BBC Young Musician 2018: Piano Final

This was another category with an unexpected winner, making the viewing experience a whole more engaging that previous editions. Josie D’Arby is definitely in her presenting stride in this one. Former Young Musician competitor, pianist and pundit Lucy Parham is the best contributor in this series alone.

Adam Heron (pictured right) seemed a little stiff in his posture at the keyboard though I was transfixed by the isolated movement in his hands. The Bacarolle by Chopin was ravishing in places with greater fluidity in the right hand towards the end. The inclusion of the second of Schoenberg‘s Six Little Piano Pieces was a great piece of programme, refocusing attention in readiness for the the heft of Rachmaninov’s Etudes Tableaux. Here I really enjoyed watching Adam playing. The voices were indistinct at the beginning of the movement, but this changed soon after. He seemed terribly sweet on camera.

Lauren Zhang (pictured middle) had a beguiling quality on stage I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The contrast between her away from the keyboard (where she seemed slightly bewildered by proceedings – who wouldn’t be), compared to her self-assurance at the piano made her a complex and fascinating study.

The Scarlatti she played was electrifying – amazing control at the keyboard. The Kapustin showed stunning technique though I wasn’t quite as drawn to her playing in this piece – more bombast than I want after the taut Scarlatti. The Rachmaninov Sonata No. 2 Op.36 was the most intriguing performance in her moment on stage. There were moments when I felt the louder sections of the movement – particularly in the right hand – risked derailing her musical statement. But, she held on conjuring up some dramatic dynamic contrasts come the end. A mighty transformation.

Elias Ackerley (pictured far left) didn’t quite nail the opening Scarlatti in the same way Lauren had. The performance hadn’t secured my attention. This continued in the Ravel where Elias’ playing was powerful but oddly private – as though he didn’t really give very much away. The choice of Lizst ‘s Trascendental Etude No. 4 was a bol choice. The performance saw some amazing technique, but the inherent showiness of the piece saw technique dominate over musicianship. 

Jennifer Kanneh-Mason (pictured second from left) left me breathless during the Rachmaninov. I adored her fluidity at the keyboard, her poise, and her flexibility. She displays a great sense of maturity that is compelling. In the Glinka I thought that some of the fortissimo sections lacked a little finesse. The Bartok seemed like the least successful of the pieces she played.

Mariam Loladze-Meredith‘s (pictured second from right) performance was by far the most self-assured of the evening. She exudes an incredible confidence when she’s playing that is both emphatic and potent.  In all three works, I felt as though she was the one able to extrude all of the voices from each piece in a balanced way. This was amazing musicianship which I wondered went beyond BBC Young Musician.

Read notes from the BBC Young Musician Strings, Brass and Woodwind Finals. The semi-final is on Friday 11 May. The Grand Final is on Sunday 13 May. 

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