Tetiana Shafran
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OKIPC: Finals

Gregory Sullivan Isaacs is in Albuquerque covering the second Olga Kern International Piano Competition. Here are thoughts on the final round.

published Sunday, November 3, 2019

Photo: Talent Music Agency
Tetiana Shafran


Albuquerque, N.M. — The final session of the Olga Kern International Piano Competition consisted of playing a concerto with the New Mexico Philharmonic under the baton of Music Director Roberto Minczuk. We heard two performances of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3, one of his Concerto No. 2, and one of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

All four performances were hampered by poor coordination between soloist, the orchestra and the Maestro. Frequently, all three of these critical elements were out of phase. Further, the balance within the orchestra was off. The dry sound in the hall could have been part of the problem. My seat up in the balcony could have been the cause of this observation. But the brass, especially the trumpets, sounded as if they were not on the stage at all but were about 50 feet closer. There were a few questionable solos from the principals, some were under pitch, but there was one cello solo in particular that was mystifying. Intonation was also off.

As with any performance when things go wrong (and they inevitably do), blame has to be laid at the feet of the conductor, no matter who was actually at fault. His large sweeping motions, while mirroring his hands, didn’t help matters. As things began to fall apart, switching to smaller and ultra-precise gestures might have worked better than enlarging what he was already doing. While I did not attend any of the rehearsals, it is hard to imagine that they went well.


Photo: Courtesy
Elizaveta Kliuchereva, Russia

Elizaveta Kliuchereva




Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30


Elizaveta Kliuchereva was up first with the Rachmaninoff third. She set a fast pace right from the start and Minczuk was never able to catch here. Sometimes in the first movement they were a beat or more apart. Her performance of the famous cadenza was also rushed. Here is a place that the soloist has free reign and can take all the time they want without worrying about the orchestra conductor. Instead, probably due to nerves, she rushed through it and reached maximum volume long before the big moment. The second movement fared better and featured some lovely solos from the principal winds. The last movement went pretty much like the first.



Tetiana Shafran



Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30


The other performance of this same concerto was the same but different. Tetiana Shafran took everything slower. She may have learned a lesson from hearing the previous performance or this was just her interpretation. While still full of troubles, her approach worked better than the last outing of the concerto. However, her approach put the second movement in the doldrums. Part of the reason this happened is that she exaggerated every ritard and nuance without recovering the tempo when finished. As a result, it got slower as time went on. Actually, it felt endless.


Photo: Courtesy
Federico Gad Crema, Italy

Federico Gad Crema




Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23


If there is a warhorse in the piano concerto repertoire, it has to be Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1. Ever since Van Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow in 1958 with it, this concerto has reigned supreme in the category. Federico Gad Crema gave it an accurate and exciting performance. There were things that need mentioning. The scherzo section of the second movement was so fast that the melodic material played by the orchestra sounded trivial and like a child’s skipping tune. The conductorial problems were still evident. One glaring example was the pizzicato chords that open the second movement, which were not together. The last movement was rushed which robbed it of some of its charm.



Photo: Courtesy
Simon Karakulidi

Simon Karakulidi




Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18


This leaves us with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 which opened the second half of the program played by Simon Karakulidi. The forthright way he played the opening chords set the tone for the first movement, so it went better that the others. However, the second movement felt slow and labored. Karakulidi tried to get it moving on several occasions, but his efforts were in vein. The last movement was the best of the three, but he exaggerated some of the nuances, bordering on self-indulgent.



The judges had a difficult task to decide the distribution of the prizes. They had to separate the performance of the pianists from the hampering they received from the conductor and orchestra. Since things always go wrong in any performance and the fact that these concerti are indeed difficult to conduct, they based their decision on who held up best under the circumstances. I am just glad that I wasn’t asked to vote as well.

They did choose, though. The winners are below:


First place 

Tetiana Shafran


Second place

Federico Gad Crema


Third place

Simon Karakulidi


Fourth place

Elizavta Kurchereva Thanks For Reading

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OKIPC: Finals
Gregory Sullivan Isaacs is in Albuquerque covering the second Olga Kern International Piano Competition. Here are thoughts on the final round.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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