Van Cliburn’s named popped up on one of the piano forums. Would he have made the same formidable impression in today’s Moscow Competition as he did in 1958?
The answer is simply YES, and resurrecting a flashback of his winning performance sheds light on how and why his Tchaikovsky 1, at least for me, stands out as uniquely memorable. (I might add that I heard Van play the towering signature concerto at Lewisohn Stadium in the Bronx under the baton of Kiril Kondrashin upon the pianist’s US return)
It was evident that Van allowed the concerto to play itself with its unswerving, embedded lyricism. He didn’t toy with phrases, fight the bravura octaves, or apply extreme rubato to distort musical lines. His gorgeous singing tone was unabated through the most challenging cascades of notes and his thread of MELODY permeated the most dizzying passagework. Yet Van made his virtuoso journey look effortless with big, relaxed gestures of his arms that funneled energy down through his wrists into fluid finger approaches into the keys.
There was no battlefield landscape, as perhaps the 1812 Overture might have evoked. Van knew better than to leave listeners with a one dimensional warhorse impression. He respected the immense color palette of the composer’s creation and its underlying singing dimension.
In the concluding Presto movement, Van imbued more contrasts through rhythmically animated chords. He refused to carbon copy measures of the same. His playing had dynamic variation and riveting emotional engagement without a forced pushing, pulling, poking or prodding of phrases.
Finally, Cliburn was at all times a soloist and collaborator, embedded in expressive counterpoint/dialog with the orchestra in an interactively pulsating exchange.
On so many levels, Cliburn was a winner back in 1958, and I surmise, in today’s Moscow Competition 2015, he would be my undeniable favorite.
The XV International Tchaikovsky Competition resumes today, June 30, in a Medici TV beamed LIVESTREAM.
Original Content: Van Cliburn’s Tchaikovsky No. 1 concerto revisited