Daniel Hsu in the quarterfinal round

Cliburn Quarterfinal Round 2

Reviews of the second quarterfinal session at the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition: Dasol Kim, Tristan Teo, Martin James Bartlett, and Daniel Hsu.

published Monday, May 29, 2017

Reviews of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Quarterfinal Round, session 2 (2:30 p.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.



South Korea, 28


SCRIABIN Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp Major, op. 30
CHOPIN 24 Preludes, op. 28


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Dasol Kim in the quarterfinal round


Scriabin’s fourth sonata comes off as a last movement of the third sonata, because they are closely linked to the end of the third. Even though it is in two movements, they are played without a pause.

Kim snuck into the sonata so quietly that we barely noticed (of course, we could see his hands, so that is not exactly true—but you get the point). He unleashed the music in short order and let it find its own way forward. Scriabin’s music is mystical and ecstatic and it tells you how to play it. Too slow or two fast and it falls apart. He gave it a strong performance, combining both sides of the composer’s musical identity.

At first, I wondered why he decided to play all 24 of Chopin’s preludes. Reportedly, Chopin never played more than four of five in any concert. But the short nature of many of them and their orderly march through all the major and minor keys makes you wonder what his intent really was. He didn’t name them, although some have acquired nicknames as time marched on.

This time, hearing them in Kim’s capable hands, I was sold on playing them all. It felt as natural as if they were in a suite like Schumann’s Kreisleriana. This is because of Kim’s pondering about how to hook them by coordinating tempi, and the way he played them. He had great balance between his hands so the line we need to hear was always the alpha dog. Even when the melodic material was the top note in a chord, he brought it out. That dynamic plan also included specific preludes; some short ones brought a quick crescendo and a pared decrescendo that brought mayflies to mind. They fly free for only a few hours before their glorious but short life ends.

In the ones that contain rippling accompaniments, he kept that passagework noodling well under the melodic material. As it turns out, it was an inspired selection and the audience responded as if he had played a Liszt showoff piece.




Canada, 20


BACH Toccata in D Minor, BWV 913
RAVEL Gaspard de la nuit
KAPUSTIN Variations, op. 41


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Tristan Teo in the quarterfinal round


Teo opened with Bach, which requires nimble fingers, careful layering of voices and a sensitive choice of tempi. He started off on the slow side but soon got up to tempo—a very clever idea. His playing was exact and clean, even in the fastest parts. There were places when he took a breath between phrases to give them an identity. He ended it with a very fast tempo that brought it home in a spectacular manner.

His Gaspard was immaculately played but it differed with his interpretation. He played it in a straight-forward manner, adding on a little rubato here and there. This is a very romantic piece and it needs to be soaked in rubato so that the phrases can rise and fall, even internally.

Nikolai Girshevich Kapustin is a great example of the recent freedom that composers have to write in any style they feel is natural to their voice. As we heard in this selection, he writes in a mixture of jazz and piano bar (no tip jar however). Teo knocked it out the park with his easy style and serious intent. The audience gave him a rousing ovation.




United Kingdom, 20


SCARLATTI Sonata in E Major, K. 380
SCARLATTI Sonata in B Minor, K. 27
GRANADOS “El amor y la muerta” from Goyescas, op. 11
PROKOFIEV Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, op. 83


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Martin James Bartlett in the quarterfinal round



These two Scarlatti sonatas, like most of his others, are short but require great clarity and precise fingers and Bartlett has both attributes. Thus, they made an excellent introduction to his quarterfinal round. They were slightly romanticized, but that is common these days. The first one is well known and the second one was very fast. In both, he kept the lines separate so we had no trouble following both.

When he is playing, he is so at ease that he could be in his own living room with no one listening.

Scanning his selections, one can assume that he wanted to display his ability to realize a performance in several different styles. And so it was. In the Granados, he started with a haunted haze and then took off with some Spanish passion. Not only was this his style of playing—even the piano sounded different. This was very lush playing and he breathed with the singing line—very rare in a pianist who doesn’t have to do so. In this competition we've previously heard Liszt’s bowdlerization of Schumann’s lovely song and it sounded more like Liszt than Schumann. Bartlett’s version was the opposite. The song came first to him.

