On Friday 29th April we saw the return of a music competition for our elite performers; the Helen Wareham Recital Competition. This two-hour showcase concert offered the performers the chance to present a short recital, to include a work by either a female composer or one of a different ethnic heritage, and allowed for some very imaginative programming. The adjudicator was international concert pianist and Head of Piano Accompaniment at the Royal Academy of Music, Professor Michael Dussek FRAM, who also happens to have taught me the piano – some twenty five years ago at the RAM. As a result, I, as accompanist to the performers, was perhaps under more pressure to perform well than the pupils were!

Ten young musicians performed, and it was notable how many were drawn from younger year groups; no less than seven are in the Lower Fifth. Richard E. (piano) began with some spirited Mozart and an exquisite performance of Germaine Tailleferre’s Valse Lente, which drew particular praise from Mr Dussek, before Alice P.’s deeply felt programme of three songs by female composers. This was presented with sincerity and deep understanding of the texts. Simon C. (cello) included a vibrant performance of Saint-Saens’ Allegro appassionato alongside a traditional Japanese work, and Lily B. gave a very mature account of a Schumann song alongside a brilliantly characterised reading of two songs by Thea M. with Scottish texts. Charlie M. (violin) closed the first half with some refined playing of a Mozart Rondo, and a hugely impressive account of Florence P.’s Fantasie no.1, highlighting the Ragtime rhythms and inflection of this virtuoso piece.

Jamie T.’s virtuoso electric guitar playing showed his exceptional dexterity and sense of subtle nuance in his programme, and was delivered with a sense of complete control over his instrument; the hallmark of a great player. Brandon G.’s refined playing of Kuhlau’s Rondo, and beautifully delicate account of Remote Xianggelila by Ma Jinfeng and Zhang N. showed how his piano playing has matured in recent months, and the dexterity of his Scott Joplin Cascades capped a fine recital. Mia P. brought charm and wit to Madeleine Dring’s Crabbed Age and Youth, and a salty tang to John Ireland’s Sea Fever. Anna C.’s sensuous tone on the violin was perfect for Lili Boulanger’s Nocturne, and the virtuosity of de Beriot’s Concerto showcased her considerable virtuosity, before Tyler B. (voice) closed the programme with some wonderful singing of a Recitative and Aria from Handel’s Messiah, alongside Madeleine Dring’s setting of Shakespeare’s Take, O take those lips away, and John Jacob Niles’ Black is the colour of my true love’s hair.

On this occasion, Charlie M. was awarded the prize, but Mr Dussek praised the commitment, presentation and quality of all the recitals, and the sense of mutual support and celebration was palpable throughout. Occasions such as this lift the general standard of all involved, and this was an exceptional evening of high-class music making from these young performers. That most of them will compete again next year serves only to continue to raise the bar, but the audience will have left having enjoyed a wonderful concert; the result of which mattered less than the sense of enjoyment from performers and audience alike.