Reviews of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Semifinal Recital Round, session 8 (2:30 p.m. Monday, June 5). You can see bios and complete repertoire of all pianists here.
For quick links to all our Cliburn reviews, click here.
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 4 in E-flat Major, op. 7
CHOPIN Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, op. 23
CHOPIN Ballade No. 2 in F Major, op. 38
CHOPIN Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, op. 47
CHOPIN Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, op. 52
Leonardo Pierdomenico’s program seemed odd at first, with an early Beethoven sonata and Chopin’s Four Ballades. Upon listening to his recital, I revised my thinking because the Beethoven displayed such musicianship. The impromptus are all different and the last one ends with an audience rouser with its flurry of notes.
Beethoven’s fourth sonata was written in 1798 for a student named Babette. Not all students get their own sonata, but Babette happened to be a countess, and rank has its privileges. Although an early work, this is one of his longest sonatas (except for the Hammerklavier).
Pierdomenico opened the sonata with Haydn-esque charm. His attention to details was immediately apparent as we heard his clear staccato playing and the first of several subito piano (suddenly soft) markings. His sforzando attacks were sharp and loud, as they should be, but he didn’t overplay them and kept them in context of the sonata.
Pierdomenico frequently took some time at the ends of phrases before starting out on a new section. It felt long as we waited for the next shoe to drop, but once we got used to it, there was appreciation for his use of negative space. This was more evident in the second movement but occurred throughout the sonata. His careful approach to dynamics brought us some exceptional soft passages and even the loudest moments were within scale.
The Chopin Ballades proved to be a good choice for the occasion. Chopin is credited with inventing the form and took the name from the medieval minstrels. They used it as a newspaper, singing about current events as they traveled around. Chopin’s Ballades are also based on a story, but it, as well as the source, are in dispute, so the listener can make up their own with impunity.
That was easy to do with Pierdomenico’s colorful renditions. He moved from very soft to explosive, but he connected all the dynamics and sections into one piece. The end of the last one was breathtaking.
United States, 23
SCHUBERT Four Impromptus, D. 899, op. 90
LISZT Sonata in B Minor
This was an afternoon for sets of pieces. Leonard Pierdomenico just played Chopin’s Four Ballades and now Kenneth Broberg gives us Schubert’s set of Four Impromptus, Op. 90. Some musicologists opine that Schubert was writing a sonata but decided to cut the movements into separate pieces. Whatever the case, these four pieces were welcomed into the standard repertoire.
The opening of the first one is a great way to start, with its octaves like a firm knock on the door. Schubert is best known as a songwriter and spinner of great melodies, and Broberg made beautiful music with each opportunity. He knew exactly what to bring out and when to relegate to accompaniment.
Occasionally, he brought out a few single notes in the left hand that we needed to hear. His tempi were exact. The second movement’s chromatic scale-based tune was jolly, and there was a stunningly beautiful melody in the third one. He took that fourth one at a lightning-fast speed, but it worked within the arpeggio-laden movement.
Liszt’s sonata is a standard in competitions, but not in recitals. Many musicologists have guessed about the underlying program. They go from one tale to another, such as nothing less than the fall of humans in the Garden of Eden. Even though it’s in one long movement, it divides into the four sections of the more standard sonata. Some evidence exists that Liszt wrote a huge flashy ending, as is his wont, but decided to end it in a more dramatic whisper.
Broberg gave the sonata a unique performance, and I don’t use that word lightly. Some purists may have considered it somewhat distorted, but for me, it was the best and most thoughtful performance of it in memory. He carefully modulated the dynamics so that the big moment was the actual apex. All the virtuoso work vanished as he played them as more elaborate ornamentation. The runs led us somewhere as opposed to taking a moment out of the sonata to show off nimble fingers. He played all the notes, but what was so impressive is that he played the music and gave a guess at its subtext. There were way too many wonderful things Broberg did, but that is not the purpose of a short review. Let’s just say that he made the entire sonata wonderful.
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.