Saturday, 12 November 2011

A CHOPIN SOIRÉE by Yao Xiao Yun / Review

Yao Xiao Yun, Piano
Singapore Conference Hall
Thursday (10 November 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 12 November 2011 with the title "Sounds of youthful exuberance".

It is always interesting to chart the progress of a young artist through the course of time. In 2005, the Shanghai-born pianist Yao Xiao Yun won first prize in the Open Section of the National Piano Competition after several years of study at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Her prodigiousness and facility, already evident in those early years, have blossomed into the more enduring values of mature musicianship.

Her all-Chopin recital was proof that institutional life as a teacher of young prodigies in her alma mater was no impediment to having a rewarding concert life as well. Beginning with the rarely performed Rondo à la Mazur (Op.5), written by a teenaged Chopin, it seemed that youthful over-exuberance manifested by fast flying fingers would prevail.

Sounding rushed and clipped in phrases, contours were blurred and the thrust of the music blunted. Perhaps it was a case of nerves from the pint-sized dynamo, so eager to please a well-filled hall, but it soon settled with two contrasting waltzes and the sublime Barcarolle (Op.60). In the latter, her singing line, gliding over a lilting accompaniment, was a pleasure, matched by the filigreed finery of its final pages.

In a well thought-out selection of 12 Préludes from the Op.28 set, she brought forth a wealth of colour and emotions. Deliberate omitting the more extended and familiar numbers (the “Raindrop”, for example), there was more scope for contrast, concluding imperiously with the fury and cascading thirds of the final D minor Prélude.

By now fully warmed up, the four Ballades in the second half were jewels in the crown. The epic voyage Yao took her listeners on was as eventful as it was technically assured. In these poetic essays, mere accuracy was just the starting point of true artistry. Her sound was well projected, emoting in the bittersweet lament of the First Ballade, while ably alternating violently contrasting emotions of the Second Ballade.

The emotional temperature of both Third and Fourth Ballades were gradually stoked and brought to feverish climaxes to close. The fearless headlong dive into the treacherous codas was a case of maximum risk-taking, but she came out with all guns blazing. Her encore of the serene Chinese nocturne, Autumn Moon On Calm Lake, concluded a thoroughly satisfying outing. Brava!
A touching moment: Yao Xiao Yun presents her principal teacher in Singapore, Prof. Yu Chun Yee, with a floral bouquet.

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