Written by: Mike Langhorne
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 who all made a repeat appearance.
The four finalists comprised a Crimean pianist, Ilona Timchenko, a saxophone quartet, sonic.art, from Berlin, a cellist, James Barralet who was the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Julius Isserlis scholar in 2003, and soprano Elena Xanthoudakis (accompanied by John Reid) who is based in Australia.
Each competitor was given about 15 minutes to perform. Timchenko and Xanthoudakis confined themselves to a single composer, Brahms and Mozart respectively, whilst Barralet gave us a range of modern solo cello pieces and sonic.art delivered some Ligeti and, a change to the announced programme, a piece by Claude Vivier.
As in previous years the jury must compare apples with oranges and come up with a judgement. One assumes they look at choice of programme, individual musicianship, technical competence, musical characterisation and stage presence rather trying to pit one artist or artists against each other.
Timchenko’s Brahms programme of two Capriccios and the Paganini Variations (one of the Books) was well chosen as it gave the jury the opportunity to judge a wide range of technical and interpretative skills. A little reticent she nevertheless created a positive impression. sonic.art’s contribution of Ligeti’s Bagatelles (wind quintet) transcribed for four saxophones and a busy, bustling piece by, probably Claude Vivier (the low-volume announcement did not reach to row H of the stalls), showed this group to be entertaining and with a great deal of technical skill. Whether the repertoire available to them or audience-demand offers a secure career is another matter.
The cellist James Barralet provided excerpts from solo cello works by Roxburgh, Kodály and Britten. Again a technically secure musician with a quiet confidence about him which came through despite some nervousness.
Finally Elena Xanthoudakis, who displayed a very relaxed and confident stage presence – happy to introduce her pieces and act out the emotions of each of the Mozart pieces – two concert arias, two songs, and Despina’s ‘In uomini, in soldati’ from “Così fan tutte”. A tendency to deliver everything at a solid mezzo forte was a pity and militated against her interpretative skills.
The jury awarded a joint first prize: to Ilona Timchenko and James Barralet. They will both get to record a CD each and the result seemed to please the audience, which, while the jury deliberated, listened to a thunderous performance of Falla’s Fantasia baetica by last year’s winner Evelina Puzaite.
This competition is a worthwhile venture and offers a rewarding evening of exciting new talent.