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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Dux 0068
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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Competition Chronicle
DUX 0068 [[15 CDs: 62:33 + 73:01 + 77:49 + 57:39 + 78:26 + 78:07 + 77:21 + 74:08 + 62:43 + 67:33 + 73:31 + 71:24 + 39:39 + 75:37 + 35:30]

The Winner of the 15th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition
Warsaw 2005

A repackaging of CDs 6, 13 and 15 from the above set
DUX 0066 [3 CDs: 78:07 + 39:39 + 35:30]

Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Competition Chronicle

CDs 1-5 [62:33 + 73:01 + 77:49 + 57:39 + 78:26]
1st Round: the best performances of each single participant.

Full details of competitors, pieces played and a brief comment on each are given in the Appendix to this review.
CD 6 [78:07]
Rafał Blechacz: 1st and 2nd Round recordings

Preludes op.28/7-12 [0:53, 01:56, 01:24, 00:35, 00:45, 01:18]
Nocturne in B op.62/1 [07:10]
Etude in A flat op.10/10 [02:14]
3 Waltzes op. 64 [01:51, 03:40, 03:16]
Barcarolle op.60 [08:43]
Polonaise in A flat op.53 [06:52]
3 Mazurkas op.56 [04:10, 01:37, 06:00]
Sonata in b op.58 [09:03, 02:32, 08:47, 05:20]
CD 7 [77:21]
Nobuyuki TSUJII: 1st and 2nd Round recordings

Nocturne in B op.62/1 [06:10]
Waltz in F op.34/3 [02:23]
Barcarolle op.60 [08:04]
Scherzo in b flat op.31 [09:54]
Andante spianato and Polonaise in E flat op.22 [13:28]
4 Mazurkas op.24 [02:41, 02:17, 02:01, 04:52]
Sonata in b op.58 [08:57, 02:25, 08:53, 05:17]
CD 8 [74:08]
Takashi YAMAMOTO: 1st and 2nd Round performances

Barcarolle op.60 [09:12]
Etude in e op.25/5 [03:27]
Scherzo in c sharp op.39 [07:21]
Nocturne in E flat op.54 [05:32]
Scherzo in E op.54 [10:51]
3 Mazurkas op.59 [04:26, 02:29, 03:13]
Sonata in b flat op.35 [05:45, 06:14, 07:45, 01:22]
Polonaise in A flat op.53 [06:48]
CD 9 [62:43]
2nd Round: 1

Sonata in b flat op.35 [05:42, 07:26, 09:13, 01:32]
Ka Ling Colleen LEE

4 Mazurkas op.33 [01:32, 01:37, 02:10, 05:06]
Rachel Naomi KUDO

Sonata in b op.58 [09:55, 02:38, 10:37, 05:20]
CD 10 [67:33]
2nd Round: 2
Dong Hyek LIM

Andante spianato and Polonaise in E flat op.22 [13:53]
Rieko NEZU

4 Mazurkas op.24 [02:45, 02:19, 01:52, 04:58]
Dong Min LIM

Polonaise in A flat op.53 [07:05]
Yeol-Eum SON

Mazurka in a op.59/1 [04:25]

Andante spianato and Polonaise in E flat op.22 [14:05]

4 Mazurkas op.30 [01:33, 01:18, 02:39, 04:07]

Polonaise in A flat op.53 [06:38]
CD 11 [73:31]
The Finals: 1

Concerto no.1 in e op.11 [20:31, 10:35, 10:05]
Dong Hyek LIM

Concerto no.2 in f op.21 [14:18, 09:10, 08:43]
CD 12 [71:24]
The Finals: 2

Concerto no.1 in e op.11 [20:12, 09:43, 09:49]
Rieko NEZU

Concerto no.2 in f op.21 [14:31, 08:35, 08:34]
CD 13 [39:39]
The Finals: 3

Concerto no.1 in e op.11 [20:03, 09:24, 10:12]
CD 14 [75:37]
Selected recordings by the two ex aequo 3rd prize-winners
Dong Hyek LIM

6 Preludes op.28/13-18 [03:14, 00:28, 05:36, 01:00, 03:22, 01:01]
3 Mazurkas op.59 [03:46, 02:34, 03:21]
Dong Min LIM

Waltz in F op.34/3 [02:20]
4 Mazurkas op.33 [01:36, 02:18, 01:33, 04:40]
Concerto no.1 in e op.11 [19:40, 09:19, 09:36]
CD 15 [35:30]
1st prize-winner’s concert

3 Mazurkas op.56 [04:10, 01:36, 05:51]
Polonaise in A flat op.53 [06:42]
Waltzes in c sharp and D flat op.64/2 and 1 [03:59, 02:02]
Mazurka in B flat op.17/1 [02:26]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Suite Bergamasque: Clair de lune [06:55]
Concertos with Warsaw Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. live at the 15th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, Warsaw, 2-24 October 2005
DUX 0068 [[15 CDs: 62:33 + 73:01 + 77:49 + 57:39 + 78:26 + 78:07 + 77:21 + 74:08 + 62:43 + 67:33 + 73:31 + 71:24 + 39:39 + 75:37 + 35:30]
Also available:

The Winner of the 15th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition
Warsaw 2005

A repackaging of CDs 6, 13 and 15 from the above set
DUX 0066 [3 CDs: 78:07 + 39:39 + 35:30]

Among the documents that came to light while I was researching Harold Craxton’s biography were the notebooks he kept while on the jury for the 1955 and 1960 Warsaw Chopin Competitions – a mark and a brief comment for each entrant. 1955 was the year when Adam Harasiewicz came first and Vladimir Ashkenazy second – and Craxton agreed with that. After the 1960 event he published an article recounting his experiences at the competition. He agreed that the first prize-winner Maurizio Pollini was "in a class of his own" but confessed that his own favourite had been Irina Zariskaya, who came second. While perusing the 1955 notebook I was struck by his stinging dismissal of a certain Támas Vásáry, whose A flat Polonaise was described as "most unpleasant". Since this 18-year-old pianist made no headway in the competition it would appear that the other jurors agreed. Such a debacle might have nipped a weaker personality in the bud; in the case of Vásáry it evidently provoked the heart-searching necessary to overhaul his works and become the major artist we all know him to be.

I mention this because with the present set of 15 CDs the 2005 Competition is "going public" in a way earlier ones did not and it may be that the list of names summarily eliminated at the first round – with apparent justice – includes some who will dominate the world stage over the next few decades. As a matter of fact, these discs do include a "most unpleasant" performance of the A flat Polonaise.

The set is called the "Competition Chronicle", but it is inevitably a highly selective one. Granted that we hear nothing from the Preliminary Round, 80 1st Round candidates playing for 40-45 minutes each, 13 2nd Rounders and 12 Finalists, plus the prize-winner’s concert, would have added up to 60-65 CDs. The present 15 will presumably be more than enough for most people’s pockets. The problem is that by careful selection from this material it would be possible to distort the reality, presenting weaker candidates in a favourable light and subliminally suggesting that a few got prizes they didn’t deserve. Has this been done? Without hearing the discarded material I can hardly say, but it does seem odd that we get very full representation of one gentleman who didn’t get into the Finals and a fairly full picture of a couple of Finalists who didn’t get prizes while two prize-winners – Ka Ling Collen Lee and Shohei Sekimoto – are so meagrely documented that it is impossible to assess their claims. It would have been helpful if the booklet had explained the reason for the selections made.

