Cliburn semifinal: Round 9

Tue Jun 06, 2017 at 12:24 am
By Wayne Lee Gay

The cadenzas proved, for better or worse, the high point of an otherwise weak performance by Canadian Tony Yike Yang as he opened the final portion of the semifinal round with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor with conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Fort Worth Symphony. Rushed and insecure tempos and obviously nerve-induced mishaps were relieved only by a nicely dramatic reading of Beethoven’s cadenza in the first movement and a hybrid cadenza drawing on Beethoven and Mitsuko Uchida in the third. Yang is definitely not ready for prime time in the concerto circuit.

The evening of Mozart concertos continued with Korean Yekwon Sunwoo’s rendition of No. 21 in C. Sunwoo owns the requisite elegant passagework and dresses up this familiar work with waves of crescendo and decrescendo in the two-handed contrary-motion arpeggio figure in the first movement. A luxuriant reading of the second movement, with its lavishly modulating second theme produced a particularly poetic moment. Cadenzas by Sunwoo’s teacher, the late Seymour Lipkin, enhanced the romantic effect.

Taiwanese competitor Han Chen likewise raised eyebrows with his unabashedly romantic cadenzas, also in No. 21 in C. Although anachronistic in a way that Lipkin’s cadenzas for the same concerto were not, Chen’s were faithful to the idea of the performer introducing (and showing off) his own ideas within Mozart’s work. And, at worst, they injected a moment of surprise (and, for many of us, delight) into an otherwise predictable evening. Otherwise, Chen’s reading was elegantly Mozartian, with a considerably smaller dynamic range than in Sunwoo’s immediately preceding performance of the same concerto.

Six performances of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor with the same conductor and professional orchestra but with six different pianists in two days is probably a record of sorts; Hong Kong pianist Rachel Cheung presented a beautifully paced and perfectly voiced performance of the work, smoothly integrating the Beethoven cadenza in the first movement and the Hummel in the third. Of the semifinal concerto performances, Heung presented the smoothest, clearest passagework, and is apparently the only of the semifinalists who has taken the trouble to learn historically accurate performance of eighteenth-century appoggiaturas. While this in itself doesn’t guarantee a great or even a good performance, it represents the sort of careful preparation and education that contributes to  a performance on this level.

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