Van Cliburn

Pianists of many countries show fluency in their common language

Sean Sutherland from St. Vincent, the Grenadines and Canada played Liszt, including the Mephisto Waltz No. 1, Wednesday during the quarterfinal Round of the Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition.
Sean Sutherland from St. Vincent, the Grenadines and Canada played Liszt, including the Mephisto Waltz No. 1, Wednesday during the quarterfinal Round of the Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition. Cliburn Foundation

It’s a good thing that music is a universal language. Otherwise, the seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition might remind some of the Tower of Babel.

Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s quarterfinals competitors represented Turkey, Canada, the United States, Japan, France, Indonesia, Mexico, Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom and South Africa. Fortunately, they are all fluent in music.

The fluency was certainly apparent in Wednesday afternoon’s session in Van Cliburn Recital Hall, which produced a significant number of performers who seemed to be candidates for advancement.

Yasuo Kurimoto of Japan demonstrated consistency, following up his impressive performance of music by Granados in the prelims with strong quarterfinals performances of works of Scriabin and Chopin.

I also liked the playing of Saffet Bayka of Turkey, who paired a nice account of the ever-popular G minor ballade of Chopin with two captivating dances of Ginastera. The outgoing Sean Sutherland, who claims St. Vincent, the Grenadines and Montreal as home, charmed with Liszt’s waltzy account of Schubert’s Soirée de Vienne and Liszt’s own Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (has there ever been a piano competition without at least one Mephisto Waltz? Or La Campanella?).

Brad Dunn of Bloomington, Ind., was also impressive, with Bach’s Partita No. 1, as was France’s Xavier Aymonod, with music of Chopin and Ravel.

The Wednesday evening session produced some noteworthy performances, and a few slips.

I was impressed by the offbeat musical presentation of Ken Iisaka, who’s playing in his third Cliburn Amateur. He surrounded a Scriabin sonata with a work of Messiaen and a highly contrasting dance by Medtner.

Among other impressive evening performances were those of Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s stupendous Chaconne in D minor, played by Jasmin Tiodang of Indonesia, and Gregory Knight’s Liszt pair: another Mephisto and, yes, La Campanella.

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