For many, the phrase “music competition” has an unsavoury ring to it. One thinks of the tearful children of pushy parents, the crazed violinist whose failure has pushed him over the edge or perhaps even some of the more barbaric (yet horrifyingly watchable) talent shows on TV. Fortunately there is another side to these competitions: the fantastic platform they provide to talented musicians.

And there can be few better platforms than that of the prestigious Wigmore Hall, where last night 23-year-old Frenchman Matthieu Petitjean, the 2009 winner of the Barbirolli International Oboe Competition, made his London debut. Petitjean began his recital with the marvellous Oboe Sonata written by Poulenc right at the end of his life. It is notoriously difficult to pull off: the exhausting first movement has an elegiac quality which is followed by a playful Scherzo before the performer must change moods again for the third movement’s heart-rending lament. From his first note Petitjean drew in his audience with a rich, warm tone and displayed the great range of feeling the piece demands.

His performance of the Poulenc, however excellent, lacked the stunning originality of interpretation Petitjean demonstrated in his second piece. Edwin Roxburgh’s Study 1 for solo oboe was written as the competition test piece in 2009 and contains as many as possible of the moods the oboe is frequently required to convey. Petitjean’s astounding ability to turn, Jekyll and Hyde-like, from playful to elagaic to rhapsodic whilst delivering a technically assured performance must have wowed the judges; his refusal to be bogged down by the ‘modern’ label of the music was also impressive. A very pretty Rachmaninov Vocalise completed the first half, allowing the sensitive and deeply musical playing of accompanist Sophia Rahman to shine through.

Like the Rachmaninov, Petitjean’s next piece was not originally written for oboe and piano: Clara Schumann’s Three Romances were written for violin and piano. Clara’s Three Romances are much less frequently performed than her husband Robert’s; something that may be about to change if the reaction of London’s oboist community in the audience is anything to go by. Their origin as violin pieces makes them a great challenge for the oboist; however it came as a surprise to no-one that Petitjean carried them off with aplomb, even raising a laugh with his cheeky take on the cartoonish second movement.

Having heard evidence of Petitjean’s excellent technique throughout the programme we were keen for him to finish with a real virtuosic showpiece, and yet it seemed as though we were to be disappointed. The first movement of Dorati’s Duo Concertante for oboe and piano is written in a free, improvisational manner; Petitjean and Rahman’s performance was more reflective than many. However this only served to provide a brilliant contrast to the pyrotechnic presstissimo we had all been waiting for: Petitjean has a remarkable control over his instrument and was supported admirably by his accompanist.

However tempting, a programme made almost entirely of flashy pieces would have been impressive yet shallow: Petitjean’s blend of technical wizardry and musicality was far more satisfying. Perhaps a piece from the Baroque era, that golden era of the oboe’s importance, wouldn’t have gone amiss; however as we were treated to a specially-prepared British encore, Britten’s atmospheric Pan, all is forgiven. The oboe is a famously exhausting recital instrument: to be offered a gloriously calm and controlled encore was a very special treat.