Rachel Cheung in the final Cliburn concerto round

Cliburn Finals: Rachel Cheung

Quintet and concerto reviews of Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition finalist Rachel Cheung. 

published Saturday, June 10, 2017

Reviews of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition will run for each of the six finalists in separate files. The first review will be the piano quintet round with the Brentano String Quartet, from Wednesday and Thursday; and the second review, of the concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, will be added onto each file.

To see bios and complete repertoire of all pianists here.

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



Hong Kong, 25



with Brentano String Quartet

Mark Steinberg, violin | Serena Canin, violin | Misha Amory, viola | Nina Lee, cello


BRAHMS Piano Quintet in F Minor, op. 34


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Rachel Cheung and the Brentano String Quartet in the final quintet


Much was expected from Rachel Cheung in the chamber music round—maybe too much, which can lead to disappointment. Her performance with the excellent Brentano String quartet of Brahms’ Piano Quintet, Op. 30, was strange.

It was beautifully played by one and all but Cheung and the Quartet were not really in sync. Tempi were on the slow side, but picked up as it went along, but the quintet felt like a series of pieces strung together—more like a string of pearls than a gold chain. Almost every seam in the music stood out clearly when they should be hidden to make a smooth trip though the piece.

As a result, Brahms’ stunning quintet seemed endless without following an overall road map to the end, carrying the audience through all of Brahms’ musical treasures without stopping along the way. She observed all the dynamics but her playing was consistent to a fault. One possible explanation is that Cheung was not as solidly rehearsed on the quintet as she has been on everything else she has played so far. She appeared to be watching the score very closely, even when the quartet was playing without her.




with Fort Worth Symphony

Leonard Slatkin, conductor


BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, op. 58


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Rachel Cheung in the final Cliburn concerto round


Cheung gave a stylish reading of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. She took her cue from the serene opening of the piece—simple chords in the piano and then in the orchestra. It may sound simple, but it is quite complex harmonically as it moves through a series of related keys, some more distant than others.

In the first movement, she kept Beethoven’s improvisatory manner. The second movement is a study in contrasts. The stentorian unison at the octave statements have an ominous feeling, maybe a knock on the door of doom, but Cheung’s calm response implied a story, but left it to the listener to decide what it is about. The last movement is a rondo and Cheung gave it a spirited reading with lots of joie de vivre.  

Cheung took a low-key approach while maintaining Beethoven’s restless character. She eschewed empty bravura and played Beethoven in all his moods, from serious to joyful. It didn’t get the same audience reaction as some of the barnstorming romantic and post-romantic concerti we’ve heard, but it was a standout for her artistry, clean technical abilities and honest musicianship.


Other reviews of Rachel Cheung:





See links to all of our reviews that have posted here.

See the schedule of final performances here.



  • 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 Finals: Rachel Cheung
Quintet and concerto reviews of Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition finalist Rachel Cheung. 
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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