile and crystalline at the same time, a few ungainly left-hand moments notwithstanding. Such a warmth of tone. Final movement is crisp, fresh and exciting.

Ms. Lee has also chosen the Andrew Ford work, and gives it a lovely yet slightly disturbing ambience. I like this approach, more so than Mr. Devine's earlier in the evening. There is more darkness at work here, a greater exploration of the bass register. Plenty of bite yet still a gorgeous tone.

Three pieces by Albeniz to end this excellent recital. Oh, what seductive colouring in the Evocation! I was about to say 'seductive and evocative' then I checked the title and realised that Ms. Lee is dead on the money with this one. Quite stunning. El Corpus, too, feels absolutely right. The more I hear of this pianist, the more I want to hear. Very impressive. In the final El Albacin, my initial thought is that I'd like to hear her let go a bit more, stretch her limits. She does this to some degree but I'd like more. Perhaps it has more impact in the hall. She certainly has a fine command of style and technique. Not the most powerful or muscular of pianists, yet plenty to enjoy.

Yoon Soo Rhee, also from Korea, is tonight's final competitor. Starting with Haydn's 'English' Sonata. I find myself thinking she needs a touch of Christopher Devine's sound. A little too spiky. Accomplished, but not really to my taste. Final movement is full of excitement and virtuosity.

Another performance of the Andrew Ford. This is, again, more spiky than I would like. A very different approach to the other two performances tonight. Much to enjoy, yet again, not to my taste. Ms. Rhee is clearly a very fine performer, yet I'm not warming to her style.

The Brahms Op.2 Sonata seems an odd competition choice. I've always found it (dare I say) slightly boring, and difficult to bring off. So far, I'm not excited. The music's all a bit bombastic, and she's not making me think otherwise. Oh, it's all very nice. Very accurate, involved playing. I'm just not feeling it. Perhaps this is my shortfall. It is late at night, after all.

I have little to write about the rest of the Brahms, because I didn't have a lot of thoughts during it. I would love to hear Yoon Soo Rhee again at a more reasonable time of day, and see if my opinions change.

Well, it has been a delightful night of listening. Bring on tomorrow!