Weber
Der Freischütz – Overture [performed by each candidate]
Debussy
La mer – three symphonic sketches [one movement performed by each candidate]
I – De l’aube à midi sur la mer – Stamatia Karampini
II – Jeux de vagues – Alexandre Bloch
III – Dialogue du vent et de la mer – Ben Gernon
Prokofiev
Romeo and Juliet – from Suites 1 (Op.64a) & 2 (Op.64b): Suite 1/4 – Minuet; Suite 2/6 – Dance of the Antilles Girls; Suite 1/7 – Death of Tybalt [Bloch]
Suite 1/2 – Scene; Suite 2/2 – Juliet, the young girl; Suite 1/5 – Masks
[Gernon]
Suite 2/4 – Dance; Suite 2/7 – Romeo at Juliet’s Grave; Suite 2/1 – Montagues and Capulets [Karampini]

London Symphony Orchestra
Ben Gernon
Stamatia Karampini
Alexandre Bloch

Jury:
Lennox Mackenzie (non-voting Chairman)
Mauro Bucarelli
Imogen Cooper
Andrew Marriner
Sir Antonio Pappano
Christine Pendrill
Nikolai Znaider

Award presented by HRH The Duke of Kent
Alexandre Bloch. Photograph: Kevin Leighton ‘We all have our off-days’. Such a thought may have passed through the minds of the two losing finalists in this competition, but many in the audience may have responded by saying that no matter how hard one tries, giving of one’s best, there might just be someone better than you.
So it was on this occasion, the only surprise being the length of time (about 30 minutes) it took the jury to decide that Alexandre Bloch was the winner, for, as far as your correspondent was concerned, Bloch had metaphorically walked off with the prize after the first item.
Not that there was anything at all reprehensible in the performances conducted by Ben Gernon (British) and Stamatia Karampini (Greek), but on this occasion they were both simply outclassed by a musician who also conducted all of his five pieces from memory. Some may regard that dispensing with a score exudes confidence in a conductor, others that it is a risky, not to say foolhardy, proposition – but it worked for Bloch.
Alexandre Bloch. Photograph: Kevin Leighton Without a score, he was able to concentrate entirely on the realisation of the music, and his ability to dig deeper into Weber’s wonderful Overture to Der Freischütz, enjoining the LSO to give a more involving, and ultimately more musical, account than the two eminently worthy performances by Karampini and Gernon.
Bloch had the essence of this music at his fingertips, as he most assuredly also had of the ‘Play of the Waves’ middle movement from Debussy’s La mer, in which, as a Frenchman, he was on home ground, so to speak, but his direction and – indeed – interpretation of his compatriot’s masterpiece was head and shoulders above those of his competitors.
Three movements each from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet was an odd competition choice: the LSO can play these 3/4 and 4/4 pieces virtually blindfolded, the individual movements posing few technical – and no intellectual – problems for any conductor. One supposes ‘audience appeal’ has to be taken into account here and the amount of rehearsal time that can be spared in a great orchestra’s busy life.
So we had, in the evening’s second half, more equal performances from all three conductors, never getting the opportunity to hear the finalists in truly great works of deeper musical and cerebral challenges than those by Weber, Debussy and Prokofiev.
But no matter: on this showing, Alexandre Bloch was a more than worthy winner from the entrance field of 200 hopefuls: let’s hope he soon gets the breaks his manifold talents clearly deserve.

 

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