Australian Concerto and Vocal Competition Gala

Published On September 1, 2013 | By David Salisbury | Artgaze, Music

In July this year Townsville was host to the Australian Concerto and Vocal competition Gala Concert at the Riverway Arts Centre. The Guest Adjudicator was Mr. Donald Hazelwood OA, OBE, Concertmaster Emeritus,Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The following reviw by Dr. David Salisbury Senior Lecturer and Associate Dean of The School of Creative Arts in Townsville is reviewed in concert order:

Sungpil Lee (Melbourne) Performing the Clarinet Concerto Op 57 by Carl Neilsen, Accompanist Rhodri Clarke

The Clarinet Concerto (1928) was conceived during the most difficult period in Nielsen’s life. He was sixty-three, and had achieved considerable renown throughout Scandinavia; yet he was disappointed that his music had not reached a wider audience, he was deeply concerned with the unsettled state of the world, and he knew that his days were numbered. Perhaps this accounts for the bitter struggle, which occurs throughout this concerto—a war between the tonalities of F major and E major. Every time hostilities seem to be at an end, a snare drum incites the combatants to renewed conflict. Another explanation for this is that the clarinetist for whom he was writing the concerto had a bi-polar disorder. Therefore, the concerto was poking fun at his constant mood swings (, Accessed 25 July 2013)

Sungpil Lee exhibited masterful control over extremely difficult and technical passages with a rich warm tone that flowed well into the slower sections of the piece. There was a wonderful balance between the piano accompaniment performed by Rhodri Clarke and the Clarinetist. Mr. Clarke displayed a great sensitivity to the soloist producing a very light touch with lovely dynamic shadings as well as managing the drum part with his right hand at the designated moments.

Unaccompanied sections of the concerto showed Lee’s expressive qualities and his ability to hold the stage by himself. His altissimo register was clear and brilliant and his chalumeau and clarion registers warm and rich. Lee was relaxed and composed yet delightfully animated during demanding passages that displayed his intense and energetic focus. The cadenza leading to a fantastic finish was a showcase for Lee’s virtuosity and technical prowess. Lee displayed great control throughout this very challenging concerto and it was pleasure to behold.

Lily Higson-Spence (Brisbane) Performing the Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor Op 22 by Henri Weiniawski, Accompanist Lana Higson

Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 22, by the Polish violin virtuoso, Henryk Wieniawski, may have been started in 1856, but the first performance did not take place until November 27, 1862, when he played it in St. Petersburg with Anton Rubinstein conducting. It was published in 1879, inscribed to his dear friend Pablo de Sarasate. The work is in three movements:
1. Allegro moderato in D minor/F major
2. Romance: Andante non troppo in B flat major
3. Allegro con fuoco – Allegro moderato (à la Zingara)

The first movement uses a half-sonata form where the orchestral coda after the exposition transitions into the second movement instead of a development section. The slow movement, a Romance, follows without a break. It is based on a lilting tune in 12/8 time and rises to an impassioned central climax. A rhapsodic passage marked Allegro con fuoco and mainly a solo cadenza, leads to the finale, a dashing rondo in the gypsy style, which quotes the first movement’s subsidiary theme in the course of its second and third episodes. The final movement implements a 2/4 time, which allows the violinists to emphasize certain notes in the beginning of some measures (, Accessed 25 July 2013)

Miss Higson-Spence launched into the Allegro first movement of the concerto with a very dramatic start that demonstrated her considerable control of the violin with impeccable intonation and phrasing. Throughout the concerto she displayed excellent dynamic range with a lyrical sensitivity and lightness in the pianissimo passages especially in the extremely technical and fast lines that recurred with regularity in the piece.

In the Romance she again showed her more lyrical side producing the haunting melodic theme with an expressiveness that continued to build through phrases that reflected her composure and focus to a release and then to build again. Her accompanist Lana Higson (her mother) was equally sensitive and brilliant in her support role never overshadowing the violinist. The interaction between the piano and violin was at all times balanced and cohesive blending the two parts exquisitely.

This carried through to the final movement that started with a brilliant dialog between the two instruments and then raced to an ecstatic conclusion of dynamic and technical virtuosity portrayed by both performers. Lily Higson-Spence presented us with a delightful and engaging performance.

