Wu Qian, Purcell Room, Wigmore Hall, London
Thursday 07 February 2008
This has been a good week for the 23-year-old pianist Wu Qian, who was born and brought up in Shanghai, then trained at the Menuhin School and the Royal Academy of Music. At the Southbank Centre, she made her debut as part of a new piano trio with violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and cellist Leonard Elschenbroich; at the Wigmore, she opened the Young Artists' Platform season with a mini-recital of Brahms and Liszt.
If piano trios are not as common as string quartets, it is partly because the trio repertoire is more limited, and this presumably lay behind their choice of Rachmaninov's rarely performed Trio élégiaque as an opener. It's a youthful work with a characteristically grand sweep, and these players gave it the best possible advocacy, with Wu as their anchor. The third movement of the Mendelssohn trio that followed had to go like the wind, but Wu's fearless pianism was well equal to that challenge. By winding up with Schubert's great Piano Trio in E flat, this fledgling ensemble showed that they mean business: their performance was reminiscent of the Beaux Arts Trio in its heyday.
Throughout that evening, Wu impressed by her sense of stylistic bienséance, subtly adjusting her touch to the composers' different demands. Beginning her Wigmore concert with Brahms's Sechs Klavierstücke, she showed that responsiveness again. If Brahms described these majestic pieces as "cradle songs of my sorrow", Wu rocked that cradle with such a Brahmsian hand that the emotions came across in close-up. After that came one of Liszt's "Petrarch Sonnets", followed by his 12th "Hungarian Rhapsody": perfect showcases for her formidable technique, but here short on the mercurial lightness to counteract the heavy-duty circus stuff.
The clarinettist Sarah Williamson and pianist Catherine Milledge provided the concert's second half, sandwiching Arc de soleil, a new work by Joseph Phibbs, between Poulenc's clarinet sonata and the salon brilliance of Weber's Grand Duo Concertant. Phibbs set out to explore the versatility both of the clarinet and of this superb player, an ambition realised in the fragmented, crystalline brightness of his piece.
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