The finals of the 32nd Dudley International Piano Competition proved a glittering occasion, bringing back the CBSO to the tremendous acoustic, immediate and straight, of what we still remember as Dudley Town Hall, and attracting a crowd of nearly 100 last-minute audience-members queuing to buy tickets atthe door. No town can afford to ignore a boost such as this, and I trust the local municipal fathers will be taking this success on board.

What a coup to attract the CBSO under its efficient and meticulous associate conductor Michael Seal, so encouragingly sympathetic to the three young finalists who have emerged from the competition’s huge initial field.

Seal and his players collaborated with spot-on efficiency in three very different performances, beginning with the Ukrainian Slava Sidorenko in a well-delivered Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no.1, tempi sagging at times, but with thunderous spectacle and also smiling articulation.

The UK’s Cordelia Williams brought both elasticity and poetry to Beethoven’s inward Piano Concerto no.4, so searchingly demanding of a musicianship which Williams conveyed with conviction and inner strength. This, to me, was a winning account.

But it wasn’t. As is the case with so many pianists from the Far East, strength and spectacle impress people, and this was certainly true of Qiaojing Dai’s emphatic, and occasionally well-turned, reading of Chopin’s delicately fragrant Piano Concerto no.2. Her frequent recourse to a hidden handkerchief, whether to wipe her hands or the keys, was a distraction, and flailing body-language was another. She was a popular winner, and also took the audience prize.

What is striking is that no finalists ever dare attempt the exposure of a Mozart piano concerto.

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