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Brillance and Depth

Jack Singer Concert Hall
09/05/2015 -  & September 7*, 2015
September 5, 2015: Collaborative Recital
Pauline Viardot/Frédéric Chopin: Aime-moi (arr. of Mazurka No 23 in D major Op. 33 No. 2)
Pauline Viardot: Madrid
Fernando Obradors: La mi sola, laureola – El Vito
Witold Lutoslawski: Dance Preludes
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Trio for clarinet, viola and piano in E-flat major K. 498 "Kegelstatt"
Paul Hindemith: Sonata for viola and piano in F major Op. 11 No. 4
Johannes Brahms: Geistliches Wiegenlied Op. 91 No. 2

September 7, 2015: Solo Recital
Robert Schumann: Fantasy in C major Op. 17
György Ligeti: from Etudes Book 3: No. 15 "White on White" & No. 16 "Pour Irina"
Claude Debussy: L’Isle joyeuse
Sergei Prokofiev: Sonata No. 7 in B-flat major Op. 83

Isabel Bayrakdarian (soprano), James Campbell (clarinet), Hsin-Yun Huang (viola), Luca Buratto (piano)

L. Buratto (© Chris Krieger)

Italian pianist Luca Buratto at age 22 was the youngest semifinalist in the 2015 Honens competition, but he has had considerable experience - and success - in other competitions. He was the only competitor who chose to use the Fazioli piano; he also prefers to sit in a chair as opposed to the usual bench.

He was one of the five entrants who performed his collaborative recital before his solo recital. This frequently put the pianist at a bit of a disadvantage from the audience perspective, as we tended to feel we knew more about the performer from his or her solo performance than from the collaborative one.

His accompaniment of Pauline Viardot’s song composed to the tune of a Chopin Mazurka was notably blitheful, while that for Madrid and the Obradors numbers was nimble and deft. In the Lutoslawski Dance Preludes, the interchanges with the clarinetist were lively, and the Mozart trio struck the appropriate style. The opening of the Hindemith sonata is described as ruhig or “peaceful”, and he and violist Hsin-Yun Huang rendered it dramatically “heart on sleeve”. The final movement really caught fire and ended up causing a complete sensation, the only time this happened with this work (also played in the competition by Artem Yasynskyy and Karim Said). The Brahms lullaby, once again, went extremely well.

His solo recital began with a major work by his favorite composer, Robert Schumann, to whose great Fantasy in C major he brought an exciting degree of sheer assurance - this was definitely one of the most compelling performances of the semifinal round. I eagerly anticipate a recording.

The two Ligeti pieces (composed between 1995 and 2001) bookended Debussy’s L’Isle joyeuse. Ligeti’s Etude No. 15 (for which Mr. Buratto understandably used music) consists of evenly spaced chords with no rhythm and a barely implied line; it loses what momentum it has before a madcap ending erupts. Etude No. 16 provides a total contrast, with a restless, rushing torrent of notes. L’Isle joyeuse was sensuous and well-structured - and earned ardent applause.

He concluded with a gripping account of Prokofiev’s explosive Seventh Sonata. The first movement Allegro inquieto was “unquiet” indeed, with restless wandering giving way to hectic heat. The second movement, singularly indicated as Andante caloroso (“caloroso” = with warmth) counters one’s anticipation of warmth with its threatening moodiness to which he gave full expression (it is no surprise that the piece has been termed “the Stalingrad”). This movement abruptly gave way to the concluding Precipitato, with a bravura display of tightly controlled pianism.

His encore piece was a marvelously gentle performance of Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze Op. 6 No. 14.

After this performance it seemed inevitable that Luca Buratto would be selected as one of the three finalists. The concerto performances are reviewed here and here.


The Honens International Piano Competition, named for its founding donor, held its first competition in Calgary in 1992. It is open to pianists between the ages of 20 and 30 who have no professional representation, and offers the richest prize of any of the world's many such competitions: a $100,000 first prize which comes with a three-year artist development program worth $500,000. The 2015 competition was the eighth.

The main objective of the competition is to discover “the complete pianist”, and here is the procedure: Earlier this year, interested pianists applied online, submitting information on their training and experience in performances and competitions. The Applicant Screening Jury selected 50 to participate in the quarterfinals, which consisted of 40-minute recitals (with audience) filmed in Los Angeles, New York or Berlin. Each pianist also made a taped 10-minute interview. These fifty recordings and the interviews were examined by a jury of four (Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear, Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan, Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa, and Mary Sigmond, president of a piano recital series in Minnesota).

Ten of the 50 were selected to come to Calgary for the semifinals (running for five days beginning Sept 3), during which each one performed a 65-minute solo recital (entirely different from the earlier 40-minute recital), and a 65-minute collaborative recital accompanying soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, and clarinetist James Campbell. (Each pianist chose one of three programs for these collaborative recitals.) Each pianist had a two and one-half hour session with the collaborators, plus a dress rehearsal.

After the semifinal round, three pianists were chosen for the two final concerts with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra under Yan Pascal Tortelier. For the first concert they each chose a concerto from a list of classical era works, and for the second concert they played a work of their own choosing from the post-classical era. The jury for the semifinal and final rounds consisted of three pianists (Alessandra Ammara, Janina Fialkowska, and Pedja Muzijevic ) and four arts managers: Paul Hughes (General Manager of the BBC Symphony Orchestra), Jeremy Geffen (Director of Artistic Planning for Carnegie Hall), Charles Hamlen (a founder of IMG Artists), and Costa Pilavachi (Senior Vice President of Classical Artists and Repertoire for Universal Music Group).

The jury assigned scores to each segment of the process, with each of the solo and collaborative recitals worth 30% of the final score, and each of the two concerto performances worth 15%. Ten percent of the final score was based on a 15-minute interview (taped) with an arts journalist.

The next competition will be in 2018.

Complete information on Honens can be found on the website.

Michael Johnson



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