Saturday, 19 September 2009

Erik T. Tawaststjerna Piano Recital / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert hall
Thursday (17 September 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 19 September 2009.

The piano music of the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is hardly ever heard in these parts, so it was a pleasure to have his compatriot and authority Erik T. Tawaststjerna present these in concert. Unlike in the symphonic works, the pianistic Sibelius was best as a miniaturist. His salon-like morceaux are masterful character pieces, filled with simple charm and unusual colour.

Tawaststjerna’s selection of three varied Impromptus (from Op.3) displayed a variegated palette of shades, from solemn chords projected with an organ-like sonority, through folk-like rusticity to scintillating finger work recalling some limpid brooklet. The repeated note technique in the Caprice (Op.24 No.3) also suggested Sibelius might have been familiar with Moszkowski’s Caprice Espagnol.

Perhaps better known is the Romance in D flat major (Op.24 No.9) with its hymn-like melody, brilliant cadenza and epic climax, which Tawaststjerna delivered with great aplomb. Sibelius’ (left) own piano transcription of his biggest hit Finlandia was probably fiscally motivated. The heavy chords, rumbling tremolos, cascading arpeggios and dizzying trills could never replicate its orchestral glory, but its central chorale (Be Still My Soul or Finland Awakes, whichever language one sings it) had a touching poignancy.

The Scandinavian first half closed with Grieg’s early Sonata in E major (Op.7), which sounded overlong by half, but salvaged by a lovely slow movement that had the same innocent and timeless quality as his Lyric Pieces.

The Chopin selection was the least successful part of the recital. While dark clouds and an inner rage distinguished the Nocturne in C sharp minor (Op.27 No.1), its counterpart in G major (Op.37 No.2) sounded stodgy and laboured. Lapses and missed notes blighted the three Waltzes (of Op.64, including the supposedly facile Minute Waltz), ample proof that there is no such thing as easy Chopin.

Liszt fared better; the Third Consolation displayed clear lines and a certain nobility, while St Francis Walking On The Waves (from Two Legends) thundered imperiously in its heroic but effortful strides. For the final word in simulated bravura, Manuel de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance reveled in mesmerising trills and stamping chords.

Sonic gold dust returned in the sole encore, with The Spruce (Op.75 No.5) by the man of the hour, none other than Sibelius. Simply delectable from Tawaststjerna’s hands, one wished more of this Finnish finesse.

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