Music at St Machar’s Cathedral.

Sonata Op.110: L. v. Beethoven (1770-1827)

Sonata-Skaza: N. Medtner (1880-1951)

Twenty-Four Preludes: D. Shostakovich (1906-75)

Hengyu Lu: Piano

Sunday March 5th 2023

A small but select audience warmly welcomed Henyu Lu, a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen, to St Machar’s Cathedral on Sunday last.  We were to hear a full recital of music by Beethoven, Medtner and Shostakovich.  

Beginning with the penultimate sonata of Beethoven, from the very beginning Hengyu caught an intensely concentrated mood with the opening chords. This sonata is nothing but demanding, not only in technique but in control of piano resonance. With a beautifully limpid touch, especially for the many arpeggios in the work, Hengyu presented the whole sonata with clarity and grace – not perhaps the most obvious characters required of Beethoven, but absolutely right for this work. After the more bracing second movement – Allegro Molto, with notably well-balanced syncopations - the dense elliptical nature of the slow movement was well caught. The following fugue was first presented in half colours, but opened out in its inverted form after a return of the slow movement. The musicality of holding this frequently disparate material together poses a challenge to the performer – a challenge which was most convincingly met.   

Nikolai Medtner was born in Russia, trained in Germany and lived in England for the last 15 years of his life.  He is one of those frequently forgotten composer-pianists.  This is a pity because his sonata no. 1, which Hengyu played as the second item of her programme, was an immediately attractive work. Fiendishly tricky and highly demanding of a firm and reliable technique, it well deserved its title ‘Fairy Tale Sonata’. We were treated to an astonishing display of technique in the service of musicianship on Sunday afternoon.

To end the recital, Hengyu chose to play the complete book of Shostakovich Preludes Op.34. These are all short pieces, following a pattern established by Chopin, of working through all the major and minor keys - hence the number 24. Shostakovich described this set of pieces as ‘a diary of my soul’, and there is an astonishing variety of pieces, by turns serious, virtuosic, playful, ironic – and all with an attractive exploration of piano timbres. On Sunday afternoon we had character in plenty, with the pianist responding fully to the many changes of the composer’s moods, and delivering this set of pieces with tremendous aplomb.

From the demands of Beethoven, through the virtuosity of the Medtner, to the deep understanding of the many sides of Shostakovich, Hengyu captured everything in a wonderfully rewarding recital which was warmly appreciated.

(RBW 6.3.23)