Guildhall School of Music Gold Medal 2004

Violin Concerto in B minor*
Bassoon Concerto in B flat, K191
Piano Concerto in G
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op.61

So-Ock Kim (violin)*

Adam Mackenzie (bassoon)

Evelina Puzaite (piano)

Boris Brovtsyn (violin)

Guildhall Symphony Orchestra
David Angus

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 11 May, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Do we really need competitions of this sort? Do they not do more damage than good to the careers of young performers? Looked at another way, there are winners and losers in life and it could be argued that they give young performers exposure and a dose of the real world. The GSMD Gold Medal has been going since 1915 and alternates annually between singers and instrumentalists, so it could be viewed as a tradition. However, in the light of the perverse judging decision this year regarding the runner-up one feels that the whole concept is flawed – a much preferable alternative would be a concert simply celebrating the GSMD’s extraordinary talent.

This was hardly a level playing field. For a start, the worthy winner, Boris Brovtsyn, is already a fully formed artist of 27, whereas the other competitors were all younger. Also, how can one judge the musicianship needed for the Elgar or Walton concertos, against the lighter demands of the Mozart. And the orchestral contribution – excellent in Elgar, lacklustre in Mozart – coloured one’s responses.

So-Ock Kim, a 22-year-old Korean domiciled in London, played Walton’s Concerto to the manner born with a sultry lyricism as if she had inhabited the piece all of her short life. This was quite special and deeply moving, the concerto for once sounding fully the equal of the Elgar. Kim’s tone was surprisingly ample, her palette wide; above all, it was her identification with the music and the fact she had something to say about every phrase that made it so riveting. The orchestral accompaniment helped including a superb horn solo from Ellie Reed in the Canzonetta.

Adam Mackenzie, a 23-year-old Scot took the runner-up prize and frankly I am at a loss to know why. Mackenzie is a more than adequate player with an agreeably engaging platform manner but had nothing very much to say about the music. He got less than no help from David Angus who seemed totally devoid of any sense of Mozart style, unable to establish a natural pulse or line in any of the three movements. The first movement was taken marginally too quickly to allow for much in the way of phrasing, and the Andante ma adagio at a dull plod. Not surprisingly, Mackenzie, who produces a distinctive tone, took his chances to shine in the first movement cadenza.

Also before the interval came Evelina Puzaite, a Lithuanian about whose age the programme notes were coy. This was a curious performance of the Ravel, correct and literal to a point, rather like someone trying to play jazz from outside the idiom, speaking a foreign language. Puzaite’s playing never seemed to be going anywhere – static and unimaginative with no hint of fantasy or impetuosity, and little interaction with the orchestra. The big harp solo in the middle of the first movement, magically played by Mona Silli, showed exactly what was missing. The slow movement plodded dutifully to its close, its filigree arabesques sounding like a five-finger exercise, and at the temperate speed adopted for the finale the bassoon had little trouble getting round her solo.

The Elgar Concerto was of real quality. How wonderful to hear an orchestra made up of every conceivable nationality playing Elgar with such a natural sense of rubato and flexibility, and not a hint of inflation – the trombone section in particular played with (heaven help us) a subtlety and style quite beyond what one hears from some professional London orchestras. The Guildhall SO warrants regular appearances at the Barbican with major conductors.

Brovtsyn, played the Elgar much as Kreisler might have done, with unfailingly beautiful tone and placing the work firmly in the line of great European concertos. His first entry was understated, a supremely confident performance, the second subjects of the outer movements allowed their full sentiment albeit without quite that heart-stopping ability to make time stand still. His tonal palette was wide and intonation generally excellent, especially in the finale’s ‘accompanied cadenza’. There was little doubt that he would be the adjudicators’ choice.

I shall remember most vividly So-Ock Kim’s Walton, which won nothing – and despite being less technically sure-footed than Brovtsyn’s Elgar, she took us to the heart of the piece and was musically even more memorable.

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