There was a bigger and more enthusiastic crowd for the second day of the screening recitals, an encouraging sign. And the pianists have not been stopping between selections for applause, a decision motivated by the need to stay within the 40-minute time limit that they’ve all been given. I have to say I like having everyone hold their applause until the pianist has finished playing. It’s much easier on my hands. We’ll see if this holds during the competition in the summer.
Kim Jin-uk (South Korea) got the afternoon off to a rousing start with a Liszt-heavy program: four of the Paganini études and a transcription of the waltz from Gounod’s Faust. The guy sure knows how to play Liszt; the selections came off with panache and swing. For variety’s sake, Kim also included “Le Loriot” (translation: “the oriole”) from Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux. I’ve never been a fan of Messiaen’s bird-call music, but Kim’s rendition was well-judged and polished. Following him was the tall, spindly Marcin Koziak (Poland), whose account of Chopin, Szymanowski, and Rachmaninov was attractive, competent, and unexciting. He couldn’t get a handle on the structure of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata, and the piece fell apart.
The first cell phone of the screening auditions went off during Rudin Lengo‘s (Canada) recital. And here I hoped we were going to get through these three days without an interruption! It’s a pity; Lengo displayed a great vocal line through Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s “Die Müller und der Bach” (“The Miller and the Brook”). The bespectacled Lengo’s other selection was Liszt’s Sonata in B minor. If you want a flashy Liszt, Lengo’s not your guy, but he played this massive piece with great clarity and cohesiveness, no small achievement. In a show of pro-Canadian solidarity, Lengo stayed in the audience afterwards to hear Todd Yaniw (Canada). Yaniw played Scriabin’s Two Poems (Op. 32) and came out better on the second one, but his account of Prokofiev’s Sixth Piano Sonata meandered too much.
Get ready for the Van Cliburn comparisons for Alex McDonald (USA), because any tall, good-looking white American guy is going to get compared to Van. That’s just how it is. Looks like we’ll have occasion to use those comparisons, too, because the former Dallas resident won the first standing ovation of these screening recitals. He’s an archetypal American pianist: great technique, spacious sound, easy accommodation of different musical styles. He drew out some pretty colors in “Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este” from Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage and invested Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor with gravitas and heft. He was also wearing one of Lady Gaga’s Pray for Japan wristbands on his right wrist, which was a nice thing to do.
Christopher McKiggan (Great Britain) had a tough act to follow, and his ill-judged program didn’t help him. The Englishman of Thai-Chinese descent played with some eccentric body posture, leaning perilously far to his left to reach some of the lower notes and actually standing up at one point to hit one bass chord. He lost focus in Guido Agosti’s transcription of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, and following that piece with Prokofiev’s Étude in D minor was too much of the same thing. The evening session finished with Tatiana Muzanova (Russia), who way overpedaled Chopin’s Barcarolle and threatened to do the same to Schubert’s Impromptu in F minor, though that piece came out more pointed. The last item on her program, Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata, curbed her excesses and seemed much better suited to her. She got lost in the middle of the second movement, but took the finale at a slower pace that allowed momentum to build up. I was glad for that; I think most pianists play that last movement too fast.
We’ve got one more day of screenings, then we learn the identity of our Van Cliburn competitors on March 5.