Winner Announced for the BPSE Intercollegiate Competition 2014: Mihail Ritivoiu
a report by Malcolm Miller
Mihai Ritivoiu (Guildhall School of Music and Drama) was the first prize winner at the 22nd Beethoven Senior Intercollegiate Piano Competition 2014, held on Sunday 23 November 2014 at the Austrian Cultural Forum, near London’s Hyde Park. The competition attracted an enthusiastic audience to hear the eight talented competitors, each from a UK conservatoire, performing a Beethoven sonata of their choice and a compulsory Bagatelle, Op 33 No 2 in C major, before a distinguished jury comprising Noretta Conci, Piers Lane and Christopher Axworthy. Alberto Portugheis, BPSE Vice-Chairman, introduced the proceedings and thanked the Austrian Cultural Forum for their generous hospitality and use of the Bösendorfer piano.
First to perform was Aleksandar Djermanovic (Royal College of Music), whose rendition of the early sonata Op 2 No 3 in C flowed with rhythmic drive and much dynamic contrast. His Bagatelle was light and witty and overall there were some very good musical ideas in evidence. Next to perform was Birute Stundziaite (Royal Northern College of Music) with an impressive Sonata Op 28 in D, Pastoral, the first of two offered in the competition. The reading was reliable yet in some ways undifferentiated, the second movement needing more atmosphere and dynamic contrast, whilst one might have warmed to a bit more wit in the third and delicacy in the finale.
The eight competitors of the 2014 BPSE Intercollegiate Piano Competition. From left to right: Aleksandar Djermanovic, Marianna Raitikaanen, Ashok Gupta, Minyoung Bae (second prize and audience prize winner), Robertas Lozinskis, Birute Stundziaite, Mihai Ritivoiu (first prize winner) and Yehuda Inbar (third prize winner). Photo © 2014 David Cohen
The eight competitors of the 2014 BPSE Intercollegiate Piano Competition. From left to right: Aleksandar Djermanovic, Marianna Raitikaanen, Ashok Gupta, Minyoung Bae (second prize and audience prize winner), Robertas Lozinskis, Birute Stundziaite, Mihai Ritivoiu (first prize winner) and Yehuda Inbar (third prize winner). Photo © 2014 David Cohen. Click on the image for higher resolution
It was the turn of Mihai Ritivoiu (Guildhall School of Music and Drama), whose interpretation of Sonata Op 57 in F minor, Appassionata, was the most mature so far, with a vision of the whole articulated through a varied tonal palette in the large scale first movement displaying refreshing coherence of phrasing. The second movement was beguiling, with colour in the variations, and a clear sense of structure. The finale’s polyphony was expertly projected, beads of sweat attesting to the effort of his dexterity.
From the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Robertas Lozinskis’ performance of the Moonlight, Op 27 No 2 in C sharp minor, lacked a degree of dynamic gradation and contrast which restricted the expressive range. Yehuda Inbar (Royal Academy of Music) gave an impressive interpretation of the Sonata Op 109 in E, the only ‘late’ work in the programme, and there was much structural control and evenness of tone. Minyoung Bae (Trinity Laban Conservatoire) displayed a natural facility in her flowing account of the Sonata Op 101 in A. The programme concluded with the second appearances of the ‘Pastoral’ and ‘Appassionata’ sonatas: Ashok Gupta (Birmingham Conservatoire) gave an intensely personal and individually conceived reading of Op.28, with skillful left hand articulation, whilst Marianna Raitikaanen (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama), after a somewhat faltering start to Op.57, evolved an interpretation of warmth and passion.
The newly elected BPSE UK Chairman, Julian Jacobson, delivered a short speech about the society during the jury’s deliberations, following which the retiring UK Chairman, Malcolm Troup, introduced the jury and their spokesman Piers Lane, to deliver the decision. In his prefatory remarks, Piers Lane underlined his delight at the occasion and noted some of the points the jury was concerned with in its choices. Noting the generosity of the ACF in hosting the occasion, the particular instrument and the room’s acoustic brought their own challenges in addition to those of the interpretation of the sonatas. Thus one of the considerations was to evaluate the way competitors coped with the room and piano, in order to present their ideas successfully.
The Jury was looking for interesting ideas on style, ways of communicating a sense of the shaping of the structure of the whole, of an organism in which one thing grew out of another, all adding up and making sense. Piers Lane observed from a more personal angle: ‘I am always interested in pianists who reflect in the left hand what the right hand is doing, and who convey a sense of harmonic line, because the harmony has to make sense. Some parts have to resolve, others to be left in the air, and pauses and rests count as well in that regard: those musical details all matter.’ He concluded that whilst no single performance had everything the jury would have loved, such as superb colour and tone, great structure and perfect accuracy, everyone had various elements and great ideas.
The choice of first prize winner was Mihai Ritivoiu (Guildhall School of Music and Drama), with second prize awarded to Minyoung Bae (Trinity Laban Conservatoire), who also received the Audience Prize, whilst third prize was presented to Yehuda Inbar (Royal Academy of Music). A ‘Special Commendation’ was given to Birute Stundziaite (Royal Northern College of Music). Prizes were presented to the winners by BPSE Patrons W C L Brown CBE and Nachiko Brown, whilst the Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians was presented by the new Master, Kathleen Duncan OBE. Once engraved, a further ceremony will take place at the Winner’s Recital during the 2015 BPSE recital season. Full details of this and other winner’s concerts will appear on the BPSE website: http://www.bpse.org.
Report on the 2014 Junior Intercollegiate Beethoven Competition by Stephen Savage
James Orrell, Tomoka Kan, Albert Cano-Smit with the Jury
The Society presented its 2014 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition on Sunday 16 March at the Austrian Cultural Forum, London when we heard six talented and highly distinctive young performers in their choice of a Sonata, together with the luminously serene B flat Bagatelle, Op 119 No 11. How fortunate they are to already have these masterworks under their fingers. They can be assured that over time the capacity of these works to reflect their own subsequent development and insight will be limitless. As it is, we were aware of budding individuals coming to grips not only with the pianistic challenges but the special imperatives which Beethoven demands. In the words of Julian Jacobson in announcing the Jury’s verdict, clarity and honesty are the attributes above all, and the ability to join your performer’s passion with Beethoven’s.
The afternoon started with Iain Clarke from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in the Pathetique Sonata. His finale came to life with sharper fingerwork and characterisation than he had shown us earlier and there was some loss of narrative power with intrusive pulse modifications. But there was an air of thoughtful sincerity to his playing. Joshua Venables from the Centre for Young Musicians also lost some rhythmic focus and the lyric eloquence of the opening movement was underplayed with tone that verged on the abrupt. The concluding Bagatelle found him poised and at ease. It must be said that the conditions of performance for these players were not easy. The acoustic of the first-floor drawing room is clear but bright, attributes shared by the instrument. This presents a challenge for the performer who wishes to characterise boldly, without undue inhibition yet keep the sound within a suitable scale. However, it is also true that the listener (at least this one) quickly adjusts to the given ambience and focusses on the distinctive characteristics of each pianist. Lauren Zhang’s facility and determined energy did not avoid over-percussive forcing, yet Beethoven’s uncompromising insistency was also weakened with cosmetic dynamic alterations. The volatility of his dramatic power needs to be focussed within a tighter rhythmic framework. James Orrell of the Royal Northern College of Music, showed an affinity with the confiding, affectionate nature of Op 78’s opening movement and the finale was nimble if a little heavy. The Bagatelle was played with meaning, and he was awarded 3rd place.
