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Laurie Niles

IVCI Finals, Day 1: Baranov, Szalai and Kang

September 25, 2010 at 4:56 PM

On Friday evening the show moved into Indianapolis's Hilbert Circle Theatre for the finals of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.

Just to set the scene for you, here is Indianapolis's Monument Circle:


And here is the Hilbert Circle Theatre, right on that circle. Beautiful outside and in!


On Friday we heard performances of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto by Andrey Baranov, 24, of Russia; the Bartók Concerto No. 2 for Violin by Antal Szalai, 29, of Hungary; and the Beethoven Violin Concerto by Clara-Jumi Kang , 23, of Germany/South Korea.

After hearing quite a lot of Mozart over the last few nights, I enjoyed the chance to hear three very different concertos, all in one night.

Andrey Baranov gave himself no breaks in the physically exhausting first movement of the Tchaikovsky Concerto. The movement basically goes: big, long, technically demanding exposition...cadenza...mirror-image big, long, technically demanding recapitulation. A few stumbles at the end let me to wonder if he ran out of steam. But if that was the case, one would never have known it in the second or third movements. I loved his second movement, with his steady and singing bow arm paired with an articulate left hand, which seemed to savor every trill and make it so clear. It was just so well-enunciated, without detracting from its musicality.

Throughout the piece he used a combination of the original Tchaikovsky version and Auer's; here in the second movement he did use Auer's idea of playing the theme up an octave. But he played it extremely softly and tenderly, so that it did not overshadow the culmination: a wonderful, heart-piercing peak note. The natural weightiness of the last movement fit well with Baranov's playing; this in no way seemed tired! It was quite exciting, and he brought out the violin articulately, over the orchestra. Parts of it were so fast, and he nailed it. In this movement Baranov did use the original Tchaikovsky repeats, to good effect. (Total aside, go to this Youtube, minute 4:53, does this remind you of the end of the Tchaik third mvt? I always think of it!)

In the last Indianapolis competition (which I did not attend) there were apparently quite a few contestants playing Bartók's Concerto No. 2, but for this one, Antal Szalai is the only one, and that made it a treat. What a mammoth and complex work, and he really nailed down all the details. In the first movement I noticed that he had good direction, like he was directing the flow, and I enjoyed the effect made by his waves of runs. This piece has so many right angles – fast transitions into a new and different gesture, and Antal was able to switch gears well. In the second movement I noticed how perfectly in-tune was the section that was sans vibrato – so much more precision is required for this kind of work. That second movement sounds to me like some kind of aural soundboard, upon which the violin's voice is a means to explore tonal colors within the orchestra.

If you don't know this piece, you may have guessed that it's not the kind of piece with melodies that you will whistle on your way home. It's punctuated with those Bartók pizzicati, it has pitch-bending quarter-tones, sudden bursts of noise, melody and non-melody. "What a funky plucky puzzle," I wrote in my notes while listening to the second movement. It changes, slips away. Antal's performance was technically solid and full of insight, and I mean no insult when I say that I hope to hear him play this piece in 10 years as well, because I think this piece will age with him like fine wine – or a fine violin made with the best kind of wood.

Clara-Jumi Kang's Beethoven Concerto was nothing short of stunning. At first, when she appeared in her beautiful white dress, I wondered if it was the same dress worn last night by Soyoung Yoon! It wasn't, but no matter. The white and the elegance fit with Beethoven, whose concerto demands the same kind of purity that Mozart concerti demand.

This concerto certainly brought out golden beauty of her sound. The first-movement cadenza was elegantly executed, with every voice clear and strong, and as the orchestra quietly entered pizzicato accompaniment after the cadenza, Clara-Jumi kept the atmosphere still and riveting.

The second movement was sweet and gorgeous all the way up the line, and each piano was hair-raising, it was so soft yet present. I was happy that, because of the way this concerto is written, she had the opportunity to set her own tempo in the third movement. She set it at a good clip. Her chords had muscle but no crunch, and she kept the feeling nice and bouncy. "I'm smiling," I wrote in my notebook. She played the cadenza super-fast, about double speed, and I enjoyed the effect because one hears different things in it this way. "Just wow," is what I wrote there. Then she artfully led the orchestra back in after the cadenza – her cadenzas were a high point in an otherwise extremely beautifully and artfully played Beethoven. People immediately rose to their feet after her performance.


From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 25, 2010 at 5:11 PM

 Early readers: photos of the violinists are forthcoming.

From Bill Busen
Posted on September 25, 2010 at 9:26 PM

(Total aside, go to this Youtube, minute 4:53, does this remind you of the end of the Tchaik third mvt? I always think of it!)

In high school, I saw a score open to that page and asked as a joke, "What's this, Tschaikovsky Op. 36?"  (It is.)

From John Cadd
Posted on September 25, 2010 at 10:44 PM

I thought the Beethoven Concerto was easily the worst overall performance I ever heard.The conducting was a complete disaster. The orchestra were on another planet and the soloist played so sharp so often on  just fairly high notes I just gave up hope.I was expecting a stony silence at the end. I can`t blame my little laptop for all that.

From Robert Niles
Posted on September 25, 2010 at 11:23 PM

Andrey Baranov
Andrey Baranov

Antal Szalai
Antal Szalai

Clara-Jumi Kang
Clara-Jumi Kang

Photos by Denis Ryan Kelly, Jr.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on September 25, 2010 at 11:44 PM

I agree more with Laurie about Clara Jumi-Kang. Not to forget that they are all under intense stress and certainly make more little mistakes than at home... (all of them are subject to this).

I admit that it would be really nice to have a female 1st price winner!  I know I'll get virtual tomatos thrown at me by all men on this website...   At the Queen Elizabeth (I'm not 100% sure of this, I'll go check), seems to me that it's often men who raffles the first price...  At equal playing, a little change wouldn't hurt    ; )  


I've just checked. 4 woman on 16 first price winners at the Queen Elizabeth.  Do all the violin competitions follow this tendency (???)  I would have expected about 50/50... 

Let's hope the judges remain objective and able to make the best decision... 

From John Soloninka
Posted on September 26, 2010 at 3:52 AM

 I was in the audience for both the classical and romantic finals.  Clara-Jumi Kang was phenomenal....powerful, nuanced, in total control.   I don't think I have heard a better beethoven.   But having said that Soyoung Yoon was the most powerful player I think I have ever heard.   Fantastic...and what amazing stage presence!   (she made just 1 or two teeny slips in the whole Sibelius...which perhaps made the difference between her and Kang.)

Needless to say I will be following the careers and recordings of these two!    Fantastic experience.

 (And by the way...The women placed 1-2 and deserved to do so!  Clara-Jumi #1 and Soyoung #2)

From John Cadd
Posted on September 26, 2010 at 7:46 AM

I still prefer Emma Steele.

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