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Level Remains High as Cliburn Semis Proceed

lifits-michailFriday night’s session at the Cliburn Competition reinforced the idea that this is going to be a tough one for the judges. There simply are too many people playing well, and that included all three of the evening’s performers.

Michail Lifits of Germany (photo at left) joined the Takács Quartet for a beautifully flowing lyrical performance of Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat. This was the second topflight Schumann quintet of the day, Nobuyuki Tsujii of Japan being the pianist in the other. Lifits’ interpretation might have been just a shade subtler, but why think comparison? I thoroughly enjoyed them both.

Yeol Eum Son of South Korea had been very impressive in the preliminary round, and on Friday night her solo recital for the semifinals reinforced the initial impression.

Six of Debussy’s Preludes from Book I were highly atmospheric sound pictures. I especially enjoyed the evocatively titled “What the West Wind Saw” (or Ce qu’a vu le d’Ouest if you prefer the French) and the more demure “Girl With the Flaxen Hair” (La fille aux cheveux de lin”).

Godowsky’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes from Die Fledermaus by J. Strauss II was an entertaining look back at the sort of concert piece you’d have been likely to encounter as the 19th century turned into the 20th.

Playing by memory, Son gave a polished performance of Bates’ White Lies for Lomax, which has turned into the most popular (and very likely the most likely to flourish) of the Cliburn’s commissioned works.

A more-than-solid performance of Barber’s Piano Sonata brought Son’s recital to a magnificent finish.

Alessandro Deljavan of Italy joined the Takács Quartet to end the session with a powerful Brahms Piano Quintet. Deljavan seemed at home in the chamber-music environment and gave a more satisfying performance of the Brahms than had Ran Dank the day before.