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Review: Brant International Piano Competition Final at Birmingham Town Hall

There was not much to quicken the listening juices during Saturday afternoon's 37th final of the competition.

Birmingham Town Hall

Though it prides itself on being totally recital-based, the Brant International Piano Competition could perhaps benefit from the injection of excitement and spontaneity which a concerto final with orchestra would bring.

What we have, though, is the format bequeathed by the BIPC's formidable founder, the late Gladys Lily Brant, and it does risk resulting in dullness and playing safe. There was not much to quicken the listening juices during Saturday afternoon's 37th final of the competition. These certainly were not three individual recitals, but three 40-minute sessions calculated not to get anything wrong.

Birmingham Conservatoire's Domonkos Csabay (Hungary) began with a well-weighted Mozart C minor Fantasia, setting up an improvisatory and imperious Schubert Wanderer Fantasy, fingerwork flickering, then sturdy in the fugue, and concluded with a rippling Liszt Au bord d'une source, well pedalled.

Hong Kong's Chi-Hoi Cheung, studying at the Royal College of Music, gave us a Bach B-flat Capriccio which explored the capabilities of the modern piano just as the composer would have done. His Schumann Kinderszenen was a brave choice, but these technically unchallenging pieces needed more interpretative empathy to compensate for the absence of bravura, and his concluding Chopin E major Scherzo was matter-of-fact and under-projected.

Also from the RCM, Usbek Tamila Salimdjanova displayed a somewhat studied platform-manner. She launched her programme with a heavily-romanticised Scarlatti D minor Sonata, after which Schumann's Fantasie drew from her a strong grip on its rambling structure, as well as a welcome richness of tone, and her Debussy L'Isle Joyeuse was atmospheric and exhilarating.

Salimdjanova won the Alan Woodfield audience prize, but came second overall in the deliberations of judges Peter Donohoe, Mei Yi Foo and John York. Third prize went to Chi-Hoi Cheung.

Domonkos Csabay celebrated his win with an encore of a Bartok Romanian Dance, bringing at last a panache and personality which had been lacking from proceedings all afternoon.

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