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Van Cliburn Piano Competition

Critic: Convincing performances throughout Day 3 of Cliburn Semifinals

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Note to readers The Cliburn Competition finalists will be announced at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday in Bass Hall. Watch the ceremony live, and read interviews with the competitors, at Star-Telegram.com/cliburn. Because of the late hour, we will not be able to print the list in Wednesday’s Star-Telegram.

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Three excellent musicians produced some admirable sounds as the Cliburn semifinals opened Day 3 in Bass Hall on Monday afternoon. They are Claire Huangci and Beatrice Rana, who have both been impressive from the beginning, and Nikita Mndoyants, who has had an upward trajectory.

Huangci opened the proceedings with the Brentano Quartet in Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A. The Dvorak has been up and down in the semis so far, with Alessandro Deljavan well up and Nikita Abrosimov and Alexey Chernov both down. Huangci tied the score 2 to 2. She gave a subtle, highly lyrical performance that also produced some fire and always managed to be graceful even in the stormiest passages.

The Brentanos sounded great as well. The cellist (Nina Lee) and the violist (Misha Amory) must love the Dvorak; the composer certainly gives them much great material to play.

Mndoyants joined the Brentanos for Brahms’ Piano Quintet in f minor. In contrast to Fei-Fei Dong’s eccentric performance of the work Sunday evening, Mndoyants’ was much closer to tradition, and that means power mingled with lyric beauty and some bold tempos. Mndoyants also understands that he is playing with four other important musicians, and not a small orchestra as accessories.

Rana presented her semifinal recital, with music by Scriabin, Christopher Theofanidis and Chopin.

Scriabin’s Sonata No. 2 was a classy musical statement, flowing beautifully. Her account of the semifinals’ required work, Theofanidis’ Birichino, was the most immediately appealing of any so far (still, there are five more to go). Her performance of the 24 Chopin preludes of Opus 28 was a beautiful set beautifully played.

Making a big impression in the evening session was the last work of the day, with Vadym Kholodenko as the soloist. This was 11 of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes (No. 9 was omitted). This set creates a range of atmospheres, mostly stormy but with the pianist’s showy technique always on display.

This is not music I’m particularly drawn to, but if it’s going to be played I’d just as soon hear Kholodenko do it. He handily dealt with all the thundering chords and such like, but created much beauty when that was possible.

All in all, an impressive showing, and it got a major reaction from the audience.

As a bonus, Kholodenko opened his program with Theofanidis’ Birichino and gave another attention-holding interpretation to a piece that’s becoming familiar.

Tomoki Sakata, in the evening’s sole chamber-music program, joined the Brentano Quartet for Schumann’s Quintet in E-flat. In contrast to those who view the work as a piano concerto with a miniature orchestra, Sakata gave a true chamber-music performance, willingly accepting the accompanying role when that was appropriate but taking the lead when that was called for. Sakata’s performance was a little on the mild side but his approach was certainly lyrical.

Nikita Abrosimov was the other performer of the evening. His program included Rachmaninoff, Theofanidis, Scriabin and Stravinsky. Few need to ask “What Stravinsky?”; it’s one more Three Movements From Petroushka. Abrosimov played it well, but multiple run-throughs have robbed it of the ability of producing any emotion except possibly respect.

Scriabin’s Vers la flamme was full of quiet intensity. The most interesting work was Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli, which plays around with a stately theme by the Italian composer. It’s really quite appealing; one wonders why it isn’t done more often.

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