Wednesday, 1 June 2011

POETIC FANTASIES / Zhao Yang Ming Tian Piano Recital / Review

POETIC FANTASIES / Zhao Yang Ming Tian, Piano
Esplanade Recital Studio / Monday (30 March 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 June 2011 with the title "Chinese teen talent shines with poetic brilliance".

Ever wondered what celebrity pianists Lang Lang and Li Yundi were like before they became really famous? Besides being better musicians, they probably possessed a certain innocence and humility that readily came across in their prodigious playing, far removed from the artifice that comes with hype.

17-year-old Chinese pianist Zhao Yang Ming Tian, originally from the island of Hainan, looks destined for bigger things when he departs Singapore for further studies in the United States. Those fortunate to have heard the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts student (a pupil of Benjamin Loh) will readily attest to his stylish playing, finesse of execution and fidelity to the score.

That is not to say he is slavish or pedantic, rather quite the opposite, where the music allows his artistry to take wing and soar. His farewell recital was full of such moments. Two very different Scarlatti Sonatas elicited diametric responses, a velvety sheen with generous pedalling sat comfortably with a rapier-sharp staccato technique.

In Mozart’s F major Sonata (K.332), fine legato lines he drew were as delicious as the prestidigitation in the stormy finale was blindingly brilliant. Two Chopin Mazurkas danced with invigorating and rustic lilt to the manner born, and the last five Chopin Préludes (from Op.28) encapsulated a wealth poetry and drama scarcely thought possible in such a short span of time.

Ravel’s insidious Valses nobles et sentimentales came across as slightly undercooked, but there was no denying the incisive thought, care for loving detail and nuance showered on the eight miniatures. The last three works demonstrated Zhao’s clear sympathy for Slavic music. Tchaikovsky’s Dumka, his trusty warhorse, reflected sadness and nostalgia through a series of increasingly virtuosic variations, topped with a spellbinding cadenza. One has seldom heard this better performed.

Somehow, Zhao got to the heart and soul of Bartok’s Three Folksongs from The Csik District, its Magyar accents and inflections almost like a second tongue to him. There was to be no vulgar showboating for the crowd-pleaser in Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody. He played it straight and effect was no less spectacular.

Multiple curtain calls and cheers ensured three encores. The gorgeous cantabile in Chopin’s D flat major Nocturne (Op.27 No.2) left few dry eyes, while Earl Wild’s dizzying transcription of Fascinating Rhythm had the house in raptures. Singapore can be proud to have hosted this outsize talent for the last two years.

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