Van Cliburn

June 5, 2013

Critic: Final afternoon of Cliburn semifinal round brings passion and drama

Deljavan wowed the audience with Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’

Humming along while playing the piano, as Alessandro Deljavan does, is nothing new in piano circles. Some may find it annoying, but if the pianist is talented enough, it can be forgiven as a charming eccentricity.

That was my feeling about Tuesday’s recital. Not only did Deljavan give a wonderfully dramatic performance of Beethoven’s Appassionata sonata, but he also presented an offbeat program (by Cliburn standards) with none of the more obvious competition choices.

He opened with a charming couple of sonatas by the 18th-century Spanish composer Antonio Soler and continued with Mendelssohn’s Variations serieuses, a highly varied set, not all of which sounded very “serieux.” There was another performance of Theofanidis’ Birichino, which plowed no new ground, and the Appassionata.

The session opened with Nikolay Khozyainov joining the Brentano Quartet for Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat. The pianist and quartet coordinated well throughout; the slow movement, one of Schumann’s loveliest creations, was a thing of beauty. It seemed one of the best of the competition’s Schumanns.

The session closed with another performance of the Schumann quintet, and it was also a distinguished one. Jayson Gillham, the pianist, achieved fine balance with his partners and gave a performance that was filled with lyrical inspiration and gentle dramatics.

The evening session on Tuesday produced some decent music-making but nothing that looked like sewing up a finals position.

Alexey Chernov presented a charming and very welcome performance of a suite by Purcell (has this composer ever been heard in a Cliburn?), as well as a Scriabin sonata and Schumann’s “Symphonic Etudes,” both of which seemed OK but didn’t hold interest throughout.

Sean Chen, with the Brentano Quartet, gave a performance of Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor that was in many respects excellent, though I felt that Chen could have been a little more forceful. The third and fourth movements did pick up a little vigor and momentum.

Fei-Fei Dong closed the semifinals with a neatly played and pleasurable Mozart sonata and a lovely transit through Chopin’s preludes.

There may have been listeners who uttered a sigh of relief when the final notes were played. Patience has its limits in such a long series of recitals.

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