This Cliburn Festival entry written by Gregory Allen, Professor of Piano, University of Texas at Austin, exclusively for Performance Today's Fredlines.
Time constraints require xtreme twitter mode...
Recitals: Zhang's Brahms Handel was modest in scope but persuasive on its own terms. Gaspard was technically superb, if not especially colorful: tonal palette in stark grays and blacks. (Le Gibet benefited from that in an unexpected way.) Scarbo unleashed more animal instinct than we've heard before from Zhang. It's been noted that he almost never misses a note; what struck me today was that he also pays scrupulous attention to pedaling.
Di Wu's Gaspard was overly liberal with rubato; Ondine can take it, but the other two pieces suffered. Le Gibet was not a success. She does a lot of hand redistribution in Scarbo - which is fine by me - but she also fakes a bit too much. Her Bach was tasteful but boring; it seemed out of place in the finals. Schoenberg's Op. 11 was an intriguing choice; she played it well, but needed better textural layering: I wasn't always sure where the Hauptstimme was.
Prokofiev Concertos: Both 2nd (Son) and 3rd (Vacatello) were solid and commanding. Son gets a prize for quickest turnaround - three performances in less than 48 hours. It's astounding that she could have enough strength to get through one of the most athletic concertos in the repertoire. In places she caused some avoidable ensemble glitches, though... Ditto, in spades, for Vacatello - she frequently seemed unaware that she was making almost impossible demands from Conlon and the orchestra. But it was certainly exciting - after two underpowered performances she seemed fired up and ready to go for the jugular.
Rachmaninoff 2nd: One of the two performances was disappointing - and it wasn't Bozhanov's. (His was, unfortunately, quite predictable: eccentric, fractured, grotesque, faked, narcissistic, vulgar, and - oh, me, I don't have time to go on...) No, sorry to say, it was Tsujii who has met his match in the Big Concerto category - and here it's impossible to disregard his handicap. Because he has to play so close to the keys, he's not able to get enough upper arm and shoulder into his sound: up against a massive orchestra he's underpowered. And his ears, marvelous as they are, weren't able to pick out the essential rhythmic elements in Rachmaninoff's murky orchestration. (And I thought Conlon was pretty insensitive, especially at the very beginning.) It was a valiant effort, but I'd have to say that he probably should stay away from this rep, at least in live performance - in a studio recording, of course, balances can be adjusted and ensemble problems edited...