This Cliburn Festival entry written by Gregory Allen, Professor of Piano, University of Texas at Austin, exclusively for Performance Today's Fredlines.
Victor Stanislavsky chose a great warm-up Scarlatti Sonata, one that I didn't know. Very cute. Mozart's K. 281 was also bright and cheery - was he trying to seduce the audience (i.e., the jury) with good humor? Maybe that's why he programmed the Schumann Humoreske? If so he almost succeeded - but this long work needs more poetic inspiration than he was able to muster, not to mention better pedaling and textural definition; ultimately it fell flat, as so often happens with this unfortunate masterpiece. (I think it was Filippo Gamba who pulled it off so splendidly in the 1997 competition.) The Two Whatevers by Ligeti had me wondering whether the composer intended us to take this music seriously... maybe it was this context, but it seemed to me that Mr. Stanislavsky didn't.
If Michail Lifits seemed a bit cautious at the beginning of Mozart's K. 311, Evgeni Bozhanov commanded the stage immediately in the same sonata. I found it kind of a hard-sell approach; certainly the Andante didn't have the caressing charm that Lifits conveyed, but on its own terms it was effective enough. I think Chopin's Rondo à la Mazur is just delightfully impudent; it must be played with a flick of the wrist and a big ol' goofy grin. As this performance progressed, I was reminded of Cyprien Katsaris, a pianist who's cultivated a precocious "bad boy" image. I loved it. I also found the B minor Sonata simply outstanding - a fresh, direct approach without affectation, but with loads of personality. Willful at times but definitely compelling - I'm eager to hear him again.
Ilya Rashkovskiy was respectable in Beethoven's Op. 110, but I couldn't decide if it was an intentionally conservative view or just immaturity; in any case, the tightly controlled, uninflected rhythms became tedious. [Here's my chance to proclaim a secret I've kept in the closet for years: I really detest the second movement of this sonata...! Regardless of the fact that it's usually played badly (Lord, how many pianists have come to grief in that preposterous trio section??), I just want to tear it up and send it back. OK, you'll patiently explain that it's deliberately vulgar to prepare for the profundity of the recitative and arioso - then I'll retort that that stupid "Bebung" effect has always seemed ludicrous to me. At which point you'll probably condemn me to a 24/7 diet of Philip Glass...] But I digress. The G minor Ballade was just adequate; I didn't get much of a sense of conviction or a clear point of view - as I've said before, please don't play this over-familiar repertoire unless you have Something To Say! I was impressed by the impeccable moment-to-moment control shown in the Rachmaninoff Second Sonata, and the slow movement was quite beautiful, but the performance lacked overall cohesion - a quality that's exceedingly hard to come by in this flawed work.