Review: Michael Hill International Violin Competition

By William Dart

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What: Michael Hill International Violin Competition
Where: Auckland Town Hall

The Grand Finale of the Michael Hill International Violin Competition is always a highlight of the city's winter season.

After gruelling Queenstown solo rounds and testing chamber music semi-finals this week, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra finally made its entrance, under the ever-dynamic Roy Goodman, accompanying the three finalists in concertos of their choice.

And what a relief it was, after 2007's triple-decker sandwich of Brahms, Brahms and more Brahms, when Danbi Um, Josef Spacek and Yoo Jin Jang chose Sibelius, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky.

Danbi Um's Sibelius Concerto would secure her third place and perhaps we suspected as much when its famous opening melody did not steal upon the ear quite as persuasively as it might have. Throughout the work, patches of insecure intonation marred much of the virtuoso passagework and the Finale was distinctly under-charged.

Josef Spacek's choice of the Prokofiev G minor Concerto was brave but not foolhardy as it secured him a clear win.

The consummate poise and professionalism of the young Czech were unfaultable. His collegial involvement with the other musicians on stage meant that, more than once, Spacek seemed to address his playing to Goodman himself with a glint of playful challenge in his eye.

We were transfixed from the very first phrase, bursting with rich tone yet subtle in its inflections, and we were not released until the final tumultuoso flourish.

At first it seemed that Spacek might have a close rival in Yoo Jin Jang, who would go on to win the audience prize, texted from the auditorium and beyond, and the best performance of Gareth Farr's specially commissioned solo piece.

Jang's Tchaikovsky was almost defiantly deft, balletic in its delicacy and grace; the central Canzonetta glowed with poetry, but energies were not quite sustained into the demanding Finale.

For me, there were issues with musical detail, including an over-reliance on scooping portamenti. The evening ended with the usual rounds of thanks, particularly deserved in the case of Michael Hill, without whose generosity and faith this world-class event would not exist.

- NZ Herald

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