Monday, 23 November 2009

Nocturnal Fantasies II: Piano Recital by ALBERT TIU / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Friday (20 November 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 23 November 2009.

The piano music of Chopin (below) is universally loved, whilst that of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) trails behind considerably, appreciated mostly by pianophiles, acolytes and mystics. Conservatory professor Albert Tiu’s coup in programming juxtaposed works of both pianist-composers, side by side and like for like, for comparison and contrast.

With tongue firmly in cheek, Chopin’s skittish Butterfly Étude (Op.25 No.9) prefaced Scriabin’s Mosquito Étude (Op.42 No.3), so named for its pesky triplet trills on the right hand. Never had comparative entomology and musicology so fortuitous a field day, boosted by Tiu’s rock secure technique and imaginative sense of shading.

Two Waltzes followed, both in the key of A flat major, Chopin’s exuberance balanced by Scriabin’s bittersweet musings. The Mazurkas, from different periods of the composers’ lives, struck a common vein of Slavic melancholy. Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie (Op.61) and Scriabin’s Sonata-Fantasie (Op.19) were united by a declamatory opening gesture, one falling while the other rising.

Never a hint of academism, this was gorgeously sensuous music performing with obvious passion and conviction. The smouldering Andante of the Scriabin (left) sonata, with its multiple interweaving lines, issued forth whispers of hidden voices. Innuendo turned into full-blown consummation with the ensuing Presto and its carnal outbursts.

The second half followed along this path of pairs, with rapidly flowing Préludes, the bel canto seamlessness of Nocturnes (including Scriabin’s gem for the left hand alone) and the seemingly improvisatory manner of Impromptus.

The most monumental pieces were left for last. The march-like decorum of Chopin’s Fantasy in F minor (Op.49) and its rhapsodic development were the perfect foil for Scriabin’s Fantasy in B minor (Op.28), surging with brooding and seething disquiet. In their soft centers lay a wellspring of melody, which Tiu tapped like a prospector of liquid gold.

His encores included a morsel of Scriabin, of course, and the ultimate of graceful encores, Godowsky’s delectable transcription of Saint-Saens’ The Swan. The latter evoked for this listener the cherished memory of Shura Cherkassky (left) in his 1994 Singapore recital. When excellence of execution meets inspiration, the results are rarely forgotten.

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