Nice to be back at St Mary’s Perivale on this wintery day and to be greeted so warmly by our host Dr Hugh Mather the “Deus ex machina” of this veritable mecca of major pianistic talent .
A great pleasure to hear Bobby Chen a well known figure on the musical scene in London but that I have never had the chance to hear until now.
A notable curriculum in which in particular his appearances with Lord Menuhin in Beethoven’s Triple Concert immediately takes the eye.
Having studied at the Menuhin School he exemplifies the very reason that Menuhin wanted to start a school where very talented young musicians could from childhood receive a normal school education alongside a very specialist musical one as befits these precociously gifted children often misunderstood and trained too late to be able to compete with the children from Eastern Countries.
Completing his studies at the Royal Academy of Music he has gone on to play with many major orchestras under renowned conductors.
He has represented his home country of Malaysia for their 50th Anniversary as a nation in 2007 performing the world premiere of a newly written piano concerto at the Royal Festival Hall.
In 2010 he founded his own Overseas Malaysian Winter Academy based at the Menuhin School.
With four solo recitals at the Wigmore Hall and a duo recital with Leslie Howard it was indeed with great interest that I was at last able to appreciate his great musical pedigree at close hand
His musical credentials were evident from the first notes of the Haydn Sonata in C Hob XV1:50.
Here was a piano sound reminiscent of Myra Hess and Moura Lympany rather than the usual barnstormingly proficient performances we are so often subjected to these days .
He has that rare gift of being able to make the music speak and his variants of tone colour were almost as multifaceted as the human voice. The magical music box effect was beautifully realised as was the impish good humour in the Allegro finale .
It made one wonder why these masterpieces are not played more often .Haydn,Mozart and Beethoven what amazing genius and true understanding of the instrument.
Of course it takes a great musician to be able to interpret these works to allow them to speak naturally instead of taking off like a box of fireworks.
Paul Lewis is playing two recitals of Haydn Sonatas and Beethoven Bagatelles in the Royal Festival Hall something that would have been unthinkable, especially for a British pianist, a few years back.
The Liszt Sonetto del Petrarca 104 was beautifully shaped the intricate embellishments incorporated into the long melodic lines as if a great Bel canto aria.
The Busoni arrangement of Bach’s moving “Ich ruf zu dir Herr Jesu Christ” played with a stillness and such subtle tone colours even the final chord placed with just that perfection of a real musician that is listening intently to himself .
In fact in all these pieces I found myself wishing that there could have been a bit more Florestan to his ultra sensitive Eusebius.
Surely within the notes of Bach’s sublime Cantata there is also an underlying passion of a true believer and not just a devout follower.
The great Bach- Busoni Chaconne followed.
It is every bit Busoni as it is Bach .
To think that a piece for solo violin could be transcribed so perfectly as to be almost reinvented .
And it was just that reinvention that was so obvious in Bobby Chen’s performance .
None of the usual barnstorming presentation of the theme but played with an unusual quiet calm that lead quite naturally into the left hand staccato octaves played quarter bow as the Chaconne lead us to its obvious conclusions. Some beautiful contrasts with sumptuous tone from the middle register of the piano and a general sense of shape a direction that lead into the almost organ like writing before the triumphant return of the opening theme.
The great bass notes deep down in the piano played as a real musician who is aware that these notes are only to enrich the noble sounds and not like guns being fired as is too often the case.
Sometimes rhythmically not always impeccable it was a small price to pay for such musicianly playing.
The Liszt second Ballade in B minor charmingly introduced by this “gentle ” man was played with great command.
Right from the swirling left hand on which the theme emerges as if on some great wash of waves to the sublime first appearance of the second subject there was always a musical sheen and never just empty virtuosity.
Astoundingly musical octaves and an appearance at last of Florestan in the great heroic outpourings of Liszt’s magical metamorphosis that conjures up an almost operatic melody from its first innocent appearance.
An encore of Schumann’s Widmung in Liszt’s beautiful transcription brought this recital to a magical end.