Friday, 3 July 2009

4th Singapore International Piano Pedagogy Symposium: William Westney Piano Recital / Review

Piano Recital by
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory
Friday (26 June 2009)

Performances at the 4th Singapore International Piano Pedagogical Symposium may be excused for taking on a didactic slant. Par to the course, American pianist and lecturer William Westney’s recital began on a scholarly note. Johann Friedrich Burgmüller (1806-1874) is probably best known by piano students - and their beleaguered teachers - as the faceless German composer of keyboard studies and graded exam pieces.

However under Westney’s hands (left), a string of ten supposedly hackneyed Characteristic Studies Op.109 may be viewed in a different light. Various technical devices were explored, mirrored in their picturesque titles: silky right hand scales in Pearls, playful grace notes and staccato playing in Sylphs, and a seamless cantabile in Gondolier’s Refrain. Schumann-like in melodic appeal, these were not without charm and even delighted with the odd show of student-ish virtuosity.

Gradus ad Parnassus, albeit in big strides, Westney scaled the rarefied sound world of Gabriel Fauré with a Nocturne and Impromptu. Despite their dreamy Chopinesque titles, perfume-scented harmonies, piquant textures and dynamic twists belied an inner agitation and turmoil which he delivered with much aplomb.

Following Fauré, the transition to George Shearing’s bluesy strains in his arrangement of Harold Arlen’s Over The Rainbow became almost a natural progression. The Bartokian opening to Earl Wild’s take on Gershwin’s Fascinatin’ Rhythm also provoked ripples of mirth, as it lurched and insinuated its way to increasing tipsiness.

Still with Wild (left), the nonagenarian American legend’s greatest transcription is arguably his Fantasy on Porgy and Bess, an operatic conflation equal to the best of Liszt and Thalberg. Westney’s grandstanding performance brought out all the glorious melodies from Gershwin’s opera (Summertime, It Ain’t Necessarily So) in a medley which employed the jazzy sequence Jasbo Brown Blues as a Promenade à la Mussorgsky.

Like a laugh-a-minute stand-up comic, he also revelled in its naughty bits, including outrageous forearm clusters in I Got Plenty O Nuttin’ and a sly quotation from Wagner’s Tristan And Isolde just before Oh Lawd, I’m On My Way. Totally relaxed and unstuffy, it was refreshing to see piano teachers – both performer and listeners – sharing in the fun.

The 4th Singapore International Piano Pedagogy Symposium was organised by the Singapore Music Teachers Association (SMTA).

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