Sunday, 18 January 2009

Victor Khor plays Radiohead / Review

SMU Arts & Culture Centre
Thursday (15 January 2009)

This review appeared in The Straits Times on 17 January 2008.

From the intrepid Singaporean pianist Victor Khor, one can only expect the unexpected. The Moscow and Manchester trained maverick was the first local to attempt Bach’s Goldberg Variations in concert, and has attracted notoriety for his programming quirks*.

His latest recital, part of Singapore Management University’s Arts Festival, comprised an hour wholly of ten Radiohead songs transcribed by renowned American classical pianist Christopher O’Riley, a former prizewinner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

Metamorphoses or transformations are probably more appropriate words to describe these transcriptions, which are a world apart from the British alternative rock band’s melancholic and angst-laden songs. However without the lyrics, arresting titles like Subterranean Homesick Alien, How I Made My Millions and Fake Plastic Trees are rendered meaningless.

Mellifluous melody was never a strong suit with Radiohead (left), and climactic swells tend to be in short supply. So what goes into each treatment is a ceaselessly pulsing bedrock of rhythms, upon which a mélange of figurations and harmonic progressions, steeped in contemporary writing language is grafted upon. There are many dissonances, but these are never jarring, instead imbued with ear-catching piquancy.

Is this classical, pop, rock, New Age or minimalist piano? Perhaps a little of all of these; hear the thick chordal sequences of There There, or the gamelan-like tinkling in Let Down that gathers decibels from its nocturnal opening to its voluminous surge of a climax. And what of the repetitious ostinato in Like Spinning Plates, crafted like a Spanish fandango or the sensitive music box approach to the familiar B flat minor strains of No Surprises?

O’Riley’s ever-inventive takes were well matched by Khor resourceful pianism, which sounded almost improvised on the spot despite playing from a well-thumbed score. He also brought out a wide palette of the music’s colours from the dance studio’s 6-foot Bohemia grand, even if the latter was not the most subtle or supple of instruments.

His little encore - Schumann’s Traumerei - came like a fresh after-dinner mint, bringing this sleeper of a recital to a delightful close.

* Victor Khor's earlier programmes have juxtaposed Alban Berg and Schumann sonatas with Borodin and Lyapunov. He was also the first to perform Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit with recitations of Aloysius Bertrand's poems, programmed alongside Grieg's Lyric Pieces and Prokofiev's Eighth Sonata. A 2008 recital featured Erkki-Sven Tüür, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Radiohead-O'Riley. Quirky enough for you?

1 comment:

Christopher O'Riley said...

i was alerted to this review by my google alert.
i am honoured that victor khor has deemed my arrangements worthy of his considerable gifts, and actually somewhat heartened by the mention of his playing these from score: even after a few years, i myself can only keep track of a couple of the pieces by memory, there being so many quasi-random figurations (more in the service of exemplifying the extra-musical sounds of the drums and electric guitar) as well as the ever-present idea that, being arrangements, i'm constantly revising them (not drastically) and each new piece makes me revisit the old ones with critical eye/ear.
i am encouraged and flattered by dr. chang's intuitive and highly evocative descriptions and reactions to the work.
best wishes to you both, and deepest thanks,
christopher o'riley