Three Russians (and one Georgian), three Italians, one Frenchman, one German and one American - that's the breakdown on the 10 semifinalists in this year's Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, announced late Tuesday at Abravanel Hall.
Here are the jury's choices:- Alexander Vershinin, 29, Russia.
- Giampaolo Stuani, 29, Italy.
- Anthony Padilla, 28, USA.
- Filippo Gamba, 25, Italy.
- George Vatchnadze, 27, Georgia.
- Nicholas Angelich, 23, France.
- Oleg Marshev, 32, Russia.
- Thomas Grubmueller, 29, Germany.
- Dmitrij Teterin, 22, Russia.
- Pasquale Iannone, 32, Italy.
But as in past years, I don't know that they'd have all been my choices. Or, from reactions sampled at the hall, yours.
Oh, there are some fine pianists in there, several of whom really distinguished themselves in Monday and Tuesday's quarterfinals. Without question Grubmueller outplayed America's Ross Smith in the piece they had in common, the Liszt "Totentanz," offering the same kind of deeply powerful pianism that had made his "Firebird" extracts so memorable in the prelims, as though the music were smoldering from within.
Nor do I question the selection of Stuani, Marshev, Angelich or Teterin, the latter two of whom offered what seemed to me the best performances of the piece no fewer than six of the 20 quarterfinalists opted to play in this concerto-with-piano-accompaniment round, the Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand.
That had the effect of turning it into a concerto for three hands, two of them belonging, in every case, to the indefatigable Colette Valentine, who backed each of the competitors.
Nonetheless, each was able to put his personal stamp on it, Teterin serving it up in grandly imposing, almost Lisztian fashion, as opposed to Angelich's more Gallic conception. Which is to say Angelich's may not have been the richest, darkest, most exciting Ravel of the six, but it was to my ears the most idiomatically French. And, together with Teterin's, the most consistently propulsive in the march.
After that, I'd have ranked them in the following order: Gabriele Maria Vianello, Maxim Mogilevsky - both of whom were axed - Vatchnadze and Vershinin. But I wouldn't have picked any of the last four over Hannes Rox's Mendelssohn G minor or Anthony Molinaro's "Rhapsody in Blue," two more absolutely first-rate performances from pianists who were likewise eliminated.
In Molinaro's case, the vote against him may have been a vote against Gershwin, since the other competitor who opted for this piece - Salt Lake City's Eugene Watanabe - was also passed over.
But that can't have been the case with Rox's Mendelssohn, since the one U.S. competitor to be advanced also performed this concerto. That was Anthony Padilla, whose spirited account of the finale earned him a standing ovation. Elsewhere, though, his performance had nowhere near the exuberance, or accuracy, of Rox's.
Nor would I have quarreled with those who found Alan Gampel's Chopin (the "La ci darem la mano" Variations) preferable to either Gamba's Franck (the Symphonic Variations) or Iannone's Strauss "Burleske," the last in particular sorely hurt by the absence of the orchestra. (I also liked Gurevich's Shostakovich.)
But then, that's what makes horse races - and, as usual, piano competitions.
Semifinal performances, consisting of ten 50-minute solo recitals, continue Wednesday, June 22, at 1 and 7 p.m. and Thursday, June 23, at noon, after which the six finalists will be named.
And what are the odds we won't agree on those either?