CCC Toronto International Piano Competition 2010 Winners reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, November 8, 2010, Koerner Hall, Toronto.

” Who do you like to win this thing?” a colleague asked me in the Koerner Hall lobby before the Finals of this first year of the Competition organized by the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto. I replied, “Whoever plays the Ravel” (Piano Concerto in G Major).

When the second contestant, 27 year old loose-jointed Kirill Zvegintsov began relaxing  into the first gay, reflective, dissonant, exotic, oriental-sounding section, I felt confirmed. Maestro Kerry Stratton made the orchestra setting very comfortable for him. The long trilling lines of Zvegintsov’s piano ran with the natural clarity of a babbling brook through the jazzy landscape of downtown traffic the brass was laying down—perhaps a nod to Gershwin, perhaps an expression of Ravel’s love of Basque and Spanish dances.  The Debussyesque Adagio, ornamented by a faunish flute part, created a sublime feeling of relaxation—swelling and rippling like the shadow of clouds on a lake. The third movement, Presto, is a carnival wherein the orchestra and piano chase each other at virtuosic velocities. Zvegintsov’s playing, as ever, is sparkling, audacious, and assured. But, the jury will award him second prize.

Third prize went to Vakhtang Kodanashvili, who’d chosen from the jury’s list Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op.23. Kodanashvilli, at 32, the oldest contestant, had to really pound the keys to be heard in this intimate hall above the thunder of maestro Kerry Stratton’s orchestra. When he had a chance, passim, and during the cadenzas of the first two movements, Kodanashvilli showed a lot of sensitivity and delicate nuancing of colour and dynamics, as well as impressive prestissimo work. And in the closing “Allegro con fuoco” his responsiveness to startling changes of tempo and rhythm were gratifying. But, despite its virtues, his performance of this piece, which could be thrilling in the hands of a Van Cliburn, was not.

20 year old Jiayan Sun’s performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op.16, in four movements began quietly, but was strangely moving. Sun showed his assured sense of rhythm in the playful, dancey passages that led up to the first cadenza. He executed this extraordinarily long and difficult cadenza convincingly—with sparkling highlights, detailed darks and warm middle tones. His work with the orchestra was often thrilling. In the third movement, a satiric “Intermezzo”, Sun demonstrates maturity beyond his years in making himself perfectly at home with the sardonic mockery and grotesque wit of the writing. He softened the opening dark, brassy march, through a liquifaction of the ivories into the lyrical cakewalk that ends the movement.

Finally, Sun’s control of dynamics during the fortissimo tirade that opens the “Allegro tempesto” despite the notes and chords that jump maniacally up and down the keyboard, settled most questions about his dominance of this competition. The concluding cadenza, a lyrical, dissonant lullaby and the long diminuendo of pianistic wavelets dissolved any remaining doubts I was harbouring, and brought the audience to its feet in an unequivocal declaration of the competition’s favourite. No surprise, the jury concurred. Jiayan Sun took the $15,000 first prize, with the prospect of a year of concert bookings.

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