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1992 Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini Op.43
Vitaly Samoshko (piano)
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat major
Duncan Gifford (piano)
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Piano Concerto No.3 in C
Olivier Cazal (piano)
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Edvard Tchivzhel
Recorded in competition in 1992
ABC CLASSICS 476 227-4 [70.09]


Released By Popular Demand runs the rubric on the cover booklet of this release of the Concerto Finals of the 1992 Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia, to give its full title. Do people not know where Sydney is – or are there similar ones in Adelaide and Melbourne? (Organisers, drop the of Australia – if they don’t know where Sydney is they shouldn’t be competing). Anyway there were the usual pianophile shenanigans in Sydney over a decade ago – not least the disqualification of Vitaly Samoshko (on technical grounds not drug testing – he’d prepared the wrong concerto and read from a score which is not allowed under the rules). Compassionately, or pragmatically, the jurors allowed him to play his Rachmaninov at the finals – otherwise Cazal and Gifford (the eventual winner) would have had things to themselves in a very short programme. I’m not sure, to return to the beginning, quite how popular demand must be to encourage commercial release but here we have those three concerto performances, accompanied by the local orchestra and Edvard Tchivzhel.

The performances? Samoshko, 19 at the time, lets a few notes slip, but in the context of a competition final that’s surely better than studied text book piano playing – not the same thing as pianism. There’s a breach of co-ordination between soloist and orchestra from time to time but he has a fine touch, is sensitive even though he does go into overdrive at the end. Maturity will have taught him to pace with greater care. Gifford turned up with the E flat major Liszt and he is strong on poetic reverie as well as the more virtuosic elements. There’s certainly fine clarity of articulation even in the heat of battle. One of the favourites was the Frenchman Cazal who it seems was so peeved with second place that he replaced his Haydn in the Prize Winner’s Concert with the Funeral March from Chopin’s B flat minor sonata – such amour propre from the thirty year old Frenchman. He certainly plays the Prokofiev with verve, at a Katchen-like tempo, though the finale isn’t taken at excessive speed but is well controlled. The playing has great dash, even if at times the first movement is a touch faceless.

There’s clearly demand for a souvenir of this competition and for admirers of the pianists I’m sure there will be interest. The recording is rather uncomfortably boomy and lower frequencies are indistinct – also the string sound swirls alarmingly at certain points and is rather recessed. I don’t think, however, that considerations of that kind will weigh heavily. This is strictly for admirers.

Jonathan Woolf

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