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Cliburn Competition Rapidly Winding Down


by Olin Chism 6 Jun 2009

The Cliburn Competition is starting to wind down now. On Saturday afternoon Yeol Eum Son of South Korea (left) became the first contestant to play her last note, finishing a mighty performance and maintaining the remarkable consistency she has displayed throughout the past 2½ weeks. Her choice of a final concerto was unusual. Prokofiev’s third […]

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Van Cliburn Foundation/Altre Media

The Cliburn Competition is starting to wind down now. On Saturday afternoon Yeol Eum Son of South Korea (left) became the first contestant to play her last note, finishing a mighty performance and maintaining the remarkable consistency she has displayed throughout the past 2½ weeks.

Her choice of a final concerto was unusual. Prokofiev’s third has been such a faithful part of the Cliburn repertory for decades that it almost seems an act of infidelity to abandon it for something else by the Russian composer. But Son played Prokofiev’s second and gave the Bass Hall audience something new to marvel at.

This is a work of great variety, often quite percussive in nature though with more than a few passages of lyric interest. It is clearly designed to show off a pianist’s technique, with an unusually long first-movement cadenza, a perpetuum mobile for a scherzo, and many unusual leaps and flourishes.

Son brought it all off with apparent ease, setting a model for Haochen Zhang to consider when he tackles the same concerto on Sunday afternoon.

In fact, Zhang played his finals solo recital Saturday afternoon just before Son’s concerto. His performance of Brahms’ Handel Variations was cleanly played, with plenty of variety and clarity (one of Zhang’s characteristics). A very different piece was Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, which was stylishly done, with flowing elegance in the opening movement, a haunting gallows scene and an impressively handled tough finale.

The amazing Nobuyuki Tsujii joined James Conlon and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra to end the afternoon session with an old standby, Rachmaninoff’s second concerto. It’s now well past the point when you felt some concern about Tsujii’s blindness and its possible effect on his playing. There’s simply no handicap there. He gave a sweeping and lovely performance, beautifully in sync with his colleagues onstage.

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