Thursday, May 28, 2009

Evgeni Bozhanov (semifinal recital)

This one didn't disappoint. The Bulgarian started off with a terrific account of Beethoven's Sonata in E-flat (Op. 31, No. 2), sparkling and very in tune with the composer's particular sense of musical humor. He then played Mason Bates' White Lies for Lomax, the title of which refers to Alan Lomax, the ethnomusicologist who recorded some seminal blues musicians in the 1930s and '40s. Honestly, if I hadn't been told, I never would have guessed the blues influence in this piece. The middle section, where the music gets to boogie, sounded more like jazz than blues. This was where Bozhanov was best in this brief work.

Points for sheer ballsiness for ending his recital with Schubert's Sonata in B-flat. This is the first Schubert we've heard in this competition, and I'm not sorry it took us this long, because badly played Schubert is pretty awful to sit through. Bozhanov's wasn't bad, though. In fact, it was strong, and executed with a pleasing tone. Schubert sonatas can be tough to get a handle on, especially in terms of form. Bozhanov lost me through a bit of the slower second movement, but he picked me back up in the concluding movement, shaping the outer movements into coherent narratives. It was a gamble that paid off, judging by the audience's enthusiastic reaction. Pianists don't often get standing ovations by playing Schubert unless they're deserved. This one felt deserved.

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