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2007 Queen Elisabeth
International Piano Competition (Belgium)

4 discs of assorted piano music and piano concertos..

Walloon CO/ Goodwin, Belgian NO/ Varga
Competitors as named in the text

QEC 2007-1

Note: images are posted later in the page so as not to spoil the reader's enjoyment of this "blind tasting"

This generous set (4 discs) is best listened to without thinking it is the recording of a competition. Contrariwise, I listened through completely blind, without looking up even the names of the performers, let alone their results. Could I spot the winner? And would I have chosen the same?

This was not an ideal exercise, since not every prize-winner is given a comparable piece or equal length of time to play. But the fourth, bonus disc does offer four Beethoven sonatas, a neat, musical Op 27/1, a splashy, showy Appassionata (did that win the audience prize?), a rather pedestrian Op 90, and a searching Op110. Thus far, I thought Pianist Op110 must be the winner, but in the inversion reprise of the fugue, he suffers a memory lapse right at the start. At such moments one is taught to jump to the next passage one is sure one knows, and as a result Pianist 110 misses out almost a page as he goes straight to the peroration. And yet this performance makes it into the final CD selection?!

On the three main discs, we hear three very respectable concerto performances (Prok 2, Rach 3, Mozart 271), an assured account of what turns out to be the obligatory Belgian work; my favourite overall is a deeply felt Schumann’s Fantasiestuecke. To whom I would have awarded the first prize. Throughout these discs, one can hear the nervousness, the frequent excessive care and caution, and the way that segments interpretations. 

Many have now written (including Elizabeth Wallfisch, linked from these pages) on the iniquity and dangers of competitions. They give false hope, impose artificial standards and stifle creativity. They also run the risk of being corrupt, in the sense that one stands a statistically better chance if one’s teacher is on the jury. Wallfisch’s criticisms are very apposite, but if she hates competitions so much, why has she judged them so often? In any case, the greatest drawback is the committee decision, which also tends to go for the safe option (and after all, wrong notes and memory lapses are far more concrete faults than questionable interpretation.)

It turns out that Prok 2, the Belgian piece and 27/1 are played by the eventual winner, Anna Vinnetskaya (left). She is the most polished and she is a safe choice. Perhaps a small defence of juries could be made here – the prize is always a set of engagements; a winner must be well-prepared to play the role of fully-fledged performer. The Schumann pianist is also Mr 110, Francesco Piemontesi (right) of Switzerland, the third prizewinner – will he come through in the future? Mr Appassionata, Stansialv Khegay, did not make the final.

For the record, the Belgian piece is Dedicatio VI by Defoort and is played by non-prizewinner Vadym Kholodenko, Plamena Mangova plays K271 and wins second prize, the Rach 3 is Ilya Rashkovskiy’s and he comes fourth.

The overall standard on these discs, for people in their early twenties, is very high. Whether any of them will be the next Gilels (to pick a pianist who combined golden age character with modern cleanness of playing) is very dubious.

Ying Chang