The finals of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition got underway in Bass Hall on Wednesday evening with three pianists starting the competition’s first round of chamber music.
They were Kenneth Broberg of the United States, Yury Favorin of Russia and Yekwon Sunwoo of South Korea. The result seemed to me to be pretty much a tie between Favorin and Sunwoo, with Broberg trailing a bit.
Before the round is over Thursday night, the six finalists will each have played a piano quintet with the Brentano String Quartet as partners. Members of the quartet are violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violist Misha Avery and cellist Nina Lee.
Favorin played Franck’s Piano Quintet in F minor, arguably the most beautiful thing Franck ever wrote. It was a magnificent performance overall, with Favorin finding plenty of beauty in the work’s lyrical passages and drama elsewhere. He had like-minded partners in the Brentano Quartet. Lee’s cello and Avery’s viola were particularly noteworthy.
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Sunwoo, who has been impressive throughout the competition, played a work that has had plenty of hearings in past Cliburns: Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A major. No wonder: It’s a great composition. Sunwoo, like Favorin before him, found plenty of drama and lyric beauty in the work he was playing — though I suspect he sees it as basically a lyrical masterpiece.
Broberg scored points of his own in the Dvorak Piano Quintet (the most popular choice among the six finalists). His playing was gentle when he was in an accompanying mode, but not devoid of drama elsewhere.
There were some glitches involving the audience Wednesday night. In fact, audience sounds have been noteworthy throughout the competition.
The most annoying Wednesday night was a digital voice clearly audible during Favorin’s performance.
Also, many in the audience applauded after every movement. An appeal for them to hold off until each piece was over helped but didn’t complete solve the problem.