A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

June 1: Day one of the semifinal round of the Cliburn International Piano Competition: Daniel Hsu and Dasol Kim

Daniel Hsu from the U.S.

Daniel Hsu performed two works. He started off with the four Impromptus by Schubert, Op. 90, D. 899, written in 1827, the year before his death.

Such mature playing for a 19 year old, playing these late Schubert masterpieces for the piano. At times Hsu hovered over the keyboard like a wraith. He wrung all of the pathos out of each Impromptu, but never sacrificed their tenderness.

Hsu’s second selection for the semifinal round was the Brahms Variations on a Theme by Handel. I believe it was the first Brahms piece played so far at this year’s competition. We’ve heard a lot of Liszt, which is very technically demanding, but the Brahms, while not as technically demanding (easy for me to say!), is more musical. It is a romantic set of variations on a baroque theme composed by a master of the variation style. And, speaking of a master, Hsu delivered a masterful performance that brought out all of Brahms’ romanticism. Hsu brought to the Brahms the same drama and power he brought to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the quarter final round.

Three curtain calls! Bravo!

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

Dasol Kim from South Korea

Dasol Kim performed three works, including Mendelssohn’s Fantasie in F-sharp minor, Op. 28 (“Scottish Sonata”), the Intermezzo in D-flat major, Op. 40, No. 7, by the Russian/Ukrainian pianist and composer Nicolai Kapustin, and Schubert’s last sonata for piano, the Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960.

Speaking of firsts, I believe that the Fantasie in F-sharp minor is the first piece by Mendelssohn to be performed at this year’s competition, and Kim played it close to the vest without romanticizing it.

Next up was the Intermezzo by Kapustin. The jazzy Intermezzo was a nice airy break between two classical warhorses. As serious as Kim was in the Mendelssohn and Schubert, he lightened up considerably for the Kapustin. And the audience needed it before the tragic Schubert sonata.

Schubert’s last sonata, completed only weeks before he died, is an intimate, introspective masterpiece. Like the Brahms, it is not as technically demanding as some other works performed at the competition, but musically it is unparalleled. Kim — almost 10 years older than Daniel Hsu, and only three years younger than Schubert when he died — gave a performance that I think really revealed Schubert in his last days. It was riveting in its profound sadness. He was playing completely for himself. Devastating.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA
Visit www.cliburn.org.