More pleasant than gripping
Jack Singer Concert Hall
09/04/2015 - & September 6*, 2015
September 4, 2015: Collaborative Recital
Franz Liszt: Die drei Zigeuner S. 320
Piotr I. Tchaikovsky: Romance "Den' li tsarit?" Op. 47 No. 6
Johannes Brahms: Sonata for clarinet in F minor Op. 120 No. 1 – Geistliches Wiegenlied Op. 91 No. 2
Dmitri Shostakovich/Lena Auerbach: from 24 Preludes for piano Op. 34: Nos. 10, 14, 15, 16, 19 & 24
Jean Françaix: Trio for clarinet, viola and piano
September 6, 2015: Solo Recital
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata No. 22 in F major Op. 54
Gabriel Fauré: from 9 Préludes Op. 103: Nos. 3 in G minor, 7 in A major & 4 in F major
Jean-Michael Damase: Sonatine
Johannes Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in F minor Op. 5
Isabel Bayrakdarian (soprano), James Campbell (clarinet), Hsin-Yun Huang (viola), Scott Cuellar (piano)
S. Cuellar (© Chris Krieger)
American pianist Scott Cuellar, age 26, has a bachelors degree from the Oberlin Conservatory, a masters degree from Juilliard and is working on his doctorate at Houston’s Rice University. He has won several awards for his playing, and in 2013 gave a recital at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall.
Mr. Cuellar was the first of the six pianists to perform this particular collaborative program. His introduction to the Liszt song was grand and showy (perfectly apropos), and his Tchaikovsky accompaniment was both sweeping and heartfelt.
The Brahms clarinet sonata requires (and received) a sensitive connection between the two performers; its melancholic moments were limpidly expressed, then the final Vivace was as lively as one could wish. Similarly, his rapport with violist Hsun-Yun Huang seemed to work well to bring out the distinctiveness of each of the six Shostakovich preludes.
The Françaix trio requires a different sort of interplay in each of the five movements (no doubt the reason it was chosen for the competition). The final Presto which the piano leads off is the best part of the work to demonstrate rapport - and it appeared to be cordial. The Brahms lullaby (in which the piano takes third place after the singer and the violist) came across beautifully, as it did in all ten performances.
His solo recital opened with Beethoven’s 22nd Sonata, a two movement (Menuetto - Allegretto) work dating from 1804 (making it a “middle period” work). He handled it with a judicious blend of delicacy and urgency, leading to its hectic ending. He received perfunctory applause from the normally effusive audience - I though he deserved better.
The three Fauré preludes demonstrate the composer’s apparent limpid simplicity, and they tumbled along like a genial, thoughtful conversation. Faure’s subtle pieces were followed by a relatively obscure French work, the Sonatine by Jean-Michel Damase (1928-2013). It was composed in 1991 and its title obviously refers to Maurice Ravel’s Sonatine (composed 1903-05). Damase composed a lot and stayed resolutely tonal regardless of contemporary trends. The work, in three brief movements (Moderato-Andante-Allegro), has a full quotient of charm.
In Johannes Brahms’ Third Sonata, a five-movement work, Mr. Cuellar displayed a mix of muscularity and deftness, bringing out Brahms’s distinctive colour and weight. If the Scherzo could be described as “well-schooled”, that is better than being “poorly-schooled” even though it lacked the ultimate in playfulness (but just how playful was Brahms anyway, even when young?). After the inward-looking Intermezzo the roiling finale became very exuberant. The work received a hearty response.
His encore was Rachmaninov’s Prelude in B major Op. 32 No. 11, a restrained piece that failed to make much of an impression.
Had he made it into the final round, his classical concerto would have been Beethoven’s Second, and his post-classical work Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.
ABOUT THE HONENS
The Honens International Piano Competition, named for its founding donor, held its first competition in Calgary in 1992. It is open to pianists between the ages of 20 and 30 who have no professional representation, and offers the richest prize of any of the world's many such competitions: a $100,000 first prize which comes with a three-year artist development program worth $500,000. The 2015 competition was the eighth.
The main objective of the competition is to discover “the complete pianist”, and here is the procedure: Earlier this year, interested pianists applied online, submitting information on their training and experience in performances and competitions. The Applicant Screening Jury selected 50 to participate in the quarterfinals, which consisted of 40-minute recitals (with audience) filmed in Los Angeles, New York or Berlin. Each pianist also made a taped 10-minute interview. These fifty recordings and the interviews were examined by a jury of four (Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear, Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan, Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa, and Mary Sigmond, president of a piano recital series in Minnesota).
Ten of the 50 were selected to come to Calgary for the semifinals (running for five days beginning Sept 3), during which each one performed a 65-minute solo recital (entirely different from the earlier 40-minute recital), and a 65-minute collaborative recital accompanying soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, and clarinetist James Campbell. (Each pianist chose one of three programs for these collaborative recitals.) Each pianist had a two and one-half hour session with the collaborators, plus a dress rehearsal.
After the semifinal round, three pianists were chosen for the two final concerts with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra under Yan Pascal Tortelier. For the first concert they each chose a concerto from a list of classical era works, and for the second concert they played a work of their own choosing from the post-classical era. The jury for the semifinal and final rounds consisted of three pianists (Alessandra Ammara, Janina Fialkowska, and Pedja Muzijevic ) and four arts managers: Paul Hughes (General Manager of the BBC Symphony Orchestra), Jeremy Geffen (Director of Artistic Planning for Carnegie Hall), Charles Hamlen (a founder of IMG Artists), and Costa Pilavachi (Senior Vice President of Classical Artists and Repertoire for Universal Music Group).
The jury assigned scores to each segment of the process, with each of the solo and collaborative recitals worth 30% of the final score, and each of the two concerto performances worth 15%. Ten percent of the final score was based on a 15-minute interview (taped) with an arts journalist.
The next competition will be in 2018.
Complete information on Honens can be found on the website.