Ke Ma at S Mary’s Beauty and perfection

Tuesday 17 November 4.00 pm

Streamed LIVE concert in an empty church

Ke Ma (piano)

Mozart: Piano sonata in D K 311 (16′)Allegro con spirito-Andante con espressione -Rondeau Allegro

Chopin: Three Mazurkas Op 59 (10′)
1 in A minor, 2 in A flat, 3 in F sharp minor

Debussy: Suite Bergamasque  (17′)
Prélude / Minuet / Clair de lune / Passepied

Brahms: Variations on a theme of Paganini Op 35 Book 2 (11′)

Born in 1994 in China, Ke studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Christopher Elton,Michael Dussek and Andrew West graduating with a Masters with distinction (DipRAM) in 2017.  She is currently pursuing her Doctoral study at Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Joan Havill,Dr Alexander Soares and Rolf Hind. She has won top prizes at international competitions including 1st Prize at the 2016 Concours International de la vie de Maisons-Laffitte and Karoly Mocsari Special Prize (France), 1st Prize at the 2014 Shenzhen Competition (China) and 3rd Prize at the 2012 Ettlingen Competition (Germany. In 2017 Ke made her debut at Wigmore Hall under the auspices of the Kirckman Concert Society.  She has given concerts across the UK, in France, Germany, Poland, the US and Canada. Recent engagements include recitals at the Purcell Room, Kings Place, the Saintonge Festival, Maison Laffitte and Salle Molière Lyon in France and the Chopin Festival at the Fisher Center in Bard College, New York.A committed chamber musician, Ke has undertaken a Tunnell Trust Award tour of Scotland, given a recital at Wigmore Hall and recorded music by Vieuxtemps for Champs Hill Records with violist Timothy Ridout.  She has collaborated with the Cuarteto Casals at Santander International Piano Competition. Last summer Ke made her first appearance in Winchester Festival this summer. Ke is grateful for support from the Ian Fleming Award from Help Musicians UK; prizes from the Worshipful Company of Musicians, the Maisie Lewis Young Artist Fund and the Prince’s Award. She recently performed the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 under the baton of Adrian Leaper at the Barbican Hall, as one of the finalists at the Gold Medal competition at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

I have often admired Ke Ma’s playing for her precision and impeccable musicianship but sometimes found it could be rather cool and detached.Today she revealed her true self from the very opening notes of Mozart’s early D major Sonata K 311 written when only 21.It is full of wit and character which Ke Ma understood so well and to which she added her sense of colour and very sensitive phrasing.From the very first notes there was a delicacy added to her precision with also a beautiful sense of legato.There was great clarity and purity to the ‘Andante con espressione’ with a truly luminous cantabile due to her remarkable sense of balance .It gave such a wondrous sense of colour and heartrending meaning to every note.The Rondeau- ‘allegro’ had an operatic sense of character one could almost see the different personalities entering the stage one by one.

Three Mazukas by Chopin op 59 once again showed the affinity of the Polish and Chinese heart.The A minor was played with great shape full of subtle nostalgia and unexpected drama very sensitively portrayed.In contrast to the A flat and F sharp minor Mazukas that had a lovely lilt and sense of dance.The A flat, one of the happiest of Mazukas with a ravishing ending disappearing into the heights of the piano with the final gentle farewell stamp of the feet.The F sharp Mazurka still dancing into the distance at the end.Each one a tone picture with a story to tell brought vividly to life by this young chinese pianist.

Suite bergamasque by Claude Debussy is one of the composer’s most famous works for the piano. He began composing it around 1890, at the age of 28, but significantly revised it just before its 1905 publication.He was initially unwilling to use these relatively early piano pieces because they were not in his mature style, but in 1905 he accepted the offer of a publisher who thought they would be successful, given the fame Debussy had gained in the intervening fifteen years.The names of the movements were inspired by the poems of Paul Verlaine. The title of the third movement of Suite bergamasque is taken from Verlaine’s poem “Clair de lune” which refers to bergamasks:”Your soul is like a landscape fantasy,Where masks and bergamasks, in charming wise,Strum lutes and dance, just a bit sad to be ,Hidden beneath their fanciful disguise.”It was indeed Clair de lune that Ke Ma played with such delicate luminosity with some wonderful colouring and deep resonant bass notes that opened up the sound within the piano and gave a gentle glow to the very flexible melody.The Prelude was played with poetic declamations and some magical sounds.It was followed by a fairy light Minuet played with irresistible grace and charm as it built up gradually to a euphoric climax.The Passepied had a feather light buoyant bass on which floated Debussy’s magical melodic inventions disappearing to a whisper.Passion and delicacy combined to create a magic spell indeed.

She ended her programme with Book 2 of the Brahms Paganini Variations. The entire work consists of two books each one opening with the theme, Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 in A minor, followed by fourteen variations. It was published as Studies for Pianoforte: Variations on a Theme of Paganini. and dedicated to the piano virtuoso  Carl Tausig.As Dr Mather rightly said today it is a work that strikes fear into the hearts even of the most accomplished pianists.Clara Schumann called it Hexenvariationen (Witch’s Variations) because of its difficulty. 

Ke Ma certainly did not seem intimidated as she not only surmounted the great technical difficulties but imbued each variation with subtle character.A beautifully simple understated theme was followed by the first variation where Brahms immediately expects the pianist to embark on double thirds at breakneck speed.It was played with great rhythmic energy and architectural shape whose tension was relieved by the sumptuous melodic outpouring of the second variation.The playfulness of the 3rd belied tha actual technical difficulties involved and was played with an ease and grace by Ke Ma.Followed again by a sumptuous romantic melodic outpouring played with a subtle sense of colouring.The fleetingly featherweight triplets at lightening speed in the next two variations were followed by a combination of two’s against three’s that would have confounded the greatest of mathematicians.Now Brahms deals with the problems of octaves and againeven these held no terror for our young chinese pianist.They were thrown off with great ease and in such convincing Romantic style.A complete change of character with the beautifully mellifluous 12th variation gently led to the final ‘Presto ma non tanto’ finale thrown off with amazing technical assurance and sumptuously full sounds bringing the work to a grand conclusion via again the combination of two against three this time in double octaves!A work not for the faint- hearted and Ke Ma certainly has a heart that beats so expressively in everything that she plays.

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