Daniel Hsu and the Brentano String Quaret in the final quintet

Cliburn Finals: Daniel Hsu

Quintet and concerto reviews of Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition finalist Daniel Hsu. 

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.



United States, 19



with Brentano String Quartet

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


TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, op. 23


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Daniel Hsu and the Brentano String Quaret in the final quintet



This performance of Franck’s Piano Quintet in F Minor was the opposite of the performance it received on Thursday evening (by Yury Favorin). That time it was controlled and politely played. With Hsu, the passion dial was turned all the way up.

It was an intense experience and Hsu and the quartet took every chance to ramp up the scorching romanticism. Hsu was in constant contact with the quartet and modeled his playing of the material to fit in with that of the quartet. This is the definition of a collaborative pianist.

Collaboration is a common plan among the participants about how the pieces will be played. Therefore, it has to have a place in a virtuoso competition. The pianist must have a monster technique and sure musical ideas, but this is not a concerto with a tiny orchestra. Hsu, and a few others in the quintet round, have understood this. His was a cohesive performance that stands out.




with Fort Worth Symphony

Leonard Slatkin, conductor


TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, op. 23


Photo: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn
Daniel Hsu with conductor Leonard Slatkin in the Cliburn


The Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, op. 23, is a surefire winner—and perfect to close the competition considering it was the piece that took Van Cliburn to victory in the 1958 Tchaikovsky competition. With a technical whizzbang pianist like Hsu it can bring the house down. And so it went in this performance. Hsu received a cheering ovation for just walking out on the stage. When it was over, the ovation was riotous.

He played all the notes in a spectacular manner. He obviously knows the concerto and understands Tchaikovsky’s intent and architectural plan from the first notes to the last.

Where he stumbled was with self-control. These romantic concerti lay traps for the artist with big swelling crescendi that inevitably lead to big moments. The problem is that giving into the temptation to play all them at tutta forza levels dwarfs the few biggest moments and just more really loud music instead of really, really loud music. Those pinnacle moments in this concerto are carefully placed and marked triple forte. Tchaikovsky scales his dynamics in such a way that these huge arrivals build on each other.

The other problem was with tempo. The brief scherzo inserted in the second movement was very fast, but it is more understandable in this situation. But the tempo of the last movement moved from the Allegro con fuoco (fast with fire) Tchaikovsky assigned to it to Presto con frenetico (as fast as possible and frantic). It was impressive to hear and we all listened in amazement as he flew through the movement. We were all exhilarated, but there was a touch of hysteria lurking in the background.

Don’t get me wrong about this. He is a brilliantly talented pianist with magnificent technique and correct musical instincts. Once he learns to calm down and hold his powder for when the composer wants it instead of where he wants it, he will have a fine career as a concert pianist.


Other reviews of Daniel Hsu:





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: Daniel Hsu
Quintet and concerto reviews of Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition finalist Daniel Hsu. 
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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