Albert Cano-Smit from Chethams School of Music made Op 109 his ambitious choice. He revealed a bold personality, quite prepared to take risks, as in his headlong tempo for the Prestissimo movement,though less successful in revealing the Variations as convincing sequence. The jury (Bobby Chen, Melvyn Cooper and Julian Jacobson) were clearly impressed with the potential revealed in this playing, awarding Albert the first prize. Yet Tomoka Kan’s 2nd Prize programme gave particular pleasure. A subtly voiced Bagatelle was succeeded by a poised and unaffected Pastoral Sonata, Op 28, and it was a delight to experience this disciplined yet thoroughly musical playing.
Stephen Savage (c) 2014
2013 BPSE Chamber Music Competition Winners Announced!
The winners of the 2013 BPSE Chamber Music Competition were Benjamin Baker, violin and Petr Limonov, piano, both graduates at the RCM, who received the Gwyneth George Award.
The final took place held at Steinway Hall on 1 May 2013, and featured three duos who also participated in an extended masterclass given on the previous day by the distinguished violinist Oliver Lewis, who was a member of the Jury that also included the veteran cellist Gwyneth George, patron of the competition, and pianist Alberto Portugheis, Vice President of the BPSE.
The competition attracted a select audience to enjoy enthralling performances attuned to the chamber music intimacy and interactivity of Beethoven’s duos for violin and cello. The programme was framed by Op 30 nos 1 and 2 with the cello sonata Op 102/1 in between, providing stylistic as well as timbral contrast. Particularly attractive was Benjamin Barker’s tone quality, gliding into phrases with expressive colour, and investing each motif and gesture with sonorous presence, always alert to unexpected shifts of accents. Limonov generally adopted a crisp and rhythmically pointed attack which enhanced the sense of drama, especially in the outer movements, with a slow movement that was tellingly shaped. Laura Moinian cello and Ching Hand Li piano followed with their rendition of the Cello Sonata Op. 102/1 with plenty of attention to the shifting rhetoric and rhythmically arresting dialogues. The programmed concluded with a stirring and mature account of Op.30/2 by Remy Walter, violin and Asiya Akperova, piano, with plenty of attention to silences as a contrast to the momentum of the whole.
In the Jury announcement, Alberto Portugheis highlighted the high standards and added that in addition to the main cash award to Benjamin Barker and Petr Limonov, all three duos would be invited to participate in the forthcoming BPSE concert series.
Winner for 2013 BPSE Junior Intercollegiate Competition
The Jury – and prize winners Left to Right: Melvyn Cooper, Angela Brownridge, Martin Bartlett, Hayley Parkes and Anda Anastacescu
The winner of the 2013 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition, held at the Austrian Cultural Forum (28 Rutland Gate, London SW7 1PQ) on Sunday 17 March 2013 was the young Hayley Parkes of Chethams School of Music with a beautifully performed Sonata in A flat major Op 26. Second prize was awarded to Martin Bartlett of the Royal College of Music (Junior Dept) who gave an impressively polished account of Op 10/3. Altogether five pianists drawn from music schools and Junior departments in the UK performed a programme comprising the compulsory Bagatelle Op. 119/11 in B flat and a sonata of choice before a distinguished Jury comprising Anda Anastacescu, Angela Brownridge, and Melvyn Cooper, as well as a select audience.
Martin Bartlett (RCM) launched the competition with a confident and interesting account of Op 10/3 and an especially impressive final movement. The initial Presto was taken at a fairly measured pace, yet was full of detail, especially the polyphonic strands and inverted pedals, and the sonata structure was well defined, in a crisp and dramatic performance. The Largo e mesto drew some really imaginative colours, spacious and lyrical at the same time, with full weight given to the harmonic chromaticism, and dynamics, though one might suggest more subtle shading. There was a lyrically friendly contour to the Menuetto and a sense of delicacy in the syncopated Rondo finale with a touch of humour. Overall therefore it was a performance with command of the technical aspects, radiating interest and enjoyment; apart from some over heavy chords the pianistic sonority was appealing and well varied.
Alistair Backhouse (Royal; Northern College of Music) gave a fair performance of the well-known Moonlight Sonata, despite a few missed notes in the repeating arpeggiated accompaniment. While there was energy in the fluid and propulsive finale some of the chords were rather harsh. It is a highly challenging sonata to bring off and requires much experience.
Hayley Parkes (Chethams) displayed poise at the piano and throughout produced a beautiful sonority, maintaining a relaxed posture that reduced the stool squeak that had dogged earlier competitors. Each of the variations were differently characterised, with much detail. The second movement Scherzo was aptly light and delicate with fluent left hand passagework and in the Trio a wonderful sense of line. The March Funebre conveyed its solemn power despite lacking an element of pedal resonance, yet always clear in its harmonic shifts that came across effectively, leading to the last movement, which flowed with polyphonic effects, highly detailed attention to dynamics and gradations of levels. Loud chords were never harsh, and the fluency of the whole affirmed her ease of technique and high degree of technical control. Her superb touch made her performance of the Bagatelle Op 119/11 in B flat perhaps the best account of that miniature, with a relaxed tempo, and delicacy allowing the counterpoint of the middle section to emerge with translucent, balletic quality. This was the first attempt to effectively draw out its wistful poetic character.
After a short interval Gupreet Sandhu (Birmingham Conservatoire), the youngest competitor (currently in year 10) played the Sonata 13 in C minor ‘Pathetique’ with plenty of personality. Just as her bagatelle was taken very fast, its jolly playful mood so different from the three earlier interpretations, so too was the first movement especially dramatic, often dwelling, even lingering on the diminished harmonies, and full of contrasts, even if some, such as abrupt phrasing and a certain chronometric approach to rhythm, were rather exaggerated. The weakpoint was the slightly rushed central movement, which could have benefited from a more flexible lyricism. The Rondo was fluent and well projected. Sandhu has much original talent and one hopes to hear more from her in the near future. The final competitor of the day was Daniel Silcott (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) playing the less-often aired sonata Op 78 in F sharp major. Silcott conveyed its wide range of expression yet was not entirely at ease with the more subtle and complex musical aspects some of which still require mastery. It is a far more challenging work musically than those of the first Viennese decade and requires profound insights, yet it was well worth attempting and added to the audience’s delight in hearing five contrasting works performed by five individual youthful talents, for which all were very appreciative.
