SIPCA 6 (Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia) – Chalk and Cheese

On Monday night I went to a session of the quarter finals, aka Stage 3. Owing to work commitments, this was the only session of this stage I could attend.

I heard:

19:15 – Christopher Devine
19:55 – Takashi Sato


20:55 – Miyeon Lee
21:35 – Yoonsoo Rhee

As with all sessions, it ran considerably over these times, which ambitiously don’t allow any time for change over between the players or delay in starting the sessions.

I enjoyed Christopher Devine‘s Mozart sonata and his choice of the specially-composed Australian work, Thin Air, by Andrew Ford. His Prokofiev Sonata was a bit lacking in interest in the outer movements: when things get big and technical, it feels as though he goes rather on autopilot – competently enough, but that’s not the point.

Takashi Sato played much as I expected him to play. He played the Morceau de Concours by Roger Smalley. He is a strong player, and perhaps the Clementi was a little over-played, but it was still intelligent and interesting. I still couldn’t get the point of Bartok – in this case the Sonata Sz 80. Does it all need to be so harsh and ugly? Someone suggested that the Kawai was a little the worse for wear.

Earlier in the day I heard Tomoki Kitamura play Bach’s French Suite No 4 BWV 815 in E Flat Major and I liked what I heard. He and Sato are chalk and cheese.

Two other players who are also chalk and cheese, and in a similar way (tough and strong vs refined and interesting) were the two Korean women, Miyeon Lee and Yun Soo Rhee.

Lee tends towards the delicate and even, in her attitude, prayerful approach. She is a Steinway player. Her set was a Haydn sonata, the Andrew Ford, and some Albeniz. The last was just a little too mild for my taste, but there was some beautiful playing.

Lee Rhee is a more muscular player. She is wearing a red dress which is a little too big for her in the chest. D and I joked when we previously heard and saw her that she may even have committed a “nipple fault” in relation to some viewing angles, or, to use the contemporary terminology, a tiny “wardrobe malfunction.” Somebody else must have said something to her, because in subsequent rounds she has always been very careful to clutch her hanky to her decolletage when leaning forward to make a bow. She is clearly still suffering a cold (as Sato also appeared to be): there was a less than elegant “see that man over there, he’s got green stripes down his trousers” nose wipe at one point.

Anyway, in my opinion that sort of thing isn’t really relevant except possibly as a tie breaker. Rhee also played a Haydn sonata and the Ford. Of the three I heard that night, she had the clearest conception of the piece which maintained continuity between the different sections. That shows she is not just a muscular player at all. Others who were there and had heard other accounts of the Ford also commended her approach. Her big piece was Brahms’ Sonata No 2. As Gerard rightly said, this is a dinosaur of a piece – to continue the metaphor, it is even a kind of evolutional dead end since Brahms’s mature style took a different turn from these very youthful works. She played the Yamaha, which is of course her choice. I would have preferred to hear her Brahms on the Steinway. But still, it was an impressive effort on a highly problematic piece. If at times it seemed a bit heavy handed, other performances I have heard by very reputable players suggest that this is a matter of the writing rather than the playing.

I”m trying to eschew adjudicative determinations. This is partly a question of wanting to enjoy the playing for what it is, rather than trying to keep some kind of running score as I listen. But the pairs of chalk and cheese in make it hard to avoid the question. I like both the Japanese boys and the Korean women, but at this stage, if I had to choose between Rhee and Lee, I would plump for Rhee, and conversely, if I had to choose between Sato and Kitamura, I would prefer Kitamura.

3 Responses to “SIPCA 6 (Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia) – Chalk and Cheese”

  1. Chang Tou Liang Says:

    The lady who kept clasping her hankie over her chest was Rhee (in the red dress with the long sash), not Lee (who wore something dark blue or black). At any rate, none had very much other than pianism to reveal.

  2. marcellous Says:

    You are right. I have made the correction.

  3. Phillip Wilcher Says:

    Young Tomoki Kitamura is a wonder. He is for me the very thing that all musicians aspire to be. What he does comes from some place else. It is as if the music happens to him. At just 17 years of age he is one of the greatest musicians I have ever heard. He has given me the most memorable experience of my musical life. The other pianist I most admire and will never forget is Charlie Albright. Everything he does is beautifully conceived. They are the jewels in the crown of this competition.

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