After an hour of deliberation and an hour of speeches, Lori Sims of the United States was named the winner of the Gina Bachauer Piano Competition Saturday night.
The announcement brought closure to nearly two weeks of intense competition that started with 42 competitors.The final rankings for the other five finalists were: Luiza Roxana Borac, Romania; Eugene Mursky, Uzbekistan; Marko Martin, Estonia; Ju-Ying Song, Taiwan/USA; and Sean Botkin, USA.
The finals began with Ju-Ying Song's meaningful rendition of Ravel's "Concerto for the Left Hand." As in the semifinal round her playing had a spark of originality permeating all her interpretive choices, from her touch to her phrasing.
Her cadenza was especially lucid and brought out the pieces' darker sides. She had the stamina and control necessary to play the piece but not perhaps the projection. The orchestra drowned out some of her passage-works, but Song definitely had something to say, and it came through.
Next, Sean Botkin played the Liszt Concerto No. 1. Botkin's technical prowess and astounding control kept a steady rein on his supercharged interpretation. Throughout the bombastic, angry runs and the gracefully mournful passages, Botkin was "in your face" but in control. He played the philosophical with aplomb and personality, but on the whole Song seemed the more original of the two. Perhaps due to the piece she chose.
Of the three that played Friday, Lori Sims seemed the most polished. her confidence and commanding presence carried her through all three movements of Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3. She played the pieces' difficult rhythms impeccably, evoking a powerful sound. However, there were times when the piece called for a more diverse palate of sound than Sims' relentless interpretation offered. Although the slow passage in the third movement provided an exquisite contrast.
Although the notes were the same, it would be difficult to imagine a more different rendition of the Liszt by Botkin than the one played Saturday night by Luiza Roxana Borac.
With the help of maestro Fabio Mechetti, Borac's lyrical and playful interpretation made the audience notice the piece more than the pianist. Borac uncovered the piece's childlike wonder and subtle shadings. Although not as obvious a technician as Botkin, Borac proved a master manipulator of the piano's glorious sonic possibilities. Above all, she communicated with the audience.
Marko Martin turned in a steady, solid performance of the Tchaikovsky First.
Eugene Mursky's performance of Rachmaninoff's Second began with heavy severity than eased into a seemlessly effusive first movement. Throughout the movement, he remained relaxed and loose, letting the "big fat chords" speak for themselves.
However, it was in the third movement Mursky displayed his fearsome technical abilities, musicality and sense of the whole work.