For the second year running, the prestigious Lasmo Staffa Music Award for talented students has been won by a violinist. In a closely contested final at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh last weekend, the Romanian-born Corina Belcea, from the Royal College of Music in London, took the first prize of pound;3,000.
The second prize went to Finnish cellist Seeli Toivio, from the Royal Academy of Music, and third prize to French pianist Jerome Sadler, also from the Royal College of Music.
The three contestants were selected from a shortlist of 21 at auditions in London in January. Eight prestigious music conservatories, including the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, were invited to put forward candidates for the award, which is funded by the British-based oil and gas exploration company Lasmo, named after the island of Staffa in Mendelssohn's Hebridean Overture, and administered by the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland. The three best contestants went forward to the final.
A separate award was introduced this year for singers and adjudicated at the January audition. It was won by baritone Leigh Melrose, a student at the Royal Academy of Music, who received his pound;2,000 prize on Saturday and sang Mozart's "Donna mia" from Cosi fan tutte at the close of the concert.
The judging panel for the instrumental award comprised broadcaster and writer Richard Baker, the Motherwell-born conductor James Loughran and cellist Raphael Wallfisch.
In his summary, Baker acknowledged the difficulty in discriminating between contestants who each achieved a very high standard in their chosen repertoire. Belcea's evocative, emotional account of Ysaye's "Po me elegiaque" was singled out for particular praise, as was Toivio's sensitive treatment of the opening of Schumann's "Adagio" and "Allegro". Sadler's powerful rendering of Scriabin's "Etude" in D sharp minor was the most impressive of his three solo piano pieces.
The violinist was a worthy winner, but much the same could have been said of the other two contestants. Music competitions are rarely satisfactory in that regard, and if this one provided evidence of the talent fuelling the next generation of musical achievement, (though what it said about the standards of British students may be a matter of debate) it also provided further ammunition to those who feel that the competitive element is irrelevant, if not inimical, to the process of music-making.
The concert also featured Camerata Scotland, a chamber orchestra run by the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland to provide a stepping stone from youth orchestra to professional stage. Its members are either senior players in the NYOS or have recently left the orchestra. Under their conductor, Roland Kieft, they opened the evening with a brightly-played account of Rossini's Overture "The Silken Ladder" and after the interval gave a crisp, attentive reading of Haydn's Symphony No 94.
The orchestra has established a solid track record in performance and recording. Its latest CD features mezzo-soprano Colette Ruddy, a previous winner of the Lasmo Staffa Award, singing "Three Lieder" by Scottish composer John Thompson, and echoes the Mendelssohn connection with a performance of the Scottish Symphony.