3RD HONG KONG INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION
Prize-giving & Gala Concert / Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall
Monday (31 October 2011)
I won’t go into the details of the prize-giving ceremony, which are usually dreary affairs, but this one was at least given some life by the President of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong Dr Andrew Freris, who is also a legit television personality for appearing in shows about money and economic matters. He was joined by Bernie Law, another pundit whom he described as the “acceptable face of capitalism” or something to that effect. It wasn’t exactly David Letterman but at least we were spared of long and boring speeches. The prize-winners came on stage to a minimum of pomp and fuss, shook the jury’s collective hands, and then the music started.
Ilya Rashkovskiy, 1st prizewinner of the 1st HKIPC (2005) was up first with a most anti-virtuosic programme thought possible. Yet it does take a virtuoso to invest Mozart’s Rondo in D major (K.485) with a joyful, skipping lightness. He performed all the repeats, each time delighting in Mozart’s witty shifts in modes and tonality. Especially in seemingly light pieces, his propensity to surprise is a hallmark. Rashkovskiy’s crisp and clean lines also served Beethoven’s Seven Bagatelles (Op.33) to a tee. Even in these miniatures, almost wood shavings from a master’s working table, there were hints of greatness. Sometimes dancelike, sometimes lyrical, but always imbued with vitality, there was no shortage of wit and humour from Rashkovskiy’s hands. The idea that these pieces are facile is fallacious, their simplicity does not equate with simple-mindedness. Only a consummate artist can bring these off, and Ilya is just that.
After an interval, it was the turn of Jinsang Lee. The 1st prizewinner of the 2nd HKIPC (2008) offered more cerebral offerings. The toccata-like opening of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue came like the wind, articulated with a feathery lightness that suggested a harpsichord. His delivery was like an eloquent soliloquy, bringing out all the inflexions of speech to the manner born. The fugue was an epitome of clarity, and its celebration of counterpoint a crowning glory of a masterly performance. Massive octaves and chords opened Liszt’s Fantasy on B-A-C-H, where Lee’s all-encompassing mastery of sonority had the listener riveted in their seats. His flying fingers were a marvel to witness, as was the stunning accuracy at that speed. All this would not have counted if it was not matched by a probing mind behind the conception and architecture of the music. It could be said that Lee had built and capped a cathedral of sound, a mighty fortress of contrapuntal grandeur.
This uncanny thread of counterpoint continued into the recital by Giuseppe Andaloro, the newly crowned 1st prizewinner of the 3rd HKIPC. Beginning with Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor (Op.87 No.24), it was almost a history lesson on the art of the fugue. Very clean lines distinguished this reading, with the fugue’s subject heard first early into the prelude. The fugue which began simply soon built inexorably into a valedictory climax that brought to mind the titanic finale of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony (also in the same key). Andaloro closed with the fourth movement of Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata. Here he did not choose to shock and awe with its fusillades of loud dissonance but rather to dwell on its more witty and sarcastic undertones. He flew with the music, and its many percussive bits were not hammered with brute force but rather chiselled with the skill of a Michelangelo. Andaloro showed that Prokofiev’s music was not all about violence, but rich with nuances.
That was not the end of the concert. All three pianists came together to perform the two short pieces, the Waltz and Romance, for six hands by Rachmaninov. Originally written for three young sisters, it was a curious sight to see three grown men crouching by the keyboard to tickle the ivories. Andalaro, who had earlier played Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto for the finals, was given the honour to open the Romance, which had exactly the same notes in the opening of the Andante sostenuto slow movement. The concert ended on a quiet by totally satisfying note, the joy of music had triumphed over the cut and thrust of competition. Isn’t that what music is all about?