Hao Zi Yoh at St Mary’s A universal soul at the service of music.

Tuesday March 9 4.00 pm 

Hao Zi Yoh (piano) 

Debussy: Golliwogg’s Cakewalk
Debussy: Cathedrale engloutie
Ravel: Jeux d’eau
Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales
Chopin: Mazurkas Op 59 nos 1-3
Chopin: Etudes Op 10 nos 4 and 7
Chopin: Ballade no 4 in F minor Op 52

Some ravishing playing from Hao Zi Yoh from the jazzy rhythms of Debussy’s Golliwog(g) to the mysteries of the sunken cathedral.Her chameleon sense of sound created exactly the atmosphere that was to lead us too to the sensual world of Ravel’s Valses Nobles e Sentimentales.One his simplest and most perfect works played with a luminosity of sound and sense of subtle colours with the atmosphere of a pre war France.Ravel’s Jeux d’eau was played with a jewel like precision where the river God was charmed indeed by the subtle beauty that she brought to the waters that only Liszt before him had been able to portray so magically.
Mazurkas that were miniature tone poems, the three op.59 played every bit as magically as I remember from the hands of Smeterlin.
Hao Zi’s well oiled fingers allowed her to dig deep into the two studies she played.From his early op 10 set,N.4 played with such clarity and breathtaking agility but it was the colours and sheer musicality of n.7 that was even more remarkable.
What better way to finish the recital than with one of Chopin’s finest works:the Fourth Ballade op 52.
Played with a simplicity and sense of architectural shape,the mighty climax played with such passionate outpouring of sounds.The simplicity of the five calming chords before the coda glistened like magic before the burst of transcendental playing required in the coda that explodes with emotion as this masterpiece of the Romantic repertoire comes to a triumphant conclusion

Debussy composed Children’s Corner between 1906 and 1908 and dedicated the suite to his daughter, Claude-Emma (known as “Chou-Chou”),who was born on 30 October 1905 in Paris. She is described as a lively and friendly child who was adored by her father. She was three years old when he dedicated the suite to her in 1908.The dedication reads: “A ma chère petite Chouchou, avec les tendres excuses de son Père pour ce qui va suivre. C. D.” (To my dear little Chouchou, with tender apologies from her father for what follows).Golliwogg’s cakewalk is the last piece of six .At the time of its composition, Golliwoggs were in fashion, due partly to the popularity at that time of the novels of Florence Kate Upton(“golliwog” is a later usage). They were stuffed black dolls with red pants, red bow ties and wild hair, somewhat reminiscent of the blackface minstrels of the time. The cakewalk was a dance or a strut, and the dancer with the most elaborate steps won a cake (“took the cake”). The piece is a ragtime with its syncopations and banjo-like effects. The dynamic range is quite large and very effective.During the piece, Debussy alludes satirically to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.The opening bars turn the famous half -diminished Tristan chord into a jaunty, syncopated arpeggio while the middle ‘B’ section of this dance is interrupted on several occasions by the love-death leit motif marked avec une grande émotion (with great feeling). Each quotation is followed by banjo imitations.Interesting to discover how much there can be in one little piece.It was exactly this that Hao Zi showed us today with her sparkling rhythms and great drive alternating with sleezy jazz idioms played with such subtle colour and sense of style and the final notes thrown off with great authoritative character.The door slammed shut at the end of this charming set of pieces.

La Cathédrale was published in 1910 as the tenth in Debussy’s first of two volumes of twelve preludes and is based on an ancient Breton myth in which a cathedral, submerged underwater off the coast of the Island of Ys, rises up from the sea on clear mornings when the water is transparent. Sounds can be heard of priests chanting, bells chiming, and the organ playing, from across the sea.After the beginning section, Debussy gently brings the cathedral out of the water ,shaping the melody in a wave-like fashion, ‘Peu à peu sortant de la brume’ (Emerging from the fog little by little).Then after a section marked ‘Augmentez progressivement’(Slowly growing), the cathedral has emerged and the grand organ is heard fortissimo.This is the loudest and most profound part of the piece, and is described in the score as ‘Sonore sans dureté ‘(Sonorous but without harshness). Following the grand entrance and exit of the organ, the cathedral sinks back down into the ocean and the organ is heard once more, but from underwater.Finally, the cathedral is gone from sight, and only the bells are heard, at a distant pianissimo.Hao Zi brought a complete change of colour to this piece with the bright bell like sounds from the treble and bass and the glorious full sonorous sounds of the Cathedral arisen.There was mystery in the sounds of the distant plain chant as the Cathedral slowly sinks with the bell like sounds deep in the bass.Some extraordinarily evocative playing of subtle clarity and mystery.

Ravel wrote his Jeux d’eau whilst a student of Gabriel Fauré to whom it is dedicated.It was directly inspired by Liszt’s Les Jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este and is prefaced by a poem “Dieu fluvial riant de l’eau qui le chatouille…” a quote from Henri de Régnier’s Cité des eaux, “River god laughing as the water tickles him …”. The luminosity and clarity of Hao Zi’s sound was quite extraordinary as the notes seemed to flow like water from her fingers.Some magical effects too with some parts bathed in pedal and contrasted with extraordinary effect those without.The final melodic line over streams of flowing notes was quite magical, like water the piece does not have a definite ending and is probably still flowing as we move on to the next work.

