Rachel Cheung at St Mary’s Perivale
Not a week goes by without hearing another remarkable young pianist in the series of Tuesday afternoon piano recitals at St Mary’s in Perivale.
And Hugh Mather has struck gold again today with a young pianist from Hong Kong: Rachel Cheung.
Looking at her biography it was reassuring to see that her early training she had received from a fellow student of mine at the Royal Academy in London.
Eleanor Wong studied with Frederick Jackson a remarkable musician who died conducting the Verdi Requiem in the Dukes Hall of the RAM .His final words were to carry on as they carried him off in an ambulance.
Eleanor had won all the major prizes and also carried off silver medal at the Vercelli competition in Italy.
She used to knock on my door where I was practicing every evening to play through her programmes to this young first year student.
Of course I was very impressed but not nearly as impressed as seeing her forty years later on the jury of the Leeds International Piano Competition.
Great reports were coming from Hong Kong of this superb trainer of young pianists as we were to hear today from Rachel Cheung.
It was nice to see also that after graduating from Hong Kong Academy with First Class Honours Rachel had gone on to complete her studies with the legendary hungarian pianist Peter Frankl at Yale University in America.
One of the youngest competitiors in the Leeds Competition in 2009 at the age of 17.
She was awarded fifth prize the year that Gulyak Sofya was awarded the Gold medal.
She went on to win prizes in many other major competitions and recently conducted from the keyboard Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris at the Play-Direct Academy led by Stephen Kovacevich.
It was hardly surprising that St Mary’s was packed to the rafters for the beautiful programme of Franck,Schumann and Liszt presented by this remarkable young musician.
Still only 26 she played with the authority and control of a master.
Starting with the hauntingly beautiful transcription by Harold Bauer of Cesar Franck Prelude,Fugue and Variation op 18 for organ.
It was clear from the beautiful liquid tone and the way that she moved so naturally at the piano that we were in the presence of a true musician and poet of the piano.
So often the works of Franck for solo piano and piano transcriptions from the organ can sound so thick and heavy and these days rather outdated.
Rachel managed to convey with an almost whispered appearance of the recurring melody a feeling that this was the only possible medium for this piece.
Even the Fugue was played with the same delicate tone colour and the reappearance of the melody at the end was quite magical.
She looked exactly as I remember Eleanor did at the piano all those years ago.
A beautiful natural way of almost conjuring the sounds out of the keyboard.
The main work on the programme was the Fantasy in C Major by Schumann.
Charmingly presented to the public explaining that it was an outpouring of love for his beloved Clara and there are many references to her throughout the work .
Not least the quote from Beethoven :To the distant beloved – An die ferne geliebte at the end of the first movement.
It is dedicated to Liszt who in turn dedicated his B minor Sonata to Schumann.
The two pinnacles of the Romantic piano repertoire.
And it was to Liszt that Rachel turned to close the programme ;the Mephisto Waltz n.1.
I well remember Peter Frankl giving a masterclass in Oxford on the Schumann Fantasy and explaining the difficulty of keeping the structure of the first movement in mind amidst the continual fluctuations of tempo that Schumann asks for.
It was exactly this that marked Rachel’s performance as very special today.
All the passionate outpouring of love for Clara was there together with the extreme tenderness and subtle sense of colour and exquisite phrasing.
All this held tightly together to the final magical quote from Beethoven.
Ever more in diminuendo to the bell like final chords and the three final bass chords almost disappearing into the infinite.A remarkable control of sound completely mesmerised the audience.
The march of the second movement was played with great rhythmic impetus but I felt the dotted rhythms of Schumann could have been less clipped and more melodically shaped.
The middle section was beautifully shaped though.
Hampered I fear by a small hand but she managed to conquer the infamous difficulties of the coda magnificently.
The last movement was magically played managing to play with great feeling but always keeping the great melodic line in view architecturally.The melodic line in the bass in the coda was sublime and her control of sound remarkable.
The minutes of silence that greeted the final chords was evidence enough of the magic she had created this afternoon.
This was obviously the Eusebius side of Rachels’ character.
Now with the Mephisto Waltz n.1 we were treated to Floristan and a truly fearless performance of this virtuoso showpiece.
There was though a virtuosism of great subtlety with infinite shades of colour in the most transcendental scale passages.
A middle section of heartrending sentiment and a coda in which she threw herself completely at the infamous octave leaps that the virtuoso Liszt had conjured up.
The birdcalls at the end were played with a clarity and precision before throwing herself at the double octave ending.
One can understand why she won the Audience Award at the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
In fact it was by popular demand that she played Widmung by Schumann in the Liszt transcription where the two composers were at last consoled in a performance at once delicate,passionate and virtuosistic.
But above all it was the the poetic intelligence and complete command of the keyboard that kept us spellbound for this short recital in Hugh Mather’s remarkable series.
An immediate invitation for a return match was greeted with cheers from this very appreciative audience today.