Friday, 5 February 2010

3rd Singapore Chamber Music Festival: SCHUMANN & CHOPIN / Review

3rd Singapore Chamber Music Festival
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory
Wednesday (3 February 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 5 February 2010.

The third concert at the 3rd Singapore Chamber Music Festival was a dual celebration of Robert Schumann and Frederic Chopin. Both composers were close friends and shared the same year of birth: 1810.

Schumann (left) composed only one piano quintet, in E flat major (Op.47), and what a masterpiece it is. Allying a richness of melodic interest and undercurrents of tension, it comes close to the definitive Romantic chamber work. And it received a deservedly whole-hearted treatment from the Philippines-born pianist Albert Tiu and the T’ang Quartet, in its original line-up with Lionel Tan returning on viola.

Colleagues and long–time collaborators since the Conservatory opened, the five launched an incisive attack on its Allegro brillante opening, releasing a wellspring of heartfelt emotions. Schumann was one to wear his intense feelings heart-on-sleeve. Replete with waxing and waning, this was exploited fully in its march-like slow movement and the Scherzo’s furious cascade of scales.

The finale, a delightful study in counterpoint and precision playing, was positively riveting, culminating with a fugal tour de force that recalled the momentous ending of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. If the performance was impressive, the second half proved to be an added treat.

The chamber version of Chopin’s First Piano Concerto in E minor (Op.11) received its Singapore premiere, in a piano quintet version specially arranged by Tiu. Removing the double bass part and trimming off the piano’s contribution in the tutti sections, the string quartet became the de facto orchestra.

This newfound transparency and clarity allowed the scintillating piano part to further stand out, and Tiu was more than up to the task. His combination of spellbinding virtuosity and seamless cantabile, the very hallmarks of Chopin playing, was transcendent through the three movements. Credit to the ever-sensitive T’ang Quartet too, that Chopin’s often-derided original orchestration was hardly missed.

The quintet then let down their collective hair in a luxuriant performance of Astor Piazzolla’s tango Oblivion. If two excellent evenings in the company of Schumann and Chopin within five days is not an embarrassment of riches, one wonders what is.

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