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Koido takes a bow.

Fumiya Koido takes a bow after playing Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto.

Virtuoso performances at piano festival gala concert

White Rock Theatre, Saturday 29 February 2020: Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition has gone biennial – it will next take place in 2021 – and the intervening years will host the Hastings International Piano Festival, the latest addition to the town’s cultural offer. Last week saw the first events, including a gala concert attended by HOT’s music correspondent Brian Hick. Photos by Peter Mould.

No competition this year but a celebration of the piano in all its splendid variety. The concert last Saturday at the White Rock Theatre came closest to the competition itself in reflecting a night of the final, with three piano concertos played by three pianists.

Sylvia Jiang

Sylvia Jiang, one of last year’s runners-up, was the first to perform.

Sylvia Jiang, one of the runners-up in last year’s piano concerto competition, opened with Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto. In many ways she drew the short straw, not only playing first but presenting the most complex and demanding of concerti as far as the audience is concerned. Her exciting, fluid approach, with the many changes in mood and texture, made it seem more approachable than it possibly is, and the solo cello playing was a delightfully engaging moment.

This was followed by Ravel’s G Major Piano Concerto with Martin James Bartlett, BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2014, as soloist. The work starts, coincidentally, where the Liszt ends, with rapid glissandi across the keyboard as if the two works were linked, but Ravel has something very different in store. The Gershwinesque jazz influence pervades throughout and Martin Bartlett brought a real sense of fun to his playing, which lifted our engagement and enjoyment at his dazzling technique.

Light touch

After the interval we were on more familiar territory with Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. The young Japanese pianist Fumiya Koido, who took first prize last year, brought great clarity to his playing with a lightness of touch even in the more dynamic passages, which prevented any over-sentimentality in the extended romantic writing. It was very warmly received by the large audience, which included many younger listeners attending a concert for the first time.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Jessica Cottis accompanied throughout with aplomb. They had opened with a rather tentative reading of Beethoven’s overture The Creatures of Prometheus but the second half brought us the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin which had real panache and vigour.

The concert was dedicated to the memory of Molly Townson, who did so much for the musical life of Hastings.

There is far more to come and, in the introduction, managing director Ian Roberts and newly appointed president of the jury Professor Vanessa Latarche hinted at the changes we will see when the competition itself returns next year. As they say – watch this space.

Martin James Bartlett

Martin James Bartlett played Ravel’s G Major Piano Concerto.

Posted 11:10 Tuesday, Mar 3, 2020 In: Music & Sound

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