Italy was well represented at the 2005 Van Cliburn with four pianists in the competition, two of them making it all the way to the final round. That country only has two this year, and yet it wouldn't be strange if there were two Italians in the finals again. Neapolitan Mariangela Vacatello came on stage in a dress in a well-chosen shade of red. She started with Haydn's Sonata in C major (Hob. XVI: 50) and gave a bright, acute reading of it. Then she essayed Busoni's Variations on Chopin's C minor Prelude, in which the Italian composer turned the funereal original into an elegant waltz and even a tarantella. Vacatello made an impressive case for this unfamiliar work.
Then came the showpieces: Liszt's Transcendental Etude No. 10, which she dared to treat as a real piece of music (with mostly good results), and Stravinsky's murderously difficult whirling dervish called Three Movements from Petrouchka. Vacatello couldn't fill the hall with her sound the way some of the male competitors have, but she could do everything else, rendering these with a combination of good taste, objectivity, and phenomenal technique that reminded you of her countryman Maurizio Pollini, only with more flair for the big occasion. She may or may not be cut out for the later rounds, but she has gotten her competition off to a promising start.