London International Piano Competition – 8th, 9th & 12th April

Stages Two & Three, 8, 9 & 12 April

Various artists

Reviewed by: Peter Grahame Woolf

Reviewed: 8 April, 2002
Venue: Purcell Room and Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

It requires dedication to follow a competition through all its stages, and only the jury members will have a complete overview. Sampling the field at two of the three Stage Two recitals and one of the semi-finals of this important event, I felt privileged to have encountered three well-equipped pianists, Alexei Zouev, Lorène de Ratuld and Giuseppe Andaloro, each of whom might prove worthy finalists.

Others had the limitations one might expect at the beginning of a competition, even though the pre-publicity was of“twenty-four outstanding young pianists representing fourteen countries”. It surprised me that the format did not allow for first stage elimination – a generous second chance for those who had not acquitted themselves well, but onerous for the jury and for paying audiences. No music scores were provided, which might have raised difficulties for border-line decisions, it being unlikely that all Jury members could have been fully familiar with the long list of set works (including Carter’s Night Fantasies and Dutilleux’s Sonata) – and they certainly could not know some of the free choices offered (I heard Boulez’s Notations and rare works by Hindemith and Lendvai).

Several aspirants failed to match limited talent with suitable repertoire. One young Russian who battered us with Prokofiev’s huge Sonata No.8 seemed to have spent so long memorising the notes that he had forgotten all the dynamic markings and given no thought to a Prokofiev sound; another made Scriabin’s grandiloquent Third Sonata seem more turgid than usual; a third butchered Liszt’s Dante Sonata so comprehensively that I could not face hearing it played again immediately afterwards, and with Rachmaninov’s Second to follow!

At Stage Two, Lorène de Ratuld (French, 22) integrated Mozart’s wayward Fantasie in C minor in a well considered interpretation and delighted me with her comprehensive grasp of the sensuousness and wit of Dutilleux’s multi-faceted Sonata, a work of such variety and complexity that it can really only be grasped fully if one has worked at playing it oneself, however inadequately. Alexei Zouev (Russian, 19) challenged memories of the greats in two peaks of the repertoire, bringing transcendental technique and finely attuned ears, with mature thought and the fullest palette of pianistic colour, to Beethoven’s ’Waldstein’ sonata and Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. Giuseppe Andaloro (Italy, 20) showcased three short sonatas – stylish Haydn encompassing sentiment and wit; perfectly judged sonority and weight in Janacek’s (a grim memorial to 1 October 1905); scrupulous attention to detail and proper hyper-intensity for Berg’s Op 1, and Messiaen’s early Prelude No.8, a virtuosic flourish to finish.

Of those three musicianly pianists I had enjoyed, only Andaloro progressed to the semi-finals in the QEH, where he confirmed my good impressions with another Haydn sonata, Chopin’s Scherzo No.4 given with sensitivity and pianistic subtlety, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.12 scintillating and fresh, holding attention for its every contrasting section, and to finish dazzling Ligeti; characteristically this pianist chose to end quietly with No.5. Definitely a pianist to hear again in full-length recital.

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