Thursday night’s chamber-music round at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition pretty much muddied the waters. Everybody played decently and it would be reckless to bet on which contestant earned the most favorable marks from the judges’ panel.
My non-judge vote would go to Daniel Hsu of the United States, who made Franck’s Piano Quintet in F minor the most dramatic statement of Wednesday’s and Thursday’s chamber-music phase.
Not only that, but Hsu’s partners, the Brentano String Quartet, seemed to be caught up in the spirit of the piece and gave Hsu impressive support.
Hsu is a powerful artist whose bold approach created drama aplenty but never at the expense of the lyric beauty of Franck’s masterwork.
Another impressive finalist was Rachel Cheung of Hong Kong, whose opening of Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor seemed a little tame to me, but it picked up steam later and reached a strong conclusion.
The other contestant of the evening was Georgy Tchaidze of Russia, who played the third Dvorak quintet of the this round. His lovely slow movement was one of the highlights of the evening and his brisk finale produced plenty of excitement.
Wednesday night’s session had been marked by persistent applause between movements. A plea to hold off worked (sort of) on Thursday — but instead of applause there were outbreaks of between-movement coughs and throat-clearings.
Maybe the Cliburn should be seen as a training tool, exposing its contestants to real life in the concert hall.