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< Bringing up the Rear - the Last of the Cliburn Prelims | Main | The Semifinal Recitals - Day Two >

The Cliburn Semifinals - Day One

Posted at 12:04 PM on May 29, 2009 by Greg Allen (1 Comments)

This Cliburn Festival entry written by Gregory Allen, Professor of Piano, University of Texas at Austin, exclusively for Performance Today's Fredlines.

I'll be talking about the solo recitals of the semifinal round individually. The quintets, being more about comparing apples with apples, will follow later.

I'll say flat out that I think Mariangela Vacatello is absolutely a superlative musician. She has insight, sensitivity, imagination, good taste, and - rarely found in competitions - a sense of integrity and humility about her role as an artist. She's here to share her gifts to the best of her ability, not to hit you over the head with mere pianistic prowess. (Although her technique IS pretty formidable...) Having said that, it must be admitted that human frailty was also on display in this program - I thought she seemed rather out of sorts in the exposition of the Liszt Sonata, with a slightly skewed sense of timing and a surprising number of splats. Once she got on track, though, the musical narrative was completely organic and compelling. (The dramatic arch from the beginning of the fugue straight through to the B Major "redemption" theme was especially effective.) Daron Hagen's Suite seemed fairly inconsequential following the Liszt, but it was played with as much conviction and respect as any masterwork of the standard repertoire. The Scriabin Left-Hand Nocturne was VERY dreamy, which was bad news-good news: yes, it was awfully slow, but that allowed time to wallow in some really sinfully delicious sonorities... It was unfortunate that this recital ended with a competent but emotionally distant Scriabin 3rd Sonata - perhaps this was also indicative of whatever was ailing her...?

I have to confess that Beethoven's Op. 31#3 usually elicits my groan response; most of the time the work's mischievous high spirits come across as lumpy and graceless. Not so in Evgeni Bozhanov's performance. The cheery good humor that he showed previously was put to excellent use in a reading of extraordinary clarity; this will serve as my benchmark for the piece from now on. Our first encounter with Mason Bates' White Lies for Lomax will also prove hard to beat, I think. A rock-steady pulse would seem to be a prime requirement for these jazzy riffs to bounce around; Bozhanov also paid special attention to sonorities, producing some striking spatial effects. And what of his Schubert B-flat? If the first movement perhaps didn't have its full measure of gravitas, the slow movement more than made up for it: this was music-making with the kind of stupefying intensity we associate with Richter or Lupu. After two such masterful outings, I'm ready to predict that Mr. Bozhanov won't leave here empty-handed.

Once again, I must comment on programming choices: Andrea Lam gave us a smorgasbord of disparate repertoire that didn't go together well and ended up outstaying its welcome. True, nothing was badly played, and some moments in the Haydn and Brahms showed glimpses of artistry, but the Stravinsky and Ginastera seemed little more than gratuitous filler. Her take on White Lies was rhythmically soggy and added nothing to my appreciation of the piece. It's a shame that she wasn't able to build on the positive impression she made in the first round, but you know, pulling out all your high-school rep really isn't the best strategy for an international competition...

Comments ( 1 )

Superb blogging, Greg! I couldn't agree more. Dying to see what you're going to say after today...

Posted by Anton Nel | May 29, 2009 4:28 PM

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