Preview – Hastings International Piano Competition: Prize Winners’ Gala Concert

If you live in London or the south of England and love the piano, then consider this: Did you know there is a fully-fledged, international piano competition right on your doorstep?

It is, of course, the Hastings International Piano Competition, hosting their Prize Winners’ Gala Concert at the White Rock Theatre in the town this Saturday 4 March. Performing at the concert, and accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Rory Macdonald, will be two of the stars of last year’s competition. The winner, Japanese pianist Shunta Morimoto (above), will perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no.4, while third-placed Mariamna Sherling (below) will close the concert with Rachmaninov’s much-loved Rhapsody On A Theme of Paganini.

“It is a great honour for me to perform again on the historical stage of the White  Rock Theatre”, said Sherling. “The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is absolutely incredible!  I was lucky to perform with this outstanding orchestra a year ago in the final of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition.  I can’t wait to collaborate with them again.”

Shunta, meanwhile, is similarly excited for his performance of the Beethoven. “It will be my greatest delight to bring to my performance with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra all the beauties I have uncovered studying the 4th concerto of Beethoven. It will be my honour to share this with the public of my most beloved city in England.”

The Hastings International Piano Competition is under the authoritative guidance of Paul Hughes who moved to the role from his previous post as Director of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The competition itself has its roots in the Hastings Music Festival, which dates all the way back to 1908 – and it evolved from the festival, growing at a startling rate. Last year’s competition, says Hughes, was its best yet. “Yes, very much so. We had a record number of applicants – 360 – and a truly international field.”

Morimoto’s winning concerto in the 2022 competition, says Hughes, “demonstrated his extraordinary musicality and the maturity of his playing, as well as meeting all the technical demands of that particular work. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no.4 has parallels in that it requires a deep understanding of the music, exceptional phrasing and an appreciation of the architecture of the concerto; all qualities that Shunta has in abundance.”

The concerto will begin with Dvořák‘s effervescent Carnival Overture, while Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture opens the second half – a prelude to Sherling’s Rachmaninov. “Mariamna (above) is the possessor of a fabulous technique, a razor-sharp mind and a sense of fun”, says Hughes. “I am expecting she will employ all of this to demonstrate many facets of Rachmaninov’s set of variations.”

Hastings has a reputation of being ‘The Friendly Competition’, which Hughes attributes to “a combination of the efficient organisation of HIPCC combined with the warmth of the community whose hospitality in looking after and supporting the young pianists at every stage of their progress through the competition makes such a difference. It is also the friendliness and openness of the jury who share insights and give constructive feedback to the competitors.”  

Following the contestants after the competition has finished is imperative. “That is an important part of the Hastings International Piano experience”, he stresses. “We follow, support and offer performance opportunities to our pianists, and not just the finalists.” When choosing the winners, he says that “formally we don’t discuss the artists as a group of jurors.  The range of experience within the jury means we are all looking for different aspects of a performance, and make our selections individually.”

Hughes (above) considers the future of the competition to be rosy. “Professor Vanessa Latarche was President of the jury in 2022 and fulfilled that role magnificently.  She is now Artistic Director of Hastings International Piano and so I am confident we will attract an even wider range of pianists from across the world. One of the elements of the competition that distinguishes it from many others is that it focuses predominantly on the piano concerto; to that end we have conductor Rory Macdonald returning to conduct not just the finals,  but also the semi-final round.   One further innovation new to the Hastings competition is that we are commissioning a new piano solo work that each competitor will be required to perform in their solo recital round.”

These exciting developments are a natural progression from Paul’s previous role with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. “In my role there I have worked with and presented very many pianists, from early career new generation artists to the most distinguished pianists working today.    I have commissioned new work for them, supported and developed long term relationships with these amazing artists and fostered a sense of loyalty that I believe is so important in our profession. I am calling on all those experiences in Hastings to create a platform where we can discover, support and nurture young pianists and engage the Hastings community in the wonderfully exciting journey of a young pianist from competition to the very top of the profession.”

You can book tickets for The Hastings International Piano Competition Prize Winners’ Gala Concert by clicking on the link. Meanwhile the Piano Concerto Competition will return in February-March 2024 – with updates appearing on the competition website

Listening to Beethoven #218 – Gedenke mein! WoO130

Gedenke mein! WoO130 for voice and piano (1804-5, revised 1819-20. Beethoven aged 33 at time of composition)

Dedication Prince Nikolas Borissovich Galitzin

Text Anonymous
Duration 1’30”


by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception


This song has quite a gentle, hymn-like profile – especially when the harmonies. The voice and piano move together, step by step, with a nostalgic tone, until what can only be a regretful closing statement.

