Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wrapping up the preliminary round: Wednesday at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis keyed to the semifinalist announcement

 Here they are, the semifinalists in the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis:

Nancy Zhou
Yu-Chien Tseng
Ayana Tsuji
Tessa Lark
Jinjoo Cho
Stephen Waarts
Stephen Kim
Ji Yoon Lee
Ji Young Lim
Kristi Gjezi
Yoo Jin Jang
Bomsori Kim
Suyeon Kang
Ji-Won Song
Dami Kim
Christine Lim

 What follows is unchanged from what I wrote within the past hour:

Launching this post without yet knowing how the jury decided whom to pass on to the semifinal round, I don't expect to change much here once I learn.  I've not played any hunches on which of the 37 participants I'd like to see designated as semifinalists, so I won't try to tweak any judgment I made without knowing who the also-rans turned out to be.

The music ended with Richard Lin's suave playing of Gershwin's Second Prelude, as arranged by Jascha Heifetz. That bluesy morsel had its lyrical side stressed in this performance with pianist Chih-Yi Chen,  yet any violinist who didn't make the cut now has a right to sing the blues.

A lot of local interest in the ninth quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis was stirred by the acceptance of Greek violinist Areta Zhulla into the field. She's the wife of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's acting second bassoonist, Oleksiy Zakharov, and a generous gathering of his colleagues helped swell the late-morning audience for her recital.

I can't back away from what I said in yesterday's post about the optimum sort of performance for Mozart's five two-movement violin sonatas, a choice of which every participant was required to make. I regard a scrupulous balance between violin and piano as best, but that doesn't mean a violin-centric  partnership can't work. Zhulla was well-matched with Chen, no doubt about it. But the push-pull effect generated by the music's frequent alternation of accompaniment patterns with melody is not to my taste. Like so many participants, Zhulla and Chen offered the Sonata in G major, K. 301.

The more I heard this particular sonata, the more rewarding I thought a firm duet presentation of the music served it best. But the classical style seems to suggest a hierarchy of musical material, with a vocabulary of accompaniment patterns that to some musicians beg to be subordinate wherever they occur. I won't pause to debate the point, and I won't let myself forget that the setting for these performances is, after all, a violin competition.

Suyeon Kang
Areta Zhulla
I liked the way pianist Rohan De Silva raised his part's profile to match  Suyeon Kang's powerful presentation of the Sonata in A major, K. 305. The best account of the oft-played K. 301 was presented by Dami Kim.  When understatement was called for, her tone kept its spine. She and Nelson Padgett displayed an exemplary partnership. When a violinist couldn't help soaring on a long-note phrase, the performance was never as satisfying to me.

Not to beat a now-dead horse — the beast of burden is surely deceased for the time being, now that the prelims are over — I'll turn to the absolute pinnacle of Zhulla's recital: Bach's Chaconne from the Partita in D minor. Her performance was unimpeachable. She took us on an authentic journey, with dynamic and tempo contrasts expertly judged. The expressiveness was enthralling at every point. The initial thickening of texture with string-crossings keyed to an accented note, with each figure helping to outline the harmony,  gave me goosebumps. And I know it wasn't from the air conditioning, which was considerably less Arctic Wednesday than it had been earlier in the week.

To call this episode and its two briefer recollections  a depiction of struggle, triumph, and acceptance of something less than triumph (as I did in yesterday's post) may make me guilty of overspiritualizing this work. But to me Zhulla's playing of the initial "struggle" seemed to encompass both sides of an unnamed conflict. She opened up a whole world to us with a performance that went beyond Bach's laying out a variety of ideas suitable to the short, repeated bass line that defines the chaconne form.

Christine Lim
Other Wednesday highlights:

* Nadir Khashimov's sturdy, seriously reflective Adagio and Fugue from Bach's Sonata No. 1 in G minor, with a lot of flourish given to the coda that ends the fugue. (That feature must surely be among the reasons so many participants made this work their Bach choice.)

* Kang's satisfying interpretation of Achron's "Hebrew Melody" (arranged by Leopold Auer), her intense, large-hearted sound very well deployed (De Silva was the pianist).

* Christine Lim's bow control throughout her recital. Speed, pressure and proportionality in her use of the bow made hers the most fun right arm to watch since Leonidas Kavakos' in 1986.  She squeaked badly once in Bach (a rosin issue?) and took the middle section of Paganini Caprice No. 5 too fast for her left hand, but there was so much exquisite about her recital that it didn't matter. Her adroitness allowed a puckish sense of humor to come out in Caprice No. 17, and her account of Joachim's  "Romance" made hers one of the best encore pieces I heard.

* And a "lowlight": It would be uncharitable to name names, but given the fuss I made about how well participants who chose Caprice No. 9 mimicked flutes, then horns at the beginning (an effect repeated later in the caprice), one  of Wednesday's violinists played as if the horn to be evoked was the kind you put on a bicycle. Another one bent the horn notes. I don't think you can do that on a horn; at any rate it's not characteristic. So much of putting music across consists of capturing the character of what the composer intends — particularly when he tells you explicitly what he wants.

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