Cliburn Final Round, Fourth Concert: Vadym Kholodenko, Tomoki Sakata, Sean Chen

Beatrice Rana, Vadym Kholodenko, Sean ChenPhoto: Fort Worth Star-Telegram

If you’ve been following the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, you know that the big three awards went to Vadym Kholodenko from the Ukraine (gold), Beatrice Rana from Italy (silver) and Sean Chen from the USA (crystal). I’m happy with that, in part because I feel they deserved their awards and in part because the judges’ ranking exactly mirrors my own. Alas, I didn’t have enough confidence in mine to make it public beforehand (via Twitter I predicted in advance that the those three contestants would get medals without specifying which ones) so I can’t claim bragging rights for my prediction.

It probably doesn’t matter now, but here are my thoughts on the fourth and last final round concert with the Fort Worth Symphony under Leonard Slaktin, which concluded yesterday at 5:30 PM. I didn’t have time to post anything yesterday since the awards ceremony and reception started at 7 and I had to walk back to the hotel to change into my suit.

Mr. Kohlodenko opened with a very neat Mozart Concerto No. 21 (once known as the “Elvira Madigan” after a popular 1960s film that made extensive use of the second movement). It was stylistically on target, smoothly played, and featured two cadenzas that Mr. Kohlodenko wrote on the flight to Fort Worth. The first one had some impressive fugal passages and showed off Mr. Kholodenko’s abilities without being overly flashy. As in his Prokofiev 3rd Friday night, Mr. Kholodenko’s concentration and involvement with the music were unshakable.

Tomoki Sakata (the youngest finalist, at age 19) had some rather unfortunate episodes during a generally decent Tchaikovsky 1st. Some were his fault (flubbed and/or smeared notes) but some (apparently) were Mr. Slatkin’s (most noticeably a botched entry by the trombones in the first movement). The orchestra also played less well, to my ears, than it had for other soloists. They just did the Tchaikovsky back in February, so perhaps they overestimated their preparation.

Sean Chen brought everything to a rousing close with a Rachmaninov 3rd that had the crowd not just standing (which they did for every performance) but cheering loudly. Mr. Chen got five curtain calls and deserved every one. I had good things to say about Fei-Fei Dong’s Rach 3 on Thursday (a minority view among the critics, as far as I could see) but Mr. Chen’s was clearly the superior performance, with volcanic power and finesse—and none of the banging that showed up in his “Emperor” concerto Friday night.

If you want to see what the medalists looked and sounded like, by the way, the Cliburn organization is making all of the concerts (including the final four) available as on-demand video at their web site.

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