January 19 2020
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Piano playing of maturity and insight from 18-year-old Lauren Zhang
Lauren Zhang is the 2018 BBC Young Musician, a pianist of brilliance as well as astonishing maturity for someone still only 18. She was in Nottingham on Sunday morning to play a strongly contrasted programme: the profound, poetic restraint of Schubert followed by the red-blooded emotion and keyboard pyrotechnics of Rachmaninov.
When Lauren performs there is nothing which comes between her and the music. She avoided the microphone, letting her fingers do the talking. No encore either…or many smiles, for that matter. But her playing is extraordinary, something which would have come as no surprise to anyone who heard her play Prokofiev’s 2nd Piano Concerto to win the BBC competition.
Her chosen music showed two very different sides to her playing. The second set of Schubert Impromptus, with which she started her programme, isn’t really concert hall music at all. Schubert wrote the pieces for a small audience in an intimate setting – whereas Rachmaninov’s Sonata No 2 was written for the world’s grandest concert spaces in which the composer was a star virtuoso.
Lauren’s way with Schubert was immensely thoughtful but it was also full of dramatic incident and radiant poetry, with each of the four pieces carefully characterised – such as the second Impromptu’s wistful minuet and trio and the third’s elegant creation of variations on one of Schubert’s best-loved Rosamunde tunes.
What followed couldn’t have been a stronger contrast. The Rachmaninov Sonata was exciting and imaginative in the ways it exploited the full range of tonal colour provided by a modern Steinway. Lauren also showed her skill at blending all those stylistic elements for which the composer is famous: the dramatic sweep, the soulful lyricism, the extreme virtuosity. She not only made the music sing but she also knew how to create that sort of visceral excitement which comes from hurling fistfuls of notes into the audience with pinpoint accuracy. And all this at only 18: it will be fascinating to see (and hear, of course) how such a career develops.
Lauren Zhang (piano) in Nottingham’s Sunday Morning Piano Series at the Royal Concert Hall