Review: Winner showed emotional heart and not just technical fireworks

Roman Kosyakov
Roman Kosyakov

Despite the snow, ice and blizzards the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition continued on its inevitable way towards its two final evenings when the six surviving competitors from the original 160 would seek to go just that bit further to impress the seven international judges seated now in the circle of the White Rock Theatre.

After the second stage the competitors were reduced down to 11 who were invited to perform their own choices for a solo recital, and after this the six finalists were announced. If the sudden fall of freezing rain had kept some of the audience away on Friday, there was a full house on Saturday and a real air of expectation given the exceptional quality of the performers. To keep the two final events as even as possible both were introduced by Bill Turnbull, a familiar voice to listeners to Classic FM, who provided succinct introductions and, once the judges had made their decision, presented the prizes.

Both evenings opened with Schubert’s overture to Rosamunde and then on Friday evening Su Yeon Kim chose to play Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op.43, Gen Li Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3 in C major Op.26 and Kyoungsun Park Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5 in E flat major Op.73. On Saturday Fanya Lin played Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3 in C major Op.26, Rixiang Huang Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 1 in E flat major S.124 and Roman Kosyakov Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No 1 in B flat minor Op.23.

Then came the wait, not too long on this occasion, before the results were announced. Frank Wibaut, the Artistic Director and Chairman of the Jury, started by thanking the many people involved in the organisation of the competition, not least the many volunteers and host families who made the smooth running such an exemplary undertaking and Yamaha for the loan or a large number of high quality pianos. He then introduced the international jury and from there went straight to the results. This year, rather than announce the full six prizes, only the first three were publicly announced which made for an extra level of frisson within the White Rock.

The Third Prize went to Gen Li from China who I am glad to say I heard in the second round play a splendidly succinct and exciting rendition of Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano Concerto, one which I would gladly hear with full orchestra. The Second Prize went to Su Yeon Kim from South Korea, who repeated her performance on Friday of the Rachmaninov Paganini variations which she had performed in the Second Stage.

The winner, with a magnificent performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto was the young Russian pianist Roman Kosyakov. Though the jury do not at this stage give any immediate feedback, it seemed obvious to me that, where so many of these young performers had given us technical brilliance, his was the only contribution which had a sense of the emotional heart of the work rather than just the fireworks. The second movement was key, its gentle unfolding and romantic core captivating the antithesis of the extrovert panache of the outer movements.

As well as the £15,000 prize he wins a number of key concert dates both in Britain and overseas.

All the finalists were exceptional players, but I look forward keenly to following Roman Kosyakov’s career.

Hastings should be proud that, alongside its regular contribution to music through local choirs, orchestras and festivals, it can mount a competition which has genuine international importance. We look forward to next year. Brian Hick.