Session 3 of the Cliburn preliminaries for the most part went rather well on Saturday afternoon.
It introduced another exceptional contestant, Di Wu of China (shown at left), whose polished performances were full of personality.
Haydn’s Sonata in C, Hob. XVI:48, was crisp, clean, varied and consistently interesting. The fast final movement, played with great clarity, was a high-spirited, witty romp and a tonic to the spirits. Ravel’s Miroirs, which followed, was sensitive and varied music-making.
The fly in the ointment was Liszt’s take on the waltz from Gounod’s Faust, which takes a graceful melody and turns it into a monster-stomp. Wu played it very well, but why, as with Ran Dank the afternoon before, does a fine, sensitive musician spoil an otherwise excellent program by ending it like this? It’s as if, at the end of a fine formal dinner, the host were to stand and announce “And now, for our post-dinner entertainment, we will waterboard each of our guests.” The contestants probably feel the need to prove to the judges that they can razzle-dazzle an audience when they want to.
Another impressive artist, Soyeon Lee of South Korea, opened the afternoon session in Bass Performance Hall. Her performance of Albeniz’ Iberia, Book I, was atmospheric and full of character. Schumann’s Carnaval was well played, though I found it a little hard to stay focused on it. Maybe I’ve heard too many Carnivals through the years. At least the music Lee chose was all high-quality.
Vassilis Varvaresos of Greece closed the afternoon session. His Moonlight Sonata of Beethoven was nicely poetic and appropriately stormy at the end, though the sound was a little muddy at peak volumes.
His high point was an unusual performance of Elliott Carter’s Catenaires, a kind of toccata that goes like a whirlwind. Varvaresos used the music and got a few laughs when he flung one sheet across the stage in mid-performance. He wasn’t showboating; he had a split-second to get to the next page and had no time to be neat about it (there was no page-turner). His performance scored, and got the kind of enthusiastic response you don’t always associate with this kind of music.
His performance of Liszt’s B minor sonata brought the afternoon’s music-making to an end.