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From the Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition: Hannover semifinals marathon II

Heather Kurzbauer

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Published: October 4, 2015 at 9:56 PM [UTC]

On the second day of semi-final performances at the Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition Hannover, Sergei Dogadin (Russia) brought the compulsory piece, "Cut Up" to the fore as a prelude to his chosen recital program. A muscular player with a penchant for dramatic gesture, Dogadin added a touch of sweetness to the first movement of Stravinsky’s Divertimento. The composition afforded him with an excellent choice to show off his wonderful bow control and partiality towards the jagged, jazzy rhythms that lie so close to the surface in Stravinsky’s score.

(Note: If you wish to hear these performance, click here to listen to the livestream and click here to view archived performances.)

With such a sumptuous bow arm one would have expected more feeling for tonal beauty. As if wishes were meant to come true, Dogadin dared to deliver a pianissimo opening enhanced by fast, shimmering vibrato in a tersely effective rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Meditation. Paganini’s Nel cor non piu mi sento out earned high marks for perfect execution but less kudos in terms of imagination. If bloggers predictions are worth the weight of the paper they are written on, Sergei Dogadin will lead a major orchestra in the not-too-distant future.

Sergei Dogadin
Sergei Dogadin

The American Nancy Zhou opted for a sizeable program, perhaps overly varied for a competitive setting. Her take on Schubert’s Grand Duo (with repeats) suffered from a lack of imagination in terms of color: all phrases were created equal in the first movement with the same amount of bow, vibrato and all-too-often bow speed. Zhou gave the most convincing performance of Cut up to date and delivered a top-notch Waxman Carmen Fantasy. Reputedly a young woman of multiple talents who combines scientific studies with violin performance, Zhou is a young artist at a crossroads. With so much technique at her disposal, she should be tempted to delve further into the richness of the repertoire she plays so wonderfully.

Nancy Zhou
Nancy Zhou

The artistic top-of-the bill, the UK trained, Dutch-US national, Benjamin Marquise Gilmore opted for an intellectually satisfying program framed by two sonatas: Schumann’s probing a minor Sonata and the richly scored Janacek, Sonata. As his choice of program readily evidenced, Gilmore is a thinking-person’s musician: a true artist of consummate good taste and intensity. Hats off to the Joachim Competition for giving a wide berth to a variegated repertoire in the recital round. His Schumann provided the listener with a delightful respite from the usual technical focus that dominates the competitive world.
Gilmore gave a performance of a lifetime as he took the listener through a kaleidoscope of emotions, moods and sound colors in his sonata explorations. Supported to the maximum by the thoughtful Natsumi Ohno, Janacek’s consonant -rich vernacular permeated the hall.

In a nightmarish moment, his Wieniawski’s Polonaise in A major was sadly interrupted by a memory slip. A chorus of bravos rewarded the most interesting musician amongst a strong field of contestants as he repeated the Wieniawski with renewed vigor and charm. Hopefully the jury will muster the courage to grant this unusually fine musician a place in the final round.

The contrast between Gilmore and the second day’s last candidate, the diminutive Ririko Takagi (Japan) could not have been more pronounced. One of the youngest (19) performers at this year’s contest, one may wonder why her mentors did not encourage her to wait for a few years before taking on the challenges of a major competition. Her Saint-Saens d minor Sonata op. 75 showed evidence of impeccable schooling but little sense of personal input or musical communion with the remarkable pianist, Rohan da Silva. A penchant for portato cut long phrases into short segments while the closing moto perpetuo raced by at top speed. Speed alone doth not music make, to continue the blogger’s Shakespeare allusions. A young performer with the ability to toss off Ravel’s Tzigane deserves heaps of praise. Let’s hope Takagi grows as a musician, time is on her side.

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