Blogging the Cliburn (Semifinals Day 3)
Apparently, something really terrible happened on Game of Thrones last night. Please, nobody tell me what it was.
After Chernov wreaked Game of Thrones-level violence on the Dvořák quintet last night, I suspect any performance of that piece would have sounded good. Huangci did quite well with it, as you could have predicted beforehand. There was a noticeable hiccup near the beginning of the third movement (can’t tell if the pianist was early or the cellist was late on a single hearing), and the whole scherzo was taken a bit too fast. Still, the performance was smooth, and Huangci functioned well as a member of the ensemble. A good way for the last of the scheduled Dvořák performances in this round to go out.
I was looking forward to Rana’s semifinal recital, but after actually hearing it, I could only think, “Eesh.” She wore a lavender dress and began with Scriabin’s Sonata-Fantasy. Her performance made the composer’s music sound too much like Chopin, and didn’t do justice to its strangeness. (Scriabin’s Wikipedia page is as good a place to start as any when it comes to understanding what a seriously weird dude the composer was.) The piece never came to the boiling point. The Birichino was played slower and with better understanding than the earlier competitors had, but it didn’t add up to a better performance. I still thought she’d save things with her Chopin Preludes. Instead, they were all over the map. Some of them were well-played, like Nos. 5, 7, 10, and 15-16. Yet every time she seemed to be getting into a groove, the magic would slip through her fingers. She kept pulling back to build up to a climax, but she would pull back too far and then the climax wouldn’t be big enough. Her sense of calculation audibly deserted her in Nos. 4, 9, 18, and 21, while in No. 6 she seemed to mistake playing v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y for depth of feeling. Her caution held her back today. A disappointing set from a pianist I’ve been high on.
More inconsistency arrived in the shape of Mndoyants’ Brahms piano quintet. He also seemed uncertain as to how to play with a chamber group, and he spent most of the piece being too loud (mostly) or too soft (occasionally). No wonder the work came out disjointed. At least he got through the piece without doing too much damage to it the way Chernov did. He would have been more comfortable playing the Shostakovich quintet.
Abrosimov started with Rachmaninov’s Corelli Variations, and while I’ve heard that set played better, the Russian played many of the variations well. The guy’s just good with Rachmaninov, though he played the Birichino without an ounce of comprehension. His third piece was Scriabin’s Vers la flamme (“Toward the flame”), a slow-building showpiece that really should be better known. Abrosimov played it to sizzling effect. He ended with the seventh and last of the Petrouchkas that are slated for the competition. The other music critics are wailing over the pianist’s technical shortcomings in the final movement, and they’re not wrong, but I liked the noticeably slower tempo that he took. He treated the movements as pieces of music rather than technical showcases, and I found myself hearing stuff in Stravinsky’s music that I didn’t when the other pianists raced through the work. All in all, I find myself liking this pianist quite a bit more than I did at the end of the first round.
Sakata gave a good-but-not-great reading of Schumann’s Piano Quintet. He did well as a member of the ensemble, especially with matching his dynamics to the level of the string players. The piece could have definitely used a bit more spontaneity, but the performance definitely didn’t do him any harm.
Judging by the reaction that greeted Kholodenko when he took the stage, he has the most fans here in the hall. The Ukrainian selected a physically draining program for himself. After playing the most cavalier and perhaps the best rendition of the Birichino, he proceeded to play 11 of Liszt’s Transcendental Études, with No. 9 “Ricordanza” being the odd one out. He built up the untitled No. 2 well, but he played No. 4 “Mazeppa” too carefully. The piece is based on a Victor Hugo poem about a Ukrainian (ah!) page who survives being strapped to a horse that gallops out of control. The piece needed entirely more abandon, and I wondered if the Ukrainian pianist was saving up his energy for later. He was, it turned out. After fair renditions of Nos. 5-6 and an artfully managed No. 7 “Eroica,” Kholodenko unleashed the blood and thunder for a crashing version of No. 8 “Wilde Jagd” (“Wild Chase”). The fatigue started to tell on the pianist, who was wiping himself and the keyboard down with a handkerchief between every étude and struck quite a few wrong notes in the last three. Still, he played the untitled No. 10 with panache and roared during the impassioned parts of No. 11 “Harmonies du soir.” He had enough energy to run out a modulated interpretation of the last étude, “Chasse-Neige” (“Snowstorm”), and the crowd shouted their approval through three curtain calls. As far as they’re concerned, he’s the best. As far as I’m concerned, this program didn’t always work, but it definitely worked more often than it didn’t.