This Cliburn Festival entry written by Gregory Allen, Professor of Piano, University of Texas at Austin, exclusively for Performance Today's Fredlines.
I shall try to adopt more of a Twitter protocol...
If you ask me, Ang Li made a great big 35-minute mistake in programming the Brahms F minor Sonata. It had some beautiful moments, mostly in the slow movement, but now and then she resorted to some pretty obvious faking. She needs to be aware that her soft chords are almost never precisely together. Bass lines are important! Thanks for introducing me to the Toccata by York Bowen - I've heard some other pieces by him, but not this one. It seems an attractive and useful addition to the repertoire.
I think it took Andrea Lam quite a long time to fully get in gear: it wasn't until the 5th piece, In der Nacht, that I felt the emergence of artistry above and beyond the notes. From then on, though, her performance was focused and interesting. I appreciate the effort that goes into playing Granados' Requiebros as well as she did - personally I think it's harder than it's worth. The Maiden and the Nightingale was touching. Aaron Jay Kernis' Superstar Etude left me perplexed; I'd really have to hear it again to form an opinion... I should add that Ms. Lam projected a friendly and appealing stage presence - glad she made the semifinals.
Haochen Zhang is one helluva prodigious talent! His chops are as good as Lang Lang's (OK, maybe not quite as powerful), but the depth of insight he showed in Op. 110 reminded me more of what Kissin demonstrated at the same age. He showed me some unsuspected sequiturs in the Polonaise-Fantaisie - I guess it doesn't have to be as disjointed and neurotic as I've always conceived it. And his Petrouchka, slightly more full-bodied than Ms. Vacatello's, was equally astounding. WOW!
Good grief. Bach's B minor French Overture - 20 minutes - and Schumann's Davidsbündler, a full half-hour. Amy J. Yang's program showed neither the breadth nor depth needed to make a strong impression in a major competition. She's good, don't get me wrong: everything was attractively played, and there were some eloquent moments. But that LOOOONG awkward silence at the end indicated a miscalculation of the audience's seemingly rapt attention...
The Haydn No. 52 E-flat reappeared to begin Yoonjung Han's recital. It was marred by some harsh sounds and little attention to timing and balance. The Chopin Fantasy exhibited an overly literal approach to the score, and while she got certain passages right, others were either brutish or boring or both. The Granados ender was pretty dreary, again calling into question the strategic rationale of these repertoire choices...
Kyu Yeon Kim made a nice first impression, both with her perky persona and her good-humored way with Haydn No. 48 (what a useful piece this is - short but very revealing in many crucial respects). Kreisleriana, yet another of Schumann's lengthy excursions (and my own personal favorite among them), had lots of flair - she really knows what sehr aufgeregt means! - but was not lacking in perceptive insight. I'm inclined to believe that the sleepies that crept over me in Nos. 4 & 6 were not her fault... The Bartok Etudes, treacherous and abstruse as they are, came across very persuasively.
Thanks to a sudden Texas hailstorm Tuesday evening, I was late to the hall and had to experience Yeol Eum Son's performance via the video feed in the theatre across the street. So for the only time I was able to see the player the way many of you do via the video feed. I found it Reeeally distracting. Also for the first time, there were direct comparisons to be made in all of her repertoire. In Haydn 48, she took some repeats that others didn't, and wasn't afraid to add some tasteful ornamentation. I wasn't entirely captivated by all her interpretive choices in the Schumann Op. 12, but felt that she approached each piece as a tone poem, with careful attention to details both small and large. The Liszt Spanish Rhapsody had great rhythm, sound, and a compelling sense of inexorable forward direction - for me, this was a performance to remember.
And now, coming across the finish line, Mayumi Sakamoto...if she was demoralized by being last, it didn't show. For me, Bach's E minor Toccata is tainted by many dozens of mediocre student performances; it was nice to hear it played maturely and sensitively for once. (I wouldn't overdramatize the central recitative so much, though.) The Mendelssohn is also often thought of as an intermediate-level piece, and here I thought Ms. Sakamoto tried unsuccessfully to transcend that image: much of it sounded frenetic rather than sérieux. The concluding rare presentation of all six Rachmaninoff Moments Musicaux (we'll hear them again in Eduard Kunz's semifinal program) was very good overall - she held my interest even in the usually boring Nos. 3 and 5. And what better way to end the prelims than with the resplendent C Major sonority of No. 6?
So now it's time to put all this past history aside (ah, me, Tuesday was SO long ago!) and move on to the next stage. Keep on comin' back, y'hear?