Dudley International Piano Competition Final * * *
at Dudley College of Technology
Review by Richard Bratby

"About as suited for a virtuoso's powers as a bath-chair for a world speed record". Donald Tovey was talking about Berlioz' Harold in Italy – but he might as well have been referring to Elgar's piano transcription of the Enigma Variations.

Hiroaki Takenouchi's decision to make this the main work of his final performance in the 2007 Dudley International Piano Competition was jaw-droppingly perverse.

The heart sank as the performance progressed – and not only because Elgar's ham-fisted piano writing reduced a beloved masterpiece to a foursquare technical exercise.

A superbly gifted pianist appeared to be deliberately removing himself from the competition.

Only moments earlier, Takenouchi had detonated a compelling Boulez Notations; flamboyant, dazzlingly-coloured and thrillingly alive to the work's split-second moodswings.

But the competition was now between Sasha Grynyuk and Alexander Karpeyev.

For both artists, the shorter works proved telling.

Grynyuk's surprisingly cool pair of Chopin Nocturnes, Op.55, rounded out the picture given by his richly impressionistic Janacek Sonata.

Four of Rachmaninov's Etudes-Tableaux, Op.39 were dark, swirling and properly craggy, in the grand manner.

Karpeyev's performance of Medtner's Novella Op.17 No.1, meanwhile, revealed the work's poetry with a directness and clarity that was all the more powerful for being so unaffected.

Karpeyev's artistic maturity was palpable, and it shone through every bar of his closing item – a commanding performance of Liszt's B minor Sonata.

The grasp of large-scale structure, the huge dynamic and tonal range, and above all, the flood-tide of emotion that swept from first bar to last, all made this performance worthy in its own right of the First Prize Karpeyev was finally awarded.

Grynyuk came second, Takenouchi third. On the strength of this final, the jury got it spot-on.

 Sasha Grynyuk plays in the Stephen Brant Memorial recital at Symphony Hall tonight (7.30pm), together with Soyeon Kim and Andrejs Osokins (Box office: 0121 780 3333).