This year’s Norah Sande Award, as usual, attracted pianists of the highest calibre.
During Saturday July 4 those chosen from initial applicants gave recitals at which the audience paid nothing. On Sunday 5th, three chosen musicians played in the final round. The audience (which included the Mayor and former MP Stephen Lloyd) at the Birley Centre was treated to three remarkable exhibitions of pianistic virtuosity.
Artistic Director Spencer Freeman introduced each performer. First at the Steinway was Ke Ma, a young Chinese graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Music, who launched into Caternaries by Elliott Carter. A caternary is a form of lightning conductor and this certainly moved at the speed of light. Beethoven’s G Major Sonata was more predictable, and received a powerful performance. Goyescas No.1 by Granados had all the romantic sensuality of the composer at his best.
Abigail Sin from Singapore, already the winner of several important awards, then began her recital with the first movement of Beethoven’s Opus 110 Sonata. Three of the six Opus 118 Pieces by Brahms followed. All her Brahms performances revealed the half-hidden, romantic heart of the composer in playing of incomparable light, shade, delicacy and power. She ended her recital with the Nocturne and Scherzo from Opus 6 by Charles Griffes.
Another Nocturne, this time by Britten, opened Tamila Salimdjanova’s commanding recital. Two of Chopin’s Opus 56 Mazurkas followed, and she then gave a magisterial account of Haydn’s E Flat Major Sonata. An Uzbekistani, she was born in Tashkent, and is now at the Royal College of Music.
I did not envy the adjudicators (David Patrick, Chairman; Richard Deering; and Graeme Humphrey) their task. Without question, all three deserved the top award; but a winner there had to be, and Abigail Sin was chosen, with Ke Ma placed second. If anything swayed the judges my guess is that it could have been Abigail’s sensitivity and involvement with the music. But then having said that, there’s no doubt that all three charming young ladies won the audience’s heart. Can one say more?