Special Reports

In semifinals, Cliburn amateurs tackle more substantive works

Gordon Cheng of the United States impressed a Star-Telegram critic with the music of Prokofiev and Stravinsky during his semifinals performance Thursday at the Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition in Van Cliburn Recital Hall in Fort Worth.
Gordon Cheng of the United States impressed a Star-Telegram critic with the music of Prokofiev and Stravinsky during his semifinals performance Thursday at the Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition in Van Cliburn Recital Hall in Fort Worth. Cliburn Foundation

EDITOR’S NOTE: Print deadlines prevented publication of Olin Chism’s comments about the competitors who played Thursday evening. For those, and for the names of the finalists who were announced late Thursday, go online to star-telegram.com and DFW.com.

The semifinal round of the seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition granted the participants more time (28 minute maximum) than the opening rounds. This opened up the possibility of programming more substantial pieces than before.

The six players who began the semifinals on Thursday afternoon in the Van Cliburn Recital Hall took advantage of this.

First off was Germany’s Matthias Fischer, who played the complete Davidsbündlertänze of Schumann rather than the more concise etudes and ballades of earlier rounds.

Fischer had excelled earlier, and he continued to impress with his subtle shading of dynamics and tempos in this generally moderate and always lyrical set of dances.

Another consistently outstanding competitor was Jeanne Backofen Craig of the United States, whose performances on Thursday of music by Brahms and Liszt confirmed the strong impression she had made in the prelims and quarterfinals. She was helped by her choice of two Liszt pieces — Vallée d’Obermann and the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11 — that are by and large free of the vulgarity of some music by Liszt.

For me, the most moving performance of the afternoon was from the Canadian Thomas Yu. His playing of Beethoven’s final sonata, Opus 111, was fabulous. This is some of Beethoven’s most profound music, and Yu was brilliant as its interpreter. Incidentally, Yu opened his performance with a strikingly brief and sad little work, the Prelude No. 1 of Marc Durand.

There were other strong performances. Deirbhile Brennan of Ireland played music of Mozart, Schubert (not a Liszt transcription this time) and Chopin.

Gordon Cheng of the United States impressed with music of Prokofiev and Stravinsky (Three Movements From Petrouchka — a favorite at piano competitions).

Sean Sutherland scored points with Chopin — a selection of preludes — and Fazil Say’s take on Gershwin’s Summertime.

Open piano night

5 p.m. to 10:30 tonight at The Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge, 1311 Lipscomb St.

Cliburn Amateur competitors will play informally. Bar and food menu available.

Conversation with Olga Kern

10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Van Cliburn Recital Hall. Shields-Collins Bray talks with Olga Kern, gold medalist of the 2001 Van Cliburn Piano Competition and head juror of the amateur competition.

Finals and awards

3 p.m. Saturday at Bass Hall. Six finalists will play one movement of a concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

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