London International Piano Competition - 14th April
Sunday, April 14, 2002 Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
The nine semi-finalists playing in alphabetical order, the first of the remaining six was Konstantin Krasnitsky (Belarus, born 1976). He failed to return after his recital to acknowledge applause. Perhaps he was disappointed with his performance. He impressed initially with an improvisatory opening to Chopins Fantasy (Op.49) but remained aloof, the odd finger-slip all the more noticeable due to a lack of structural and emotional focus. Two of Samuel Barbers Excursions were a little stiff but a pair of Rachmaninov pieces drew the best from him the Elegy (Op.3/1) the highlight in that it suited his introspective self. Polka de W.R. (the W.R. being Rachmaninovs father) was rather strait-laced, certainly when remembering the highjinks Cherkassky brought to it; its music that does seem to need a nudge and a wink. Choosing Mikhail Pletnevs transcription of pieces from Tchaikovskys The Nutcracker seemed bold. Reducing Tchaikovskys magical masterpiece to black and white terms perhaps requires more intervention from the performer than Krasnitsky gave; the transcriber himself, for better or worse, would have done more. Only in the Pas de deux did Krasnitsky connect with this listener.
Mikko Merjanen (Finnish, born 1976) begun with a classy rendition of Liszts Rapsodie Espagnole flamboyant, nimble and vivid, the coruscating final pages delivered with maximum diablerie. He too opted for Ligetis etudes No.1, in a reading halfway between Andaloro and Driver in its balancing of rhythmic drive and variation, and No.4, also fast, which passes ideas between the hands, and delivered fluently. Chopins B minor sonata had an uncertain start and developed into a strict, unsentimental performance. The Scherzo was rather earthbound, the Finale bullish; only in the slow movement did Merjanen seemed engaged, and this was fleeting.
Alberto Nosé (Italian, 1979) gave a superb recital of discriminating musicianship and stimulating programming: Berio, Chopin, Webern and Scriabin. In the absence of any notes on the music, I must assume that Berio intends his Four Elemental Studies as aids to keyboard development. The first is alluring I made a note under my Chopin heading! and if the other three studies are more typical of the composer in terms of expression and quick-witted changes of pulse and timbre, Nosé brought an artists touch to them, every note important and vibrant. Darmstadt seems a long time ago! Nosé s ability to bring music alive removed any antiseptic tag that Weberns Variations (Op.27) might collect the music may be of the barest essentials, but Nose brought a magnanimous dimension to it. Nosè s Chopin B minor sonata had plenty of impulse but with all-important punctuation. In place of Merjanens steady pulse, Nosé was expressive and yielding but without threatening overall shape. The Scherzo was mercurial, the slow movement played like a song without words and the Finale found its own momentum without being pushed. Scriabins Fifth Sonata impressed in the musics heightened state and enigmatic cascading; mysticism and perfumed expression encapsulated.
Alexandre Pirojenko (Russian, born 1979) was, like Krasnitsky, somewhat disdainful of Chopins Fantasy, but he was more attuned to its diversity within the whole and well inside the volatile impressionism of Sheherazade from Szymanowskis Masques. Liszts B minor sonata was a big challenge from which Pirojenko emerged with considerable honour. It was a young mans reading in that fast passages were very fast although well within his technical compass and played with control and he didnt debase the music. Emotional, somewhat naïve, this was a sensitive and vivid reading that held the attention with its persuasive rhetoric and demonic drive.
Wen-Yu Shen (Chinese, born 1986), although the youngest of the semi-finalists, also seemed the wisest. He is very musical, perhaps too much so in that he just plays. While one is listening to the third Chopin B minor of the day, one is happy to sit back and enjoy the pianists uncomplicated ruminations. His playing is so likeable, his tone pellucid and warm, his phrasing sympathetic and eloquent. But! One can admire the time taken, the charming innocence of it all, and the effortless technique, yet a deeper response is not yet in place. Shen rather pounded another old friend Ligeti Etude 1 fearsomely controlled though it was, and found tenderness in No.5. Andaloro though set the standard for this music, and nobody shifted him. Shens triumph, perhaps surprising, was the transcription of Petrushka scenes that returned the music to Stravinskys original ballet score in its pathos, burlesque and sense of theatre (which Pollini on his over-rated recording doesnt).
Finally Andrey Shibko (Russian, born 1975). He began with a glib account of Mozarts C major sonata (K330). He has crisp fingers but this mix of the classical with romantic leanings didnt gel. He was more attuned to the rather facile Chopin Rondo (Op.16), very much of the salon, and played with flair. Fallas Fantasia bética needs more than the hard-edged, unsubtle pianism that Shibko brought to this and Prokofievs Second Sonata, the latter rarely settling. Shibko did bring some quiescence to one episode of the Falla and in some pared-down tone towards the end of Prokofievs slow movement showed he could be reflective.
I did not wait to hear the judges decision as to who is in the Final. My choices would be Andaloro, Nose and either Pirojenko or Shen. The latter is a joy but I think he needs more time to prepare for a competition victory. So Pirojenko to join the Italians but I think Andaloro wont make it and while Shens Chopin has faded, Drivers Schumann casts a long shadow. Lets see.
The Final is in the Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday, 16 April, at 7 oclock a report appears here