Van Cliburn

Updated review: South Korean strong competitor Friday at the Cliburn

Martin James Bartlett, of United Kingdom, talks with the audience as he struggles to adjust his piano bench on the second day of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition at the Bass Performance Hall, Friday.
Martin James Bartlett, of United Kingdom, talks with the audience as he struggles to adjust his piano bench on the second day of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition at the Bass Performance Hall, Friday.

Friday morning’s session of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition showcased one outstanding competitor and two competent pianists who made a somewhat lesser impression.

The standout was Dasol Kim of South Korea, whose magnificent performance of Ravel’s “Gaspard de la nuit” wound up an exceptionally fine 45-minute preliminary recital.

Kim’s program was highly varied. It opened smartly with Haydn’s Sonata in E Major, Hob. XVI:31, a feel-good piece whose sense of joy was nicely captured in Kim’s interpretation.

In this Cliburn, as in the 2013 one, contestants have shown a fondness for Haydn. What makes this one different is that the Haydn sonatas chosen tend to veer away from the old favorites (such as the inevitable No. 52) and present something new. There’s plenty to choose from — Haydn composed more than 50.

Kim traveled to Spain, musically speaking, with “Triana” from Albeniz’s “Iberia.” This was an atmospheric and altogether alluring trip.

He also produced one of the finer statements so far of the Toccata on “L’homme armé” by Marc-André Hamelin, the competition’s commissioned work required of all contestants. In Kim’s hands it was a real virtuoso showcase.

Also playing in Bass Hall on Friday morning were Tristan Teo of Canada and Caterina Grewe of Germany.

Teo’s performance of the Hamelin was clear, though it seemed a little understated to me. He gave a worthy performance of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31, but his recital became a journey from the sublime to the ridiculous when he thundered away at “Totentanz,” which represents Liszt at his worst.

Grewe’s recital was neatly done, but it was a bit on the bland side, with little excitement generated. This was true even of Hamelin’s toccata. There was one major plus: Grewe’s joyful performance of a Haydn sonata (No. 33 this time).

Afternoon performances

Friday afternoon’s session brought Philipp Scheucher of Austria to the Bass Hall stage. He gave an impressive account of the Hamelin toccata, which so far seems to strike no fear in the hearts of the contestants. He surrounded it with a playful and somewhat offbeat fantasia by Beethoven and a striking prelude by Auerbach. Two works by Liszt — not of the “Totentanz” ilk — were decently done.

My favorite of the session was Martin James Bartlett of Britain, who enticed with the first Schubert of the competition, the “Impromptu” in G-flat, Op. 90; a neatly played Bach toccata (no relation to the Hamelin toccata); and the Barber sonata, which has shown up now and then in the Cliburn and may eventually wear out its welcome.

Bartlett’s Hamelin was interesting in that the pianist was able to find some lyrical passages in the midst of the musical storm.

Contestant Ilya Maximov came up with an echt-Russian program based on works of Rachmaninoff, with music of Franck and Hamelin blended in. It went well. A slight sense of tedium may have been due to the hour and the mass of notes previously heard rather than any deficiency on Maximov’s part.

Evening performances

Friday night’s session began with the first appearance by an American, and it was impressive. Daniel Hsu is one of the youngest contestants — he’s only 19 — but he seemed wise beyond his years when he gave a beautifully flowing performance of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31 to open his preliminary recital.

His poetic interpretation was quite moving, and the favorable impression he made was reinforced when he achieved great clarity in the thicket of notes that is Hamelin’s toccata.

His account of Liszt’s self-satirical "Reminiscences of Don Juan" proved that Hsu is fleet of finger and strong of arm when it comes to the big showcase pieces.

Yury Favorin of Russia made a similar impression with Liszt’s "Reminiscences of Bellini’s Puritans," supplemented by six short pieces by Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky plus the Hamelin toccata.

Closing out the evening and bringing the preliminaries to the halfway point was the performance of Yutong Sun of China. Highlights were a haunting prelude and fugue of Shostakovich’s and a powerhouse performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7.

Today’s competitors

Preliminary round, Phase 3

10 a.m.

Luigi Carroccia, 25, Italy

Gluck-Sgambati “Mélodie” from Orfeo ed Euridice

Chopin Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major, Op. 61

Scriabin Sonata No. 3 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 23

Hamelin Toccata on “L’homme armé”

10:50 a.m.

Nikolay Khozyainov, 24, Russia

Haydn Sonata in D Major, Hob. XVI:33

Chopin Etude in C Major, Op. 10, No. 1

Rachmaninoff Étude-Tableau in C Minor, Op. 39, No. 1

Liszt Après un lecture de Dante (Fantasia quasi sonata)

Hamelin Toccata on “L’homme armé”

11:55 a.m.

Nikita Abrosimov, 28, Russia

Rachmaninoff Variations on a Theme by Corelli, Op. 42

Hamelin Toccata on “L`homme armé”

Stravinsky Trois mouvements de Petrouchka

2:30 p.m.

Georgy Tchaidze, 29, Russia

Scarlatti Sonata in D Minor, K. 77

Beethoven Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110

Hamelin Toccata on “L’homme armé”

Rachmaninoff Étude-tableau in C Minor, Op. 33, No. 3

Rachmaninoff Étude-tableau in C-sharp Minor, Op. 33, No. 9

3:20 p.m.

Kenneth Broberg, 23, United States

Franck-Bauer Prélude, Fugue et Variation, Op. 18

Hamelin Toccata on “L’homme armé”

Bach Toccata in C Minor, BWV 911

Barber Sonata for Piano, Op. 26

4:25 p.m.

Sun-A Park, 29, United States

Bach Capriccio in B-flat Major, BWV 992 (“On the departure of a beloved brother”)

Hamelin Toccata on “L’homme armé”

Schumann Humoreske in B-flat Major, Op. 20

7:30 p.m.

Rachel Cheung, 25, Hong Kong

Schubert Drei Klavierstücke, D. 946

Debussy Voiles from Preludes, Book I

Debussy Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest from Preludes, Book I

Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1

Hamelin Toccata on “L’homme armé”

8:20 p.m.

EunAe Lee, 29, South Korea

Haydn Sonata in B-flat Major, Hob. XVI:41

Debussy Étude pour les arpèges composés

Chopin Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58

Hamelin Toccata on “L’homme armé”

9:25 p.m.

Sergey Belyavskiy, 23, Russia

Schubert Fantasie in C Major, D. 760, Op. 15 (“Der Wanderer”)

Hamelin Toccata on “L’homme armé”

Taneev Prelude and Fugue in G-sharp Minor, Op. 29

Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-sharp Minor