Van Cliburn

Review: Powerful Cliburn performances Friday keep audiences guessing

Kenneth Broberg, of the United States, performs with conductor Leonard Slatkin and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in the finals of the Cliburn competition Friday.
Kenneth Broberg, of the United States, performs with conductor Leonard Slatkin and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in the finals of the Cliburn competition Friday. rmallison@star-telegram.com

Those who were thinking that the orchestral part of the finals of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition would bring some clarity about who might win medals may have been disappointed by Friday night’s concerto round.

This was a powerful group of pianists, each of whom made a powerful impression. The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, with jury chairman Leonard Slatkin conducting, made a strong contribution to the evening’s excitement.

One of the participants, Yekwon Sunwoo of South Korea, played Rachmaninoff’s ever-popular Piano Concerto No. 3 and earned the loudest ovation from an audience that filled Bass Hall.

While the performance was underway, Muhammad Ali’s famous quote “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” came to my mind. This was because Sunwoo employed a very wide range of dynamics, from the softest soft to the loudest loud, in his interpretation. His performance became more effective as it went on, and the finale raised goose bumps.

Kenneth Broberg of the United States was one performer who may have improved his standing in the competition. He played another Rachmaninoff classic, the “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” whose 18th variation is one of the most popular melodies Rachmaninoff ever wrote. Broberg gave a highly lyrical performance and received another of the evening’s ovations.

The third participant of the evening was Yury Favorin of Russia, who played Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2. This is one of the lesser-known Prokofiev compositions and carries less immediate pleasure for an audience, though Favorin’s spectacular performance may have earned good marks from the judges.

The competition will come to an end Saturday, with concerto performances by Rachel Cheung of Hong Kong (Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4), Georgy Tchaidze of Russia (Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3) and Daniel Hsu of the United States (Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1), with an awards ceremony to follow.

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