The event was introduced by Alberto Portugheis, BPSE Vice-Chairman, who thanked the Austrian Cultural Forum for hosting the event yet again in their elegant surroundings, and invited the audience, and competitors to the next events including the Chamber Music Masterclass and Competition scheduled for the end of April and start of May, details at bpse.org). After the performances, Alberto Portugheis also reintroduced the distinguished Jury Anda Anastacescu, Angela Brownridge, Melvyn Cooper who, after their deliberations, returned to present the Awards. Anda Anastacescu began by thanking all the competitors ‘on behalf of Beethoven’ for their thoughtful and devoted efforts in interpreting the works. Observing that many of the sonatas presented immense challenges often well beyond the experience of young performers, she suggested that one had to consider carefully whether to perform or to wait with certain works. An example was Op 26, with is central March Funebre, for which, as Anda underlined, one needed to reach an emotional stage in the work where it would arise organically from within the piece. Thus the initial variations were a means of exploring the various moods to lead to this; similarly the final movement was the consequence of the preceding movement, its character emanating from the darkness of the preceding march into an exhilarating new level radiating life-giving force. Thoughts such as these were added substance to criticism, and brought one into the mind-set of an artist such as Anda, faced with the expresive and structural demands of a Beethoven sonata. She also stressed that some of the sonatas required more attention to silence: something all the players could respond to.
All the competitors received a complimentary copy of a past issue of Arietta, Journal of the BPSE, and had a chance to discuss their performance in greater detail with the Jury members. The two main prizewinners are invited to perform for the BPSe in the coming season. In closing, Melvyn Cooper reiterated Alberto Portugheis’ thanks to our hosts, the Austrian Cultural Forum and also extended those to Alberto himself for having organised the event so smoothly with an excellent BPSE team. We hope to return there in November for the 21st Annual BPSE Senior Intercollegiate Competition (details to be announced on bpse.org).
Malcolm Miller (c) 2013
A Report on the 20th BPSE Intercollegiate Beethoven Piano Competition by Malcolm Miller
The pianist selected as winner of the 20th BPSE Intercollegiate Beethoven Piano Competition was Min Jung Baek from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, for her expressive and eloquently controlled account of Beethoven’s Sonata Op 111 at the climax of the event, held on Sunday 25 November 2012 at the elegant surrounds of the Austrian Cultural Forum near London’s Hyde Park. The well attended event featured nine talented pianists drawn, as in previous years, from leading conservatoires and music departments around the UK. Introduced by BPSE’s UK Chairman Malcolm Troup and Vice Chairman Alberto Portugheis, each competitor performed a Beethoven Sonata of their choice as well as the compulsory Bagatelle in C minor Op 119 No 5, before a distinguished jury comprising the internationally acclaimed pianists John Lill, CBE, Murray McLachlan, Head of Keyboard at Chetham’s School of Music, and Malcolm Troup.
The large and distinguished audience, including BPSE patrons William Brown CBE and Mrs Nachiko Brown, were regaled with an inspiring programme spanning Beethoven’s 32 sonatas: in contrast to previous years where one competition might frequently feature a plethora of ‘Appassionata’ sonatas, a couple of ‘Waldstein’s and two or three Op 110s, the choice of repertory for this twentieth competition was varied enough to warrant a logical programming of three groups of three sonatas in chronological and stylistic sequence.
Thus the first group began with the Sonata Op 2 No 2 in A major, played by Thomas Ang (Royal Academy of Music), an interpretation which really took flight only in the third movement, which sizzled with delicacy and brilliance. The rest of the work fared less well — despite some promising technical assurance. The opening movements seemed rather thick set, clear yet four-square, with an under-emphasis of subtlety of phrasing, an aspect which also coloured the finale, which might have benefited from greater rhythmic and tonal delicacy. The staccato bass line of the Largo appassionato seemed over-ponderous, which, with unvarying dynamics, somewhat obscured the movement’s impassioned expressivity. This was perhaps a case of reading nineteenth century values into an eighteenth century context.
By contrast the performance by Paul Israel (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama) of the Sonata Op 2 No 3 in C major enjoyed lightness and chiaroscuro, as well as brilliance where required, even if there were also inaccuracies and a certain carelessness of articulation by which some of Beethoven’s invention was lost to the ear. Finesse in the thirds-based main subject of the first movement was admirable, as too the effervescence of the pianist’s arpeggio passagework, and clarity in the myriad themes which ensued during the movement. The development was dramatically involving and, all in all, the sense of colour and line of this youthful masterpiece flowed with drama. So also the slow movement, with its sudden interjections of martial rhythms into the flowing arpeggio textures, though here the cross-hands dialogue of bass and treble threatened to fragment due to a loss of control, whilst the arpeggio strand might have benefited from a smoother presence. Israel launched into the Scherzo at an electric pace, yet could not quite sustain a constant pulse through all the leaping registral changes, losing a degree of definition despite the main motivic structure being effectively pointed and articulated. Again, while his finale radiated potent drama and bravura, his shaping of the long breathed phrases, the underlying melodic lines beneath the chordal textures, needed greater focus. Overall Paul Israel’s approach was full of potential that one hopes will blossom as his pianistic maturity develops.
The final ‘early’ sonata of the first group was the Sonata in E flat Op 7, a work that combines ebullient energy with rhythmic surprise, played impressively by Mohamed Shams-Eldin (Royal College of Scotland). Shams-Eldin’s relaxed demeanour at the keyboard belied his technical confidence and discipline, and his response to the subtleties of phrasing and classical gesture was engaging and compelling. In the first movement, motivic details were woven into a coherent canvas, the music sweeping through each paragraph with contrapuntal clarity to its goal. The slow movement reached a height of eloquence in its operatic combination of lyricism and tension, and after a balance of poise and passion in the Scherzo, the finale tripped along in an appealingly relaxed fluidity. Here was a fully rounded performance of maturity and polish, which, with a mellowing of pianistic tone control, foretold considerable achievements ahead.
The second group began with Op 10 No 3 in D major, receiving a fervent and momentum-filled account by Linyang Wang (Birmingham Conservatoire), fully evocative of Beethoven’s youthful idiom. The richness of invention arising from motivic economy, driving, often syncopated momentum, the contrapuntal and chromatic intensity: all came across in the first movement with polished precision and variety of touch. There was an involving and evolving sense of mystery in the Largo e mesto, and if perhaps the lines could have been more sharply drawn in the Menuetto, its diversity of textures was colourfully conveyed. Perhaps the main shortcomings here were a lack of extrovert humour in both the Trio and the fragmentary syntax of the finale, which was correct but slightly one dimensional. Nevertheless it represented a convincing performance of a large scale work pushing at the boundaries of Beethoven’s more romantic nineteenth century style.
It was that new style which was hinted at in the account of the Sonata in C sharp minor ‘Moonlight’ that followed — played by Katerina Perdikomati (Goldsmiths College) — and which was most impressively portrayed in one of the most thrilling performances of the competition, that of the Sonata in F minor Op 57, ‘Appassionata’, given by Alexander Panfilov (Royal Northern College of Music). Technically as well as interpretatively there were some weaknesses in Ms Perdikomati’s account, for instance a lack of contrast in balancing the strands of the first movement, which artists such as Schiff experimentally shade with a fully sustained pedal to achieve a harp-like resonance, and which here needed a more magical approach to sonority. There was also an overdose of rubato at structural junctions evident in all three movements, resulting in a reduction of dramatic tension, despite the strong subjective intentionality of her playing.
