Wednesday, 13 January 2010

POOMZ! Piano Prodigies by Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts / Review

NAFA Auditorium
Tuesday (12 January 2010)

What does one make of a recital entitled Piano Prodigies? Hyperbole or mere wishful thinking? To the credit of the Department of Keyboard Studies at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art, neither; this hour-long recital by their foreign student talents came close to the real thing.
The 16-year-old whiz from Hainan Island (China), Zhao Yang Ming Tian (above), looks every bit of a keyboard veteran. Opening with a commanding account of Granados’ Allegro de Concierto, roulades of notes flew in its fanfare-like introduction, immaculately tossed off with a facility and lightness that impressed. Blessed with the ability to relax and withhold, and later pile on the notes upon demand, he strikes the listener as a thinking and feeling musician, not an automaton. Easily negotiating a variety of tricky octave passages, and with melodic interest never lost amid the busy guitar-like figurations, these were further plusses. Refreshing in his lack of mannerism, I would much sooner hear Zhao than some chap called Lang Lang.

Mop-topped Nguyen Tien Khai from Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam, above), performed the Vivace third movement from Prokofiev’s Sonata No.8 in B flat major (Op.84). The least savage of his trilogy of War Sonatas, its finale was nonetheless a rapid-fire over barbed-wire exercise in keyboard prowess. Nguyen has the notes, and her Kalashnikov-like attack propelled the music forward with much impetus and volume. However this devilish perpetual motion needs to have more nuance and contour to mean something. A good build-up of momentum was maintained in the central goosestep of staccatos, but the grandstand ending was a mad scramble with missed notes aplenty. I would have much preferred to hear this personable young lady in the sonata’s far more expressive first movement.

All this served as the “undercard” to the “main event” from NAFA alumnus Poom Prommachart (Thailand, above), now a student at London’s Royal College of Music. With a boyish grin, he thanked the organisers of the recital and launched into Rachmaninov’s √Čtude-tableau in E flat minor (Op.39 No.5). Not the cleanest of readings, it nevertheless had the smouldering melodic line down pat, and reached a towering climax with the inner voice raging above the torrent of chords.

Schumann’s eight-movement Kreisleriana (Op.16) crowned a satisfying evening. A false start notwithstanding, his passionate and fearless leap into its thorny thickets showed he meant business. Combining nimble fingers and deeply felt emotions, he was deep within the heart of the hyper-Romantic music. To this, he brought wide-ranging colours and big gestures, reveling in its turbulent pages yet in always touch with a more tender side. This is a portrait of a poet madly in love, but can a mere 20-year-old be privy to that? Poom exercised that right with generosity and gusto, with the ability to quixotically shift and alternate moods being the secret to understanding this musical roller-coaster.

There were no Singaporeans featured in this recital. No matter, our schools are privileged to have been part of the musical education of these musical prodigies. POOMZ, and triple POOMZ!

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