2016 Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition

Sunday 13 Mar 2016, 1pm, Steinway Hall

Jury: Niel Immelman, Bobby Chen, Graham Fitch

1st prize: Vincent Ling, Royal College of Music
2nd prize: Can Arisoy, Yehudi Menuhin School
3rd prize: Jeremy Ho, Birmingham Conservatoire

There was a warm ambience at the recent 2016 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition held at Steinway Hall on Sunday 13 March 2016. Eight young pianists from the Junior Colleges, Conservatoires and Specialist Music Schools across the UK gathered together to compete in the annual event. Since its inception in 1999, the competition, which complements the BPSE Senior Competition launched in 1993, has offered young pianists at pre-college stage a wonderful incentive both to learn the Beethoven sonata repertoire and to have a chance to air their own performances and experience those of their peers. On this occasion the participants performed a compulsory Beethoven Bagatelle Op. 119 no. 8 in C major, and a Beethoven sonata of their choice, before a distinguished jury of eminent pianists: Niel Immelman, Graham Fitch and Bobby Chen. The BPSE Vice-Chairman Alberto Portugheis introduced the occasion, welcoming the audience and expressing gratitude to Craig Terry, Director of Steinway Hall, and to Steinway & Sons for their hospitality and the use of a wonderful Steinway concert grand piano. Alberto Portugheis also welcomed to the platform each of the competitors, who were hosted throughout the event by BPSE administrator Brian Chiu and committee member Melvyn Cooper.

Each of the young competitors displayed individuality and talented flair, especially accomplished for their school age years, choosing a selection of repertoire from Beethoven’s first Viennese decade. The audience were fortunate to have a chance to hear the sonata Op 2 no.3, a complete run of Op 10, 1-3, as well as no less than three different readings of op 10/1! We also enjoyed the contrast of two variations sets, the C minor Variations WoO80 and the F major Variations Op 34, either side of the interval.

First to play was Can Arisoy (Menuhin School) with a highly involving account of the Sonata in C Minor Op 10 No 1, the first of the three performances. Here one could admire some very intense listening, with many nuanced subtleties. Arisoy’s qualities included respect for and understanding of the harmonic intricacies and feeling for the often kinaesthetic tension in pianistic gestures. Even if at times the touch was dry, here his phrasing was musical and well directed towards goals and there was plenty of drama. Jeremy Ho (Birmingham Conservatoire) gave a forceful and ebullient reading of the Sonata in C Op. 2 no.3. Whilst there was far more richness and resonance here, I sensed an over use of rubato, impeding the sense of flow in repeating passagework, and too much waiting at pauses (some of which are not in the score!), and in some cases dynamics were a little too freely interpreted, and over contrasted.  Yet it was technically impressive, coherent, and the large scale character of the work came across powerfully. The second reading of Op 10 no.1 was by Vincent Ling (Royal College of Music). Still at GCSE stage, Ling gave a performance of maturity and polish that belied his years. He produced a rich resonance, and radiated an attractive and relaxed sonority. The Bagatelle was projected with finesse and sensitivity to dynamic nuance. A singing tone in the sonata contributed to some beautiful effects, with intelligent phrasing and well controlled tempi. All sorts of textures came alive such as the cello–esque melody in the central movement, whilst harmonic complexities flowed with engaging emphasis. David Palmer (Royal Northern College of Music) concluded the first part of the programme with a compelling and disciplined account of the 32 Variations in C minor WoO80. Despite some unsettling lapses of memory in the Bagatelle, he displayed admirable clarity of texture coupled with vivid contrasts of character, heightening the larger expressive architecture of the work. At times dynamics were overlooked (as in var 7) but often the mood was evocatively caught as in the gentle flow of var 13, the excitement of var 20 and impetus in the expanded final coda.   

After the interval, Matthew McLachlan (Chethams School of Music) gave a telling rendition of the Six Variations in F Major Op 34, a work which was revolutionary in its use of modulation through the interval of a third between variations, within a form conventionally all in the same key. There was plenty to enjoy in Matthew McLachlan’s playing, delicacy in the light and florid decorations of the first variation, more emphatic richness in the lyrical lines, syncopated accents in the third variation and dynamic contrasts in the fifth before a frothy final variation with its skipping octaves.   

The final Op 10 no.1 was by Katy Watters (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), and it also initiated the sequence of all three Op 10 sonatas. Having heard two earlier versions, one could appreciate some of the differences and similarities. If there was some room for a bit more drama and bite, especially appealing was Katy Watters’ piano touch, a gentle cantabile that lent a much needed suppleness to the classical shaped themes, especially expressive in the Adagio molto, and which also imbued her Bagatelle with charm despite some initial hesitancy. Chloe Cheng (Trinity Music Academy) continued the set with a clean and accurate account of the Sonata in F Op. 10 No 2, her decisive demeanour evident in clearly pronounced, deliberate gestures though her tempo seemed under-speed in the duple metre first movement; there was more momentum in the Allegretto and Scherzo, with effectively bustling imitative textures. Joshua Venables (Centre for Young Musicians) concluded with a fleet-fingered account of the Sonata in D Op.10 no.3, which captured the elegance and energy of the piece with impressive panache. There was expansive breadth in the Largo e mesto whilst the two final movements flowed smoothly, though with room for greater dramatic contrast and even wit.  

Niel Immelman, as spokesman for the Jury, prefaced his announcement of prizes with a few pertinent remarks, observing how important it was for young pianists to show awareness of the hall’s acoustics; for instance the use of short staccato was not necessary in a dry acoustic such as in this competition, where the richness of an orchestral effect might get lost.  He congratulated both the participants on their efforts and their teachers, for encouraging and inspiring their pupils to learn the repertoire and to gain invaluable experience in the challenges of public performance. The Jury awarded 3rd prize to Jeremy Ho (Birmingham Conservatoire), 2nd prize to Can Arisoy (Menuhin School) and 1st prize to Vincent Ling (Royal College of Music), who also received, in addition to a cash award, a copy of the two volume Schnabel Edition of Beethoven Sonatas (Alfred’s Publishing). Each of the winners received a copy of the BPSE Journal Arietta (Vol.8).

Written by Malcolm Miller © 2016

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