Which brings me to another point. For a "Competition Chronicle" there is a lot of information omitted that one would like to know. We have brief biographies and a photo of each entrant, in good enough English except for a curious way of describing the prize-winners as "laureates" and an endearing Anglicization of "Frederick" Chopin on the cover. But we are not told the rules – age-limit, choice of pieces etc – nor who the jury were.

A wide range of material in Polish and English, ranging from useful comment to sheer gossip, can be found at http://www.warsawvoice.pl/view/9355/. The rules can be found in English at http://www.konkurs.chopin.pl/RegulationsXV.HTML. They make fairly complicated reading and since they are copyright I would not be entitled to reproduce them here in any case. Basically, from 23-29 September 2005 the 257 hopefuls were heard in a preliminary round by an all-Polish jury consisting of Waldemar ANDRZEJEWSKI, Tadeusz CHMIELEWSKI, Kazimierz GIERŻOD, Krzysztof JABſOŃSKI, Andrzej JASIŃSKI (Chairman), Bronisława KAWALLA, Grzegorz KURZYŃSKI, Włodzimierz OBIDOWICZ, Janusz OLEJNICZAK, Alicja PALETA-BUGAJ, Ewa POBſOCKA, Karol RADZIWONOWICZ, Marta SOSIŃSKA-JANCZEWSKA, Józef STOMPEL, Jerzy SULIKOWSKI, Maria SZRAIBER, Elżbieta TARNAWSKA, Andrzej TATARSKI, Waldemar WOJTAL and Edward WOLANIN, who whittled them down to 80.


CDs 1-5: First Round

In the first round the 80 candidates had to play a programme of 40-45 minutes consisting of mainly shorter pieces – the exact rules for selection can be read on the site indicated above. The first five of these CDs give us what somebody – the jury? Dux? the performers themselves? – considers to be the best performance(s) of each one. Thus the purchaser of this set can rerun the competition, giving his own marks and comments, with the important proviso that the jury had about ten times as much music on which to base its decision. I have decided to place my own "pocket jury service" as an appendix – see below – since a series of 80 one-liners would be about as readable as a dictionary. However, those who buy the set might like to compare notes, as might anyone else involved in the competition or to whom some of the pianists are familiar names. Virtually all of them have won prizes elsewhere and have active careers at least in their own countries. A lucky few already have discs in the catalogue. Please refer to the Appendix also for the place and date of birth of each candidate.

Briefly, on the strength of this single-piece selection, my choice of potential winners, to compete in the next round, was:

Oliver Jia, Hisako Kawamura, Timo Herman Latonen, Ka Ling Colleen Lee, Wei-Chi Lin, Jędrzej Lisiecki, Aleksandra Mikulska, Rieko Nezu, Miku Omine, Marianna Prjevalskaya, Marian Sobula, Krzysztof Trzaskowski, Hélène Tysman, Natalia Wańdoch, Ingolf Wunder, Andrey Yaroshinskiy and Hong-Chun Youn.

Somewhat embarrassingly, my list does not include the eventual 1st prize-winner. The jury’s choice was as follows, with names common to both lists in bold type:

Rafał Blechacz, Jacek Kortus, Rachel Naomo Kudo, Ka Ling Colleen Lee, Dong Hyek Lim, Dong Min Lim, Rieko Nezu, Yuma Osaki, Shohei Sekimoto, Yeol-Eum Son, Nobuyuki Tsujii, Takashi Yamamoto and Andrey Yaroshinskiy.

I wish to emphasize again, though, that I am not trying to suggest that the jury did not know its job: they had a whole programme of 40-45 minutes to go on and I had just one piece. As it happens, Disc 5 is filled up with a few extra performances by pianists who didn’t make it to the second round. Do these change my perceptions?

In the case of Howard Na, no. He is obviously gifted but his Prelude 13 has lumpy things alongside the good ones. He does his best to get some variety and shape out of Prelude 14 but the larger canvas of the Barcarolle confirms the impression of a gifted pianist who needs to expunge a tendency to insert disruptive touches.

Kiaoxi Wu, on the other hand, produces a wonderfully poised and translucent Berceuse, infinitely superior to the Etude heard earlier. On this strength I’d pass her to the second round.

Wen-Yu Shen didn’t impress me before and doesn’t now. The Etude has powerful outer sections but is terribly laboured in the middle while the Waltz is by turns quirky, laboured and banal. Not a very musical player.

Marian Sobula was one of my choices. Here he adds a serious, appreciative and musical reading of the E major Nocturne, but one which lacks real "star" quality, leaving me less sure.

Avan Yu is another whom I dismissed before but his c sharp minor Nocturne has an ideal relationship between the hands and a passionately argued middle section. On this strength I’d have passed him to the next round.

Timo Herman Latonen impressed me very greatly earlier on. He does so again in the truly demoniac outer sections of the B minor Scherzo, but the middle stagnates a little, raising doubts.

The Second Round

So now we move to the second round, or rather to some discs where the first and second round performances of some of the pianists – not only the ultimate winners – are heard in more detail. The programme for the second round was:

    1. A full cycle of mazurkas from the following opuses: 17, 24, 30, 33, 41, 50, 56, 59

    2. One of the following polonaises: Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise in E flat major op.22, Polonaise in F sharp minor op.44, Polonaise in A flat major op.53, Polonaise-Fantasia in A flat major op.61

    3. Sonata in B flat minor op.35 or Sonata in B minor op.58.

CD 6: Rafał Blechacz: 1st and 2nd Round recordings.

The brief Etude so far included by the eventual 1st prize-winner Rafał Blechacz didn’t impress me at all so I approached this opportunity to hear his complete 1st and 2nd Round performances with a good deal of curiosity. At first I was not reassured. The A major Prelude is slower and more lugubrious than I have ever heard it – the marking is "Andantino" – and no. 8 is fidgety. It is probably neither possible nor desirable to maintain an even tempo through no.10 but Blechacz’s extreme differences are predictable and disruptive. He is appreciative of no.11 – one of the most beautiful in spite of its brevity – though he pulls it around too much. No. 12 is hum-drum where it should be demoniac.

The Nocturne is unsettled at first with nervous spurts into a faster tempo but the last two pages – at a slower pace – are very beautiful with poetically managed trills. The first of the Waltzes is infectious but with the second something really happened. It steals in with a poetry that immediately captivated me and from there he could do no wrong. In this and the following Waltz he reveals that capacity possessed by such old masters as Paderewski or Friedman to emphasize individual notes within a phrase, in theory distorting the shape considerably but in reality not losing the lilt of the dance. This same ability together with a warm, rounded sound produces one of the finest Barcarolles in my experience.

The First Round ended here. I should certainly have been in a quandary if I had been on the jury. Simple mathematics would have to decree his elimination, yet those two Waltzes and the Barcarolle are SO good that I can only applaud the jury’s decision to give him the opportunity to shine in the Second Round.

