Chiyan Wong at the Barnes Music Festival

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The etherial sounds of the Ravel Quartet filled this vast space with the Hill Quartet and some superb playing from this youthful formation from the Royal Academy.
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It prepared us for the sumptuous sounds that Chiyan Wong drew from this old but still noble Steinway.
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A Mozart Rondo in A minor startlingly free and very individual with teasing sounds and great rubati.
Some moments of sublime beauty mixed with others of rather extreme rubato that rather stopped the simple flow of this late jewel K 511 (1787).Mozart died only four years later in 1791.
Even the opening had some very original phrasing and staccati that took us by surprise.
It may though have been the very way that Mozart himself might have played it.
We are used these days to a simplicity and rhythmic constancy and so it came as a surprise the freedom that Chiyan allowed himself.
It had a mesmerising effect and the music spoke in a way that was rare and very touching.
Some truly exquisite sounds and wonderful sense of balance of which the only real disturbance were the occasional sudden changes of tempo in Chiyan’s effort to make every note speak.
It reminded me of the same changes of meter that Busoni allowed himself on the few piano rolls of his playing that have been handed down to us!
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A truly sumptuous Ondine by Ravel with a water nymph who must have been bathed in pink champagne!
Such was the beauty of the water that this little nymph could frolic in.
Played with a superb sense of balance.
Even the build up to the mighty climax was held back and judged so perfectly with an aristocratic poise and architectural shape that had me wanting to hear Le Gibet and Scarbo as well.
This was a prelude to the true drama that was enacted in the name of Liszt’s B minor sonata.
Not sure if it was Liszt or Chiyan’s sonata though.
Such was the freedom and self identification from the opening mysterious notes clouded in mist to the passionate outpourings that were enacted together with moments of sublime beauty.
The programme quotes the Liszt scholar Paul Merrick and the programme that he proposes for the Sonata based on other works by Liszt and Wagner.
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Although a highly romantic vision it does give a sort of road map to this monumental one movement Sonata ,considered by many to be the finest Sonata of the Romantic era:
“Shortly after the opening octaves comes a motif of five rapidly repeated notes,like the knocking at the door”- it was here very clearly defined and beautifully shaped with a very spiky last right hand note.It did very vividly give the impression as Merrick suggest  of ” a Satan/devil theme” and it does recur many times throughout as a sort of ‘leitmotiv.’
Including ,to quote PM the fugue,that entered in a very restrained way as it built up to the mighty entry of the left hand that I felt could have been even more sonorous and less spiky.
It is so obviously the entry of the full orchestra with the brass blaring.
Gilels was absolutely enthralling here  and I will never forget his complete explosion of sound at this point.
“The closing pages ( to quote always PM) when the devil is defeated” was beautifully played with great atmosphere and I rather like the fact that he did not attempt the hairpin crescendo on the last note of the ” five celestial chords” but let it drift into oblivion with a wonderfully sonorous final bass note ” the work’s final release with a single low B”.
Shortly after the opening there is “a blitz of octaves that leads to a majestic chordal passage  marked grandioso”.
It was a true grandioso from Chiyan played with such fervour and passion and such full sonorous sound that was quite overwhelming.
“This is the God theme which recurs another four times.Liszt then executes a masterstroke of thematic transformation by slowing down the five repeated notes and forming them into a beautiful lyrical passage- the Love theme.”
It was played with such beautiful delicacy and a superb sense of balance as it gradually led to the most intricate embellishments played with astonishing ease and great technical prowess.
A different lyrical passage occurs in the central section which PM identifies as the “Christ theme and the Redemption of Man.”
Some quite extraordinary playing where he just seemed to touch the notes and made them vibrate with such shape and colour as it led to the great build up of romantic fervour.Dissolving with truly magical pianissimi scales before the return to the opening mysterious bars and the fugato that entered almost on tiptoe!
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It was a very individual interpretation that held the audience spellbound as Chiyan recreated this mighty masterpiece before our very eyes.
A  remarkable command of the instrument both technically and musically with never a moment of doubt that this is exactly the statement he wanted to share with us.
Not sure if the purists would approve of such liberty but on the crest of this wave that carried us with him the mind did not come into the equation which  was of a total commitment and passionate involvement.
A man possessed by the spirit of Liszt.
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A history at St Mary’s that goes back to 1100


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