Blogging the Cliburn (Finals Day 1)
Spent my day off watching Man of Steel at a preview screening. You’ll have to wait until next week to find out what I think of the Superman film, but I will say that after steeping in high culture for the last week and a half, it was a relief to be back in the movie world for a bit.
In exchange for doubling the recitals in the first round, the Cliburn has eliminated the solo recital in the final round this year. I don’t see large numbers of people mourning the passing of the solo recital. It’ll be just concertos through the end.
I’ve been on the contestants for choosing the same concertos for the final round in each Cliburn (Prokofiev 2 and 3; Rachmaninov 2, 3, and Paganini; and Tchaikovsky). This year, some of my fellow music critics answered my complaint: The pianists have extremely limited rehearsal time with the orchestra and conductor, and they’re choosing the warhorses because they’ll be able to pull together good performances on short notice. I can certainly see the logic in not forcing the orchestra to pick up Lennox Berkeley’s Piano Concerto or something similarly obscure on the fly. (I can’t help imagining some pianist requesting Busoni’s Piano Concerto and forcing the competition’s organizers to find a male chorus to sing with the orchestra.) Still, Ravel and Liszt’s concertos don’t strike me as works that an orchestra would find out of their orbit. I’d like to see a pianist choose one of those. If somebody played Gershwin’s Concerto in F at the Van Cliburn, that would make me a happy man. Well, a classical music critic can dream.
Did I say that the orchestra would be under Leonard Slatkin’s baton at some point? I can’t remember; I’ve written a lot of words in the last two weeks. Well, the maestro didn’t use a baton to lead the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra tonight. This seems to be a new thing with him; he has used a baton on plenty of previous occasions. Wonder what prompted this decision.
Rana began the final round with Beethoven’s Third Concerto, giving a faultless, rigorous performance with some stretches of glorious music-making, especially during the first movement’s cadenza. It was an auspicious beginning for this evening’s concert, for the competition’s final round in general, and for her own performance in the round.
Fun fact: Nikita Mndoyants is the son of Alexander Mndoyants, who reached the final round of the Van Cliburn Competition in 1977, tying for sixth place with Ian Hobson. The younger Mndoyants has now equaled his father’s accomplishment in this tournament, and he played Prokofiev’s Second Concerto like he was determined to improve on it. Too early to say if he’s done it yet, but if he doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of any effort on his part. He tossed off the concerto’s gnarly technical demands quite easily, and in this relentlessly loud piece, he even managed to find some delicacy. (I’m thinking of the glissandos in the third movement and the contemplative second theme in the finale.) It was a tremendous performance of this showpiece.
Dong Fei-Fei played Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto. Everyone seemed to love this performance. Maybe this is only because I’ve come to expect glorious things from her, but I found this performance a tad short of her sky-high standards. It was still good stuff from the Chinese pianist. She can’t generate the raw power of somebody like Mndoyants (who’s a tall, well-built man), and you could feel Maestro Slatkin dialing back the volume levels on the orchestra to avoid overpowering her. I found the second movement in particular somewhat plain in her hands, but she handled this exhausting and technically demanding work without running out of gas, and she brought the passion in both the first movement and the finale, where she came on strong. The crowd seems to respond to her in ways that they don’t to these other pianists, and the brilliant smile she flashed while taking her bows after the piece was over gave a clue as to why.