Monday, 28 June 2010

CHOPIN AT 200 / Singapore International Piano Festival 2010 / Review


Singapore International Piano Festival 2010

Victoria Concert Hall

Wednesday to Saturday

(23-26 June 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 June 2010.

The music of Frédéric Chopin was purportedly the uniting theme of this year’s PianoFest. However under the watch of new Artistic Director Lionel Choi, the sub-plot of showcasing the instrument’s newest glittering names took a firm hold. In a line-up with shades of the 2001 edition (21st Century Pianists), the young and gifted illuminated a bright and promising future for the art of piano performance.

Whatever one has heard of China’s Yuja Wang in print, gossip or youtube, it is all true. At 23, her waif-like physical stature and guileless demeanor belied a thoughtful and often profound interpreter with devastating technical facility. Antithesis to the swaying and swooning Lang Lang, her ramrod straight posture and complete lack of affectation or extraneous effects rendered the range of sounds she produced all the more incredulous. Whether barnstorming Chopin’s Funeral March Sonata, teasing out singing lines in three Schubert-Liszt song transcriptions, or pummeling the life out of the Steinway grand in Prokofiev’s incendiary Sixth Sonata, every quantum was in service of the music. In the set of short pieces by Scriabin, her ability to negotiate between smouldering calm and outright violence within the space of seconds was uncanny and breathtaking. The full-house audience at the first evening was left wondering whether they had just witnessed the heir-apparent to legends like Horowitz or Argerich.

Six years younger was the Briton Benjamin Grosvenor, cradle-snatched for his Singapore début on Friday evening. Despite a slight awkwardness in stage deportment, everything he did suggested a close-to-formed artist rather than former child prodigy. Three of Nikolai Kapustin’s jazzy Concert Études served as delicious finger-warmers before the main course. His Chopin, two Nocturnes book-ending the Third Scherzo, juxtaposed seamless cantabile with scintillation and immaculate octave-work. Ravel’s devilish Gaspard de la nuit bristled, not just with stunning note-perfection but a multi-layered appreciation of its three movements; the variegated rippling of Ondine, desolation in Le Gibet and Scarbo’s impish malevolence. The mighty Liszt B Minor Sonata unleashed a young lion’s appetite for blood, reveling in arch virtuosity and stampeding pages, often pushed to the limit. Further years of experience might temper his approach but hopefully not quell the inner fire. In the meantime, let us all exult in Grosvenor’s youthful exuberance.

In his early forties, Polish-born Piotr Anderszewski, who first appeared at PianoFest in 1997, is a veteran by comparison. Chopin was conspicuously absent from his well-balanced programme, in its place the pervasive spirit of J.S.Bach. As always, Anderszewski’s Bach is a thing of beauty. The English Suite No.5 brought out all these qualities: mastery of counterpoint, bell-like ringing clarity and rhythmic vitality in its seven movements. Completely different was Pole Karol Szymanowski’s Metopes, three impressionistic visions of Grecian maidens of mythology, fair and foul. An antidote to Ravel’s Ondine, these were seductive in a hypnotic and oblique manner, abetted by Anderszewski’s sensitive, tactile pianism that ranged from fleeting whispers to an orgiastic frenzy. Schumann’s Six Canonic Studies (Op.56) and Beethoven’s penultimate A flat major Sonata (Op.110) completed the picture, music hewn from common inspirations and carved out with the most crystalline of timbres. Never a harsh sound to be heard, Anderszewski turned sobbing lament in the sonata’s 3rd movement aria into a victory of hope and affirmation. It was this human and anti-virtuosic quality that made this recital the most satisfying of all. The next edition of Asia’s premier piano festival cannot come soon enough.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is yuja returning to Singapore anytime soon ?