Sunday, 22 January 2012

ENCHANTING EXPEDITION / Albert Tiu Piano Recital / Review

National Museum Exhibition Galleries
Thursday & Friday (19 & 20 January 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 23 January 2012 with the title "Tiu enchants with nature".

The third pair of recitals held at The National Museum alongside the Musee d’Orsay art exhibits was given by Filipino pianist Albert Tiu, lecturer at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. In two hour-long concerts over consecutive evenings, he performed 25 short works by 13 composers, organised in seven broad groups.

Each group was united by a common theme, and the pieces went beyond the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel. To limit oneself to these two Frenchmen would have been too constraining, so for the subject of Air, Tiu offered a radical departure – little-heard works inspired by the wind by the American Charles Griffes, and two other Frenchmen Charles Ibert and Olivier Messiaen.

Although Debussy was the obvious inspiration, these had the effect of cleansing one’s palate for a new raft of tastes. The theme of Water saw the introduction of Liszt, already an impressionist long before the term came into being. His Les jeux d’eau de la Villa d’Este, which begins with a trickle but broadens into awesome spouts, was the prelude to Ravel’s Jeux d’eau, with its exotic pentatonic melodies. Next to these, Luciano Berio’s little encore Wasserklavier made a gentle little splash.

Imaginative programming is Tiu’s strong suit, so one would hardly be surprised by his juxtaposing Satie, Scriabin and Manuel de Falla for the group on Fire, pun probably intended. Scriabin’s Vers la flamme (Towards The Flame) was lit with a long fuse before its eventual detonation, while Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance ignited with volcanic intensity from the word go. Earth gave Tiu even greater latitude. Rachmaninov’s song transcription Lilacs ended on the same key – A flat major – as Godowsky’s Gardens Of Buitenzorg began. This lush floral tribute was book-ended by rustling leaves and precipitation in Liszt’s Waldesrauschen (Forest Murmurs) and Debussy’s Gardens In The Rain respectively.

The second evening’s fare opened with the half-lights of Evening, rhythmic Debussy and dreamy Grieg gave way to the soaring climax of Liszt’s Harmonies du Soir, leaving no one in doubt that this was the time of day for love. The largest group of five pieces was dedicated to Birds of all shades and plumes; Liszt and Saint-Saens (The Swan, what else?) shared the same page as Ravel’s haunting Oiseaux tristes (Mournful Birds), Messiaen’s placid La Colombe (The Dove) and the most paradoxical creature of all, Griffes’s White Peacock, whose regal preening and strutting was indelibly captured.

Nature, more specifically bodies of water closed this adventurous ramble in the musical gallery. More Liszt and Griffes prefaced Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse (The Joyous Isle), the one work that was directly inspired by a painting, in this case Antoine Watteau’s L’Embanquement pour Cythere. From the probing pianist and intrepid artist in Tiu, there could not have been a more spectacular conclusion.

All the photographs were taken from the piano recital on 19 January.

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