FINAL CONCERT (12-22-05)

By Lawrence Budmen

Rarely heard concertos by Felix Mendelssohn and Bohuslav Martinu challenged both the audience and the contestants at the final round of the 10th Dranoff International Two Piano Competition.

The December 22 finals at the Lincoln Theater included the premiere of a new score by a former Dranoff winner and a filmed tribute to competition founder Loretta Dranoff. 

Judging at music competitions can sometimes be capricious. The presence of the De Stefano Piano Duo in the finals was a case in point. In the first movement of Mendelssohnís Concerto in E Major the performance by the De Stefano brothers was often bland and graceless. 

Martinuís 1943 Concerto was written for the virtuoso duo piano team of Luboschutz and Nemenoff. In a score that requires flawless technique the De Stefanos (winners of the $10,000 third prize) were hard pressed to meet the musicís bravura demands. 

All three duo-piano teams were given stalwart support by conductor Stewart Robertson. The Florida Classical Orchestra only approximated Martinuís virtuosic orchestral writing. 

The Seo and Kato Duo Ė well deserved winners of the $20,000 first prize - brought lightness of touch and giddy insouciance to the Mendelssohn excerpt. Their bright, fleet performance of the Martinu concerto was a total delight. The toccata- like outer movements were played with fizzy energy, replete with brilliantly cascading runs. 

Taking second place: The Varshavsky-Shapiro Duo offered the type of power pounding pianism that excites audiences. While the broad outlines of the Martinu were clearly projected, the duoís playing was not always neat and precise. 

The competitionís newly commissioned score Urban Pulse by Marcel Bergmann was a delightful essay in piano jazz. Combining strands of boogie woogie, Ravelís Gallic blues, and Dave Brubeckís Bach inspired counterpoint, Bergmann writes in a uniquely original voice that straddles the best of the classical and jazz worlds. The Yoshie and Takashi Duo played this winning score superbly. Their high voltage performance combined funky soul and pianistic fireworks with equal enthusiasm. 

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