Looming large over the instrument, Alexander Panfilov displayed a delicacy and control that infused his reading of Op 57 with unusual clarity, precision and expressionistic power, a reading which did not pull back at the galvanic unleashing of fortissimo outbursts yet also valued the emphasis of local gesture and motif. There was exciting crystalline precision to the arpeggio figurations, over which thematic ideas were etched with sculpted logic, and a clear understanding of tonal direction in the sonata structures of the outer movements. The variations similarly flowed with inner urgency, though perhaps a greater degree of poetic tranquillity might have been of benefit, and the finale was riveting from start to finish. Overall the main drawback of this performance was the acoustic of the room in relation to the power of the pianistic sound: had Panfilov been performing in the Royal Festival Hall (a pleasure to come, one hopes) then the levels would have been correct, but even more than the previous competitors, his output was well into the red and needed an adjustment to the master volume.
It was fortuitous that all three late sonatas Opp 109, 110 and 111 were offered, resulting in an exhilarating final group. Jun Ishimura (Royal College of Music) gave an enthralling account of Op 109, attaining a limpid, luminescent pianistic tone in the filigree of the first movement, power-packed vigour in the Prestissimo and ravishing and well-controlled dynamic textures in the variations. Here the dynamic level of the instrument seemed far better managed (than in Op 57) even if there was room for a touch more breadth and expansive breathing in the theme and variations, which soared, yet could have reached even more stratospheric heights.
That visionary fervency took shape in the Adagio ma non troppo and Fugue of Op 110 in A flat, given a compelling rendition by Manuel Santos (Trinity Laban), though one marred by a few technical hesitancies. Yet even if his first movement’s arpeggio filigree was not entirely smooth, the motivic lines projected with a slightly lacklustre tone, and the Fugue’s texture projected some inconsistencies, nevertheless Santos’ was a reading of cogent complexity, one which penetrated into the heart of the music, and was worthy of commendation.
If during the competition thus far, the balanced combination of technical proficiency and interpretative maturity had yet to be fully realised, in the event it arrived in the form of Min Jung Baek (Guildhall School of Music and Drama), the last competitor, who drew out all her resources for an exhilarating account of Beethoven’s final sonata in C, Op 111. The first movement was full of energy and propulsive purposefulness, the full range of pianistic tone exploited, the inner calm of the Arietta following with a sense of inevitability, the piano’s resonances in the variations evolving towards the ethereal effects in the high registers and half-veiled sounds of filigree over pedal points and trills. It was no wonder that her performance was the one chosen by the jury for first prize.
Indeed, welcoming his jury colleagues back to announce the winners, Malcolm Troup reminisced about the Society’s formation twenty years ago, recalling the inaugural Beethoven Marathon at the Guildhall School of Music in the Spring of 1993, where his own participation, alongside the late Kendall Taylor CBE (1905-1999), the BPSE’s past Chairman, Carola Grindea (1914-2009), founder of EPTA, was followed by John Lill’s climactic performance of Op 111. It was appropriate that the current 20th competition should be won by a Guildhall student with the same work!
It was the turn of John Lill CBE to announce the prizes, and he began by applauding all the competitors for what he considered to have been performances of a very high standard, all of them showing impressive qualities and confirming in his mind that all the participants had bright futures ahead of them. First prize went to Min Jung Baek, for her compelling Op 111, with second prize awarded to Mohamed Shams-Eldin, of the Royal Conservatory of Scotland, for his searching performance of the early Sonata in E flat Op 7; joint 3rd prize was shared by Jun Ishimura (RCM), for her eloquent Op 109 and Alexander Panfilov (RNCM) for his power-packed rendition of Op 57.
The event as a whole formed an uplifting concert of Beethoven’s works, more of which one hopes to hear at the BPSE Junior Intercollegiate Competition in March 2013, also at the warmly-appreciated hospitality of the Austrian Cultural Forum. To conclude the proceedings, the Master of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, Professor John Morehen, presented the winner with the Beethoven medal which, when engraved, will formally be presented at the BPSE prizewinner’s recital in August 2013 (details to be announced soon on the Society’s website, http://www.bpse.org).
Copyright (c) 27 December 2012 Malcolm Miller,
London UK. Also published in Music and Vision Daily at http://www.mvdaily.com
Alberto Portugheis BPSE St James’s Piccadilly Recital on 27 July 2011
There was a large and enthusiastic audience in attendance at the lunchtime recital given by Alberto Portugheis at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, on 27 July 2011, as part of the regular BPSE lunchtime recital series at one of London’s most imposing architectural and historical venues. Enhanced by the attractive sonorities of the Fazioli grand, Portugheis’ programme featured some gems of the Romantic piano repertoire, projected with stirring energy and emphasis. The opening work was Beethoven’s Sonata in D Op. 28, ‘Pastoral’, projected with bright melodic etching and, even with some generously flexible rubato, many of the surging syncopations received penetrating emphasis, as in the second movement. In contrast to the rather relaxed tempi of the Beethoven sonata, Carl Maria von Weber’s Rondo (Perpetuum Mobile) Op 24 was jet-propelled, Portugheis keeping the flowing, racy passagework apace with fluent virtuosity. Similarly he propelled the elfin textures of Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso in E Op. 14 with delicacy and clarity, contrasting those with the lyrical richness of the theme and pulsating chords, as a type of ‘song without words’, before the intrepid, fleet-fingered coda. In between his gently luminescent rendering of Debussy’s Clair de Lune sustained the limpid yet radiant harmonies in suspense. In the final work, Chopin’s Ballade in G minor, Portugheis found his virtuoso form with bravura and panache, heightening the expressive rubato, lingering on main motifs, and conveying the large scale structure with many felicities of harmonic highlighting, and ever responsive to the dramatic narrative from yearning nostalgia to explosive denouement and climax.
Malcolm Miller (c) 2011
Report on the BPSE Beethoven Diabelli Symposium 28 June 2011 with Stephen Kovacevich and William Kinderman
Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations: A Symposium
Beethoven Piano Society of Europe and Institute of Musical Research (DeNOTE)
11am-6pm, Tuesday 28 June 2011, King’s College, London
A report by Malcolm Miller
Fresh insights, new contexts, and inspiring perspectives were offered at the Symposium on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations Op.120, held in the spacious surrounds of the Great Hall at King’s College, London, which featured as special guest speakers both Stephen Kovacevich and William Kinderman. The action packed programme, which attracted a sizeable audience from 11am until 6pm, featured a keynote lecture, two lecture-recitals, academic papers, an interview and panel discussion, to shed deeper light on one of the most enriching, yet also challenging of Beethoven’s late piano masterpieces. Presented by the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe in association with the Institute of Musical Research’s DeNOTE series, it was a special privilege for me, as Editor of the BPSE Journal Arietta and Associate Fellow of IMR, to open the proceedings, and to thank King’s College, London and its Music Faculty for hosting the event, as also to express gratitude to the IMR and BPSE for their full operational support; there followed a very warm welcome from the IMR Director Professor John Irving. The large audience of performers, scholars and music lovers were treated to two extensive opening and closing presentations by William Kinderman, who also contributed to the discussions throughout.
In his opening Keynote lecture ‘Autographs and Sketches: Beethoven’s Diabelli and the New Facsimile Autograph, Kinderman showed some of the pages from the facsimile of Beethoven’s Diabelli autograph newly published by the Beethovenhaus, Bonn (Beethovenhaus Verlag, 2010), to illuminate some of its remarkable discoveries, for instance the fascinating switch from triplet to semiquaver patterns, the crossed out choice of a final C for the ending, in place of the familiar final E, and his accessible explanation on Beethoven’s method of sketching and revising, opened a window onto the creative process.
