IBLA Winners perform at Radford University

April 20, 2006

A review by Paul Zweifel

Radford, VA

The Radford University Department of Music presented a concert Thursday night, April 20th, featuring the winner of the 2005 Bartok-Kabalevsky-Prokoviev piano competition (Rajung Yang of Korea) and winners of the 2005 IBLA International Grand Prize (violinist Kyoko Ishigame of Japan and accordionists Hubert Giziewski and Pawel Sulej of Poland). Soprano Isabella Baer-Lara of the U.S. and mezzo Anna Smironova of Russia were listed on the program, but both came down with a virus and were unable to perform.

As was the case last year, in the first of these IBLA concerts, the musicians came directly from New York where, according to IBLA director (and concert MC) Salvatore Moltisanti, a similar concert had been presented the night before to a sold-out audience in New York’s Carnegie Hall.

The reason for holding this concert in Radford is that the Bartok-Kabalevsky-Prokofiev International Piano Competition was held annually at Radford University until 2003.  The Competition dates from 1981, when it began life as the Bartok competition, the other two names being added later. Starting two years ago the competition has been co-sponsored by the IBLA International Foundation and takes place in the city of Ragusa-Ibla in Sicily (in July). So the joint concerts featuring winners of the two competitions makes sense. Also, Dr. Eugene Fellin, head of Radford’s music department, serves as a juror for the IBLA competition; it was he who conceived of the Radford series of concerts. Bravo, Gene, from all New River Valley music lovers.

Before the concert began, maestro Moltisanti made the sad announcement that Gyorgy Sandor, distinguished pianist and one of Bela Bartok’s students and close associates, died in December 2005. Sandor came to Radford University every year (where his student, pianist David Phillips is a faculty member) to judge the Bartok-Kabalevsky-Prokoviev Competition, go give a master class and to perform a solo recital.  I myself had the opportunity to hear most of his concerts and to meet and talk with this great musician. He was a charming, simpatico individual whose ideas about music in general and piano-playing in particular, were always eagerly welcomed by those fortunate enough to hear them. If I’m not mistaken, Sandor’s last trip to Radford was in April, 2003.

The inclusion of an accordion duo on the program must have been a surprise to the audience, who probably thought of accordions as appropriate for German oompah bands at Oktoberfest. But amazingly, Hubert Giziewski and  Pawel Sulej demonstrated that the accordion could be a true classical instrument by playing serious music, some written originally for other instruments but rewritten for accordion(s) and other music actually written for accordion (or a related instrument called the bandoneon). The program  began with  performance of a bandoneon solo, Adiós Nonino, written by the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992),. This work, one of Piazzolla’s most famous, was written in 1959 to commemorate the death of his father (whom he called “Nonino”). The program ended with Piazzolla’s equally famous Libertango (originally written, I believe, for a tango band, but here transcribed for two accordions).  But the loudest applause of the evening came for a accordion duo transcription of the Tarantella by Czech composer Vaclav Trojan (1907-1983), originally written for symphony orchestra. This virtuoso piece, almost a  perpetuum mobile, like all tarantellas is supposed to be danced to ward off the sting of the tarantula, hence its rapidity. I thoroughly enjoyed the accordion player’s presentations which combined music akin to American jazz (Piazzolla) with classically transcribed works (Trojan).

IBLA has done the musical world a service by bringing it something so unusual and worthwhile.

Violinist Kyoko Ishigame played two pieces beautifully, demonstrating in both her immaculate intonation as well as her musical intelligence. The first piece was the Adagio movement from J.S Bach’s Solo Sonata in g minor. Most impressive was Ishigame’s ability to make the violin “sing.” I noted the same thing in the review I wrote of last year’s concert, how all the performers made their instruments emulate human singing. This is an Italian thing; one hears so often Italian instrumentalists giving the quality of song to their playing, perhaps because of the long history of vocal music in Italy. So at a music competition juried by Italians, in Italy, it is not surprising that the winners should have this quality. I might add a comparison with a great Italian violinist of my own generation, Zino Francescatti (whom I heard many years ago at Tanglewood) and a modern violinist, Fabio Biondi, whom I heard in Firenze earlier this year. These artists made you think that the violin was a living organism in their hands rather than a piece of wood, and that’s the type of feeling you get from the IBLA players in general, and from Kyoko Ishigame in particular. Her second piece, Introduction and Rondo-Capriccioso (misspelled in the program) was accompanied by the fine young Italian pianist Alessio Quaresima. This piece was abundantly virtuosic and Ishigame showed how she could master the intricate fingering without losing any of her intonation or, indeed, the song-like quality of her playing.  Some members of the audience remarked to me after the performance, of comparisons of Ishigame’s playing with that of the famous Japanese violinist Midori. On the negative side, Quaresima had a tendency to overpower the violin, especially near the end of the piece.

Pianist Rajung Yang played the second and third movements of two sonatas, the first by Bela Bartok (marked Sostenuto e pesante, and Allegro molto) and the middle and final movement of the Prokoviev Sonata No.7, Op. 83, movements marked Andante caloroso and Precipitato. The Bartok piece, written in 1926 at the height of the serial technique craze, was relatively atonal. I had never heard the piece before, and I kept listening for some Hungarian folk-song melodies in it, without success. So I didn’t get a great deal out of the slow movement. The Allegro molto was another story. Yang’s fingers sped over the keyboard like flying shuttles on a loom, and as in the case of the violin I was able to discern her ability to make the piano “sing” even in the most virtuosic passages.

I have to say that I found the Prokoviev piece much more accessible than the Bartok, and was better able to appreciate Yang’s musicianship. Her slow movement (not that slow—caloroso means “peppery hot” in Italian) was luscious, while the Precipitato, even faster than the Bartok Allegro molto, was another virtuosic display in which the basic musicality continued to shine forth.

I heard after the concert of the possibility that the singers, unable to perform this year, might be back next year. In particular Anna Smirnova, the Russian mezzo, only 17 years old, is said to be a true phenom, even at her early age, so that’s something we can all look forward to.

Paul Zweifel

Radford, VA