Reviews of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Semifinal Recital Round, session 3 (7:30 p.m. Friday, June 2). You can see bios and complete repertoire of all pianists here.
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BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, op. 106 “Hammerklavier”
SHOSTAKOVICH Sonata No. 1, op. 12
Yury Favorin began his program with one of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire: Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” sonata. In addition to its awesome technical demands, it is also the first example of very long sonata, clocking in at 50 minutes or so of strenuous playing. Just by programming it, Favorin made a statement that he can play anything.
His opening chords were more stately than loud. It was an early example of his careful attention to Beethoven’s dynamic layering. The entire sonata uses a descending third as a motto, and Favorin brought this out in the opening chords. The first movement has three significant themes and moves through different keys, some distant from the home key. Once again, Favorin brought this out with subtle accents when the key changed.
The second movement went by in a flash. He set a quick tempo that was bright and cheery. His used his forearm for the staccato attacks, launching them from above the keyboard: effective but dangerous, as there is a risk of hitting a wrong key.
The slow movement is quite long; at 20 minutes, it’s just under half of the total length of the entire piece. Nothing bright and cheery here. It is downright morose. Favorin took it very slow—at times it felt glacial—which made it hard to follow the line, but he brought out the depth of its misery. The true test of a pianist’s ability is the big fugue in the last movement. It is in three voices, and the difficulty is bringing them all out. Favorin made this happen and his rendition was transparent enough so we heard all the complex counterpoint. It was a remarkable performance.
He followed the Beethoven with another famously difficult work, Shostakovich’s Sonata No. 1, op. 12. It is the most dissonant of his early works, some of it atonal. It is in one movement, but it is constantly changing tempo and pacing. Favorin accented its restless nature, even the slow part kept up the restless nature of the entire piece.
This recital was amazing, with two technical monsters that were successfully played.
SCHUMANN Waldszenen, op. 82
MEDTNER “Alla Reminiszenza” from Forgotten Melodies, op. 38
MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition
The Schumann Waldszenen (forest scenes) is a collection of nine relatively short piano pieces (the longest is only three minutes or so). The titles are varied from “Hunters looking for prey” to “Lonely flowers.” Tchaidze gave each movement a different characteristic based on the titles. This is program music and he tried to tell the tale musically. Mostly, he succeeded in the difficult task of conveying what amounts to movie scenes.
We don’t hear much of Medtner’s output in the west. In Russia, he is frequently programmed. This is part of two series of occasional pieces from Forgotten Memories and the conundrum of the two words in the name was Grainger’s own message. Tchaidze gave this one a very romantic reading and luxuriated in the beautiful melody.
The next work is another one that requires the pianist to convey nonmusical objects by musical means. It helps to actually see the pieces of art before hearing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, but Tchaidze’s performance was so vivid that, even if it conjured up a different image, it would be close to the actual image. The main thing that this performance accomplished was to move this piece into the top difficulty level. In lesser hands, this is not a showpiece, but Tchaidze brought out the magic of Mussorgsky’s music. Not only did he musically paint the images, but he mastered all of the technical challenges that most performers miss.
I don’t know why this is, but Tchaidze made all other performances I have heard bland and pedestrian. Tchaidze set Bass Hall ablaze. The audience knew that we were hearing something special, maybe even a few musical miracles, along the way. The audience gave Tchaidze a spontaneous standing ovation and demanded many curtain calls. He redefined the piece, mostly by showing what was always there.
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.