Leeds Piano Competition Finals Review – Alim Beisambayev a Worthy Winner | Classical music
Wno matter where one thinks of the enduring value of musical competitions, it is undeniable that they continue to thrive and even proliferate. This year’s Leeds Piano Competition, the 20th in its history and the first to be held since the death of its founder Fanny Waterman, fell amid a series of well-established fall events; it was preceded by the Busoni competition in Bolzano and will be followed next month by the last edition of the most prestigious of them, the Chopin competition in Warsaw.
But the status of any music competition depends on the caliber of its previous winners and what they accomplish, and it has been many years since a truly world-class pianist emerged following his victory in Leeds. At least this time, there should be no argument as to whether the right person received the top prize. Judging by the final round of concertos at least, the 23-year-old Kazakhstan-born Alim Beisambayev was a worthy winner, with a polish and maturity of his playing that marked him among the all-male quintet of finalists.
Of course, the jury’s decision is not only based on the final, but also takes into account the performance of all previous events, and the fact that Beisambayev also won the Contemporary Music Prize for his study group Ligeti. in his semi-final recital, as well as the Virtual Audience Award, based on the votes of those who have watched the streaming of the previous rounds, suggest that his game has always stood out.
But a Leeds final can never be a fully balanced affair. With ages ranging from 22 to 28, some of the contestants were much more experienced than others. For at least one of those finalists, playing his concerto with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Andrew Manze was his first experience working with a large professional orchestra, while others had performed with world-class groups. And it’s not easy to make direct comparisons between such different works; between Beisambayev’s dashing and extrovert Rachmaninoff, Paganini’s Rhapsody on a Theme and, say, the impressive and sustained performance of Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto by Israeli Ariel Lanyi, who came in third, or Briton Thomas Kelly , fifth, uneven but genuinely fresh account of Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto, all launched at such different levels of depth.
Kaito Kobayashi of Japan came in second – more, I imagine, because of his performances in the previous rounds (he also won the chamber music award) than for his rather fragile and fuzzy interpretation of the Third Concerto. de BartÃ³k in the final – while Ukrainian Dmytro Choni was fourth with a rather characterless Beethoven, the Third Concerto. What can almost be taken for granted these days is the technical assurance of all competitors; the standards were very high, and it should be noted that three of the finalists, including the eventual winner, went to Purcell School in London and then to one of the capital’s music schools. But the most precious possession is a real musical personality, and that cannot be learned; Judging from the finale, however, Beisambyev certainly has that.
All performances are available on demand on Medici.tv, and the finale can be streamed on BBC Sounds until October 18.