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Virtuoso – Pianists of the Sydney International Piano Competition
rec. 1992-2016, Verbrugghen Hall and York Theatre, Sydney
ELOQUENCE 4819497 [11 CDs: 855:22]

The quadrennial Sydney International Piano Competition was founded in 1977. Forty pianists competed on that occasion including a young Piers Lane who has since become the competition's artistic director and has written an essay for the booklet, Shaping the Sydney. The jury for the first competition included such greats as Eugene List, Denis Matthews and Hephzibah Menuhin as well as the competition's founder and first artistic director Rex Hobcraft. Irina Plotnikova was the winner in 1977 and like several other prizewinners she was a jury member in later competitions. Recordings of the competition have been released since that first year but this wonderfully varied compilation covers the seven competitions between 1992 and 2016 and features 77 competitors. It brings us neatly to the last competition held in public; the pandemic meant that the 2020 competition was moved to 2021 and the format changed to pre-recorded videos and streaming so perhaps this retrospective will be the last in this format.

The 1992 to 2016 first prize-winners are listed in the booklet but the compilation does not favour their performances over others; John Chen, in 2004 the youngest ever winner is represented by a single performance – an exhilarating Islamey – as is the 2000 winner Marina Kolomiitseva. The CDs are ordered by genre and style; baroque, classical, romantic (2 discs), 20th Century (3 discs), transcriptions and encores, Australian piano music and finally two discs of concerto performances. Recordings are not in date order but the sound is nonetheless consistent throughout.

The baroque disc opens with Jason Gillham's sprightly Bach C minor Toccata followed by a beautifully shaded Bach Prelude and fugue played by Vitali Samoschko. Samoschko was tipped to be the winner in 1992 but learned the wrong Mozart A major concerto – K.488 instead of K.414 – so missed out on the top spot; making 6th place he was graciously allowed to perform Rachmaninov's Paganini Rhapsody in the final, a dynamic performance that can be heard on disc 10. Fourteen sonatas by Scarlatti include a marvellously vivacious G major Kk.454 played by Jianing Kong and limpid Kk.87 with Olga Samossueva. Masataka Goto gives us a welcome rarity in the form of Handel's Chaconne in G major and Takashi Sato ends with an efficient performance of Busoni's monumental transcription of the Bach Chaconne.

Disc 2 (classical) has 2008 winner Konstantin Shamray in fine Mozart and 2012 winner Avan Yu in Beethoven's Sonata op.101 which won him the best performance of a Beethoven Sonata prize. Michele Bolla's Waldstein is impressive though occasionally a little too ponderous for me in some of the chordal passages. Roger Wright finds plenty of colour in his sparkling Haydn C major Sonata. Highlights on the romantics discs (3 and 4) are Avan Yu's Chopin F minor Ballade and the two tracks by 2016 winner Andrey Gugnin. Gugnin chose a real rarity by Liszt, his Faribolo Pastour – pastoral whimsy – a delicious set of variations on a song by Jacques Jasmin played with disarming simplicity. He follows it with a stunning Feux Follets. Schumann's little played Blumenstück is not obvious competition repertoire but Roger Wright plays it convincingly. Chopin études, Brahms Paganini variations and Rachmaninov's B flat minor Sonata are more usual fare in competitions and they are all here in fine performances though I don't particularly care for Leonid Kuzmin's ultra-virtuosity in the Black key study. Nor am I taken with Bolla's étude op.25 no.12 where he consistently plays an odd rhythm in the central chorale theme – the slight memory lapse is less bothersome. Two excerpts from Goyescas include a dramatic El Amor y la muerte from Ming Xie and Konstantin Shamray is glorious in Taneyev's tricky G sharp minor Prelude and fugue.
Three discs are devoted to the 20th century and there is a great deal of variety within that framework. Familiar Debussy and Ravel sits alongside less well known Poulenc, the wonderful Thème varié which I had not heard before and which comes across very well under Hiroshi Arimori's fingers. Ravel's la Valse from David Fung is evocative and played to the hilt – the very image of a world spiralling into chaos whilst there is admirable desolation in Cristiana Pegoraro's Oiseaux tristes. The Debussy Préludes fare well apart from Kuzmin's Minstrels who are a wayward bunch (even for minstrels). I was surprised to hear delightful piano music from Sibelius who I haven't associated with the instrument despite being fully aware that he wrote quite a lot for the piano. His Sonnet is gorgeous, played lovingly by Tomoki Kitamura and once again Gugnin explores off the beaten track with Sibelius' charming Impromptu – perhaps I have to see what other piano delights Sibelius has in store. Scriabin is represented by early and late works; the three op.65 études are a joy from Clemens Leske and an earlier étude – op.8 no.10 – dances along from Avan Yu. Vitali Samoschko's staggering performance of Prokofiev's seventh Sonata ably shows why he was in line for the top spot; apart from peerless technique there is marvellously layered playing in the slow movement. On disc 7 you can be swept away by Valeria Vetruccio's energetic Danzas Argentinas; more Ginastera rounds up this selection with his colourful Piano Sonata no.1 vividly handled by Yuki Takao. In-between there are more rarities; Mirage from Spanish/American composer Elisenda Fàbregas, played here by Roger Wright who gave its premiere, is a compelling piece with writing that echoes the great virtuoso romantics while remaining rooted in the 20th century – very much a piece I would return to. An unsung of an earlier age is once again the focus of Andrey Gugnin's exploratory zeal; Vsevolod Zaderatsky's prelude and fugue from his set of 24 is short but engaging, sharing something of Shostakovich and Prokofiev in its language and idiom. There is plenty more to enjoy here including quality versions of two hypnotic études by Ligeti followed by an exciting but somewhat remorseless Petrushka from Tatiana Kolesova.

