CMIM 2017 – the First Three Finalists Perform

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The first evening of the 2017 Concours Musical International de Montréal finals took place Tuesday, May 9th at 7:30 pm at the Maison Symphonique de Montréal. Three promising young pianists took the stage, accompanied by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal under guest conductor Claus Peter Flor. All three showed thorough technical command and seemed undaunted by the magnitude of the event, yet each was also wholly distinct in their musical personality.

Dutch/Spanish pianist Alberto Cano Smit opened the evening with a beautiful account of Brahms’s Concerto no. 1. Cano Smit’s performance had a truly storytelling quality due to the distinct characters he gave the three movements. The first movement was reserved and brooding; he took care to shape each ruminating phrase. In the second movement his skills in melodic playing were on full show. Cano Smit has the remarkable ability to make melodies sing with complete independence from the accompaniment. Further, he elicits compelling elements from the lower voices without detracting from the shape of the phrase. Cano Smit threw himself into the third movement with headstrong bravado and the audience in turn rewarded him with rousing applause. That is not to say the performance was without its flaws; though Cano Smit’s tone has an appealing, pearled limpidity in more reflective passages, he has a tendency to lose this richness and get drowned out by the orchestra in faster and louder sections. At 20 years old, Cano Smit is the youngest of the six finalists; it will be fascinating to see how he develops in the coming years.

The second performer of the night, Zoltán Fejérvári of Hungary, gave a professional performance of Bartók’s Concerto no. 3. In the opening moments his full and projecting tone was immediately perceptible – more so than Cano Smit’s. This tone allowed him to perform extremely short staccato articulations without affecting the singing quality of the melody. In the second movement he performed the chorale-like theme with sumptuous yet sober simplicity. In the third movement his tight sense of rhythm and unfaltering technical control allowed for a commanding finish. Nevertheless, Fejérvári’s performance lacked the sense of originality and spontaneity that made Cano Smit’s such a success.

Giuseppe Guarrera of Italy had a rocky start to Tchaikovsky’s Concerto no. 1, with the orchestra having trouble following his drastic changes in tempo. These issues persisted throughout much of the performance. Nevertheless, Guarrera overcame this and emerged a compelling, even gripping performer. Guarrera’s fiery musical temperament and virtuosic technique proved perfectly suited to concerto playing. In fact, despite his reserved demeanor, Guarrera was the only performer of the evening with a stage presence that could be felt by the audience. Guarrera balanced drama and a refined sensitivity to melody to lend a genuinely operatic, bel canto quality to the work. He managed to make the first movement’s cadenza sound like a duet between two singers. In the opening to the second movement, his varied articulations and his judicious use of the pedal allowed the melody to sound dreamy without falling victim to muddiness. In the third movement, his electrifying virtuosity swept the audience up all the way until the thundering climax of the work’s notorious octaves. Guarrera was a fan favorite – more than half the hall was on their feet after his performance!

With the high quality of this first evening of performances, it will be exciting to see how the other three finalists compare on Wednesday evening. We’ll hear Tchaikovsky’s Concerto no. 1 again, this time performed by Yejin Noh of South Korea, Jinhyung Park, also of South Korea, will perform Rachmaninov’s Concerto no. 2, and Italian pianist Stefano Andreatta will close the finals with Liszt’s Concerto no. 2. The winner will be announced at a Gala concert on May 12, and the first prize winner as well as the three former laureates of the CMIM will perform with the OSM.

Missed the show? Videos of the first evening of finals, and of the rest of the competition, are available on the CMIM’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/CMIMontreal/videos/

For more info on the 2017 CMIM, check out the competition’s website: https://concoursmontreal.ca/en/

And be sure to take a look at our other articles covering the competition and its events:

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