Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition 2020/21 Semi-Finals: Day 4 Mozart performances

August 21, 2021, 8:29 PM · On Saturday the in semi-finals continued in the virtual 2020 Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition, with seven more performances of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218, with original cadenzas by the contestants.

This session features violinists William Lee (Taiwan, China), Ruifeng Lin (China), Felicitas Schiffner (Germany), KayCee Galano (Philippines), Charlie Lovell-Jones (United Kingdom), Angela Sin Ying Chan (Hong Kong, China) and Shannon Lee (United States). You can find more performances, including previous semi-finals and quarter-finals, on the SISIVC Youtube channel. (You can see the other Mozart performances here.)

Finalists will be announced tonight, with Finals to be held next year, in 2022, in Shanghai.

Enjoy the performances!

William Lee of Taiwan doesn't just play, he performs, and his Mozart was no exception, with a good-natured and inviting approach. His articulation was right on-target in the first movement, with a cadenza that had nice flourishes and challenges, as a cadenza should. The second movement showed off his lovely, singing tone, and the third movement had both spark and accuracy.

Ruifeng Lin of China won me over with his first-movement cadenza, which caught a nice balance between communicating its ideas with the listener but also serving to display virtuosity and skill. Lin has fleet fingers and the violin teacher in me appreciated how much he picks them up when playing trills. For his second-movement cadenza he began by playing the theme in harmonics, then in double-stop harmonics and also included some nice statement-and-response voicing.

German violinist Felicitas Schiffner offered a sophisticated and satisfying Mozart interpretation, complete with very close attention to dynamics, graded crescendos, contrast, and a real variety of musical textures. Her cadenzas truly sounded like improvisation - an accomplished musician playing with ideas and deciding what to do in the moment. There was a good variety of key exploration and it had an unhurried nature, while still giving us plenty of fast notes and virtuosity. The slow movement never felt terribly "slow" because it had constant direction, and her cadenza here was clever, with a feeling of inevitability. The third movement had bounce and self-assurance, with the three short cadenzas a sort of matching set, using the same idea taken to different places.

KayCee Galano of the Philippines took set of tempi that was on the slightly slower side for all three movements of the Mozart. She played with a beautiful sunny tone, with a straightforward approach and great technique. Her double-stop vibrato is downright enviable. Her interpretation was a little on the safe side - it would have been okay for her to step on the gas and leave the boundaries of tempo in the dust on occasion, as her high level of technique would certainly support.

Charlie Lovell-Jones of the United Kingdom took a fast tempo throughout, showing absolute commitment and also a bit of an experimental bent. Some of the notes, even arrival notes, had no vibrato. This is certainly a legitimate idea in a classical work and widens the possibilities for expression, but it came off as a bit inconsistent. Still, I really enjoyed the notes where he did what I'd call a "vibrato crescendo" - starting a note with a cold nothing-vibrato and then warming it up with a vibrato that grows wider to the end. His first-movement cadenza took all kinds of unexpected turns, using both interesting harmonic and virtuosic ideas. The second movement was a brisk but purposeful walk (Andante) and the third movement quite fast, with cadenzas that kind of "sneaked in" - very clever in the way they fit into the movement.

Angela Sin Ying Chan of Hong Kong plays with a very full and appealing violin sound, and her intonation is so satisfyingly in tune. Her cadenza began with gentle double-stops, then growing more forceful. Her cadenzas had ebb and flow, building suspense and then moving through it. Her second movement had well-shaped phrases and the third movement was very precise and well-articulated.

The session ended with a very energetic yet elegant Mozart 4 from Shannon Lee of the United States, who definitely knows what she is doing. Her Mozart playing is both strong and light - not an easy balance to strike, but she does it, and it makes for a very enjoyable performance. Her first-movement cadenza also served the music, with double-stops that harmonized melody, as in Bach. Nicely composed.

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