by Daniel Hathaway

Cleveland, OH — July 28, 2011

Thursday evening’s session introduced four more pianists to the audience at the Cleveland Play House and those listening in or watching the proceedings over the airwaves or through the Internet.

Mr. Pavel Gintov (27, Ukraine) took the risky decision to play a single, long work for his first round: Schumann’s Kreisleriana, op. 16. In many ways, he pulled it off and did so with flair. There were many admirable moments in his interpretation as Schumann’s music moved between stormily dramatic and dreamily lyrical moods, but his sense of pacing sometimes went awry as he moved from section to section (and recapitulated earlier material) and sometimes he didn’t leave the music quite enough space to breathe. There were episodes of sheer power that became left-hand heavy and a few moments when we wondered if Mr. Gintov might push the Hamburg Steinway into the red zone.

Ms. Jeewon Lee (30, Korea) seems to adore Toccatas. She played two of them this evening and has a third waiting in the wings. She began with Pierre Jalbert’s 2001Toccata for Piano Solo and followed it with Chopin’s Etude in C, op. 10, no. 7, subtitled “Toccata”. She showed off her strength and agility in the Jalbert, finding appropriately metallic sonorities and creating fine diminuendos and crescendos — and maintaining her cool throughout a demanding piece. The Chopin was percussive with fine, big climaxes. Perhaps after playing those two works, Ms. Lee had said most of what she had to say. Her Beethoven Sonata (No. 28 in A, op. 101) didn’t quite jell, though her playing was lyrical and clear.

Bach, Mozart and Chopin were the choices of Mr. Alexey Chernov (28, Russia). His highly romanticized performance of Bach’s Toccata in g, BWV 915 featured extremes of tempos and articulation. Both the opening gesture and the fugue needed more coherent phrase structures. Mozart seems much more in Mr. Chernov’s blood, for his reading of the K. 220 C Major Sonata was thoroughly charming, replete with stylish nuances, lovely tone and an attractive playfulness — especially in the third movement. We’ve lost count by now of the number of “Winter Wind” Etudes that have blown through the Competition. Mr. Chernov’s was an unpredictable blizzard with much rubato and bending of tempo, though its ending was highly dramatic.

The evening’s extremely pleasant finale was provided by Mr. Denis Evstuhin (30, Russia), who closed things out with Scarlatti, Beethoven and Shostakovich. His Scarlatti (Sonata in A-flat, K. 127) was conceived pianistically, with a big, dark tone and nice scales. His healthy Beethoven Sonata (the famous D Major Sonata again) featured fine changes of mood, even voicings and fine control of tone. His playful treatment of the question and answer motives in the last movement perfectly caught the mood of the piece, and he took the musical risks of holding onto resolutions until the very last minute. His spirited performance of Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue No. 15 in D-flat captured the composer’s sardonic humor and the fugue was just as it should be: wild and virtuosic.

Session Five on Friday afternoon brings Marina Baranova, Naomi Kudo, Fei Fei Dong, Alexander Schimpf and Mateusz Borowiak to the stage of the Bolton Theater.