Shock Win in Warsaw

And the winner of the 2010 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw is: Yulianna Avdeeva, 25, from Russia, who becomes the first woman to triumph there since Martha Argerich 45 years ago. Lukas Geniusas of Lithuania/Russia, 20, and Ingolf Wunder, 25, of Austria won joint second prize, Daniil Trifonov of Russia third and the pianist who according to general buzz via the internet seemed to be hot favourite earlier on, Evgeni Bozhanov of Bulgaria, pulled in fourth. Francois Dumont from France won fifth. No sixth prize was awarded: the sole Pole, Mr Wakarecy, won nothing.

Critical reports before the results were announced had suggested that Wunder would win, with John Allison, who’s valiantly attended the whole shebang, writing: ‘Wunder has got everything one wants to hear in a Chopin player. His is a very patrician, aristocratic kind of sound. He’s got an absolutely beautiful sense of tone and huge musical imagination, coupled with incredible virtuosity.’

Now, I have no idea how these decisions are made. The jury was large and distinguished, with Andrzej Jasinski, Zimerman’s only teacher, as chairman. Argerich was there, Bella Davidovich, Nelson Freire and Fou Ts’ong, among others. It’s not a team whose judgment I’d wish to disregard.

The invitation to vote online for the winner doesn’t seem to have had much to do with the result, and didn’t depend on you actually having heard anybody play (you just point and click): this vote brought in Wunder in top place with 26%, Trifonov with 23% and Bozhanov with 12.5%. Avdeeva trailed with just 9.1%. 

Below, part of the lucky winner’s prize concerto: this is the slow movement of the Chopin E minor. Now, as my other ‘alf puts it, “when you’re used to Krystian Zimerman, everything else sounds s***”. But I’m sorry to say I dislike this performance quite intensely. I find it extremely in-yer-face, ridiculously loud and not co-ordinated with the orchestra nearly well enough. It seems to have a lot to do with Ms Avdeeva and not a lot to do with Chopin’s hushed nocturnal musings… What do you think? Would you have given this top prize in a top contest? Listening to her Polonaise-Fantaisie, I’ve had a similar reaction: she lumps and thumps the hell out of it without any apparent value on tone quality, and with splashy rhetorically-out-of-sync hand effects passing for expression. (You can find it on Youtube if you really want to.) And the general response to her win seems to be less than ecstatic, to put it mildly.

I have the impression that something has gone wrong.

Now, here is Ingolf Wunder, playing the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise in Round 2. This, my friends, qualifies as very good, stylish and idiomatic Chopin playing: listen to the detail, the phrasing, the elegance, the rubato, the structural awareness.

And after the Wunder, the Genius…This is Lukas Geniusas with the Barcarolle, from the second round – possibly my favourite so far, the only one who’s approached some sense of mystical atmosphere, though even then I’d have some holes to pick here and there…

But of course, I wasn’t in Warsaw and frankly I’m rather glad, as I’ve heard two young pianists in Britain this past week who can play the living daylights out of any of these guys. They are both on the BBC New Generations scheme. I hope that this project survives the 16% cutback at the Beeb, because it is incredibly valuable as an alternative career-builder for the most gifted of the younger generation, by-passing the rough, tumble and nonsense of these competition bullfights.

If you were at the Chopin Competition, do write in and let us know what you thought about it all. 

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