Photograph of Jennifer Pike (British Broadcasting Corporation © 2001-2002)

Prokofiev
Piano Concerto No.1 in D flat, Op.10
Mendelssohn
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Strauss
Horn Concerto No.2 in E flat
Schwantner
Percussion Concerto
Copland
Clarinet Concerto

Sarah Tandy (piano)
Jennifer Pike (violin)
Angela Barnes (horn)
Benjamin Bryant (percussion)
Sarah Williamson (clarinet)
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis
The 13th BBC Young Musician of the Year contest – and an absorbing programme of five concertos, four of which were written during the twentieth century (though one of those is ’modern’ in date only). The BBC Symphony and its Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis were on hand to ensure that the participants received a secure backing, enabling them to focus on their own interpretations.
This Sarah Tandy rather failed to do. Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto was a brave and, as things turned out, reckless choice, as its lack of inhibition is only conveyed by a command of its technical requirements. Tandy’s skimped, often broken phrasing in the outer sections indicated that these were some way from being met. Moreover, the rhetorical theme which opens and closes the work – besides ending the first section – seemed held back out of contrivance rather than insight. The fact that, during her performance, Tandy rarely even glanced at Davis – among the more considerate of today’s accompanists – confirmed a lack of rapport stemming from her own technical difficulties, which barely seemed to exist for Jennifer Pike.
At 12 years of age the youngest finalist, she tackled the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with a combination of finesse and expressive conviction that would have been remarkable in a musician twice her age. Not that the performance was a ’safe’ one: passages of the first movement cadenza which, taken at speeds which could expose technical limitations more fully, were surmounted here with relative ease. Tonally, Pike’s even articulation and thoughtful use of vibrato were a particular pleasure without detracting from the interpretation at hand. I have not enjoyed a performance of this concerto so much in over 20 years of listening.
Technically, Angela Barnes seems to be an able and responsive player, though perhaps Strauss’s First rather than Second Horn Concerto – where the emphasis is more fully on technique – might have been advisable on this occasion. The opening movement suffered from an inflexibility of dynamics and awkwardness of passagework, though intonational flaws were very much in passing. The second movement ’Romanza’ was warmly played, Barnes blending elegantly with the woodwind, while the pyrotechnics of the ’Finale’ were despatched with assurance. Barnes is definitely a player with a future.
As is Benjamin Bryant, who will hopefully commission concertos with more substance than Joseph Schwantner’s exciting but superficial effort. At least the layout of the instrumental apparatus in his Percussion Concerto ensures both integration with the orchestral percussionists and the opportunity for individual virtuosity. (This was negated by awful, up-front sound on BBC-2 that also introduced wholly unnecessary reverberation to the soloists, which made unpleasant listening – Ed.) Bryant handled both aspects with aplomb, and went some way towards making the piece more intrinsically interesting than the clich├ęd combination of Holst-cum-John Williams it actually is. With the development of electronics and sampling as part of the percussionist’s arsenal, the future ought to be a positive and enabling one for players of this calibre.
The concerto repertoire for clarinet has grown rapidly over the last half-century, with Copland’s Clarinet Concerto near the beginning of this resurgence. Sarah Williamson is a natural performer as well as a gifted player, though at times she projected the first movement with more expressive force than its limpid emotion requires. The cadenza was bracingly rendered, while the ’big band’ elements of the ’Finale’ found Williamson in her element – whether in the syncopated interplay with the strings or the closing glissandi for which she had clearly kept something in reserve. An exciting account that Williamson will no doubt refine and deepen in due course.
That the jury awarded the palm to Jennifer Pike is one of the relatively few competition decisions with which there seemed absolutely no quarrelling. I trust that the attention that inevitably follows an award of this nature will not impede the progress to maturity – still in its early stages – of someone who shows every sign of becoming a major artist of the next generation.

 

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