They were richly rewarded. The Polonaise – and also the last movement of the Sonata – reveals that Blechacz can maintain a warm, unforced tone in the toughest of forte passages. The exuberant strut of this Polonaise never descends to heavy pounding and I’d rate this against any other version I have on disc – and that includes Rubinstein and Horowitz.

And he is one of the God-gifted few who can truly play Mazurkas. Again, the name of Ignaz Friedman came to mind for Blechacz expresses that same sense of freedom, that same extreme elasticity of rhythm, yet at the same time the elusive mazurka-rhythm is all-pervasive. He also evokes wonderfully the folklore elements of no.2.

The Sonata is very fine. My only concern was that in the second subject of the first movement and in the Largo his technical armour does not quite extend to a capacity to "tier" the textures, so that melodies, countermelodies and accompanying figuration dialogue with one another, each with an independent life of its own. Dinu Lipatti is the touchstone in this Sonata, but a few of the other competitors heard on CDs 1-5 appear to have this ability (see Appendix), though in admittedly simpler pieces such as Nocturnes.

A fascinating "case", then. In the dance-based pieces Blechacz is an inspired interpreter, I would almost say a genius. His artistry demands to be heard and on this strength his first prize is justified. But he does not appear to have a comparable insight into some of the other genres and the technical point made above suggests he is not yet a "complete" pianist, or even a complete Chopin pianist.

His concerto performance in the finals and his prize-winner’s concert – I write before hearing these – may alter the balance. In the meantime, let us examine the claims of the other competitors admitted to the Second Round.

CD 7: Nobuyuki Tsujii: 1st and 2nd Round recordings.

Having made the decision to extend full red-carpet treatment to just three entrants – a disc to themselves with as much as possible of their 1st and 2nd Round performances – one would expect honours to go, apart from the 1st prize-winner himself, to the two ex aequo 3rd prize-winners (the 2nd prize was not awarded). Instead, the lucky pair are Nobuyuki Tsujii, who didn’t make it to the finals, and one of the ex-aequo 4th prize-winners, Takashi Yamamoto. If somebody at Dux is trying to suggest they deserved a higher placing, I’m not impressed.

In the case of Tsujii most of the story is soon told, for he wades through virtually everything with dead-pan technical fluency and no apparent interest in what he is playing. In a negative sense, the disc provides a minor revelation. I had been reflecting up till then that the true hero of it all was Chopin, whose music was emerging from over-exposure and interpretative excesses with its magic intact. The one thing this music cannot take, I now learn, is disengagement; in Tsujii’s hands it sounds boring, even banal.

For some reason the 2nd and 4th Mazurkas engage the pianist’s fantasy a little more and are at least pleasing. However, it was with the Sonata that I began to find that there may yet be a niche for this pianist, though perhaps not in Chopin. In the first movement he takes the sort of grandly structural approach, unconcerned with passing details, that might have been expected from Wilhelm Backhaus or Artur Schnabel. The result is quite impressive. The Scherzo finds him once again blankly uncomprehending, treating the outer sections as a digital study and finding no character in the trio. The remaining movements respond better. He does not "tier" the textures in the Largo any more than Blechacz, but in this literalist context I missed it less.

In retrospect, I suppose the whole programme is intended as a "cleaning-up" exercise, a plea for non-interventionist interpretation. Unfortunately, I think Tsujii proves that in Chopin this only works in the few large-structured works, and that it goes against the spirit of the dance-inspired pieces above all. He could be a useful interpreter of big and potentially unwieldy 19th century sonatas such as those of Brahms; his Beethoven might also be worth hearing. But these possible plus-points only emerged in his 2nd Round performances and I cannot begin to imagine why he was admitted to this round at all.

CD 8: Takashi Yamamoto: 1st and 2nd Round performances

Lack of gut commitment is no problem with Yamamoto. His performances are accompanied by what may be either orgiastic heavy-breathing or terminal asthmatic wheezing – I have no medical knowledge with which to interpret the noises I hear. Or did he bring his own personal warhorse onto the platform with him? He – or his warhorse – can also be heard violently kicking the pedal at key moments. One suspects the show may be even more exciting to watch than to hear – the loud cheers at the end certainly suggest this.

Not that visceral excitement is lacking from the playing when he gets the bit between his teeth, as in parts of the Scherzos. Elsewhere his response is more conventional. His rubato in the Barcarolle seems plainer than Blechacz’s, but Blechacz’s is a genuine case of robbing Peter to pay Paul while keeping the lilt of the music, whereas Yamamoto disrupts the flow. From the 1st Round I liked him best in the Nocturne where, without any particular points to make or windmills to charge, he gives a natural and warm-hearted performance.

Turning to the 2nd Round, momentarily, as the melody passes to the left hand in the second Mazurka, the real mazurka-rhythms emerges, suggesting that one day he may master these elusive pieces – but not yet.

The Sonata is the biggest pointer to a promising future. The first movement is not as stop-go as I feared and the trio of the Scherzo, like the Nocturne, shows how attractive his playing can be when he relaxes. The Funeral March is impressively glacial with a tender, withdrawn middle section. Alas, the conventional blustering of the Polonaise that concludes the programme only serves to make Blechacz’s seem a minor miracle. Even warhorses can tire, too; there are quite a lot of Cortot-like splashes.

This pianist may yet settle down to become a valued artist. As things stand his 4th prize, if deserved at all, would seem to have been awarded more on the strength of his promise than his achievement.

CD 9: The 2nd Round: 1

Jacek Kortus

Jacek Kortus reached the Finals but was not placed. I was not impressed by his 1st Round recording (a Scherzo) which I found "doggedly heavy-handed". After a more extended encounter with his playing I prefer to modify this into "weighty and considered". He dawdles a bit in second subject territory in the first movement of the Sonata but otherwise this is a performance with a gentle poetry of its own. No particular charisma but this is clearly more mature playing than Yamamoto’s, the sort of soundly-based musicianship which is likely to gain strength over the years. It is also the sort of playing which is unlikely to emerge from a competition – and it didn’t.

Ka Ling Colleen Lee

Here I must protest against the lop-sided representation we are given of certain pianists. We have had an entire disc of Tsujii, who didn’t reach the finals, we get the Sonata and Concerto performances of Kortus who got into the Finals but wasn’t placed, and we get the Mazurkas and the Concerto of Nezu who likewise got into the Finals but wasn’t placed. Lee got the 6th Prize but we are allowed to hear only her Mazurkas, making it practically impossible to assess her overall claims.

I enjoyed Lee’s 1st Round performance and I like her Mazurkas still more – exquisitely poetic playing, always close to the Mazurka spirit though without that touch of wayward genius that makes Blechacz so remarkable in these pieces. I can imagine that this gentle manner applied to a Sonata and a Concerto might find her over-stretched but I am not permitted to know if this was actually the case. The disc is not overfull and space might at least have been found for her Polonaise. As far as I can tell, I can only remark that she seems a far more interesting artist that Yamamoto.

