Cliburn Report #5 (June 3-4)
Tony came out guns blazing with a rowdy Scarlatti Sonata, that I don’t know I’ve ever heard. Good on him from staying away from the select group of Sonatas popularized by, say, Horowitz. I loved his approach to this toccata like style, bright but with an awareness of implied voices. He had so much contrasts of character, if he plays Mozart this way, I will be won over entirely. The second Sonata (marked wrong in the Medici program, it’s K 9) was played very unusually. I played this when I was just a couple years younger than Tony now and never would have gotten away with the rubato he utilized. But I liked it! Maintaining a Baroque approach to articulation, he brought out natural lamentation qualities in the melody line.
One thing that stood out in his performance of the 2nd Chopin Sonata was the 2nd movement. Usually, given that this is a Scherzo movement, performers stay on the lighter side, taking a cue from traditional classical sonata scherzos. Yang does not-it’s very heavy and agitated, and he inserts several noteworthy agogic accents.
It’s hard to keep writing about Pictures at an Exhibition after a while! Overall I was very happy with Tony’s performance, expressive in its varied nuances. Perhaps not the most original performance of the piece, even in this competition year, but still, he aptly captured the characters of different paintings very well.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when you have the same rhythmic device repeated over and over again, you can’t phrase it the same way with rubato and dynamics. The first movement of Beethoven’s Op. 109 is full of this; you’ve played the opening once, you’re a different person, we’re a different audience for having heard it, that has to affect how we hear that rhythm the second time, and that third, and the fourth; the fact that it’s played on different notes isn’t enough! I wish Sunwoo thought the same as I do. Often times, especially in the finale, he sounded like he was headed towards the climax of a phrase, only to level off and never really reach any destination.
As surprised as I have been by enjoying Prokofiev’s 7th Sonata, it was fun to hear the 6th Sonata for the first time. Here, Sunwoo had all of the demonic energy necessary, especially for that spinning-out-of-control ending.
First thing to say about the concertos is how it looks amazing to play for Nicholas McGegan (http://nicholasmcgegan.com/). I’ve always preferred conductors not to use a baton, likely because I’ve played for substantially more choral conductors than instrumental conductors. Furthermore, he seems to have the perfectly, friendly approach to the orchestra before he begins-check out the ‘quiet’ finger on lips reminder before the very first concerto, not to mention the clear joy he derives from the music, or the real-time reaction to one orchestra member with the slight smile near 31:20 of Broberg’s performance. Finally, he has some new sounds coming from the orchestra-I’ve never really heard the orchestral exposition of K. 466 with that much attention paid to articulations before.
As I aim to be analytical, but not critical in these reports, I may have to bite my tongue amongst these Mozart concertos. In general, I find Mozart is played in far too neutered a fashion nowadays. I get it-Mozart is most synonymous with opera, we must sing at the piano! But Mozart’s opera is different than bel canto opera. Pianists try to sing in Mozart at the expense of the plethora of slurs, and interesting left hand accompaniments in the score. As a great singing teacher once said in a lesson that I accompanied: singing is just glorified speech. So more than anything, Mozart at the piano ought to resemble great rhetoric first and foremost.
Leonardo Pierdomenico-I didn’t dislike anything he did, and this isn’t me biting my tongue. He sounded like a speaker you learn a lot from but who doesn't drive you to action.
Kenneth Broberg was more successful in this front. He’s already ahead by the luck of programming the only non-top popularity concertos. There was a little more bite and clarity to his articulation and drive in the direction of his phrases which came to a head, rather than sounding like a smooth, rounded line. Evidently he wrote his own cadenzas. Some commentators on social media were trying to make something political out of the appearance of La Marseillaise in the cadenza. If it was intended that way, it's a weak effort as clearly it's melody and that in the development are closely related and including the French anthem is the natural conclusion of any improvised cadenza since the song’s popularization.
I wish I liked Daniel Hsu’s concerto better. It probably doesn’t help that this is the one Mozart concerto that I’ve actually played. I thought he had beautiful right hand phrasing, but in the long bel canto fashion which doesn’t give Mozart his due. Plus his left hand was nearly non-existent. However, the cadenzas by his composer older-brother (https://andrew.hsumusic.com/) were fantastic. Perfectly taking us in and out of Mozart’s harmonic world; these really increased my enjoyment of the performance as a whole.
