Saturday, 14 January 2012

FLIGHTS OF FANCY / Dennis Lee and Toh Chee Hung Piano Recital / Review

Dennis Lee & Toh Chee Hung, Piano
National Museum Exhibition Galleries
Thursday (12 January 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 January 2012 with the title "Double the fancy".

The series of concerts at The National Museum’s Dreams & Reality exhibition of Musee d’Orsay treasures has truly come alive. One way of getting most out of this worthy art meets music adventure is to arrive early, preferably when doors open at half-past-seven to secure your favourite seat. That done, head to a quiet corner to view just a small number of art pieces.

There should not be pressure to pack in as much as you can. Take your time, there is no hurry. Allow the details, colours and flavours of each painting to register its unique set of impressions, so that you can make a recollection that remains firmly lodged in the mind. Be it a Degas ballet scene, a Pissarro landscape or an Ingres nude, the same processes applies.

Such an approach would also be helpful in listening to music, especially in the hands of artists as perceptive and insightful as Dennis Lee and Toh Chee Hung. The veteran duo began with three varied movements from Gabriel Faure’s Dolly Suite. Simplicity and innocence were the key to the lovely Berceuse, its melodic line gliding gracefully over a gently rocking accompaniment.

The duo is incapable of making an ugly sound, their seamless teamwork born of decades of performing together and listening to each other. The feline elegance of Kitty-Valse gave way to rhythmic precision and clacking castanets in The Spanish Step, the set’s most tricky number.

In the solo segment, Toh applied the most variegated of touches to Debussy’s Estampes (Imprints), beginning with Pagodas, inspired by the exotic Orient. Dreamy and sunbathed, its pentatonic heaven melted into a shimmer of delicate bell sounds. Evenings In Granada wallowed in sultry relaxation, then interrupted by a guitar’s serenade. The concluding Gardens In The Rain was more like the Botanics pelted by a sumatra rather the Tuileries sprinkled with a light drizzle.

Lee’s view of Debussy’s First Book of Images was no less gripping. One could envision Monet’s Water Lilies in Reflections In The Water, his feather-light touch seemed to skim the surface as naturally like ripples around a falling drop. In Homage To Rameau, a cortege regally made its way, a stark contrast to the relentless perpetual motion of Movement, where the pianist may be excused for tiring a little.

Both pianists then joined four hands for their perennial favourite, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. Lee provided some prefatory quotes which touched on the music’s propensity to relive the joy and purity of childhood. And how they enchanted and delighted with their interplay and witty repartee. The gamelans headily ran out in Empress Of The Pagodas, a foil to the alternately lilting and gauche waltz of Conversations Of The Beauty And The Beast, before cascades of glissandi concluded The Fairy’s Garden. Music, too, can tell stories as vividly as pictures.

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