1st Prize: Varvara Tarasova (26, Russia), £5,000 from Bowerman Charitable Trust + CD recording for Champs Hill Records.
2nd Prize: Dinara Klinton (24, Ukraine), £2,000 from Gisela Graham Ltd.
3rd Prize: Anna Szalucka (23, Poland; pron ‘Shalood-ska’) £1,000 from Gisela Graham Ltd.
Grand Final Audience Prize: Varvara Tarasova.
Grand Final Orchestra vote: result matched the main three prizes.
British Music Test Piece Prize (The Devil’s Reel by William Alwyn, sponsored by Helena Chick Translator): Varvara Tarasova.
“RUSSIAN WOMANHOOD” was stamped all over the final day of the 3rd Sussex International Piano Competition. Varvara Tarasova from St Petersburg won all four main prizes, a Moscow Tchaikovsky State Conservatory honours graduate taught by compatriot Dina Parakhina at the Royal College of Music in London.
Runner-up Dinara Klinton from Eastern Ukraine has the same teacher and both pupils benefited from coaching on the day from professor Parakhina, a former concert piano soloist with Worthing Symphony Orchestra. She is the mother of the revered WSO guest soloist, violinist Boris Brovtsyn, and was accompanied on Sunday by her husband, Yuri Torchinsky, the former leader of the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, now leading the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.
Parakhina had taught the previous SIPC champion in 2013, Poom Prommachart. He had joined a competition jury headed by the celebrated Idil Biret, and he paid Tarasova particular praise for her winning quarter-final Test Piece performance, saying: “Varvara’s Devil’s Reel was so expressive, with genius use of the pedal. This told me she’d probably win the Competition. Others played it too loud and fast.”
In third place was the youngest finalist, Anna Szaklucka, Her teacher, also at The Royal College, but not present on the day, is Ian Fountain, another WSO soloist and a 2013 juror. Her boyfriend Lucas flew to Heathrow from Poland for the Final, only to have to call her at midday from Victoria saying the trains were out of action and he would not be able to reach Worthing.
In the short SIPC history, Tarasova is the second Russian finalist and the first Russian winner, Klinton the second Ukrainian finalist and Szalucka the first Pole in the final frame. Third time lucky, this was the first all-female Final and all three will be invited to give their own Worthing Symphony Society Interview Concert at The Denton between now and the next SIPC in 2018.
Biret, in demand abroad but judging at the SIP for the first time, assessed it: “I have been a juror at many leading competitions including twice the Busoni, and this one is already at a very good level.” The most prolific Naxos label artiste, she has recorded both Chopin Concertos. In the final with WSO and conductor John Gibbons, Varvara Tarasova performed Concerto No 2 and Biret said: “She played it completely in the spirit of Chopin with perfect sound, touch and sensitivity,” adding, “the Concerto’s closing stages are very difficult technically.”
Playing the concerto before now with an orchestra, Tarasova had played only the first movement, in her home city. But after the morning rehearsal at Worthing, she gave a performance of No 2 that evidently transported the majority of the audience into Chopin’s ‘dream stream’ world because not only did they bring her back onstage twice (once more than Klinton and Szalucka) but she got the majority of the Audience Vote. And her total command and musicality convincingly landed her the Orchestra vote.
Supremely serene and composed in her playing posture and action, sometimes gently swaying, and with near flawless execution and immaculate control, she appeared to make only one serious mistake all week. And that was neglecting to ensure the piano stool was at her own height before she took the stage, last of the three to play. The result was the indignity of appearing in a full, light grey, charcoal waistbanded ball gown, sumptuous in fabric, only to have to squat down behind the stool and turn its height-adjusting ball handles ― with more than 800 people waiting.
“I bought the gown at To Be Bright in Moscow and I was dancing in it the other week at a Russian Ball in Vienna,” bright-eyed, she revealed to me afterwards. “I’m staying with [first-time] Worthing hosts Phil and Janet Taylor. It’s been amazing. This week has seemed like a month with all the work and practice I’ve put in, to play two different recitals programmes and then a concerto.
