Lauren Zhang at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY EATS HUMBLE PIE

LAUREN ZHANG
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire *****
Let's be frank: I fully expected to come away from this recital, Lauren Zhang's first-ever professional one, marvelling at her pianistic brilliance, but possibly, at this early stage in the career of the BBC Young Musician's spectacular recent prize-winner, not finding much else behind the notes.
Oh me of little faith. She gave us a totally absorbing 70 minutes which not only displayed her spectacular technique but also immersed us in her totally musical response to three very varied composers.
Only in the opening movement of Beethoven's Op.101 Piano Sonata did her choice of tempo seem less than "somewhat lively", but a sturdy, punchy second movement woke us from that Schumannesque dream. The sonata progressed with character and wit, and with a perfect rapport between her hands (I draw attention to this because the synchronicity and balance were just draw-dropping).
Ravel's taxing, Lisztian Gaspard de la Nuit drew sustained concentration, fluidity of texture and immense resources of strength and vigour as Zhang commanded the whole sweep of the keyboard with an awesome intellectual- and muscle-memory.
A virtual encore came with Chopin's Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise, rubato naturally inflected in the context of a rhythmic impulse which was always an underlying presence -- just one example of the already mature musicianship lying behind this teenager's phenomenal technique.
And how fitting it was that this inaugural professional appearance should be given at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, of whose Junior branch Lauren Zhang is still a student. No wonder RBC Principal Julian Lloyd Webber sounded so proud as he welcomed a packed audience in a genuinely full house.
Christopher Morley

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