Reviews of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Quarterfinal Round, session 6 (7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 30). You can see bios and complete repertoire of all pianists here.
For quick links to all our Cliburn reviews, click here.
South Korea, 25
HAYDN Sonata in E Major, Hob. XVI:31
RACHMANINOFF Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, op. 28
Kim was impressive in the preliminary round and even more so in the quarterfinal. His program consisted of two sonatas, one written 1774-76 by Haydn and the other in 1908 by Rachmaninoff, separated by time and style. Programming like this reveals Kim’s mastery of Baroque’s musical language and keyboard technique as well as that of the late romantic period—one a study in economy and the other a study in lavish virtuosity.
As the sonata progressed, we became aware of his performance sounding more authentic of the era than we usually hear. Here is a guess on how he did this on the modern piano: First, he hardly ever employed the sustaining pedal (which then harpsichord lacks). He played the legato phrases using finger legato, and played everything else with a not-quite-staccato and not-quite-legato touch, using clean attacks employing steely fingers. This combination of techniques resulted in a unique sound: dry for the modern piano but harkens back to the harpsicord’s distinctive, but non-expressive, plucking of the string by a quill.
Everything changed dramatically when he started the Rachmaninoff. This composer’s style is the epitome of slightly over-ripe and lush romanticism. Kim became a different pianist when he started the vacant introduction, fraught with foreboding. This dark expectation is the result of the composer having Goethe’s Faust in mind.
It is an interesting side note that the Rachmaninoff uses an expanded version of the same sonata form that Haydn developed. It is too much of a coincidence to be the result of serendipity.
This is not one of the composer’s more popular works and doesn't get many performances these days, but hearing Kim’s rendition makes you wonder why. He created so much sound that there were times when his dynamic performance sounded like a concerto being played with two pianos.
It was that superb.
United States, 30
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, op. 31, no. 3
SCHUMANN Carnaval, op. 9
Both pieces on Kudo’s program are lighthearted and even have some musical jokes and hidden codes, but she didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to entertain the audience with some humor at the same time she impressed them with her technique.
Schumann’s Carnaval is a work of program music. It describes an elaborate masked ball and uses a four-note cryptograph to refer to his friends that he includes at the party and musically describes. (Elgar did something similar in his Enigma Variations.)
Beethoven’s sonata includes many musical jokes and humorous passages. For example, he will write a short motif and becomes fascinated with it. He will toss it around for a few measures, like it was a physical object that he picked it up and examined from all directions. Then, he gets bored with it and puts it back where he found it.
Kudo is a fine musician and has a formidable technique and she greatly impressed in her preliminary round. She was equally impressive here but her lack of a sense of humor with these two lighthearted pieces is a conundrum. Why choose such pieces if you don’t have a knack for humor?
DEBUSSY Images, Book II
SCHUMANN Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, op. 11
Jurinic chose to play two works that are completely different. Debussy’s Images is a good example of impressionism, the radically different musical style he developed after his exposure to Asian music. It is all about effect and eschews any traditions, such as presenting melodic material. It is harmonically daring and, for all practical reasons, formless and ephemeral. On the other hand, Schumann’s sonata represents German tradition in a direct line from Bach and Beethoven. The musical language is solidly forthright and overflowing with melody. The form is in the traditional Sonata Allegro structure. The implied versus the stated.
Jurinic wisely started out with Images, in which the gossamer vagaries would seem insubstantial after the solidity of Schumann’s musical edifice. He captured the nature of the first image that Debussy paints, titled “Cloches à travers les feuilles” or “Bells Through the Leaves.” We heard Ravel’s impressionistic, but very different, bell ringing in the middle movement of Gaspard de la Nuit. Jurinic makes excellent use of the sustaining pedal to cloud Debussy’s music with a layer of musical fog. Parallel octaves were a capital offense to Schumann but Debussy revels in them here. Jurinic brought them out using a slight emphasis on the outer notes of the moving chords. The second image is as difficult to tie down as its title, “Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut.”
In a literal translation, you get “Descent of the moon upon the temple that is no more.” A better translation might be “The moon descending on the temple ruins” or the more poetic “The moon descending on the temple that was no more.” Jurinic played the series of chords and suspensions that runs through this piece very quietly, which required notable control over the keyboard. In the last, “Poissons d'or” (“Gold fish”), Jurinic kept the soft noodling that may represent how parts of a goldfish are always moving even when the core body is motionless. Jurinic achieved Debussy’s goal of creating visuals with only aurals to work with.
Schumann’s sonata was born of love. He was dating Clara, a great pianist and his future wife, and fresh love is intoxicating. In this work, Jurinic completely changed his approach to the instrument. His touch was firm and insistent when loud and incredibly soft other times, such as the practically inaudible note that ends the second movement. He carefully brought out Schumann’s treasure trove of melodies, even when they were not so obvious, such as the top note of chords. His tempi were right in the Goldilocks range and he took the long approach to the substantial ending.
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.