Thursday, 29 October 2009

ANIMATO Piano Recital by Students of Benjamin Loh / Review

Piano Recital by Students of Benjamin Loh
Esplanade Recital studio
Sunday (25 October 2009, 4 pm)

Student recitals can be dodgy affairs. I recently attended a recital given by a 14-year-old student of a rather prominent locally-based piano pedagogue, where the Sonata in B minor of Franz Liszt was literally massacred. What in heaven’s name is a fresh wet-behind-the-ears teenager doing with one of the great repertoire works besides making a complete mess of it? And why? That was damaging enough for the student’s fragile ego, and even more so for the reputation of the teacher.

Thankfully, Benjamin Loh (left) – one of Singapore’s top piano teachers in private practice – has enough sense to showcase only concert-worthy talents in a public recital. All 19 students who performed in Animato! are certainties for distinctions in their ABRSM exams, and some have the potential of going even further.

There was a good variety of music heard over two hours, from Bach to Sculthorpe, from slower meditative pieces to outright showstoppers. The emphasis was not just on technical proficiency, but about shaping beautiful phrases and producing a lovely tone on a Steinway grand.

Space forbids a mention of every young pianist on show, but there were standouts. First, the “tiny brigade” of primary school boys paraded their wares with confidence – Jonathan Chua in the quicksilver Preludium from Bach’s English Suite No.2, Ryan Quek in Copland’s The Cat and the Mouse, Abel Ling in Ginastera’s Rondo on Argentinian Children’s Folk Songs and Gavin Bala (left) in Chopin’s G sharp minor Polonaise (Op. posth), the last wearing an infectious smile as he revelled in the filigree of repeated notes. The first serious contender was Luther Yap who impressed in the variegated colours coaxed from Peter Sculthorpe’s Night Pieces.

The girls also fared very well. Aileen Gozali (left) was a paradigm of good taste and fluidity in Mozart’s Sonata in D major K.576 (1st movement). Sim Shao Jean was all rhythm and spice in Ginastera’s Suite de Danzas Criollas, an all-round excellent showpiece. Yvonne Teo plumbed the inner secrets of Fauré’s Nocturne in B major (Op.33 No.2) while Rebecca Low did not flinch in the onslaught of notes provided by Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses. For out and out display, Chua Shan Jee’s bravura effort in the Moszkowski’s Caprice Espagnol took some beating. All she needs is to take a leaf or two from Stephen Hough’s irrepressible recording.

Leaving the best for the last, China-born Zhao Yang Ming Tian gave a magisterial reading of Tchaikovsky’s Dumka, one that brought out every ounce of Slavic pathos thought possible. While technically unimpeachable, where had he learnt to emote, brood and barnstorm like a Russian? Some of the credit will have to go to klaviermeister Benjamin Loh, of course, and the rest from – something not taught in the classroom or studio – pure inspiration.

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