Reviews of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Quarterfinal Round, session 3 (7:30 p.m. Monday, May 29). You can see bios and complete repertoire of all pianists here.
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BACH-BUSONI Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639
RACHMANINOFF Variations on a Theme by Corelli, op. 42
SCRIABIN Sonata No. 10, op. 70
LISZT Scherzo and March
Busoni made several piano explorations of Bach’s music including the present one. (His piano elaboration on Bach’s Chaconne has already been played in the competition and more are coming up). Frequently, these works come off as more Busoni than Bach except occasionally a pianist will get it. Such was the case of this arrangement. Favorin’s thoughtful performance minimalized Busoni and made the Bach front and center all the way through.
Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme by Corelli, op. 42, is not based on something by Corelli, but Corelli used “La Folia,” a popular tune at the time (1700) for a set of variations. Rachmaninoff writes 20 variations and a coda and all are very different. Favorin paused between each variation, which gave the work a fragmented feeling. On the other hand, separating them by some negative space allowed the listener to savor each one for what it is: a unique variation. He helped us in this effort by capturing the distinct mood of each variation and played each in the manner it required.
This Scriabin sonata is famous, well in certain circles, for all its grills and tremolos. Scriabin said that was the case because it was about insects (go figure). It was his last sonata and the most demanding of all of them. Favorin caught the quasi-impressionist mood of the sonata and did a fine job communicating the variety, from mischievous to serious.
If the point of programming is to pick pieces that will display every aspect of your abilities, then the Liszt was a good choice to show off nimble fingers and the ability to play big chords rapidly.
The sudden appearance of the trills felt like the piece has Tourette’s and these are the tics. He started out slowly but it built to Lisztian proportions and he made short work of all the fireworks. One fast-moving section got to the very top notes on the instrument and sounded like a metal box full of small bells being shaken.
CHOPIN Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat Major, op. 29
CHOPIN Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, op. 23
BACH Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Minor, BWV 853
LIGETI Etude No. 13 “L’escalier du diable”
BARTÓK Sonata (1926)
The two Chopin pieces that opened his program were very different and displayed two aspects of his playing. In the Impromptu, he showed us his mastery of technique while the Ballade displayed a variety of skills such as his nimble fingers, wide chords and difficult fingerings. He played the impromptu with grace and turned out some excellent legato passages without the pedal, only using a finger legato. The Ballade featured some beautiful playing and the virtuoso passages were integral to the music rather than a tacked-on bauble.
He included some real Bach rather than another composer’s fabrication. This Bach Prelude and Fugue is one of 24 pieces that make up his monumental Well-Tempered Clavier. It requires steely fingers and great facility. His performance was amazingly clean and transparent. He did not romanticize the music nor did he play it as if on a harpsichord. He found a happy medium that would please most people, even the diehards in the historical practice societies.
An aside: Before well-tempered tuning, an instrument such as the harpsichord would generally be in tune but have certain intervals that were clunkers. What well-tempered tuning did was to split the difference. So, every note is a little out of tune, but not noticeable to the human ear. Thus you can play in any of the 24 major and minor keys and never have a note drastically out of tune.
Ligeti’s Étude No. 13 “L’escalier du diable” is a fascinating piece from Ligeti’s études, each addressing a technical problem that needs particular attention. This one goes up and down the Devil’s Staircase (the keyboard) using a series of very difficult passageworks in close chromatics. It is considered one of the most difficult works to attempt. Sun played it without any troubles and it was an exciting ride.
The Bartók sonata is still tonal but the hold of traditional harmony is fast slipping away. This is a very dissonant work that is extremely difficult to play. In fact, it can’t be played on most pianos because it is written for an Imperial Bösendorfer piano that has extra keys in the bottom range of the instrument. Thus, some notes, especially in the second movement, do not exist on any other instrument. Adjustments must be made. Sun gave a magnificent performance of this very difficult finger-buster and his changes with those missing notes were impossible to detect.
Overall, this was a spectacular recital with a great range of pieces from many centuries.
CHOPIN Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, op. 60
CHOPIN Two Nocturnes, op. 62
CZERNY Variations from a Theme by Rode in E-flat Major, op. 33
KABALEVSKY Rondo in A Minor, op. 59
After the preliminary round, Carroccia was the favorite of many in attendance. His quarterfinalist recital was artistically a success but his programming left something to be desired. He gave magnificent performance of the two Chopin selections that entranced the audience. The Czerny that followed was sleepy as well, with only a few moments of some vigor. The Kabalevsky was more energetic but it was short and by the end of the program and he had lost us.
Carroccia is a magnificent pianist with a special understanding of the inner-workings of the music and can communicate that to the listener. Maybe the programming didn’t affect the judge’s decision if they were judging just the performances of each work, but it couldn’t have helped. We'll see what they have to say.
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 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.