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Yekwon Sunwoo (South Korea) Photograph: John Cole

A feast of music at the Piano Concerto Competition Semi-final

The semi-finals of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition brought a feast of music for those of us in the White Rock Theatre last night.  For the laughable cost of £8 per seat we were treated to seven mini-recitals by a quite remarkable array of young players ranging in age from 17 to 27, writes Antony Mair.

There were originally intended to be six in the semi-final, but the judges considered the standard so high that they stretched it to seven.  Each played a small programme of their own devising, for just under half an hour.

Marcin Koziak (Poland) Photograph: John Cole

The choice of music was wide, from Bach through to Ligeti.  The players had deliberately chosen music to demonstrate their range – Marcin Koziak, from Poland, for example, played a Haydn Sonata, followed by Debussy’s Prelude and ending with a virtuoso performance of Bartok.  Similarly, Taek Gi Lee, from South Korea, played a Bach Prelude and Fugue followed by a spectacular Fantasy by Liszt.  Asaki Ino, from Japan, gave a beautiful interpretation of Clara Schumann’s Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann before thundering through a Berg sonata.  The Russian Ekaterina Litvintseva seemed to prefer power over expressiveness in her pieces by Rachmaninov, Chopin and Prokofiev

Taek Gi Li Photograph John Cole

One of the more interesting moments occurred when Yekwon Sunwoo, also from South Korea, played Ravel’s Valse.  It wasn’t a piece I knew, but it had been played a little earlier by another competitor, Angie Zhang from the USA.  For an eighteen-year-old, she had demonstrated astonishing power – but I found myself wondering, in the course of her performance, what had happened to the dance in the title.  I thought that perhaps Ravel had composed a modernist interpretation of the waltz, which broke in at odd moments.  Then came Yekwon Sunwoo, who played the piece more subtly, so that the waltz rhythm was clear all the way through, with remarkable light and shade – suddenly the music was perfectly Parisian.

Piano Concerto Competition judges photograph John Cole

The two South Koreans and Marcin Koziak go through to the finals on Saturday, with Koziak playing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, and Yekwon Sunwoo and the astounding 17-year-old Taek Gi Lee both playing Rachmaninov’s Third.  Yekwon Sunwoo, 25, has remarkable stage presence and the smile of a schoolboy rather surprised to find himself the centre of attention.  His compatriot Taek Gi Lee packs far more  emotional punch in his playing than you would expect from someone his age.   The comparison between the two South Koreans playing the same Rachmaninov piece promises to make for an interesting evening.  As for Koziak, tall and unassuming, with the classic long hands of the pianist,  his Debussy was very beautiful and I’ve no doubt he’ll bring out the full emotion of Tchaikovsky’s score.

I confess to one disappointment.  I’d shepherded Annika Treutler, from Germany, to rehearsal in St. Mary in the Castle and then to the White Rock in the first round.  I was delighted to see that she’d made the semi-final.  She played a Schumann Fantasy very beautifully last night but was trounced by the men.  The standard is, indeed, amazing.

Republished with kind permission from Postcards from Hastings
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Posted 08:47 Saturday, Mar 8, 2014 In: Music & Sound

1 Comment

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  1. Erica

    A wonderful and accurate review. This was my first experience of the piano concerto competition and it was brilliant. I highly recommend attending next year!

    Comment by Erica — Wednesday, Mar 12, 2014 @ 21:36

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