wed 11/12/2019

Manchester International Piano Competition, Chetham’s review - stars in the making | reviews, news & interviews

Manchester International Piano Competition, Chetham’s review - stars in the making

Manchester International Piano Competition, Chetham’s review - stars in the making

Gifted young soloists show their worth in concerto performances

Mature and communicative - Ilia Lomtatidze with Stephen Threlfall and members of Manchester CamerataImages by Martin Lijinsky

The Manchester International Piano Competition produced three outstanding performances over the two evenings of its finals: the winner of the first prize was Ilia Lomtatidze, from Georgia, with second prize awarded jointly to the Italian and French pianists Luca Grianti and Oscar Colliar.

This was the sixth event of its kind, its full name the Manchester International Concerto Competition for Young Pianists. Note the words "Concerto" and "Young" there: it’s not just another piano solo tournament. The maximum age for entrants is 22, and they all have to be capable of playing a concerto – which six of them do with Manchester Camerata.over two nights of finals. More than 50 submitted recordings of themselves in their chosen concerto (from a wide-ranging list), and 18 were selected for the two-piano semi-finals.

Ilia Lomtatidze, at 16, is already a mature and communicative performer. His playing of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto had all the technical ability needed and, more importantly, he could stimulate listeners to sit up and take notice in familiar territory, building real high points of passion and intensity, making the music sing and dance, and evoking a rare serenity in the central movement.

Luca Grianti in the Manchester International Piano Competition c Martin LijinskyHe was not the only star in the making. Luca Grianti (pictured left), at 17, played Beethoven’s Third Concerto with animation, clarity, shape and dynamic control that would be appreciated on any concert platform: a first-movement cadenza of fiery excitement, a slow movement that held the hall spellbound, and enough room for charm and vivacity in the finale. For me, that was Beethoven playing at its best.

And 16-year-old Oscar Colliar’s playing of Saint-Saëns’ Second Concerto on Sunday night was remarkable in that he only made the first 18-person cut because of injury to another entrant. The selectors had placed him at number 19 in their assessments of the recordings – but no doubt were very glad they finally got him in.

Colliar (pictured below) is not just a very good player – with judicious use of the pedal in the Bach-like rhetoric of the opening, pearly runs in the Allegro scherzando central movement and real virtuosity in the perpetual-motion of the final saltarello – but a performer, too.

He stuck to his guns, introducing the swinging rhythm for the second theme of the central scherzo in its reprise, even though the orchestra had not entirely gone with him first time round, and ended with a whisper of a cadence that brought an appreciative chuckle from his listeners. You don’t often get that in a competitive hothouse.

Oscar ColliarOther finalists were Sunah Kim, an 18-year-old from South Korea, who played Beethoven’s "Emperor"  Concerto with bravura, effective contrasts and poise; Noah Zhou, 18 and UK-based, who gave Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto with confidence and flowing style; and Caitlin Rinaldy, a 16-year-old from Australia, who played Chopin’s First Concerto with fluency, sensitivity and tender melancholy.

All the soloists were expertly supported by conductor Stephen Threlfall and the responsive players of Manchester Camerata, and during the deliberations of the 13-strong jury, chaired by Joseph Banowetz (including a slate of big names taking part in the concurrent Chetham’s International Summer School for Pianists), there was the bonus of hearing Eric Lu, last year’s Leeds Competition winner, play Mozart’s Concerto No. 23 with them – a kind of preview of his London Proms debut.

The biennial Manchester competition has the reputation of being among the friendliest of piano contests, something its founder, Murray McLachlan, planned from its beginning. Those who come can be taught by the Summer School faculty, even if they don’t make it to the finals and top prizes. McLachlan insists that winning is not the point of it. "Some people say you shouldn’t enter a competition just for experience," he says. "Well, this one is all about experience!"

The age range this year has been as wide as ever, a factor that has always made the event potentially exciting. At its first outing, in 2007, I recall the extraordinary maturity showed by the then 12-year-old Jan Lisiecki: it may not be in his official biography, but the young man who now bestrides the pianistic world (he’s just taken the place, at short notice, of Murray Perahia at Riga) was visibly exceptional back then.

The biennial Manchester competition has the reputation of being among the friendliest of piano contests

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I'm a friend of one of the performers, Oscar, and his family name is actually spelled "Colliar", not "Collier". As I'm sure you're aware, in the performing arts industry much of our publicity comes from published pieces such as these, and it is frankly unprofessional journalism to allow an article to be put online with such a blatant error. Additionally, when I tried to contact you through the "contact us" page on this website, you charge a £3.95 fee simply to be able to ask you to rectify errors such as these. Well done to all the performers, shame about the sloppy writing.

It may be a while before Robert has the chance to see your comment, so I'll correct immediately. As for the situation with the contact fee, there must be some mix-up with subscribing (though The Arts Desk really is worth it, in spite of your harsh words here). I'll leave that for someone who knows to answer.

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