Guildhall School of Music Gold Medal

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.77
Concertino in B minor for double bass and strings
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18

Toms Ostrovskis (piano)

Anna-Lisa Bezrodny (violin)

Vitan Ivanov (double bass)

Tom Poster (piano)

Guildhall Symphony Orchestra
Sian Edwards

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 15 May, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The Guildhall Symphony Orchestra played splendidly throughout, their accompaniment captivating, lively and colourful on its own right while giving each soloist the opportunity to be stimulated to do his or her best. Indeed, in two of the pieces, I found the orchestra more rewarding than the soloist.

Credit is especially due to Sian Edwards. She is a very fine conductor. Her spell of training with Ilya Musin in Leningrad (St Petersburg) stands her in very good stead: her vigorous understanding of Russian dynamism is exceptional. I instance the heady, whirling authenticity of dance moments in the Shostakovich violin concerto or the manic riot of the climax to Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto and the whip-crack of punctuating chords at other points.

In the Paganini Rhapsody, Toms Ostrovskis’s fingers were steely but nimble, playing the virtuoso passages with assurance and amply demonstrating his mastery. However, his robust, no-nonsense approach eschewed subtlety, magic, emotional intensity and delicacy. The ‘Dies Irae’ theme did not frighten, the scherzando variations (11-14) did not enchant, the generous, and familiar, melody that is Variation 18 did not stir and the piano’s last few notes were perfunctory.

The excitement of the evening came from Anna-Lisa Bezrodny’s Shostakovich. Here soloist, conductor and orchestra were as one. They played the opening ‘Nocturne’ softly, evenly and sensitively. Was this quiet, ruminative playing possibly an accommodation to the violinist’s small tone? Certainly not: come the following scherzo, few violinists have matched the gleeful savagery with which Bezrodny slashed those vicious chords into her violin’s frame. Shostakovich strode into the limelight – and stayed there. The impassioned dignity of the ‘Passacaglia’, the rapt cadenza and the biting wit of the ‘Burlesca’ held me spellbound.

Vitan Ivanov’s Bottesini was remarkable, too. I seemed to hear an exceptionally mellow violincello – wistful, lyrical, sprightly and lithe. Tuned a full tone above the orchestra, the instrument had carrying power. The cello parts were economical, usually at a low register. Vitan Ivanov, on the other hand, mainly used the two upper strings. His adroit playing seemed effortless.

Tom Poster made a better fist of his Rachmaninov piece than did Ostrovskis of his. His playing was more varied; his fingers were more alive to nuance. Even so, he refused to let go – the performance was rather drab, despite the clean-fingered hurly-burly of faster passages.

The two awards were well-deserved: the Gold Medal going to Anna-Lisa Bezrodny and the Glass Trophy to Vitan Ivanov.

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