Last week, in the early stages of this year's Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, one of the judges was heard to comment that in the final round we could end up hearing three Prokofiev Third Piano Concertos.
Well, we won't. We won't even be hearing one. What we will be hearing is two Tchaikovsky Firsts, two Rachmaninoff Thirds, the same composer's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Gershwin's Concerto in F. And the last will be played by a pianist from the Soviet Union.Here are the six finalists, announced early Thursday (i.e., just after midnight):
- Armen Babakhanian, 23, a native of Armenia in the USSR who has studied entirely in his homeland.
- Ruei-Bin Chen, 23, a native of Taiwan who is now a citizen of Austria. He studies with Bachauer jury member Lev Vlassenko.
- Violetta Egorova, 21, a native of southern Russia who has studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Bachauer juror Lev Naumov.
- Ilia Itin, 24, a native of the USSR currently studying in the United States. He is also a former student of Naumov's.
- Gail Niwa, 31, USA, a graduate of New York's Juilliard School of Music, where she studied with Adele Marcus.
- Mehmet Okonsar, 29, a native of Turkey who has studied at Brussels' Royal Conservatory.
Each will perform a full-length concerto Friday and Saturday with the Utah Symphony, according to the following schedule:
FRIDAY: Itin - Rachmaninoff Third; Babakhanian - Gershwin; Chen - Tchaikovsky.
SATURDAY: Okonsar - Rachmaninoff Third; Egorova - Tchaikovsky; Niwa - Rachmaninoff Paganini Rhapsody.
Joseph Silverstein will conduct and starting time each evening is 7 p.m., at Symphony Hall. Following Saturday's performances the winners will be announced in a ceremony at which Princess Irene of Greece, a student of the late Gina Bachauer's, will present the gold, silver and bronze medals.
Wednesday's vote followed solo and chamber rounds that day and Tuesday at which each of the 10 semifinalists clearly had his or her adherents. In the first I might have opted for Peter Longworth's dynamic "Pictures at an Exhibition" (Mussorgsky) over Babakhanian's. But with its unforced lyricism the latter's was truly luminous, and largely minus the executional slips that disfigured Longworth's.
Also eliminated Wednesday were Anthony Padilla, following a beautifuly shaped rendition of the Shostakovich Piano Quintet (with equally sensitive playing by the Lark Quartet); Jennifer Hayghe, whose vital Dvorak quintet was likewise her most successful outing; and the USSR's Andrey Kasparov, also from Armenia, whose Shostakovich had the right sound but whose Brahms (the Handel Variations) was a bit too rough-hewn for all its excitement.
Indeed, most of the chamber performances were good, including four very different readings of the Brahms Piano Quintet. Chen's, in fact, is probably what put him over the top, but I would not discount Niwa's impassioned account or even Okonsar's, which almost turned the piece into a concerto.
In that it was no more unconventional than his solo round, in which Faure and Rameau took on an unexpectedly Lisztian quality, as did, more appropriately, his Scriabin "Black Mass," here dark and subterranean. In contrast Chen and Niwa seemed a bit short on individuality, and occasionally expressivity, in otherwise vivid accounts of Chopin's B flat minor Sonata.
Itin's program, although not technically flawless, was altogether more distinctive, as was his lovingly detailed Dvorak. Egorova, on the other hand, still sweeps swiftly over everything, but with a uniquely mercurial and often mesmerizing sound.