Luigi Carroccia

Cliburn Preliminary Round 6

Reviews of the sixth preliminary round at the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition: Luigi Carroccia, Nikolay Khozyainov, and Nikita Abrosimov.

published Saturday, May 27, 2017

Reviews of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Preliminary Round 6 (10 a.m. Saturday, May 27). You can see bios and complete repertoire of all pianists here

See links to all of our reviews that have posted here.



Italy, 25


GLUCK-SGAMBATI “Mélodie” from Orfeo ed Euridice
CHOPIN Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major, op. 61
SCRIABIN Sonata No. 3 in F-sharp Minor, op. 23
HAMELIN Toccata on “L’homme armé”


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Luigi Carroccia


Luigi Carroccia took the stage with an air of confidence born out of being secure with his abilities. And was he ever. As his performance went on, the realization of his gift only grew stronger.

They can all play the notes rapidly and most can even get into the music. Carroccia was something different. He gave each selection a definitive performance, and that is not a compliment nor hyperbole. It is a fact, and one that continued to reveal itself as the program continued, until it became impossible to dismiss. He has that elusive who-knows-what that separates one artist from the others, and the chatter at intermission confirmed that the audience also realized the excellence we experienced.

There isn’t any reason to pull out my thesaurus of adjectives to describe the program in detail. He delivered a spectacular performance, sitting upright on the chair only needing to use his body in the biggest moments for effect. The other thing to mention is the complete independence of his hands, as if they belonged to two different people. They complemented each other, sometimes in the background and other times taking the lead. If there was a wrong note, I didn’t hear it. But I did hear many notes that I never realized were there as he brought out hidden nuggets in practically every phrase.

In the Gluck, we heard him play the solo line as if it were on a string or wind instrument. What a lovely way to start what looks like a grueling day!

In the Chopin, he knew exactly what to do. Some statements were incredibly soft and the big ones were forceful without overplaying the instrument. Some upward scales were more like a breeze than real notes. The penultimate chords were hushed to allow for one final splash.

When he started the Scriabin, we were suddenly in another sonic universe and he was equally at home.

He closed with the Hamelin, which in other hands may not be the wisest move. Not to worry. His conception leaned to the romantic side but as seen through Ravel. He sent me back to the score to see if I missed the boat on my initial evaluation of it.

He may have looked calm and collected. And perhaps he was, but his frequent mop of his brow showed how hard he was working on the inside. It was an amazing performance and it will be a shock if he doesn’t advance.




Russia, 24


HAYDN Sonata in D Major, Hob. XVI:33
CHOPIN Etude in C Major, op. 10, no. 1
RACHMANINOFF Étude-Tableau in C Minor, op. 39, no. 1
LISZT Après un lecture de Dante (Fantasia quasi sonata)
HAMELIN Toccata on “L’homme armé”


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Nikolay Khozyainov


When Khozyainov played in the 2013 Cliburn, this was part of my review:

He is such an astonishing talent, with a technique that experienced masters would envy. He also has sure musical instincts and excellent control. All this is packed into a 20-year-old prodigy who is in the process of becoming an artist for the ages. However, while he is in this process, we get wildly inconsistent performances that are all exciting to experience. There is nothing wrong with experimentation when you are 20.

As this year’s first appearance demonstrated, he has got it down. Perhaps because he didn’t arrive with such eager anticipation this year, we heard him anew. All the positive things about his playing—and they abound—were still there and improved. The difference was in his approach to the piano and his interpretation of the music. He obviously has made good use of the past four years and he should be in contention again this year. (He made it to the semifinals in 2013; and if he doesn’t make the finals this time, he would still be eligible for the 2021 Cliburn, age-wise.)

After taking the stage, he sat down and immediately launched into the Haydn. He played it with a hat-tip to historically correct performance practices while still taking full advantage of the Steinway’s capabilities (which would have astounded Haydn). The second movement grew out of the first and he launched directly into the last movement. This gave the piece a unity that Haydn would have loved—as did we. There were plenty of opportunities to see his nimble fingers in action, which only created anticipation for what was to come.

The Chopin ètude is the right hand’s nightmare. Chopin keeps it frantically running up and down the keyboard with a blindingly fast tempo all the way from start to finish. Many a pianist has floundered on the constant movement but Khozyainov tossed it off with such finesse and élan that you couldn’t be faulted for thinking it is not so difficult. Believe me, it is.

Things were much the same in the Rachmaninoff. He put many of the virtuoso passages in the service of the music rather than his own glory. He overplayed the instrument but this was a spectacular performance.

The Liszt is one of the composer’s better efforts and Khozyainov took full advantage of the riches found in the score. Some individual passages that stood out were the speed of the octave trill and the clarity of the repeated notes. His one problem will probably cure itself as he gets older. He is over-eager and plays too loudly too often. This pulled the teeth of the really big moment when it arrived. He was out of sonic ammunition and missed the chance to bolt right past “impressive” to blowing the audience away.




Russia, 28


RACHMANINOFF Variations on a Theme by Corelli, op. 42
HAMELIN Toccata on “L`homme armé”
STRAVINSKY Trois mouvements de Petrouchka


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Nikita Abrosimov


When Abrosimov appeared at the 2013 Cliburn I commented that he frequently disappointed. I should have clarified that. I meant that he disappointed when compared to what he should be doing. He is a astonshingy talented pianist, with sure technique and correct musical ideas. Now, all of that brutality to the instrument is under control and only comes out to play when it lets it loose.

Like Khozyainov before him, the four years have been wisely spent and a complete artist has returned. He still likes to take chances to get the effect he wants. A few of his high-flying attacks didn’t hit the mark dead on, but that is preferable to being too cautious and missing the note’s intent. In the Rachmaninoff, he blunted the big moment by going to that well way too often, but it was an exciting performance.

The Hamelin got a modernist reading this time, with hints of Ravel and even Stravinsky. He was at his best, so far, in this work. Contemporary music seems to suit him.

This theorum was born out when he launched into Stravinsky’s arrangement of music from his ballet Petrouchka. The key to his excellent rendition is that he showed us that this was theatrical music that related to specific things happening on the stage. He caught the mood of each selection and, even if you didn’t know the ballet, you got the essence of what was going on. He set a very fast tempo, but he was able to pull it off—his hands were frequently a blur. It was too loud, of course, and his risk-taking occasionaly made the effect without complete accuracy. All this aside, Abrosimov’s performance of this piece was one of the best in memory.





See links to all of our reviews that have posted here.

See the schedule of preliminary performances here.


  • Thursday, May 25: 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
  • Friday, May 26: 10 a.m., 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 27: 10 a.m., 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 28: 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.



  • Monday, May 29: 10 a.m., 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 30: 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.



  • Thursday, June 1: 7:30 p.m.
  • Friday, June 2: 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. 
  • Saturday, June 3: 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. 
  • Sunday, June 4: 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. 
  • Monday, June 5: 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.  



  • Wednesday, June 7: 7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 8: 7:30 p.m.
  • Friday, June 9: 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 10: 3 p.m.


  • Saturday, June 10: 7 p.m.
 Thanks For Reading

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Cliburn Preliminary Round 6
Reviews of the sixth preliminary round at the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition: Luigi Carroccia, Nikolay Khozyainov, and Nikita Abrosimov.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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