Amongst the transcriptions and encores selection I was impressed by Vera Kameneva's Flight of the bumblebee in Rachmaninov's transcription as well as Xiang-Dong Kong's exuberant version of Percy Grainger's arrangement of Tchaikowsky's Waltz of the flowers. He changes gears for a sensitive Schubert-Liszt Serenade and in this respect I have to commend Daniel Hill for his timeless and touching version of Gluck's Mélodie. There is virtuosity aplenty on offer here whether it is Yuki Takao's scorching MacDowell Hexentanz or first prize-winners Sergei Tarasov and Marina Kolomiitseva in Liszt Paganini études. Leonid Kuzmin, not my favourite pianist here as may be clear, plays the Schulz-Evler Blue Danube Arabesques in a truncated version similar to Josef Lhévinne's stupendous account (available on Marston Records 53023-2) and while he certainly has the fingers for it he is short on élan. Olivier Cazal delivers a blistering Mouvement by Pierre Sancan to close this disc.

Disc 9 is devoted to Australian piano music; several of the tracks were written as required pieces and though no information is given in the booklet an internet search tells us that Gordon Kerry's Figured in the drift of stars and Ann Carr-Boyd's Kabarli Meditation are amongst these. From 2016 Piers Lane changed the requirement from a specially composed work to any piece by an Australian composer hoping that rather than playing a piece that they didn't necessarily connect with the competitors would choose something they actually liked and would hopefully keep in their repertoire. Hence Tony Lee's choice of Arthur Benjamin's Scherzino and two Études Improvisées, a whirling fantastic waltz and short toccata, all highly attractive. There are several works by Peter Sculthorpe, including his lilting Nocturne and the haunting, exotic Djilile. The aforementioned Figured in the drift of stars is an atmospheric tone-poem with echoes of Debussy in its harmony and sudden skittish interjections and there is plenty of variety, indeed sharp contrast on the remainder of the disc whether that be the short bagatelles by Carl Vine, improvisatory and frantic by turns or the birdlike orientalism of Kabarli Meditation. Even more off the wall is Brett Dean's Equality that opens with something of the feel of a Ligeti étude before Swedish pianist Martin Malmgren adds his voice to the mix with harshly shouted imprecations. The final discs are devoted to concertos. Safe to say that all are dramatic and persuasive performances but pride of place here for me is Olivier Cazal's performance of Prokofiev's C major piano concerto that fairly leaps from the speakers with visceral energy and passion. Cazal, who ultimately came away with second prize is obviously determined to give his all and this performance sparkles with that determination; passionate, reflective, charming and supremely virtuosic.