Prokofiev’s seventh sonata appears to be a popular choice this year. Bartlett launched a preemptive strike and, except for a respite in the second movement, had the sonata on the run, with guns blazing, the rest of the way. A quote from Tina Turner’s intro to her version of CCR’s “Proud Mary” came to mind: “We never, ever do nothin’ nice and easy. We always do it nice and rough.” This performance was a wild ride and the audience went wild when it finally screeched to a stop.




United States, 19


BACH-BUSONI Chaconne in D Minor, BWV 1004
MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Daniel Hsu in the quarterfinal round


Programming Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is a risky move in a competition because it requires the barely playable to be mastered. Another drawback is that the eleven different pieces are musical depictions of paintings. (They connect with a promenade as you move from one to another.) Thus, the pianist needs to musically paint a vision of the painting for the audience.

Hsu overcame both problems with his superb musicianship, creative imagination and impeccable technique. It was a perfect choice for his unique combination of talents and he wowed the audience. Not all was perfect, however. Some movements were on the fast side, such as “The Old Castle,” which wasn’t as creepy and mildewed at Hsu’s pace. He even used different ways of playing, such as pounding the keyboard from about a foot over it and landing hard. This was terrific, and 99 percent of the audience didn’t even hear the few note splats that inevitably occur when aiming at the note from that distance. His performance was involving and whipped up a frenzy in the crowd.

He opened with another piece that has been showing up with some regularity, Busoni’s piano arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne, originally for unaccompanied violin. His performance came off better than others because of the way he played it—with more Bach and less Busoni.

An aside: This is a notoriously difficult piece for the violinist and is a watermark in their career. If you can play it successfully, you have arrived. It was the first piece that Joshua Bell played when he posed as a busker in a Washington, D.C., subway station and everyone walked by. It was an experiment to see if anyone would notice that the guy playing was a great violinist. They didn’t.






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 p.m. 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.
 Thanks For Reading


Tanya writes:
Saturday, June 3 at 3:17PM

Joshua Bell was pretending to be a busker at a Washington D.C. metro station, not a New York subway station.

Mark Lowry writes:
Sunday, June 4 at 9:57AM

Thanks for that correction. It has been fixed in the review.

Dates, Prices, & Other Details

View the Article Slideshow

Comment on this Article

Share this article on Social Media
Click or Swipe to close
Cliburn Quarterfinal Round 2
Reviews of the second quarterfinal session at the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition: Dasol Kim, Tristan Teo, Martin James Bartlett, and Daniel Hsu.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

Share this article on Facebook
Tweet this article
Share this article on Google+
Share this article via email
Click or Swipe to close
views on theater, dance, classical music, opera and comedy performances
news & notes
reports from the local performing arts scene
features & interviews
who and what are moving and shaking in the performing arts scene
season announcements
keep up with the arts groups' upcoming seasons
listen to interviews with people in the local performing arts scene
media reviews
reviews and stories on performing arts-related film, TV, recordings and books
arts organizations
learn more about the local producing and presenting arts groups
performance venues
learn more about the theaters and spaces where the arts happen
keep up with fabulous ticket giveaways and other promotions
connect to local arts crowdfunding campaigns
post or view auditions and performing arts-related classes, services, jobs and more
about us
info on TheaterJones, our staff, what we do and how to contact us
Click or Swipe to close
First Name:
Last Name:
Date of Birth:
ZIP Code:
Your Email Address:
Click or Swipe to close
Join TheaterJones Around the Web

Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe to our Youtube Channel

Click or Swipe to close
Search the TheaterJones Archives
Use any or all of the options below to search through all of reviews, interviews, features and special sections. If you are looking for a an event, use the calendar section of this website. This search will not search through the calendar.
Article Title Search:

Description Search:
TheaterJones Contributor:

TheaterJones Section:

Showing on or after:      Showing on or before:  
Click or Swipe to close
We welcome your comments

I am discussing:  

Your Name:
Your Email Adress:

please enter the text below and then click or tap SUBMIT :