Oleksandr Poliykov, 25, Ukraine
Among the prizes that Kiev-born Oleksandr Poliykov has on his wall is one for a performance in chamber music. As a member of the Lumière Piano Trio, he won third prize at the International New England Chamber Music Competition. This explains his amazing sensitivity to what is going on in the music. He played the notes beautifully, but he was magnificent in playing the music.
He walked out in the most noticeable tux so far—it had a metallic shine in it that caught the light and shimmered as he moved. This was subtle, not glittery at all and maybe more appropriate to Las Vegas than Bass Hall in some opinions, but it looked great in mine.
Poliykov sits high at the keyboard with his knees unable to fit underneath. His arms practically rested on his thighs.
He started with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9, a piece that most of us dread because it is usually played for gaudy banging and to impress the rabble. But it only took a note or two to realize that Poliykov was going to play it and have a lot of fun doing so.
His performance was hardly the usual stiff concert fare. It was more like we were in his living room and, after dinner, we said “play something” and he launched into the Rhapsody with a big grin. He exaggerated all of the big ritards for effect and flashed through all of the bravura with a smile. It was the most enjoyable performance of the work that I have ever heard.
His performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition confirmed my opinion that his interpretative abilities are exceptional and separate him from most pianists today. From the first notes, there was an audible difference between the notes marked with a short line underneath (tenuto, meaning played for its full value—and then some) and ones without. There were so many other details like this that it would take pages to detail all of his refined phrasing. There were some places where he completely changed what was marked, but the total effect was so marvelous that you wondered why the composer didn’t write it that way. Nothing major, mind you. One example is his adding a subito piano (suddenly soft) in the second statement of the chorale in the final movement. But it allowed him to take a long run to the final crescendo. Even here, he didn’t overplay as many do, and kept it to a fortissimo (as marked) rather than as long as you can play.
In both pieces, he delivered a highly individualistic, and in my opinion definitive, performance.
Kuan-Ting Lin, 21, Taiwan
Kuan-Ting Lin was in a more traditional tux than his predecessor. However, he did something interesting to position himself from the keyboard. He extended his legs so that his toes touched the center support that holds the pedals: a very effective method. His playing was just as exact as his positioning.
He started out with a sensitive reading of Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s song “Gretchen am Spinnrade.” In this song, a woman is mourning the loss of her lover as she sits at her spinning wheel. The constant motion of the wheel is expressed in the rippling accompaniment pattern that goes all the way though it. Lin kept the song front and center and Liszt’s overblown trappings under control so that they didn’t overwhelm as they fight to do.
He continued with Liszt: three selections from his Années de Pèlerinage. This is a series of three suites for piano based on his travel experiences, although the present selections (from Book One) came from music written earlier in his Album d'un voyageur. This was one of his earliest publications and the music dates from 1835 and 1838. The first selection, Au bord d’une source (Beside a stream), had the same kind of rhythmic pattern going as before, only this time it is a stream flowing. Lin kept it quiet and under control.
The second, Orage, is based on a quote from Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: “But where of ye, O tempests! is the goal? / Are ye like those within the human breast? / Or do ye find, at length, like eagles, some high nest?” Here, Liszt’s bombast rules the day and, perhaps it was time for Lin to show that he can play octaves up and down the keyboard as fast as anyone. This he demonstrated ably and his virtuoso work was absolutely clean and accurate, even though he took it at an impossibly fast tempo.
The final selection was Vallée d’Obermann. This is another one with an extended quote from Childe Harold that ends with the question we all asked late at night when we were in college: “What do I want? Who am I? What do I ask of nature?" The music is more pensive, even though Liszt couldn’t resist a bang-bang center section. Lin played it with finesse in both the virtuosic and meditative parts. He gave such a flourish to one of the big runs near the end that the audience thought it was over and began to applaud. There wasn’t much left, but everyone who clapped probably felt a little sheepish.
Nikita Abrosimov, 24, Russia
Nikita Abrosimov played two major works for his first appearance rather than a number of selections, keeping it simple. He played Mozart’s Fantasia in C Minor, K. 396, and Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 in C Major, op. 1. He dressed simply as well, in a black suit with a black mock turtle neck shirt.
His reading of the Mozart was quite in keeping with the composer’s intentions. It sounded like he was Mozart improvising at the keyboard, and that’s just what a musical fantasy is designed to accomplish. He also had a keen sense of when Mozart was writing in his operatic style, with long singing lines, and when he was writing piano music designed to show off his technique.
The Brahms sonata is always a handful, both musically and technically. It is an early work and the mature Brahms peeks through every now and then, and the entire work has hints of what is to come from the mature composer. Abrosimov had some troubles here and there, but he gave the work a satisfying interpretation overall.
In the first movement, he took the repeat of the exposition, but didn’t really say anything new with it. He was at his best in the second movement as he kept the song-like nature throughout. It was quite lovely. The scherzo was bright and full of energy and he played the trio section to offer maximum contrast. The last movement was taken at a very fast speed and thus the presto (very fast) section at the end was a blur. In retrospect, the Brahms is a great piece for him because of his ability to let a melody sing out and to play the big passages with force without overriding the abilities of the instrument.