FORT WORTH -- The five judges traveled to China, Germany, Russia, Italy and New York.
They listened to 112 of the finest young pianists in the world try to win a spot in the 2013 Cliburn International Piano Competition.
Now, they are back at home base for the final three days of auditions and 20 more pianists.
The chances of any one of the 20 getting into the competition are slim. Only 30 of the total 132 will be chosen to compete in May.
If Wednesday afternoon's session at Ed Landreth Hall at TCU was indicative, this is going to be a very strong Cliburn. Four pianists representing Russia, Taiwan and China gave strong performances that wouldn't have been out of place in the competition itself.
The most impressive to me was Anna Bulkina of Russia, a student of Tamas Ungar at TCU. She opened with a chaconne by the contemporary Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina -- certainly not a predictable competition choice. The chaconne was a big, tough and often dissonant work that gave Bulkina a chance to show some impressive virtuosity.
In stark contrast was Schumann's Waldszenen, Opus 82, whose often gentle nature allowed Bulkina to show a gift for subtle, lyrical playing. It was a lovely performance, the most appealing of her group.
Her performance of Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Book II, was powerful, often fleet and agile.
If Bulkina doesn't make the cut, it's going to be a mighty tough Cliburn this year.
Another strong performer was Jiayan Sun of China, a student of Veda Kaplinsky at the Juilliard School in New York. His performance of a group of preludes by Chopin seemed a little blustery to me at times, but his fingers were fleet and sure, and his poetic account of some gently lyrical preludes scored points.
Most impressive was his exciting performance of Bartok's Out of Doors, which had power aplenty but some deeply mysterious and subtly played night music.
Also acquitting themselves well were Mikhail Berestnev of Russia, another Ungar student, and Tzu-Yi Chen of Taiwan, a student of Alex Kobrin, a former Cliburn ace. Berestnev's program of Scarlatti, Tchaikovsky, Medtner and Mendelssohn (as arranged by Rachmaninoff) was athletic and forceful, while Chen's Scarlatti, Franck and Ravel (the infamous Scarbo) balanced virtuosity with subtle lyricism.
Wednesday evening's session featured three artists giving solid performances. They were American Lindsay Garritson, a student of Boris Berman at Yale; Russian Ekaterina Gumenyuk, a student of Alexander Sandler at the St. Petersburg Conservatory; and Airi Katada of Japan, a student of Minoru Nojima in Tokyo.
Gumenyuk was consistently impressive in a program that included a charming set of Variations on a Theme of Rode by Carl Czerny, (a name that rarely pops up on recital programs); Debussy's L 'isle Joyeuse; and two works by Liszt that Gumenyuk managed to make appealing despite Liszt's occasional vulgarity.
Garritson gave muscular performances of Liszt's Ballade No. 2 and Prokofiev's pulse-racing Sonata No. 7, leavened with more subtle Ravel, Ondine.
Katada's program started with a clean and clear performance of Bach's Prelude and Fugue, BWV 890, and a joyous interpretation of Haydn's Sonata No. 43. An approaching deadline forced me to leave before her Chopin and Shostakovich, but the first half made the outlook for the second very promising.
Judges are chairman John Giordano, Andrea Bonatta of Italy, Richard Dyer of the United States, Kaplinsky of Israel and Blanca Uribe of Colombia, a former Cliburn competitor.
Names of the 30 competitors will be announced March 5. The competition is set for May 24-June 9 at Bass Hall.