KaJeng Wong at St Mary’s Mastery and Mystery of a great artist

Thursday 4 November 3.00 pm

‘God, Pray, Love’ recital

Bach/Gounod: Ave Maria
Bach: Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring
Liszt: In festo transfigurationis Domini nostri Jesu Christi
Liszt : Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude

‘Pray ‘. Franck: Prelude Chorale and Fugue

Liszt : Cantique d ‘ amour
Bach/Naoumoff: ‘Aus Liebe Will Mein Heiland Sterben’ from St. Matthew ‘ s Passion
Bach/Petri: ‘Sheep May Safely Graze’
Bach: Prelude in C BWV 846

I had heard KaJeng play in Cremona recently on a Petrof piano in a weekend at the Cremona Music Exhibition and I was completely captivated by his performances in a short recital of Rachmaninov.He had conceived a programme that showed the evolution of ‘the Prelude’ op.3 n.2 and how it was eventually to be trasformed in his final great prelude of op 32. https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.wordpress.com/2021/09/30/the-rebirth-of-a-global-network-in-cremona-if-music-be-the-food-of-love-please-please-play-on/

He was with his mentor Julia Mustonen from the Ingesund School of music in Sweden and they suggested that I might like to hear his graduation recital in London at Milton Court/ Guildhall (where he has now been made a fellow).His performance of the ‘Hammerklavier’ at 10 am was quite astounding and I just wondered if the handful of people present -the adjudicators and a handful of friends -realised just what a phenomenal performance we had heard.His second half of Rachmaninov and Liszt was equally enthralling but it was his intellectual understanding of Beethoven allied to a transcendental command of the piano that was totally overwhelming.


I immediately contacted Dr Hugh Mather to suggest that he offer an engagement to this exceptionally talented young man who should be heard by a wider audience in London.The ever generous and enthusiastic Hugh offered him a slot that had by chance become available in his already over full season of young musicians.The concert today was what we were treated to.

It was with the arrival of Sviatoslav Richter in the west that we understood what Emil Gilels had meant when had exclaimed to an incredulous public ‘If you think I am good wait and see who comes after me!’Well, if someone like Gilels could have the humility to bow to genius I hope none of the very fine musicians who it has been my privilege to listen to over the years will understand when I say that Kajeng’s recital today was one of the greatest recitals that I have ever heard .One of the most moving experiences since listening to Richter himself play the Franck Prelude ,Choral and Fugue in the Festival hall in a programme that had included the Liszt B minor sonata .

Richter had refused to see anyone after the concert as he had not been happy with his performance of the B minor Sonata .Striving for perfection can be very difficult to live with and Richter was a tormented soul who shared his genius so generously but not without a great deal of suffering.His Cesar Franck had though reached the heights that we were treated to today by this young musician who has suddenly appeared on the scene thanks to Dr Mather and his enthusiastic team of retired professionals.

KaJeng had found a link that joined all the nine works in the programme starting and ending with the simple genius of Bach used by Gounod as the accompaniment to his ‘Ave Maria’ and after a kaleidoscopic outpouring of emotions ending with the sublime purity of the original Prelude n.1 in C .

This may be the right moment to quote Kajeng’s own words:’

In the first part, ‘God’. Began with Ave Maria (C major) and went into Jesu Joy of Man’s of desiring (G major/dominant of C) as Christ first came to earth. Then the third piece transcended from the C major/G major into the F-sharp, which is the key of the spiritual in Liszt’s music, and thus the Benediction that follows.At the very end the prelude in C returns. This time without the melody of the Ave Maria.So my point of this concert, is that after the story and teachings of Christianity, at the end of the journey, the ‘melody’ or the ‘thought’ of God’s grace no longer needed to be heard. It’s already ‘inside’ us. Spirituality is just something that attracts me. And I think it doesn’t take a Christian man to be holy/seeking’

The title of GOD- PRAY- LOVE was the name given to this most moving recital.Immediately from the very opening notes there was a liquidity of sound like water flowing gently where the melodic line was literally allowed to float on a sea of wondrous sounds.It was played with such a subtle flexibility of sound and colour that one could only marvel at Kajeng’s sense of control,balance and mastery of the pedal.All at the command of his superb musicianship and sense of architectural shape.Hardly moving his hands as they just hovered over the keys seminating golden sounds that were so exquisite that I wondered if this was the same piano that we are used to hearing so often at St Mary’s.This led straight into Jesu Joy or perhaps I should say floated in as the tenor melody was revealed amidst all the intricate weaving of knotty twine from which this glorious choral extricates itself in the famous transcription of Myra Hess.She of course had studied with Uncle Tobbs who had imparted all the secrets of the Matthay school to her and Moura Lympany.Imploring them to search for a microscopic sense of touch and balance where the beauty of sound was not disrupted by a battleground of unprotected projection!The treble voice sang out in Kajeng’s sensitive hands whilst there was an imperceptible build up of sonority equally disappearing just like an apparition of the miracles that were being created.

