Jed Distler’s Cliburn Blog #18: “It’s Not Over Until It’s Over?”

Yesterday I compared Ilya Shmukler’s Concerto Grieg to a fifth wheel, surrounded and enveloped by performances of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3.

I also wrote how Clayton Stephenson’s Rach 3 had many admirable qualities that caught my ear and held my attention.

Yet the fluidity, ease and absolute control at all speeds that Yunchan Lim brought to his Rach 3 unquestionably dominated the evening and galvanized the audience. Fellow pianists clogged my social media feeds with texts and posts, all basically saying “Gold Medal” over and over.

It’s not fair to declare an outright winner when the contest isn’t over yet. Or, to quote legendary New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, “It’s not over until it’s over.” However, Dmytro ChoniThe tapers of Beethoven’s mannered phrases in the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 cut the points of classical style I counted throughout its semi-final of Mozart’s Concerto in D Minor. He regained his musical composure in time for a sustained, well-done slow movement. The Rondo featured deft interaction between soloist and orchestra, though not quite on the audacious scale of Yunchan Lim a few nights earlier.

Uladzislau Khandohi‘s delivered his finest performance of a Cliburn concerto in Chopin’s E minor, particularly in the Rondo Finale, where his fleet passage undulated with refined symmetry and a combination of poise and momentum. Naturally, a Cliburn competition cannot take place without at least one final performance of Van Cliburn’s greatest hit, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. ballet impulse as fire and brimstone.

Nevertheless, I could not help but assimilate Anna GeniusheneCliburn’s seasoned pianism at its finest. Let’s just take this last octave peroration as an example. The most ambitious competitors try to draw attention to themselves, playing as fast as possible. Geniushene, on the other hand, picks up the music where the orchestra leaves off, shaping the passage from what precedes and building the climax in a way that leads steadily into the coda, rather than leaving the orchestra hanging. I also noticed how willing Geniushene was to accompany and give their due to the soloists in the first section of the second movement.

Due to airport delays and travel hassles, I was unable to follow the proceedings of the final day in real time. When I finally arrived at my Toronto hotel to watch them on YouTube, the closing ceremony had already passed. It took every ounce of discipline not to stare at the list of winners until the last notes of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto sounded. Unsurprisingly, Yunchan Lim won the gold medal. The silver medal went to Anna Geniushene, while Dmytro Choni placed third. I also wasn’t surprised that Lim won the crowd favorite award.

I regret that some of my favorite contestants did not make it to the final, and I’m sure there will be a lot of debate after the competition as to why Pianist X rather than Pianist Y placed second or third. Still, I’ve tried to call it what I heard it, so to speak, and guide readers to a wealth of wonderful musical creations. I can only imagine the joy of all these pianists to return to the world of live performance.

To view videos from this year’s competition, visit the Cliburn International Piano Competition website:

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