Ravel’s ‘Valses nobles et sentimentales ‘ published ten years later in 1911 with a quotation of Henri de Régnier: “…le plaisir délicieux et toujours nouveau d’une occupation inutile” (the delicious and forever-new pleasure of a useless occupation).The work was greeted by a disturbing chorus of boos and cat calls in Paris in 1911 when it was played by its dedicatee Louis Aubert,better known as a composer than pianist.Rubinstein had the same reception a few years later in Spain and treated the audience to a repeat performance as an encore !It created a scandal with its unexpected dissonances from the very first waltz.Hao Zi played the caustic opening waltz with a ‘joie de vivre’and infectious rhythmic energy right to the final slamming of the door.But a door that opened onto a magic garden in Hao Zi’s hands with the real intensity that Ravel asks for but with a rich cantabile ,’doux et expressif’.A ‘french’ sound so typical of Poulenc or Satie of an unclouded purity that was so expressive.The gentle asides -‘un peu plus lent et rubato’ just delicate comments on the bigger line that was being etched so eloquently.There was an almost child like simplicity to the third waltz with a lilt ‘to and fro’ like a children’s play thing.A beautiful central chordal section created just the contrast bursting into melody but always with an undercurrent of the waltz.The beautiful sensual colours of the fourth where Hao Zi played with a fleeting lightness before the nostalgic cantabile -‘Dans un sentiment intime’of the fifth.Back to the playful waltz rhythms of the sixth bouncing across the keyboard to the stark opening of the seventh with its gradual reawakening and grandiloquent outbursts.Played with great attention to detail but also with great abandon just as I remember Rubinstein in his memorable recitals in London where he would often play a work that had become,in his lifetime,recognised as a masterpiece.The beautiful middle section was played with such a flexible sense of line with great washes of colour before the final exultant ending .The eighth waltz is titled ‘épilogue’ and is undoubtedly the most remarkable.It appears like an apparition of all that we have heard before but on a sheen of magical sounds.I remember Perlemuter in a masterclass with Imogen Cooper in which he explained what Ravel had intended.I quote from the book ‘Ravel d’après Ravel’ conversations with Hélene Jourdan-Morhange:’Ravel was so passionate about the unity of tempo here that I must be insistent about it.It is also one of the interpretative difficulties of this Valse….Ravel wanted the epilogue to be slow but for it to keep its waltz rhythm.’Hao Zi instinctively seemed to feel this not only here in Ravel but also in the way she played the Chopin Mazurkas.

It is something instinctive that cannot be taught.I remember FouTs’ong winning the Mazurka prize in the Chopin competition in Warsaw and everyone being surprised that he could play them so instinctively and better than any of the Polish contestants.It just shows that music is a universal language and the soul has no frontier.

Just as this brilliant young artist demonstrated today with Chopin playing of such authority and deeply felt sentiment allied to a complete technical command.

Malaysian pianist Hao Zi Yoh was born in 1995 and began her music studies at the age of 3. By the age of 12, she already performed at Carnegie Hall as a gold medallist of the Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition. Most recently, Hao Zi is selected as participant in the Preliminary Round of Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw 2021. In Malaysia, Hao Zi studied under Chong Lim Ng, who showed her the path into the classical music world. She explored composing and her composition “Bustling City and Peaceful Suburb” was selected to represent Malaysia at the Yamaha APJOC concert 2007. At the age of 14, she moved to Germany to study with Prof. Elza Kolodin at the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg. It was then she won top prizes in many international competitions including EPTA Belgium, Enschede, RNCM James Mottram (Manchester, 2012) and Concurso internacional de piano Rotary Club Palma Ramon LLull, Mallorca (Spain 2013). This led her to performing as soloist in festivals around Europe, USA, China, Japan and Malaysia. Besides, she also performed with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Nova Amadeus and Baleares Symphony Orchestra. In 2014, she came under the tutelage of Prof. Christopher Elton at the Royal Academy of Music, London, generously supported by Lynn Foundation, Leverhulme Trust, Countess of Munster and Craxton Memorial Trust. She received 3rdPrize at Roma International Piano Competition, the Phillip Crawshaw Memorial Prize for an Outstanding Musician from Overseas at the Royal Overseas League Competition. She was also recipient of prestigious Martin Musical Scholarship Trust Philharmonia Piano Fellowships on the Emerging Artists Programme 2017/18. During her studies, she explored her relationship with music and her interest in creating sound colours: her MMus Project 2016 involved collaborating with percussionist Daniel Gonzalez to create a version of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit for Piano and Percussion. In her interpretation of “A Distant Voice of the Rainforest” by Chong Lim Ng, she included improvised extended piano techniques as well as improvised singing to draw the audience into the soundworld of a rainforest. Apart from this, Hao Zi also participated in creative outreach projects led by the Open Academy for children and elderly with Dementia, where she performed in Music for Moment Concerts at the Wigmore Hall. She collaborated with author-illustrator David Litchfield and improvised to his storytelling of award-winning book “The Bear and the Piano”. Hao Zi remains in close contact with the music scene in Malaysia. She has given talks, performances and masterclasses to the students of University of Malaya, Bentley Music and Persatuan Chopin in hope to share her experiences and help the younger generation. During the Covid-19 lockdown, Hao Zi held online livestream and fundraiser for St. Nicholas’ Home for the Blind, Penang, Malaysia. A Young Steinway Artist, Hao Zi is currently based in London and has performed in venues such as Wigmore Hall, Southbank Royal Festival Hall, Salle Cortot, Steinway Hall London, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (Malaysia) and Teatro Quirino (Italy). She is further developing her performing career being part of the Keyboard Trust London, Talent Unlimited. Hao Zi is also a piano tutor at King’s College London and gives masterclasses at Imperial College London.


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