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A bumpy start to a fine concert

Jack Singer Concert Hall
09/06/2018 -  
Louis Spohr: Quintet for piano and winds in C minor Op. 52*
Albert Roussel: Divertissement for piano and wind quintet Op. 6*
Ludwig van Beethoven: Quintet for piano and winds in E-flat Major Op. 16
Jean Cartan: Introduction et Allegro for piano and wind quintet

Han Chen*, Nicolas Namoradze, Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner (piano), Azahar Ensemble: Frederic Sánchez Munoz (flute), Marc Lachat (oboe), Miguel Ramos Salvadó (clarinet), Maria José Garcia Zamora (bassoon), Antonio Lagares Abeal (horn)

H. Chen (© Monique de St. Croix)

Unfortunately the first of the two final performances of the Honens International Piano Competition opened with a competitor’s nightmare (or any performer’s nightmare): a piece that simply did not come together.

The three finalists could choose between three chamber programs, each one consisting of a multi-movement work plus a single-movement work. Two of the finalists chose the Beethoven/Jean Cartan pair (listed above). No one chose to perform Mozart’s Quintet for piano and winds in E-flat major, K. 452 paired with Jean Françaix’s L’Heure du berger. Han Chen, age 26, from Taiwan, chose the program opening with Louis Spohr’s Quintet for piano and winds in C-minor, and this is where things went very wrong.

The big problem (and it is the biggest problem possible) is that the pianist almost completely disappeared, both visually and aurally. I kept wishing the four obstreperous wind players (no oboe in the work) were placed behind the piano instead of in front. And for much of the piece the piano acts as a kind of metronome for the legato wind players, making it a poor choice in what is, above all, a PIANO competition. Things came together in the fourth movement, where roles were reversed and the winds chugged along as the pianist finally got some decent lines. By then, though, it was far too late. I am sure that the points Han Chen lost in this work cost him any chance of winning the competition.

Albert Roussel’s Divertissement for piano and wind quintet rollicked along very nicely, with the piano able to make a sustained contribution to this charming work.

L. Sanchez-Werner (© Chris McGuire Photography)

There isn’t much to say about the two performances of the Beethoven/Cartan pairing except it went very well for both pianists, Nicolas Namoradze (age 26, from Georgia but now based in New York) and Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner (age 21, from the USA), each displaying an enjoyable rapport with the Azahar players. The Beethoven work (which has no flute part, thus eliminating competition with the piano for the higher notes) gives scope for each instrument to show off to a degree. I would have to give Nicolas Namoradze the edge as he managed to bring forth a distinctively rich tone from the piano.

Jean Cartan was a French composer who died of tuberculosis in 1932 at the age of 26. His Introduction et Allegro for piano and wind quintet is a bouncy, playful work in which the main action gets passed from player to player. He was a protégé of Albert Roussel, and this work has, if anything, even more charm than his mentor’s work for the same forces.


The Honens International Piano Competition, now with “and Festival” added to its name, started in 1992. Now on the three-year cycle, the 2018 edition is the ninth.

Entrants must pass through three juries.

Screening Jury: Eric Friesen, Canadian broadcaster and former Honens chair; Michael Kim, director of the School of Music, University of Minnesota; Noriko Ogawa, winner of the 1987 Leeds International Piano Competition; and Gilles Vonsattel, a laureate of the 2009 Honens Competition. They whittled more than 100 entrants down to 50 quarter finalists who this year came from 22 countries. Five subsequently withdrew from the competition.

The 45 were filmed in live 40-minute performances that took place in Berlin and New York in March, and all were interviewed by Mr Friesen. The First Jury met in Banff and scrutinized the performances and the accompanying interviews before reducing the numbers to ten semi-finalists. These jurists were: Winston Choi, Chicago-based laureate of the 2003 Honens Competition; Isolde Lagacé, manager of the music program at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Brazilian pianist Edwardo Monteiro; and Pedja Muzijevic of New York, a Second Jury member in 2015.

The Second Jury who judged the semi-finals and final rounds in Calgary were: Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter; Italian pianist Alessio Bax, winner of the Leeds Competition in 2000; Taiwanese, US-based Wu Han; Annette Josef, Managing Director of the Munich Symphony Orchestra; Canadian pianist André Laplante; Asadour Santourian, director of the Aspen School, Colorado; and Minsoo Sohn, Korean pianist and laureate of the 2006 Honens Competition.

For the semi-final round each pianist performed a self-chosen 65-minute solo program, plus a 65-minute collaborative program (chosen from a list of four set programs) wherein they accompanied baritone Phillip Addis in a group of songs and violinist Jonathan Crow in a number of works.

Three pianists advance to the final round, consisting of two concerts, one with the Azahar Ensemble from Spain, and finally an evening of concertos with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Karina Canellakis.

Here is full information about the competition.

Michael Johnson



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