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2013 VAN CLIBURN INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION


  http://www.theaterjones.com/2013vancliburninternationalpianocompetition/20130606230745/2013-06-07/Cliburn-Finals-Sean-Chen
Sean Chen in his final performance on June 9 at the Cliburn

Cliburn Finals: Sean Chen

Reviews of the final concerti performances by the 24-year-old American in the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Second performance added.



published Sunday, June 9, 2013

Concerto 1: Friday, June 7

BEETHOVEN   Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, op. 73

With Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and conductor Leonard Slatkin

Photo: Robert Hart
Sean Chen in his first concerto round of the finals at the Cliburn 

Sean Chen has been an audience favorite from the early rounds. With his floppy hair and outstanding stage presence combined with an extraordinary technique and musicianship, this is little wonder. He already has some impressive wins in recent competitions and, as they say, nothing succeeds like success. His performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat Major had much to like.

He displayed a fine sense of the composer’s style right from the start. He played the extended piano introduction without the exaggeration that so often plagues performances, bringing an anachronistic touch of Tchaikovsky. Conductor Leonard Slatkin helped keep the tempo in the orchestral exposition moving along by switching back and forth from two to four as the music demands. He kept the dynamics under control until the big fortissimo chords and he distorted the piano sound in a most un-Beethovenish way and made a note splat in the process.

The opening of the second movement was beautiful and he proved that a real pianissimo can be every bit as impressive as the loudest playing. Another Beethoven device, the interplay of triplets and duples in the guise of sixteenth notes, was deftly handled. Best yet, he was excellent at keeping in his proper place when he only had an accompaniment figure under the winds, even when Beethoven cleverly disintegrates them into off-beats. A well planned transition got the Rondo off to an energetic start. As before, Chen was terrific in juxtaposing the triplets and sixteenths (duples) and his long trill was both fast and even. This was a fine performance that was only marred by a couple of uncharacteristic and completely avoidable note splats.

 

◊ Links to the other finalists in this session: Vadym KholodenkoTomoki Sakata 

Concerto 2: Sunday, June 9

RACHMANINOV   Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, op. 30

With Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and conductor Leonard Slatkin

Photo: Robert Hart
Sean Chen in his final performance on June 9 at the Cliburn

 

His mop of hair has its own fan club and the frail and impressionable swoon as he tosses it around in his initial bow, before he even sits down at the keyboard. It is Sean Chen, who arrived hot off another win at an even longer haul of a competition, lasting over several months:  the American Pianists Association in Indianapolis on April 19. None of this extra-musical folderol detracts from his intra-musical abilities. He was also remarkable for the quality of the programming he brought to the competition—not a note of Liszt. He included Ligeti, Stravinsky, Bartók, Chopin, Scriabin and even tackled (with mixed results) Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata.

His first concerto appearance with Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto, rightly called the “Emperor,” was a qualified impressive.  But by picking Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, op. 30, he failed to show his more conservative side with a Mozart concerto. Maybe that side of him is not all that stellar, which is OK. His earlier programs had some Bach, but nothing from the subtler classical period. If that is the case, and he is so young that this is completely understandable, then his choices were excellent.

Unfortunately, he was trying too hard in this performance of the Rachmininov and much of it was too loud. Right from the opening melody, marked piano (soft), he was at a mezzo forte. It is true that there are many very loud spots and places where the composer writes a triple forte, but for this to be effective, the pianist has to save that for those moments. Chen reached a reasonable expectation of that level before he got past the first few pages. This blunted the effect when such force was required.

He did achieve some very soft playing and some of the concerto was beautifully played. He brought out some inner voices that have rarely, if ever, been heard so prominently. This sent some of us back to the score for a look-see. But, there they were and Chen’s underlining was appreciated.

The other questionable interpretative decision that he made was to exaggerate all of the ritards at the end of the phrases. Some of them practically stopped, balanced on a single note before tumbling off on the other side. Occasionally, this device would have been effective. It became a mannerism as the work progressed and one especially long moment before he continued got a chuckle from some in the audience.

Chen is only 24 and all of the foibles mentioned above are those of the young, so please hold your hate mail. He is an astonishing talent and will probably have a brilliant career. The audience gave him a huge ovation and he is obviously a favorite for all the right and wrong reasons.

 

◊ Our profile of Sean Chen, 24, USA

Review of Semifinal Recital and Chamber performances

◊ Review of Preliminary Recital Phase I

◊ Review of Preliminary Recital Phase II

◊ You can see quick links to the reviews of the other finalists here Thanks For Reading




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Cliburn Finals: Sean Chen
Reviews of the final concerti performances by the 24-year-old American in the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Second performance added.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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