London International Piano Competition 2009 – Final

Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat
Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op 11
Piano Concerto No.3 in C, Op.26

Andrejs Osokins (piano) [Liszt]

Alessandro Taverna (piano) [Chopin]

Behzod Abduraimov (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
James Judd

Sulamita Aronovsky (Chairman)
Snezhana Barova
Ralf Gothóni
Homero Francesch
Jan Gottlieb Jiracek
Mi-Kyung Kim
Stephen Pettitt
Joaquin Soriano
Timothy Walker

Presented by Timothy West

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 28 April, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Held every three years since 1991, the London International Piano Competition takes place over a ten-day period. This year the final 24 competitors included a significant representation from Russia, from the former Soviet Republics and from the Far East, but significantly no aspiring pianists from the UK made the cut.

Behzod Abduraimov. Photograph: Rob BrimsonCompetitions such as this may be a necessary feature of the music scene, but Finals are rather like icebergs, generally seven times as much below the water line as visible above. Similarly, with competitions unless one attends all the rounds, one can have only a limited perception of the talent on offer and then even the very best performers can – especially under the pressures of competition – do themselves less than full justice.

This year’s three finalists included Andrejs Osokins (Latvian), Alessandro Taverna (Italian) and Behzod Abduraimov (Uzbek). However, Stephanie Proot (Belgium), Federico Colli (Italy) and Tuomas Kyyhkynen (Finland) made particularly favourable impressions and received educational awards.

Having chosen to play either Liszt’s E flat Piano Concerto or Prokofiev’s Third if he reached the Final, Andrejs Osokins (aged 24) offered notably clean playing in the former with fairly minimal pedalling, perhaps a little over-forceful on occasion as if Osokins felt the need to dot every I and cross every T in his determination to give full value to Liszt’s rhetoric; however, although there was a brittle quality to his tone in the louder passages, there was a compensating delicacy in the slower sections and also a playfulness when required.

Alessandro Taverna, 25, impressed mightily in Chopin’s E minor Concerto. By contrast with the preceding Liszt, this work can be discursive. Not on this occasion. Despite James Judd’s lacklustre account of the orchestral introduction, Taverna brought something special to this music. Too many pianists treat it as though they would rather be playing Liszt. Taverna refused to try and take the music by storm, finding instead a gentle melancholy, varying his tone and phrasing, and bringing a maturity beyond his years. This may have been at one remove from the chiselled perfection of the young Pollini who first burst on the world when he recorded this same concerto at such a young age but his compatriot also found his way to the music’s heart, especially in the poetry of the moonlit slow movement.

Behzod Abduraimov may be just 18 but was not lacking in confidence, especially considering that Martha Argerich had played the same concerto, Prokofiev No.3, in this hall the preceding night. By comparison with Taverna, Abduraimov is the more obviously charismatic player. Armed with nerves of steel, he tore into this music with extraordinary abandon but for all his astonishing prowess, there seemed less musical fibre here, less variety of touch than Taverna had contrived to conjure in the Chopin. The notes were all there for sure, but one’s interest was held only fitfully in the central variations. At the close the audience rose to its collective feet and there could be little doubt that, were these things decided by popular acclaim alone, he would be the winner.

So it proved. The judges awarded Abduraimov the First Prize and Taverna the Second. Both were singularly impressive in their very different ways. Had I been a member of the jury I would have proposes awarding a joint first prize (rather as with Ogdon and Ashkenazy in a previous generation) because Abduraimov’s adrenaline and charisma found their perfect foil in Taverna’s innate musicality and sense of style. To paraphrase W. S. Gilbert, ‘How happy one would be with either’.

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