Monday, 4 July 2011

TAN AND SEE PIANO DUO Asian Début / Review

The Chamber @ The Arts House
Friday (1 July 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 4 July 2011 with the title "20th-century exuberance"

On the subject of a piano duo formed by a Singaporean and Malaysian, one invariably thinks of the tandem of Dennis Lee and Toh Chee Hung, who have enthralled local audiences over the past few decades. Now meet their counterparts of the next generation, Penang-born Amy Tan with Singaporean See Chee Hang, for their Asian debut in a two-hour long concert.

Both are students of Charleston College in South Carolina, and their one-year-old duo has already graced the stages of USA and Europe. A successful duo partnership takes years to mature and bear fruit, so relative inexperience may explain why their opening piece, Mozart’s D major Sonata for two pianos (K.448) sounded undercooked.

With such transparent textures and limpid thematic lines on show, any weakness in coordination and inaccuracies are cruelly exposed. This was evident in each of its three movements, and the unequally yoked pianos – one sounded metallic and brittle while the other mellow – did not help. Music for two pianos is also a form of chamber music, where compatibility in sound and timbre is paramount.

There was also inequality in the piano trio segments, where both Tan and See were each partnered with different string players. See had the benefit of more experienced musicians in violinist Ye Zhi and cellist Brandon Voo in Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No.1, which was a mellifluous romp from start to finish. Tan was less fortunate with her younger partners in Rachmaninov’s early Trio Elegiaque No.1, which despite some passionate moments was curiously stolid.

It got better when the duo performed 20th century music. Shostakovich’s Concertino was an exercise of lyricism married with athleticism, and their sense of drive and momentum was invigorating. In the brief Sonata for 4 hands by Poulenc, its Stravinsky-influenced rhythms and neoclassical counterpoint were perfectly judged for a taut and water-tight reading.

The handsome-looking duo performed most of the pieces from memory, and it was a marvel how Astor Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango, full of insinuating harmonic shifts and the ever-pervasive pulse, held so well together. Their exuberance and flair was rewarded with enthusiastic applause, and the samba-inspired encore of Milhaud’s Brasileira from Scaramouche cued ever more cheers. Give Tan and See a few more years of working together, and their act could become a truly outstanding one.

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