What a way to start the year at that Mecca for all young pianists in Dr Hugh Mather’s extraordinary series of concerts at St Mary’s Perivale and St Barnabas.Many of the finest young talents are invited by this ever generous benefactor to give concerts before a very discerning public.
This is Friday concert number 515 so it states on the programme and is only a small part of the well over a hundred concerts offered to these very talented musicians every year.
Little was I expecting to hear such talent from someone so young and modest as the young man who was presented today in collaboration with the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe.
In fact Matthew Lau was the winner last March 2018 of the Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition.
I have heard many of the winners of the Senior competition which have included pianists of the stature of Ilya Kondratiev and Mihai Ritivoiu and many others .I was infact on the jury with Noretta Conci-Leech and Piers Lane when Mihai was unanimously awarded the first prize for his remarkable performance of the “Appassionata”.
Talent cannot be taught but it can be nurtured and encouraged as is obviously the case with this young musician from Prestwich in Manchester.
He has been taught by John Gough at the Junior RNCM and is currently at the age of 18 continuing his studies with him at the senior RNCM.
The real problem arises now of how to give a more profound and varied technical repertoire to a young musician without destroying his extraordinarily delicate and sensitive natural musicality.
In the eastern countries it is well known the technical grounding and hours of work that talented children are expected to follow in specialist schools.
This of course can give them a technical repertoire that they can call on to express their musicality.
It can with the wrong sort of training also kill any natural musicality and substitute it with a mechanical perfection that we are often aware of with great virtuosi who can play Rachmaninoff and Tchaikowsky but do not know what to do with a Beethoven Bagatelle!
Here is a very talented young man who will now dedicate the next few years to resolving this problem.
It could be a choice of repertoire like Schubert Wanderer Fantasy,Beethoven Waldstein,Schumann Etudes Symphonique,Brahms Handel Variations or the Chopin 27 Studies where in conquering the musical values one also gains in technical skill.
Matthew and his mentor of course will choose the route that most suits as did Paul Lewis and Stephen Hough who have taken their rightful place on the world stage as two of the supreme interpreters of our time.
Stephen Hough chose to go to the USA but his real training was from Gordon Green at the RNCM.
Paul Lewis had been closely followed by Alfred Brendel but only after early training from Joan Havill.
Some really exquisite playing starting with the rarely played Six Variations in F major op 34 by Beethoven.
Almost Mozartian in Matthew’s hands but it is the work that precedes the great Eroica Variations and there is much more storm and drang than one would have imagined in this extremely beautifully shaped account.Richter played them at one of his early London recitals and I do not think I have seen them programmed since.
Of course he also had moments of great temperament but the actual depth of sound on this magnificent Bosendorfer has yet to be found.
The two Etude Tableaux by Rachmaninoff were beautifully shaped which is so much more preferable than the usual barnstorming pianism that they are so often subjected to in lesser hands.
The Etude op 33 n.4 was played with such a playful sense of colour and the passionate outburst of the main theme in op 39 n.5 showed just what is there, ready to be be released in these important few years of total dedication to music that he has before him.
The three Debussy Preludes revealed all his delicate sense of balance.
But in the hands of a true virtuoso such as Richter “Voiles” with more depth of sound can reveal even more of its secrets.
A very accomplished performance of the very difficult “Ce qua vu le vent d’Ouest” showed considerable technical skill allied to a rare musicality.The ferocious side will be more obvious as his technical command grows.”La Terrasse des audiences du clair de .lune” from Book 2 was beautifully evocative.
The opening octaves of the Rigoletto paraphrase were beautifully shaped and showed off all his already remarkable artistry.Some of the more difficult passages were resolved with beautifully rounded phrasing taking perhaps more time than Liszt intended.
More Eusebius than Florestan but nevertheless a very successful and enjoyable performance of a piece that is too often put in the wrong hands.
As Ilona Kabos once said to me many years ago “ Darling you play it beautifully…..disgustingly beautiful…..you would play it better if you were a better pianist”.
Rather cruel at the time but it certainly made me work and of course now I can appreciated exactly what she meant even though seemingly at the time too direct!
All this to say with what pleasure and admiration I followed this opening recital of the year and am sure that Matthew Lau will be a name to watch out for in the not too distant future.
It was very refreshing to see his parents present and the surprise for them and Matthew of the ovation he received after his very beautiful playing.An uncontaminated innocence of youth unused to playing in public was very refreshing to witness.
He had not expected an encore but on Dr Hugh’s insistence he played one of the most suggestive of Rachmaninoff Preludes,the one in G sharp minor .Not perfect as it was so unexpected but talent will always out as it did here too today.