Italian pianist stirs crowd at Cliburn International

June 03, 1993|By Tim Madigan | Tim Madigan,Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Italian crowd-pleaser Simone Pedroni, who brought a semifinal audience to its feet with a dramatic recital Tuesday afternoon, was one of six pianists selected later that night in Fort Worth, Texas, for the finals of the ninth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

The five other finalists selected are fellow Italian Fabio Bidini, Armen Babakhanian of Armenia, Belgian Johan Schmidt, American Christopher Taylor and Russian Valery Kuleshov.

Mr. Taylor is the first American in the finals since 1981.

Half the crowd at the competition stood to applaud Mr. Pedroni's fTC recital, a performance highlighted by a Franz Haydn sonata and the familiar "Pictures at an Exhibition," the fourth Cliburn performance of Russian composer Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky's moody masterpiece.

"He's my winner," said Leila Getz, director and general manager of the Vancouver Recital Society. "It was glorious playing. There was just such variety. Other times with 'Pictures,' I fall asleep. This was just magnificent."

The sentiment was repeated by many as the crowd filed out at theclose of Tuesday's afternoon session. Piano experts and casual listeners alike consistently favored Mr. Pedroni to advance.

However, the 13 jurors had the ultimate decision on which six of the 12 semifinalists move on to the finals, which begin today.

The Cliburn winner will be named Sunday after each finalist plays two concertos at the Fort Worth/Tarrant County Convention Center Theatre.

The competition's gold medal is accompanied by a $15,000 first prize, a Carnegie Hall debut and a two-year series of international concert dates.

Mr. Pedroni, who has been impressive at the Cliburn from his first performance, said he felt "very tranquil" after the grueling 75-minute recital, perhaps the 14-day competition's most pressure-packed test.

Whereas Mr. Pedroni drew nearly uniform raves, the afternoon chamber performance of Russian Alexander Melnikov, 20, spawned deep rifts in audience opinion. Mr. Melnikov, among the most confident and charismatic performers, thrust the American String Quartet into the background with an exuberant rendition of Robert Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-flat major, an unusual reading of the work.

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