Ji Young Lee (Korea) Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini Op 43 for Piano & Orchestra by Serge Rachmaninoff, Accompanist Mitchell Leigh

The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 is a concertante work written by Sergei Rachmaninoff. It is written for solo piano and symphony orchestra, closely resembling a piano concerto. The work was written at his Villa, the Villa Senar, in Switzerland, according to the score, from July 3 to August 18, 1934. Rachmaninoff himself, a noted interpreter of his own works, played the solo piano part at the piece’s premiere at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 7, 1934 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Rachmaninoff, Stokowski, and the Philadelphia Orchestra made the first recording, on December 24, 1934, at RCA Victor’s Trinity Church Studio in Camden, New Jersey. (, Accessed 25 July 2013)

Ji Young Lee’s performance was an excellent display of control and balance of phrasing with brilliant dynamic shadings. The interplay between the pianos was very measured and poised with the accompanying piano, played by Mitchell Leigh, taking the part of a full orchestra. Mitchell’s accompaniment was very deliberate and precise with a good balance towards the soloist. Each variation of which there are 24 was more daring and adventurous than the previous one.

Lee’s playing is very precise and delicate with every note given it full measure. Slower variations were given a reflective approach with faster ones full of tremendous energy. All in all Ji Young Lee gave a very satisfying performance.


Grace Clifford (Sydney) Violin Concerto in D Op 35 by Peter Tchaikovsky, Accompanist Ying Ho

The Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1878, is one of the best known of all violin concertos. It is also considered to be among the most technically difficult works for violin.

As with most concertos, the piece is in three movements:
1. Allegro moderato (D major)
2. Canzonetta: Andante (G minor)
3. Finale: Allegro vivacissimo (D major)

There is no break or pause between the second and third movements.
(, Accessed 25 July 2013)

The movement starts with an elegant introduction stating a very lyrical melody and then explodes in great virtuosic sweeping figures that expose the violinist technical capabilities immediately. Miss Clifford showed great maturity and sensitivity in all aspects of her performance whether she a furious flurry of very technical passages or lyrical and reflective passages. The cadenza at the end of the first movement was a display of brilliant technique and control that seemed effortless. Ying Ho’s accompaniment part was performed superbly with a sensitivity that was exemplary.

The Canzonetta starts with a very expressive melody setting a reflective mood and Grace’s playing equally emotive with a great deal of empathy. In this movement she display a wide range of dynamic shading bring all of the drama of the movement to the forefront. Ying Ho balances this with an equally sensitive performance.

The Finale: Allegro starts with melodies that recall themes from the first movement and all of the technical brilliance displayed throughout the composition. Grace’s concentration and endurance are put to the test as she prevails admirably with a fierce focus and determination that belays her age. In many of the most demanding passages she displayed an even playful expression suggesting she was in her element. This was a monumental performance by a thoroughly accomplished performer who delighted the audience with a passionate and invigorating performance that satisfied all who attended the concert.

Stefan Cassomenos (Melbourne) Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Op 26 by Serge Prokofiev, Accompanist Rhodri Clarke
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 is the best-known concerto by Sergei Prokofiev. It was completed in 1921 using sketches first started in 1913. Prokofiev began work on the concerto as early as 1913 when he wrote a theme with variations, which he then set aside. Although he revisited the sketches in 1916–17, he did not fully devote himself to the project until 1921 when he was spending the summer in Brittany. Prokofiev himself played the solo part at the premiere on 16 December 1921 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frederick Stock.
The concerto consists of three movements of roughly equal length, which last just under 30 minutes in total.
1. Andante – Allegro (C major)
2. Tema con variazioni (E minor)
3. Allegro, ma non troppo (C major)
(, Accessed 25 July 2013)

Although the first movement starts very quietly it quickly moves to a very vigorous performance by both pianists. Stefan is very much a showman with exaggerated hand movements and facial expressions. He is a very technically gifted pianist with the ability to perform very fast passages with an extremely light and subtle touch. He is a technical wizard as he effortlessly flies from the bottom of the piano to the top with absolute precision. Rhodri equals his abilities and delicacy in the accompaniment part.

In the second movement Cassomenos begins with the expressive and playful theme and displays the variations of this movement that are quite unique and surprising with some very exceptional use of syncopation. In all passages Stefan displays the consistent supple touch and precise approach.

The final movement pummels your senses with alternating motives and statement followed by dialog between the two pianos. It moves between bombastic and then swiftly to subtle with a hint of nostalgia and introspection. Stefan produced a masterful performance that enthralled the audience.

The final results of the competition were as follows:

First Place – Grace Clifford
Second Place – Stefan Cassomenos
Third Place – Lily Higson-Spence
Fourth Runner Up – Sungpil Lee
Fifth Runner Up – Ji Young Lee

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About The Author

is a Course Coordinator and Senior Lecturer of Digital Sound at James Cook University.

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