2015 Senior Intercollegiate Piano Competition

Saturday 28 November 2015
Deptford Town Hall, London

Jury: Melvyn Cooper, Stephen Plaistow, Malcolm Singer

1st prize: Ilya Kondratiev, Royal College of Music
2nd prize: Ariel Lanyi, Royal Academy of Music
3rd prize: Fernando Martin-Penasco, Guildhall School of Music and Drama

This year’s event found us in the lovely Baroque-influenced Deptford Town Hall where we were delighted to welcome our contestants, distinguished jury, and Andrew Morris, the recently appointed Master of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. We have been accustomed to welcoming his predecessors who presented prizes sponsored by the Company, but on this occasion Andrew also attended from first note to last, and was reportedly happy to have chosen the same winners as the jury. We remain deeply appreciative of this connection with the Company.

Any doubts at the prospect of hearing nine Sonata performances in sequence had been stilled by the day’s end. Is there any other single composer who can provide the performer and listener with such a range of experience, Shakespearian in its spiritual and human range, moods and emotions, within a huge grasp of structure? Beethoven’s ability to never really repeat himself is uncanny: surely there is no “typical” Beethoven.

Each performer gave the compulsory Bagatelle Op 33 No 5, usually before the Sonata, though it might mostly work best as an encore, given it’s lighthearted aspect. The most successful renditions came from the eventual three winners, though Wyn Chan and Nuno Lucas were also well in tune with the spirit of the piece.

It was Wyn Chan (RNCM) who opened the afternoon with a most creditable Op 2 No 3, high-spirited in the outer movements and creating a sense of poetry in the second. He was followed by Kristina Yorgova (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) in Op 109. Here the control and quality of tone was an issue perhaps related to her restless rhythm and headlong tempi. Tingting Tao (Birmingham Conservatoire) and Naufal Mukumi ( Trinity Laban) similarly offered ( in Op 31 No 3 and Op 57 respectively) playing where more detailed control of tonal quality and perspectives and of tempi and projection of rhythm would have made for less distortion and more balance.

There were two performances of Op 101 which attracted attention. Joshua Kelly (Leeds College of Music) was thoughtful and responsive in the first movement and concentrated in the slow movement, though his pianistic resources showed some limitation elsewhere. Nuno Lucas (RWCMD) gave us well-planned and committed, sincere playing including a bold March, (though the Trio was a little withdrawn) and a slow movement most musically conceived. Only later in the final Fugue were there moments of struggle.

Three performances stood out for this writer as well as the jury, firstly through their quality of piano playing. Ilya Kondratev (RCM) Ariel Lanyi (RAM) and Fernando Martin-Penasco (GSMD) also have strongly distinctive personalities and sound. Martin-Penasco was awarded third prize for his Op 109. He has convincing ideas which seemed to come from within yet also from clear observation of the text and his tone was cultivated and tasteful at all levels. The second prize went to Lanyi who displayed masterly playing of high imagination and tonal sophistication with a beautifully regulated touch including the softest pianissimo. One possible misjudgement was the urging on of the pulse from the second variation of the Arietta, but otherwise this was finely judged and responsive to the inherent power and purity of Beethoven’s vision. The jury’s first choice fell to Kondratev whose playing of Op 31 No 3 displayed excellent craft and a taste for seeking out interesting voicings and colourations. Nimble reflexes and high vitality were always in evidence. He favoured quick tempi with highly reliable technical command and projects himself as a soloist who has a decided view of what he wants to say.

In all, the Competition can feel well content at quality of these soloists and the interest and commitment from across the country’s leading Schools.

Written by Stephen Savage

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