Zhang Zuo Plays with Passion, Empathy and Feeling

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bach, Schumann, Schubert: Zhang Zuo (piano), Royal Weslsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, 22.03.2015. (LJ).

Bach, J. S.: Partita No. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825
Schumann, Robert: Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26
Schubert, Franz: Sonata in C minor, D. 958

Described by no other than Paavo Jarvi as “one of the most outstanding and passionate pianistic talents”, Zhang Zuo (otherwise known as “Zee Zee”) certainly possessed the technical felicity, innate flair and daring spontaneity required of a concert pianist whose afternoon recital included Bach’s Partita No. 1, Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien, and Schubert’s Sonata in C minor.

Currently studying at the Peabody Institute with Leon Fleisher and receiving musical guidance from Alfred Brendel, Zuo blends her confident interpretations with Brendel’s belief in respecting the wishes and intentions of the composer (without adding too much of one’s own spin on the music). This meeting of personal interpretation and preserving the composer’s integrity was felt most strongly in Zuo’s performance of Schubert’s Sonata in C minor. Zuo played the dark, mysterious foregrounding to the Adagio superbly and gave the Allegro the required drama without expanding into melodrama. Speaking of Schubert, Alfred Brendel wrote in Music Sounded Out that: “In his larger forms, Schubert is a wanderer. He likes to move at the edge of the precipice, and does so with the assurance of a sleepwalker. To wander is the Romantic condition; one yields to it enraptured, or is driven and plagued by the terror of finding no escape. More often than not, happiness is but the surface of despair.” In her confident performance of Schubert’s C Minor Piano Sonata, Zuo took the audience on a journey through the Burkean ‘delightful horrors’ of the Romantic sublime.

Zuo’s strong use of dynamics and intelligent phrasing of Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B flat major made this Baroque piece sound Romantic. There was a noticeable introversion in her playing which unfolded the musical layers of Bach’s notation with a delicate touch. Zuo’s attractive gentility allowed her to exude the fainter hues and ambiguous shades of a conventionally more strident piece. The Six Partitas (BWV 825-830) were the last of a series of works for keyboard instruments that Bach published under ‘Keyboard Practice’. J. N. Forkel describes the impact of these partitas as ‘causing quite a sensation among his contemporaries in the world of music’ adding that ‘such splendid keyboard compositions had never previously been seen or heard. Whoever learnt to perform any of these pieces to a high standard could make his fortune in the world.” Performing the first partita with such acumen, Zuo certainly made her mark.

Finally, with technical flawlessness, Zuo sounded at ease with the Romanticism of Schumann. Picking out the many allusions to other works – Robert Morgan noted Schumann’s use of Beethoven’s musical symmetry in his Piano Sonata 12, Op. 26 and David Neumeyer highlighted the similarity of the first section to Schubert’s Valse Noble No. 7, Op. 77 (D 969) – as well as giving the Scherzino a modern feel, hinting at the sparseness of Eric Satie. Zuo played the Romanze (marked Ziemlich Langsam) with a dreamlike ephemerality which contrasted neatly with the Finale which was powerful and astonishingly fast. Reciting Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien as well as her performances of Bach and Schubert, Zuo played passionately, delivering each piece with empathy and feeling.

Lucy Jeffery

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