A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

June 7: Day one of the final round of the Cliburn International Piano Competition: Kenneth Broberg, Yuri Favorin and Yekwon Sunwoo

The final round of the 15th Cliburn International Piano Competition began last night with performances of three piano quintets by three of the six finalists. Prior to the start of the competition, competitors were given a choice of performing one of four piano quintets by Brahms, Dvořák, Franck and Schumann.

Starting with the preliminary rounds, the differences between the 30 competitors technically were minor, making judging their performances largely subjective. And with each succeeding round, those slight differences have become even more indiscernible until, in the final round, except for any major mistakes, the judgments are completely subjective. Thus, judging the competitors on the piano quintets is really a matter of how they played with the Brentano Quartet (Mark Steinberg, violin; Serena Canin, violin; Misha Amory, viola; and Nina Lee, cello).

Over the course of both evenings of the quintet, three finalists — Kenneth Broberg, Yekwon Sunwoo and Georgy Tchaidze — will perform the Piano Quintet in A Major, op. 81, by Dvořák; two finalists — Yuri Favorin and Daniel Hsu — will perform the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Franck; and one performer — Rachel Cheung — will perform the Piano Quintet in F Minor, op. 34, by Brahms. Judging individual performances will not be easy. It will be easier to judge those who perform the same work because their performances can be compared to each other.

As it turned out, all three performers on this first event of the final round played admirably; and they were all in sync with the quartet. All of their playing blended seamlessly with the quartet and matched all of the tempo and dynamic changes.

The evening saw two performances of the Dvořák: by 23-year-old Broberg from the United States and 28-year-old Sunwoo of South Korea. The Dvořák is an upbeat, sparkling quintet with immediately recognizable, hummable melodies that both pianists exploited. Broberg and Sunwoo played flawlessly, but differed slightly in their interpretations of the piano part of the quintet. Broberg’s playing placed the piano more in the forefront, whereas except for the obvious solo parts, Sunwoo’s playing put the piano more in an accompanying role. Broberg brought the same intensity to the quintet that he has to all of his performances, while Sunwoo’s performance was more nuanced, as his previous performances have been.

Favorin, the 30-year-old from Russia, performed the Franck quintet, a dark and brooding piece in which Franck himself scored the piano much more in an accompanying role with the quartet. The Franck fit Favorin’s Russian style, and he seemed to make the Hamburg Steinway sound very dark in tone.

In terms of influencing at least the audience, the Dvořák was probably a better quintet to select because the piano part is more prominent and allows the soloist to show off his or her chops better. If one gauges the performances solely based on audience reaction, Sunwoo won the night. Of course, part of it could have been that the audience had just sat through three long piano quintets.

Tonight, the last three finalists — Georgy Tchaidze, Rachel Cheung and Daniel Hsu — will complete the piano quintet portion of the final round, and we will be able to compare one more performance of the Dvořák and Franck.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

Visit www.cliburn.org.