Review of Piano Recital Final, TS Eliot Theatre, Merton College, 27th January 2019
The Oxford Music Festival is a three-week-long feast of outstanding musicianship, and last night’s final of the Piano Recital Programme was an exceptional occasion.
Throughout the day, nine gifted young musicians each played a 30 minute recital of a wide range of composers including Chopin, Grieg, Sriabin, Mozart and Scarlatti.
Following expert adjudication by celebrated concert pianist Gordon Fergus-Thompson, Professor at the Royal College of Music, three finalists reprised their set. Fergus-Thompson’s comments were a banquet in themselves – his words revelatory and apt which both the audience and musicians could enjoy.
Having only seen the final performance, it's impossible to say how much prior adjudication had raised the game, but 90 thrilling minutes of piano playing deserved a wider audience than those supporting last night.
Leyla Cemiloglu’s spirited rendition of Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C Minor – described by the composer as ‘that piece of folly, mine?’ when he heard a friend playing it and failed to recognise it, demands much technical skill in its 32 variations. Liszt’s Sposalizio from Annes de Pelerinage was sonorous and impressive and Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse meltingly lovely.
Edward Leung’s choice of Gluck’s Giovanni Sgambati: ‘Melodie” from Orfeo ed Euridice was played with arresting precision and passion – a characteristic of Leung’s wonderful interpretation. Haydn’s Sonata in B minor, Hob.XV1:32 was vivid and melodic and Liszt’s Reminiscences de Norma S.394 demanded exact finger work while articulating the arc of the piece overall. As Fergus-Thompson observed wryly: ‘Liszt writes a lot of notes’.
Last finalist Julian Jun Feng Chan gave an astonishing bravura performance of Rautavaara’s Piano Sonata No 2 ‘The Fire Sermon’ that energised the audience at the end of a long day of dedicated performance. Brahms’ Intermezzo Op. 116 No 6 sparkled, while the finale Wagner/Liszt’s Overture zu Tannhauser S442’s brightness and fluency convinced throughout.
Edward Leung took first prize, followed by Julian Jun Feng Chan and third Leyla Cemiloglu.
One of the aims of the Festival is to allow young musicians to meet and learn from each other, and from the comments of professional adjudicators. If the skill and self-confidence of the three performers last night were in any way enhanced by the dedication of the organisers to bring musicians together – they succeeded handsomely.
A final concert will be held on Sunday 10 February at Wolfson College at 6pm. Be there to hear the best of the festival!