Dallas — The quarterfinal round of the Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition came to a close Monday night at Caruth Auditorium on the campus of Southern Methodist University, with performances by three teenaged pianists from Canada, Australia, and Japan. Monday proved to be a particularly productive day for producing semifinalists, as four of the day’s seven competitors were advanced by the jury just minutes after the close of the evening session.
14-year-old Canadian J J Jun Li Bui, who opened the evening’s session, will make his semifinal round bid with an intriguing recital including, along with standard works of Chopin, music by Canadian composer Marc-André Hamelin as well as Mikhail Pletnev’s Concert Suite from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Monday night, he stayed within more traditional repertoire, but applied an aggressive touch to his chosen works, beginning with an assertive melody line in Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat (Op. 55, No. 2) and an even more assertive over-all volume level in the opening movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in D (Op. 10, No. 3). Razor-sharp technique enlivened his performance of Liszt’s “Gomenreigen” (“Dance of the Gnomes”) Etude, in which he found some particularly interesting piano sonorities; he returned to Chopin, this time with the Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante for his final work, skating past the work’s elegance and lyricism but making the piano roar at appropriate moments in the Polonaise.
Australian Shuan Hern Lee, 16, made the strongest impression of the evening: while other quarterfinalists bade farewell to J.S. Bach after the required Prelude and Fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier in the preliminary round, Lee boldly returned to the baroque master with a grandly dramatic rendition of the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor. Here, he unabashedly applyied romantic phrasing and expression, and, to this listener’s ears, effectively achieved an appropriately monumental effect in his rendition of this harpsichord work on the modern concert grand piano.
Lee’s performance of three stormy Etudes of Bartók had provided a welcome bright spot in the preliminary round; for his quarterfinal performance, he stayed firmly in the 18th and 19th centuries, presenting the first movement of Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat (Hob. XVI:52) with a grandeur to match his take on Bach, then demonstrating his romantic-era fluidity in Chopin’s Etude in A minor (Op. 10, No.2). He closed with an intensely phrased version of the same composer’s Barcarolle, including, at one point, a strikingly whispered pianissimo.
Lee’s semifinal recital will, like Bui’s, include Hamelin’s Toccata on “L’homme armé”; he’ll also perform standard works of Chopin and Prokofiev as well as the notoriously difficult Islamey of 19th-century Russian composer Mily Balakirev.
17-year-old Japanese pianist Miyu Shino, who currently studies in Moscow, presented the final program of the quarterfinal round, opening with the first movement of Mozart’s Sonata No. 11 in A (K. 331) followed by Scuubert’s Impromptu in G-flat (D. 899, No. 3). Her insistently strong melodic line showed to best advantage, however, in her traversal of the relentless technical difficulties of Liszt’s Rhapsody espagnole, displaying technical muscle and command of momentum that drew the most enthusiastic audience response of the day.
» You can watch a live stream of the competition at Cliburn.org.
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