Spotify playlist and Recordings used

A seldom-recorded song – but when you have versions from the great baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and tenor Peter Schreier the song is still amply covered.

The below playlist contains those two recordings:

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1805 Wölfl Piano Sonata in C minor Op.25

Next up Variations for piano trio on ‘Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu’ Op.121a

Listening to Beethoven #217 – Bagatelle in C minor, WoO 52

Commemorative medal for Ludwig van Beethoven – Bronze medal from the Hungarian Ministry of Culture based on a design by József Reményi (picture courtesy of the Beethovenhaus, Bonn)

Bagatelle in C minor WoO 52 for piano (c1795-7, Beethoven aged 24-6)

Dedication not known
Duration 3’45”


written by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

A bagatelle that slipped through the net on Arcana’s Beethoven voyage! This one, which appears to have been finished between 1795 and 1797, is one of a series of such works completed in C minor. It was seemingly on the shortlist to be picked for the set of bagatelles Beethoven published as Op.119 in 1823.

Misha Donat, writing in his notes for the recording by Steven Osborne on Hyperion, suggests the movement was intended for inclusion as part of the Piano Sonata no.5 in C minor Op.10/1, but ‘discarded the scherzo-like piece because its tempo was too similar to that of the finale’. The piece was first published in 1888.


It is easy to see how this piece could be an out-take from the C minor sonata. It has the profile of a scherzo, with a repeated note motif that isn’t too dissimilar to that used in the forthcoming Symphony no.5. Although this ‘riff’ starts in the left hand it transfers to the right as well, and Beethoven enjoys playing with the syncopations it generates.

As a ‘trio’ section Beethoven moves into the major key, with a lighter touch and a warmer outlook to the music. It doesn’t last long, however – and we return to the dogged C minor material for a convincing finish.

Not exactly an easy Bagatelle to play, and much more a sonata fragment – but typically well constructed and memorable in its material.

Recordings used and Spotify playlist

Jenő Jandó (Naxos)
Mikhail Pletnev (DG)
Ronald Brautigam (BIS)
John Lill (Chandos)

Ronald Brautigam provides plenty of energy on his account, and there are tasteful versions from the other three pianists on the list – as well as Steven Osborne on Hyperion.

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1797 Eberl 2 Sonatas for Keyboard four hands, Op.7

Next up Gedenke mein!, WoO 130

In concert – Cédric Tiberghien, CBSO / Eduardo Strausser: Beethoven ‘Emperor’ Concerto & Prokofiev Symphony no.5

Wagner Lohengrin – Prelude to Act One (1846)
Beethoven Piano Concerto no.5 in E flat major Op. 73 ‘Emperor’ (1809)
Prokofiev Symphony no.5 in B flat major Op. 100 (1944)

Cédric Tiberghien (piano), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Eduardo Strausser

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 25 January 2023 2.15pm

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse Picture of Eduardo Strausser (c) Peter Wallis

Is there a more evocative way to begin a concert than the Prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin? The opera itself may fail (for the most part) to live up to the precedent set, but the quality of this piece has never been in doubt – with composers as distinct as Berlioz and Verdi having been captivated by its almost tangible atmosphere and counterpoint redolent of Palestrina in its supple inevitability. Under the assured direction of Eduardo Strausser, it made a fitting curtain-raiser to this afternoon’s concert by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

It also provided a telling foil to Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto that followed in the first half. Still the most popular of its composer’s such pieces, it is also nowadays the hardest to bring off – particularly the initial Allegro with its unabashed emotional rhetoric and overtly symphonic conception. Playing down the former aspect and rationalizing the latter, Cédric Tiberghien opted for a tensile and unaffected traversal which emphasized cohesion at the expense of grandeur – underlining just why Beethoven never again completed a concerto.

There was little to fault in Tiberghien’s take on the Adagio (save for a few errors to remind one that Beethoven’s slower music is by no means easier to play), and if the transition into the finale was less than spellbinding, that latter movement for the most part brought out the best in the rapport between pianist and conductor. The CBSO responded with the necessary rhythmic agility, and Tiberghien responded to the applause with excerpts from the Eroica Variations he has recently recorded as part of an edition of Beethoven’s works in this genre.

The engaging director of last year’s Viennese New Year concert, Strausser (above) clearly enjoys a rapport with this orchestra as was a hallmark of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony following the interval. Itself the most often heard of a diverse and often diffuse cycle (the ‘Classical’ more often encountered on recording than in concert), it presents notable difficulties of balance and pacing – notably the initial Andante, whose accumulating momentum needs careful handling so as not to congeal. Strausser duly had its measure, maintaining focus through to a seismic peroration – the impact from which carried over into a scherzo whose outer sections seemed more than unusually acerbic. Nor did this preclude a more genial response in the trio, its main theme held over from Romeo and Juliet and as captivating a melody as any by this composer.

