Thursday, 21 February 2013

4 HAND PIANO CONCERT / Helen Lee & Tong-Il Han / Review

Helen Lee & Tong-Il Han, Piano
Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Recital Hall
Tuesday (19 February 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 21 February 2013 with the title "Audience troop on stage with placards declaring love for piano duo".

It is a supreme irony that Franz Schubert (1797-1828), one of the greatest composers ever lived, never got to hear his greatest works performed in concert. In his lifetime, he was known primarily as a song-smith, and was of minor importance compared alongside the giant Beethoven. Much of his music was heard in home concerts, known as Schubertiades (below), and enjoyed by a small group of his friends and colleagues.

It was in this same informal spirit that the Korean husband-and-wife duo of Helen Lee and Tong-Il Han presented an all-Schubert recital for piano four hands. Lee had been a piano lecturer at the Institute of Education and Nanyang Technological University for 14 years, while Han is one of Korea’s most celebrated pianists with a five-decade long career in USA.

It mattered little that Lee took on the primo and Han the secondo parts of the duets. Schubert’s pieces are so intricately woven that both roles are equally important and vital for the success of a performance. In that respect, the duo lived and breathed as one throughout.

The gentle lilt in the popular Fantasy in F minor (Op.103) was delicately coaxed, and its incipient melancholy soon built up to stout defiance as the temperature gradually rose. Amid all this, it was a pleasure to hear its unbroken chain of melody passing back and forth, seamlessly between each pianist, while maintaining a steady pulse and underlying tension.

That was only the appetiser to the main course, a rare performance of the monumental Sonata in C major (Op.140), also known as the Grand Duo. Its symphonic scope, four movements running over 40 minutes, led Schumann into thinking it was an arrangement of a yet-to-be- written symphony. Joseph Joachim later orchestrated it, and listeners gained a tenth Schubert symphony.

Its longeurs passed ever so swiftly in the hands of Lee and Han. Tempos were well judged, and repeats were omitted for the expansive first movement. More importantly, the lyrical quality of the themes was well projected on the Fazioli grand piano and the tendency to percussiveness minimised. The throbbing beat in the Beethovenian second movement – not exactly a slow movement – was palpable, as was the injection of audible humming, clearly from a male voice.         

The Scherzo could have done with more lightness, and here fast equated with loud. The Hungarian-flavoured finale brought back the air of fantasy, closing with the typically witty gambit of searching for definite ending chords. This spirited show was followed by an encore, the familiar Military March No.1.

The audience clapped along, and several members trooped on stage, marching uncoordinatedly and bearing placards declaring their love for the duo. This was an unabashed and spontaneous show of support, echoing after last Saturday’s events at Hong Lim Green. Who said Singaporeans were apathetic and undemonstrative?  

No comments: