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!

Well, it's that time again

First post, and I feel it's just so fitting that I can devote it to one of my great, and longstanding interests: the Sydney International Piano Competition.

I've been a somewhat obsessive listener since 2000, and this year finds me a little more ambivalent. I'm only slightly annoyed if I miss hearing a broadcast - it's not a tear-your-hair-out moment like it has been in the past!

I must confess to not really knowing that much about this year's competitors - yet. I've arrived a bit late in the game, due to more pressing issues. (Yes, it's that thing called life again, always getting in the way)

So far, I like Tomoki Kitamura, who is outstanding on any level, but at the tender age of 17 is simply phenomenal. Mariangela Vacatello has also grabbed me, especially in her Liszt etudes.

The Australian contingent are yet to impress me, with the exception of Ukrainian/Australian Alexey Yemtsov, who has that extra something the others lack. "Spirituality" is one description... Imagination, is how I'd put it. I liked him well enough in the 2000 competition, but felt he lacked maturity, which is fair enough, given he's still only 25 now. He's a very interesting musician and I look forward to hearing more of him. Perhaps he'll be the first winner in the name of his adopted home? That would be a great thing indeed.

You would think that in an international piano competition of this stature, one would need imagination to even crack the audition process. Not so, it would seem. The other Australians have failed to impress me AT ALL. Well-schooled, safe, and BORING. That's not the Aussie way! Get into it, fellas! Maybe a beer would loosen them up a bit. No Australian women in the competition either, which is sad, but interesting. Maybe I'll have to dust off my piano and get the kinks out of my fingers before the next one...

Having just heard Jose Menor's Stage III recital, I have a bit to say. When he began, I warmed to him immediately. Interesting, well-thought-out playing with room left for spontaneity. Just how I like it. His Chopin was especially interesting (F# minor Polonaise).

However, he ruined the lot of it by choosing to play Carl Vine's 1st Sonata.

One would be forgiven for assuming I dislike the piece, after my last comment... quite the contrary. In point of fact, it is one of my favourite pieces of music ever written. Vine is a genius, and this piece is a masterwork.

Mr. Menor simply didn't seem to get it.

As I expected, Gerard Willems disagreed with me on this point. Gerard Willems and I rarely seem to agree. In 2004, the first time I heard the Kiwi pianist John Chen, I was hooked. He captured the very essence of my musical heart, and every note he played reinforced this. He played everything exactly how I wish I could play everything, and with so much more imagination and skill. Yet the esteemed Mr. Willems thought the Russian Rem Urasin was the better player. Yes, he was very fine, but John Chen in his transcendent genius could well be the greatest pianist of this century. I will never forget his Ravel Piano Trio. I was cleaning my room at the time, and when it began, I suddenly couldn't move. I stood stock still until it had finished. Utterly hypnotising. When it ended, I was jumping up and down and cheering. Yes. All by myself, in my bedroom. I did something very similar when I saw him perform Rachmaninoff 3 in the concerto final. This time, I was actually at the venue, and it was a little more appropriate... (but muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-um, everyone was doing it!)

Well, back to Jose Menor, and his curious choice.

One word keeps popping into my mind. Why? Such a fine musician, such imagination, technique, IDEAS, and he chooses something that doesn't really show any of that off. Wrong notes all over the place, the whole thing was rushed, messy, monochrome, and the tempi were so far from Carl Vine's indications that I almost started to hyperventilate! I know this piece intimately - have performed it a lot of times myself, and it's one of the most listened-to pieces in my CD collection.

I was disappointed, because I had liked him so much.

The opening, which is eerie and magical in the right hands, went for nothing. Once the rhythms started to build, it failed to breathe. The ecstatic climaxes were a little impotent.

and the second movement? Why?

Where is the joyous beauty, the excitement, the genius that is Vine's First Sonata? It's such a wonderful piece, I had previously thought it would be incredibly difficult to make it sound bad. Even more difficult to make me not like it. This unfortunate pianist almost succeeded in doing so.

Oh, Mr. Menor. I do so hope the jury disagrees with me, because I would love to hear you again.

I am looking forward to the next few days and will no doubt post some better-constructed opinions.