This is a set to dip into again and again and I have just touched on a few of the many items here. It is a joy to experience the amazing pianism collected together here and by sampling performances from all competitors across a startlingly broad range of repertoire, familiar and unknown, Eloquence have created a fine tribute to this competition and its artists.

Rob Challinor
Disc 1 [80:02]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata in C minor BWV.911 (c.1714) [10:47] Jayson Gillham
Prelude and fugue in F minor, book 2 No.12 (1722) [6:39] Vitali Samoschko
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in G major Kk.454 [2:26] Jianing Kong
Sonata in G major Kk.455 [1:52] Jianing Kong
Sonata in D minor Kk.32 [2:37] Evgeny Ukhanov
Sonata in D minor Kk.9 [4:16] Rustem Khairutdinov
Sonata in A minor Kk.54 [2:25] Timothy Young
Sonata in D minor Kk.1 [2:47] Wojciech Wisniewski
Sonata in B flat major Kk.551 [2:02] Dmitri Grigortsevich
Sonata in F minor Kk.69 [2:49] Timothy Young
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Chaconne in G major HWV.435 (c.1705-17) [5:36] Masataka Goto
Sonata in C major Kk.159 [2:07] Duncan Gifford
Sonata in E minor Kk. 394 [3:58] Jie Zheng
Sonata in A major Kk.24 [4:07] Hanna Cyba
Sonata in E major Kk.162 [6:24] Masataka Takada
Sonata in B minor Kk.87 [3:10] Olga Samossoueva
Sonata in B minor Kk.27 [2:09] Marta Zabaleta
Johann Sebastian BACH arr. Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Chaconne from Partita in D minor No.2 for solo violin BWV.1004 (c.1892) [13:48] Takashi Sato

Disc 2 [80:03]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata in F major K.533/494 (1788) [18:19] Konstantin Shamray
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonata in C major Hob.XVI:48 (c.1789) [11:28] Roger Wright
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Moment musical in A flat major D.780 No.6 (1823-24) [6:40] Ivo Janssen
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.28 in A major Op.101 (1816) [20:14] Avan Yu
Piano Sonata No.21 in C major Op.53 (1803-4) [23:20] Michele Bolla

Disc 3 [81:03]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Hungarian rhapsodie in E S.244 No.10 (1847) [5:21] Alexei Volodin
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Étude in C major Op.10 No.1 (1830) [1:51] Sergei Tarasov
Étude in A minor Op.10 No.2 (1830) [1:16] Daniil Tsvetkov
Fantaisie in F minor Op.49 (1841) [12:38] Helen Sim
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Andante and Rondo Capriccioso Op.14 (1828 rev.1830) [6:18] Yurij Bogdanov
Faribolo Pasteur S.236 No.1 (1844) [5:36] Andrey Gugnin
Étude d'éxécution transcendante S.139 No.5 Feux Follets (1851) [3:44] Andrey Gugnin
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Étude in A minor Op.25 No.11 (1834) [3:38] Young-Ah Kim
Étude in C minor Op.25 No.12 (1836) [2:34] Michele Bolla
Ballade No.4 Op.52 (1842) [10:39] Avan Yu
Valse in A flat major Op.42 (1840) [3:36] Anna Malikova
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Blumenstück Op.19 (1839) [8:47] Roger Wright
Frédéric CHOPIN
Étude in G flat major Op.10 No.5 (1830) [1:29] Leonid Kuzmin
Rhapsodie espagnole S.254 (1858) [13:34] Alexey Yemtsov

Disc 4 [75:15]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Étude-Tableau in C minor Op.33 No.3 (1911) [5:25] Arseny Tarasevich-Nikolaev
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1915)
Goyescas No.4 Quejas, o la maja y el ruiseñor (1911) [6:16] Daniel Del Pino
Goyescas No.5 El amor y la muerte (1911) [11:45] Ming Xie
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations on a theme of Paganini Op.35 Book.1 (1862-63) [12:40] Sergei Tarasov
Prelude in G major Op.32 No.5 (1910) [3:07] Arseny Tarasevich-Nikolaev
Sergei TANEYEV (1856-1915)
Prelude and fugue in G sharp minor Op.29 (1910) [7:59] Konstantin Shamray
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations on a theme of Paganini Op.35 Book.2 (1862-63) [10:38] Yoon Soo Rhee
Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor Op.36 (1913 rev.1931) [17:23] Olivier Cazal

