Dallas — Wednesday at Caruth Auditorium on the campus of Southern Methodist University, 15-year-old Eva Gevorgyan, representing Russia and Armenia, presented the most impressive program of the opening afternoon session of the Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition.
This round requires a work by a living composer as well as at least one work of 18 minutes in length as part of a 40-minute recital; Gevorgyan laid the foundation for her memorable performance with three less well-known but substantial works that effectively demonstrated her pianistic range and mature stylistic insight. She opened with Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 2, a monumental four-movement work, taking on the uniquely Schumannesque technical challenges of the opening movement, following up with a beautifully shaded song-like tone in the second. She easily navigated the even greater technical demands of the Scherzo and the Presto Finale, landing with an intriguingly sonorous pedal effect in the final Prestissimo coda.
Gevorgyan followed up with the Etude Butterflies, hummingbirds, from 1988 by American composer William Bolcom, providing the requisite rapid, delicately energetic touch; she closed with Hindemith’s Suite “1922,” a set of five sometimes rambunctiously dissonant reinterpretations by Hindemith of standard and popular genres. Besides continuing to demonstrate her impeccable technical command, Gevorgyan showed a surprisingly mature knack for the distinctive qualities of early Hindemith, reflective of the decadent but richly creative culture of Weimar Germany. High points of Gevorgyan’s rendition included the ironic angry undertones of the “Ragtime,” and the gorgeous lyrical tone she produced in the urbane loneliness of the “Nocturne.”
The rest of the afternoon supplied two more interesting examples of works of living composers. American Avery Gagliano, 17, opened the afternoon session and fulfilled the living composer requirement with Nos. 1 and 2 from British composer Thomas Adés’ Mazurkas of 2009. Not surprisingly, No. 1 is obviously Chopinesque, both structurally and in pianistic style—except with a decidedly modernist harmonic language. The second features a sprightly right-hand part creating pianistic icicles with hints of intriguing counterpoint with the left hand.
17-year-old Korean JiWon Yang, meanwhile, turned to Lowell Liebermann’s Gargoyles of 1989, with the composer sitting a few feet away on the jury row. The four movements provided ample opportunity for Yang to show off her musical breadth, from the delicate, appealingly lopsided ostinato figures of the second movement, to the fourth movement, which begins as a passacaglia but transforms into a dissonant, pianistically Lisztian finale.
Both Gagliano and Yang filled out their programs with performances of the much-loved but arguably over-familiar Pictures at an Exhibition of Mussorgsky. Gagliano took the more refined approach here, conserving volume and energy at the beginning; her best moment arrived in the carefully phrased and subtly voiced Interlude between the “Gnome” and “Troubadour” movements, and in a compelling, lingering rubato in the “Catacombs” movement.
Yang created a slightly more resonant version of Pictures, beginning with a more declamatory opening section and, throughout, a closer attention to the drama in the score. Although longtime concert-goers in these parts have had plenty of opportunities to hear live performances of the piano version of Pictures, the work has much to recommend it as a showcase for a young pianist’s skills, including an easily grasped emotional content, and a wide range of technical challenges. Gagliano and Yang met and mastered both handily.
» You can watch a live stream of the competition at Cliburn.org.
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