Hao Zi Yoh – the luminosity and delicacy of a great artist at Cranleigh Arts


Bach: Partita No. 4 in D Major BWV 828

– Ouverture -Allemande-Courante-Aria-Sarabande-Menuet- Gigue

Albeniz: Almeria – from Iberia Book 2

Chopin: Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante Op. 22


Schumann: Fantasy in C, Op. 17

I. Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen; Im Legenden Ton

II. Mäßig. Durchaus energisch

III. Langsam getragen. Durchweg leise zu halten

Debussy: Isle of Joy

Hao Zi Yoh

I have heard Hao Zi many times but today in this glorious programme she made me even more aware of her unique qualities of scrupulous musicianship but also with a sensitivity to sound and colour that brought everything she touched vividly to life.Even the encore that she introduced so eloquently depicting a Malaysian rain forest was played with the same artistry and luminosity that she had brought to the Bach Partita that had opened this programme.Gently coaxing out sounds by plucking and dampening the piano strings whilst gently intoning a native chant.Bursting into more traditional cascades of notes played in the traditional manner all done with the utmost seriousness that created the atmosphere of her native country.

I remember Stockhausen asking me in Rome if he could use our Steinway Concert grand instead of the Yamaha that had been brought in specially for his complete Klavierstucke.How could I say no?But I did specify that the piano could only be used with two hands and two feet in the traditional manner!I had recently seen John Tilbury fill a piano with nuts and bolts in the search for special sound effects.Adulescu too turned the piano on its side as he threw rocks onto the strings!Luckily they were pianos that were brought in for the occasion whilst mine sat safely locked in a corner of the hall.

It just shows the esteem that Stephen Dennison and his colleagues in Cranleigh have for the artistry of Hao Zi to allow her to search for sounds inside the piano instead of only from the exterior.Infact from the very first notes of Bach’s glorious fourth partita we were aware of the extraordinarily luminous sounds that Hao Zi could conjure from this new Shegeru Kwai that was especially chosen by Sasha Grynyuk for the hall.

The opening of the fourth Partita BWV 828 was played with authority and with a sound of great clarity as the imperious opening chords in 2/2 are suddenly brought to life in 9/8 bringing a sense of rhythmic energy as it springs to life at the opening of this Partita written in 1728 and part of the Clavierubung n.1.There was an operatic freedom to the Allemande that was shaped with delicacy with some very subtle colouring that immediately brought a magic spell to this mellifluous outpouring .This contrasted with the injection of rhythmic energy of the Courante before the ravishing beauty of the Aria.Hao Zi brought subtle phrasing and a sense of colour with playing of great delicacy.Even the final cadence was judged to perfection before the playful Sarabande with its cascades of arpeggios ,just shifts of sounds creating an orchestral effect of shifting harmonies.There were ornaments in the Menuet that sparkled like jewels as even here she brought this playful movement vividly to life .She brought authority to the Gigue which was played with relentless rhythmic energy but was also shaped with such care with a sound that was never hard or mechanical as often it can be in lesser hands as they cope with the transcendental technical difficulties of this movement.Hao Zi was not at all intimidated as she turned any technical hurdles into music of searing intensity and intelligence .