Disc 5 [77:57]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Prélude Bk.1 No.8 La fille aux cheveux de lin (1909-10) [3:12] Helen Sim
Prélude Bk.2 No.2 Feuilles mortes (1912-13) [3:30] Damien Scott
Prélude Bk.2 No.4 Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses (1912-13) [3:16] Xuesu Liu
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Thème varié (1951) [10:14] Hiroshi Arimori
Presto in B flat major (1934) [1:30] Takashi Sato
Images Book.2 (1907) [12:18] Roberto Cominati
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
6 Pieces Op.94 No.3 Sonnet (1914-19) [3:14] Tomoki Kitamura
Prélude Bk.1 No.6 Des pas sur la neige (1909-10) [5:18] Danaë O'Callaghan
Prélude Bk.1 No.2 Voiles (1909-10) [4:32] Michele Bolla
Prélude Bk.2 No.5 Bruyères (1912-13) [2:45] Hanna Cyba
Prélude Bk.1 No.12 Minstrels (1909-10) [2:01] Leonid Kuzmin
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Miroirs No.2 Oiseaux tristes (1904-5) [4:30] Cristiana Pegoraro
Miroirs No.3 Une barque sur l'océan (1904-5) [6:51] Gottlieb Wallisch
Impromptu Op.5 No.5 (1893) [3:49] Andrey Gugnin
Maurice RAVEL
La Valse (1920) [10:54] David Fung
Disc 6 [78:49]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Three Études Op.65 (1911-12) [7:56] Clemens Leske
Étude in D flat major Op.8 No.10 (1894) [1:55] Avan Yu
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Prelude and Fugue Op.87 No.15 (1950-51) [4:25] Jason Li
Prelude and Fugue Op.87 No.24 (1950-51) [11:32] Tanel Joamets
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata in B flat major No.7 Op.83 (1939-42) [18:04] Vitali Samoschko
Rodion SHCHEDRIN (b.1932)
Humoresque (1952) [2:01] Leonid Kuzmin
Alexander SCRIABIN
Piano Sonata No.2 Op.19 Sonata-Fantasie (1897) [11:06] Daniel Gortler
Piano Sonata No.1 Op.12 (1926) [13:03] Ayako Uehara
Toccata Op.11 (1912) [4:32] Hanna Cyba
Nikolai KAPUSTIN (1937-2020)
Concert Étude No.7 Intermezzo Op.40 No.7 (1984) [4:12] Tatiana Kolesova

Disc 7 [78:59]
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Danzas Argentinas Op.2 (1937) [8:29] Valeria Vetruccio
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Piano Sonata Op.1 (1907-8 rev.1920) [12:17] Stephen Ham
Elisenda FÁBREGAS (b.1955)
Mirage (1997) [9:34] Roger Wright
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
The Cat and the Mouse – scherzo humoristique (1920) [4:14] Rachel Kudo
Gian Carlo MENOTTI (1911-2007)
Ricecare and Toccata on a theme from 'The Old Maid and the Thief' (1953) [7:06] Charlie Albright
Vsevolod ZADERATSKY (1891-1953)
Prelude and Fugue No.5 in D major (1937) [3:26] Andrey Gugnin
György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Étude Bk.1 No.4 Fanfares (1985) [3:31] Gareth Owen
Étude Bk.2 No.10 Der Zauberlehrung (1988-94) [2:08] Jayson Gillham
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Three movements from 'Petrushka' (1921) [15:16] Tatiana Kolesova
Piano Sonata No.1 (1952) [12:56] Yuki Tako

