Reviews of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Semifinal Concerto Round, session 5 (7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 3). You can see bios and complete repertoire of all pianists here.
For quick links to all our Cliburn reviews, click here.
Note about the Semifinal Concerti:
The semifinalists play a Mozart concerto, which they pre-selected from the range of his concerti numbered in the 20s. They’re joined by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Nicholas McGegan.
While these concerti are not something transcendentally difficult, they present other challenges. Musically, they demand constant attention to dynamics. The harpsichord had two keyboards—one was loud and the other soft. Much of his early music followed this model. The fortepiano was a great leap forward in that it could play loud and soft, and the whole range in between. Naturally, this changed everything. The fortepiano could now affect the same ability to play crescendi and notes of varying dynamics at the same time. This was a major advance and it allowed the piano to play the same range of dynamic effects as the organ.
McGegan is an expert in the Baroque and Classical eras. So much was expected, but our hopes were dashed when he started. In a previous review of him, I commented that he doesn’t get the difference between the two musical styles and has confused conducting with interpretive dance. Such was the case here. Traditional downbeats were rare, but he conveyed much with his face. He conducts without a baton, the traditional way to make your arm longer and to give the conductor extra length to allow a better chance at being seen by the entire group. It is usually white because almost everyone participating is in black.
Now to the pianists in the first concerto round.
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466
When it comes to musical output, Mozart’s music always ranks at the top of many lists of favorites. Somehow over the decades this concerto, No. 20, has become one of Mozart’s most popular.
Since this was the first time we heard the Fort Worth Orchestra in the Cliburn, a few comments about the orchestra might be in order. They play with far better intonation and ensemble than even a year ago.
Pierdomenico has mastered Mozart’s style and he turned in a historically correct performance. McGegan overplayed the tutti sections and exceeded the proper dynamics. The problem with this it that it sets a dynamic range that the piano can’t match.
If the pianist tried to play at that level, it would lose any semblance of historical accuracy. Pianist and conductor had another kerfuffle in the second movement, as McGegan started at a very slow tempo but when Pierdomenico entered, he took the concerto at a faster tempo.
In some ways, this is an unfair criticism because the pianists have had very little rehearsal time with the orchestra. That quibble aside, it was a wonderful performance.
United States, 23
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503
Broberg walked out wearing tails, the standard concert wear for soloists for decades. He tossed the tail behind him, so as not to sit on it, with an elegant flare. He played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503, written in 1786. McGegan gave him a Beethovenish reading of the introduction, with some phrases exceeding the dynamic level, but Broberg didn’t fall into that trap. He played the concerto with finesse and didn’t even try to meet McGegan’s tempo. In addition, McGegan frequently exceeded the accepted standard markings and phrasing. Despite these communication troubles between soloist and conductor, Broberg gave a graceful performance, and he wrote his own cadenza—a rarity these days.
United States, 19
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467
Hsu picked Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467. It has much in it that shows off technical excellence as well as musical instincts. The first movement sparkles with positive thoughts and summer joy. The music even has a skip in it. The cadenza had some troubles with a riff with hands together that rapidly moved up the keyboard and a few times in the journey that were not exactly together (admittedly, this is a quibble, but this is also the Cliburn).
The second movement is quite famous because it was used in the Swedish film Elvira Madigan, which dates from 1967, and Neil Diamond turned it into “Song Sung Blue” in 1972.
The movement is also a study, an étude, for finger legato: overcoming the piano’s classification as a percussion instrument to let it sing like the voice. Hsu did an outstanding job with this and it was entrancing.
All day the orchestra has been too loud, and so it was here. Some of the sustained chords in the orchestra were too loud, forcing Hsu to raise the volume level on this singing line.
Hsu set a lively pace for the last movement, but he took a little time out of the race to polish the ends of phrases. He added many unusual touches but everything he played was completely within classical guidelines.
South Korea, 28
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466
Dasol Kim gave us an encore performance of MOZART’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466. He started it off a little slower than expected but he imbued it with quiet and peacefulness. As before, the orchestra tended to play too loudly, so he adjusted his volume level on the fly. His combination of steely fingers that can also deliver a legato line served him well. He was on his own most of the time because McGegan rarely looked over at him in critical spots. The last movement was fast—very fast—but he made a case for the metronome setting he used. You can’t help but wonder how many pianists can sustain that tempo for the entire movement. Obviously, Kim can do it and it was fun to hear.
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.