Rachel Naomi Kudo

Another who made it to the Finals but wasn’t placed. I really have nothing to add to what I wrote about Kudo’s 1st Round performance. A certain pallid beauty shines through in the more lyrical moments but for the rest it is a matter of polite technical competence. Better that than vulgar bashing, you will say, but Chopin’s fiery passion often sounds like empty note-spinning in her hands. Enough said.

CD 10: The 2nd Round: 2

Dong Hyek Lim

As one of the joint 3rd prize-winners we hear more of Dong Hyek Lim on CD 14. I didn’t back him at the 1st Round and he confirms his status as a pedal-kicker but he makes an altogether more sympathetic impression here. Delicate poetry is to the fore – maybe too much for a Polonaise and this is a decorative rather than passionate view, but it holds the attention. I’d back him as a finalist on the strength of this and the jury’s implicit view that he is better than Yamamoto but a lesser artist than Blechacz would seem to be correct.

Rieko Nezu

This is more interventionist mazurka-playing than Lee’s, with a suspicion that the rhythms are being applied from without. There isn’t the supreme naturalness with which Blechacz justifies his liberties. And yet it has its own fascination and I much appreciate the way she finds new details in repeats – inner voices brought out differently or a quite new touch of rubato. In its quite different way I’d put this mazurka playing on a level with Lee’s, a notch below Blechacz but in another class compared with Yamamoto, let alone Tsujii’s dismal offerings. Nezu is yet another finalist who didn’t get placed. I note that her teachers include Halina Czerny-Stefańska, the winner of the 1949 competition.

Dong Min Lim

Dong Min Lim was the other 3rd prize-winner – we’ll be hearing his work in more detail on CD 14. He is technically astoundingly well-equipped, tossing off this notorious Polonaise with an enviable nonchalance that arguably removes an essential element from it. Nor is he lacking in imagination or charisma. The problem is that he seems to have erased from the score all dynamic and expression markings, leaving only the virgin notes, which he treats – dynamically and rhythmically – exactly as he likes. I’ve been fairly tolerant over the fact that quite a number of entrants have not been ideally faithful to the scores but this really is monstrous. While I recognize that Dong Min Lim has a lot of talent and may become a household name if he disciplines himself a bit more, as things stand I can only say that a competition taking place in Chopin’s name should reject such aberrations on principle.

Yeol-Eum Son

Yet another who made the Finals but wasn’t placed. We don’t hear her performance there so this single Mazurka is all we have to go on. She plays it appreciatively and sensitively but it hardly seems a performance for the international circuit. I repeat my 1st Round comment that she may be better in Brahms.

Yuma Osaki

Osaki, too, got into the Finals but wasn’t placed – and we don’t hear her performance there. There seems more personality at work than with Son. Dynamics are thoughtfully graded and there are many delightful touches as well as dreamy poetry in the "Andante spianato". What follows may be a shade small-scale for a Polonaise but I’d put her alongside Lee and Nezu.

Andrey Yaroshinsky

I’m at my wits end to know how to say the same thing without repeating myself, for Yaroshinsky is yet one more who went into the Finals but wasn’t placed – and we don’t hear his performance there. He certainly knows how to play Mazurkas. I thought no.1 a little sluggish but I liked no.2 very much, as I did most of no.3, and I thought the elusive no.4 very perceptively handled. There is perhaps more personality in the Mazurkas of Lee and Nezu but this is excellent, musicianly playing, bearing out my 1st Round comment.

Shohei Sekimoto

Sekimoto was joint 4th prize-winner with Yamamoto. Here I must protest that it is quite ridiculous that we are given a CD and a half of the latter and just this Polonaise from Sekimoto, making it quite impossible to assess their relative claims. Sekimoto’s Polonaise is certainly a relief after Dong Min Lim’s. It is a bit fraught at times but he takes the grand, patriotic view of, say, Paderewski – all the other performances in this set have apparently fought shy of this "old-fashioned" way of playing it. I found it thoroughly stirring and I should have thought Sekimoto a more mature artist than Yamamoto.

The Finals

The jury in a sense ducked a decision over the 2nd Round. Apart from the elimination of Tsujii all the 2nd Round performers passed to the Finals, effectively deferring judgement. I’d have dropped Kudo, Dong Min Lim (but see CD 14) and Son as well. How were the decisions made?

One of the sites I have given above contains a fairly outspoken interview with one of the jury members who states that the competition will have to change in the future – he claims that most of the finalists were pupils of jury members.

Fortunately a check-up on the teachers named in the entrants’ CVs doesn’t seem to support this to any great degree.

Firstly, Blechacz himself doesn’t list any jury members among his teachers so professorial nepotism, if applied at all, was not so blinkered as to block the path of obvious talent.

Secondly, the regulations state that jury members will not vote on their own pupils, and we have no right to suppose this rule was not respected.

Thirdly, while the awarding of prizes to the jury-member pupils Ka Ling Colleen Lee (Arie Vardi) Dong Hyek Lim (Arie Vardi), Dong Min Lim (Vladimir Krainev) and Takashi Yamamoto (Piotr Paleczny) may look suspicious, a prize also went to Shohei Sekimoto who had no such "advantage". Furthermore, while another two finalists, Yuma Osaki (Hiroko Nakamura) and Andrey Yaroshinsky (Vera Gornostayeva), studied with jury members, this didn’t help them to obtain a prize – a prize, which I should personally have been inclined to give them. And since the remaining finalists – Kortus, Kudo, Nezu and Son – do not appear to have studied with jury members, it is not even true that "most" of the finalists were pupils of members of the jury – it’s a case of 50-50.

And finally, without wading through all the CVs, a brief flip through shows that plenty of 1st Round candidates had studied with jury members, yet this didn’t get them through to the 2nd Round, let alone the Finals. Just a few examples: Soo-Jung Ann (Choong Mo Kang), Piotr Banasik (Andrzej Jasiński, the Chairman of the jury), Maki Inoue (Regina Smendzianka), Maxence Pilchen (Bernard Ringeissen). In short, the jury’s decisions may not be entirely convincing but there seems not a shred of evidence that they were arrived at through incorrect channels. It may seem a naïve observation, but most of the jury members were invited to take part because they are renowned teachers and therefore likely to produce prize-winning pupils, and these professors would not have advised their pupils to enter the competition if they had not considered them of an adequate standard to do so.

The programme for the Finals was an easy choice – one of the two concertos, to be played with the Warsaw Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra under the experienced Antoni Wit. Once again Dux have made the odd decision to include a couple of performances by pianists not placed (Kortus and Nezu) at the expense of two that were (Sekimoto and Lee).

CD 11: The Finals: 1

Jacek Kortus

Kortus impresses more and more with his unassuming musicianship wedded to a natural warmth which makes you listen to the composer rather than the pianist. Presumably this was thought not good enough for a piano competition and in the finale I felt that perhaps a touch more sheer personality would not come amiss, but I shall keep this record by for when I want to hear Chopin rather than "X-plays-Chopin". Kortus’s musicianship will surely go from strength to strength and I hope an agent or a recording company will take note since competitions are not really the place for his particular brand of playing.

