The Cliburn: Last Day of the Final Found

June 10, 2017 | By Henry Schlinger | Category: Classical Music and Opera

June 10: Day four (the last) of the final round of the Cliburn International Piano Competition: Rachel Cheung, Georgy Tchaidze and Daniel Hsu

The last three concertos on the final day of the 15th Cliburn International Piano Competition just finished.

Rachel Cheung

The first performance of the day was by 25-year-old Rachel Cheung of Hong Kong who bravely selected the only non-Russian blockbuster piano concerto by performing the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, op. 58, by Beethoven, and delivered a now-typical sensitive reading. She was able to tame the Hamburg Steinway’s enormous sound and achieve a balance with the orchestra that was nothing short of amazing. Her playing was delicate when it needed to be and strong when it needed to be. She has been probably the most consistent performer of the six finalists with her emotional and immaculate playing. If consistently beautiful playing and a professional demeanor are what the jury is looking for, then Cheung should be a medalist.

Georgy Tchaidze

The second performance of the afternoon was by 29-year-old Georgy Tchaidze who performed the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, op. 26, by Prokofiev, the same concerto Vadym Kholodenko played when he won gold four years ago. Tchaidze’s playing of the Dvořák piano quintet a few days ago was less than what we had expected because he had trouble separating the piano from the string players which resulted in a somewhat muddled performance. But in the Prokofiev, he managed to balance his sound with the orchestra better. At times, his playing seemed to speed up so that the orchestra had to play catch up, but this is understandable considering his youth and excitement about playing this particular concerto with a symphony orchestra in the final round of an international piano competition.

Daniel Hsu

The final performer of the afternoon, and of the competition, was 19-year-old Daniel Hsu from the United States, who performed the concerto that won the namesake of this competition the gold medal at the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1958, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor, op. 23. He was in the position to win the gold with this performance considering the concerto he selected and his position as the last competitor; and judging from the audience reaction, he hit it out of the park. However, there were times when, like Tchaidze, Hsu rushed the piano part and this made for some muddling of the rapid two-hand octave playing and other large chordal progressions demanded by the concerto. Following his great performance of the Franck Piano Quintet a couple of days ago and his excellent solo recitals, his Tchaikovsky performance could give him the gold.

Stay tuned for the announcement of the winners…

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

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Van Cliburn said in addressing the contestants of the 1993 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition that in listening to the contestants perform, he was inspired to practice the piano. Of the three finalists performing tonight, Daniel Hsu of the United States was the pianist that most inspired me to want to sit on a piano bench and practice, and who this reviewer is hoping to win the gold prize.

Hsu perhaps intended to channel the spirit of Van Cliburn in choosing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, a piece that propelled Cliburn to fame. A strategic trap for a young 19 year old in choosing such a grandiose piece would be that a young and relatively inexperienced musician may not have the life experiences to convey the full range of emotional depth of the work. But Hsu cleverly played to his strengths, displaying a youthful and impulsive approach that gave his interpretation a fresh perspective. And unlike many of the other competitors, Hsu showed the ability to partner with the orchestra, and not just be a soloist. In a section from the second movement, Hsu faded away in a scale, giving the audience an impression that he would come to a stop. But his quiet diminuendo allowed the orchestra to come in effectively for the surprise attack chord.

Rachel Cheung of Hong Kong also seemed to play to her strengths in choosing the Beethoven Concerto Piano Concerto No. 4. This concerto may not be the vehicle to display technical brilliance like the Prokofiev or Tchaikovsky concertos. But this Beethoven and the Brahms F minor Piano Quintet she chose for the chamber music round gave her the stage to display her ability to explore and convey the emotional depth of these giants of the Romantic era, after having displayed her technical abilities in earlier rounds.

Georgy Tchaidze of Russia was much like his other Russian counterpart, Yury Favorin. Under more imaginative minds, Prokofiev makes the piano a percussive extension of the orchestra. Tchaidze’s Prokofiev while perfectly competent, lacked the creative spark and imagination that can make Prokofiev exciting. Tchaidze like Favorin often seemed to get ahead of the orchestra in rhythm and dynamics.

Whoever you are rooting for, I hope these exciting performances during the past three weeks of the competition have inspired you to practice, pick up a paint brush, a pen to write a poem, or your photos for scrapbook exercise. “Life is short, art is long.”

—Samuel Jang, Culture Spot LA

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