The back half of the chamber music portion of the Van Cliburn Competition runs through Thursday evening, so I miss USA’s soccer team defeating Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier, with both goals coming from 18-year-old Christian Pulisic. That kid is amazing. Tracking the soccer fortunes of other countries with pianists in this final round, Russia does not have to qualify for the 2018 World Cup because they’re hosting the tournament. South Korea is in good shape, but will likely need to win an easy game against Qatar plus take one point from its remaining games against Iran and Uzbekistan to ensure automatic qualification. Hong Kong, alas, was eliminated from World Cup contention last March, finishing behind China and Qatar in the second round of Asian qualifying. In non-soccer news, the Golden State Warriors may be done with their competition before we’re done with ours, the British prime minister just bungled away her office like her predecessor did, and a former FBI director called the president a liar, to which the country said, “No shit.”
The Brentano String Quartet comes out much sharper today, playing the Dvořák piano quintet with Georgy Tchaidze, who comes onstage wearing glasses that make him look like the young Dmitri Shostakovich. They still sound like they’re trying to play a Rachmaninov concerto in the opening, but things calm down in the second movement to something like what the piece should sound like. The string players are now in sync with the pianist, and the sense of forward momentum has been restored. This is the best Dvořák performance we’ve heard in this round, but as I said the other day, the bar had been set rather low.
Rachel Cheung is the only pianist playing Brahms’ Piano Quintet, and she brings a muscular vigor to the piece that I appreciate. If only she had brought the same feel for the piece’s sturdy German despair to the stage. She has a better feel for this work than for the big pieces that she played during her semifinal recital. Maybe the quartet kept her in line, or maybe her performance in the last round was a blip. Still, her performance here is respectable but no more.
The last hope for a truly great chamber music performance is Daniel Hsu. For the first movement of the Franck Piano Quintet, I think he’s going to pull it off, as he and the Brentanos conjure up a harrowing opener, with the finesse and subtlety that Favorin didn’t have when he played it yesterday. This is the only performance where the piano blends in seamlessly with the strings, and yet some of the work’s nervous intensity gets lost in the second movement. The work as a whole comes out well-crafted but lacking the impact that the piece has in its best performances. Looks like the American teenager in this competition came up short of Christian Pulisic’s standard, but it’s not like his competitors did much better.
All in all, while some of these quintet performances are better than others, none of them is wholly satisfactory. I can’t say for sure that any of the contestants enhanced their chances of winning with this round. However, the concertos coming up will surely be the deciding factor.