Two things stood out immediately in Dasol Kim’s Mozart. One-no tuxedo! He still dressed formally, but I loved that he broke with tradition. Secondly, upon the first entrance he makes, his left hand was brought to the fore to create a BEAUTIFUL duet with the right hand. Throughout, his left hand can be heard supporting the right as the bass line, and its filigree rises to prominence if the character requires it. The opening theme of the second movement can be dull if the two groups of two eighth notes in M. 1 are played exactly the same. Kim let them swell a tiny bit, this is a Romanza. I would have preferred that the two parallel statements of the finale theme were treated in a similar way, but I can’t get everything I want.
Han Chen gave the Bach-Busoni Chaconne as much Baroque as he could. He played with very measured articulations, with purposeful timed releases in slightly detached sections, and was careful to avoid over-pedalling. The spacing between the notes became very expressive as a result. I’m not saying you need to play it in such a way, but it’s a very interesting take that with consistent dedication, turned out a kind of performance of this piece that I’m not used to hearing.
I can’t say that I’ve ever heard the Scriabin Fantasie all the way through and I’m better for hearing it today. I followed along part of it with the score to get a sense of style. The piece requires the pianist to balance the transitory elements of the composer’s evolving style. A lot of the textures and melodies are from Chopin, but some colorful harmonies are creeping in from later Scriabin. More than anything, he keeps a lot of color and ambiguity present from rhythm: quintuplets against duples, quintuplets against triplets, etc. This was a very convincing performance, I thought Chen followed Scriabin’s wanderings very well.
Chen put his clean articulation to use in the Janacek. Here especially the melodies are supposed to sound like a spoken language and we heard it from the start. Not that there aren’t explosions of anger and passion too. Chen morphed from one to the next very well.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Kreisleriana is a tough piece to pull off. I heard an amazing lecture recital analyzing all the symbolism and connections between the movements...but subsequently heard none of it in the performance. Maybe this piece is more gratifying for the performer? Nonetheless, Rachel Cheung gave one of the most compelling renditions I’ve heard. Her playing never felt constrained to a beat, her rubato being very organic. She was continuously aware of what was going on in the texture and she made sure she directed our ears to the music that was going on at the time. I still fail to see the value of the piece being so long, but I enjoyed moments here.
I always thought the opening of Prokofiev’s 6th Sonata should be driven by the left hand. I want to hear that incredibly dissonant leap voiced well, plus a little hesitation between each, and Cheung did the marvelously, creating the chaotic, disjunct opening with the right hand, that this piece needs. In that way, the understated section that follows seems far more appropriate. This piece has the hands crossing over a lot for pointillistic melodies or dialogues, and I was very impressed with her consistent voicing here; it wasn’t just acrobatics. This piece can easily sound like a mess and her version made perfect sense.
There was an understated tension in Song’s performance of the d minor concerto that I can't quite diagnosis. I do think part of it is he articulates the ends of phrases more than most. Even though he didn't do a lot of the things I usually listen for in Mozart, I found his playing engaging nonetheless. The first movement concerto took a slow tempo early on which really cranked up the drama more than most.
Honggi Kim played one of two non K 466/467 which certainly helped his cause. But I wasn't too excited by his style. While in the finale, he played orchestral-like outbursts in the appropriate places, it was all too tame for me through the rest of the concerto.
I’m not sure what to say about Yuri Favorin.
Tchaidze had some moments. The stormy middle section of the slow movement was especially effective, picking up the tempo somewhat. You’ve got to wonder what a period specialist such as McCegan thought of that idea. The Finale was a faster tempo than most, going off of my memory of other performances. It is supposed to be Allegro Assai, and some only get the first word. I loved his own cadenza in the finale. It did not let up, carrying the energy through, making the transformation to D Major all the more meaningful.
I'll post recaps of today's performances, plus I'll make my predictions before checking out the results, and then make a couple comments as we move into the Finals. That should all be posted tomorrow morning, if not tonight!
"Modern performers seem to regard their performances as texts rather than acts, and to prepare for them with the same goal as present-day textual editors: to clear away accretions. Not that this is not a laudable and necessary step; but what is an ultimate step for an editor should be only a first step for a performer, as the very temporal relationship between the functions of editing and performing already suggests." -Richard Taruskin, Text and Act