Evgeni Bozhanov, who had faded a bit with his solo recital at the Cliburn finals on Friday night, zoomed back Saturday night with a performance that seemed to say “I’m going to power my way to the top this time.”
He gave a muscular performance of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and James Conlon, who aligned themselves with his view of the piece. Not that there weren’t some lovely sounds (including some exceptional clarinet solos in the orchestra), but the emphasis was on dramatic force, with a blazing finale that showed off Bozhanov the virtuoso and brought the Bass Hall audience to its feet for a prolonged ovation.
After this one might have expected a letdown, but Mariangela Vacatello came onstage for another powerhouse of a piece, Prokofiev’s third piano concerto, and gave a different kind of performance that had its own thrills. Her playing was a bit more subtle and certainly less reckless, but it also displayed strength (with an appealing sense of wit) and enough virtuoso dazzlement to spark another ovation.
Di Wu’s solo recital was a bit more demure, though of course she didn’t have an orchestra sitting onstage with her. Bach’s Toccata in F-sharp minor and Schoenberg’s Klavierstücke, Opus 11, were clearly and evocatively (though not flawlessly) played. It’s remarkable that Schoenberg’s music, once so fiercely hated, seems so innocuous now. Wu’s performance of Gaspard de la Nuit, which has become one of the signature pieces of this competition, was one of the better ones, with a variety of moods flickering through Ravel’s sound paintings.