Van Cliburn

May 28, 2013

Critic: Strong Cliburn performances in Day 5 should solidify semifinal spots

From morning until night, pianists gave standout second round recitals.

The morning session of Day 5 of the Cliburn Competition was brightened by the reappearance of one of the most promising competitors, Giuseppe Greco of Italy. The afternoon session began with yet another standout, Oleksandr Poliykov of Ukraine.

In his first preliminary appearance on Day 1, Greco proved to be a masterful interpreter of varied repertoire, with a fine sense of dynamics and pacing, an exciting style and a playful personality. His second preliminary on Tuesday did nothing to negate any of that.

This time he added Chopin and Prokofiev to his composers’ list. Chopin’s Polonaise-fantaisie in A-flat was given a beautifully flowing performance confirming Greco’s exceptional lyrical gift and sense of timing. Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8 was a kaleidoscope of moods that ranged from introspective to agitated to raw power.

Artistically, Greco seems much more mature than his 23 years would indicate. He’s definitely on my semifinals wish list.

So is Poliykov, another mature artist, at 25.

Poliykov’s first preliminary recital, on Day 2, demonstrated strong technique and a deep understanding of the lyrical art. He brought these to bear in a grand and quite moving performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and handily dealt with the difficulties of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 while highlighting its sense of playfulness.

He turned to Liszt again Tuesday and gave a beautiful account of the composer’s piano version of Wagner’s Isolde’s Liebestod. (Liszt, for once, was restrained from his typical flamboyance by Wagner’s score.)

Poliykov concluded with a magnificent performance of Brahms’ Sonata No. 3, which alternated lovely lyrical playing with notable power.

Tuesday’s morning session began with Nikita Mndoyants of Russia, whose father, Alexander, was a finalist in the 1977 Cliburn. Nikita Mndoyants gave a quite decent performance that seemed to me to be a bit of an improvement over his showing on the first day, though there was really nothing amiss then.

He began Tuesday’s recital with an exhilarating Bach toccata and added to the joy with a Haydn Sonata in G Major that was full of personality, especially playfulness. A Taneyev prelude and fugue was a pleasant entry.

Six Pictures by Armenian composer Arno Babadjanian was a quite varied set that left the listener to guess what the pictures represented. The final one bore more than a little resemblance to the final movement of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7. Mndoyants scored points with its propulsive drive.

Another decent recital was by Luca Buratto of Italy. He opened with another vigorous Bach toccata, presented two Schumann “novelettes,” the second of which rambled on a little too much (maybe Schumann’s fault, not Buratto’s) and concluded with a very welcome departure from Cliburn routine with the Piano Sonata of Bartok. It got a pounding, macho performance that may have disturbed some of the more timid members of the audience.

Rounding out the afternoon session were Kuan-Ting Lin of Taiwan and Nikita Abrosimov of Russia.

Lin’s account of a Schumann Humoresque in B-flat started well, but it went on at great length and finally became tedious. Stravinsky’s Three Movements From “Petrouchka,” done quite nicely, was a relief from the tedium.

Abrosimov scored points with three Rachmaninoff preludes and yet another performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8. That one is a rarity at the Cliburn.

Tuesday night’s session was a strong one. One of the most remarkable things about it was Vadym Kholodenko’s performance of Stravinsky’s Three Movements From “Petroushka.” It was probably the most appealing of all those done so far and Kholodenko looked like he was having fun playing it. That the audience lapped it up was a feat, since it’s been heard quite a bit and some listeners may be suffering from Petroushka fatigue.

Kholodenko opened with a moving performance of a Bach prelude as arranged by Alexander Siloti, and preceded the Stravinsky with a fine performance of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30, Opus 109.

Lindsay Garritson, clearly an audience favorite, opened with a charming Mozart sonata (K. 333) and a surprisingly impressionistic Les jeux d’eaux a la Villa d’Este by Liszt. She followed with a lovely performance of one of Chopin’s prettiest ballades (No. 4) and countered that with a not-pretty Wilde Jagd of Liszt.

Tomoki Sakata’s attractive set of Mozart variations (K. 573) followed by an impressionistic Book II of Albeniz’ Iberia and an arrangement of music from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin made it a consistently pleasing session.

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