I caught most of the "Schubert Round" at the Alaska Piano-e-Competition on Saturday. This is essentially a second level of eliminations, winnowing the field from 10 semifinalists to 5 finalists. Word was not yet posted of the winners as of midnight; they may have been effected by the same power outage that delayed Opera Fairbanks' "Italian Girl."
I heard seven of the 10, all performing the long, introspective sonatas of Franz Schubert. Organizer Eduard Silberkant had told me it was a way of separating the musicians from the mere pyrotechnicians. He didn't use those words.
The thing is these pieces are not only long and meditative, but they tend read more like fantasies than formal sonatas; the classic structure is there, but Schubert is constantly shifting moods, jumping from one idea to another, often pausing in mid-thought as it were. How one handles these hurdles is a litmus test.
I love this music, but it's almost never heard live. So the Saturday eliminations were a special treat. I came away thinking three of the seven I heard might move on... though there are times you really wonder what the judges are listening to; these performances were all pretty darned good.
I liked Russian Timur Mustakimov's rendition of the Sonata in C-minor. He had a very clear bass - and the bass is something of a trap in Schubert piano music, because it's like a melody of its own - and savvy control of the stop-and-go writing of the last movement. I also put a star b Ukrainian Pavel Gintov's reading of the Sonata in A Major. And I was especially impressed by Hyejin Kim of South Korea in her performance of the Sonata in A Major.
Kim's reading struck me as nearly perfect, each phrase had been thought out and the articulation was meticulous yet emotionally shaped. The last chords in the funereal second movement were not just two sides of the same board but studies in contrasting colors.
Marianna Prjevalskaya of Spain also performed the A Major Sonata very well, but not to the degree of Kim, I thought. Nor was I overwhelmed by Joo Hyeon Park, another South Korean, in his performance of the Sonata in D.
Two pianists tried the B-flat Major Sonata, one of the best known of this poorly known group of works. Chen Guang of China had a good technical approach, though he seemed to loose the edge in the last two movements of the the 40+ minute piece. Peter Friis Johansson, representing Sweden and Denmark, had more emotion in his delivery, but was not so accurate, particularly with the bass trills in the first movement. The crowd seemed split over which approach was right. I'm thinking neither.
I had to leave before hearing Frank Dupree of Germany in a third performance of the A Major, or Soo-Yeon Ham of South Korea - the only one to pick the relatively brief and arguably incomplete sonata in C Major and the much-praised Alexey Chernov of Russia in another C Minor Sonata that would have made for an interesting end to the evening.
Results, when known, will be posted at this blog site, or check uaf.edu/piano for possibly faster results and links to videos of the competitors as well as real-time audio of the competition.