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APA Finals after hearing three finalists

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Sara Daneshpour, my current pick
  • Sara Daneshpour, my current pick

It's Saturday afternoon as I write this. Last night I heard American Pianists Association finalist Sara Daneshpour play Chopin's Concerto No. in E Minor, Claire Huangci in Prokofiev's well known Concerto No. 3 in C and Eric Zuber in Rachmaninoff's ever popular Concerto No. 2 in C Minor--in that order. The celebrated Gerard Schwarz conducted the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in an exemplary manner throughout. All the keyboard work displayed last night was nothing less than stellar--top o' the line. The remaining two, Sean Chen and Andrew Staupe play Bartók and "Rach Three" respectively tonight, with the jurors' pick for APA Fellow immediately afterword.

To pick one person as the "best" out of these three sensational artists in their 20s requires a hefty amount of qualification in citing their various nuances -- plus being under the gun in all these contests, competitions, awards, whatever their appellation--with the thought: There has to be one winner or APA Fellow. Previously for the APA it was two. In the 1990s it was three.

So with that in mind as being axiomatic, I offer the following observations: Huangci's Prokofiev appeared to be favored by the audience; some said their minds were blown. Yet, as I observed earlier in her Premiere Series recital, she tended to cover her rapid passage work with excess pedaling. And in this case these figurations were too soft to be clearly heard over the orchestra. I wanted to hear more of these notes articulated, but they were all too often meshed over. We knew she had the chops in her loud passages; her breathless work leading to the concerto's final cadence--one of the most uniquely inventive in the concerto literature for loud, jubilant closings--was breath-taking.

Daneshpour's account of the Chopin displayed, by contrast, a near perfect legato throughout, her notes strung together like a silken string of pearls. She, too, was occasionally covered by the orchestra, but less so than Huangci. Though this has nothing to do my appraisal, her finger and arm motions were absolutely balletic, she sometimes turning her hands sideways in "climbing" up the register. Though the Chopin is filled with repeated, decorative filigree, Daneshpour managed to get different shades of feeling; she gave the concerto a sense of continual motion.

Zuber's "Rach Two" seemed surprisingly different from his Premiere Series playing, and opposed to the keyboard work of the previous two women. He attacked the concerto with strong, rather steely hands which tended to dominate many phrases. Though he played all the notes as fast as called for, I heard very little legato, which continued through the third movement and the famous "Full Moon and Empty Arms" theme everybody knows. He appeared to be offering the ISO a contest for loudness, and he was often winning.

Before last night, I had picked the APA Fellow to be either Daneshpour, Chen or Zuber. I now withdraw Zuber from that list. Stay tuned. April 19-20; Hilbert Circle Theatre

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