This in turn led without a break into the Liszt ‘In festa transfigurationis……’As Arthur Friedheim (1859-1932) a pupil of Liszt wrote:’Everything that was religious ,or that had the sound of worldly religion or that related to the Church,was transmuted by Liszt in the realm of mysticism.’Liszt composed this unusual and hypnotic piece in 1880.Starting from the depths of the keyboard it moves upwards to end with angelic chords in the high treble.It is typical of many of Liszt’s later works that expresses profound things with a minimum of notes.Leading so naturally into the flowing delicacy of ‘Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude’ from Liszt’s Harmonies poétiques et Religieuses It was played with such extraordinary artistry and real sentiment with a gradual release of sound as it built up to an overwhelming climax of aristocratic passion.Dying away to a mere whisper before the sudden ray of sunlight with the disarming simplicity of the Andante.It was played with a subtle change of colour with such poetry and a truly magical use of pedal.The più sostenuto quasi Preludio was like a prayer of thanksgiving with a continuous flow of mellifluous sounds .His hands did not seem to move as they communed with the keys in a final prayer at the ritenuto ad libitum.The andante reappearing like an apparition as sublime peace was created with three ever more poignant chords.I imagine that this combination might have been suggested to Kajeng by the noted Liszt expert Leslie Howard to whom I had suggested Kajeng visit to talk about the vast piano repertoire choices and in particular the lesser known works of Liszt.

What better prayer could there be than Franck’s Prelude,Choral and Fugue?With the prelude just floating on the keys as I remember Richter had seduced us with all those years ago.There was the same legato and luminosity that did not allow any percussive element even in the most fervent passionate outpourings.There was passionate declamation too – a capriccio- a momentary interruption and deep declaration of faith.And what significance and poignancy he brought to the deep bass notes that opened up a flood of marvellous sounds that led immediately into the Choral.Here there was magic in the air as the harp like chords were played with a luminosity and variety of sounds of such a sublime beauty that I had not even heard from Richter!He had,though,the same fervent overwhelming conviction that was every bit as breathtaking only defused by the opening statement of the Fugue.Such clarity with an unrelenting forward movement and passionate abandon of aristocratic poise.Cortot ‘s own words are the best to describe Kajeng’s miraculous performance: ‘it should appear like an almost supernatural emanation from a halo of celestial vibrations -Le motif du Choral,accompagné ici d’un ingénieux emprunt à la figuration initiale du Prélude ,doit se faire jour d’une manière quasi surnaturelle,et comme s’il émanait subitemant d’un halo de vibrations célestes’A burst of passionate fire ‘a tempo vivo’ where even the final great full stop was played with such significance.A quite overwhelming performance and unforgettable experience.

In the final part, ‘Love’ to quote KaJeng:’The cantique is a ‘Song of Love’ – a kind of spiritual love. Not like liebeslied.’

Opening in the rich tenor register with a wondrous sense of balance with the melodic line that was allowed to shine even with the accompaniment in all its many guises with this ever more passionate outpouring of love.Even in the most explosive passages his sense of line and musicianship allowed even the fortissimo appassionato to sing like a solo voice recitativo before the passionate final transcendental outpouring.

Quoting again Kajeng :’The St.Matthew Passion aria is titled ‘Jesus sacrificed in the name of love’, thus the choice.Cantique is in E major, and Matthew is in a minor. Thus the connection and flow.’

‘After Jesus’ death, ‘sheep may safely graze’. Thus the whole fundaments of Christian teaching.’

It useless to try to put into words these final moments of sublime beauty played with a luminosity of sound and heart rending simplicity and I can only advise anyone who has got this far to click on the link and listen to the recital and am sure be as moved and thankful as I have been today.

KaJeng Wong praised for his originality and exceptional musicianship, KaJeng was the winner at the Alaska International Piano E-Competition 2018, and was recently awarded Third Prize at the Maria Canals International Piano Competition 2019. Previously, KaJeng achieved success at Los Angeles IPC and Young Concert Artist Audition in New York. He received a commendation by the Hong Kong government and has been selected to represent Hong Kong at multiple international platforms, performing at Esplanade in Singapore, Shanghai Concert Hall, Palau de la Musica Catalana and participated in festivals such as PianoTexas, Verbier Festival and Hong Kong Arts Festival. The featured documentary about his growth, “KJ: Music & Life”, was awarded Best Documentary at the Golden Horse Awards. Besides his activities as a performer, he is involved in collaborative projects involving modern dance and theatres. Recently serving as Artist-in-residence at Zuni Icosahedron, they forged an ongoing relationship experimenting various productions crossing classical music. He also writes prolifically about music and was featured at the Pianist Magazine. Lately he hosted several TV/online programs promoting music in Asia. In the past 4 years, he has also curated the annual Music Lab Festival. After studies with Nancy Loo and Gabriel Kwok in Hong Kong, KaJeng further his training under Prof. Emile Naoumoff at the Indiana University. He is currently pursuing Artistic Diploma at Guildhall School of Music & Drama under Prof. Ronan O’Hora, and with Prof. Julia Mustonen-Dahlkvist at the Ingesund School of Music.

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