Beethoven’s unusual notation for double-barlines separating each variation formed the stimulus for a thought-provoking new reading of large scale form by Professor Barry Cooper, Professor at Manchester University, in ‘Structural Implications of the Double Bars in the Autograph of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations’. Correlating analytic interpretations by eleven musicologists, Cooper found a remarkable convergence of opinion on four variations, agreeing with the findings of his barline research; yet it also gave rise to further divergences. In the same session, ‘Source, Models, Precursors’, chaired by Dr Tim Jones (RAM), Professor Cooper’s doctoral students gave impressively researched papers on aspects of influence and pianistic technique. Sian Derry (Manchester) stimulated creative debate by questioning Kinderman’s notion of Cramer as the main model for the ironic Var. 23, underlining the relevance of Beethoven’s many sketches of technical exercises she has researched, which closely map the figurations employed. Especially engaging was the paper on ‘The Viennese Forerunners of the Diabelli Project’ by Erica Buurman (Manchester) about the Viennese aesthetic of serious and light music and the influence of Archduke Rudolf’s own Forty Variations, which appeared prior to the Diabelli, the final fugue of which was performed by the Portuguese pianist Artur Pereira (Manchester).
Adding an appealingly rich historical and stylistic context was the midday lecture-recital by Malcolm Troup, BPSE Chairman, who surveyed some of the fifty ‘also-ran’ variations commissioned by Diabelli by Beethoven’s contemporaries, Liszt and Schubert amongst them, alongside less familiar names such as Sechter, and Tomaschek. Professor Troup’s introductions highlighted pianistic as well as stylistic developments that looked forward to Romantic era, illustrated in his expressive and agile performances.
The afternoon began with a session on ‘Register, Texture and Technique’, in which my own paper ‘View from the Top: High Registral Structures in Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations’ proposed a radical counter narrative for large scale form based on the linear coherence of the uppermost octave. William Kinderman illustrated the analysis which I displayed in a graph format. A categorising study by Matthew Pilcher, ‘Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations: Compendium of Keyboard Techniques and Transformative Textural Processes’, comprised a list of various types of pianistic gestures, with commentary regarding the problem of describing such textures as either harmonic or motivic.
More open discussion ensued in the session of Stephen Kovacevich in Conversation with Alberto Portugheis, in which one of the foremost interpreters of the Diabelli and Beethoven in general, reflected on the differences of his 1968 and 2008 recordings, highlighting the quality of innigkeit (inwardness) he had absorbed from his studies with Dame Myra Hess. In the ensuing panel discussion chaired by Beethoven scholar Nicholas Marston, Kovacevich, alongside Kinderman, Cooper, and the pianist Julian Jacobson, discussed the element of spontaneity, expression, and even obsession in the Diabelli, as well as the performer’s attitude to analysis. During the discussion as also the earlier paper sessions, the audience participated enthusiastically in questions from the floor, and there was ample time to discuss during the lunch and afternoon tea breaks.
A concluding lecture-recital by William Kinderman returned to his earlier comments about Diabelli’s project to commission fifty composers to each write one variation on his famous waltz, and responded to an earlier question by Malcolm Troup about why Beethoven chose to write thirty three, having initially refused to do one. Was the Diabelli a 33rd sonata perhaps? In answering it Kinderman illustrated zestfully in words and at the piano how Schiller and Jean-Paul’s aesthetic ideas, of the balance of the sublime and the earthy, found resonance in Beethoven’s contrasts of expressive, witty, poignant or ironic variations. Performing extracts from the 9th Symphony and the Arietta in Op.111, as well, he showed how Beethoven’s final variation ‘corrects’ the harmonic repetitions of the simple Waltz theme, the famous ‘cobbler’s patch’. Weaving an enthralling tapestry of ideas, his lecture-recital formed an apt climax to a day which afforded a renewed understanding of the creative genius of Beethoven’s late style.
Malcolm Miller (c) 2011
Winner Announced for the Beethoven Chamber Music Competition 2010
In a sense Beethoven was the true winner in the Gwyneth George Award of the BPSE Chamber Music Competition 2010, held in association with the Piano Trio Society. Three outstanding young ensembles each performed a Beethoven trio of their choice before the distinguished Jury of Martin Lovett OBE, former cellist of the Amadeus Quartet, the cellist Gwyneth George, who donated the annual award, and Alberto Portugheis Vice-Chairman UK of the BPSE. The result was a fascinating and inspiring concert, in which distinctive ensembles drew out a wide range of varying aspects of Beethoven’s style, his drama, poetry, surprise and intensity, and highlighted the richness and wealth of invention and interaction in the trio repertoire which still rewards exploration and fresh investigation.
The competition took place on 22 April 2010 before a select audience in the attractive surrounds of Steinways Hall, 44 Marylebone Road, W1, thanks to the generosity of the director of Steinway, Glen Gough, who is also Chairman of the Piano Trio Society. Each of the trios had earlier, on Tuesday 20 April, benefited from participating in a masterclasses with Martin Lovett OBE, whose influence was evident in the high standard of musicianship and interpretation throughout.
All nine young players elicited magical sounds from their instruments in the pristine acoustic and from the magnificent concert Steinway Grand piano. The first to perform was the Bager trio, Michael Foyle, violin; Hannah Masson-Smythe, ‘cello; Frederic Bager, piano, all first year students at the Royal College of Music. They chose Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op 70 No 2, in E flat major, a work that is less often played and whose delicate geniality belies its subtle structure. The initial Allegro was well projected, the modulation of the development well highlighted, if the tempo was a little on the safe side. The cellist always drew interesting colours from her comments and asides, and her exchanges with the violin; the finale was virtuosic and built steadily to its climax.
The next competitors were the November Trio, comprising Agata Darashkaite, Violin, Mikhail Shumov, ‘cello, and Olga Jegunova, Piano, all third year or postgraduate students at the RCM. They performed the first of the Op. 70 trios, nicknamed the ‘Ghost'; on account of the eerie second movement, with its wayward chromatic harmonies and recurrent diminished 7ths. In this interpretation, there was plenty of drama here, the textures well balanced with lean vibrato less sustained notes in the strings against the rather clear and clean radiant colours of the piano. The trio brought alive the exuberant first movement Allegro vivace e con brio, with plenty of sonority, and the string playing was most arresting, especially the cellist. Most was made of the surprises, the sudden sfz or pp, the contrasts of dynamics, particularly in the second movement, Largo assai ed espressivo, where the ending was enthralling in its unpredictability. The Presto finale was dynamically propelled, rounding off what was a very professional and admirable interpretation and realisation of the piece.