Disc 8 [79:20]
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) arr. Mikhail PLETNEV (b.1957)
The Nutcracker Suite – No.7 Andante maestoso [5:35] Alexey Kurbatov
Grande étude de Paganini – La Campanella S.141 No.3 (1851) [4:32] Sergei Tarasov
Grande étude de Paganini – Theme and variations S.161 No.6 (1851) [5:17] Marina Kolomiitseva
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) arr. Sergei RACHMANINOV
The Flight of the Bumble-Bee from The Tale of Tsar Sultan (1929) [1:11] Vera Kameneva
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Ramble on love after Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier (1920-27) [6:04] Moye Chen
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787) arr. Giovanni SGAMBATI (1841-1914)
Mélodie from Orfeo ed Euridice [4:16] Daniel Hill
Scherzo – A Midsummer Night's Dream (1933) [4:12] Alexei Volodin
Richard WAGNER (1813-1886) arr. Franz LISZT
Isoldes Liebestod (Tristan und Isolde) S.447 (1867) [7:22] Konstantin Shamray
Robert SCHUMANN arr. Franz LISZT
Widmung S.566 (1848) [3:31] Takashi Sato
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY arr. Percy GRAINGER
Paraphrase on 'Waltz of the flowers' (The Nutcracker) [6:22] Xiang-Dong Kong
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Piano Sonata No.1 iv. perpetuum mobile Op.24 (1812) [3:55] Konstantin Masliouk
Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Islamey (1869) [8:43] John Chen
Franz SCHUBERT arr. Franz LISZT
Ständchen from Schwanengesang S.560 No.7 (1838) [5:41] Xiang-Dong Kong
Edward MACDOWELL (1860-1908)
Hexentanz (1884) [2:40] Yuki Takao
Adolf SCHULZ-EVLER (1852-1905)
Arabesques on 'An der schönen blauen Donau' by Johann Strauss II [6:59] Leonid Kuzmin
Pierre SANCAN (1916-2008)
Mouvement [2:58] Olivier Cazal
Disc 9 [78:07]
Peter SCULTHORPE (1929-2014)
Evocation (1946) [2:25] Arseny Tarasevich-Nikolaev
Elena KATS-CHERNIN (b.1957)
Page Turn (2000) [5:49] Roman Lopatynskiy
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Études Improvisées No.5 valse volante [1:19] Tony Lee
Études Improvisées No.3 miroir [0:41] Tony Lee
Gordon KERRY (b.1961)
Figured in the drift of stars (2004) [7:17] Rem Urassin
Andrew FORD (b.1957)
Thin Air (2007) [5:06] Daniil Tsvetkov
Djilile (1986) [4:42] Ayesha Gough
Ann CARR-BOYD (b.1946)
Kabarli Meditation (dawn) (2012) [7:13]
Carl VINE (b.1954)
Bagatelle No.1 (1994) [2:19] Viktoria Lakissova
Bagatelle No.2 (1994) [1:03] Shan Deng
Bagatelle No.3 (1994) [1:49] Shan Deng
Bagatelle No.4 (1994) [1:15] Viktoria Lakissova
Bagatelle No.5 Threnody (1994) [3:14] Kenneth Broberg
Roy AGNEW (1891-1944)
Poem No.1 (c.1922) [2:28] Alyosha Jurinic
Scherzino (pub.1936) [2:20] Tony Lee
Brett DEAN (b.1961)
Equality (2004) [3:49] Martin Malmgren
Nocturne No.1 (1981) [3:33] Alexei Melnikov
Harbour Dreaming (2000) [5:41] Yui Fushiki
Toccatissimo (2011) [5:20] Ilya Rashkovsky
Graham HAIR (b.1943)
Under Aldebaran (1985) [4:50] Jianing Kong
Roger SMALLEY (1943-2015)
Morceau de concours (2008) [5:52] Tomoki Kitamura
Disc 10 [70:12]
Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini Op.43 (1934) [23:35] Vitali Samoschko
Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat major S.124 (1835-56) [19:06] Duncan Gifford
Piano Concerto No.3 in C major Op.26 (1917-210[27:29] Olivier Cazal

Disc 11 [75:38]
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor Op.16 (1912-13) [34:45] Daniel Hill
Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor Op.30 (1909) [40:06] Roberto Cominati

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