Yeah I didn't remember Bozhanov banging in the prelims/semis either (Schubert? amazing.) Have you heard the recording of Rachmaninoff himself playing it? In the beginning section that you mentioned, he actually does the same thing that Bozhanov did... I don't like it either though (is that a bad thing? not liking what the composer does with his own piece?
And about the concerti... the orchestra was CLEARLY incompetent. If you watch the documentaries from '05 and before, and then look around at the orch. this year though, there are a LOT of new people, so maybe that's why? Some things were completely disgusting though (coming out of the 1st mvt cadenza in Yeol Eum Son's Prokofiev 2nd, the low brass came in way late and at like... half tempo........ or the jump forward at the beginning of Tsujii's Rach 2...)
Memory did serve you right, Sarah. And I actually liked the Bates piece... in fact, I liked it so much that I bought the score (that and the Hagen suite, which I actually wasn't too thrilled with until Lifits played it. everyone here should check out his whole semifinal recital btw... liszt sonata, hagen suite, and the best prokofiev 7th ever)
As for the pianists this year not having the "wow" factor... maybe it was just because I was actually there, but quite a few of them seemed to have that for me. So much so that I lost count of how many "passed the goosebumps test", and 4 or 5 performances even brought me to tears... Di Wu's Rach 3, and her Miroirs from the prelims, Stephen Beus DEFINITELY had the "wow" factor w/ his barber sonata and spanish rhapsody (prelims), Eduard Kunz did in a different way in his Dvorak Quintet, in which I heard a ton of melodies I didn't even know existed before that he brought out, Zuo Zhang's Fireflies Etude (prelims), Haochen Zhang's Gaspard (finals), I could list more...
The one thing that disappointed me about this year was that we didn't really hear any Hungarian Rhapsodies, or the Reminiscences de Don Juan (sp??)