I have heard Hao Zi Yoh play many times and I am always glad to attend her concerts in the many churches and halls that give a platform to these gifted young performers whilst they are perfecting their quite considerables skills here in London.
I was rather surprised when Hao Zi sent me a last minute invitation to a recital in St James’s Piccadilly.
These are uncertain times with the Corona virus taking an ever stronger hold of our lives.In fact a concert by a chamber orchestra from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama had been cancelled as the School has also been closed due to this scare.A scare that is fast dominating our lives ,not only for the uncertainty and worries for health issues but also for our educational,cultural and spiritual welfare.Could Hao Zi take over at the last minute to offer some music to the vast audience that still overflows this most beautiful of churches a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus?
However out of bad comes some good and we were able to applaud Hao Zi’s quite considerable artistry before she embarks on a tour of Spain for the Keyboard Charitable Trust .Her programme for Spain consists of two of the most difficult pieces for piano:Feux Follets and Gaspard de la Nuit.Today she had decided to offer works by Haydn,Brahms and Chopin .Musically equally as demanding though.
The little Haydn Sonata in C Hob XVI-48 in two movements.It immediately established her musical credentials demonstrating her intelligent musicianship and untrasensitivity.The first movement ‘Andante con espressione’ could not have been more expressive but within a rhythmic framework with some very subtle phrasing.So beautifully and delicately shaped with such fantasy but without ever loosing sight of the overall shape and direction of this remarkable movement.She immediately drew us in to her extraordinarily sensitive world of fantasy and exquisite piano playing.The Rondo I found a little too fast for this church acoustic and the faster passages lost something of that precision of which other lady performers like Maria Joao Pires and Alicia de Larrocha were masters.
Her playing did in many respects though remind me of the playing of Maria Joao Pires for its clarity and delicacy allied to extreme musical intelligence.
And it was this very rare talent that allowed her to shape the four Klavierstucke op 119 by Brahms with such sumptuous sound.Ranging from the most delicate to the most robust but never loosing that radiance and feeling that the roots are very firmly placed in the bass.
This was the last work for solo piano by Brahms and received its premiere in London in 1894 .Brahms had written to Clara Schumann about the elusive first Intermezzo in B minor: “I am tempted to copy out a small piano piece for you, because I would like to know how you agree with it. It is teeming with dissonances! These may well be correct and can be explained—but maybe they won’t please your palate, and now I wished, they would be less correct, but more appetizing and agreeable to your taste. The little piece is exceptionally melancholic and ‘to be played very slowly’ is not an understatement. Every bar and every note must sound like a ritardando, as if one wanted to suck melancholy out of each and every one, lustily and with pleasure out of these very dissonances! Good Lord, this description will surely awaken your desire!”Clara Schumann was enthusiastic and asked him to send the remaining pieces of his new work.
Hao Zi brought a beautiful stillness to this first Intermezzo. Revealing some of the extraordinary inner secrets that Brahms had obviously added for those like his adored Clara with the soul to seek them out!It is extraordinary how the inner meaning of these pieces as in those of Chopin transcends all frontiers. We can find musicians a long way from where these pieces were written with a deep understanding of their inner depths.
I remember Fou Ts’0ng explaining that the beauty in chinese poetry was so similar to the poetry found in the works of Chopin.And so it was today that this beautiful young Malaysian pianist could understand and transmit so movingly these last romantic confessions of Johannes Brahms.The second Intermezzo in E minor was played with a great sense of character and range of dynamics as it revealed a real miniature tone poem.The third in C major, that was so much a piece for the hands of Curzon, was played today with such infectious rhythmic energy and subtle colouring with the ending thrown off with the same beautifully knowing nonchalance as Curzon.All with a minimum use of the sustaining pedal and it gave a clarity to music that can in so many lesser hands be a cloudy mess.The mighty Rhapsody in E flat revealed the enormous sounds that this waif of a pianist had up her sleeve when needed.A wonderful sense of balance allowed the magical central lyrical section a unique voice that took us into the exhilarating almost orchestral sounds of the finale as the excitement mounted to almost fever pitch.
Three mazukas op 59 were played with such subtle understanding and delicacy.It was almost a shame that applause interrupted the sheer magic created before the opening of the Fourth Ballade op 52.
This was a monumental performance of one of the greatest works in the piano repertoire.It was played with an aristocratic nobility but a sensitivity to sound that made one realise what Cortot meant when he said:’ avec un sentiment de regret’ at the return of the opening heartbeating repeated notes.A magical cadenza brought us to the main theme seemingly lost until it found its way with such swirling mists of sound and a gradual magisterial build up to the final explosion and the five redeeming chords that seem to find such peace after such a storm of romantic passion. The transcendentally intricate coda that follows was indeed breathtaking in Hao Zi’s hands.It was played with an unrelenting forward propulsion that did not exclude the most intricate shaping of this extraordinary after thought of pure genius.
Documented by Geoff Cox the tireless promoter of young musician without whom we would never know where and when they were all playing.