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Later that same day at the Kurmangaliev Philharmonic Society Hall the year-long preparations were over, nerves were held in check, and first contestants faced jurists; all but two privileged to be partnered by Mr Lenehan.

Test pieces included mandatory movements from an accompanied Bach Sonata; the No 2 in A, BWV1015 proved a popular choice. As for an obligatory Paganini Caprice; not surprisingly several offered the oft-repeated 24th. Among other selections we heard the Chausson Poeme and Wieniawski's Variations of Themes from Faust.

It was apparent as the second day progressed that while each of the young violinists displayed impressive gifts, the standard of contestants covered a broad spectrum; for some intonation was not as secure as it might have been, and not surprisingly, the Bach selections revealed a widely differing understanding of phrasing and dynamics.

Left to right, winners Dmitri Torchinsky, Zhanna Lee and Atsuko Sahara. Photo © 2004 Howard Smith
Left to right, winners Dmitri Torchinsky, Zhanna Lee and Atsuko Sahara. Photo © 2004 Howard Smith

When each finalist had been heard, three were eliminated, leaving seven soloists to present one of the three Mozart Concertos (K216 in G, K218 in D or K219 in A); all accompanied by the Uralsk Philharmonic.

Finally Atsuko Sahara took the first prize, Zhanna Lee and Dmitri Torchinsky were second equal and while no third prize was awarded, Nina Osina deservedly won the honours for musicianship, and Askar Duisenbayev; for his conspicuous virtuosity.

First prizewinner Atsuko Sahara plays Mozart. Photo © 2004 Howard Smith
First prizewinner Atsuko Sahara plays Mozart. Photo © 2004 Howard Smith

A striking winner, Atsuko's scrupulously phrased performances were notable for their delightful poise and clarity; quite dissimilar to those of second prizewinner, diminutive Kazakh-based, Zhanna Lee. The twenty-year-old Korean's commanding demeanour was paralleled by playing of enormous assurance as Zhanna swept all hurdles before her.

2nd equal prizewinner Zhanna Lee from Korea (born 1984) is resident in Kazakhstan. Photo © 2004 Howard Smith
2nd equal prizewinner Zhanna Lee from Korea (born 1984) is resident in Kazakhstan. Photo © 2004 Howard Smith

Joint second prizewinner Dmitri Torchinsky displayed another facet of the variety heard in Uralsk and his easy, near-casual style clearly impressed the jury. Torchinsky's thoughtful performances seemed more cerebral than most others in this competition -- yet not a whit less valid.

Dmitri Torchinsky plays Mozart. Photo © 2004 Howard Smith
Dmitri Torchinsky plays Mozart. Photo © 2004 Howard Smith

As for Nina Osina's final performance of the commissioned test piece -- Alma-Ata by Kazakh composer Almas Serkebayev -- this was meltingly lovely. Not a major work, but played with such outright musicianship, it was a highlight, in a week of highlights. The virtuosity prize was seemingly designed for Askar Duisenbayev -- performances of scintillating aplomb -- a remarkable talent and clearly one to watch.

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Copyright © 7 March 2004 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand

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