Dong Hyek Lim

Dong Hyek Lim is more obviously assertive, dominating the orchestra rather than making music with it. There is more daylight in his tone than in Kortus’s with a touch of hardness in fortes, but very attractive in pianos. It is a likeable performance without notable egocentricities, but as I noted with his Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise, his is a somewhat decorative style of playing Chopin, Liberty-style or even wallpaper-style. It pleases without deeply satisfying and you are not drawn into Chopin’s world as you are with Kortus. We will hear Lim’s Preludes and Mazurkas on CD 14; they will have to be almighty good to convince me he deserved a joint 3rd prize when Kortus got none at all.

CD 12: The Finals: 2

Takashi Yamamoto

At first Yamamoto seems relatively restrained, with no noticeable heavy breathing or pedal kicking. Towards the end of the exposition he gets the bit between his teeth, tearing away like a true warhorse. I’m not so hard-boiled as to remain unexcited but I must say that in this first movement Yamamoto veers between fraught excitement, heavy point-making and relaxed warmth without establishing a definite character.

The "Romance" once again shows that Yamamoto is at present best heard in music that does not tempt him into excesses one way or another. Even here, though, his way of treating practically every section either as an accelerando or as a rallentando, creating a sort of long-term ebb and flow that would be more effective in Puccini, or the Warsaw Concerto, really ducks the issue of true Chopinesque rubato, which is something rather different. Ultimately, this is more Chopin for the Palm Court, or even the piano bar, than for the concert hall.

As for his finale, I can only gape with astonishment. There are hardly two consecutive bars – nay two consecutive beats – in the same tempo. In the second subject the orchestral rhythms keep him on the rails a little but elsewhere the music is grossly distorted. As with Dong Min Lim’s Polonaise, I feel that a competition bearing Chopin’s name should apply certain limits and not encourage this sort of thing by giving it a prize. Incidentally, though Antoni Wit is not a conductor who has ever made my pulses race faster, I take my hat off to his sheer competence in keeping the orchestra together with the soloist here.

Rieko Nezu

What a relief to turn to Nezu’s gentle lyricism. There is a translucency that hovers over her tone that gives it a speaking quality that, while not wide-ranging, I found brought a lump to my throat. I feel she justifies her small-scale approach and I am glad to add this performance to my collection.

CD 13: The Finals: 3

Rafał Blechacz

So here is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Did Blechacz really deserve the 1st Prize? The answer is yes, triumphantly.

Firstly, a word about the actual piano sound, since I suppose the same piano and the same microphone-setting were used all through. Played by Kortus, this piano sounds warm and rounded, integrating well with the orchestra. Dong Hyek Lim and Yamamoto are roughly similar in giving it a dense impasto, as though painted with a broad brush. With Nezu every note glistens like moonbeams on rippling water. Blechacz makes it sound a totally different instrument. It’s like focusing a pair of binoculars. Every note assumes a silvery clarity. It’s not a "big" sound – you get that from Lim and Yamamoto – but it has a carrying power that is vividly communicative. Technically, I believe this is because Blechacz is more truly "inside" the keyboard than any of the others.

His first entry is dramatic, but the tone is then immediately fined down, leading to a magical launch of the lyrical subject that follows. Blechacz finds a much greater range in this first movement than any of his competitors but he also has an instinctive sense of how to balance the elements so that it all adds up into a whole. It may also be noticed that the orchestra, merely dutiful elsewhere, gradually awake to the realization that something very special is taking place; the performance is transformed into a collaboration at the highest level.

In the "Romance" every phrase speaks and there is that freedom within a regular pulse that was so dismally lacking from Yamamoto. But it is the finale that sets the seal on the performance. Blechacz sets up joyful, stamping rhythms that set the orchestra alight – and the public, to judge from the cheers at the end. The whole thing makes you want to get up and dance.

I initially had reservations about Blechacz and taking a dispassionate view I wondered – before hearing the concerto – whether he should have received the 2nd prize and the 1st prize should not have been awarded. But no, how can you not give a 1st prize to an artist who can play the First Concerto like this? It really is a performance in a million.

CD 14: The joint 3rd prize-winners

Before drawing the sums and listening to Blechacz’s prize-winner’s recital, we have a further representation of the two next-placed artists.

Dong Hyek Lim

Having complained of Dong Hyek Lim’s over-decorative approach, I must say his group of Preludes from the 1st Round find him on his best behaviour – serious, well-intentioned and utterly uninteresting. To hear such a listlessly unengaged rendering of the imperishably beautiful no.13 is somewhat painful. In the Mazurkas from the 2nd Round he either fails to capture the mazurka rhythm or – as in the main theme of no.3 – grotesquely exaggerates it. I did earlier support his reaching the Finals but after hearing this I’m inclined to think he should not have done so.

Dong Min Lim

On the other hand, having been thoroughly dismissive of Dong Min Lim’s A flat Polonaise, after hearing him more fully I realize that things are a little more complicated and the Polonaise was more of a temporary aberration. The neatly-turned Waltz from the 1st Round changes little, but unlike his countryman and near namesake, he can play Mazurkas. Not perhaps at the level of Blechacz, but the rhythm is always there and he is particularly effective in the more melancholy ones – no. 4 is especially beautiful, whereas the up-front no. 2 finds him in more disruptive vein. The Concerto veers between the commanding and the dreamily poetic. It is an attractive, warm-hearted performance whose roots do not seem to go very deep. The finale is sparkling and dashing, nice enough but without Blechacz’s innate understanding of the dance rhythms, and left me thinking he might make a dapper interpreter of the Mendelssohn concerti.

The Verdict

The jury’s verdict was, as you have gathered:

1st Prize: Rafał Blechacz

2nd Prize: not awarded

3rd Prize: Dong Hyek Lim, Dong Min Lim ex aequo

4th Prize: Shohei Sekimoto, Takashi Yamamoto ex aequo

5th Prize: not awarded

6th Prize: Ka Ling Colleen Lee

Looking at the various material on the site given above, Blechacz’s victory seems completely uncontested – and the discs bear it out. Several commentators remarked on the abyss between Blechacz and all the others, though at least one suggested that some of the entrants dropped at the 1st Round might have given him more of a run for his money. As is by now obvious, I find the prizes awarded to Dong Hyek Lim, Takashi Yamamoto and – as far as I can tell from just two pieces – Shohei Sekimoto quite inexplicable, while 3rd prize seems too much for Dong Min Lim. Equally inexplicable is the failure to award any prize to Jacek Kortus, Rieko Nezu and – more tentatively since I have heard less material – Yuma Osaki. Andrey Yaroshinskiy, too, probably deserved better. My own line-up, then, based on these CDs, would be:

1st Prize: Rafał Blechacz

2nd Prize: not awarded

3rd Prize: Jacek Kortus

4th Prize: Rieko Nezu

5th Prize: Ka Ling Colleen Lee, Yuma Osaki ex aequo

6th Prize: Dong Min Lim, Andrey Yaroshinskiy ex aequo

Special mentions (see Appendix): Hisako Kawamura, Timo Herman Latonen, Aleksandra Mikulska, Hélène Tysman, Ingolf Wunder, Hang-Chun Youn

Nezu’s Concerto performance got very lukewarm applause from the public compared with the roars and screams which greeted the likes of the two Lims and Yamamoto so the jury seem to have given the public what they wanted. Or did they? The Gazeta of the Warsaw Voice polled the public and obtained the following vote:

Rafał Blechacz: 47%

Jacek Kortus: 23%

Ingolf Wunder: 17%

The remaining 13% was scattered around various pianists. Once again Blechacz came top by a wide margin though – such are the delights of pure proportional representation – 53% of the public actually preferred someone else. Interestingly, it appears that the voters, as opposed to the roarers and screamers, went for the more musicianly entrants, Kortus and Wunder.