That the Adagio is the emotional heart of this work only increases the need to prevent it from dragging, and Strausser’s sense of proportion ensured that the sense of dread made explicit at its climax was balanced by the serene eloquence towards its close. Heading (rightly) straight into finale, he steered a secure course through a movement whose poise is constantly being undercut by disruptive elements as take control in the coda – the composer’s perspective on imminent Soviet victory in the ‘Great Patriotic War’ remaining ambivalent even at the close.

A fine reading of a work whose stature is still questioned (and a reminder that Prokofiev’s Second Symphony still awaits its CBSO debut). Chief Conductor-designate Kazuki Yamada returns next week for an unlikely though appealing double-bill of Tchaikovsky and Holst.

You can read all about the 2022/23 season and book tickets at the CBSO website – and head to this page for the Tchaikovsky and Holst programme. Click on the artist names for more on Eduardo Strausser and Cédric Tiberghien

Listening to Beethoven #216 – Piano Sonata no.23 in F minor Op.57 ‘Appassionata’

After the Storm by Caspar David Friedrich (1817)

Piano Sonata no.23 in F minor Op.57 ‘Appassionata’ for piano (1804-5, Beethoven aged 34)

1. Allegro assai
2. Andante con moto
3. Allegro ma non troppo – Presto

Dedication Count Franz von Brunswick

Duration 23″


written by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

Even within Beethoven’s output, the Appassionata sonata is seen as a landmark. As Angela Hewitt writes in the booklet note for her recording of the work on Hyperion, it is a central part of Beethoven’s ‘heroic’ period, sat in publication order between the Eroica symphony and the Piano Concerto no.4, and at a time where Beethoven was taking risks.

Beethoven’s fellow composer and friend Ferdinand Ries recorded how he watched Beethoven at work in Baden. The two composers went for a walk, where Ries described a striking melody on the shawm – which Beethoven could not hear because of his rapidly advancing deafness. It turned out that he was preoccupied in any case, for on their return he immediately went to the keyboard, and played through the newly composed finale of the new sonata, Ries recounting a performance of ‘irresistible fire and mighty force’.

Writing in The Beethoven Companion, Harold Truscott asserts that ‘technically, apart from one or two passages, the work is not difficult to play…yet can still sound very brilliant. Its real difficulty, however, is control of its varied elements and of the great expressive power which is their sum.’

Angela Hewitt notes Beethoven’s holding back of this power until the finale – an increasingly notable feature of his writing. As Jan Swafford writes, ‘Beethoven had an incomparable skill for raising a movement to what seems an unsurpassable peak of excitement or tension, then to surpass it.’


In the Appassionata the risk taking can be seen everywhere you turn. It can be found in the work’s opening phrase, going down to the low ‘F’ exploiting the bigger range of Beethoven’s new Erard piano. It can be found in the stormy middle section of the first movement and the whirlwind figurations of the last, where the right hand is playing so fast it threatens to go off the end! It can also be found in the structural design, Beethoven writing a slow movement that acts initially as an equivalent to the hymnal slow movement in the Pathetique sonata, but ends up as a bridge to the finale. The consolation it was beginning to provide is wholly lost.

Its opening three notes give an immediate idea of the gravitas of the piece. They may be the notes of the F minor triad but they carry great weight – as Beethoven’s works in this key were wont to do. The first movement is compelling, the main theme littered with interruptions as though a battle is being waged between war and peace. The latter breaks out in the second movement, the hymnal motive both simple and moving, but soon gathering momentum as Beethoven finds he cannot stand still.

All is headed for a last movement of formidable power, unlike anything we have heard on the piano so far. The torrent of notes fly in the face of Truscott’s assertion that the piece is not difficult to play – but the language for the listener is unremitting and straightforward. At the end the Appassionata sets its listener down in a heap, all emotion spent.

Recordings used and Spotify links

Alfred Brendel (Philips)
András Schiff (ECM)
Angela Hewitt (Hyperion)
Paul Badura-Skoda (Arcana)
Stephen Kovacevich (EMI)
Igor Levit (Sony Classical)
Claudio Arrau (Philips)
Daniel Barenboim (Deutsche Grammophon)

There are some towering interpretations of Beethoven’s masterpiece in this playlist, not least those by Emil Gilels, Claudio Arrau and Alfred Brendel. Andras Schiff and Angela Hewitt are also very fine. Paul Badura-Skoda secures authentic drama from his Broadwood piano, dating from a mere decade after the piece was written.

You can hear clips of Angela Hewitt’s recording at the Hyperion website

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1805 Cherubini Faniska

Next up tbc!