RPO Gala Concert, review: Hastings International Piano Festival, White Rock Theatre, February 29

Martin James Bartlett on piano. Photo by Peter MouldMartin James Bartlett on piano. Photo by Peter Mould
Martin James Bartlett on piano. Photo by Peter Mould
No competition this year but a celebration of the piano in all its splendid variety.

The concert last Saturday at the White Rock came closest to the competition itself in reflecting the final concert with three piano concertos played by three pianists. The difference this time was that they were all prize-winners.

Sylvia Jiang opened with Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto. In many ways she drew the short straw not only playing first but presenting the most complex of concerti. Her exciting, fluid approach, with the many changes in mood and texture made it seem more approachable than it possibly is and the solo cello playing was a delightfully engaging moment.

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This was followed by Ravel’s G major piano concerto with Martin James Bartlett as soloist. The work starts, coincidentally, where the Liszt ends with rapid glissandi across the keyboard as if the two works were linked, but Ravel has something very different in store. The Gershwinesque jazz influence pervades throughout and Martin Bartlett brought a real sense of fun to his playing.

After the interval we were on more familiar territory with Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. The Japanese pianist Fumiya Koido brought great clarity to his playing with a lightness of touch even in the more dynamic passages, which prevented any over-sentimentality in the extended romantic writing. It was very warmly received by the large audience, which included many younger listeners.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Jessica Cottis had accompanied throughout with aplomb. They had opened with a rather tentative reading of Beethoven’s overture The Creatures of Prometheus but the second half brought us the Polonaise from Eugene Onegin, which had real panache and vigour.

The concert was dedicated to the memory of Molly Townsend who did so much for the musical life of Hastings.

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There is far more to come and, in the introduction, managing director Ian Roberts and new president of the Jury Professor Vanessa Latarche hinted at the changes we will see when the competition itself returns next year. Watch this space!

More events at the Hastings International Piano Festival – at St Mary in the Castle

Silent Move Night with Mark Kermode & The Dodge Brothers – March 4

An Evening with Claire Martin – March 5

An Evening with Rachel Portman – March 6

The Puppini Sisters & the Pasadena Roof Orchestra – March 7

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