Jacky Zhang at St Mary’s the birth of a great artist and the start of a long voyage of discovery

An extraordinary display not only of great authority and total command of the keyboard.Above all ,though,this young man’s performances today will long be remembered for their aristocratic musicianship in which very note had a meaning and significance as it built to an architectural whole of great maturity.
From the very opening the power of the left hand gave such profundity to the sound giving it a richness of orchestral proportions adding such nobility and grandeur to Busoni’s recreation of Bach’s Toccata in C.
Twenty four preludes that were twenty four jewels in a crown that even the great Chopin player Fou Ts’ong declared were for most mortals twenty four problems.Not in Jacky’s poetic hands as the ravishing sounds and astonishing technical mastery allowed each individual prelude to become a miniature tone poem of simplicity and grandeur.
But it was the encore that was even more astonishing.
Mazeppa,one of Liszt’s most taxing of transcendental studies was played like the west wind blowing over the keys.A gust of wind that entered and built in power and brilliance that was breathtaking.
The ravishing beauty of the mellifluous central section was played with such subtle colouring and shape and was truly heartrending.
But as the west wind blew up again we were astonished at the volume of sound that this young man could produce without it ever becoming hard or ungrateful.
On the contrary it was the sound that only the greatest of players can find with such ease and refined brilliance and comes from very early training and an enormous amount of work and dedication to acquire fingers of steel but wrists of rubber.
Above all though to train ears that listen with the sensitivy of a poet and hands that caress the keys with the creativity of a sculptor.
A mentor of the stature of Dmitri Alexeev ‘non guasta’ as they say in my part of the world (I am listening from my home in Italy ) and who is also a long time resident of Ealing where a strange wind seems to bring the greatest of young musicians these days.

Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C major BWV 564 was written for organ by J.S.Bach As is the case with most other organ works by Bach, the autograph score has not survived and the earliest manuscript copies were probably made in 1719–1727. The title of the piece in these copies is given, as expected of organ literature of the time, simply as Toccata in C major and is an early work, probably composed in the mid-to-late Weimar years, i.e. 1710–1717. Busoni published his transcription for the piano in 1900; and is one of his many Bach transcriptions and the work influenced Busoni’s own Toccata for Piano (1920).

This very Toccata was the one that Horowitz chose for his return to the stage in 1965 at Carnegie Hall.The great Horowitz not having been heard in public for 12 years,missed the opening flourish and it sent a shiver down everyone’s spine but which soon turned into delirium as the concert passed into history as the triumph it truly was.

The opening of the Toccata by the hand of Johann Peter Kellner

Jacky at 14 gave a remarkable performance technically and musically.Impeccable but lacking the great organ sonorities that Busoni was trying to evoke on the piano.Bosendorfer had added another nine notes to their grand coda on Busoni’s quest for more sonority.The normal piano is of 88 notes and Bosendorfer could boast 97,the added bass notes usually covered with a wooden box but these days just painted black.The only composer I know who specifically used these extra notes was Bartok in his piano Sonata which most editors ignore !It was this great accumulation of sound that was missing whilst Jacky played with remarkable clarity and an enviable sense of contrapuntal lines.It lacked though the weight and mighty forward moving energy that is such an integral part of these organ works.

The Adagio by the same hand as above

The Adagio was played with ravishing tone but without the weight of a deep legato that would allow the melodic line to soar on high as a prayer of thanksgiving in one great line above the rather urbane accompaniment.The Fugue was again played with exemplary clarity and non legato but as the ever contrapuntal texture became denser Jacky at last allowed himself to add more pedal and more sonority as well as conquering the transcendental difficulties that abound.A remarkable performance that will grow in stature as Jacky grows in years!

Chopin’s 24 Preludes,op.28, are a set of short pieces for the piano, one in each of the twenty-four keys and were originally published in 1839.
He wrote them between 1835 and 1839, partly at Valldemossa,Mallorca,where he spent the winter of 1838–39 and where he had fled with George Sand and her children to escape the damp Paris weather.Liszt described them as ‘poetic preludes, analogous to those of a great contemporary poet, who cradles the soul in golden dreams…Chopin himself never played more than four of the preludes at any single public performance,nor was this the practice for the 25 years after his death. Individually they seem like pieces in their own right… But each works best along with the others, and in the intended order… The Chopin preludes seem to be at once twenty-four small pieces and one large one.No prelude is longer than 90 bars (No. 17), and the shortest (No. 7) is ca.45 sec. and No. 9 is a mere 12 bars The first pianist to programme the complete set in a recital was probably Anna Yesipova for a concert in 1876.Nowadays the Preludes are invariably played as a complete set.Ferruccio Busoni in 1915, was the first to record them when making piano rolls for the Duo-Art label. Alfred Cortot was the next pianist to record the complete set in 1926 which is still generally considered the finest interpretation on record.Cortot would programme them in the same concert together with the 24 Etudes op 10 and 25.Fou Ts’ong famously described the Preludes as 24 Problems!.
The autograph of the ‘raindrop’Prelude op 28 n.15

