The Cliburn Competition entered its final lap on Wednesday night with a couple of prizeworthy concerto performances and a solo recital that had much to offer, though it didn’t reach exalted heights.
Each of the six finalists must play a 50-minute solo recital and two concertos with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Conlon. One concerto must be chosen from a list of supposedly smaller-scaled “classical” concertos, including ones by Beethoven and Mozart but also Chopin, Mendelssohn and even Saint-Saëns (the last two were not selected by any of the six finalists). The other concerto can be anything the contestant wants, within reason. This is where the big display pieces come in.
Evgeni Bozhanov of Bulgaria (shown above) played the first concerto of the finals, Chopin’s No. 1. As usual, I found Bozhanov’s music-making superb. This wasn’t Chopin the sickly musical poet but rather Chopin with inner strength that didn’t sacrifice lyrical beauty. Bozhanov’s songful account of the slow movement was touching, and I loved the perky, outgoing finale that sparkled with personality. Conlon and the Fort Worth Symphony offered like-minded support.
Another topnotch concerto performance was that of Beethoven’s Concerto No. 2 by Di Wu of China. A lovely, subtle slow movement was surrounded by two high-spirited quick movements that were exhilarating in execution and full of wit.
Mariangela Vacatello of Italy played the first notes of the finals to open her 50-minute recital. Much of her playing was pleasant and I especially liked her slightly aggressive performance of Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue in D-flat major, a somewhat cynical work and a big step away from the kind of repertory that has characterized this competition. However, Bach’s Italian Concerto, Chopin’s Rondo in E-flat, Opus 16, and especially Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit seemed more competent than inspiring.
The finals will follow the same pattern through Sunday afternoon: a solo recital followed by two concertos. Bass Performance Hall had the biggest audience so far for Wednesday night’s performance.