FORT WORTH -- Thursday afternoon's session at the Cliburn screening auditions confirmed the impression of the previous day: The level of talent and skill is high, and nobody is an obvious cut.The three-day auditions in Ed Landreth Hall at TCU will bring to 132 the number of pianists heard by five judges. Thirty will be chosen to play in the 2013 Cliburn International Piano Competition.The afternoon list included a South Korean, a Pole and two Canadians -- one more indication of how international the competition is.Leading off was Jin Uk Kim of South Korea, a student of Wha Kyung Byun of the New England Conservatory. Kim has impressive fingers, which blitzed accurately through four Paganini etudes by Liszt and Le Loriot by Messiaen. The Liszt was pleasant and the Messiaen -- a nice break from routine competition fare -- was atmospheric in the composer's eccentric way.Kim may have taken one step too far with Liszt's take on the waltz from Gounod's opera Faust. Not only was his set heavy with Liszt, but the waltz was a little heavy-handed and blustery.Quite impressive was the Polish pianist Marcin Koziak, a student of Tamas Ungar at TCU. His performance of Chopin's Scherzo No. 2 was spellbinding, his Szymanowski mazurkas were a lovely revelation, (the composer is much underrated), and his Rachmaninoff second sonata was a compelling sound drama.Koziak is unusually tall, by the way maybe exceeding Van Cliburn in height.It was the misfortune of Canada's Rudin Lengo to fall victim to the auditions' first cellphone attack. He had barely started on Liszt's salute to Schubert ( Der Muller und der Bach) when a phone rang, just seconds after the routine plea from the stage to silence the infernal devices. Near the end of his Liszt sonata, it happened again.Both compositions had gone rather well. I found my mind wandering a little in the Liszt, but that may have been due more to irritation at the cellphone miscreants than any deficiency by the contestant. Lengo is a student of John Perry at the Glenn Gould School in Toronto.Incredibly -- or maybe not so incredibly -- Canadian Todd Yaniw was another cellphone target. He was hit twice during Prokofiev's Sonata No. 6.Yaniw, a student of Anton Nel at UT Austin, played an all-Russian program very well. Two Scriabin Poems were an atmospheric contrast of poetry and power, and Prokofiev's sonata was given a hair-raising performance.Despite the cellphone business, the audition audiences have been well-behaved the last two days. Listeners sit in rapt silence most of the time, not even applauding between numbers by each contestant, then giving generous applause when each contestant finishes. The audience numbered a little less than 100 on Wednesday, and a little more Thursday afternoon. Some come from quite a distance. These are true piano buffs.Thursday evening's most impressive performer was American Alex McDonald, a student of Veda Kaplinsky at the Juilliard School. He began with a performance of Haydn's Sonata No. 32 that was sheer joy. His consistently excellent (and varied) program also included a winning Les Jeux d'Eaux a la Villa d'este by Liszt (a work for the person who doesn't like Liszt), a majestic Chopin Nocturne in C minor, and a dazzling Three Movements from Petrouchka by Stravinsky.Rounding out the evening were Christopher McKiggan of the United Kingdom, a student of Jon Kimura Parker at Rice University, and Tatiana Muzanova of Russia, a student of Alex Kobrin in Georgia. Both played well (I particularly liked Muzanova's Schubert Impromptu), although a deadline took me away before her Prokofiev Seventh Sonata.Six pianists will conclude the auditions today. The 30 who advance to the competition will be announced on March 5.
2 and 7:30 p.m. today
Ed Landreth Hall at TCU, 2800 S. University Drive
Free and open to the public 8 and older. Eight- and 9-year-olds will be seated in the balcony with an adult.