Van Cliburn

Updated review: Cliburn semifinals continue with lively, vivid performances

Yury Favorin, Russia, performs on the second day of the semifinal round of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Friday.
Yury Favorin, Russia, performs on the second day of the semifinal round of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Friday.

It’s getting harder and harder to predict with any degree of confidence who’s likely to advance in the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The quality of the contestants is quite consistent.

Nevertheless, it’s permissible to have opinions, and I found Friday afternoon’s semifinal recital of Yutong Sun of China to be particularly interesting. This came after a preliminary performance earlier in the week that also grabbed attention.

The Friday program included Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Sonata, Liszt’s “Un sospiro” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Sun’s tone in the Beethoven was pleasing — no banging away — and his approach to this work was generally lively but quite lyrical. His Liszt — one of the composer’s rare understated compositions — also flowed well. Maybe the work’s title — “sospiro” is Italian for “sigh” — had an influence.

Sun’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” was quite effective, making this longtime Cliburn Competition favorite seem fresh.

Honggi Kim of South Korea was the afternoon’s other contestant. His program included Carl Vine’s Sonata No. 1, Schumann’s “Kreisleriana” and something that is probably unique in the Cliburn’s repertory history: an arrangement for solo piano of the march movement from Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique Symphony.”

Vine is an Australian composer whose music has appeared before in the Cliburn. Kim gave an eloquent interpretation of a work that deserves more exposure.

Schumann’s composition, in its second appearance at this competition, was played well by Kim, but an earlier criticism still holds: It’s risky to program a long work that doesn’t offer much opportunity for excitement. Even the following Tchaikovsky movement, which in its original, orchestral form is one of the most exciting pieces ever composed, didn’t generate as much heat as you might expect.

Evening performances

Friday evening’s performances were given by Yuri Favorin and Georgy Tchaidze, both of Russia.

Tchaidze’s program was the more impressive. His account of Schumann’s "Waldszenen" was charming and consistently interesting — something that could not be said of earlier pieces by the same composer in other hands. A pleasant piece by Medtner and a vivid performance of Mussorgsky’s "Pictures at an Exhibition" rounded out a successful recital.

Favorin opened with Beethoven’s "Hammerklavier Sonata" — a giant of a piece that makes technical and interpretive demands. It can be a work that makes an overpowering impression, but it didn’t reach its potential in Favorin’s hands, instead moving along at a pace that made it seem longer than it really was.

Even Favorin’s ensuing performance of Shostakovich’s Sonata No. 1, though well done, didn’t erase the impression the "Hammerklavier" made.

Saturday’s Competitors

Semifinal round, Phase 3

2:30 p.m. (Solo recital)

Tony Yike Yang, 18, Canada

Scarlatti – Sonata in A Major, K. 212

Scarlatti – Sonata in D Minor, K. 9

Chopin – Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35

Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition

3:50 p.m. (Solo recital)

Yekwon Sunwoo, 28, South Korea

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

Strauss-Grainger – “Ramble on the Last Love-duet” from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier

Prokofiev – Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82

7:30 p.m. (Concerto)

Leonardo Pierdomenico, 24, Italy

Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466

8 p.m. (Concerto)

Kenneth Broberg, 23, United States

Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503

8:30 p.m. (Concerto)

Daniel Hsu, 19, United States

Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467

9 p.m. (Concerto)

Dasol Kim, 28, South Korea

Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466