2013 Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition

Sunday 17 March 2013
Austrian Cultural Forum

Jury: Anda Anastacescu, Angela Brownridge, and Melvyn Cooper

1st prize: Hayley Parkes, Chethams School of Music
2nd prize: Martin Bartlett, Royal College of Music (Junior Dept)

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.

Written by Malcolm Miller (c) 2013

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