FORT WORTH -- The Cliburn auditions concluded Friday night, still on their steady course. Three decent candidates for competition slots performed in the afternoon session in Ed Landreth Hall at TCU, and three more admirable pianists played the final notes in the evening.
My favorite in the afternoon session was Edward Neeman of the United States and Australia. Not only were all three of his pieces solidly and personably played, but he also threw in a witty rarity that made a nice break from more serious business.
That was Milton Babbitt's It Takes 12 to Tango -- the number 12 apparently referring to the 12-tone system. The tango rhythms were there, but the tones -- well, they were somewhere else. The work was kind of like "Astor Piazzolla Meets Pierre Boulez." Some may have found the notes jarring, but I found them entertaining. Besides, it was short.
Neeman's conventional entries were Bach's Partita No. 5 and Liszt's Venezia e Napoli. The Bach was precise and often spirited, with a sense of musical personality showing throughout. The Liszt, which is not too bangy by the composer's standards, was often exhilarating.
There was also much to like in the performance of Rina Sudo of Japan. Her Sonata No. 48 by Haydn was nimble and perky and full of personality. Chopin's Scherzo No. 3 was brisk and bold, and Rachmaninoff's Lilacs was a gentle contrast. Liszt's Spanish Rhapsody, which has its share of thunder and lightning, was given a generally appealing performance.
Chetan Tierra of the United States gave a macho performance of Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Book 1, contrasted with a more poetic and sometimes playful Sonata No. 4 by Scriabin. Tierra exhibited more machismo in Ginastera's Sonata No. 1, though its pensive third movement was a nice sensitive contrast.
On Friday night, Peter Toth of Hungary opened impressively with his countryman Bela Bartok's Suite, Opus 14. This is a work both prickly and serene, and Toth's atmospheric performance brought out both characteristics. His account of Mendelssohn's Variations Serieuses was another plus, as was his account of Liszt's Reminiscences de Norma, but only as an exercise; the piece itself is trashy.
Youyou Zhang of the United States delivered an impressive Brahms sonata and three Debussy preludes.
Likewise for Steven Lin's Bach overture. Deadline forced me out before Lin's Liszt Reminiscence, this time of Don Juan.
The pool of 132 candidates will be reduced to 30 competitors March 5. Considering the high caliber of the auditioners, the judges deserve some sympathy for their task.