Thursday, 28 January 2010

Chopin Celebration Concert / NAFA Piano Faculty / Review

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts
Tuesday (26 January 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 29 January 2010.

The first concert in commemoration of Frederic Chopin’s bicentenary this year was delivered by piano faculty members of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Featuring seven pianists in nine works, there was fair polish (pardon the pun) and bounteous poetry, even if the passion quotient came up somewhat short.
The main draw was the four Ballades, exquisite tone poems and arguably Chopin’s finest essays. Performed in sequence, they amount to a substantial “fourth” sonata. The two most familiar, No.1 in G minor (Op.23) and No.4 in F minor (Op.52), received tasteful and unmannered accounts from Rena Phua and Benjamin Loh respectively. All went singingly until the tempestuous and treacherous codas, where both struggled and teetered on the edge of calamity and collapse.

Phua returned to better vibes in the less hazardous Ballade No.3 in A flat major (Op.47), which built up to a fine climax without hitting further speed bumps. It was left to the Montenegrin Boris Kraljevic to highlight the stark contrasts in Ballade No. 2 in F major (Op.38), alternating between a serene Siciliano rhythm and outright violence. His Slavic temperament to go for broke was a definite plus.

The recital’s first half showcased Chopin’s shorter but no less heartfelt pieces. The dark and meditative Nocturnes combined smooth bel canto lines with seething disquiet. These were apparent in Lena Ching’s reading of the C sharp minor Nocturne (Op.27 No.1), which was intimate although operating on a smallish sound palette. A pity that the auditorium’s air conditioning also displayed some Chopin-like behaviour by unpredictably droning noisily during the quiet passages.

Lim Tshui Fang’s view of the C minor Nocturne (Op.48 No.1) lacked power and projection, while Ernest Lim’s Impromptu No.3 (Op.51) was a tad too deliberate. Both seemed to opt for safety first over fearless audacity. The lovely Berceuse (Op.57), with its unwavering left hand accompaniment and right hand ornaments, however found a sympathetic guide in Kraljevic.

The best all-round performance came from Ng Chong Lim, who invested a special alchemy to the Three Mazurkas (Op.59). Elegant and well articulated, these dance miniatures pulsated with life, with every detail lovingly brought out. Melancholy, exultation and agitation, all encapsulated within 9 vital minutes, were quintessential Chopin, sine qua non.
The NAFA piano faculty (from L): Kraljevic,
Phua, Ng, T.F.Lim, E.Lim, Ching & Loh.

If I may be permitted to play schoolmaster and grade the performances as if it were a term paper, here are the "grades" (not published in the papers):
Op.31: B-
Op.27 No.1: B+
Op.48 No.1: C+
Op.57: B+
Op.59: A
Op.23: B- (C for coda)
Op.38: B+
Op.47: B+
Op.52: B (C for coda)
Do I get an apple for my efforts?

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