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< The Cliburn Semifinals - Day One | Main | Day Three - Monosyllabic Pianists... >

The Semifinal Recitals - Day Two

Posted at 11:38 AM on May 30, 2009 by Greg Allen (1 Comments)

This Cliburn Festival entry written by Gregory Allen, Professor of Piano, University of Texas at Austin, exclusively for Performance Today's Fredlines.

I'm thinking maybe we've been hoodwinked... Haochen Zhang set the bar so high in the prelims, it was probably inevitable that he'd be unable to improve on that impression; but to my mind the disappointment goes deeper. I thought I had sensed an instinctive eloquence in his Op. 110 and Polonaise-Fantaisie, but this recital came across as merely proficient. He recited 24 Chopin Preludes in a crisply enunciated, dispassionate manner, plodded heavily through White Lies for Lomax, and fanned the flames but failed to ignite the Spanish Rhapsody. His prodigious gifts didn't just disappear overnight, but this performance was more about surface than substance, more adolescence than wisdom.

Kyu Yeon Kim, on the other hand, confirmed and built on the good vibes I had from the first round. It's pretty rare to encounter Beethoven's Op. 101 in a competition, and my skepticism was aroused - is there a REASON she's presenting it? Well, yes... It fulfilled three of my basic criteria for a fine performance: it was accurate, both technically and stylistically; beautiful - sonorities were chosen with discriminating good taste; and interesting, showing an inquiring mind at work. A few nit-picks aside, I found this eminently respectable. It may just be context (as I noted in regards to Ms. Vacatello's recital), but I'm feeling that Daron Hagen's Suite is only superficially attractive - certainly Ms. Kim didn't try to reveal hidden truths that aren't there... Her Pictures at an Exhibition were imaginative and sharply characterized; I won't argue that they weren't also provocative. She used some blunt, unlovely sounds quite deliberately - this is Russian realism, after all - and she let show her chagrin over a memory slip, which is considered a no-no (although not necessarily an automatic disqualification). Yes, I thought Bydlo was bizarre, and Baba Yaga too fast; but I really liked the Old Castle, the Chicks, the Catacombs. Now, will someone please tell me why the chorales in the Great Gate of Kiev are always played so rigidly?? This is liturgical chant, folks, and should be freely declaimed... get rid of those barlines and that metronome!!

Yeol Eum Son's group of Debussy Preludes was only intermittently successful. The Sounds and Perfumes didn't swirl in the night air, the West Wind didn't see anything particularly terrifying, and our Flaxen-haired Girl morphed into a spinster aunt. I did like the other three well enough, though. What I don't like is Godowsky's Fledermaus potpourri: it's just one hugely grotesque introduction, an upbeat to a downbeat that never arrives. Why bother?? In White Lies, Ms. Son unveiled a very different piece than did Bozhanov - a more mellow, nostalgic view that unfolded in beautifully modulated arcs. Having heard it four times only, I'm finding this to be one of the best new works presented at this competition in years. (My previous favorite is Morton Gould's Ghost Waltzes, from 1993.) Her program concluded with a knockout performance of the Barber Sonata. For the first time in my listening experience, all the disparate elements were fused into an organic, cohesive whole; I heard distinct parallels to the Expressionist styles of Berg and 1920s Bartok. Sadly, fatigue caught up with her at the end, but I'll still say BRAVO, Ms. Son, and thank you for elevating this work to the stature it deserves!

Comments ( 1 )

I disagree strongly with your assessment of the Hagen Suite for Piano. The work is humble, elegant, and reveals, with careful study, much gentle feeling. Following the Liszt which pounds its chest shamelessly, is unfair to it, as you yourself seem to understand.

Posted by David Williams | May 31, 2009 10:09 AM

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