Youthful Maturity

MIKE WHEELER listens to
Schubert and Rachmaninov from Lauren Zhang


Lauren Zhang won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2018, and the youthful maturity that netted her the title was amply in evidence in her first appearance in Nottingham Royal Concert Hall's Sunday morning recital series - Nottingham, UK, 19 January 2020.

She began with Schubert's second set of Impromptus, D 935, starting No 1 with determination, and going on to negotiate the shifting emotional landscape with assurance, sparkling one moment, sombre in the middle, reducing her tone to a compelling whisper where appropriate. The poignant song that is No 2 was taken firmly but not over-insistently in hand. No 3 is a set of variations (though not on the theme of the B flat Entr'acte from Rosamunde, as some writers have claimed - after the first five notes the two tunes go in different directions). Her way with the first two variations was a reminder that Schubert often played the piano for his friends to dance to. She allowed just enough of a shadow to fall over variation 3; the textures of No 4 were clear even at the more hefty moments; No 5's running scale figures were lucid, and the coda had an aptly withdrawn feel. There was more dance music in final Impromptu, kept nicely on its toes with Zhang's skittish trills and runs.

Lauren Zhang in 2017
Lauren Zhang in 2017

Rachmaninov's Sonata No 2 also got off to a determined start. Playing the earlier, 1913 version, Zhang relished the bell-like sonority of the opening gesture, echoed in the chiming figures that appear throughout the first movement. The circling second theme had a haunting presence, and other gentle, intimate moments were equally eloquent. Zhang kept a firm grip on the balance between foreground and background in the second movement with more bell-sounds vibrantly resonant as the movement approached its climax. The onset of the finale - there's no break between any of the movements - came as a startling irruption, the mood turning almost truculent at times, but with the triumphant ending ringing out splendidly.

Zhang doesn't have a particularly demonstrative platform manner - with playing as eloquent as this, she doesn't need to.

Copyright © 31 January 2020 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK





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