Friday, 21 January 2011


Esplanade Concert Hall
Wednesday (19 January 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times
on 21 January 2o11 with the title
"Lovely homecoming for Melvyn Tan".

About ten years ago, BBC Music Magazine published a list of 100 most influential people in classical music. There were two Singapore-born personalities, Melvyn Tan being one of them (Vanessa Mae was the other). Then the London-based pianist was universally renowned for the fortepiano, the piano’s antiquated forerunner. But he had also been playing the modern instrument, and dreaming of a trip back home.

What a glorious return in his first recital here since the 1970s, especially for a generation of Singaporeans who have never seen him perform “live”. Playing a mostly Romantic programme, it was both an emotional and historic event. One might say this was a Singaporean version of Vladimir Horowitz’s momentous 1986 return to Russia.

Schumann’s music opened, and a more pearly and intimate sound would have been hard to imagine in Des Abends (Evenings), the first of eight Fantasy Pieces Op.12. Such was his total mastery of the 9-foot Steinway, every caress of the fingers shaped with the same care and conviction as storms and stresses raging within these mini-epics.

Contrasting muses of Florestan and Eusebius, alternating agitation with calm, were evoked. In der Nacht (In The Night) recounted a perilous sea voyage, far removed from the love declaration in Ende vom Lied (Song’s End), but Tan’s keen sense of storytelling knew little bounds.

A different sound palette coloured Debussy’s first book of Images. Seldom has the sustaining pedal been employed to such liquid effect, that Reflets dans l'eau (Reflections on the Water) took on a shimmering luminescent glow. The feathery lightness of Mouvement defied gravity, spinning effortlessly into a distant horizon.

Tan’s Chopin had a touch of the impetuous. Refuting the common but misplaced notion that Chopin was sickly and effete, he presented two late works as statements of fortitude tinged with bittersweet regret. There was no naval-gazing in the Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major (Op.61). Its directness was apt, as was the gentle but insistent polonaise rhythm, ebbing and flowing before a heroic close.

Similarly urgent was the popular Third Sonata in B minor (Op.58), which had none of the indolence or faux-profundity through protractedness that some younger pianists prefer. An oasis of respite was provided by the well-judged slow movement, before the mighty finale’s gale-force swept one and all away.

Two Chopin √Čtudes (Op.10 Nos.8 & 12) served as virtuoso encores but special place will go to the little Andante from Mozart’s Sonate-Facile in C major (K.545), which Tan reminisced having last played it as “an 8-year-old in Victoria Theatre,” and that, “the simplest things were also the most beautiful”. How right he was.
Fantaisie Melvyn Tan Live! was presented by CultureLink.

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