Chopin Competition opens with a remarkable lineup of veteran artists

By Lawrence Budmen

Frederic Chopin. Painting by Eugene Delacroix.

Frederic Chopin. Painting by Eugene Delacroix.

The U.S. National Chopin Piano Competition opened on Friday night with a performance by members of the competition jury at Miami-Dade County Auditorium. This ninth edition of the American competition, which sends prize winners to compete in the famed international Chopin competition in Warsaw, is presenting all competitive sessions and performances at the West Flagler Street theater which was once the city’s principal concert hall.

Significantly, the evening’s best performances came from four former winners of the Miami-based competition who are serving on the jury this year, vividly illustrating why they captured the top prizes. Dean Kramer, winner of the first U.S. competition in 1975 and piano professor at the University of Oregon, played Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat Major with a dreamy, sensitive touch. Displaying a nicely varied dynamic range, Kramer summoned plenty of power in the climaxes while always maintaining beauty of tone.

British-born Ian Hobson, a co-winner of the 1975 competition, offered a classically scaled reading of the Ballade in F minor, displaying instrumental mastery and sharp contrasts of mood and musical accent. He shaped the melodies in the aristocratic mode of the salon while the virtuosic passages were thunderously assayed, Hobson’s technical arsenal on full display.

Kevin Kenner, a 1990 prize winner and now professor at London’s Royal College of Music, brought innate feeling for the pulse and sweeping lines of the Barcarolle in F-sharp Major. Capturing the vignette’s romantic aura, Kenner emphasized the drama in the keyboard spanning moments of stormy passion, the musical balance superbly realized.

Jon Nakamatsu, a 1995 Chopin winner and 1997 Gold Medal winner of the Van Cliburn Competition, played the Fantasie-Impromptu with great clarity even in the fastest sections, his agility tempered by a poetic sensibility in a beautifully rendered traversal of the central melody.

The evening was bookended by performances by two veteran artists. Octogenarian Augustin Anievas (who is jury chairman) gave a straightforward reading of the Waltz in A-flat Major, the trills well executed. Anievas chose to play on a smaller Fazioli keyboard rather than the Steinway grand utilized by the other artists. While not producing the tone of a larger instrument, the piano’s sound was clear and transparent, aided by Anievas’ judicious utilization of pedals.

Krzysztof Jablonski, a 1985 Warsaw winner who teaches at universities in Warsaw and Calgary, was appropriately tempestuous in the “Revolutionary” Etude in C minor. His version of the Polonaise in A-flat Major was high on pyrotechnical razzle-dazzle but his pulse was sluggish, the volume inclining toward the consistently loud. (Jury member Katarzyna Popowa-Zydron, who will chair this year’s Warsaw competition, did not perform due to a late arrival in Miami.)

In the evening’s only music not by Chopin, international concert pianist and Cleveland Institute of Music professor Sergei Babayan teamed with South Florida pedagogue Margarita Shevchenko for music from Rachmaninoff for two pianos. In the “Barcarolle” from Suite No. 1 and the entire Suite No. 2, their expertly synchronized playing was particularly effective in a broadly paced Valse movement, Babayan’s Fazioli blending deftly with his partner at the Steinway. Theirs was not delicate Rachmaninoff yet largepscale, exciting playing with plenty of rhythmic acuity and power. The final “Tarantelle” of the Suite No. 2 was sweeping and viscerally charged.

Preliminary, Quarter and Semi-Final Rounds of the Ninth National Chopin Competition take place 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. February 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25 and are free and open to the public. The Finals with orchestra under Grzegorz Nowak will be presented 7 p.m. February 28 and 3 p.m. March 1 (with awards ceremony). All performances are at Miami-Dade County Auditorium.; 800-745-3000.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Chopin Competition opens with a remarkable lineup of veteran artists”

  1. Posted Feb 21, 2015 at 9:46 pm by Sunny Reuter

    Nice article! Thanks for your detailed coverage of the Miami Chopin Piano Competition. May I make one comment? “Anievas chose to play on a smaller Fazioli keyboard rather than the Steinway grand utilized by the other artists.” The piano Mr. Anievas selected is a full size 9’2″ Fazioli concert grand. Did you know that in 2003 The Economist Magazine reported “some artists believe that Fazioli now makes the best pianos in the world”. Euro Pianos Naples (that’s where I work) sends their very best wishes to all contestants. Good luck everyone!

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