Benjamin Powell has shown himself as a consummate musician with a transcendent pianistic technique in the service of a refined musicality. Some of his performances during the competition were truly breathtaking. He was a worthy first prize winner.
(Philip Mead, founder of the British Contemporary Piano Competition)
Pianist Benjamin Powell demonstrated an immense range of tone and sound in his programme: granitic and stern for Stockhausen, brilliantly light-fingered in Elliott Carter, fiery and moody for Anthony Gilbert, volcanically sensuous in Skryabin.
(Ivan Hewett, the Daily Telegraph)
Powell also played with pure professionalism. His technical ability flawless, his interpretation playful and the freedom in the music engaging and without boundaries. (Jonas Sen, Fréttablaðið, Iceland’s largest daily newspaper, from concert with Eva Thorarinsdottir)
The four-part piano suite In The Mists by composer Leos Janacek contained a degree of languid melancholy and mystery in the Andante but moved on to a sumptuously harmonic Adagio. Jazzy inflections and balladic melodies in the Andantino changed to a powerful Presto.
A rare gold nugget is Benjamin Britten’s beautiful Notturno written for the first Leeds International Piano Competition in 1963. Although an accomplished pianist Britten wrote few compositions for piano. Emphasising the recurring theme as a linking thread Ben Powell created a tranquil and atmospheric dusk to dawn with quiet trills and chirps of nocturnal sounds.
In complete contrast Bela Bartok’s five movement suite Out Of Doors startled with its deep bass “thumping” drumbeat and strong jerky rhythm. Pulse rather than melody predominated in the Barcarolle and Musette which Ben highlighted skilfully. Imitative insect and frog sounds punctuated the evocative The Night’s Music before hurtling headlong into The Chase in a continuum of manic fingerwork. Here Ben displayed the demanding technical ability and endurance needed.
Having worked with Helmut Lachenmann on his Echo Andante Ben gave a short insight into the composer’s liberating musical ideas. However despite Ben’s sincere interpretation the work seemed disjointed, lacked focus and rarely pleased the ear even though I tried to put preconceptions and musical conventions to one side. I failed in my listening to “discover new antennae, new sensors, new sensibilities” ( Lachenmann).
Thomas Ades’ Concert Paraphrase On Powder Her Face (his opera premiered in Cheltenham in 1995) concentrated mainly on four scenes in a narrative manner but using a full Lisztian style with hints of blues and tango rhythms. Glints of wit, cynicism, sardonicism and pathos peep through the energetic transcription. Ben captured the drama of this explicit opera in a virtuosic performance seemingly absorbing the technical difficulties with consummate ease.
A breathtaking, cogitative evening engendering much audience discussion.
(Jill Bacon, This is Gloucestershire)
If it is true that you make your own luck, conductor Peter Craddock and his orchestra certainly deserved dazzling replacement soloist Benjamin Powell for the second piano concerto by Shostakovich.
The HSO, among the front rank of amateur orchestras, matched Powell for snap and crackle. He played the outer movements with clarity and brilliance, but with nothing forced for effect, and he made the andante sound exquisitely like a homage not only to Tchaikovsky but to Chopin.
(Mike Allen, The News, Portsmouth)
The second half, post tea and biscuits, was filled with Brahm’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat. For the Brahms piece the audience and orchestra welcomed the soloist Benjamin Powell who proceeded to produce a performance of the highest quality and demonstrated what a talented player he is – brilliant and intelligent piano.
(Buxton Fringe Reviews)
Benjamin Powell, now staff pianist at the Royal Northern College of Music, impressed his small audience immediately as a well equipped pianist from the first moments, repeating many times the chord which opens Stockhausen’s best known piano piece from the ’50s; straight back, long fingers and relaxed hands which brought out infinite variations of tne and volume down to nearly inaudible ppp.
The confidence he emanated continued throughout his brief but enormously demanding programme. Carter’s exhilarating five minute Catenaires recently composed for Pierre-Laurent Aimard (hear him playing its UK premiere at the first night of the Proms) may well become an established favourite with high virtuoso pianists – a fast single line which proceeds as “a continuous chain of notes, with spacings, accents and colourings seeking a wide variety of expression”.
Anthony Gilbert’s Sonata No 3, a response to watching the flight of a goshawk, also features a swift moving single line as well as birdsong flourishes in a piece of tonal and rhythmic subtlety. Finally a commanding account of Skriabin’s (now) rarely played mystical White Mass sonata; the audience demanded an encore, for which there was ample time remaining, but were disappointed (PLG’s policy does not encourage them).
(Peter Grahame Woolf, www.musicalpointers.co.uk)
Ben gave a first-rate performance of the Two Poèmes by Scriabin, in fact an ideal aperitif for the final work, Shostakovich’s early Cello Sonata in D minor [performed with Victoria Simonsen]. This proved the evening’s undoubted highlight, with both players almost nonchalantly dismissing the bristling technical difficulties, and equally capable of creating moments of tender lyricism or sardonic wit.
(Philip R Buttall, the Herald, Plymouth)
[Victoria Simonsen] was partnered by an equally notable young pianist, Ben Powell, potentially one of the finest accompanists since the days of the legendary Gerald Moore. Together they form a formidable partnership.
(David Denton, the Yorkshire Post)
For the main work, Grieg’s Piano Concerto, HPO had found in Benjamin Powell another dazzling young soloist. Although still a postgraduate student at the Royal Northern College of Music Benjamin brought to the work a maturity that was astonishing. The Grieg concerto is not a piece for faint hearts. It demands a very high level of technical competence. So secure was Benjamin however that his playing seemed almost effortless. And better still he was able to capture Grieg’s Nordic voice which is an essential component of this concerto. It was almost a privilege to hear such a wonderful performance.
(Buxton Fringe Reviews 2006)