Two fine piano quintet performances started and ended Saturday night’s semifinal session at the Van Cliburn Competition. The more impressive was Franck’s Quintet in F minor, played by Evgeni Bozhanov (photo at left) and the Takács Quartet. After a series of Brahms, Schumann and Dvorak quintets, it was a pleasant change to hear the Franck, which is a lovely work full of interesting musical ideas. Too bad it will be heard only once. Bozhanov impressed again with his artistry, producing a strong tone without turning bangy in bold passages and lavishing some beautiful flowing lyric sounds elsewhere.
For the concluding performance, Andrea Lam and the Takács four turned to Dvorak, working together beautifully as a team and producing a strong performance full of lyric joy.
The solo recital, between the two quintets, brought Di Wu onto the Bass Performance Hall stage. She opened with a clever idea, presenting what is probably the only wife-and-husband compositional team in the Cliburn Competition’s history. Clara Schumann’s Mazurka from Soirées musicales was followed by husband Robert Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze. The two works begin the same way, probably a marital team’s mutual salute. Clara’s work was a pleasant novelty. I find it hard to become engrossed in Robert’s set, though Wu was bringing some formidable art and skill to bear on it.
Hagen’s Suite for Piano was an interesting interlude between two period pieces of the sort you might have found on piano recitals of the late 19th century, Medtner’s Fairy Tales and Moszkowski’s Caprice Espagnol. Neither of them, especially Caprice Espagnol, is a work of great artistic merit, but Wu was a dazzling advocate. Besides, it’s nice to hear something new, even if it’s old.