Thursday, 21 April 2011

AZARIAH TAN'S Senior Recital / Some Reflections

AZARIAH TAN Senior Piano Recital

Conservatory Concert Hall / Wednesday (20 April 2011)

One thing that separates Conservatory students from other NUS students is that their final year exams get to be scrutinised by members of the public. Thank God nobody else but the examiners got to witness my fumbling through a case of tuberculosis and diabetes mellitus in my finals way back in 1989, which duly earned me six months of extra tuition. Nobody would also want to watch me excise a sebaceous cyst in the terminal stages of purulence, but music students will do nothing more than just delight whoever is fortunate to attend their senior recitals.

Young pianist Azariah Tan is one musician well worth watching out for. His senior recital presented two totally different works which exemplify his ability to perform in disparate genres. In what was possibly the Singapore premiere of Australian composer Carl Vine’s First Piano Sonata (1990), he brought out a brilliant range of colours and nuances. Its tonal, New Age, quasi-jazzy style fell comfortably within his able hands. Performing on a beautifully-voiced Steinway, the luxuriant harmonies of its quiet improvisatory introduction resonated like many facets of a polished gemstone. This was the contemplative lead-up to oncoming tidal waves of sound, overwhelming but not pulverising in its intensity. His mastery of the work’s violent shifts in dynamics was breathtaking, the glissandi and forearm clusters providing startling effects just at the right moment.

The second movement’s opening “wind over the graves” played with both hands, in prestissimo two octaves apart (after Chopin, Prokofiev and Ginastera), was chilling in its accuracy. Elsewhere, the bell-like sonorities recalling ancient chants of ages past and the distant birdcalls provided the much needed contrasts before the next onslaught from this keyboard tsunami. Lasting just under 20 minutes, this performance was a stunning display of someone clearly identifying with its idiom, shaded with amazing sensitivity and armed with remarkable endurance.

After a short interval, Azariah had changed from informal wear to concert attire for Robert Schumann’s monumental Fantasy in C major (Op.17), dedicated to Franz Liszt. He launched fearlessly into its heady pages with throes of passion. However this was not just a heart-on-sleeve confession of lovesickness but an intelligent reading as well. Never once over-pedalled, the utmost clarity from the left hand’s repetitive figurations was matched by the right hand’s statements of emphatic intent. In its pages, freshness and vitality radiated, tinged by a sense of world weariness. He certainly knows what “bittersweet” means, and judging by the well-written programme notes, he truly understood what Schumann’s separation from his beloved Clara meant.

The second movement’s imperious march of the Band of David was equally trenchant, never once allowing the pace to slacken. Its quixotic rhythmic shifts were easily overcome, and as always, one waited with baited breath for the chordal callisthenics and acrobatic octave leaps of the final pages. Like a showjumper, he cleared these with much aplomb. Alas, I had to miss the valedictory final movement, having to rush off to fetch my son from school. I also had to miss Liszt’s return gesture of his B minor Sonata to Schumann, played by Azariah’s classmate Akkra Y. From what I had witnessed, this young man deserves nothing less than a distinction (something which sadly eluded me in all my years at NUS).

Aza caught on CCTV

No comments: