To tie in to our posting of Rachmaninoff's Romance on our website, the 16th Van Cliburn Competition recently concluded with its youngest winner, 18 year old Yunchan Lim, whose performance of the Rachmaninoff 3rd Concerto in the finals was phenomenal.
For a sampling of his performance go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV_xKVZSUEU, the youthful commentator has a look of amazement when he turns his head to the side and says "the tempo!" as the Korean virtuoso floored his Ferrari-like mechanism at the "piu mosso" B-flat section of the chordal passage in contrary motion. It floored me too, I almost fell off my stool, and no, I was not at a bar, I was at my kitchen island. Vladimir Ashkenazy was 18 when he won 2nd place at the 5th Chopin Competition in 1955. Might this be an omen for the career that is in store for this recent 18 year old winner? The 3rd concerto of Rachmaninoff has had an extensive role in Ashkenazy's career, having made several recordings as a soloist and as a conductor. At the International Rachmaninoff Society Conference devoted to the 3rd Concerto that I attended at Juilliard in the early 2000's, there was a Q & A session with Ashkenazy after he conducted a performance with a Juilliard student. His response to a person who exclaimed "Oh, Mr. Ashkenazy, you are the guru of the Rach 3rd" was very serious and silencing. He said "No, the best performance of the 3rd concerto was Van in 1958, he played it with such freedom". Of course we all knew he was referring to Van Cliburn's monumental victory at the 1st Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow during the Cold War. Van was 23, and Vladimir was 25 when he tied for the Gold medal with the English pianist John Ogden at the 2nd Tchaikovsky competition. To conclude my musings, a few later weeks later, Van Cliburn played the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Winston-Salem Orchestra at the bequest of Mrs. Hanes of "undies" fame. She was having a decade changing birthday, and wrote a sizable check to secure the soloist.
It was a powerful and nostalgic performance by this legendary pianist. After the performance, I went backstage and told him what Ashkenazy had said about him at Juilliard. He was visually moved, and wanted to hear more about "Vlodya's" comments to the annoyance of the people behind me waiting to greet the maestro.