Our Woman at the Cliburn: Dvořák. And More Dvořák.

Our Woman at the Cliburn: Dvořák. And More Dvořák.

Kenneth Broberg297

June 7, 2017

How much Dvořák is an innocent listener expected to endure? Quite a bit, apparently, at least if the listener is attending this year’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

The competition has moved into the final rounds, and each of the six remaining contestants joins the Brentano Quartet in the Cliburn’s chamber portion. The finalists could choose one of four piano quintets: the Dvořák A Major, Op. 81; the Brahms F Minor, Op. 34; the Franck F Minor; and the Schumann E-flat Major, Op. 44. Finalists Daniel Hsu and Yury Favorin chose the Franck; three contestants—Kenneth Broberg, Yekwon Sunwoo, and Georgy Tchaidze—chose the Dvořák, and Rachel Cheung chose the Brahms (thank you!).

Broberg’s performance of Dvořák’s 1887 work opened the June 7 final round. Broberg, a Minneapolis native, is a controlled, expressive player, and, at 23, he seems destined for a productive career. His playing is mature, thoughtful, and eminently rhythmic. Throughout, his ensemble with the string players was solid, and, without fail, Dvořák’s characteristic snapping rhythmic patterns were precise and dancelike.

But is it fair to play the same work (in the same evening) as Korea’s Yekwon Sunwoo? Sunwoo, 28, seems to have music pouring out of his fingers; his musicality and elegance—combined with an economical technique and multiple variations in tone and dynamic levels—are gaining him fans. His opening tempo was brisk (the quartet had to look sharp to keep up with him), and his energy, command of sound, and clearly communicated cues sold the performance and kept the audience attentive.

Yekwon Sunwoo059

Yury Favorin, the oldest of the finalists at 30, provided a break from Dvořák with his performance of Franck’s 1879 quintet. The composition’s acrobatic piano part certainly showed off Favorin’s impressive technique, but his upcoming performance of the Prokofiev Concerto No. 2 should give audiences a fuller idea of his emotional range.

Yury Favorin e095

The June 8 evening concert will feature the Dvořák (surprise!), the Brahms, and the Franck. Performances and archives are streaming at cliburn.org.

(By the way, is Fort Worth in the middle of a tuberculosis epidemic? Granted, audience members reflexively cough between movements, but Wednesday night’s audience seemed to be at death’s door. The only thing to do was laugh.)