Nikita Mndoyants, 24, Russia
The final session of the first day opened with the Russian pianist, and equally highly regarded composer, Nikita Mndoyants. Born into a family of musicians, he got an early start. Since then, he has toured extensively and a recording of his compositions was released in 2007.
He was dressed in a standard tux with a black tie. He sat back from the keyboard but leaned far over it for much of his playing. His style was marked by elegance and a close attention to style. As a result, he greatly pleased the educated audience that was in attendance.
He played an eccentric program, with some pieces that are not played all that often. Beethoven’s Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, op. 111, is an odd piece in itself. First of all, it is only two movements long and the second (last) movement is marked arietta, but is really a complex set of variations of ever-increasing speed moving through the upper ranges of the instrument.
For the first movement, Mndoyants set a breakneck pace, which greatly increased its level of difficulty. It is filled with the Beethoven changes of mood that permeate most of his works and the pianist did a fine job with this aspect. The last movement was carefully paced so as to not make the later sections sound like nearly inaudible tinkling at the top of the keyboard, as can happen if too quick a pace is set.
Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major, op. 61, followed and Mndoyants’ elegant style was even more in evidence. Once again, this was a strange choice for a competition. The long stretch of a middle section was quiet and, although offset by its bookends, it didn’t show off the other aspects of the pianist. His last selection reminded us of that. Prokofiev’s Scherzo op. 12, no. 10, is an endurance test. It is relatively short but moves very quickly from start to finish. He did a fine job on everything, but a different program might have been to his advantage.
Luca Buratto, 20, Italy
Luca Buratto was completely different than anyone else who played today. First of all, he wore black pants and a black shirt. His mutton chops were also out of the ordinary. He sat low at the keyboard and hunched over almost the entire time he played. His arms seemed to have a life of their own and tended to fly in the air whenever they weren’t occupied playing something. It was interesting when he started but it became excessively mannered as his performance went on. His program, as with Mndoyants, worked against him.
Haydn’s Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI:50, was his best playing. He was obviously having fun, which is all too rare in classical music performances, where playing is mostly serious, no matter the composer’s intentions. He carefully shaped his phrases and was also good at bringing out the various inner voices. However, even this became mannered as he would pause at the top of a phrase, like a roller coaster at the top of the first dip, and then careen over, pell-mell.
There are some other physical tics that distract. He shakes his head back and forth as if saying “no” but he knows that he is just transfixed. However, not everyone else was. His playing of Schumann’s Fantasie in C Major, op. 17 felt longer than I remember.
Perhaps he was a victim of his own program. Neither piece was an attention-grabber. Something more energetic would have shown him off to better advantage. As it was, attention in the Schumann wandered and, in fact, a few in the audience nodded off.
Giuseppe Greco, 23, Italy
He already has a competition win under his belt in that he won the first prize at the 2009 Arcangelo Speranza International Piano Competition in Taranto, Italy. He wore a standard tux with a black tie and once he got situated played with great charm and a sure technique. He opened with a fine reading of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, op. 31, no. 3.
The first movement is one in which Beethoven demonstrates the joy he took in composition and Greco took full advantage of the composer’s good mood. Too often, this sonata is played without the joie di vivre that makes it work. Even though he took the scherzo on the fast side, his soft playing was a highlight. Except for taking an unwritten ritard in the last measure, he made a good case for his fast tempo. In the menuetto, Greco took the composer at his word and observed the adjective grazioso to the fullest. He let the trio section get too loud, but the movement worked on many levels. The finale was rushed, but impressive at that speed. A little less pedal would have offered some clarity and allowed the eight rests between the notes to sound.
Liszt’s Ballade No. 2 in B Minor is a showpiece (as are most of the composer’s works) and Greco has plenty to show off. His very dramatic reading of the introduction led to a forceful beginning of the main body of the piece. This is one of the composer’s more sectional pieces and Greco neatly tied them all together. Technically, he was excellent and the ending was a thrill.
Debussy’s picturesque L'Isle joyeuse brought a close to his program. Although there were remnants of the Liszt stuck to his concept, it was his best playing of the recital.
And the morning and the evening made the first day.