Van Cliburn

Updated review: Performances perk up in evening recitals at Cliburn

Pianist Rachel Cheung, Hong Kong, performs during the preliminary round on day three of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Saturday at Bass Performance Hall.
Pianist Rachel Cheung, Hong Kong, performs during the preliminary round on day three of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Saturday at Bass Performance Hall. Special to the S-T

Note: Updated at 11 p.m. with evening performances.

Italians have tended to do well at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, and Thursday’s fine showing by Leonardo Pierdomenico hinted at the possibility that maxim was going to apply this time as well.

Then came Luigi Carroccia’s preliminary recital in Bass Hall on Saturday morning, and the possibility was decisively confirmed. Carroccia is an aristocrat of the piano; there doesn’t seem to be a nonmusical atom in his being.

That became apparent with his first notes. He began with a short, modest piece — an arrangement of a melody from Gluck’s opera “Orfeo ed Euridice” — and turned it into magic. Its beauty was irresistible.

A lovely Chopin “Polonaise-Fantaisie” and an eloquent third sonata by Scriabin preceded the biggest surprise of his recital: He gave Hamelin’s required toccata prominence by placing it last on his program (most put it elsewhere) and found things in it that others have missed. He created subtleties of tempo, dynamics and emphasis that seemed inevitable.

In short, in Carroccia’s hands Hamelin’s toccata seemed a work of art, not an exercise.

Also performing Saturday morning were two Russian contestants who have played in previous Cliburns. Both acquitted themselves well.

Nikolay Khozyainov gave a program that, except for a charming Haydn and the Hamelin, was sort of Cliburn-typical, with music of Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Liszt.

Nikita Abrosimov’s program included music of Rachmaninoff, Hamelin and Stravinsky — the first “Three Movements From Petrouchka” of the competition (it wouldn’t be a real Cliburn without at least one “Petrouchka”). The Stravinsky was saucy and muscular.

Afternoon performances

Saturday afternoon’s session brought one Russian and two Americans to the Bass Hall stage.

The Russian, Georgy Tchaidze, charmed with Scarlatti’s Sonata in D minor and the third Beethoven 31st sonata so far in the competition.

His Hamelin toccata seemed relatively calm, with not so much emphasis on the fireworks. Two contrasting Rachmaninoff “Études-tableau,” one calm, the other more dramatic, rounded out his recital.

Kenneth Broberg of the United States was most impressive in a Bach Toccata in C minor and Barber’s piano sonata, though his version of Hamelin’s toccata and an arrangement of Franck’s “Prelude, Fugue and Variation” were pleasant fare.

The recital of Sun-A Park of the United States was a bit of a letdown; her program was not helped by a lengthy and slow-moving Schumann “Humoreske.”

Evening performances

Saturday night’s session picked up steam, with Rachel Cheung of Hong Kong playing one of the finer preliminary recitals so far in the competition.

Her repertory was full of musical pleasures. Beginning with three late pieces by Schubert undoubtedly won her some backers, as her Debussy surely did: "Voiles" ("sails" in English) and "Ce qu'a vu le vent d’ouest" ("What the west wind saw"). This was beautifully atmospheric playing, full of life.

A cute "Mephisto Waltz" No. 1 by Liszt and a subtle performance of Hamlin’s toccata rounded out her program.

Eunae Lee of South Korea was put a little in the shade by Cheung, but she had plenty of musical goodies to offer, including a charming sonata by Haydn (No. 41 this time), a Debussy etude of her own, and Chopin’s third sonata.

Sergey Belyavskiy of Russia turned on the charm as well, with Schubert’s "Wanderer Fantasy," a fine Hamelin toccata and a prelude and fugue by Tanyev. His session-ending performance of Liszt’s "Hungarian Rhapsody" No. 2 was a real hoot.

Sunday’s competitors

Preliminary round

10 a.m.

Tony Yike Yang, 18, Canada

Beethoven, Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109

Hamelin, Toccata on “L’homme armé”

Prokofiev, Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83

10:50 a.m.

Yekwon Sunwoo, 28, South Korea

Haydn, Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI:48

Hamelin, Toccata on “L’homme armé”

Schubert-Liszt, Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen

Rachmaninoff, Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 36 (1931)

11:55 a.m.

Han Chen, 25, Taiwan

Carter, Caténaires (2006)

Rachmaninoff, Étude-tableau in G Minor, Op. 33, No. 8

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

Haydn, Sonata in D Major Hob.XVI:42

Hamelin, Toccata on “L’homme armé”

Liszt, Réminiscences de Don Juan

2:30 p.m.

Honggi Kim, 25, South Korea

Hamelin, Toccata on “L’homme armé”

Chopin, Rondo in E-flat Major, Op. 16

Ravel, Gaspard de la nuit

Liszt-Volodos, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A Minor

3:20 p.m.

Rachel Kudo, 30, United States

Bach, Overture in the French Style in B Minor, BWV 831

Hamelin, Toccata on “L’homme armé”

Barber, Sonata for Piano, Op. 26

4:25 p.m.

Alyosha Jurinic, 28, Croatia

Debussy, Rêverie

Beethoven, Sonata No. 13 in E-flat Major, Op. 27, No. 1 (“Quasi una fantasia”)

Hamelin, Toccata on “L’homme armé”

Schumann-Liszt, Widmung

Liszt, Concert Etude No. 2 in F Minor “La Leggierezza”

Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11 in A Minor