Hitting the right notes

Tyler Hay, a talented 19-year-old pianist studying at the Royal Northern College of Music (studying on a double full scholarship) presented a formidable programme in his recital at St. Catherine’s College Music House last week: Beethoven’s Sonata in E Major Opus 109 and Chopin’s 12 etudes opus 25, both pieces meaning serious business for pianists twice his age. Hay however made even the most tricky moments look like child’s play, tackling the programme with spellbinding virtuosity and natural poise.

The Beethoven begins with lyrical interplay between upper and lower voices, and gradually expands through to the virtuosic fugal writing of the tuneful symphonic second movement. Hay bought out independent lines with great clarity, and climaxes were truly thrilling due to underlying dynamic and textural control. The third movement, a remarkable theme and variations, saw Hay relax and relish the beauty of the theme’s first hearing. The rest was played with assurance throughout, although the audience were so enraptured we did not know when to clap, resulting in a segue to the Chopin!

The Chopin op. 25 possesses less famous numbers than the op. 10 (which contains the ‘Black keys’ and ‘Revolutionary’ études), but for me demonstrates Chopin’s maturing as a composer, telling more of a coherent ‘story’, and bearing more emotional baggage as opposed to sheer flashiness. The first étude is a graceful introduction (nicknamed ‘Aeolian harp’), and the next is typical Chopin: subdued bouncing left hand accompaniment with the right hand running off at manic speeds into the distance. Hay brought out the sonorous qualities of the bass throughout, which is particularly satisfying in Chopin, also allowing moments for reflection at breaks in the music.

At times the sheer ease of the performance made you wish for more of a struggle, particularly in the monumental 7th étude, to make the most of the dramatic corners and climaxes; it bordered on emotionally detached at times. However, the sheer virtuosity and drama of the 11th and 12th (‘Ocean’) études swept us off our feet, drawing the concert to a rapturous close. Hay then gave a captivating talk about one of his inspirations, the little-known pianist Terence Judd who took his own life, followed by a palate-cleansing encore from JS Bach’s sixth Partita. Such a remarkable level of technical assurance at a young age gives Hay the maximum potential to develop as an artist; he’s definitely one to watch closely.