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S&H Competition review

London International Piano Competition, 6-16 April 2002 Royal Academy of Music and South Bank Centre; Purcell Room, 8 & 9 April (PGW)

Sampling the field at two Quarter Finals sessions of this important triennial competition, I have been privileged to encounter three well equipped pianists, Alexei Zouev, Guiseppe Andaloro and Lorène de Ratuld, who each found the best possible sound for a Steinway grand in that difficult, small hall; they could be worthy finalists.

Others of the seven heard had the limitations one might expect at the beginning of a competition, but none of the 'twenty-four outstanding young pianists representing fourteen countries' was eliminated after the first stage - it was hard to understand why not, given the onerous task for the jury and that the South Bank sessions are contested before paying audiences. Another peculiarity of the arrangements was that no scores were provided, it being assumed that the members of the Jury were fully familiar with the long list of set works (including Carter's Night Fantasies and Dutilleux's Sonata) if not with all the free choices offered by individuals (I heard works by e.g. Hindemith, Boulez and Lendvai).

Some aspirants were fairly promising, given the right guidance, but several failed to match limited talent with suitable repertoire. One young Russian unwisely battered us with Prokofiev's huge Sonata No 8, but seemed to have spent so long learning and memorising the notes that he had forgotten all the dynamic markings and given no thought to a Prokofiev sound; it was a struggle for him to get through it and exhausting for us listeners; another contender 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, and with Rachmaninoff's second to follow!

On the first afternoon 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. He was followed by Guiseppe Andaloro (Italy, 20) who 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. Next afternoon, Lorène de Ratuld 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. Whether they prevail or fall by the wayside, these are three musicianly pianists I would be pleased to hear again in full length recitals.

Peter Grahame Woolf

The Semi-Finals of the London International Piano Competition are at QEH, 12 and 14 April; Concerto Finals with LPO at RFH, 16 April. Full details on

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