WORKS: Fort Worth Symphony; Dante Sonata
PERFORMER: Ralph Votapek, Nicolai Petrov, Radu Lupu; Fort Worth SO/Ezra Rachlin
CATALOGUE NO: VAIA 1156
The Van Cliburn Competition was established in Texas in 1962 to honour one of America’s greatest pianists, and it has launched the careers of virtuosi like Radu Lupu, Cristina Ortiz and Barry Douglas, as well as the titanic Alexander Toradze, whose controversial interpretations divided the jury in the 1977 sessions.
They awarded the gold to the gentler Steven de Groote who, tragically, was to die at the age of 36, and Volume 1 of this series is a memorial pressing of his solo recital. The music on the other five discs generally comprises individual pieces and single movements from longer works. As the organisers largely leave contestants to choose their own programmes, there’s a pleasing mix of the inescapable and the unfamiliar.
The competition also calls for concerto playing and participation in chamber music, though the latter is not represented on these discs and only the concerto – the opening movement of Prokofiev’s Second – is the one big disappointment. The soloist, the young Radu Lupu, plays superbly, but the resident orchestra, the Fort Worth Symphony, is frankly not of the calibre Lupu deserves.
The discs encompass Toradze’s Liszt (muscularly virtuosic), Ortiz’s powerfully evocative Ravel, Petrov’s Scarlatti (nimble-fingered, with neat ornaments), Feghali’s swaggering Chopin, Barry Douglas in Liszt’s tempestuous Dante Sonata and much more. Passing over Lupu’s dull orchestra and Votapek’s unflattering sound, every disc is a winner. The de Groote recital is a must.