A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

June 4: Day four of the semifinal round of the Cliburn International Piano Competition: Han Chen and Rachel Cheung

The afternoon recitals of the fourth day of the semifinal round of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition saw two outstanding competitors who, I predict, will make it to the final round.

Han Chen

The recital started off with 25-year-old Han Chen from China. He performed a very demanding program that required the utmost pianistic skill, including the Bach-Busoni Chaconne in D minor, BVW 1004; the Fantasie in B minor, Op. 28, by Scriabin; the Piano Sonata No. 1.x.1905 (“From The Street”) by Janacek; and the Wanderer Fantasy in C major, D.760, Op. 15, by Schubert.

Chen displayed the technique that propelled him into the semifinal round. In fact, his sound filled the hall like no one else so far. He really knows how to bring out the most of the Hamburg Steinway. His playing of the Bach-Busoni was impassioned and enhanced the romanticism of Busoni’s transcription. His Scriabin held the audience transfixed with its rich romanticism. The Janacek was played very well, but it seemed a bit out of place between the Scriabin and the energetic Schubert. Chen gave a blazing performance of the popular Schubert piece. By the time he finished, this reviewer was exhausted, but exhilarated. Chen was rewarded handsomely by the adoring audience. Chen is one of my top candidates for the final round.

Rachel Cheung

The second competitor was 25-year-old Rachel Cheung from Hong Kong who played two works, Kreisleriana, Op. 16, by Schumann and Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 82.

Even though I’ve been a fan of Cheung since her performance in the preliminary round, I was worried (it turns out unfounded) that she would have to follow Han Chen. But she displayed a total command of the music that she has since her preliminary round performance. She can play with as much power and strength as is needed, but power and technical prowess is not enough; Cheung also exhibits a musicality that is unique. Her playing was romantic in the Schumann and conveyed the deep love and affection that he felt for his wife, Clara, for whom he wrote the Kreisleriana. It was a moving performance that held the audience spellbound.

But her real accomplishment was in bringing out the melodies in the Prokofiev. It would be easy for a technician to play the piece and impress an audience; to play the piece and bring out its musicality is far different and what I expect the jury is looking for. But she was also up to the technical challenges of the piece. It was a complete performance. The audience gave its biggest cheers of the competition for Cheung’s astounding playing. She is on my list to be a finalist, and if she makes it to the final round, to be a medalist.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

Visit www.cliburn.org.