As we noted earlier, one of the abidingly wonderful aspects of CIPC is that everybody has a second chance to prove themselves. Now that we’ve reached the second round and returned to the top of the batting order, it’s time to revisit our first impressions and see whether our original thoughts have changed after a second hearing. On Friday afternoon, the original six players lived to perform again.
Kyoko Soejima and Yekwon Sunwoo confirmed our original impressions, but in different ways. We were riveted by Soejima’s stage presence and presentation of Mozart’s Sonata in D and two Chopin works in Round 1. Her second visit to the stage for J.S. Bach’s treacherous and infrequently played Partita in G kept her high in our estimation. Accurate, clean and stylish, this was the work of a pianist who thinks like a harpsichordist and achieves expression through articulation and subtle delays of attack rather than through rubato and other manipulations of tempo. The prelude was dashing and fast, the Allemande spacious, the Corrente sparkling, the Sarabande expressive through rhythmic control, the final Gigue playful with a strongly articulated subject and a neat traversal of the complicated counterpoint in the second strain. Her second piece was Carl Vine’s Sonata (to be played again this evening by Dmitri Levkovich), which begins with bluesy chords, then becomes attractively bipolar as it takes the player through all sorts of technical vicissitudes (including a phenomenal presto section where the player’s hands fly through the same note patterns two octaves apart). Soejima brought the piece off skilfully and dramatically, ending up looking like the dying swan on the treble end of the keyboard. Though she produced a lot of sound, the piano never sounded overburdened or harsh.
Yekwon Sunwoo made his first impression as a young player with much to say musically, but who sounded a bit tight in Beethoven’s ‘Les Adieux’ sonata. That feeling remains after today’s performance of Ligeti (Etude No. 10) and Brahms (Sonata No. 3). The Ligeti was played with nice color and touch throughout, but tightness returned in the Brahms, which was harsh in its fortissimi and lacked a characteristically Brahmsian warmth of tone and expression. Tight also in the number of dropped notes (lots of them, particularly when Sunwoo reached for low bass keys).
Olga Kozlova gave what we thought was a hugely overwrought account of Beethoven’s op. 111 Sonata in Round 1. Today, in Schumann’s Fantasie in C, she reigned in her power and produced a more lyrical and more nuanced sound from Steinway No. 2. This was still bigger in concept than Schumann’s material needed, but we were glad to hear Kozlova in different repertory. Her ascent of Ligeti’s ‘Devil’s Stairway’ (Etude No. 13) was thrilling and dramatic. At the end, she held the final chord with the damper pedal until all the sound had been drained from the piano, yet didn’t break character for another long minute to allow a hearty round of applause.
We thought that Jae Weon Huh’s first round Beethoven ‘Appasionata’ sonata was intense and uncontrolled. After a tiny Scarlatti sonata which was only there to satisfy a distribution requirement, he produced a performance of Schumann’s ‘Kreisleriana’ which better demonstrated his talents. He played firmly into the keys, creating a rich and colorful sound which became strident only on a few occasions. Sometimes the bass line overpowered the rest of the texture, and his transitions between movements might have been more strategically thought out, but we thought much more highly of him after this afternoon.
We gave Anna Shelest, the lucky contestant who drew the No. 1 position, the benefit of nerves last Tuesday, but today’s performance confirmed a few problems that persist. One is her rhythm, which distorted Bach’s Prelude in E-flat (WTC I). The piece has a recurring pattern of chords in the left hand supporting a florid melody in the right. Shelest’s persistent rubato gave the melody nothing to play against, and the piece was so full of special moments that none were remarkable. The texture of the fugue was blurred by pedal and that of the Chopin by a kind of rhythmic fog.
Hoang Pham, whose Bach Partita (No. 4 in D) we much admired for its clarity, began today with Beethoven’s E-flat Sonata, op. 7. Unlike his Bach, his Beethoven was overplayed, resulting in bangy bass lines and rather unattractive fortissimo chords. When a 9-foot Steinway sounds distorted, you know something’s afoot with the touch of the player. Pham demonstrated a fine sense of touch with his crystalline reading of Thomas Adès’s ‘Darkness Visible’, written in 1992 and based on a song by John Dowland. A sound piece which exploits some of the piano’s special harmonic effects, ‘Darkness’ holds the audience in rapt attention to the end. Pham one upped Adès by holding the spell for an extra minute after the last sound had died away. Before the Adès, he flew through Chopin’s ‘Black Key’ Etude, giving in again to a tendency toward harshness, but only at the very end.
More second impressions to come in just a couple of hours.