Cliburn Finals: Round 4

Sat Jun 10, 2017 at 6:27 pm
By Wayne Lee Gay

Georgy Tchaidze performed Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with Leonard Slatkin conducting the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Saturday in the Final Round of the Cliburn International Piano Competition. Photo: Ralph Lauer

Finalist Rachel Cheung struck off the beaten path for her final concerto round performance Saturday afternoon. At a point at which most competitors want to show off how fast and loud they can play, Cheung opted for the most reflective and serene of Beethoven’s piano concertos, No. 4 in G.

Given a strong lead up in her previous rounds, and the potential for ear fatigue among jurors from the barnburners by Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev that surrounded her in the concerto round, this was a reasonable ploy and a good gamble. Cheung definitely made a strong case for her sensitivity and style, and even for a unique take on Beethoven, with sparkling, featherlight scales and arpeggios, and generally elegant dynamic range. However, a work of this sort, with its naked exposure of passagework, demands perfection, which Cheung couldn’t muster as the performance continued.

Georgy Tchaidze dived into Prokofiev’s Third Concerto with a tight, nervous energy; conductor Slatkin supported with a bombastic reading of the score as a whole. Tchaidze had a tendency to rush in particularly demanding passages; blame the rarified atmosphere of the final round of competition, but Tchaidze, as most of the other competitors, delivered what emerged more as a series of intense segments than a unified, convincing whole. Still, the sun rose gloriously in the C major final phrases, with flawless—and therefore thrilling—technical work from Tchaidze.

For his final concerto round, American Daniel Hsu took the risk of the overfamiliar, in the form of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Once again, some sloppy entrances from the orchestra at key points distracted from the musical experience; Hsu, meanwhile, took a determinedly fresh angle in phrasing and dynamics in that all-too-famous introduction. Some muddy octaves in the first movement, slowed momentum.

However, Hsu’s take on the middle movement, accompanied by some delicate playing from principals in the orchestra, made for one of the afternoon’s high points. In the final moments of his performance—and of the competition—his technical prowess and sheer velocity proved impressive, at least on the athletic level, predictably setting off one of the largest ovations at an event where extravagant ovations are the rule.

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