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Quintet Highlights Cliburn Semifinal Session


by Olin Chism 29 May 2009

Bass Hall was the setting for some marvelous music-making at Friday afternoon’s session of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition semifinals. One highly successful program was that of the blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii (photo at left). Any idea that he is a superb solo artist but might have difficulty in a collaborative environment was […]

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Bass Hall was the setting for some marvelous music-making at Friday afternoon’s session of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition semifinals.

One highly successful program was that of the blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii (photo at left). Any idea that he is a superb solo artist but might have difficulty in a collaborative environment was decisively put to rest when he joined the Takács Quartet for Schumann’s Quintet in E-flat. This was a wonderful performance, perhaps the most engrossing I have heard anyone give this Cliburn favorite.

How, in such an environment, do the players begin when they all have to start together? Simple. The first violin watches Tsujii, the other players watch the first violin, and when Tsujii gives a nod away they go. Thereafter the musical vibes provide the cohesive force and they’re all on the same track.

The Takács four — Edward Dusinberre and Károly Schranz, violins; Geraldine Walther, viola; and András Fejér, cello — really put themselves into this performance and Tsujii combined force and lyric beauty in a subtle collaboration. The five got quite a reception from the audience.

The Schumann was preceded and followed by two solo recitals, by Haochen Zhang of China and Kyu Yeon Kim of South Korea. Both were impressive.

Zhang’s 24 Preludes, Opus 28, by Chopin were eloquently played, with no excessive sentimentalizing in the more lyrical ones. Bates’ White Lies for Lomax was played from memory (using the music’s OK). It was given a clean and vivid performance, with a feel for its jazzy spirit. Liszt’s Spanish Rhapsody was a dazzler. Anyone who can play this without offending me has my admiration.

There was plenty of lyrical beauty, dramatic force and playfulness in Kim’s performance of Beethoven’s Sonata in A, Opus 101. Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition became a fine musical exhibition full of variety and eloquent sound pictures. Is there anything in music grander than “The Great Gate of Kiev”? Kim caught the grandeur. Hagen’s Suite for Piano was a well played interlude between Beethoven and Mussorgsky.

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