Sunday, 8 January 2012

DREAMING DEBUSSY / Melvyn Tan Piano Recital / Review

National Museum Exhibition Galleries
Thursday (5 January 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 7 January 2012 with the title "Dreams with Debussy".

Holding recitals in art galleries is not a new idea, even in Singapore. About 12 years ago, Esplanade organised Music Box, a festival featuring young musicians within art spaces of the Singapore Art Museum. Nevertheless the move to present four pairs of concerts on “impressionist” music, showcasing the cream of local talent alongside the Dream & Reality exhibition of Musée d’Orsay art treasures was an inspired one.

The music of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel would surely gain an added resonance when heard within the gaze of canvasses by Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir. Held within the biggest chamber which seated 180 comfortably on four sides around the piano, the setting was one of intimacy. However the high ceiling and dry acoustic did little to enhance the sonic bloom of the Steinway grand, which was made to sound diffuse, even brittle.

This however did little to deter Melvyn Tan, who clearly has a special affinity for Debussy. He is a master colourist, with a palette of rainbow shades, and multitudes of nuances to make each piece and turn of phrase come alive. The recital began with Suite Bergamasque, a longing look at French dances of antiquity.

The Menuet was crisply danced, while the Passepied scampered with a playful elegance. The centrepiece was surely Clair de lune; the moonlit nocturne found an iridescent glow in Tan’s hands, while its harp-like figurations glided as smoothly as a hand running through silk.

The main course was the First Book of 12 Préludes, which were as varied as the paintings themselves. Superb pedalling and control ensured that much of the multi-layered textures were discerned with great clarity, as the opening solemn procession of Danseuses des Delphes (Delphian Dancers) proved.

Even in a subject as elusive as the wind, there was much scope for fantasy. In Voiles (Sails), a fluttering caress was raised by a gentle breeze. Contrast that with Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest (What The West Wind Saw), which had the violence of a force ten gale. Immediately following this was the popular La fille aux cheveux de lin (Girl with the Flaxen Hair), whose utter simplicity was hard to resist.

The final two Préludes were equally gripping in different ways. Le danse de Puck (Puck’s Dance) insinuated with each twist and turn, heightened by Tan’s inimitable body movements, while the vulgar guffaws of Minstrels, exaggerated to perfect effect, brought the set to a memorable close. The next seven recitals will be keenly anticipated.

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