Well, as the last notes were being played, I had no idea who was going to take top honors at the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. There were too many good people.
This differed from most past Cliburn Competitions, in which the list of superior contestants was compact enough that a guess stood a good chance of hitting the mark.
The honor of playing the last notes in Bass Hall on Saturday afternoon went to Daniel Hsu of the United States. There was symbolic significance in the piece he chose to play: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. This, more than any other with the possible exception of Rachmaninoff’s third concerto, has had a long association with the Cliburn Competition, as it did with Van Cliburn, the man.
Hsu gave a powerful performance that, in my view, was a little too frantic in places. Still, it is to his credit that he understands that the Tchaikovsky First is also a lyrical masterpiece, as his lovely performance of the slow movement (with some fine assistance by Leonard Slatkin and the Fort Worth Symphony) demonstrated.
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Also outstandingly lyrical was the performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 by Rachel Cheung of Hong Kong. There was nobility in her interpretation, and she proved to be something of a musical dramatist as well in Beethoven’s famous “taming of the wild orchestra” episode.
Georgy Tchaidze of Russia played Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3 — another Cliburn competition specialty — and gave a fine account of this energetic masterpiece.