Sara Daneshpour, 26, USA
Sara Daneshpour enchanted the audience in her first appearance. After days of aggressive, maybe assertive, pianists, she was a class act from start to finish. Some thought that she was too passive and that everything in her repertoire sounded alike. Others welcomed her approach, which traded drama for musicianship, plus made great use of her impeccable technique. Thus, everyone was looking forward to her trip through Prokofiev’s more rough-and-tumble Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, op. 83, to see what kind of force she could muster when it was needed.
But we had to wait for that because she started out with Haydn. His Sonata in F Major, Hob. XVI:23, is a study in elegance and Daneshpour gave it a stylish performance. The first movement was quiet and she played clean and sparkling staccato notes without the use of the pedal. Her scales were also clean. She charmed with the first appraoch to the deceptive cadence and a hint of a smile showed that she was enjoying herself as much as we were enjoying hearing her. The second movement was simplicity itself. She floated the melody over a simple Alberti pattern of triads, using finger legato to keep the accompaniment clean. The third movement was happy and perky, rather than quick, and not taken too fast. Daneshpour had no need to show us that she would play fast.
Goyescas by Granados is a piano suite that dates from 1911. It is a masterpiece with a secure place in the repertoire. Daneshpour selected El Abvlertior y La Muerte (Ballad of Love and Death), which is filled with color, virtuoso flights and highly ornamented melodic lines. She started out firmly with some passionate playing with power but not at the cost of the phrasing. The hushed middle section was amazingly soft, but the melodic line was just one level above the beat chords and subtle counterpoint. She took a big ritard at the end, but it never bogged down as she brought it to a quiet conclusion. We all sat mesmerized for a long time before she finally released us with a movement away from the keyboard.
The eagerly awaited Prokofiev also did not disappoint. She needed to play something like this, or maybe something even more brutal like Bartók. She made plenty of noise when required and landed on some of the passages with considerable brute force, enough to distort the string. However, she frequently reminded us that Prokofiev’s piano music is not always percussive. Sometimes, her approach to the big moments took longer than we are used to hearing, but once she got there, she conjured up a storm. In the last movement, the signature motto was its insistent self right from the beginning.
Our question about her was answered: Yes, she has all the power she needs, but doesn’t choose to use it all the time.
Gustavo Miranda-Bernales, 22, Chile
Gustavo Miranda-Bernales did a much better job in his second round appearance than he did the first time. He picked repertoire that suited him and that he could play musically as well as technically.
He started with Chopin’s Mazurka in G Major, op. 50, no.1. He caught the style of the dance and kept it light on its feet, not letting the rubato get in the way.
Fauré’s Valse caprice No. 2 in D-flat Major, op. 38, is a part of a four-piece set. More correctly, it is two pairs of pieces. They are much more “caprice” than waltzes and demonstrate the influence that both Chopin and Saint-Saëns had on the French master. There is even a soupçon of Liszt in the mix. Miranda-Bernales played it very cleanly and was especially impressive in the cadenza-like passage. He brought it to an exciting ending.
He was less sure in Schumann’s langweilig Fantasie in C Major, op. 17. He was off to an aggressive start but excessive pedal blurred the texture. Miranda-Bernales has a good feel for Schumann’s style and he kept the rubato within bounds. He lingered too much on the beautiful themes and paused just a hair too long before restarting the music after a pause. He didn’t take any cautious tempi, figuring that if there was ever a time to let it fly, this was it. He succeeded. Every time we felt like it was about to fly off the rails, he brought it back before that happened. His aim was slightly off here and there, but that could be said about nearly everyone in the competition. The main problem with his Fantasie is that it didn’t really go anywhere, as if caught in a loop.
We had to ask “haven’t we been here before?” Sadly, there was no answer to that question.
Jie Yuan, 27, China
Jie Yuan greatly impressed in his first round and had a fascinating program for the second. We expected that he would end with a big showpiece that demonstrated his prodigious technique, maybe even one of the big famously difficult pieces like Islamey, which will show up for the first time in the next session. To my surprise, he went with three interesting—but hardly challenging—pieces by Ligeti, Nos. 3, 6, and 10 from his Musica ricercata; and a trip through Chopin’s 24 Preludes, op. 28.
Musica ricercata is a set of 11 pieces for piano that was the result of the composer’s search for his unique voice. Thus, they cover a wide range.
Yuan immediately impressed with No.3 as he caught the bluesy pop feel of the music, and he had a lot of fun laying it. No. 6 is a study in contrasts and Yuan played the constantly descending scale fragments with clarity and velocity. No. 10 requires the most technique and the interval of a second begins to creep in and eventually takes over. Yuan gave it a terrific performance, making us wonder why this composer’s works have not been on more programs.
Chopin’s Twenty-four preludes hardly need an introduction and it would be tiresome to go through them one by one and comment on Yuan’s performance. In general, he played them with a complete understanding of the composer’s style and made a good case for playing them in a set—something that has not worked as well in the past. Some are very short, but Yuan made them sound complete and not like an introduction to something else or an incomplete thought. When there was a melody singing over an accompaniment, both elements were at exactly the proper level. His staccato playing was crisp and clean. Fast passages were transparent because of his judicious use of the pedal. Rubato was sufficient and never overused. On the downside, there were a couple of note splats, with an unfortunate one right at the end, but this has happened to all of the competitors at one time or the other.
Overall, he delivered an impressive performance in both recitals.
◊ Click here to see reviews of the Prelminary Recital/Phase I for Sara Daneshpour, Gustavo Miranda-Bernales and Jie Yuan.