This review is an Ionarts exclusive.
The preliminary round of the 2012 William Kapell International Piano Competition and Festival came to an end yesterday, with the announcement of the nine semifinalists who will continue in competition: three from China (Yue Chu, Jun Sun, and Diyi Tang), three from South Korea (Jin Uk Kim, Jeewon Lee, and Yekwon Sunwoo), plus Steven Lin (U.S.A. -- by report the best competitor on the second day), Masafumi Nakatani (Japan), and Misha Namirovsky (Israel). As it turns out, I actually heard the preliminary round performance of only three of the semifinalists, but of those I did hear, my feelings about what sort of playing wins competitions -- technically formidable but usually empty -- are not changed. The semifinal solo round continues this weekend (July 13 to 15, 3 pm to 6:30 pm, tickets now $35), with each competitor receiving an hour to perform more solo repertoire and part of a concerto with piano accompaniment.
L. Fleisher and A. Midgette, My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in Music (2010)
Leon Fleisher Recital (Takács, Bach/Brahms)
Fleisher's solo pieces were both for the left hand, and both had a serious, even somber cast to them. Takács composed his Toccata and Fugue, op. 56, in imitation of Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, and Fleisher gave a sober, carefully parsed performance of its chromatic vagaries. When Brahms made his arrangement of Bach's D minor Chaconne, part of a set of etudes for the left hand, all he did was lower the music an octave, into more comfortable Brahmsian territory, and keep most of Bach's score intact. Fleisher played much of it with the same forceful touch he had applied to the Takács -- such power still in that left hand -- until a ray of light burst forth in the parallel major section. The rest of the program consisted of four-hands pieces, with Jacobson Fleisher, as is customary, playing the primo part. While nothing to write home about, these duo performances had a homey intimacy about them that was quite pleasing, recalling previous eras when four-hands music was more common to hear. The husband-wife duo seemed most comfortable in Schubert's F minor fantasy, D. 940, one of the monuments of the four-hands repertoire that I would never refuse the chance to hear. Lucien Garban's four-hands transcription of Ravel's La Valse was perilous fun, with the best example of the balletic coordination so important in four-hands music -- primo has to lift her hands out of the way just so for secondo's full-keyboard glissando. Brahms's own four-hand version of the Liebeslieder Waltzes, op. 52, seemed the least comfortable. The duo switched roles for an encore, with Fleisher on primo.
The next festival recital will feature Gloria Cheng in a program of contemporary music (July 13, 8 pm).
Stephen Brookes, Pianist Gloria Cheng offers eclectic, engaging program at University of Maryland (Washington Post, July 16)
Punch Shaw, Leon and Katherine Fleisher impress at PianoTexas (Dallas Star-Telegram, June 29)