BWW Review: Live from New York - It's the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition Winners

Romanian Andrei Ionita, Gold Medal and
First Prize winner for Cello.
Photo © Marina Levitskaya
Mongolian baritone Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar,
Gold Medal for Voice (Male) and Grand Prix winner,
Photo © Marina Levitskaya
Russian Dmitry Masleev, Gold Medal and
First Prize winner for piano.
Photo © Marina Levitskaya
Russian mezzo Yulia Matochkina, Gold Medal and
First Prize winnerfor Voice (Female).
Photo © Marina Levitskaya

The recital at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall on October 24 by the winners of the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition was like an "amuse bouche"--a gift from the chef at the start of a meal at a fine French restaurant to tickle your tongue. It was absolutely delicious, but left you hungering for more.

The Tchaikovsky is perhaps best known in the U.S. for the pianist who won the very first competition in 1958, in Moscow, at the height of the Cold War: Texan Van Cliburn, who was propelled into international stardom after playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 along with the Prokofiev Concerto #3, nearly causing a riot. But it has also been the launching pad for artists from Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels (for piano), David Oistrakh (violin), Mstislav Rostropovich (cello), Mario del Monaco and Maria Callas (voice).

Will the four winners showcased in the recital at Zankel Hall go on to fame in the classical music world? Only time will tell, but they all acquitted themselves wonderfully in the brief program, sponsored by the Mariinsky Foundation of America, during which each performed two works that highlighted different aspects of their skills.

The host for the program was conductor Valery Gergiev, artistic director of St. Peterburg's Mariinsky Theater and, unfortunately, a polarizing figure in New York because of the gay rights position of the Russian government. (There was a small demonstration outside the theatre as the audience members entered the hall.) The totalitarian history of the country lives on, with artists like Gergiev and Anna Netrebko unwilling or afraid to take a stand other than the equivalent of "some of my best friends are..."

While the competition itself was broken into four sections, piano, cello, voice and violin, only the first three were represented at the recital.

The program opened with a marvelous performance by Romanian cellist Andrei Ionita, Gold Medal and First Prize winner, and the only one without Tchaikovsky on his program. He began with Schumann's Fantasiestucke, Op. 73, a three-part composition that went from soulful to light-fingered and showed off the range of his skills from dramatic to playful, but it was Klengel's Scherzo for Cello and Piano, Op. 6 where Ionita took flight. This less familiar piece--Klengel was better known as a soloist and teacher to some great cellists--had staggering technical demands, with the cellist flying along the upper register of his 1671 Rogeri instrument as if it were nothing.

The first of the two vocalists was Russian mezzo Yulia Matochkina, also a Gold Medal and First Prize winner. Ah, to be young and not have to warm up! She gave a stellar account of Rachmaninoff's "For Long there has been Little Consolation in Love," Op. 14, No. 3, plummeting the depths of her luscious voice to bring out the drama of the brief selection. Her performance of "Adieu Forets" from Tchaikovsky's MAID OF ORLEANS was something else, showing off her upper register and legato line to stunning effect in this dramatic aria.

She was followed by the competition's Grand Prix winner, Mongolian baritone Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar, with his big voice, deep and robust. He has great presence, which he brought to a rather straightforward version of Rachmaninoff's "Silence of the Secret Night," Opus 4, No. 3." His version of Tchaikovsky's "I Love You Beyond Measure" from Tchaikovsky's THE QUEEN OF SPADES was heartfelt and made good use of his golden lower register.

Russian Dmitry Masleev, the Gold Medal and First Prize winner for piano, surely deserved the prize for the flashiest performance of the afternoon. After starting with the playful, rippling Un poco di Chopin, Op. 72, No. 15, he lashed into a wild and tempestuous performance of Liszt's transcription of Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre that gave a fine indication of his breathtaking technical skills.

Finally, kudos must go to accompanist Valeria Polunina, who had the flexibility and considerable savoir faire to provide everything the star performers demanded of her.

The concert lasted little more than an hour--a long distance for the young artists to travel for less time than it takes to change planes at a big international airport. According to the great architect Mies van der Rohe, "Less is more." Perhaps. But sometimes "More is more," too.


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From This Author Richard Sasanow