Mengyang Pan at Cranleigh Arts Centre Beethoven birthday concert

Programme:Beethoven Sonata in F major op 10 no 2 – Allegro- Menuetto, Allegretto- Presto
Beethoven Sonata in D major op 10 no 3 – Presto- Largo e mesto – Menuetto; Allegro- Rondo: Allegro
Beethoven Sonata in E major op 109 – Vivace ma non troppo – Adagio expressivo – Prestissimo- Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung. Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo
Beethoven Sonata in F minor op 57 ‘Appassionata’ – Allegro Assai- Andante con moto- Allegro ma non troppo – presto

Clive Wouters in conversation with Mengyang Pan

A recital of four Sonatas by Beethoven found the ideal interpreter in Mengyang Pan for the 250th birthday concert at Cranleigh Arts Centre on what is presumed to be the exact date of 16th December 1770.I have admired Mengyang’s playing since first hearing her in the Rina Sala Gallo International Piano Competition in Monza,Italy in 2008.I was a jury member and remember very well her prize winning performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto.It was the clarity and precision together with her intelligence that struck me then as it has every time I have heard her since.Allied to a strong artistic temperament and sense of balance and colour her playing of Beethoven is in a very special class of it’s own.I have written previously about her early training in the class of Tessa Nicholson,that extraordinary trainer of young musicians at the Purcell School.Her graduation from the Royal College of Music was under the Head of Piano:Vanessa Latarche who I have known since she was the star pupil as a child of that dedicated teacher in Ealing,Eileen Rowe .Katherine Stott,Tessa Nicholson,Danielle Salamon and I used to help her with her ever growing number of pupils that she taught in her multipianoed house.She left all her worldly possession to create a Trust to help young musicians in Ealing.The Trust is administered by Vanessa and that other remarkable pupil of Miss Rowe ,Dr Hugh Mather of St Mary’s Perivale where Mengyang had recently played one of these Beethoven sonatas in a weekend dedicated to the 32 sonatas played by 32 different pianists.I was delighted to learn that recently Mengyang was invited to join the RCM faculty as a full professor.

Infact it was Stephen Dennison’s own words as artistic director that reminded me of a performance that I should not miss :’You must be overdone with Beethoven 250 concerts but may I bring to your attention one more.I am no expert but I believe MengYang’s performance at Cranleigh this week, in front of a Covid secure audience of 35, was pretty special.Not just for the performance on piano but for her overall “show” and her words about each sonata; all made a great package.’

How right he was and it was a surprise to hear myself quoted by Clive Wouters in his interval interview with the artist and to still agree wholeheartedly!Quoting from an article I wrote of a previous performance I stated:’her playing demonstrated clarity and precision going from the imperious to the most touching’ He also quoted The Times that had written about her performance of the mammoth Serenade by Helmut Lachenmann:’poised like a cat spying its prey before the pounce’

Stephen Dennison presenting the concert

The first half of her programme was dedicated to two of the three early Sonatas that make up op 10.The second in F major was a great favourite of Glenn Gould and is in only three movements ,the usual slow movement being replaced with an Allegretto almost Schubertian in it’s mellifluous lilt contrasting between the opening and the middle Trio like section.Here I felt Mengyang was trying to delve too deeply and it sounded a little too serious played in three instead of the much lighter one in a bar that the Trio obviously is.However it was played with scrupulous attention to detail and Beethoven’s sforzandi were played with just the right weight to indicate the inner counterpoint imitation In the trio she found the perfect lilt that she had missed in the outer sections and the comments in the bass alternating with the treble were most eloquent.The final two chords marcato instead of lighter staccato made me realise that she had a different vision of this movement from mine.Not so the opening Allegro that was full of the bustling fun of early Beethoven.There was a great rhythmic buoyancy to the development section and the return of the opening theme was with even more impish good humour than at the opening.The final scintillating Presto was played with all the brilliance that Czerny had described of his master’s own performance.Mengyang played it with great control with precision and relentlessness that brought this opening work to an exhilarating conclusion.

The Sonata op 10 n.3 is a work in four movements and contains a profound slow movement that begins to show what would evolve from Beethoven’s pen just a few years later.The rolled chords of the Largo e mesto -like the fourth piano concerto were arpeggiated even though not written specifically in the score.There are letters of the period that tell us of Beethoven’s performance of the fourth piano concerto with arpeggiated chords which both Angela Hewitt and Steven Kovacevich adhere to in their recordings.Of course,as Mengyang had said in her interval conversation,pianos were still evolving in that period and both touch and sound were very different from the pianos of today.It must be left to the integrity of the performer and to their informed good taste to decide.Here in Mengyang’s hands it was very discreet and totally convincing although she did not repeat it on the return of the theme.She played with an almost chiselled cantabile of great purity and the hushed change of key was most moving as it led to great outbursts with delicate comments high up in the treble.The gradual arpeggiated climax was played with great conviction and died away to a languid farewell finishing on a single note deep in the bass.There followed a Menuetto that was like a ray of light played with simple radiance.The joyous Trio bubbled along building to a climax before the gentle reappearance of the Menuetto.The rondo was played with remarkable clarity and jewel like precision.The final chromatic scales and arpeggios were played almost without pedal as the rondo came to a scintillating tranquil ending.The opening Presto was played with scrupulous attention to detail,the sforzandi played so mellifluously.The development was played with rhythmic urgency and sense of line before the return of the quiet opening octaves leading to the coda of brilliant urgency.

