Cliburn finals: Round 2

Thu Jun 08, 2017 at 11:00 pm
By Wayne Lee Gay

Rachel Cheung performed Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor with the Brentano String Quartet in the Cliburn Competition Finals Thursday night. Photo: Ralph Lauer

The third performance of Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A major in two days brought Georgy Tchaidze onstage with the Brentano Quartet.

For the Russian finalist the quartet served up amazing fulfillment of their job requirement, providing a third completely different reading, fitted to the demands of yet another competitor with distinct ideas. Tchaidze nestled the piano part neatly into the first movement, clearly on the same wave length as the quartet, with Dvorak’s alternating moods proceeding naturally  and logically, imbued with an apt sense of well-controlled passion. The subtle qualities of the Dumka movement also rose naturally—though the quartet could have supported a little more precisely here. Tchaidze’s finest moment arrived in the third movement (“Furiant”), with the Tranquillo middle section providing a moment of poetry in the midst of the wild Vivace sections that surround it; his near-perfection here keeps him in position as a strong contender for a medal.

Rachel Cheung of Hong Kong presented the sole performance of Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor at the 2017 Cliburn Competition, once again demonstrating a flawless technique. Here, that quality allowed her to produce a striking contrast between the brilliant fortissimo passages early on with a magically whispered pianissimo of the second theme. Cheung and the Brentano then uncovered the uniquely Brahmsian serenity of the Andante, followed by a momentous, irresistible forward motion in the martial Scherzo. The Quartet maneuvered nicely through the opening Sostenuto of the Finale—surely one of the most difficult passages to pull off convincingly in all the repertoire of chamber music for strings—before launching the closing Allegro.

At this point, Cheung is a favorite for one of the three medals, depending on how her performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto resonates in the final concerto round, surrounded by the monster concertos of Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff.

The final performance of the chamber music round brought the return of Franck’s Quintet in F minor, this time with American Daniel Hsu. Ambiguous articulation in the opening section resulted in a weak opening, and Hsu ever quite regained momentum. The relentless repetitive figurations in the Lento middle movement came off with workmanlike calm but little magic, even in the delicate  espressivo passage. The Allegro finale likewise reached its dramatic conclusion all too politely.



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