Sunday, June 7, 2009

Van Cliburn Competition - fifth concert

For those of us who wanted to hear how quietly a pianist can play in a concert hall, Di Wu answered our prayers. The Chinese pianist used the softest, lightest, most delicate touch in her performance of Bach's Toccata in F-sharp minor, BWV 910. Her playing forced the audience to listen so intently that no one in Bass Hall in last night's concert (Saturday, June 6) moved a muscle. For her next piece, Wu transitioned to another time zone by playing Schoenberg's "Klavierstucke" Op. 11. Wu wonderfully created the abstract and random landscape in this work. Moments in the piece also seemed to convey a series of questions and answers as the music switched from one path to another. Wu ended her recital with Ravel's "Gaspard de la nuit," and I felt that she excelled in achieving a spontaneous feeling in her playing - especially in some passages that were lightening quick. Overall, Wu performed very well and made a fine case for herself to move up the ladder in the competition.

The concerti portion of the program began with Evgeni Bozhanov's performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. The Bulgarian pianist set out to play the piece as loudly as possible, drowning out the cellos near the beginning, and continued through the enitre piece with this to-hell-with-the-orchestra attitude. This turned the Rachmaninoff work into a pianist versus the orchestra affair which everyone increasing the volume to the highest level possible. Bozhanov also messed up several passages and was very erratic at times. His crass interpretation left me numbed but the audience exploded, so I guess his gambit worked.

In sharp contract, Mariangela Vacatello gave a thoroughly engaging performance of Prokofiev's Piano concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26. Her sound was very balanced and precise. She wonderfully built up tension in the first movement and released it with the orchestra as a partner in making the music happen. I loved the way that Vacatello alternated the robust and tender themes of the second movement, and she ended the piece with the orchestra in an electrifying blitz. Fortunately, the audience recognized her genius in this performance and gave her a standing ovation.

I think that Vacatello moved herself into gold medal contention with this performance. Tsujii is still there as well, with Wu and Son following. But there's one more concert to go.

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