Chinese-born pianist Ke Ma, currently studying at London's Guildhall School, already has an impressive record of competition prizes and concert appearances.
There were three strongly contrasted works on her programme – Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, 20 February 2022 – beginning with Mozart's A minor Sonata, K 310. Her combination of delicacy and strength in the first movement even hinted at a tough, resilient core. The way she made the second movement's lyricism dance could be described as dainty if it wasn't for a completely inappropriate implication of tweeness. The finale is made of sterner stuff, to which Ke Ma brought clarity and drive.
Of two movements from Debussy's Suite bergamasque, 'Clair de Lune' had atmosphere but felt just a shade indulgent. 'Passepied', though, had a winning neatness and precision.
Prokofiev's Sonata No 6 was the main work, and thank you to the anonymous programme-note writer for challenging the lazy assumption that it forms a 'war' trilogy with Sonatas 7 and 8. Ke Ma's incisive way with the opening was a springboard into its varied emotional landscape, finding a conversational tone in quieter passages and well-judged moments of relaxation amid the turbulence elsewhere. Repeated-note passages were cleanly articulated.
The spirit of ballet is never far away in Prokofiev, as in Tchaikovsky. Ke Ma drew out suggestions of Romeo and Juliet in the second movement, and maybe just a hint or two of Cinderella in the third movement's slow waltz, where she also allowed moments of anxiety to show through without overbalancing the whole.
The finale is full of whirling, toccata-like activity, in which Ke Ma brought out the hammering repeated notes in the bass, and handled the numerous changes of register with complete assurance. The return of the first movement's opening gesture stopped the music in its tracks, as it should. The subsequent build-up was tautly controlled, and the final pages were exhilarating.
Ke Ma ended with her own jazzy arrangement of what she described as a pop song, but I didn't catch the title.
Copyright © 26 February 2022