Van Cliburn Competition 1993 Gold Medal Winner
The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (its progress, from humble beginnings to a lavish extravaganza, lovingly charted in the insert-notes by John Ardoin) is alive and well. For, if too few of its previous major prize-winners have gone on to confirm their early status, this exceptionally well presented and recorded two-disc set tells us that 1993 was a vintage year. A whole record is rightly devoted to Italy's Simone Pedroni (first prize) who shows, with classic strength and maturity, that it is possible to invest every nook and cranny of Mussorgsky's Pictures with vivid and imaginative life without recourse to wilful idiosyncrasy or distortion (I am thinking of RCA's recent reissue of Horowitz's extraordinary conflation—to be reviewed). ''Baba-jaga'', most deeply feared of all Russian witches, is truly feroce, the concluding ''Great Gate at Kiev'' exultantly maestoso, and, throughout, Pedroni's towering technical resource resolves every difficulty with magisterial ease. He is no less convincing in Rachmaninov's Second Sonata (played, alas, in the composer's still fashionable revision), and if his performance of Hindemith's lurid 1922 Suite is less authoritative than Richter's (Decca, 3/93)—his ''Ragtime'' less trenchant, the tenutos in ''Boston'' less agonizing or distended—it is still highly impressive.
Valeri Kuleshov (second prize) declares his nationality in every bar, roaring and whispering Liszt's bravura to the heavens, and I doubt whether the Six Paganini Etudes have often been given with such a gloriously spontaneous verve and glitter. He also relishes Morton Gould's elaborate virtuoso exercise in nostalgia. And even if Gould's Ghost Waltzes (commissioned for the Competition) are hardly a masterpiece, they certainly gave the competitors plenty to dig their fingers into. Finally, Christopher Taylor from America, whom I first heard at the Gilmore Awards in Kalamazoo. A Harvard graduate in Maths, he makes light of Boulez's formidable Second Sonata, but is less convincing in Messiaen's ''Regard de l'Esprit de joie'' which is too cautious and respectable by half.
Nevertheless, all three pianists (and particularly the first) are clearly of high calibre and, unconstricted by rigid repertoire requirements, they were free to roam and explore the richest of all musical literature. Boulez and Hindemith as well as Mussorgsky and Rachmaninov represent a much needed injection of musical vitality into the heavily maligned competition scene.'