2017 Senior Intercollegiate Piano Competition

Sunday, 3 December 2017, 2:30pm
St Mary Magdalene Church, Munster Square, London

Jury: Peter Bithell, Martino Tirimo, Angela Brownridge

1st Prize: Tolga Atalay Ün, Royal College of Music
2nd Prize: Soohong Park, Guildhall School of Music and Drama
3rd Prize: Yuexuan Song, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Our 2017 Senior Intercollegiate Competition was held on 3 December in the impressive St. Mary Magdalene Church, London, by kind permission of Markson’s Pianos who made their beautiful Bösendorfer VC concert grand available,an instrument with a magnificent rich sonority. The BPSE expresses its deep gratitude to Mr Simon Markson for hosting us. Nine fine young pianists representing all the UK’s main conservatoires each played an own choice Sonata or Eroica Variations and the set Bagatelle, this year the delicious E
flat, Op.33 No.1, the best possible reproach to anyone who still thinks Beethoven can only be elevated, profound, gloomy or philosophical.

We were delighted to welcome for the first time a pianist from the Leeds College of Music. Kian Samari opened with a lively Bagatelle and his ‘Moonlight’ Sonata showed many commendable qualities. Sayoko Wada from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama found charm and lightness in the Bagatelle and a corresponding seriousness in ‘Les Adieux’, if slightly underplaying the extravert, bravura elements that are also an important part of this sonata. From the Royal Academy of Music, Cheung-Bin Yu perhaps drove the Bagatelle a bit hard, but the ‘Appassionata’ suited him much better, with some exciting playing that would have conveyed the structure more forcefully with tighter rhythmic control.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s pianist, Yuexuan Song, pleased with an alert Bagatelle before launching into the challenging ‘Eroica Variations‘. Once into her stride she delivered a highly impressive and brilliant account, evidently completely inside the piece and with technique to spare. She will find greater depth and contrast in the future, but she well deserved her Third Prize.

From the Royal Northern College, Kanako Mizuno offered a Bagatelle that was gentle, witty and pointed. Her Sonata in E, Op.109 also showed lovely musical qualities if occasionally lacking a sure touch in shaping and characterisation. Andrei Ivanov from the Birmingham Conservatoire delivered a fine Bagatelle though with perhaps just too much contrast in the minore section
for this miniature to bear. His ‘Appassionata’ was exciting if at times very fast in the outer movements. His slow movement showed genuine feeling for the beauty of the music, conveyed with cultivated pianism.

Our final session consisted of Beethoven’s great final sonata trilogy, Op.109, 110 and 111. Soohong Park, the Guildhall School’s pianist, gave a performance that developed and warmed greatly as he relaxed, both in his Bagatelle which gradually acquired more freedom and space and in his Op.109, the second of the day. After a somewhat lightweight first movement, the second, taken at a true Prestissimo, carried more conviction and the Variations of the finale
increasingly found the true heart of this sublime music, with impressively controlled pianism to match. His performance won him the Second Prize.

We moved on to the Royal College of Music London’s pianist, Tolga Atalay Ün, with Op.110, in A flat. The gentlest of the final three sonatas—until its liberated, ecstatic final explosion—received a correspondingly gentle performance with some truly inward playing. The first movement could perhaps have been played more simply and directly but the pianist certainly conveyed the reflective, serious atmosphere. The short, odd 2/4 Scherzo—not so-called by Beethoven who merely writes Allegro molto — with its even odder Trio showed that he could play forcefully too when required. And the large-scale finale, in its unique combination of recitativo, arioso and fugue, saw him able to pull the large structure together convincingly. His performance won him the First Prize and the Thomas Harris award.

To end our day of great riches, Paolo Rinaldi offered the great final sonata, in C minor, Op.111. He was the only pianist who elected to open with the sonata, using the Bagatelle as a charming encore. After a somewhat hasty Maestoso introduction his Allegro con brio was powerful if perhaps a little too right-hand dominated to convey Beethoven’s full textural complexity. The Arietta with its increasingly complex variations showed affection and responsiveness if not yet full mastery or concentration over its whole, almost 20-minute span.

Written by Julian Jacobson

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