Honggi Kim in the semifinal concerto

Cliburn Semifinal Round 7

Reviews of the seventh semifinal session at the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition: Yutong Sun, Honggi Kim, Yury Favorin, Georgy Tchaidze.

published Sunday, June 4, 2017

Reviews of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Semifinal Concerto Round, session 7 (7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 4). You can see bios and complete repertoire of all pianists here.

For quick links to all our Cliburn reviews, click here.




China, 21


MOZART Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Yutong Sun in the semifinal concerto


Mozart didn’t use the key of D-minor often and always with bad news, such as his Requiem and the Queen of the Night’s high-flying aria from The Magic Flute ("Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen").

Sun caught the dark nature of the movement but didn’t lighten the second theme as much as he could have. That is an observation and not a criticism because Sun made it work. In the second movement, he observed the different character of the movement as it progressed. The final movement, a still dark rondo, started off with a spectacular run in the piano and the orchestra piled on with a huge (too huge) response. 

Overall, this was an elegant performance. He tended to rush on occasion and hints of Beethoven’s more assertive voice yet to come. Yet this was an exciting performance and Mozart’s intent came through.




South Korea, 25


MOZART Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Honggi Kim in the semifinal concerto


This concerto was written at the same time as his magnificent opera, The Marriage of Figaro, which is of interest because of the double exposition, first with the orchestra and then the piano. The second movement owes a lot to opera in general. Then there is a third theme that comes from nowhere.

Kim enjoyed playing this concerto for us, maybe because he left the pressure of the competition backstage. It was obvious to the audience. After all, this is not his first competition. Like most of the others, he has traveled the competition circuit and won many of them. His enjoyment came from confidence in his mastery of the concerto—like everything else he has played so far.

This is not one of the transcendentally difficult concerti as far as notes go; it’s a test of musicianship. Kim passed summa cum laude, giving an elegant performance with near-perfect attention to the overall architecture and Mozart’s intentions. 

He was hampered by conductor Nicholas McGegan, who frequently missed Kim’s observance of the rhythm. For example, Kim played a ¾ section in one while McGegan was in three. (This is a big difference.) The conductor frequently overpowered him with orchestral splendor, forcing Kim to raise his dynamic level in order to be heard. Thus, he was frequently above Mozart’s idea of loud and soft but not in his solo passages. Overall, this was a stunning performance that should serve him well when the finalists are announced on Monday night.




Russia, 30


MOZART Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Yury Favorin in the semifinal concerto


The slow movement from Mozart’s 20th concerto entered public knowledge for its use in the 1967 film Elvira Madigan. The piece filled with cadenzi, both very short and extended.

This gives the pianist opportunities to fully display, in its purest form, Mozart’s style. (When playing with an orchestra any pianist must make some accommodations.) The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Nicholas McGegan, was noticeably too loud on occasion. The effect on Favorin, other than covering the pianist or making him play louder than he wanted, was to dwarf the sound—especially in tutti passages.

Favorin delivered a stylish performance replete with a modified touch that perfectly matched Mozart’s intentions. He delivered all the cadenzi with a virtuoso flair and made them sound like part of the piece rather than tacked on. Favorin played a cadenza by the renowned pianist and composer Robert Casadesus, who was known as a Mozart specialist—so they were especially appropriate. Favorin obviously enjoyed the experience and showed that off in the last movement, which he played with a big dose of charm.

The reality is that all, or most, cadenzi by pianists and composers is used for this occasion to show off. Some composers wrote their own, and they are frequently used so that the pianist plays an official one. Some composers wrote the cadenza right in the score to eliminate the pianist’s meddling.

In the score, the cadenza is usually written as a single measure with a big fermata (hold) over a whole note rest. Ideally, it should be improvised on the spot using the thematic material from the movement. This is hardly done these days. In this competition, only a few pianists did this, but it is unclear whether they played one they wrote earlier—or making it up on the spot.

Unlike in days of yore, most pianists are not trained in improvisation. Only organists value this training and it is part of the American Guild of Organist’s exams for their credential. This is hardly done these days.

Favorin employed a lot of rubato, but as soon as it seemed it was overdoing it, he proved that assessment to be incorrect. His touch was pulled back to classical requirements and there was no sign of the steely fingers that served him so well in the recitals.




Russia, 29


MOZART Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Georgy Tchaidze in the semifinal concerto


A lot went wrong during Tchaidze’s performance. The nonmusical ones were a series of crashes, snaps, and bangs in the audience. The musical trouble must be blamed on the horns and conductor Nicholas McGegan. The horns thought they were playing one of Richard Strauss’ intense tone poems instead of Mozart and McGegan failed to shush them.

Tchaidze started his part of the concerto faster than McGegan’s introduction, who accommodated the quicker tempo immediately. In the second movement, he played the well-known melody as if he was singing it. He even breathed at the same places a singer would. The third movement was even faster, but within bounds, that allowed him to show is technical prowess.

This was an impressive performance, a little fast and a bit loud, but delivered with terrific expression and sympathetic playing.





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.
 Thanks For Reading

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Cliburn Semifinal Round 7
Reviews of the seventh semifinal session at the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition: Yutong Sun, Honggi Kim, Yury Favorin, Georgy Tchaidze.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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