Thursday, 10 November 2011

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Piano Concerto Competition Final / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory
Tuesday (8 November 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 10 November 2011 with the title "Touching hearts with finesse and ferocity".

Committed piano-fanciers will point to one annual event that is a “must attend” – the final of the Conservatory’s piano concerto competition. The chance to experience four full-length piano concertos (accompanied by second piano) in a single sitting, performed by the brightest young talents here is not one to be easily dismissed.

As with previous years, the familiar sits happily with rarely performed numbers of the repertoire. It is not every day one gets to hear Bartok’s thorny Second Piano Concerto, and one played with such finesse and ferocity as the American Lawrence Holmefjord-Sarabi.

These descriptions may seem paradoxical, but his incisive attack on its relentless procession of notes was awe-inspiring, the violent outer movements contrasting with the slow movement’s quiet reverence. Yet in a flash, he can transform apparent religiosity into tongues of flames, amply demonstrated in the mysterious night music segment.

Altogether different was Indonesian Budianda Tioanda’s account of Mozart’s congenial Piano Concerto No.23, a respite for the senses. The arch simplicity of its flowing lines found a sympathetic ear in this sensitive artist, who mined poetry in its pages and relieved the joie de vivre of its ebullient finale. The lilting slow movement was a particular pleasure to behold.

The American Edward MacDowell’s Second Piano Concerto may be accused of too much eclecticism, having assimilated the styles of Liszt, Grieg, Saint-SaĆ«ns and Dvorak in its musings. The only lady finalist, Bina Jung from New Zealand, had heft and power to surmount its massive chords and octaves, with nimbleness and wit to colour its scintillating passages with a plethora of shades. The seeming episodic nature of her solo part shouted for a live orchestra to accompany her, but there was never a boring second.

The sentimental favourite had to be Singapore’s own Clarence Lee in Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. From the word go, his was a big-boned account, with heart unabashedly worn on sleeve. He went for outsized gestures, but always had a special place for its bittersweet lyricism, drawing out the melodies with much tenderness. His rapport with accompanist Matthew Mak was almost telepathic, drawing the work to a rapturous close.

While this reviewer’s vote went to Holmefjord-Sarabi and Lee, it was Jung who claimed top prize from the solitary judge, the Polish-Swiss pianist Tomasz Herbut. No matter, all four pianists had it in them to touch hearts and change lives.

The piano finalists (from L to R): Lawrence Holmefjord-Sarabi, Clarence Lee, Budianda Tioanda and winner Bina Jung.

1 comment:

Chang Tou Liang said...

This was my 1000th article about classical music which I wrote for The Straits Times. Ever since I began reviewing and previewing in 1997, I have always felt the need to increase the coverage and presence of classical music in our national daily.

For the record, the 1000 articles have included 409 concert reviews, 562 record reviews, with the rest made up by book reviews, previews, short articles and annual round-ups. Here's to the next thousand!