Reviews of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Semifinal Round, session (7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 1). You can see bios and complete repertoire of all pianists here.
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United States, 19
SCHUBERT Four Impromptus, D. 899, op. 90
BRAHMS Variations on a Theme by Handel, op. 24
The four impromptus are connected to each other, as variations on two themes. Hsu started off accenting the two double octave notes on G. He leaned over the keyboard in such a dramatic opening gesture that his nose almost hit the piano’s keyboard cover. He played the tune in a very simple and plain manner, using some impressive finger legato.
Generally, he did a fine job of bringing out the melodic interest and keeping everything else subservient. There were some opportunities for him to show his technical abilities. One especially noticeable downward run on the first impromptu started at the top of the keyboard and a steely finger technique gave it a tinkly charm. He used the sustaining pedal in a most creative way—sometimes not at all and other times he soaked the music with it. His use of rubato was occasionally out of bounds but he delivered a musically astute performance.
Like Beethoven before him, Brahms loved to write variations on borrowed themes. In this set, he took a theme from one of Handel’s harpsicord suites. It’s considered to be one of his best efforts. Hsu gave them all a unique identity, even when one variation grew out of the previous one. When that didn’t happen and there was a complete break, Hsu inserted a melodramatic pause. This was not really needed, especially so lengthy. It seemed like they got longer as the piece progressed. As with the Schubert, his use of the sustaining pedal was erratic, but it worked most of the time. But he really opening the spillways for the very exciting fugue at the end of the piece, and it brought the audience to its feet.
He is a fine pianist with a brilliant career it front of him. He only needs to de-dramatize his interpretations and let the music speak for itself without his assistance.
South Korea, 28
MENDELSSOHN Fantasie in F-sharp Minor, op. 28 (“Scottish Sonata”)
KAPUSTIN Intermezzo in D-flat Major, op. 40, no. 7
SCHUBERT Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960
Mendelssohn is always welcome on a recital, as his delightful and breezy style is beautiful and involving. This piece is also one of the most difficult to play of his many piano works. Kim’s technique is well-established at this point, so this piece didn’t present much of a challenge—or at least that seemed to be the case. In the first movement, he accented all the twists and turns of Mendelssohn’s long melody without impeding its progress. The second movement is a scherzo, something particularly suited to Mendelssohn’s musical gifts. Kim took that tune through some different treatments and it sounded new—but familiar—each time. The third movement is marked Presto and so it was. This tempo, while maybe slightly too fast, allowed him to pull out all the fireworks.
A work by Kapustin is always welcome because of not only its gin-and-tonic style, so rare in the concert hall, but for its tight construction. He is a fine composer and has all the tools necessary to create some masterpieces in the canon. Kim relaxed and appropriately let the music play by itself.
Schubert’s sonata in B-flat Major is one of his most popular works for piano and marks the end of his writing for the instrument.
Kim made full use of the tranquil and richly voiced opening theme, which is a thing of great beauty. He nursed it again and again as it reappeared. By contrast, the melodic material of the second movement is morose and downcast. He deftly handled these contrasts throughout the sonata. This was a magnificent reading of one of the pillars of the repertoire.
CLIBURN COMPETITION SCHEDULE
See links to all of our reviews that have posted here.
See the schedule of semifinal performances here.
- Thursday, June 1: 7:30 p.m. (recital)
- Friday, June 2: 2:30 (recital) and 7:30 p.m. (recital)
- Saturday, June 3: 2:30 (recital) and 7:30 p.m. (concerto)
- Sunday, June 4: 2:30 (recital) and 7:30 p.m. (concerto)
- Monday, June 5: 2:30 (recital) and 7:30 p.m. (concerto)
- 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.