CD 15: The Prize-winner’s Concert

If you sit through the minute-and-a-half of Polish on the first track, the announcement of the prize-winner, you will hear at the end the correct pronunciation of Blechacz’s name. He chooses dance-inspired pieces, suggesting that he is well aware that this is where his strength lies at present. With the tensions of the competition over, on the whole he surpasses his earlier performances. In the Mazurkas – he adds a further one as an encore – he again proves that he has the rhythm so deeply inside him that he can take a very personal view without losing sight of the essential mazurka feeling. The Polonaise retains its springy step but adds a touch more patriotic fervour this time round. The Waltzes are much as before. As a final encore we get a warmly flexible Debussy "Clair de Lune" – maybe a plea from the pianist not to be typecast at the outset of his career.

For those unable or unwilling to stretch to 15 CDs, Dux have made a 3-disc package of CDs 6, 13 and 15, dedicated entirely to Blechacz. This is not quite so attractive as it sounds since CDs 13 and 15 play for a total of 75:09 minutes and most of the best performances on CD 6 are repeated and usually surpassed on CD 15 – specialists will want CD 6 for the Barcarolle and the Sonata, but then specialists will probably want all fifteen. Might Dux not remaster CDs 13 and 15 as a single CD? It would make a classic Chopin disc.

But one that is perhaps destined to be surpassed. While I was preparing this report the news came through that DG have signed up Blechacz. I hope to be reviewing the results ere long. In the meantime, all those with an interest in the pianistic world of the future will find much food for thought in these discs. It would be interesting to see what all these pianists are doing in ten years’ time.


According to an anecdote Artur Rubinstein was once invited to award the marks for the diploma candidates at the Paris Conservatoire. After a while his colleagues noted that the great man was giving, in every case, either 10 (the maximum) or 0. Questioned about this, he remarked "Either they can play or they can’t". From this point of view practically everybody here deserves 10. Technical problems are all mastered and, given the unnerving circumstances of playing in a great competition, I would personally have accepted a far higher level of technical slips or memory lapses than we actually hear.

I had thought at first of making my own "10 or zero" assessment on a slightly different criterion: "either they deserve to win or they don’t". It is clear that mere competence, or even a high level of musicality, are not enough for a competition of this standing. Something special is required. In the end I decided to modify my assessment to a simple "yes or no" since, while a few of those to whom I would have given zero really deserved it, others were very good indeed. Here, then, is my personal competition notebook.

CD 1 [62:33]

Fumio KAWAMURA (Fukui, Japan 1978)
Etude in c op.10/12 [02:52]
Unsettled. No.
Hisako KAWAMURA (Osaka, Japan 1981)
Variations on "Je vends des Scapulaires" op.12 [07:54]
Delicate, poetic, natural, also sparkling and strong where necessary. Yes.
Kiryl KEDUK (Grodno, Belarus 1987)
Etude in c sharp op.10/4 [02:05]
Enviable digital technique but unvaried approach – mechanical. No.
Yusuke KIKUCHI (Tokyo, Japan 1977)
Etude in F op.10/8 [02:21]
Occasional attempts to go beyond mere digitations. No.
Ben KIM (Portland, USA 1983)
Nocturne in f sharp op.48/2 [07:41]
Lacks the inflections to go beyond a polite reading of the notes. Middle section pulled out of shape. Boring. No.
Shinya KIYOZUKA (Tokyo, Japan 1982)
Etude in g sharp op.25/6 [01:50]
Effective when the music is loud. Elsewhere, loud anyway. Little tonal variation. No.
Szczepan KOŃCZAL (Katowice, Poland 1985)
Nocturne in E op.62/2 [05:24]
Lacks a singing line to stand out from the too-thick bass. Agitato section rendered mechanical by lack of singing line in spite of possibly good intentions. No.
Jacek KORTUS (Poznań, Poland 1988)
Scherzo in b op.20 [09:48]
Doggedly heavy-handed in outer sections, lacking poetic glow in centre, fiddles around to compensate for lack of singing tone. No. A finalist.
Olga KOZLOVA (Penza, Russia 1986)
Impromptu in G flat op.51 [05:03]
Quite nice, lacking the ultimate in elegance, pulled about arbitrarily in places. Good but not exactly prize-winning material. No.
Rachel Naomi KUDO (Washington, USA 1987)
Preludes in F sharp and e flat op.28/13-14 [03:14, 00:35]
Competent and sensitive in 13, lacks ultimate in singing touch to transform the notes into magic. 14 good – well-graded dynamics. Hardly competition material. No. A finalist.
Timo Herman LATONEN (Eura, Finland 1977)
Nocturne in c sharp op.27/1 [05:16]
At last truly independent hands – a singing right hand over a LH with its own fascination. Superbly involving middle section. Yes.
Ka Ling Colleen LEE (Hong Kong 1980)
Etude in e op.25/5 [03:16]
Elegant and supple with fine singing line in LH in central section. Some interesting voicings. Yes. 6th prize-winner.
Dmitri LEVKOVICH (Cherkassy, Ukraine 1979)
Tarantella in A flat [03:02]
An infectious display. Yes.
Dong Hyek LIM (Seoul, South Korea 1984)
Waltz in F op.34/3 [02:09]
Energetic, almost violent. Did I hear him kicking the pedal in places? No. A 3rd prize-winner.
Wei-Chi LIN (Taipei, Taiwan 1977)
Nocturne in c op.48/1 [07:19]
Shows great respect for the music and a feeling for its scale and structure. Better still in Beethoven? Yes.
CD 2 [73:01]

