Cliburn finals: Round 1

Wed Jun 07, 2017 at 11:12 pm
By Wayne Lee Gay

Yury Favorin performed with the Brentano String Quartet Wednesday night at the Cliburn International Piano Competition. Photo: Ralph Lauer

The opening night of the chamber music phase of the Cliburn Competition featured one young pianist who proved earnest but apparently inexperienced; one who appeared to hold a thorough understanding of chamber music performance on a thoroughly professional level; and one who collaborated with the Brentano Quartet to produce a masterful and memorable reading worthy of the finest musicians currently before the public.

The Brentano Quartet, as expected and required, fulfilled its function handsomely with all three competitors, providing a solid foundation and responding to all circumstances.

American Kenneth Broberg opened the evening with fiery passion in Dvorak’s Piano Quartet in A major but didn’t quite communicate a grip on the work’s larger structure: the first movement, though exciting, turned into a patchwork of emotions for the sort of performance typical of nervous competitors. Broberg naturally reined in the wildness for the second movement, a Dumka, or lament; here, once again, one sensed that the quartet was having to put most of its effort into reaction rather than true collaboration.

The critical issue of balance becomes even more significant in the Furiant movement and the Allegro finale; Broberg clearly has an affinity for Dvorak on the level of details, but didn’t quite manage to blend into an ensemble experience in this large work. His almost exclamatory rendition of the final statement of the main theme epitomized his willingness to grab the spotlight in what is supposed to be a communal experience.

With his performance of Franck’s Piano Quintet in F minor, Yury Favorin took another step in what is looking more and more like a sure shot at a medal. Franck did his part by creating an irresistible forward impetus in this monument of French romanticism, but the performers must play their role by maintaining a balance of excitement and control.

Favorin and the Brentano Quartet managed this not just competently, but magnificently. The first movement offers constant shifts from storm clouds to sunshine, and Favorin and the quartet timed each leap of emotion perfectly. The second movement, although marked Lento, challenges the pianist with constant repeated notes and chords, demanding a perfect sense of volume and cooperation with the strings. Favorin absolutely accomplished that partnership, as he did in the final Allegro non troppo.

In the evening’s second presentation of the Dvorak Piano Quintet, Korean Yekwon Sunwoo communicated both an understanding of the monumental structure as well as the skill and inclination to create a meaningfully integrated chamber performance. His approach was not so extreme as the evening’s earlier Dvorak, and fell within a narrower dynamic range; the Brentano Quartet responded in kind. One sensed this ideal level of give-and-take particularly in the slow middle section of the Furiant.

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