Sampling the field at two Quarter Finals sessions of this important
competition, I have been privileged to encounter three well equipped
pianists, Alexei Zouev, Guiseppe Andaloro and Lorène
de Ratuld, who each found the best possible sound for a Steinway
grand in that difficult, small hall; they could be worthy finalists.
Others of the seven heard had the limitations one might expect at the
beginning of a competition, but none of the 'twenty-four outstanding
young pianists representing fourteen countries' was eliminated after
the first stage - it was hard to understand why not, given the onerous
task for the jury and that the South Bank sessions are contested before
paying audiences. Another peculiarity of the arrangements was that no
scores were provided, it being assumed that the members of the Jury
were fully familiar with the long list of set works (including
Carter's Night Fantasies and Dutilleux's Sonata) if not with all the
free choices offered by individuals (I heard works by e.g. Hindemith,
Boulez and Lendvai).
Some aspirants were fairly promising, given the right guidance, but
several failed to match limited talent with suitable repertoire. One
young Russian unwisely battered us with Prokofiev's huge Sonata No 8,
but seemed to have spent so long learning and memorising the notes that
he had forgotten all the dynamic markings and given no thought to a
Prokofiev sound; it was a struggle for him to get through it and exhausting
for us listeners; another contender made Scriabin's grandiloquent third
sonata seem more turgid than usual; a third butchered Liszt's Dante
Sonata so comprehensively that I could not face hearing it played again
immediately, and with Rachmaninoff's second to follow!
On the first afternoon Alexei Zouev (Russian, 19) challenged
memories of the greats in two peaks of the repertoire, bringing transcendental
technique and finely attuned ears, with mature thought and the fullest
palette of pianistic colour, to Beethoven's Waldstein sonata
and Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit. He was followed by Guiseppe
Andaloro (Italy, 20) who showcased three short sonatas - stylish
Haydn encompassing sentiment and wit; perfectly judged sonority and
weight in Janacek's (a grim memorial to 1 October 1905); scrupulous
attention to detail and proper hyper-intensity for Berg's Op 1, and
Messiaen's early Prelude no 8 a virtuosic flourish to finish. Next afternoon,
Lorène de Ratuld integrated Mozart's wayward Fantasie
in C minor in a well considered interpretation and delighted me with
her comprehensive grasp of the sensuousness and wit of Dutilleux's multi-faceted
Sonata, a work of such variety and complexity that it can really only
be grasped fully if one has worked at playing it oneself, however inadequately.
Whether they prevail or fall by the wayside, these are three musicianly
pianists I would be pleased to hear again in full length recitals.
Peter Grahame Woolf
The Semi-Finals of the London International Piano Competition
are at QEH, 12 and 14 April; Concerto Finals with LPO at RFH, 16 April.
Full details on http://www.ldn-ipc.dircon.co.uk/