As I promised, I went back and listened to the first-round recitals of the two second-rounders that I missed, and I found something to like in both of them. In the case of Marcel Tadokoro, it was his pedaling of the Rameau piece that made the piano sound like an older keyboard instrument. There’s more where that came from in the next round, when he plays scrupulous versions of Couperin’s La Visionnaire and Szymanowski’s Variations in B-flat major, presenting those unfamiliar pieces in fresh ways and bringing the latter home in bravura fashion. I’m less enamored of his Gaspard de la Nuit, even though he brings the proper undercurrent of menace to “Ondine.”
The competition’s one remaining Italian, the flamboyantly styled Federico Gad Crema, also made a positive impression on me with his Scriabin Fantasie, where he found the style of the Russian eccentric. Alas, his second-round recital of Chopin’s 24 Preludes is a dud. He too often dithers (in Nos. 4, 12, 13, 19, 21), there are smudged notes everywhere, and of all the individual preludes, maybe 5 and 16 are done well. Kim Hong-gi continues to play well, with a Carnival-themed recital consisting of an upbeat Schumann’s Carnaval and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9, subtitled “Carnival in Pest.” That one swings in a gently pleasing way.
Kate Liu comes out in the same burgundy dress that she was wearing in the first round. She plays two pieces that we’ve already heard in this competition. In Beethoven’s 31st Piano Sonata, the mysticism of late Beethoven seems to escape her. She does better with a work by a different kind of mystic, Franck’s Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue, where she picks her spots and exercises restraint in some places while cutting loose in others. It’s effective. Park Jin-hyung comes on with a Mendelssohn Prelude and Fugue in E minor that’s more focused than anything he played in the first round. Unhappily, he goes back to losing the plot during Brahms’ Handel Variations.
Dmytro Choni seems altogether more settled than he did in the first round, and he shows his facility with three composers with very different sounds. He rolls off a crisp set of Prokofiev’s Sarcasms and then switches to the gossamer sounds of Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse. He caps things off with the best Liszt performance I’ve heard so far this tournament, playing Après une lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata. I had Choni outside the top tier after the first round, but not after this.
Shin Chang-yong is indistinct in his second-round recital, making great waves of sound in Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata but missing the piece’s wild despair. Ilya Shmukler actually exercises a modicum of restraint that he didn’t possess in his first-round performance, and while his version of Medtner’s “Reminiscenza” Sonata is still tiresome, he does quite well with the first book of Debussy’s Images and Scriabin’s Fantasie in B minor, modulating their moods quite well. After that, Lim Yun-chan turns in a well-proportioned “Ricercar a 3” from Bach’s Musical Offering, but then fails to hold together Scriabin’s Sonata-Fantasy or Beethoven’s long-winded “Eroica” Variations.
The 12 pianists who move on to the semifinal round are: Dmytro Choni, Anna Geniushene, Masaya Kamei, Uladzislau Khandohi, Kim Hong-gi, Lim Yun-chan, Shin Chang-yong, Ilya Shmukler, Clayton Stephenson, Sun Yutong, and Marcel Tadokoro. Now for a much-appreciated one-day break before the semifinals start up at Bass Hall, with a whole lot of Mozart in store.