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Jaeden Izik Dzurko Wins 2024 CMIM with Playful, Formidable Playing

Published on La Scena Musicale music magazine on May 21st, 2024

Congratulations are in order for Canadian pianist Jaeden Izik Dzurko, and all those who performed as part of the 2024 CMIM Piano Edition Finals last week. Pianist Shirley Wu shares her thoughts here.

Jaeden Izik Dzurko, Brahms Concerto No. 2 – WINNER

Dzurko opened the Allegro non troppo just slightly slower than Serkin, delivering it with a perfect balance of grandeur and intimacy. His ability to shape long, flowing lines while maintaining clarity in the denser passages was particularly impressive. The formidable double octaves in the first movement and the rapid scales and arpeggios in the Allegro appassionato were executed with such precision and apparent ease. His powerful ben marcatos, delivered with strong fingers, were striking and intense.

In the Andante, the interplay between the piano and the solo cello was handled with delicate sensitivity, highlighting the tender, conversational nature of this movement. Dzurko’s delicate touch and nuanced pedalling in the Più Adagio section brought out the lyrical quality, allowing the music to breathe and resonate with emotional depth. In the final movement, Allegretto grazioso, Dzurko‘s playful yet elegant touch brought a delightful conclusion to the concerto. The intricate interplay between the soloist and the orchestra was seamless, highlighting the collaborative spirit of the performance. Under the direction of Xian Zhang, the orchestra provided a sensitive and well-balanced accompaniment that allowed Dzurko‘s artistry to shine through. 

Anthony Ratinov, Prokofiev Piano Concerto #3                                                       

In the first movement, Ratinov’s handling of the rapid, driving rhythms and syncopated motifs showcased his technical precision and rhythmic acuity. In the Allegro section, Ratinov’s playing was even more characterised by dynamic contrasts, moving seamlessly between moments of explosive energy and introspective lyricism. The second movement, Tema con variazioni, allowed Ratinov to explore a more varied emotional landscape.

Each variation was imbued with its own unique character, from the tender simplicity of the theme to the playful, almost whimsical nature of the faster variations. It was in the final movement, Allegro ma non troppo, the relentless drive and rhythmic complexity were met with Ratinov’s unwavering energy and precision. The fiery exchanges between piano and orchestra were electrifying, with Ratinov leading the charge through the movement’s intricate passagework and bold thematic statements. 

Jakub Kuszlik, Rachmaninoff piano concerto #2 

From the brooding, introspective chords of the concerto’s Moderato opening, Kuszlik captured the audience’s attention with his profound sensitivity. His touch on the piano was both powerful and tender, navigating the emotional highs and lows with an artistry that spoke volumes of his deep connection to the music. The opening movement’s sweeping melodies and intricate passagework were rendered with precision and lyricism. The second movement, Adagio sostenuto, showcased Kuszlik’s ability to convey the concerto’s lyrical beauty with sublime grace.

Each note was imbued with a heartfelt emotion, achieving a harmonious balance that elevated this concerto’s romanticism. The serene, almost ethereal quality of sound provided a moment of exquisite tranquillity. In the final movement, Allegro scherzando, his dynamic energy came to the forefront. The movement’s vivacious rhythms and bold thematic statements were executed with a virtuosity comparable to. As we see Kuszlik’s fingers danced across the keys with astonishing agility, each note delivered with clarity and intent. The exhilarating exchanges between the soloist and the orchestra created a palpable sense of excitement, driving the concerto towards its triumphant conclusion. 

The Montreal International Music Competition 2024 finale witnessed three remarkable renditions of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1, with Gabriel Strata’s performance standing out distinctly among those by Derek Wang and Elias-Eckerly. 

Gabriel Strata

From the moment the most recognized thunderous opening chords resounded, Gabriel Strata’s interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 was a revelation. His technical precision and expressive depth brought a fresh perspective to this well-loved masterpiece. Strata’s touch was both powerful and nuanced, enabling him to navigate the concerto’s intricate passages with apparent ease while maintaining a compelling emotional narrative throughout. His phrasing was impeccable, and his dynamic control allowed him to exploit the full range of the piano, creating a richly woven tapestry of sound that captivated the audience. Strata’s interpretation highlighted the lyrical beauty and dramatic intensity of the concerto, engaging listeners in a deeply immersive experience. His ability to bring out the emotional core of Tchaikovsky’s work, coupled with his flawless technique, distinguished his performance as the highlight of the evening.

Elias Ackerley

Elias Ackerly, the youngest of the three finalists, delivered a promising and ambitious performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1, demonstrating a clear understanding of its structure and showcasing his potential as a rising star in the piano world.

However, his performance was marred by moments of inconsistency. While his musical abilities were commendable, there were instances where his execution faltered, particularly at the beginning, where the tone quality was too harsh and lacking shaping, diminishing the sensitivity of the piece. His balance and coordination with the orchestra were also lacking, as moments arose where his synchronisation with the orchestra wavered, hinting at a disconnect in their musical dialogue.

Derek Wang

Just hours before the finale, Derek Wang confessed that this concerto, and indeed Tchaikovsky’s broader oeuvre, had not been love at first sight for him. Yet, he approached the piece with a daring sense of adventure and courage, his formidable technical skills and exceptional command over the piano shining through, as they had in the semi-final round. However, despite his undeniable precision and agility, the audience might have sensed his inexperience with the piece. 

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