Van Cliburn

Updated review: Concertos begin Saturday in Cliburn semifinals

Kenneth Broberg from the Unites States smiles at the end of his performance with conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Saturday during his concerto in the Cliburn semifinals at Bass Hall.
Kenneth Broberg from the Unites States smiles at the end of his performance with conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Saturday during his concerto in the Cliburn semifinals at Bass Hall. Carolyn Cruz/Cliburn Foundation

Saturday afternoon was a good time to be at the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

Two excellent pianists made a fine impression with their semifinal recitals in Bass Hall.

First off was Tony Yike Yang, of Canada, who at 18 is just barely over the minimum age necessary to get into the competition. Also interesting: He is an alumnus of the Cliburn’s 2015 International Junior Piano Competition, in which he earned a jury discretionary award.

His Saturday program was a list of proven crowd-pleasers: two Scarlatti sonatas, Chopin’s “Funeral March” sonata, and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

The two Scarlatti sonatas were played cleanly and with consistently high spirits. Scarlatti, a spiritual brother of Haydn, composed music that almost invariably chases away the blues. Yang contributed to that effect.

The Chopin sonata has been played many times in past Cliburns, but Yang’s moving interpretation kept up interest this time, avoiding any sense of triteness.

“Pictures at an Exhibition” has made so many appearances during the current competition that it is even more in danger of inducing yawns, yet once again Yang came through with a captivating interpretation.

Yekwon Sunwoo, of South Korea, one of the most impressive of the contestants throughout, gave an interpretation of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30 that was both subtle and powerful.

He deserves a few extra points just for publicizing the title of Percy Grainger’s “Ramble on the Last Love-Duet From Richard Strauss’ ‘Der Rosenkavalier.’ ” This doesn’t seem to be a joke (the music itself is lovely enough) but it’s entertaining.

Sunwoo closed his recital with a fine performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 6, a refreshing change from all the Sonatas No. 7 played in this competition.

The two recitals close out the solo appearances of Yang and Sunwoo (and previous semifinalists).

Evening performances

Saturday night’s round marked a dramatic shift in the Cliburn’s schedule: It brought on the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and conductor Nicholas McGegan to support the semifinalists in their required concertos by Mozart (12 Mozart concertos — a marathon, but who would complain?).

For the next couple of days the concertos will alternate with recitals by remaining semifinalists, with six finalists named on Monday evening.

The concerto soloists on Saturday night were Leonardo Pierdomenico of Italy, Kenneth Broberg and Daniel Hsu of the United States and Dasol Kim of South Korea.

Trying to identify winners and losers when the candidates are all about equally talented and prepared, and all are playing music of the same style and equal inspiration, is not easy.

But here are some notes:

All four performances were strong, but forced to choose one, I’d give my vote to Kim for the overall excellence of his rendition of Mozart’s D minor concerto.

Hsu played a lovely slow movement in the Concerto No. 21 — maybe the most appealing of the evening’s four. His cadenza (by his brother Andrew) was effective, though wandering from Mozart’s style.

Speaking of cadenzas, Broberg wrote his own. Pierdomenico’s and Kim’s were by Beethoven — a salute by one giant of music to another.

Broberg was playing Mozart’s Concerto No. 25 and Pierdomenico was the soloist in the D minor concerto.

The Fort Worth Symphony was in good shape. It was cut back a little, but probably not enough to please an originalist. McGegan’s style seemed to be to accentuate the drama without sacrificing Mozart’s basically lyrical style.

Note: This review has been changed to correctly describe who wrote Broberg’s cadenza. He wrote it.

Sunday’s competitors

Semifinal round

2:30 p.m. (Solo recital)

Han Chen, 25, Taiwan

Bach-Busoni Chaconne in D Minor, BWV 1004

Scriabin Fantasie in B Minor, Op. 28

Janáček Piano Sonata 1 .X. 1905 (“From the Street”)

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

3:50 p.m. (Solo recital)

Rachel Cheung, 25, Hong Kong

Schumann Kreisleriana, Op. 16

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

7:30 p.m. (Concerto)

Yutong Sun, 21, China

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

8 p.m. (Concerto)

Honggi Kim, 25, South Korea

Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488

8:50 p.m. (Concerto)

Yury Favorin, 30, Russia

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

9:20 p.m. (Concerto)

Georgy Tchaidze, 29, Russia

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

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