6:13PM BST 05 Sep 2011
From youngsters playing Chopin in shopping arcades to the strains of Liszt and Brahms thundering through the open windows of the Claudio Monteverdi Conservatoire, Bolzano in northern Italy was alive with sounds of the piano last week. The biennial Busoni International Piano Competition, one of the foremost events of its kind in the world, was gathering pace for its closing phases, with 14 young hopefuls performing a 70-minute solo recital, six of them then being selected to play a Liszt concerto and the final three battling it out in concertos by Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff.
The Busoni, established in 1949, has been a catalyst in bringing to light many musicians who have subsequently shone in the pianistic firmament. Names such as Alfred Brendel, Martha Argerich, Garrick Ohlsson, Louis Lortie and Anna Kravtchenko all grace its list of prize-winners, and this year my hunch is that the one who will come to particular international prominence is the 22-year-old Ukrainian Antonii Barischevsky. It is well known that competition juries often get it wrong, or at least come to a conclusion that is at variance with a more widely held view, but this year, with Argerich as president, the jury got it very nearly right. In the past, the Busoni has often withheld its first prize, and it did so again when the results were announced well after midnight on Friday night/Saturday morning. Barischevsky shared second prize with the 25-year-old Russian, Anna Bulkina. Tatiana Chernichka (27), also Russian, came third. A more explicable verdict would have been to make Barischevsky second and for the other two to share third.
But in addition, Barischevsky won the Audience Prize, another award for being the youngest competitor in the finals and also the Press Prize, chosen by a jury comprising myself, Carla Moreni from the Italian financial daily “Il Sole 24 Ore” and Claus Spahn from “Die Zeit”.
Barischevsky, who also studies composition, had already been impressive in his solo round, with a terrific thrust and range of colour in Stravinsky’s “Petrushka” pieces, luminous texture and dynamism in a deeply thought Beethoven “Appassionata” Sonata, and a mature stylistic sense in Ravel and a Bach/Busoni transcription. He was also the only candidate to play one of the stipulated contemporary works — Toshio Hosokawa’s “Étude I” — from memory. His Rachmaninoff Third Concerto in the finals was utterly absorbing. Far from the crash-bang-wallop style so often favoured by competition contestants (not least by the accident-prone Chernichka), Barischevsky’s performance was notable for warm lyricism, genuine passion and a subtle spectrum of darker hues that made his interpretative voice stand out as one of freshness and fascinating insight.
To put him on a par with Bulkina seemed odd: she is a serious musician, but her solo round had evinced little variety of character, and she was somewhat over-stretched in Prokofiev’s demonic Second Concerto in the finals
One further challenge posed to all the candidates was the grim playing of the local Orchestra Haydn, frequently out of tune and poorly coordinated, and it is to Barischevsky’s credit that the captivating virtues of his playing nevertheless shone through.