Reviews of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Quarterfinal Round 1 (10 a.m. Monday, May 29). You can see bios and complete repertoire of all pianists here.
For quick links to all our Cliburn reviews, click here.
SU YEON KIM
South Korea, 23
SCHUMANN Kreisleriana, op. 16
LISZT Vallée d’Obermann
Schumann’s collection of short piano pieces was not inspired by a specific poem or story. It was inspired the musician Johannes Kreisler, not a real person but a character in the works of E. T. A. Hoffmann (who Offenbach also mined for his opera The Tales of Hoffmann, and Tchaikovsky for his ballet The Nutcracker). This fictional character was manic and could change in a flash—and so do Schumann’s little pieces.
Kim’s mood changes were razor-sharp, making the audience wonder if it was another piece each time. Her playing was explosive one moment and reflective in the next, and then back to sturm und drang.
Liszt’s Vallée d’Obermann is the sixth piece in his two large collections based on his travels. It is from the first such collection, "Première année: Suisse" ("First Year: Switzerland") and was inspired by Senancour's novel of the same name. It deals with minor topics such as “Why was I born?” “Who am I?” “What is the answer to everything?” (Hint: It’s not "42," as in Douglas Adams’ hysterically funny book series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)
Kim got it most of the time. She did a great job singing a sad tune and her use of rubato, while slightly overdone, was effective in telling the story. As with a great number of the contestants, she was too loud for large swaths of the piece.
LISZT Ballade No. 2 in B Minor
RACHMANINOFF Variations on a Theme by Chopin, op. 22
Leonardo Pierdomenico was late entering so the welcome applause had stopped, but it started up again when he finally arrived on stage. Then, he had some problems with the piano bench, which has been issue for several competitors.
Liszt loved to write large piano pieces based on a horror novel by Gottfried August Bürger, which was published as a serial. It is all about zombies and skeleton bacchanals.
Pierdomenico played the grim melody while doing a fine job of adding the ominous rumblings in the left hand, giving the music a foreboding nature. He also was most impressive with all of Liszt’s hubristic virtuoso flights that suddenly appear for no musical reason. He sits upright with almost no body movement, reminiscent of Irish step dancers that only move their legs and feet. This was the best Liszt performance so far in the competition.
Next was the Rachmaninoff Variations on a theme by Chopin (Вариации на тему Ф. Шопен, in Russian). There are 22 variations in the first edition; the composer said that it was all right to do only three and the final presto. (Is there a concert pianist who would leave out the final presto? Doubtful.) Pierdomenico must love to play variations because he played a set by Brahms in the preliminary round. Maybe they suit his musical instincts, although this is the last set on his program.
These variations were as impressive as the previous Brahms. He ran some together so it didn’t have the feel that variations can usually elicit, of little short pieces strung together. He made a whole piece out of it with taking only an occasional breath between them. He plays with the confidence of an artist completely secure in what they play. He has the musicianship and the technique to pull it off.
BACH-BUSONI Chaconne in D Minor, BWV 1004
RAVEL Pavane pour une infante défunte
STRAVINSKY Trois mouvements de Petrouchka
Bach’s chaconne for unaccompanied violin is hallowed ground for the violinist. It is an astonishing masterpiece as a chaconne but even more so that it uses the multiple lines usually required by the form on one instrument. This also makes it a target for adaptation, this one by Busoni. Ilya Shmukler started off giving this greatly expanded take on Bach’s taunt original. Of special note is his incredibly clean octaves at a molto rapido tempi. The listener was always aware of the chaconne, which is no little task in the flurry of notes that surrounds it.
A pavane is a slow dance; the name comes from Pavan, the Hindu god of the wind. (How that became a slow and stately dance is a mystery). It is a slow dance all right, but it is usually processional, so perhaps Ravel pictured the procession at the funeral for the infante défunte. He took an unrushed tempo but forgot that it a dance of some sort and lavished too much rubato on it. That would give any dancer a fit.
Performances of the suite that Stravinsky pulled out of his ballet Petrushka frequently forget its origin. This is ballet music and there are visuals that go with the music. Shmukler did a fairly good job for communicating all the goings-on, at least as much as is possible with just a piano.
This is a virtuoso piece and playing it sensitively and cleanly is the mark of a concert pianist.
CLIBURN COMPETITION SCHEDULE
See links to all of our reviews that have posted here.
See the schedule of quarterfinal performances here.
- Monday, May 29: 10 a.m., 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
- Tuesday, May 30: 10 a.m., 2:30 and 7:30 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.