The Ibla Foundation and Music Department of Radford University presented a concert Tuesday night, April 12, featuring the winners of the 2004 Bartok-Kabalevsky-Prokofiev Piano Competition (Nathan Carterette, USA) and the 2004 Ibla International Grand Prize winners (pianists Aleksandra Szerdi, Poland, Min-Kyung Choi, Korea and Gesa Luecker, Germany; and soprano Brigeritte Jaeger, also from Germany). The same performers had been presented the night before, in New York’s Carnegie Hall.
The reason for holding this special concert in Radford, is that from 1981 to 2003 the Bartok-Kabalevsky piano competition (Prokoviev’s name had not yet been added) was held every year at Radford University; the Competition actually dates from 1981, when it began life as the Bartok competition, the other two names being added later. And starting in the Summer of 2004 the Competition is being co-sponsored by the IBLA Foundation and takes place in the city of Ragusa-Ibla in Sicily (July 5-10). So the joint concerts featuring winners of the two competitions was a natural result of their merged format.
The program began with a performance of Bartok’s Improvisation, Op. 20 by Carterette. Then Szerdi played two movements of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. III in C Major, Op. 26 with Anna Rutkowska-Schock performing the orchestral part on a second piano. Later Choi played two movments of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 1 in F# minor, OP. 1; again Rutkoswska-Schock represented the orchestra. All of these pieces included highly virtuosic sections—perhaps the pianists chose them in order to display their virtuosity, and this they did, extremely well. All three players also demonstrated an ability to make the piano “sing;” Their fingers seemed to glide effortlessly over the keys in the virtuosic passages while the slow sections were played with poignancy and emotion. The small, but enthusiastic, audience greeted all three pieces with the sustained applause that they well deserved and a spontaneous standing ovation at the close. One can forsee a bright future in piano performance for all of these highly talented young artists.
But my favorite piece was Leucker’s rendition of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13. As much as all the pianists were able to impart the quality of song to their playing, none quite had the melodic quality of Luecker who carried me away into another world, giving true meaning to the title “Rhapsody.”
Soprano Jaeger sang two major pieces, both by Giuseppe Verdi, Leonore’s aria “Pace, pace, mio Dio” from Act IV of La Forza del Destino and Violetta’s scena from Act I of La Traviata, comprising the two arias “Ah, fors’è lui” and “Sempre libera,” including the recitative preceding each of the two arias. It is a testimony to Jaeger’s training that she did not make the common mistake in the introductory recit (È strano”) of mispronouncing the word “anima” (“Che risolvi, o turbata anima mia?”). Probably due to a copying error, most Traviata scores have the syllable “a” on a sixteenth note and “ni” on a dotted eighth, accounting for the oft-heard mispronunciation “a-NEE-ma.”
Jaeger’s performance of the two arias was a mixed bag. Her pianissimo was pure and sweet but her fortissimo passages tended to turn into screams, especially in the higher registers. There were also some intonation worries in her codas, but these were slight. All in all while Jaeger demonstrated a fine instrument and a lot of future promise, I wonder about the choice of repertoire, especially “Pace, pace” which is really an aria for dramatic soprano. Two numbers listed on the program but not performed, Rosalinde’s Czardas from Die Fledermaus and “My funny Valentine” by Rodgers and Hart might have been more appropriate vehicles for a voice still developing.
The final piece on the program was perhaps the most interesting. Pianist Chie Sato Roden of Japan teamed up with the capo del concerto , Salvatore Moltisanti, to play Markrokosmos IV by George Crumb. Crumb, a local boy (born in Charleston, West Virginia in 1929) and now professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, is famous for his weird effects. This piece was no exception; the players, using one piano (Moltisanti sat while Roden stood) spent as much time hitting the piano strings with their hands as with the hammers. The piece was highly virtuosic, very fast, very loud and very intricate. I loved it, but the audience appeared apathetic, at least judging from the luke-warm applause. Roden, by the way, played wonderfully but Moltisanti demonstrated why he was chosen as capo with his truly brilliant performance (1991 competition winner).
I thoroughly enjoyed this concert. One seldom has the opportunity to listen to such fine piano playing by so many different artists, even in the cultural Mecca that we are privileged to enjoy here in the New River Valley.