June 8: Day two of the final round of the Cliburn International Piano Competition: Georgy Tchaidze, Rachel Cheung and Daniel Hsu
On Thursday night we heard three different piano quintets—by Dvořák, Brahms and Franck—performed by three finalists — 29-year-old Georgy Tchaidze of Russia, 25-year-old Rachel Cheung of Hong Kong and 19-year-old Daniel Hsu of the United States.
First up was Tchaidze who performed the Piano Quintet in A Major, op. 81, by Dvořák. Tchaidze was riding a wave of momentum after a scintillating performance of his Mozart piano concerto on June 4. However, his performance of the Dvořák was not the same high quality. Whether by design or not, Tchaidze’s playing was frequently overshadowed by the Brentano Quartet, which resulted at times in a muddled performance of Dvořák’s exhilarating quintet. Although he played competently and at times brilliantly, the overall effect was not what we expected.
Next up was Cheung’s performance of the Piano Quintet in F Minor, op. 34, by Brahms. Cheung bravely was the only competitor to select this quintet, which the Brentano Quartet stated was the most difficult of the three. She took a risk by performing the Brahms with its complicated rhythms and dynamic changes. I must admit that I am partial to Brahms and, with the exception of a couple of timing glitches with the quartet, thought she performed it beautifully. Throughout the competition so far, Cheung has consistently demonstrated an ability to convey the emotion of each piece she performed and she continued that trend by capturing the emotional turbulence of the Brahms quintet.
The final competitor on Thursday night was the audience favorite, the young American, Hsu, who performed the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Franck. Like Brahms, Franck only wrote one piano quintet, although it is not as well known or as often played as the Brahms. And while it may not make the same technical demands on the pianist as either the A Major Dvořák or the F Minor Brahms, it is demanding structurally and tonally.
On Wednesday night, we heard the 30-year-old Russian, Yuri Favorin, take it on, but on Thursday night we heard quite a different interpretation. Hsu really hit it out of the park with a very subtly nuanced and even haunting performance, which by contrast made Favorin’s performance seem plodding. Throughout the competition, Hsu has consistently belied his young age with mature performances, and his Franck was no exception.
Two Days Left
Only considering the piano quintet round, Hsu, Sunwoo, Cheung and Broberg, in that order, stood out. But, of course, we have one more round, that of the piano concerto, which begins tonight with performances of concertos by Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff by Favorin, Broberg and Sunwoo and finishes tomorrow with performances of concertos by Beethoven, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky by Cheung, Tchaidze and Hsu.
—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA
Culture Spot’s Samuel Jang also weighs in…
On the other side of the Clear Fork Trinity River here in Fort Worth, Texas, is a rodeo show. But those of us in Bass Hall got a black tux and mud-free version with a crisp chardonnay in our glass, instead of beer (only in Texas does a concert hall allow drinks inside, and by drink I don’t mean iced tea).
Listening to Georgy Tchaidze of Russia play the A Major Dvorak Piano Quintet with the Brentano String Quartet was like listening to an aural rodeo version. Tchaidze was technically brilliant and displayed great power, as he had consistently done in previous rounds. But in asserting his musical ideas, Tchaidze seemed to lose his grip on the string quartet, as the dynamic four string players were more assertive. Whatever Tchaidze chose for a particular tempo and style in the piano solo passages seemed to go in a completely different direction without much of a transition when taken over by the strings. In passages that required background support from the piano, Tchaidze dutifully let the string players shine, but he seemed to fade away instead of actively supporting the solo passages.
Rachel Cheung of Hong Kong was more successful in having her say in her performance of the Brahms F minor Piano Quintet. Her interactions with the Brentano String Quartet were for the most part more fluid than Tchaidze, even as Cheung seemed a bit too eager to jump ahead of the strings when there were opportunities for the piano to display technical brilliance. Perhaps this was the nature of performing in a competition environment. Still, neither side, the pianist nor the string quartet, seemed particularly invested in each other’s approach to music making.
But perhaps the most inspired and most successful in melding the musical ideas of five distinct musical voices was Daniel Hsu of the United States in his performance of Franck’s F minor Piano Quintet. Perhaps Hsu was more assertive in having his say, or perhaps his ideas inspired the other musicians to follow suit. Whatever the magic sauce, Hsu actively engaged with the string players while still letting them shine in their solo passages. The strings returned the gesture, displaying beautiful chemistry in all of the performers’ blends of musical ideas.
Humans and bulls are both species with outsized egos and strong temperament. So when one tries to dominate the other, it becomes an ugly and violent show. However, if the two acknowledge and respect each other’s strengths, then what could easily become a tug-of-war becomes a beautiful dance. In this respect, I’d give the trophy to Hsu for his ability to tame and work with the bull.
Yee Haw from Forth Worth, Texas.
—Samuel Jang, Culture Spot LA