Since no one is having any obvious blowouts in this year’s Cliburn finals (the overall level is higher than the historic norm for this competition), reactions are increasingly subjective.
I have been a fan of South Korea’s Yeol Eum Son (shown above) since her preliminary recital, and her finals recital Thursday night did nothing to shake my commitment. For one thing, the pieces she played were of the highest quality — Bach (in an arrangement by Egon Petri), Schubert and Beethoven.
Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze was more romantic in character than a scholar would like, but it was sensitively played and actually quite touching. Two Schubert Impromptus, Nos. 3 and 4, D. 935, were another pleasurable span of music-making.
My one slight reservation was in Beethoven’s final sonata, Opus 111. The final movement is one of music’s deepest and can transport you to celestial realms. Son played it beautifully but didn’t quite achieve a rapturous state, though she came close.
The astonishing Nobuyuki Tsujii of Japan, who has a hallful of fans, joined James Conlon and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra for Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which Evgeni Bozhanov had played the evening before. Tsujii’s performance didn’t seem quite as nuanced as Bozhanov’s potent interpretation, but still it was strong and subtle and probably kept Tsujii high on the list of contenders.
Another consistent performer, like Son, is China’s Haochen Zhang, who turned 19 on Wednesday and met the Cliburn’s minimum age requirement by a whisker. Zhang’s clean and elegant performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, K. 466, was a pleasure to hear. He’s probably high on many listeners’ private lists of gold medal prospects.