A young pianist with any hope of a professional career as a performer will possess, well before the age of twenty, a fully developed technical mastery, the ability to memorize and retain acres of music, and a fairly substantial ready supply of repertoire. After the age of twenty, a promising pianist might lack, and yet still have hope of developing, original emotional insight and the ability to communicate that insight—though he or she had better build that ability rapidly.
Of the three finalists of the 2013 Cliburn Competition who performed with the Fort Worth Symphony and competition conductor Leonard Slatkin Thursday night at Bass Performance Hall, only one displayed that fully developed emotional sensibility a major artist must have.
Italian Beatrice Rana, who bounced from bland safety (in her reading of the Schumann Quintet) to daring bordering on eccentricity (in the Twenty-four Preludes of Chopin) during her semi-final performances, here presented a reading of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto worthy of an artist destined for a major career. Her approach was basically romantic but never overly so; a clean tone, ever-present energy, and a clear vision of the over-all architecture of the work made for a logical, constantly engaging performance. Particularly in the final movement, Rana discovered some interesting timbrel possibilities in the work, thus simultaneously evoking the lighter, more transparent tone of Beethoven’s piano while exploiting the range of possibilities available in the modern concert grand.
Russian Nikita Mndoyants followed with Prokofiev’s Second Concerto, a work that hovers—some might say intriguingly, some uncomfortably—between the showy virtuosity of zillions of notes on one hand to a profoundly Russian spirituality on the other. Mndoyant’s hitherto faultless march through the competition here faltered slightly—he appeared ever-so-slightly out of his depth in the cadenza of the first movement. And he wasn’t ever entirely certain whether he wanted to be profound or athletic in this most Russian of Prokofiev’s concertos.
The third finalist of the evening, Chinese-born, Juilliard-trained Fei-Fei Dong likewise wavered between the grace of her previous performances and the necessity of diving headlong into the tidal wave of notes in Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto. Like most of the past Cliburn competitors who have chosen to perform this piece, Dong opted for the more difficult and note-filled of the two cadenzas Rachmaninoff provided. In Dong’s case, the more lyrical, albeit slightly less difficult version of the concerto would have made a more logical choice.
To summarize, Rana emerged from the first day of the concerto round in a strengthened position, while Dona and Mndoyants lost ground.