by Daniel Hathaway

Cleveland, OH — July 30, 2011

Anna Fedorova draws No. 1

The Cleveland Competition gives every player the opportunity to perform again in the second round — a fine way to build on what you revealed about yourself in your first appearance on the Bolton Theater stage. This afternoon’s quartet of pianists produced no major surprises upon a second hearing, but there were more favorable impressions to be made in most cases.

Ms. Anna Fedorova (21, Ukraine) should be proud of her two performances in her unenviable position of being No. 1 in the draw. She began on Saturday afternoon with two Scarlatti Sonatas (in b, K. 87 and E, K. 20). The b minor piece has already received several airings; her sensitive version moved right along with subtle ebbs and flows of tempo (and perhaps too many rubatos to point up too many special moments). The E Major was playful but a bit erratic rhythmically. Ms. Fedorova’s contemporary piece was Alfred Schnittke’s 1965 Improvisation and Fugue in which she demonstrated fine technical proficiency and drew a beautiful, glassy sound from the Hamburg Steinway. She handled the striking rhythms well, though the piece would have benefited from a little more swing. She ended with three Chopin pieces. She voiced the Ballade No. 4 in f, op. 52 with beautiful tone, but her interpretation seemed tentative and stopped short of bringing her musical ideas to fruition. The Mazurka No. 3 in c-sharp, op. 50, came off with more spirit. Her version of the Waltz in A-flat, op. 42 was on the fast side, but she managed to shape it with charm and her fingers produced a fine filigree. Ms. Fedorova will be a pianist to watch as her career develops.

Ms. Kyu Yeon Kim (26, Korea), took on Schumann’s Kreisleriana, op. 16 for round two — a work fraught with interpretational challenges. Ms. Kim took the tack of pointing out every object of interest on her journey through the work, but she found so many of those that we lost track of the story and the structure. Individual movements had arresting moments; her playing seems most purposeful when there are many notes to be negotiated at a quick tempo.

We were happy that her performance in Round Two confirmed our earlier impressions of Ms. Arta Arnicane (28, Latvia): that she is a pianist with remarkable musical sensibility and intelligence. It was brilliant of her to choose Handel’s Aria con variazioni (Suite No. 1) and follow it with Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on the same theme, his op. 24. In her elegant playing of the original theme (as well as in the first movement of the Brahms), her trills were beautifully executed (both entrances and exits) and her phrases perfectly shaped. As the Brahms unfolded with a fine sense of pacing and purpose and unfailingly clear fingerwork, she produced a grand sound, made attractive color changes and was completely in command of both the music and the instrument. Her repeated notes in one variation were amazing, her staccato chords in another expertly voiced, and her use of pedal examplary.

Mr. Jun Sun (23, China) impressed us in the first round with the clarity of his playing but struck us as a bit cool emotionally. He went a long way toward correcting this impression with his sensitive and introspective performance of Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat — music that seems more to his personal taste than the Haydn we heard earlier. The Prelude was graced by a sure command of touch, phrasing and articulation. In the equally fast Allemande and Corrente (which should be medium slow and quick, respectively), Mr. Sun found interesting things to do with first section repeats (no second repeats today). In the Sarabande (perfect tempo) he shaped the expressive melodic line with great sensitivity. He surprisingly added a dotted rhythm to one descending line in the Minuet — a nice touch which he might have kept in his pocket until the second time through. The Gigue sounded a bit brash, but brought the whole piece to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. What did we learn more about Mr. Sun from his contemporary choice — the Three Preludes of Dutilleux? He certainly played their technical passages clearly and achieved good color changes, but his musical sensibilities came through more clearly in the Bach.

More to come tonight: Mr. Shinnosuke Inugai, Mr. Yunjie Chen, Mr. Jae-Weon Huh and Mr. Sean Chen are in the second round, second session lineup at 7 pm.