It doesn’t take long to spot an exceptional contestant in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. It also doesn’t take loud and fast music. This was demonstrated shortly before 10 o’clock Friday night when Eduard Kunz of Russia walked onto the stage of Bass Performance Hall and started to play his first number: Scarlatti’s Sonata in D minor, K. 213.
This is stately, beautiful music, and Kunz gave it a subtle, quiet, mesmerizing performance that immediately grabbed attention and exerted a deep emotional pull. This promised something fine to come, and Kunz delivered.
Scarlatti’s Sonata in B minor, K. 197, is a kindred work, quiet and beautiful, and Kunz worked his magic here. The performance of the three Scarlatti sonatas that followed, of varied character, and Haydn’s brief Sonata in A, Hob. XVI:12, were further signs of an uncommon talent.
Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s great Chaconne in D minor moved into more dramatic territory, and Kunz demonstrated great force and a sense of inevitability without sacrificing subtlety. An appealing performance of Siloti’s arrangement of a Bach Prelude in B minor gave Kunz a 100-percent score for the session.
This first night session of the Cliburn preliminaries was opened by Chetan Tierra of the United States. His performances, with great contrasts of loud and soft throughout, lacked much subtlety, though, as with all Cliburn contestants, he could handle the notes. He played music of Liszt, Schumann (in a Liszt arrangement), Brahms and Ginastera. The audience gave him a hearty reception.
Spencer Myer of the United States gave a likable if somewhat understated performance of mostly lyrical music of Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy and Carl Vine. Myer’s performance of Vine’s Sonata No. 1 was the high point of his program. This work seems to have caught on with a number of American pianists (Vine is an Australian).
There was a substantial audience for the evening session, which ended at 10:43. Incidentally, there’s a large screen high above the stage with a live view of the pianist’s hands and the keyboard. So everybody gets a keyboard view if they want — though the screen view isn’t very sharp.