“My plans now are to graduate in my Masters degree at the Royal College of Music in June, when I play Scriabin’s second sonata in a free LCM lunchtime concert at St Stephen’s Church.” [June 4, Gloucester Road, SW7 4AL ]
Dinara Klinton was the most experienced finalist, plainly at home for some time already in Tchaikovsky’s often barnstormingly brilliant Concerto. She went first, dressed in a plain, A-line cornflower blue gown, and sailing into a first movement in which she produced poetry and instrospection, then imperiousness in the cadenzas. Her slow movement’s nocturnal sections were perhaps too sleepy but her finale was alert to the cross rhythms and dances, and she produced a blistering salvo of extensive double octaves in the coda before earning a thunderous audience reception. This was what Tarasova eclipsed.
Afterwards, Klinton said: “I’ve played the Tchaikovsky a number of times now and I was very pleased with my performance − and I was very pleased with the audience. I’d have regretted it if I hadn’t entered this competition. No, I didn’t feel tired at all after playing the Transcendental Studies two days earlier.”
Shalucka, alas, had no chance of being named winner, despite a Beethoven No 4 which she explored with a musicality and variety arguably the most rewarding to hear of all three finalists. But her involvement and imagination occasionally led her adrift of the optimum maximum technical concentration necessary for a work of so many fast notes played quietly, and at moments she lacked technical security and clarity of articulation.
In a long, straight, black dress, she was passionate in the first cadenza, deeply introverted and understatedly operatic in the middle movement, and sprightly and perkily playful in the finale with a real sense of fantasy. When she has organised her heart and hand co-ordination in this work – which she was playing in public for the first time – she will thrill listeners.
Afterwards, understandably drained, Szalucka confided: “Public competitions are very stressful and I don’t intend to do more than two a year. Instead, I want to develop and do new repertoire. But I’ve had a fantastic experience here this week.”
The WSO and conducting competition artistic director John Gibbons miscalculated with some overegged brass in the Tchaikovsky and the first horn was distractingly sharp in the magical first-movement coda of the Beethoven. The team had a long day but otherwise did themselves proud.
However, the closing ceremony, as its 2012 predecessor, appeared poorly thought-through and orchestrated. Almost an afterthought.
First, the audience were called back from the bar and cafe, only to have to sit wondering at a filmed interview with Tarasova they could not hear. “Why her? Is she the winner?”
Some of the public, appetite no doubt raised by the first five interview concerts heard in the past year or so by previous years’ Competition competitors, told me they would have liked to have heard some words from the finalists − who were evidently supposed to remain silent. And I wondered why the jury were also kept quiet, when to have had the result from the horse’s mouth, with a little interesting elaboration, would have humanised the final big announcement.
By a street, though, the best mayor’s speech I have ever heard in a musical context came from Vic Walker: “For me, music has to take me out of the busyness of life,” he told everyone. “These soloists have been speaking to the piano and the piano has done its job. These musicians have been ministering to you, the audience.” Superbly put.
And for those wondering about the Competition’s overall pre-final highlights, here are a few of the jurors’ comments:
Pianist, Yuki Negashi ― “Asago Nakata ‘s quarter-final was so full of life and interesting ideas, especially her Prokofiev’s 3rd Sonata. Anna Bulkina’s Davidsbundlertanz by Schumann was brave and poetic. She’s a real artist. And Ben Schoeman had such stage presence and was so expressive.”
Artistes agent, impressario and cricket publisher, Patrick Allen ― “Pietro Bonfilio did outstandingly well in his first foreign competition. His Schumann’s Carnaval really impressed me, up to just the last few pages of the music. I think he’ll go further.”
Head juror, Idil Biret ― “Varvara Tarasova’s Beethoven Sonata Opus 2 No 3 was excellent. Dinara Klinton’s Sarcasms by Prokofiev was, also, and Anna Szelucka played Four Szymanovsky Mazurkas in a most unusual way. In the semi-finals, Anna Bulkina’s Beethoven Opus 90 Sonata was remarkable and her Davidsbundlertanz made great sense and was in the true spirit of Schumann.”