Jessica Zhu at St James’s Piccadilly

Jessica Zhu at St James’s Piccadilly
Jessica Zhu at St James`s Piccadilly .
Beethoven Sonata on F op10 n.2
Brahms Handel Variations op 24
The young Chinese-American pianist Jessica Zhu a graduate of the University of Houston and with a Marshall Scholarship completing her studies at the Guildhall in London with Joan Havill.Awarded a Fellowship by the Guildhall she is now on the doctoral programme studying with Paul Roberts and Ronan O’Hora.
A very serious programme of just two works for this lunchtime concert in one of the most beautiful churches in London.
Lovely summer atmosphere outside with all the lunchtime offers of delights from various parts of the world on the stalls in the church coutyard just a stones throw from Piccadilly Circus.
Some very musicianly playing as was to be expected from the very distinguished teachers she has been working with .
The Brahms Handel Variations that can so often sound fragmented and just a series of contrasting episodes .
Here in Jessica Zhu’s hands were given a relentless chaconne like sense of structure.
A constant driving rhythm that underlay even the most delicate variations .
The rhythmic drive in the final few variations leading to the triumphant return of Handel’s little innocent seeming melody was remarkably exciting .
Her great temperament drove her to risk sometimes not totally successfully but such was the intelligence of her musicianship that it was only in retrospect that one was aware of a few blemishes on her inexorable frenzied journey forward.
The trumphant appearance of the theme before the release of the fugue could in my opinion have been more grandiose and maestoso .
Enjoying the triumphant arrival a little more.
But hats off to her for maintaining the tempo in such a relentless and transcendental way.
The Fugue too allowing a little respite at first from the variations was driven forward to its exciting conclusion.
Wonderful to hear this work restored to its great place in the piano literature.
I sense the hand of that great teacher Joan Havill in particular here. This is a work that can only come to life as it did today in the hands of a real musician .
Recently I listened rather bored to Yuja Wang play the same work in the Festival Hall where she reduced this masterpiece to a series of beautiful episodes without any sense of the architecture or structure that is so much part of the Classical Romantic world that is Brahms in his larger works.
Rewarded with an encore of Gnomenreigen by Liszt played with all the intelligence and subtle virtuosity that can bring this little jewel so tantilizingly back to life .
The early Beethoven Sonata  op 10 n.2 that opened the programme  was played with the same intelligent musicianship with great sense of style and colour.
Always very clearly played never forcing the sound which can be so easy to do on this rather bright Fazioli in a church acoustic.
The final movement- Presto – was very exciting but maybe her considerable temperament pushed her a shade too fast to allow all the detail to tell .
Played as was the whole programme with an assurance and great technical command that kept the packed audience under her spell .
Little did the people in the courtyard realise what real treats they were missing inside this hallowed beautiful church.

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