The concert – for that is what the competition turned out to be – concluded with the Greenwich trio’s riveting rendition of the trio in B flat op 97, ‘Archduke’ full of new fresh insights that emerged in their expressive and passionate performance. The three members of the Greenwich Trio, Lana Trotovsek, violin, Stjepan Hauser, ‘cello, and Yoko Misumi, piano gave a performance of the ‘Archduke’ Trio which formed the impressive climax of an exciting event in which three young trios competed The pianist’s delicate limpid touch helped throughout, from the very start where the lilting octave theme grows from silence. The richness of the ensemble when Stepjan Hauser and Lana Trotovsek joined was one of the delights of the evening. Hauser is always interesting in his articulation, the sound of his lightweight modern instrument particularly impressive. Their duets had an almost Schubertian lyricism here. There was a real feel for the architecture of the work, and their experience was showing in the wide range of dynamics (as opposed to the rather extreme contrasts of the earlier performances). The Scherzo was delicate and airy, though it could have been a tiny bit more humorous and cheeky in character. Yet the trio, with its fugal treatment of the undulating theme was masterly, building up in layers of textures towards a climax; the reappearance of the texture in the coda was most effective. The highlight was the slow movement superbly expressive, with wonderful dueting and interaction for the strings, and meshing with the piano. The ensemble plays as one, and there as plenty of communication within the group. The finale had zest and panache, and the Presto coda drew some effervescent risk taking from the group already well saddled into their account. Of course there are still room to develop, some of the rhythmic coordination in the Presto needed extra control, and the violin’s tone could resonate and sing even more; yet theirs was a first rate performance full of originality and intensity. Interestingly Lara Trotovsek was the winner (with a different pianist) of the duo competition in the previous year.
Following all three performances, Alberto Portugheis, BPSE Vice Chairman UK, introducing the Jury decision, thanked Glen Gough for hosting the event, and also expressed gratitude to the founder of the Piano Trio Society, the violinist Jane Faulkner and the secretary Christine Talbot-Cooper for their help in organising the event. As Martin Lovett OBE, Jury Chairman and Spokesman observed, all the musicians performed beautifully; and choosing a winner was thus a difficult decision, though they finally chose the Greenwich Trio. Indeed the Greenwich is a highly experienced young ensemble at the cusp of a promising career and they have performed for the BPSE series and in major venues throughout Europe, while the two other ensembles were made up of students both at the start of their studies and in advanced courses. While the Greenwich Trio received the Gwyneth George Award, a cash prize, all three trios will receive recitals as part of the BPSE concert series in recognition of their great promise and the high standards displayed at the competition. Details will be posted on the BPSE website, http://www.bpse.org.
Malcolm Miller (c) 2010
Winners announced for the 2010 BPSE Junior Intercollegiate Beethoven Competition
The Winner Asagi Nakata with William Brown CBE and Mrs Nachiko Brown
There was a high level of promising pianism on show at the BPSE Junior Intercollegiate BPSE Competition 2010, held at the Bluthner Piano Centre on Sunday 21st March 2010. Five young talented pianists attending junior departments or specialist music schools participated. Each performed the compulsory Bagatelle Fur Elise as well as a sonata or set of variations of their choice before the distinguished Jury, Angela Brownridge, Wanda Jeziorska and Melvyn Cooper. Alberto Portugheis, BPSE Vice-Chairman UK, introduced the proceedings and thanked Roger Wilsson, Director of the Bluthner Piano Centre, for his hospitality and the salubrious surrounds of the showroom adorned with glistening grand pianos.
The select yet enthusiastic audience were regaled with some admirable performances. First was Eleanor Kornas (Chetham’s School of Music), who launched into an intensely well characterised account of the 32 Variations in C minor; I was struck by the convincing way she prepared the surprise contrasts of mood as well as the linking of those variations that shared their poetic reflective nature. She followed it with a delicately elegant Fur Elise that was similarly impelled by an inner expression. Next came Isata Kanneh-Mason (Junior Department of the Royal Academy of Music), who played the Sonata in C minor ‘Pathetique’ Op.13 with confidence and bravura; if at times disjointed in the exposition, the development and recapitulation were propelled with energy and unusual power from such a young performer. The slow movement unusually featured a rather questionable tempo change for the triplet section yet the whole was capped with a fluent rondo finale.
Lee Jae Phang, of the Wells Cathedral School, found a forthright projection for his performance of the Sonata in D minor sonata Op 31/2 ‘Tempest’. The evocative pedalled sonorities of the development section were especially well conveyed, as well as the explosive relaunch into the recapitulation’s striving rising theme. There was much to admire in the finale, its relentless momentum driving throughout, though the resonant gestures of the slow movement could have benefited from a slightly more relaxed tempo. Ambitious tempi were also problematic for the fourth competitor, William Green (Junior Department of the Royal Northern College of Music) who performed the Sonata No 30 Op. 109 in E major. Though the fast variations and fugue suffered lapses, his was an impressively expressive account of the first movement and energetic middle movement.
The final competitor was Asagi Nakata, representing the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music, who gave an excellent account of Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor ‘Pathetique’ Op.13. Her delicacy, elegance, fluency and expressive beauty emerged especially in the slow movement where the textures were finely balanced and flowed seamlessly; Asagi Nakata followed it with a Fur Elise which was equally successful in its poise and finesse, and in the event she received first place as well as the Audience Prize. In second place was Lee Jae Phang, of the Wells Cathedral School.
The Jury spokesman Angela Brownridge, announcing the Jury’s decision, underlined the high level of all the competitors, each of whom had won internal competitions in their respective institutions and highlighted how such competitions were important, especially as Beethoven is central to the pianist’s repertoire and it is useful to gain experience with Beethoven’s music early on. Valuable comments about each individual performer followed, as well as general comments on shortcomings which all could learn from, particularly the importance of a tempo that was manageable: speed for its own sake was to be avoided, in order to allow the more reflective and poetic aspects of the composer to emerge. The two main prizes were presented by the BPSE patrons William Brown CBE and Mrs Nachiko Brown. The two winners also receive recitals in the BPSE lunchtime series (dates will be announced on the BPSE Website and Newsletter). All participants received certificates and copies of the latest issue of Arietta, the BPSE Journal.
Malcolm Miller (c)2010
The Stunning Kanazawa Admony PIano Duo Dedicate their London Debut to the Memory of Carola Grindea
It was apt to dedicate the BPSE lunchtime recital, on 13 July 2009 at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, to the memory of Carola Grindea, BPSE co-founder and Vice-Chairman, who died three days earlier, in her tenth decade.
The well-attended concert, by the prize-winning Kanazawa-Admony Piano Duo, presented jointly with the Jewish Music Institute, SOAS, was introduced by BPSE Chairman Malcolm Troup, who both welcomed the Duo, whose fame had travelled on before them, and underlined Carola Grindea’s insuperable achievements, in founding, as well as the BPSE, two most significant international organisations, the European Piano Teachers association (EPTA) and the International Society for Study of Tension in Performance (ISSTIP).
The feast of four-hand music, played with virtuoso panache, was certainly an eloquent tribute to Carola Grindea’s lifelong enthusiasm for pianists, piano music and piano pedagogy. The husband and wife duo from Israel launched their programme with the UK premiere of a richly coloured Sonata a Quattro Mani by one of Israel’s leading composers, the octogenarian Yehezkel Braun, present in the audience to acknowledge warm applause. The three movement work was dedicated to Braun’s mentor Alexander Uriah Boskovich (1907-64), a leading pioneer of Israel’s Eastern Mediterranean style, one of whose songs formed the theme of the variation finale.
