Brighton Year-Round 2019
Guangmel Chen plays Schumann’s Piano Sonata in F-sharp minor Op 11, and all three of Debussy’s Images from Book II.
Guangmel Chen is a new name and a revelation. She plays with a full tone, absolute technical mastery and an ability to wholly adjust her sound world between – here – Schumann and Debussy. She’s simply consummate and I’ve never heard of her.
Schumann’s Piano Sonata in F-sharp minor Op 11 of 1833-35 is one of those works of Schumann beloved of Russian pianists. Darkly melodic, brooding and richly-textures it’s easy to see why the likes of Emil Gilels and Evgeny Kissin championed it.
Chen’s way is rich, full-blooded with a distinctive rounded tone striated with precision and clarity in chords and notes. Never un-pedalled, its still light and Chen displays a heft with power in reserve.
The first movement Un poco adagio – Allegro vivace in F-sharp minor coms up on you with moody grumbling and two-note chords. It’s a tanging powerful statement and the following bright innocence of the A major e is intensely lyrical, th only movement not in th signature key:Cheng knows what to d with that and the truly turbulent F-sharp minor return in the Scherzo: Allegrissimo – Intermezzo: Lento. Alla burla, ma pomposo – which blares out in bright ceremonial D major then reverts to Tempo I. Cheng exults in the last movement, a return to thematic material I the first, where the Finale: Allegro un poco maestoso – in F-sharp minor again, but predictably ending in the tonic major is a gallop. This s a truly impressive reading allowing tempo-shifting rubato and modelling of Schumann’s hyperactive imagination.
As a kind of encore Chen essayed in a very diferent, mreo delicate and pared-back sound-world the three of Debussy’s Images from Book II.
The cloches a travers les feilles is a languorous moon-blanched meditation winding slow figures and carillons around a nodal point and slightly increasing tempo. Debussy’s Images deploy a new language of spare lyricism and pointilistic handling: Chen’s reading shows how sonically clean this texture cn be.
Et la lune descend sue le temple qui fut is an exercise in Chinoiserie, pentatonics slowly stalking through the texture.
Finally Poissons d’or shimmers as Cheng delineates with a clarity Ravel might have approved of. Chen demonstrates the best way with Debussy is to paly strictly with an ear on French clarity. Too often Debussy’s vaunted impressionism is contrasted to the spare neo-classical textures of Ravel. But they learned from each other.
This is a masterly recital, surprising in its reach of detail and maturity, and letting the music speak individually: there’s no attempt to create a personal sonance, or stylised way of playing. Nor immature waywardness or anything other than sovereign technique. Superb. It’d be very good to see Cheng return.