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These days we can follow music competitions as never before, as anyone who was glued to the free stream on Medici.tv of the Moscow International Competition this year will testify. Christopher Wilkinson’s beautiful, involving film takes us, unforgettably, behind the scenes at the 14th Van Cliburn Piano Competition. The use of black-and-white footage, as we see the participants’ nerves, and its change to colour as the film moves to rehearsal sequence is most effective, and is just one example of the care involved from all angles here.

We hear about performance rituals (two bananas prior to the performance 15 minutes apart, or always wearing blue underwear), and we are amused and strangely fascinated by one pianist’s strange facial contortions as he plays. We also hear Cliburn’s story, while technical wizardry enables several pianists to be impeccably edited together to form an unbroken first movement from Stravinsky’s Petrushka pieces.

There are generous excerpts (Liszt from the winner, a stunning Ravel ‘Scarbo’ from Rana and a rock-hard Scriabin Fifth Sonata from third-prize winner Sean Chen); but it is the journey that counts. While the pianists’ quirks might endear (Beatrice Rana is a confirmed batrachophile, for example – perhaps not surprising since her surname is the Latin term for ‘frog’), it is the music and the pianists’ stories of dedication to that music and their chosen instrument that matters. By the end of this magnificent film, one thing is clear. We, the audience, care about these people, and that is the film’s greatest achievement.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing