Four fine musicians compete for NZSM Concerto Competition

New Zealand School of Music Concerto Competition

Competitors: Nick Price (guitar) – Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez; Reuben Chin (alto saxophone) – Pierre Dubois’s Concerto for alto saxophone and string orchestra; Kate Oswin (violin) – Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 5 in A; Sunny Cheng (piano) – Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G
Adjudicator: Vyvyan Yendoll

Adam Concert Room, Victoria University

Wednesday 25 May, 7.30pm

This was the final round of the School of Music’s annual concerto competition, reduced now to four finalists. Each is accompanied by piano – a pianist of their choice.

First, I was impressed by the musicianship and accomplishment of all four contestants, and the way in which the finalists had emerged produced a concert of good variety.

The first contestant was guitarist Nick Price who played the obvious concerto by Rodrigo. Though I found his demeanour a little less than engaging – he made no eye contact with the audience, his head turned down most of the time towards his left hand – the music was there in a most attractive way. He played from memory.

He opened with bold, clean chords, paced resolutely: it established at once an expectation of an interesting journey through the music (which ended after the second movement). The gorgeous Adagio was played beautifully, easily paced, in a relaxed manner, as if every note had to be savoured to the full: dynamics sensitively handled, with discreet rubato that let the music breathe. He was fortunate in his accompanist, Douglas Mews, who managed to re-create the score with remarkable quasi-orchestral colouring.

Saxophonist Reuben Chin’s contest piece was Pierre Dubois’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra which he played with the music in front of him, not that it detracted from an air of spontaneity and total mastery of the score. Though he opened with a slightly imperfect, breathy note, articulation thereafter was pretty flawless, shown strikingly in the big cadenza where his breath control was impressive, through some very fast, virtuosic passages. A contrasting tone of melancholy coloured the slow movement, where his highest register was admirable. The last movement revealed the composition’s French descent most conspicuously and l’esprit français was accurately captured.

Chin was very capably accompanied by Claire Harris at the piano. He was the winner: one of the two contestants I had guessed as most likely.

Kate Oswin, who had her early training and competition awards in Christchurch, as well as playing in the Christchurch Symphony and now in the Wellington Orchestra, played Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto. She played without the score and was accompanied by Matthew Oswin. There was a slightly casual air about her playing, and at least in the first movement I thought her phrasing was not very interesting. Technically her playing was excellent however, and she certainly showed a high level of accomplishment, including effortless double stopping, in the cadenza of the second movement. She played only the first two movements.

The Ravel Piano Concerto was the choice of Sunny Cheng who came to Wellington from Beijing aged 15. Accompanied at the piano by Douglas Mews, she played from memory all three movements. This concerto suffered more than the others from the fact of being accompanied by a second piano whish detracted somewhat from the audience’s ability always to distinguish the two, especially when the keyboards were not visible – though the two pianos were distinctive enough in tone. She gave off an air of complete mastery of the work, handling rhythms and phrasing in a comfortable manner, and sounding at home with syncopations and jazz-influenced passages. Her second movement was limpidly beautiful, with just enough emotional feeling to make contact with her listeners. The two pianos created an almost competitive spirit in the last movement; equally in control, generating a sparkling, motoric excitement as it raced to its conclusion.

Reuben Chin, the winner of the competition, will play with the NZSM Orchestra in a concert at St Andrew’s on The Terrace at 7.30pm on Friday 12 August.