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Ionarts-at-Large: From the 2009 ARD Competition, Day 5

Day Five at the ARD Competition, and the constant exposure to music not of one’s choosing is taking its toll. Either that or the steady diet of coffee and drinkable yoghurt that I find time for between breaks is getting to me.

Agnès Clement (France) must have played fabulously in the first round, so I listened to her second. Perhaps overly tense, I didn’t much like what I heard. Britten’s Suite op.83 was arsh in the upper register, its many treacherous passages mastered, but audibly challenging. In the Spohr Variations she was in her element: the harp world of loveliness, fast runs, a state of saccharine, perpetual pretty.

Being the first player on Friday, Mlle. Clement also the world premiere of the ARD commissioned composition that is mandatory for every participant in the second round. “Gesine” by Toshio Hosokawa is a deliberate piece that emulates the plangent sounds of koto—by plucking the harp strings with two fingers. Much of the asked-for resonance necessarily went awash, the low harmonics lie uncomfortably. The first—and second—impression of the work made it look a rater superficial one, although I’ve heard less kind descriptions, too. With more pauses than notes it is surely the most lucrative commission this year.

I moved on from the harps and went over the violins that got there first round started only now. Nikita Borisoglebsky (Russia) tackled Bach’s Chaconne, losing sight of the arch intermittently. The out of the way notes seldom suggested two voices, instead they sound like thrown in at random. For more than tolerable it lacked either a lightness of touch to make the Chaconne sound effortless—or the rough hewed energy to stamp the inherent ‘necessity’ unto to work. Wieniawski’s Faust Fantasy op. 20 was effortful.

I thought Xiangzii Cao (China) slightly better, her Grave & Fuga from the a-minor Sonata BWV 1003 was calm and fine, detailed and fairly secure. She conveyed a better grasp of architecture than Borisoglebsky… threw in charming moments without being outstanding. Saint-Saëns’ Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso op.28 had a full and gutsy sound, and the mistakes were better than Borisoglebsky’s, too, because bolder. The jury though otherwise; Borisoglebsky went on, Xiangzi didn’t.)

Japanese candidate Yuichiro Fukuda’s Bach (Preludio through Menuet of the Partita in E, BWV 1006) had a nice, speedy clip but the imprecise focus was on the notes, not the music. Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy op.25 started insecure, improved, impressed with technical ability as the work is supposed to, but didn’t reveal dazzling virtuoso talent.

Lidiya Futorska (Ukraine) also chose the Chaconne for her mandatory “15-minutes from Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas section” Rough, over-accentuated at first, but increasingly fluid, it turned into mildly sympathetic struggle because at least it had that energy missing from her Russian colleague. Ravel’s Tzigane is a fiend to sensitive ears unless it is played very musically. Perhaps modestly interesting to begin with, but devoid of melodic sense it’s dreadful to listen to several performances that senselessly string notes one after another. Futorska wasn’t much better in that respect than most others.

An eager construction worker with a power drill kept Airi Suzuki (Japan) waiting on stage for several minutes while the jury coordinator Frank Selzle tracked the culprit down to prescribe silence. That mission was only partly successful (the drilling briefly resumed mid-Bach (BWV 1006), another ten minute pause ensued), but he surely impressed everyone with his fluency in Japanese as he communicated with the confused artist. Suzuki continued where she had left off, at least for a while undeterred and at a slightly higher level of cleanliness and articulation than the competitors before her. Chausson’s Poeme op.25 followed acceptably. With a small bonus for the ordeal it might well have been [Ed. and was] enough for the second round.

That was enough of the violins and I went next door to the small Chamber Hall was jam packed for the second round of harpists and Emmanuel Ceysson’s performance. For lack of extensive comparison, the Spohr Spring Variations sounded the virtuoso-typical best that is typical of Ceysson. My harpist friend and source of all harp-specific knowledge I will ever be able to dispense, found his Tournier Image-Suite no.4 improbably good, in fact the best she’d ever heard. Spohr, Renié, and Hosokawa she found even more impressive—lighter, more subtle—with the young Remy Van Kesteren (Netherlands), but being only able to compare the Renié to that of Agnés Clement earlier in the day, I found it a stunningly played, albeit terribly trite, piece of music. Hosokawa’s piece, “Gesine” (dedicated to a certain Gesine Bottomley [sic!] reminds beyond my grasp.

Back to Bach’s torture chamber at the Carl-Orff Hall where the violinists threateningly loomed. To his great credit, Young-Uk Kim (Korea) fell on the right side between hesitant and sensitive. Encouragingly few mistakes and squeaks made up for halting moments in the Fugue. The Tzigane was as usual, though above the very low average so far. Nagai Kumiko (Japan) Fuge in C was Catkiller-Bach, her Wienawski more attempt than result; a dispiriting nightcap that had me leave before hearing Polish-Canadian Andréa Tyniec, apparently at my own peril, having now heard that she was the first candidate to really make the ears perk.

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