Published: November 2006
Cadogan Hall, London
Tuesday 21 November 2006

The enterprising Landor Records held the final of its second annual competition for musicians of all ages at Cadogan Hall. This small company, with all of five records in its catalogue (two of them by last year’s winner, the pianist Libor Novacek) has once again launched an international competition, with sponsorship by Abstract Securities, to find promising new talent from all walks of musical life. The winner would record a CD with Landor Records early in 2007 and all the finalists would be awarded recitals at music festivals throughout the country.

This year’s four finalists had been whittled down from entrants who had submitted a CD of their work to the application round, and two performing rounds where they had played in front of a jury comprising Guy Harvey, Peter Cropper, Philippa Davies, Dame Anne Evans and Jeremy Hayes.

The finalists were a diverse group of instrumentalists (no vocalists reached the final) comprising Thomas Gould and John Reid (violin and piano duo), Evelina Puzaite (piano), Sarah Field (saxophone) and Alexander Somov (cello) with pianist Bogdana Popova.

So, how does a jury judge artists from such a wide range of disciplines? The fact of the matter is that by the time the finalists have been selected there is barely a cigarette paper between them in terms of technical competence. All the finalists displayed an impressive command of their chosen instruments. So perhaps the jury has to look elsewhere to tease out the winner. If I had been on the jury I think I would be looking mainly at other factors which need to be considered when identifying those who possess the qualities necessary to succeed in the tough world of professional music-making.

For example, the basic matter of stage-presence and engagement with the audience. Evelina Puzaite possessed this in spades, the Gould/Reid duo less so. Should the latter have been playing from scores? And should the violinist have stood in front of the pianist completely blocking him off from the audience? Repertoire, too is a vital element – Gould and Reid chose wisely, as did Puzaite. Sarah Field’s saxophone repertoire is, by its nature, of more recent provenance – nevertheless works that required a battery of electronics including a laptop, a mixing console, speakers, a microphone and headphones – all joined together by yards of cable, which she had to operate herself, were a hindrance in judging her as an artist however well she coped. Perhaps Alexander Somov choice of five salon pieces for cello displayed his skills to a more limited extent than more exacting repertoire might.

Another area to look at is depth of characterisation. All the finalists can play the notes but who made the music speak to the audience? Somov had little to work on with his choice of pieces (Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Fauré, et al) and the Gould/Reid duo dutifully played the notes but have yet to develop a real understanding of Janáček’s music. Puzaite, on the other hand, not only came over as an engaging individual who reached out to the audience; she also selected repertoire on which to be judged and invested the music (Kodály, Liszt and Rachmaninov) with real meaning and feeling.

It was then no great surprise, then, that the jurors awarded first prize to Evelina Puzaite for, in my view, and presumably theirs, it was she that displayed that additional extra something that transforms a fine, technically competent musician into a potentially great artist.

An interesting evening was superbly concluded with a performance by last year’s winner Libor Novacek of Liszt’s ‘Dante Sonata’ (from the Italian leg of ‘Years of Pilgrimage’) whilst the jury were deliberating. Many in the audience were perhaps hoping that the jury would take an age to reach a conclusion so that we could hear more of Novacek, but, alas, the jury came in on schedule and we shall all have to buy his CDs instead!

 

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