In Lisbon, TalentFest Heats Up Before the Finals

PortugalPortugal Beethoven, Bottesini, Debussy, Françaix, Poulenc, Mozart, Schumann, others: Janina Staub (soprano), Rosanna Cooper (mezzo-soprano), Calvin Kim, João Paiva, Julija Vrabec (clarinets), Charlotte Chahuneau, Lily Higson-Smith, Valerie Kim (violins), Julia Wawrowska (viola), Zhelin Wen, Gustavo Rocha (double basses). Sala Luís de Freitas Branco, Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal, 1-4.8.2019. (LV)

Gustavo Rocha (c) Rosa Maria Barrantes

Beethoven – Violin Sonata Op.30 No.2: III. Scherzo, IV. Finale
Bottesini Tarantella; Concerto No.2: I. Allegro
DebussyPremière Rhapsodie
Françaix – Theme and Variations
Mozart – ‘Ach ich liebte’ (Die Entführung aus dem Serail); ‘Parto, parto, ma tu ben mi’ (La clemenza di Tito); Violin Concerto K.316: I. Allegro; Violin Sonata, K.301: I. Allegro con spirito
Poulenc – Clarinet Sonata, FP 184: II. Romanza, III. Allegro con fuoco
SchumannMärchenbilder, Op.113: I. Nicht schnell, II. Lebhaft

After a brilliant opening salvo, the following three TalentFest concerts at the fifth annual Festival Verão Clássico e Accademia continued to showcase the impressive depth and breadth of young players, most of whom are clearly headed for professional careers. Among the more than 30 participants, there was the expected concentration of outstanding young Portuguese players in the clarinet and double bass categories, but 15 other countries reflected the truly international nature of the competition.

TalentFest II, for example, featured Australia’s Lily Higson-Smith in the first movement of Mozart’s Violin Sonata K.301 — as beautiful as Mozart should be, perfectly paced, and superbly timed. Poland’s Julia Wawrowska followed, and showed why the viola is coming out the shadows more resplendently than ever. Her instrument had a lovely nut-brown sound, and she her gracefulness with it made one forget that some consider it ‘unwieldy’. Her triumph in the final movement of Schumann’s Märchenbilder, Op.113 was exhilarating.

In the last two movements of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata Op.30 No.2, France’s Charlotte Chahuneau showed an immaculate technique with flashes of fire; her brilliant finale thrust Karina Aksenova — her partner in crime and one of the many fine staff pianists — into the spotlight. And British mezzo-soprano Rosanna Cooper brought down the house with a luscious ‘Parto, parto’ from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito that featured melting sighs and spectacular triplets, complemented by equally impressive obbligatos from Portuguese clarinetist João Paiva.

Paiva on his own gave a beautifully shaded, judged, and eloquent reading of the final two movements of Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata. In the Romanza, Paiva captured the composer’s affection for his friend Arthur Honegger to whom the score was dedicated, and in the Allegro con fuoco, the ‘fuoco’ had dashing virtuosity and a sensibility so convincingly Gallic that it seemed to bring twirls to the ends of his mustache. But Zhelin Wen, of the Republic of China, received the most raucous cheers of the night for his very cool stance and an outrageous cadenza in the Allegro from Bottesini’s second Double Bass Concerto.

TalentFests III and IV were no different. In the opening movement of Mozart’s Violin Concerto K.316, the USA’s Valerie Kim showed a comprehensive sense of style, color and finely graded dynamics. Her transition passages contained seemingly spontaneous ornaments, and her long but absorbing cadenza, of her own devising and packed with double stops, made me want to hear the whole thing.

Another American, Calvin Kim, showed total idiomatic mastery of Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie before unleashing the fireworks at the end. German mezzo-soprano Janina Staub set off her own fireworks in ‘Ach ich liebte’, which could have stepped off the stage of a major production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail. And in in Françaix’s sophisticated Theme and Variations, Slovenia’s Julija Vrabec was so perfectly in tune with its spirit — and with poise, natural charm and charismatic stage presence — that the audience went wild.

And then there was Bottesini’s iconic Tarantella — wonderfully, hopelessly in love — in which Portugal’s Gustavo Rocha convinced us that the double bass was made for singing love songs. Rocha’s astounding virtuosity would have been comic if he had not been so serious.

Laurence Vittes

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