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Pastoral whimsies, fireworks, love and death

Pastoral whimsies, fireworks, love and death

by Angus McPherson on July 9, 2016 (July 9, 2016) filed under Classical Music | Instrumental | Comment Now

A snapshot from Preliminary Round 1 Concert 3 of the Sydney International Piano Competition


With 16 performers down and another 16 to go, Preliminary Round 1 Concert 3 opened the second day of recitals in the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s Vergbrugghen Hall, the concert hosted by ABC Classic FM’s Damien Beaumont. The competition is getting everyone talking, and there is a lively Twitter commentary running online.

A prodigious young pianist from Cairns, Reuben Tsang, stunned the crowd as the Australia Showcase performer with his renditions of Chopin’s florid Etude in A Flat Major Op. 25 No 1 and the Prestissimo from Beethoven’s Sonata in F minor Op. 2 No 1.

Russian pianist Andrey Gugnin continued the Beethoven theme with Fantasia in G Minor Op. 77, the emotional intensity of the work visible on his face as he rocked forward and back. He followed the Beethoven with Liszt’s Faribolo Pastour (Pastoral Whimsy) and Transcendental Étude No 5 Feux Follets (Wills o' the Wisp), practically leaping off the stool as he placed the last note.

Australian pianist Jeremy So unleashed flurries of notes in a high-intensity programme that sandwiched Scriabin’s White Mass sonata between two Ligeti etudes – Disorder and Autumn in Warsaw. His posture relaxed, So’s playing was quick and agile, the notes streaming effortlessly from his fingers as he navigated intersecting lines of music and highlighted passionate melodic shapes. “Unbelievable,” came a gasp from the audience after his final notes.

Alexei Melnikov began his programme with the sombre notes of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No 2 – departing from the order listed and announced – before sounding the bell-like tones of Debussy’s Prelude The Submerged Cathedral from Book 1 and then the sparkling Fireworks from Book 2, his fingers leaping off the keys.

The first half of the concert ended with Thai pianist Poom Prommachart, taking us back in time with Rameau’s Prelude The Muse’s Appointment from the Suite in D, shaking his head along with the music, before Liszt’s Variations on a theme of Bach from Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen. A very physical player, Prommachart unfolded his body from the piano with each phrase, leaning in close for the tragic, descending chords. He handled the quiet moments with sensitivity, conducting with his left hand, but was still able to draw a huge sound from the Kawai when needed.

Korean pianist Woo-Gil Park brought a bright chirpiness to Haydn’s Sonata in D and a buoyant levity to Mendelssohn's Variations Sérieuses.

Scriabin was a popular choice in this session, with American pianist Lindsay Garritson performing the Sonata in G Sharp Minor No 2 Op. 19 with a warm, rich sound and furious intensity before the roaring and rapid burbling of Carl Vine’s Toccatissimo.

Daniel Le, the second Australian entrant in this concert, played Michael Kieran Harvey’s Toccata DNA with driving rhythms and such soft final notes that the audience let out an audible sigh. He followed that up with Chopin’s Ballade No 4 Op. 52, smiling with opening major figure and playing with such drama and panache that the audience let out an excited burst of premature applause before he dispatched the final coda.

The final performance of the session was also one of the highlights, and one of the most rounded programmes. Kazakh pianist Oxana Shevchenko traced delicate lines with Rameau’s Allemande from the Suite in E Minor before demonstrating an extraordinary dynamic control in the first two movements of Vine’s Bagatelles, her fingers skittering over the keyboard. She capped it all off with power and passion in Granados’ Ballade of Love and Death.

By the end of Friday night, each competitor has played once, and the audience and jury are beginning to get a feel for their diverse musical personalities and playing styles. Listeners are tuning in on ABC Classic FM (and you can go back and listen to any performances you might have missed), and the live streaming is reaching audiences around the world. The battle has truly been joined, and this will be a competition to remember.


Tickets are still available for selected events, and all Competition Concerts can be watched free via 5stream as well as being broadcast live on ABC Classic FM for listeners who may not have access to the Internet.