Day two of the Cliburn Competition was off to a grand start Saturday morning with an outstanding performance by Oleksandr Poliykov of Ukraine.
He strode confidently onto the Bass Hall stage and presented a program of Liszt and Mussorgsky that demonstrated maturity, strong technique and a deep understanding of the lyrical art.
He slummed a bit with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9, proving more than capable of handling its difficulties and highlighting the sense of playfulness that does run through the work (one passage is reminiscent of There’s No Place Like Home).
Not my cup of tea, really, but if you have to hear it, Poliykov makes an outstanding executor.
After this, there was no question that he was going to have no trouble with the virtuoso passages of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition — long a staple of the Cliburn Competition. What surprised me was the profound lyrical impulse he brought to bear on the work. It was grand, but it was really quite moving.
As the final measures approached, I felt a sense of regret that the work was about to end, not gratitude that a break was near.
Another notable performer of the day was Lindsay Garritson of the United States. She’s an athlete, and the rolling thunder of Liszt’s Ballade No. 2, which opened her afternoon recital, countered the belief that women don’t have the physical strength to tackle the biggest pieces.
Another counter was the potent finale of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7, one of the most exciting bits in the sonata literature and a great crowd-pleaser Saturday afternoon.
It wasn’t all thunder and lightning. Garritson’s performance of Schubert’s Klavierstuck in E-flat, an unusual choice for the Cliburn, was a haunting experience.
Following Poliykov’s performance Saturday morning was Kuan-Ting Lin of Taiwan. Lin was put a bit in the shade by Poliykov’s powerful performance, but he’s a decent contender, as all of the Cliburn 30 are (the competition’s audition process sees to that). I liked his cleanly played Haydn Sonata No. 52 and found his account of Liszt’s take on Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinrade haunting.
Three pieces from Liszt’s Annes de Pelerinage were a mixed bag artistically, sometimes virtuosic derring-do, sometimes pleasant and atmospheric, but were well done by Lin.
Incidentally, he got one of the more sustained rounds of applause of the preliminaries so far.
Mozart’s Fantasia in C minor, as played by Nikita Abrosimov of Russia, seemed a bit heavy and romanticized, but Abrosimov’s macho performance of Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 was more fitting, with its muscularity leavened by some truly graceful lyrical playing.
Joining Garritson in the afternoon session were Tomoki Sakata of Japan and Vadym Kholodenko of Ukraine.
Sakata gave highly skilled performances of music by Beethoven, Liszt and Scriabin. Beethoven’s Sonata No. 22 was full of lively charm, but Liszt and Scriabin seemed more about demonstrations of speed and dexterity with difficult material than lessons in artistic insight.
I liked Vadym Kholodenko’s choice of John Adams’ China Gates as the opener of his afternoon recital.
It was repetitive, of course, but serene and brief and kind of pretty. However, Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 1 rambled on and on, losing interest along the way. It was well played, but not out of the ordinary by Cliburn standards.
So far, the competition’s audiences have been attentive, with near-graveyard quiet in the morning sessions evolving into subdued shuffling as the day and the audience’s patience wear on.
However, Saturday afternoon’s session was the setting for the first cellphone distraction of the competition.
Just as Garritson was about the plunge into the finale of Prokofiev’s seventh sonata, it went off and sounded for quite awhile. Garritson played on as if she hadn’t heard a sound.
Impressive in Saturday evening’s session was Nikolay Khozyainov of Russia.
He was a master of musical styles, presenting a highly varied program of Haydn, Chopin, Liszt, Scriabin and Ravel and tailoring his approach distinctively to each. His clean and lively and basically moderate Haydn was as effective in its way as his superbly wild Gaspard de la Nuit of Ravel.
Alessandro Deljavan of Italy presented a tough program of Bach and Chopin (12 Etudes of Opus 25) that some may see as eccentric. His face, projected on the big screen above the stage, was as expressive as his fingers.
Alessandro Taverna of Italy was a bit heavy-handed in Beethoven’s Eroica Variations and wild and woolly in Stravinsky’s Three Movements From Petrouchka.
These two surrounded something called Busoni’s Elegy No. 4: Turandots Frauengemach. I am not familiar with this work, but it didn’t sound like an elegy to me, and I wondered what Greensleeves was doing in a work about Turandot.