Jędrzej LISIECZKI (Poznań, Poland 1981)
Waltz in a op.34/2 [05:12]
A very musical, natural performance. Yes.
Igor LOVCHINSKY (Kazan, Russia 1984)
Etude in c op.10/12 [02:36]
Passionate sweep. Some wilful touches suggest not yet complete maturity. No.
Takuro MAEDA (Nagasaki, Japan 1983)
Waltz in A flat op.64/3 [03:05]
A nice musical performance after a slightly muted start. Real competition-winning material though? Highly competent. Regretfully, No.
Miloš MIHAJLOVIIČ (Niš, Serbia 1978)
Waltz in D flat op.64/1 [01:54]
Cavalier, bull-at-the-gate approach, precious little grace in central section. No.
Aleksandra MIKULSKA (Warsaw, Poland 1981)
Prelude in c sharp op.45 [05:07]
Very sensitive – interplay of interest between the hands echt-Chopin, and always with a bloom on the sound. Yes.
Maiko MINE (Sendai, Japan 1984)
Nocturne in B op.9/3 [06:26]
Neatly handled, fioriture lacking sleight-of-hand to turn them into real magic. All rather small-scale, middle section lacking in contrast. Regretfully, No.
Aleksandra MOZGIEL (Gdańsk, Poland 1979)
Preludes in F and d op.28/23-24 [00:58, 02:37]
Well-schooled playing, doesn’t quite break out to dissolve the notes of 23 into a magic mist or plumb the tragic depths of 24. Again regretfully, No.
Marko MUSTONEN (Vantaa, Finland 1984)
Etude in e op.25/5 [03:20]
Original, quirky interpretation, communicative, but the sound itself is to bright, almost glassy in the LH melody of the central section. Worth watching – maybe good in Prokofief – but in this context, No.
Howard NA (Taiwan 1985)
Waltz in A flat op.42 [03:41]
Elegance and verve. A tendency to plunge into new sections without preparing the listener’s ear results in a clipped impression. No.
Kotaro NAGANO (Tokyo, Japan 1988)
Etude in c sharp op.10/4 [02:12]
Dogged tenacity rather than any real musical impression. The insertion of expressive "commas" – hiccups to my ears – only emphasizes the lack of real interpretation. No.
Rieko NEZU (Chiba, Japan 1980)
Nocturne in G op.37/2 [05:38]
Most appealing – gentle poetry. Suspicion of tone hardening in stronger passages (too few in this piece to judge). Why insert pauses here and there? By a whisker, Yes. A finalist.
Miku OMINE (Okinawa, Japan 1981)
Etude in A flat op.10/10 [02:16]
Accomplished, observant and natural. Yes.
Yuma OSAKI (Ibaraki, Japan 1981)
Etude in a op.10/2 [01:22]
Not faultlessly even nor with any compensating poetry. Difficult to judge by just this. No. A finalist.
Esther PARK (Pusan, Korea 1984)
Waltz in A flat op.34/1 [04:50]
Mannered, unrefined playing. No.
Maxence PILCHEN (Brussels, Belgium 1978)
Etude in a op.10/2 [01:22]
Exactly the same comments as for Osaki’s performance (Pilchen a tad heavier). Again, hard to say from just this. No.
Maciej PISZEK (Warsaw, Poland 1985)
Nocturne in f sharp op.48/2 [07:49]
Failure to give the LH an independent voice reduces good intentions to mere good manners. Makes heavy weather of central section – too pulled-about. No.
Marianna PRJEVALSKAYA (Kishinev, Moldova 1982)
Preludes in g and F op.28/22-23 [00:43, 01:05]
Has character. Hard to say from such short pieces but, giving her the benefit of the doubt, Yes.
Monika QUINN (Montreal, Canada 1984)
Etude in A flat op.10/10 [02:30]
Some nice touches, a tendency to lean on first notes of phrases creates a mannered effect. Regretfully, No.
Mayumi SAKAMOTO (Kanagawa, Japan 1983)
Waltz in A flat op.34/1 [04:36]
Spirited and musicianly with many attractive touches. Quite a few crabs. Enjoyable in another context but not quite a competition performance. Another regretful No.
Takaya SANO (Tokyo, Japan 1980)
Waltz in A flat op.42 [03:47]
Spirited enough but hardly goes beyond finger dexterity. No.
CD 3 [77:49]

Takashi SATO (Akita, Japan 1983)
Etude in b op.25/10 [03:59]
Well-controlled outer sections, lacks singing tone in central section, rubato too studied. No.
Shohei SEKIMOTO (Osaka, Japan 1985)
Berceuse op.57 [04:35]
Very pleasing and sensitive with a sweet touch and good voice-leading. Does not quite transform notes into sheer magic. Would like to hear him in Schubert but regretfully, No. A 4th prize-winner.
Wen-Yu SHEN (Chongqing, China 1986)
Etude in a op.25/11 [03:31]
Straight-down-the-line, even four-square, lack of legato when theme moves to RH suggests not much more than technique at work here. No.
Marian SOBULA (Wroclaw, Poland 1981)
Waltz in A flat op.34/1 [05:24]
At first seemed laid-back but then I appreciated his subtlety and lilt, warm tone and communicativeness. The reverse of a typical competition performance. Yes.
Yeol-Eum SON (Wonju-si, South Korea 1986)
Etudes in A flat and G flat op.25/1 and 9 [02:48, 01:03]
Very warm in the A flat. G flat confirms the suspicion that the sound is too lush for Chopin – it sounds like Brahms. Would like to hear her in Brahms but regretfully, No. A finalist.
Masanori SUGANO (Aichi, Japan 1977)
Waltz in c sharp op.64/2 [03:20]
Interpretative quirks of a rather conventional and predictable kind. No.
Mei-Ting SUN (Shanghai, China 1981)
Etude in C op.10/1 [02:01]
Technically well-drilled. Mannered rallentandos. No.
Marek SZLEZER (Cracow, Poland 1981)
Berceuse op.57 [05:31]
Sticky, indulgent would-be original interpretation – note that he adds a minute to Sekimoto. Only a critic would stick this out to the end. Sound not even translucent enough to justify (perhaps) such a tempo. No.
Piotr SZYCHOWSKI (Wroclaw, Poland 1981)
Etude in e op.25/5 [03:25]
Heavy-handed, eccentric in outer sections, lacking real independence of touches in the central section. No.
Gracjan SZYMCZAK (Wroclaw, Poland 1986)
Nocturne in B op.62/1 [07:21]
Failure to "orchestrate" the different strands of the texture produces a doleful alternation of the four-square and – in an evident attempt to get away from the latter – the pulled-around. Very mediocre. No.
Galina TCHISTYAKOVA (Moscow, Russia 1987)
Preludes in A, f sharp, E, c sharp op.28/7-10 [04:07]
Excellent, unmannered playing which would be better appreciated outside a competition. No.9 suggests legato may not be her strongest suit. I’d like to hear more of her but in this context, No.
Xin TONG (Xiangtan, China 1982)
Prelude in c op.28/20 [01:52]
Insofar as I can judge from an observant but scarcely magical account – a fraction slow – of a piece anybody can play, No.
Krzysztof TRZASKOWSKI (Białystok, Poland 1987)
Rondo in c op.1 [09:05]
Very attractive playing, perhaps a little heavy in its point-making at the beginning, thereafter it settles down. Natural sense of timing. Perhaps Yes.
Nobuyuki TSUJII (Tokyo, Japan 1988)
Etude in C op.10/1 [02:11], Preludes in B and g op.28/21-22 [01:54, 00:50]
Study does not maintain initial tempo and is laboured on second page. Prelude 21: not much singing tone, too much LH before right, perfunctory at end. Prelude 22: he can bring off the bravura pieces well enough. No. Passed to second round.
Hélène TYSMAN (Paris, France 1982)
Prelude in D flat op.28/15 [06:04]
Very sensitive and atmospheric. Yes.
Yuko UONO (Tokyo, Japan 1979)
Waltz in D flat op.64/1 [01:45]
Fraught, heavy-handed in middle section. No.
Natalia WAŃDOCH (Gorzów Wielkopołski, Poland 1980)
Nocturne in B op.9/3 [07:00]
Takes a little time to settle, then proves highly sensitive and imaginative. Authentic relationship between LH and R, knows how to communicate the harmonic twists and turns, natural sense of rubato. Yes.
CD 4 [57:39]

