Van Cliburn

Review: Cliburn semifinals begin with strong U.S., South Korean pianists

Daniel Hsu, of the United States, performs on the first day of the semifinal round of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Thursday.
Daniel Hsu, of the United States, performs on the first day of the semifinal round of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Thursday. rmallison@star-telegram.com

The 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition moved into the semifinal round on Thursday evening in Bass Hall. After all the previous solo recitals, some of the competitors may be longing for a respite. For the semifinalists, that’s not to be.

Each faces a further hour-long trial at the keyboard, and then the finalists move on to tests of a different kind.

Opening the semifinals were Daniel Hsu of the United States and Dasol Kim of South Korea. Both have proven to be well equipped for competition playing; this is a strong Cliburn for which the screening jury deserves a lot of credit.

While admiring Hsu’s performance of Schubert and Brahms, my preference goes to Kim, both for his choice of repertory and the way he played it. Kim played three pieces: Mendelssohn’s “Fantasie” in F-sharp minor, Kapustin’s Intermezzo in D-flat major and Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960.

This was a highly varied program, with a sparkling “Fantasie” (Mendelssohn has always been rare at the Cliburn), a charming intermezzo (Kapustin’s love of American jazz shows through), and, best of all, one of the supreme masterpieces of the piano literature in the Schubert sonata.

Kim gave a captivating performance of all three, always exhibiting a fine sense of style.

Hsu also contributed some Schubert: the four “Impromptus,” Opus 90. This was a pleasure to hear, but Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme by Handel,” which concluded Hsu’s recital, was a bit of a drag. Nothing wrong with Hsu’s playing, but it’s probably not wise to end a long recital with a work that’s rather austere and lacking much in the way of excitement.

In the semifinal round, each competitor performs a 60-minute recital and a Mozart concerto with the Fort Worth symphony conducted by Nicholas McGegan.

This is the first time a concerto will be played in the semifinal round. Previously, the semifinalists performed a piano quintet with a string quartet.

This year, the quintet performance, in which six finalists will perform with the Brentano String Quartet, has been moved to the final round.

The final awards ceremony for the gold, silver and bronze medalists — followed by a closing party at Sundance Square — is June 10.

The semifinalists are:

Kenneth Broberg, 23, United States; Han Chen, 25, Taiwan; Rachel Cheung, 25, Hong Kong; Yuri Favorin, 30, Russia; Daniel Hsu, 19, United States; Dasol Kim, 28, South Korea; Honggi Kim, 25, South Korea; Leonardo Pierdomenico, 24, Italy; Yutong Sun, 21, China; Yekwon Sunwoo, 28, South Korea; Georgy Tchaidze, 29, Russia; and Tony Yike Yang, 18, Canada.

Contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Friday’s Competitors

Semifinal round, Phase 2

2:30 p.m. (Solo recital)

Yutong Sun, 21, China

Beethoven – Sonata No. 26 in A-flat Major, Op. 81a (“Les Adieux”)

Liszt – Un sospiro

Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition

3:50 p.m. (Solo recital)

Honggi Kim, 25, South Korea

Vine – Sonata No. 1

Schumann – Kreisleriana, Op. 16

Tchaikovsky-Feinberg – Scherzo from Symphony No. 6 “Pathétique”

7:30 p.m. (Solo recital)

Yury Favorin, 30, Russia

Beethoven – Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”

Shostakovich – Sonata No. 1, Op. 12

8:50 p.m. (Solo recital)

Georgy Tchaidze, 29, Russia

Schumann – Waldszenen, Op. 82

Medtner – “Alla Reminiszenza” from Forgotten Melodies, Op. 38

Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition

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