The seldom played duet version of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge Op.134, in the composer’s own arrangement, formed the formidable centrepiece, given a breath-taking account. It has been described by Charles Rosen as technically “impossible” according to a recent chapter by Robert Winter. The duo’s artful choreography of hand crossings and leaps, and their fine dynamic shading, enabled each subject, countersubject, augmentation and diminution, to emerge with varied emphasis, generating tension and drama. This tour de force was followed by yet another, Mendelssohn’s Allegro Brillante Op. 92, composed in 1841 for the debut of another conjugal ensemble, Robert and Clara Schumann: Exhilarating elfin textures contrasted with poetic colouring in their sparkling account. ‘Le Bal’ from Bizet’s Jeux d’Enfants offered a witty encore. We hope they will soon return to these shores at a major London venue. Fortunately we may, in the meantime, enjoy their Naxos CD of Liszt Symphonic Poems soon to be followed by a CD of Rhapsodies on the Romeo label.
Malcolm Miller (c) 2009
The 2009 BPSE Chamber Music Competition
Pianist Gayane Gasparyan (left) and violinist Lana Trotovsek. Photo © 2009 Harry Atterbury
The winner of the 2009 BPSE Chamber Music Competition for the Gwyneth George Award, was the duo of Lana Trotovsek, violin, and Gayane Gasparyan, piano, while the duo of Andrei Simion, cello, and Veneta Neynska, piano, was highly commended by the jury. This exciting event, held on Thursday 28 May 2009 at Steinway Hall, central London, UK, attracted five young and talented duos, all of whom participated in two days of masterclasses (26-27 May 2009) with Martin Lovett OBE, cellist of the renowned Amadeus String Quartet.
Introducing the competition, held before a select and enthusiastic audience, Alberto Portugheis, UK vice-chairman of the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe, warmly welcomed the distinguished jury, chairman Martin Lovett, pianist Julian Jacobson and cellist Gwyneth George. Expressing the BPSE’s gratitude to Steinway Pianos for hosting the event, he also praised Martin Lovett for his wisdom and insights into Beethoven interpretation which had inspired the duos to enrich their performances in the competition and beyond.
The competition programme afforded a fascinating opportunity to compare different readings of the same work, for, while there are ten Beethoven violin sonatas, all three competing violin and piano duos chose the Sonata in F Op 24 ‘Spring'; by contrast, the two cello piano duos chose works from different phases in Beethoven’s career, the early Op 5 No 2 and Op 102 No 1 from the more ‘experimental’ period in 1815.
The programme opened with Lana Trotovsek and Gayane Gasparyan who brought vigour, personality and panache to the ‘Spring'; their textures were translucent, rhythms electric, and the pace maintained with drama and tension throughout. The delicate Scherzo was delivered with plenty of wit while the finale flowed richly; above all the ensemble had a unanimity and cohesion that was compelling.
The second violin duo, Galya Bisengalieva, violin and Aizhana Nurkenova, piano, also displayed great musicality, the violin’s inward tonal expressivity complemented by characterful and intrepid pianism. If a measure of suppleness may have bordered on hesitancy of coordination at times, their reading abounded in fine nuances and inflections, supporting the work’s dramatic impetus.
The final rendering of the ‘Spring’ sonata was again different, this time performed by Agata Policinska, violin, with Nadia Mokhtari, piano. Their performance took flight in the moving slow movement, through a fizzing Scherzo and forthright finale, throughout which Ms Policinska’s resilient tone was especially well coordinated with her pianist.
The cello duos offered refreshing contrasts in between each violin sonata. Ashok Klouda, cello, and Natalia Gonzalez, piano gave a steady account of the Sonata in G minor Op 5 No 2; tempos were slightly problematic in my opinion, for while the introduction seemed too fast, lacking intensity and a measure of gravitas, the Allegro could have benefited from more zest and impetus.
More intriguing was the responsive and finely coordinated rendition of the Cello Sonata in C Op 102 No 1 by Andrei Simion, cello, and Veneta Neynska, piano, who were alert to the music’s quasi-improvisatory searching in the alternating slow and fast sections of each main movement. The rhetorical gestures and changes of mood and metre were all effectively handled, with much exploitation of the element of surprise and rhythmic freedom; the first Allegro projected with thrusting momentum. Even despite a certain unevenness of tone and phrasing, their interpretation was always interesting and full of character.
The jury’s decision was announced by Julian Jacobson, followed by a short word from Martin Lovett who reminded us that competitions can often be misleading: while some famous artists had never won competitions, winners did not necessarily guarantee a career.
BPSE UK chairman Malcolm Troup added his thanks to the entire jury and to Gwyneth George for her generous donation of the main prize, a cash award, which was presented to the winners Lana Trotovsek and Gayane Gasparyan; both the winners and the duo of Andrei Simion, cello and Veneta Neynska, will also receive recitals in the BPSE concert series, details of which will be available on the society’s website http://www.bpse.org; all participants received certificates as well as a copy of the BPSE journal Arietta.
Copyright © 4 June 2009 Malcolm Miller, London UK
For Photos see http://www.mvdaily.com/articles/2009/06/competition.htm
Talented Youth at the 2009 BPSE Junior Competition, Bluthner Piano Centre, 22 March 2009 by Malcolm Miller
The winner of the 2009 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition was Sophia Dee of the Junior Guildhall School of Music, with second prize awarded to Han-Seul Lee of the Junior Royal Academy of Music and third prize awarded to Dae-Young Kim of Chetham’s School of Music. The Competition, held on Sunday 22 March 2009 at the Bluthner Piano Centre in central London, attracted six gifted competitors from UK Junior Colleges and specialist music schools to perform before the distinguished Jury of Angela Brownridge and Colin Stone, amidst an enthusiastic audience. All the players performed the compulsory work, Beethoven’s Bagatelle in A minor WoO 59 ‘Fur Elise’, and a sonata of their choice. It was fascinating to hear six expressive performances of the famous ‘Fur Elise’, each one different,and suffused with the poetic mood of the miniature. Sophia Dee’s account alone seemed to colour the final chromatic passage with glistening radiance in the upper registers.
Hyo-Jung Roh, of Wells Cathedral School, launched the programme with the Sonata Op. 10, No.1 in C minor, though her very detailed and precise account may have lacked a bit in colour and dramatic contrast. Then came Han-Seul Lee, of the Junior Royal Academy of Music, who gave a finely judged account of the Sonata Op. 31, No. 3 in E flat major. Everything seemed to flow in place, and there was a very fine sense of colour and balance, particularly in the gradation of dynamics, and even if the element of wit could have been more emphasised, this was a mature and impressive interpretation. Exciting drama and passion emerged in the Sonata Op. 31, No. 2 in D minor, ‘The Tempest’, played by Dae-Young Kim of Chetham’s School of Music. Especially effective was the way he built up to a climax after the eerie pedaled recitative in the development, and the very beautiful balance of the ostinato motif in the second movement with the chordal theme. Above all one sensed an inner intention throughout his performance, the intensity of pregnant silences in the slow movement matched by the impetus of the flowing finale. After a short interval the fourth competitor was Anthony Satterthwaite of the Junior Royal Northern College of Music, who also played the Sonata Op. 31 No.3 in E flat major, displaying panache particularly in the last two movements. Yet it was left to Sophia Dee of the Junior Guildhall School of Music & Drama to demonstrate a compelling complementation of technical assurance and musical imagination. Her sumptuously atmospheric pedalling of the development recitative, her subtle use of dynamics throughout were enhanced by a sense of line and large-scale structure evident that sustained tension throughout the work, so that the finale acted as a powerful climactic resolution to the whole. The final participant, Sarah Ballard of the Junior Department, Royal College of Music, tackled the challenging Sonata op 78 in F sharp, a work of Beethoven’s later, more Romantic style, and there much to admire in her delicately poised approach to this elusive and subtle work.
