Dallas — 16-year-old pianist Chun Lam U of Hong Kong provided the high points on Monday afternoon’s session of the quarterfinal round of the Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition at Caruth Auditorium on the campus of Southern Methodist University.
U was the last of four pianists in the session, each of whom were required to perform a half-hour-long program including at least one movement of a classical-era Sonata and one lyrical romantic-era work. Within these parameters, U put together an efficiently wide-ranging repertoire to successfully show off his pianistic strengths.
He opened with Haydn’s Sonata in B minor (Hob. XVI: 32), exploring the energetic, slightly dark shades of the opening Allegro, then shifting to the light warmth of the central, B-major Minuet before turning to the motoric energy of the Finale. In Chopin’s Nocturne in B (Op. 9, No. 3), U achieved an exquisite balance, maintaining a perfect level of energy in the accompaniment while letting the melody sing.
U rounded out his neatly organized repertoire with one of the masterpieces of the 20th century—and one of the finest moments in the competition so far—with Bartók’s Piano Sonata, capturing the blood-curdling dissonance (and resonant low-pitched explosions) of the opening Allegro, followed by the bitter drones, chimes, and intriguing piano timbres in the work’s central Sostenuto movement. The exuberant, life-affirming Finale provided a final showcase for U’s intellectual and technical depth.
Russian-Armenian Eva Gevorgyan, 15, took a more complex, but similarly effective approach to demonstrating her pianistic breadth in her program, which included five pieces by four different composers. She opened with an authoritative rendition of the rippling scales of the Scherzo Finale of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 10 in G (Op. 14, No. 2), followed immediately by the brilliantly colorful and toccata-like “Seguidillas del diablo” (“Dance of the Devil”) from the Estampas andaluzas (Andalusian Scenes) of Joaquín Rodrigo. After a quick detour through Chopin’s C-sharp minor Nocturne (Op. 27, No. 1), Gevorgyan landed in the stormiest of Chopin’s Polonaises, the F-sharp minor (Op. 44); her final item, Saint-Saëns’ Étude en forme de valse (Op. 52, No. 6) provides an obstacle course of technical challenges (including nearly constant, rapid-fire glissando-like scale passages), while demanding an actor’s sense of timing, which Gevorgyan clearly possesses.
Japanese-American Naomi Yamaguchi, 15, opened the program by creating a nicely-controlled crescendo in the opening Allegro from Haydn’s Sonata in C (Hob. XVI:50)—surely one of the most cheerful works in the piano repertoire. She followed by the brilliant, appealingly sweeping Toccata of twentieth-century British composer York Bowen. Yamaguchi paired Chopin’s Nocturne in F-sharp (Op. 15, No. 2) and Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante to close her program, creating some appealing pianistic storm clouds and rippling passagework in the Polonaise.\
13-year-old Chung Yue Tien of Hong Kong achieved some beautiful clarity in a complete performance of Haydn’s Sonata in A-flat (Hob. XVI:43), followed by Chopin’s Etude in C-sharp minor (Op. 25, No. 7) and Mendelssohn’s Fantasy in F-sharp minor, mixing Mendelssohn’s dark landscapes and radiant passage-work.
» You can watch a live stream of the competition at Cliburn.org.
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