Let me just say that this performance of the Chopin preludes by a 14 year old boy was one of the most remarkable things I have heard for a long time.The concentration and aristocratic weight he brought to each of these twenty four tone poems was at times breathtaking as it was ravishing.A great diamond giving out rays of light as it slowly turned from one prelude to another.It was beautiful to see his long fingers poised on the keys as Chopin himself had explained to his pupils.Not the unnatural curved fingers of C major but the long caressing movement of C sharp!And what beauty he brought to the all too short introductory first Prelude.It is the one that Perlemuter could not capture in the recording studio but luckily at Nimbus a microphone had been left on while he was trying the piano and it was this improvised naturalness that had been so hard to find when the red light came on.Jackie understood this immediately which maybe goes to prove Schnabel’s famous line about Mozart being ‘too difficult for adults but too easy for children’.The deep brooding and flexible pulse of the second gave great shape to this rather bleak landscape.The left hand almost in duet with the long melodic lines bursting over only at emotional peaks which gave such impact to this usually rather bland opening prelude.The third was played with enviable clarity,the left hand in a continuous flow of notes with the melodic line played legato as it was shaped so beautifully above this gently flowing accompaniment.The beautiful fourth prelude started so slowly but gradually built in intensity always within an architectural shape that was so natural as it died away to a mere whisper.The gently flowing fifth was beautifully shaped and acted as a breath of fresh air as the sixth came sweeping in with unusual speed, it’s bass melody so delicately played with such flexibility.The little seventh was played with disarming simplicity with the eighth entering as a whisper as it grew in intensity and passionate commitment.It was played with astonishing control and sense of line and the mere vibrations of notes at the end created a magic atmosphere only broken by the final delicate chords .He brought great nobility and authority to the ninth before the scintillating Jeux perlé of the tenth as it commented on the rather capricious melodic line.The eleventh flowed beautifully as it was allowed to unfold so naturally before the final deep bass note out of which grew the frenzied dance of the twelfth.Here the transcendental difficulties were thrown off seemingly with ease but also with a rhythmic energy that was quite exhilarating.The sense of balance in the thirteenth allowed the melodic line to sing out beautifully with the transition to the central section played with the utmost sensibility.The very short fourteenth was barely a gust of wind before the sublime beauty of the ‘raindrop’ prelude.Played with mature simplicity and beauty with the deeply brooding central section suddenly becoming reminiscent of the opening prelude as it built in intensity before the return of the opening melody even more sensitively embroidered and a coda of quite extraordinary poignancy.Like with the ninth he added a quiet bass note before all hell let loose with the sixteenth prelude.After the opening declamatory chords there was the driving rhythmic energy of the swirls of notes that Jackie played with passionate involvement and an enviable technical prowess.The sweep and beauty of the seventeenth came as a great contrast with its beautiful coda where the melodic line floated on the deep bell like bass notes.The cadenza prelude of number eighteen was played with a declamatory display of dramatic effect.Number nineteen the most technically difficult of all the preludes was played with an ease and grace that belied it’s treacherous stretches and leaps as it flowed so mellifluously.There was grandeur and nobility in the twentieth variation which was later used by Busoni and Rachmaninov as a basis for their own variations .The chords imperceptibly dying away into the distance before the final chord placed with dramatic care by Jacky.There was a beautiful sense of balance to the twenty first with a flowing melody played with disarming simplicity before the octaves of number twenty two entered almost unnoticed as they built up to an exciting climax.The twenty third just flowed from his fingers with a grace and ease before the tempestuous final prelude.A prelude played with all the youthful passion and considerable technical control even adding a bass note at the moment of greatest intensity.Not sure why he would want to split the last great dive to the final three bass notes or play them all with the same intensity.But then I am forgetting that this is a boy of fourteen and not yet quite the mature master that I was convinced I was listening to today.


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