Rachel Cheung, piano
November 11 2018
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Heavenly and hellish piano pyrotechnics from Rachel Cheung
Not only did pianist Rachel Cheung make a long journey to Nottingham for her Sunday morning recital (she hails from Hong Kong) but she also took her audience on a long journey. From Heaven to Hell, in fact.
She started with César Franck’s Prelude, Fugue and Variation, a work which for her, she explained, is all about heavenly reward after suffering. It may not strike everyone like that but she certainly played with great serenity in the outer movements (especially the lovely, lyrical opening theme) and the rippling accompaniment in the Variation added to the prevailing tone of melancholy sweetness.
Rachael is one of those artists who make you feel completely safe in their hands from the word go. She plays not only with poetic insight but with uncanny accuracy. Throughout her demanding programme there wasn’t so much as a single smudge to disturb the high-definition clarity of her playing.
And this even applied to the hellish final piece, Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1. It’s a wild depiction of how the devil Mephistopheles seizes a violin and plays it to bewitch couples dancing at a wedding feast. It was thought unplayable when first composed but Rachel dispatched its extreme virtuosity and diabolic energy with ease.
In between came Schumann’s Fantasie in C, a work which again dives into a world of turbulent emotions and another which showed off Rachel’s technical mastery and musical intelligence. Schumann told his (eventual) wife Clara that the piece was the most passionate thing he had ever written, inspired by the misery caused by Clara’s father and his fierce opposition to their relationship.
Schumann had two sides to his personality to which he actually gave names: introverted, dreamy Eusebius and fiery, impetuous Florestan. Rachel captured them both in playing of richness, transparency and exhilarating spontaneity.
Rachel Cheung (piano) in Nottingham’s Sunday Morning Piano Series at the Royal Concert Hall