Right, so the Fort Worth round of screening recitals kicked off today, and I was there for the duration. The crowds have been sparse, which is hardly surprising given that this is the middle of the week and half the performances are happening during the day. Since I wasn’t able to hear the 112 applicants who performed for the Cliburn jury in Hong Kong, Hannover, Milan, Moscow, and New York, I won’t be giving odds on which of the Fort Worth applicants will make it to the competition in May, but I will be taking notes on what I hear.

The mop-haired Mikhail Berestnev (Russia) got things off to a ragged start with a Scarlatti sonata followed by Russian selections. He showed some flashes of terrific talent in Nikolai Medtner’s Piano Sonata, but his musical personality seemed unformed as of yet. The same couldn’t be said for TCU student Anna Bulkina (Russia), who took the stage in a shimmery silver dress and arrested our attention with the Chaconne by the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina. She followed that powerful, dramatic piece with a rendition of Schumann’s Waldszenen that did justice to both the composer’s light and dark sides, and then an assured reading of Book II of Brahms’ Paganini Variations. I’d definitely like to hear more from her this summer.

She was followed by Chen Tzu-Yi (Taiwan), a diminutive woman who seemed afraid to take the plunge. Her “Scarbo” from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit was entirely missing the spirit of the goblin who inspired the piece. Her caution may have been in the service of technical perfection, but I caught a number of wrong notes in the three Scarlatti sonatas that she played. Better stuff came from Sun Jiayan (China), a tall young man who looks older than his 22 years. He played like it, too, with some excellent renditions of the back half of Chopin’s Preludes; I particularly liked his idiosyncratic phrasing in he C minor one. He got a bit lost in the more reflective entries in Bartók’s suite Out of Doors, but even those had some remarkable playing, and the showier items were played in bravura fashion.

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Lindsay Garritson (USA) had power to spare in her program. She articulated the run of bass notes quite well in Liszt’s B minor Ballade, and brought out some intriguing internal voices in “Ondine” from Gaspard de la Nuit. She’s got an interesting musical mind, but both “Ondine” and the other piece she played, Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata, are works that require a lot of bite and attack. She seemed more interested in making pretty sounds with the instrument. SMU student Ekaterina Gumenyuk (Russia) needs to do something about her hair; she kept brushing her bangs out of her face during the recital, one time brushing with her left hand while her right hand was busy performing a trill. Lots of power and technique here, too, but not that much in the way of subtlety. Debussy’s L’Isle joyeuse came out sounding much like the two Liszt selections she played. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 was the last item on her program, and it suited her quite well. The evening wound up with Airi Katada (Japan), who wore a magenta dress a couple of shades purpler than the red curtain behind the stage. Her program was highly intellectual, bookended by fugues. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No. 21 and Haydn’s Sonata in A-flat major were done up tidily, and she drew some attractive colors out of the piano in Chopin’s Barcarolle. She didn’t win me over, though, until she played Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor. I always thought Shostakovich’s music for solo piano was somewhat dry (as opposed to his symphonies, piano concertos, and chamber music), but her clear and impassioned performance of this piece convinced me to re-evaluate my opinion.