Day Eight of the ARD Competition, and I now know how Anne Frank must have felt. Day Eight of the ARD Competition, and writing about it feels a little like keeping a war diary. Violinist Sophie Moser (Germany) though, provided for a rather sunny beginning of the day with her performance of Bach’s g-minor Sonata BWV 1001. A little too carefully chiseled, but extraordinary clean and lucid… not torture at all, but fine Bach playing instead. Saint Saens’ Caprice étude en forme de valse op.53/6 became, after initial kinks, one of the more musical performance of these showpieces I’ve yet sat through. The participating violinist next to me, herself already in the second round, listened with increasingly disapproving respect, then generously praised the performance by getting up and saying with an partially ironic-sour face: “This is making want to go”, and dashed off. No reason to worry, though: Sophie Moser was—inexplicably, from my limited vantage point—not chosen for the second round.
Neither was Wonhyee Bae (Korea), whose Grave & Fuga from Bach’s Sonata in a was weird but clean and surely above the average I had heard so far. The lack of mistakes, the consistency, and the steadfastness accumulated into something of a notable performance… even if she lost steam toward the end. Saint-Saens’s Introduction et rondo capriccioso op.28 was somewhere along the same lines, sensitive and accurate.
The jury must be listening for, or to, something other than I. Hyeyoon Park (also Korea) played is Bach Chaconne not bad at all, but not very gracefully; a little like a sewing machine on sedatives. And Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy really only woke up toward the end and with the lighter notes not always well placed. He found himself lifted to the second stage.
The choices and decisions were more obvious in the Harp semifinals. The question was perhaps whether to push Ronith Mues into the final, too, as a fourth (and local) candidate, but the jury decided on only three finalists and those had to be Ruriko Yamamiya, Anneleen Lenaerts, and Emmanuel Ceysson: Two musical tropical fish and one harp-piranha. No matter how sensitively Lenaerts performed in the Ravel Introduction and Allegro for Harp, String Quartet, Flute and Clarinet, or how well Yamamiya projected her tone in Franco Donatoni’s Marches (what a wonderful modern piece!), Ceysson just shoved the music out of the way en route to the final. He doesn’t even have to play as sensitively as he could, because his technique allows him to play twice as good with half the effort, if exaggeration be permitted. In the Ravel he played the music up like a peacock presenting his extravagant plumage over and over until every last listener was duly impressed. Ronith Mues plowed through the music with gusto but not as much grace, Cheryl Losey’s tone was skimpy in comparison, even if her Carter had very convincing, precise moments. And Emilie Gastaud remained altogether too pale in her unassuming loveliness.
What lifted the semi-final far above every round of competitions heard so far, though, was the presence of the 2004 string quartet price winners, the Quatuor Ébène and their friends clarinetist Olivier Patey and flutist Magali Mosnier. Not just considering that they were playing the same work 12 times in a row (counting rehearsals), they performed so cohesively and so consistently—most admirably when accompanying Gastaud and Lenaerts—that it was all too easy to get caught up in the shamelessly wonderful ensemble playing, rather than hearing out for the harp.