In his opening remarks Alberto Portugheis offered gratitude to Roger Willson of Bluthners for hosting the event, sentiments echoed later by BPSE Administrator Henry Atterbury who also paid tribute to the Jury for their wisdom and thoughtful erudition. In the final Jury decision, Colin Stone praised all the competitors for their efforts, and stressed that competitions can be of benefit with the awareness that they are only temporary indicators: it would be interesting, he speculated, to see how each of the players would develop in the next ten years. While all the players received a copy of the BPSE Journal Arietta, the first two winners were awarded cash prizes, presented graciously by the BPSE Patrons W.C.L. Brown CBE and Nachiko Brown. Copies of the 2 Volume Schnabel Edition of the 32 Sonatas, published by Alfred’s Publishing, were offered by the publishers to the first three winners, who also will appear in prize winner concerts in the BPSE series. See the ‘Events’ page for details.
Malcolm Miller (c) 2009
POTENTIAL AND ACHIEVEMENT AT THE BEETHOVEN INTERCOLLEGIATE COMPETITION 2008 by Julian Jacobson
Driving into Mayfair to attend the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe’s 15th Annual Beethoven Intercollegiate Competition, I happened to be listening to some marvellous solo outtakes of Thelonious Monk in 1957, exploring his own classic tune “Round Midnight”. Did any 20th-century pianist exhibit more sheer creativity, or convey more strongly the impression of actually thinking aloud?
Beethoven, too, needs that sense of questing, of creating the music from moment to moment. He also needs a powerful grasp of thematic and harmonic structure, a rich but not over-cultivated piano sonority, a burning emotional intensity, and – last but not least – most of the right notes. Artur Schnabel got it just about right; and Monk replicated many Beethovenian attributes in his own toughly anti-sentimental, linear bebop language. Which of the gifted young pianists, already winners of their own College’s Beethoven Competition, could indicate that they were on the right road and give us an authentic, three-dimensional Beethoven experience? A sonata to remember?
Nikos Stavlos (Goldsmiths College Music Department) is certainly on the right road. His C major Sonata op 2 no 3 sounded like the real thing, although he misjudged the acoustic initially with playing that was a little dry, and his finale slightly let him down. But there’s a keen musical intelligence developing. From the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Matthew Drinkwater showed energy and some responsiveness in “Les Adieux” but his message was compromised by technical insecurity. Tatiana Dardykina (Birmingham Conservatoire) had a rather dreamy way with the compulsory Bagatelle (the witty, somewhat gnomic op 126 no 6 in E flat), carried over into the Arietta finale of her C minor Sonata op 111, the first of the day’s three op 111’s. But her first movement showed more resolution, with good control and some characterful playing.
Gintaute Gataveckaite, from the Royal Northern College of Music, was also inclined to rhapsodise in the Bagatelle. But her E flat Fantasy-Sonata, op 27 no 1, settled into some pretty good playing, concentrated and natural, stylistically and structurally convincing, only lacking an ounce or two of temperament. Konstantin Lapshin (Royal College of Music) came over as a fine player not quite at home in his chosen “Moonlight” Sonata (the other of the two op 27 Fantasy-Sonatas). His Allegretto second movement was unenticing (when will pianists realise this is one of the hardest movements in all the sonatas?), and his finale was hard-driven and somewhat gabbled. Yet his Bagatelle, played for once after the sonata, was one of the day’s best performances.
Matthew McCombie (Trinity/Laban) disappointed with a ploddy Bagatelle, but there was more to enjoy in an energised op 111 first movement. The pacing and punctuation weren’t quite right though: again, I thought, listen to Monk and Schnabel! (To be sure, Thelonious never recorded op 111 but he did have the most wonderful way with pauses.) McCombie’s Arietta was overladen with “points”, becoming somewhat sentimentalised. From the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Veneta Neynska missed the character of the Bagatelle, though her playing certainly had intensity. Her E flat Sonata op 31 no 3, one of Beethoven’s great comedies-of-manners, was considerably more enjoyable, lively and energetic, with the middle movements particularly well characterised (although the Trio section of the third movement was over-characterised – surely Beethoven shouldn’t sound “cute”).
Ayako Kanazawa, from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, showed an engaging personality in the Bagatelle, warm and impulsive (maybe veering towards frisky). The A flat Sonata op 110 suited her warm, caring playing, even if it came across as slightly romanticised, with a tendency to split hands and with over-generous if never unmusical pedalling. She conveyed the sheer oddness of the second movement well, and displayed good part-playing in the fugue.
As Andrejs Osokins (Royal Academy of Music) began his Bagatelle I noted down simply: “Well, this is the real thing”. Nothing he did subsequently gave me reason to revise this all-important first impression. In the Bagatelle, he somehow made sense of the pedalling in a way that none of the others had quite managed, and his playing had an extraordinary concentration and distilled poetry. In the day’s last op 111 he convinced me that he had, as it were, the right to play this Everest of sonatas, with a maturity of phrasing and a grasp of the longer structure (including the all-important pauses!) that were deeply satisfying. Occasionally in the first movement he could have risked rougher, more elemental playing, and his coda, that magical wind-down, was rather literal – but this will surely come. He also had the measure of the Arietta, with a tempo that flowed just enough to convey the august momentum of Beethoven’s varied yet implacable three-in-a-bar. The extraordinary variation where Beethoven seems to invent boogie-woogie was a little too forceful for its “cosmic dance”to take fire; but more or less everything in Osokins’ performance was meaningful and well-heard, and he was the deserving winner of the first prize. Second prize went to Gintaute Gataveckaite and third prize to Veneta Neynska, with an honourable mention for Nikos Stavlos. The Jury also expressed their appreciation of Ayako Kanazawa and Tatiana Dardykina.
The Competition was held as in previous years at the Bluthner Piano Centre in London, generously hosted by Mr Roger Willson. The Lady Master of the Worshipful Company of Musicians (the first such in the Company’s 500-year history), Petronella Dittmer – herself a professional musician – presented the Company’s Beethoven Medal to Andrejs Osokins, with some inspiring words for all the contestants. Osokins also received the Eugenie Maxwell Award of £500, although Mrs Maxwell, in her role of Vice-President of the Beethoven Society, was unable to be present. William Brown CBE and Mrs Nachiko Brown, Patrons of the Society, were on hand to present their prizes and say a few words of congratulation. The distinguished Jury comprised Dr Marios Papadopoulos, Mr Stephen Savage and Prof Malcolm Troup; Dr Papadopoulos, as Chairman of the Jury, announced the results and drew favourable attention to the admirably high standard of the playing throughout.
READ OLDER ARTICLES IN THE BPSE ARCHIVE