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REPORT | The 10th Honens International Piano Competition: Semifinals IX-X

By Lev Bratishenko on October 25, 2022

Ádám Balogh performs at the 10th Honens International Piano Competition (Photo: Honens)
Ádám Balogh performs at the 10th Honens International Piano Competition (Photo: Honens)

Semis IX-X

CALGARY — The last day of the Honens semifinals arrives with aching anticipation. Just two more concerts, and we will become people again, no longer meat machines testing the durability of the concert hall’s seats. Up and down, up and down, up and down. We long to see our families. Will they remember us?

So anyway, I was a bit worried about Ádám Balogh, the afternoon’s first performer, and how he would feel today if he’d been in the room last night. It’s frightening to play the same piece right after your competitor aces it. But, his performance of the Kreuzer Sonata with Martin Beaver surpassed Scheucher’s in some ways; it had more personality, more shapely details, and more little mistakes, too. In a few moments the abundant sensitivity of his interpretation even sounded like fragility, in the touching variations of the second movement for example. Incredibly, by the end, it was my memory of Scheucher’s performance that had been disturbed, becoming crystalline and cold. Then Balogh pounced through the obligatory Kreisler and whipped us from one end to the other of Beethoven Sonata No. 9 Op. 14. The speed came at the price of expression, and his last work of the semis, the Kreisler/Rachmaninov Liebesfreud, was lightly injured by the same impatience.

Illia Ovcharenko performs at the 10th Honens International Piano Competition (Photo: Honens)
Illia Ovcharenko performs at the 10th Honens International Piano Competition (Photo: Honens)

Next up was the young Illia Ovcharenko, starting with a vibrant performance of Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 7. The opening Allegro was suspenseful and explosive, and the Adagio luxurious, but his soloist instincts were a bit strong, and in the finale Martin Beaver seemed to be clinging to a mechanical bull. Depending on how much of the score depends on their performance as accompanists, the most important part of the afternoon program was probably Ovcharenko’s astonishing Liszt Sonata in B minor. Lushly detailed and violently thrilling, it left us holding our breath and riveted (if you don’t mind occasionally being the rivet getting hammered.) It was the best performance of Liszt in the competition.

The tenth and last semifinal began with one of the few interesting programs: George Fu and his aviary. But first there was the obligatory violin sonata, Beethoven’s 10th. Between you and me and the internet, I find it overlong and boring, but Fu obviously doesn’t mind. He lovingly made a bed for the violin and Beaver sweetly, sleepily sang in it. Then things got interesting: stupefying clarity in Messaien’s taxadermic reverie (“Le loriot” from Catalogue d’Oiseaux), weightless melancholia in Ravel (“Oiseaux tristes” from Miroirs), and for the first time in the competition, one of the pianists’ own compositions: The Hen (after Rameau) from Fu’s Three Paraphrases from Respighi’s The Birds (2021). Witty stuff, and Fu distinguished himself with it. The three Rachmaninov Études tableaux felt like an afterthought; tactical, for a competition, and played brilliantly and with reckless velocity, but this ending undercut the charm and originality of his program.

The last performance of the semifinals was Aleksandra Kasman Laude. I was eager to hear her play Prokofiev, but in an unfortunate act of fate we first had to listen to exactly the same Beethoven violin sonata that we’d just heard; still a blah-llaby but this time more spacious and vibrant, with added depth and gleaming colours. I hesitate to even mention the obligatory Kreisler — after ten times, the Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen have become loathsome. I am suffering from Post-Traumatic Schmaltz Disorder.

The last music of the semifinals was, appropriately, among the best. Though juries are unpredictable animals, Kasman’s Prokofiev performance should get her a spot in the finals. She was magnificent; from the haunted and aching first movement that builds to nihilistic cries and ebbs away, through the second, a teetering song that’s afraid to transform into the quiet incantation of a nightmare, and to the macabre third slithering between moods before burying itself with a flash of fangs and emerald skin. She’s a remarkably sophisticated musician, and I’d go hear her play anything.

The three finalists who will play on Thursday and Friday were announced later that night: Rachel Breen, Aleksandra Kasman Laude, and Illia Ovcharenko.

Livestream the 10th Honens International Piano Competition [HERE].


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