After the interval we were treated to a masterly performance of the Sonata op 109.The first of the final trilogy where Beethoven now completely deaf could obviously hear sounds that were both unearthly and probably not able to be reproduced on the pianos of the period.With the modern day piano we have an orchestra on which to seek out the sounds that Beethoven could only have imagined.The beautiful opening of the Sonata where everything was played with a bell like clarity and a sense of architectural shape that created a panorama of almost pastoral tranquility.It was interrupted by the Prestissimo second movement of great turbulence and continual forward movement.It prepared the path for the theme and variations of profound dignity and sublime beauty .Played with the same intensity of a string quartet where every strand of sound had a meaning.The first variation was beautifully shaped and kept in sumptuous control.There was a gentle clarity to the leggiermente second variation alternating with some beautiful legato part playing where every voice had such shape and meaning.There was superb technical control in the third variation that led to the continuous flow of sounds in the fourth.The nobly stated fifth variation had an urgent forward movement before the searching sixth and final variation where Mengyang’s sense of line and technical assurance was remarkable.The swirling arpeggios over bass trills was played with passionate conviction as the theme appeared in the heights over long trills and very busy left hand embellishments.All dissolving so magically in Mengyang’s hands as the theme reappeared out of a cloud of sound as it made its way to the profound final chords.

I have written before about Mengyang’s remarkable performance of the Appassionata Sonata op 57 with which she closed her programme at Cranleigh.It is of a remarkable clarity and technical mastery.Even the great arpeggios in the first movement were played with one hand as Beethoven indicates and is so often ignored by lesser pianists who prefer to take less risks!The slow movement too was played as a string quartet with such rich meaningful sounds.The last movement was a tour de force of technical control,resilience and excitement.The final exhilarating arpeggios of the coda brought cheers from the small but very appreciative live audience.

The Beethoven Eccosaise WoO86 was Mengyang’s way of thanking all the people that had made her performance possible in these difficult times.

Menyang Pan was born in China and has been living in the UK since 2000. She began her piano study at the age of three before becoming a junior student at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. At the age of 14, she left her native China to study at the Purcell School in the UK with professor Tessa Nicholson. Upon graduating with high honours, she went on to complete her musical education at the Royal College of Music training under professor Gordon Fergus-Thompson and Professor Vanessa Latarche.The prize winner of many competitions including Rina Sala Gallo International Piano competition, Bromsgrove International Young Musician’s Platform, Dudley International Piano Competition, Norah Sands Award, MBF Educational Award, Mengyang has performed in many prestigious venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Bridgewater Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Bruckner Haus amongst many others. As soloist, Mengyang has appeared with many orchestras and her collaboration with conductors such as Maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy, John Wilson and Mikk Murdvee has gained the highest acclaim. Apart from performing, Mengyang also finds much joy in teaching. In 2019, Mengyang was appointed piano professor at the world renowned Royal College of Music in London, she also teaches at Imperial College Blyth Centre for Music and Visual Arts.

Cranleigh Arts Centre is a registered charity (no. 284186) and a company limited by guarantee. It is governed by a board of Trustees appointed by Members who represent the local community. Waverley Borough Council and Cranleigh Parish Council are also involved as observers at Board level. Originally run by volunteers, Cranleigh Arts still only employs a team of four staff with many operations still undertaken by members of the local community. Volunteers play a vital role within the arts centre and are fundamental to our success and sustainability.

Formerly the local village school (1847 – 1966), our building is steeped in history and something of a landmark on Cranleigh’s high street.The organisation was founded in 1978 when a number of local community groups – including The Photographic Society, The Film Society, The Arts Society, Cranleigh Players, Adult Education and a local pottery group – came together to lease the disused Victorian school building from Waverley Borough Council. Their founding principle “to enrich, entertain and inspire” remains our mission today.Under the Chairmanship of Jack Wagg, plans were drawn up to develop and extend the premises. This was expedited by Catherine Pike in the ’90s, culminating in major work in 1997/8 with the aid of Lottery money and other grants. Our multi-purpose auditorium was added to the premises and the rest of the building stylishly refurbished. Over the last twenty years, we have continued to enhance the facilities for our visitors and maintain our heritage building for the community.

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