Iberia is a suite for piano composed between 1905 and 1909 by Isaac Albeniz. There are four books of three pieces each; Almeria is from the second book.
Iberia is Albéniz’s best-known work and considered his masterpiece. It was highly praised by Debussy and Messiaen , who said: “Iberia is the wonder for the piano; it is perhaps on the highest place among the more brilliant pieces for the king of instruments”.A critic in New York in 1988 pointed out whilst praising Alicia de Larrocha’s performance:’There is really nothing in Isaac Albeniz’s Iberia that a good three-handed pianist could not master, given unlimited years of practice and permission to play at half tempo. But there are few pianists thus endowed. The Andalusian seaport of Almeria, is loosely based on tarantas, a flamenco form characteristic of the region of Almeria.Alicia de Larrocha often played in my season in Rome so I could admire in rehearsal and performance her workmanlike simplicity and intelligence born of hard work and dedication.A small hand that could with rubber like placticity mould itself around even the most gargantuan chords.I was reminded of her today as I listened to the sumptuous performance of Hao Zi where she filled this tone poem with subtle sounds and passionate outpourings.There was heartrending nostalgia too as the melodic line just floated on a cloud of sounds without any sentimentality or added effects apart from those that Albeniz depicts in the score.Grandiose chords too of a fullness that was never hard or ungrateful but luminous and inviting as they dissolved into the magic land of Almeria
The spell had been set for the Chopin Andante Spianato that floated in on the wave of Almeria .An audience that was obviously too entranced to break this spell with applause was rewarded with a performance of such subtle beauty and shape.One was not aware of single notes as her sense of legato enveloped even the most elaborate of embellishments that were just streams of gold and silver sounds ornamenting this magic bel canto atmosphere.Playing the full orchestral introduction to the ‘Grande Polonaise Brillante’ this was more a Polonaise Fantasy with which Chopin would have entranced the aristocracy in the Parisian salons of the day so used to the funabulistic high jinks of Liszt or Thalberg.
It was to lead Schumann to exclaim ‘Hats off gentlemen ,a genius’.Hao Zi spun a magic web where ,of course,there were moments of great brilliance and octaves of majestic grandeur. The jeux perlé streams of sound though were played with subtle shape and sense of phrasing that one was not aware of the ‘fingerfertigkeit’ involved.Music just streamed from Hao Zi’s hands as it must have done from Chopin’s creating a magic and enveloping sense of forward movement where every note was part of a musical shape of ravishing charm and elegance.
Liszt taking the Parisian salons by storm in his own inimitable way.

The Schumann Fantasy has its origin in early 1836, when Schumann composed a piece entitled ‘Ruines’expressing his distress at being parted from his beloved Clara Wieck (later to become his wife). Schumann prefaced it with a quote from the poet Schlegel :’Resounding through all the notes
In the earth’s colourful dream
There sounds a faint long-drawn note
For the one who listens in secret.’ Also a quote from Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte (to the distant beloved) in the coda of the first movement :’Accept then these songs beloved, which I sang for you alone’.Schumann wrote to Clara: ‘The first movement may well be the most passionate I have ever composed – a deep lament for you.’It became the first movement of the Fantasy.Later that year, he wrote two more movements to create a work intended as a contribution to the appeal for funds by Liszt to erect a monument to Beethoven in his birthplace, Bonn.It is dedicated to Liszt who in turn dedicated to him his B minor Sonata – two pinnacles of the Romantic piano repertoire.It was exactly this romantic sweep and passionate beauty that Hao Zi brought to the first movement.With a great sense of architectural line she managed to piece together all the various episodes with a wonderful sense of colour and style.The middle,section Im leggenden ton had some truly magical moments as it built to a passionate climax of great intensity.There was rhythmic energy in the second movement which despite the intricate dotted rhythms was beautifully shaped and led to the transcendental difficulty of the coda where the difficulties just disappeared as Hao Zi turned these hurdles into music of passionate urgency.There was an aristocratic sense of timelessness in the last movement and the gentle resolution although not exactly what the composer asks for was a musical solution of sublime beauty.The three last chords were of such beauty and calm creating a magic atmosphere where the audience held their breath for many minutes after the last chord had sounded.
L’isle Joyeuse with its opening of mystery and delicacy as the astonishing clarity of Hao Zi’s playing brought this very evocative piece vividly to life.Written in 1903 as originally part of a series of three pieces :L’isle joyeuse,Masques and a piece that became D’un cashier d’esquisses.L’isle joyeuse was inspired by a painting by Watteau:’Pèlerinage à l’ile de Cythère’.Most probably the island was Jersey,where Debussy had spent much time with his new companion Emma Bardac.Played with great temperament and sense of colour with the passionate outpouring of the final triumphant declaration bringing this beautiful recital to a stimulating conclusion.
Watteau:’Pèlerinage à l’ile de Cythère’

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 medalist of the Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition. Most recently, Hao Zi was selected as participant in the Preliminary Round of Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw 2021. 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 international de piano Rotary Club Palma Ramon LLull, Mallorca (Spain 2013).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 3rd Prize 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.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”.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.

A very interesting interval conversation between Stephen Dennison and Hao Zi Yoh


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