Yukine Kuroki’s Liszt/Schubert Symphonic Fantasy wins the 2022 Utrecht Competition

NetherlandsNetherlands Liszt Utrecht 2022 [2], Grand Finale – Schubert, Liszt: Yukine Kuroki, Yeon-min Park, Derek Wang, Radu Ratering (piano), Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra / Christien Reif (conductor). Grote Zaal, TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht, 29.9.2022. (LV)

Yukine Kuroki and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic © Allard Willemse

Schubert (transcribed by Liszt)Grosse Fantasie, Op.15, ‘Symphonisch bearbeitet für Piano und Orchester’
Liszt – ‘Hungarian Fantasy’ for piano and orchestra

Franz Schubert wrote his Fantasy Op.15, which we commonly call the ‘Wanderer Fantasy’, for solo piano in 1822. It is one of the greatest tests in the pianist’s repertoire, and much of it is written in a semi-orchestral style created out of violently difficult passagework. By 1851, Franz Liszt had completed his arrangement of the Fantasy under Schubert’s name, and titled it Grosse Fantasie, Op.15, ‘Symphonisch bearbeitet für Piano und Orchester von Franz Liszt’. It was not a concerto but a symphony for piano and orchestra in which the orchestra added a new palette of instrumental colors, dynamic range and sweep while bringing out inner voices usually only read about in the score.

According to Leslie Howard, ‘Liszt’s predilection for Schubert’s Fantasy became almost a preoccupation’. He would go on to rewrite the Fantasy in a simplified version, and he even published a two-piano version of the orchestral version. The version with orchestra was a classical music rockstar’s fantasy in which the conductor would be an extension of the pianist’s gestures.

It was also a difficult test for the three finalists. Along with the other seven semifinalists, each had to learn the piece in addition to the repertoire for their four semifinal rounds, knowing they had only a thirty percent chance of getting to play it at all. More importantly, Liszt integrates the piano so completely into the orchestra that any performance, even by experienced pianists, depends heavily on the conductor’s view. It might have been thought of as a conventional competition test piece pitting the virtuosity and power of the pianist against the might of a full symphony orchestra, but in the three performances it also suggested a vast symphonic poem in which the piano played the starring role.

Derek Wang and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic © Allard Willemse

Derek Wang combined firepower with nobility and generosity but was overwhelmed too often to make a coherent contiguous case. Flashing fireworks herself, Yukine Kuroki often nestled herself inside the Fantasy at the places of its purest beauty and purred. Yeon-min Park swept the music along with bold poetry and arcs of classical symmetry as if Schubert himself had made the arrangement. The principal flute was thrilling and the principal cellist magnificent in their solos. If you had laid the three performances over each other, you would have had the fantasy Liszt imagined. It would have helped each of the finalists if the orchestra hadn’t been so loud.

The judges chose Kuroki to be the winner, and she also seemed to have won the affection of the audience according to an unofficial audience applause meter. A formal Audience Award and the hearts of many critics and experienced listeners went to Park.

Yeon-Min Park and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic © Allard Willemse

While the judges deliberated their decision, Radu Ratering, who had won the concurrent NLiszt competition for Dutch pianists under twenty, played Liszt’s unabashedly Hollywood ‘Hungarian Fantasy’ with the orchestra with serious virtuosity.

Laurence Vittes

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