Semi-final of the Queen Elisabeth competition: Stéphanie Huang, sovereign at the end of the night

Hedonism and serenity meet for Samuel Niederhauser, 24, in Haydn’s second concerto. Impeccable position, elegant playing, wick perfectly in place, the Swiss seems to want to display his mastery, and Maurice Gendron’s choice of cadences confirms a classic option. But his interpretation is not flawless and, in the end, does not fully convince.

The only French candidate still in the running and a resident of the Queen Elisabeth Chapel, Florian Pons, 27, chose Concerto No. 1 in C major, and the cadenzas are by his hand. Looking at him can make you seasick, because he constantly oscillates sideways, and his face alternates a series of various facial expressions that we end up recognizing as a cycle. He shows a moving sensitivity in the central adagio, then launches headlong into the final allegro molto, with generosity but not without risk.

On the recital side, Keisuke Morita (Japan, 25) immediately sets the bar very high with a magnificent sonata in A major by Beethoven, in true partnership with the pianist Anna Naretto, and his As if from afar is rich in new colours, effects and tensions. But the Japanese surprises with the order chosen for the sequel: first the very virtuoso Dance of the elveswith which all the others would have finished, and then the very beautiful but demanding Stanzas on the name of Sacher by Dutilleux. Delicious snub to conveniences.

The order in which Stéphanie Huang presents her recital is more traditional. There is, first of all, the imposition by Daan Janssens, given with a lot of application and concentration, glasses at the end of her nose, but which we feel that she performs it first in order to feel more in then peace. Peace takes the form of a wonderful reading of the cello version of the sonata in A major by César Franck, a work that she knows and masters all the better since she has just recorded it for the recent complete Fuga Libera (there it was with Jean-Claude Vanden Eynden, here it is with Dana Protopopescu). Then come the Variations on a Theme by Rossini by Bohuslav Martinu that she manages to make as brilliant as she wishes, while adding something more to it. And, to crown a performance that should propel her into the final, the now popular Green Devil Dance by Gaspar Cassadó: there too, more than pure virtuosity.

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