Katarzyna WASIAK (Zielona Góra, Poland 1985)
Preludes in f sharp and c sharp op.28/8 and 10 [02:38]
8 rather laboured, 10 decently turned. No.
Sławomir WILK (Szczecin, Poland 1982)
Waltz in A flat op.42 [03:50]
Unvaried and lacking in poise. No.
Xiaoxi WU (Beijing, China 1983)
Etude in G flat op.10/5 [01:40]
Opening rapped out crudely – not much more than technique on display. A student performance. No.
Ingolf WUNDER (Klagenfurt, Austria 1985)
Etude in a op.10/2 [01:18]
Has the requisite ability to make music, even poetry, out of an apparently barren piece. Can’t really judge on just this but give him the benefit of the doubt: Yes.
Takashi YAMAMOTO (Nagano, Japan 1983)
Etude in c sharp op.10/4 [02:00]
Just barnstorming. No. A 4th prize-winner.
Ryo YANAGITANI (Richmond, Canada 1978)
Etude in A flat op.10/10 [02:17]
Only token attention to the different touches and dynamics carefully noted by Chopin. No.
Chien-Ying YANG (Taipei, Taiwan 1980)
Etude in C op.10/7 [01:43]
Tiresomely heavy-handed, no attempt to make it sound like anything but a study. No.
Andrey YAROSHINSKIY (Kiev, Ukraine 1986)
Berceuse op.57 [04:10]
After a slightly plain start, a very nicely shaped reading. Perhaps for an international prize something more is required, but by a whisker, Yes. A finalist.
Hong-Chun YOUN (Seoul, South Korea 1982)
Nocturne in c sharp op.27/1 [05:15]
Very sensitive and well-structured. A similar case to the previous one, maybe with a little something extra. Yes.
Avan YU (Hong Kong 1987)
Etude in A flat op.10/10 [02:13]
A bit more observant than Yanagitani but not much more than honest competence. No.
Feodor AMIROV (Dimitrovgrod, Russia 1981)
Etude in b op.25/10 [03:53]
Heavy-fire outer sections, mannered middle section, obsession with inner voices might tickle some tastes. Better in Scriabin? No.
Soo-Jung ANN (Seoul, South Korea 1987)
Preludes in F sharp and e flat op.28/13-14 [04:00]
Nicely appreciative of the music’s beauty and (in 13) the importance of the LH. Maybe not quite competition material but I’d like to hear her again. No.
Piotr BANASIK (Katowice , Poland 1982)
Etude in a op.25/4 [01:45]
Lacks legerdemain. No.
Michał BIAŁK (Cracow, Poland 1982)
Etude in e op.25/5 [03:17]
Unlike some grotesquer onslaughts, seeks lyricism. Some nice touches but no more than honest craftsmanship. No.
Rafał BLECHACZ (Nakło on Noteć, Poland 1985)
Etude in F op.10/8 [02:19]
Too dry and clipped for Chopin. Better in Mozart or Prokofief? No. 1st prize-winner.
Nicolas BRINGUIER (Nice, France 1980)
Prelude in A flat op.28/17 [03:22]
Warmly musical and natural. Maybe not exactly competition material but a mature artist, I’d like to hear him in Schubert. No.
Sonia CHAN (Toronto, Canada 1980)
Waltz in F op.34/3 [02:24]
Skittish and superficial with some gratuitously eccentric touches. No.
Chiao-Ying CHANG (Taipei, Taiwan 1981)
Etude in b op.25/10 [04:21]
Rather laboured, but full sound. Better in Brahms? No.
Stanisław DRZEWIECKI (Moscow, Russia 1987 [but Polish])
Preludes in f sharp and E op.28/8-9 [03:36]
Warmly musical, a bit weighty for Chopin. Another one better in Brahms? No.
CD 5 [78:26]

Paweł FILEK (Krakow, Poland 1983)
Etude in G flat op.10/5 [01:36]
Only token attention to dynamics. No attempt to make it sound other than a study. No.
Sonja FRÄKI (Helsinki, Finland 1977)
Impromptu in A flat op.29 [04:02]
Neatly enough turned, actual sound a bit plain. No.
Mariko FURUKAWA (Okayama, Japan 1982)
Preludes in b flat and A flat op.28/16-17 [01:08, 03:31]
16 clear, 17 nicely lyrical with a slight tendency to divide it up by rubato into 2-bar phrases, perhaps to compensate for the failure of her repeated quavers to gel into poetry. No.
Alexei GORLATCH (Kiev, Ukraine 1988)
Etude in E flat op.10/11 [02:28]
Pleasant enough. The insistent delaying of the second quaver of every bar becomes irritating. No.
Pen Cheng HE (Sichuan, China 1988)
Etude in A minor op.25/11 [03:26]
Solidly four-square, unvaried. Better in Beethoven? No.
Ching-Yun HU (Taipei, Taiwan 1982)
Rondo in E flat op.16 [10:20]
Attractive playing without quite the legerdemain and variety of touch to bring this rather slight piece to life. Would like to hear her in Schubert, or maybe Mendelssohn. No.
Maki INOUE (Hyogo, Japan 1978)
Etude in C op.10/7 [01:37]
Robust (in a piece that doesn’t want this) and a bit confused. No.
Oliver JIA (China 1988)
Etude in G flat op.10/5 [01:40]
The best of the several versions of this study – dynamic contrasts observed for once, always clean and clear and with genuine verve. As far as one can tell from this, Yes.

The following additional performances are included by entrants who did not pass to the second round. They are discussed in the body of the review.
Howard NA

Preludes in F sharp and e flat op.28/13-14 [03:18, 00:29], Barcarolle op.60 [08:00]
Xiaoxi WU

Berceuse op.57 [04:32]

Etude in b op.25/10 [05:48], Waltz in A flat op.42 [04:03]

Nocturne in E op.62/2 [06:32]
Avan YU

Nocturne in c sharp op.27/1 [05:50]
Timo Herman LATONEN

Scherzo in b op.20 [10:07]

Christopher Howell

see also one of our best selling discs

Rafal Blechacz - Piano Recital Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 22 (1833-38) [16'04]. Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Three Concert Studies: Waldesrauchen, S145 (1859) [4'08]; La Leggierezza, S144 (1844) [4'48]; Gnomenreigen, S145 (1844) [3'02]. Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Suite bergamasque (1905) [17'24]. Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937) Variations in B flat minor, Op. 3 (1901-3) [12'01]. Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849) Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53 (1843) [6'58]. Rafal Blechacz (piano) Rec. Pomeranian Philharmonic Concert Hall, Bydgoszcz, 2-5 April 2005. DDD CD ACCORD ACD136-2 [66'04] £10.50 post-free world-wide


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