Monday, 9 September 2013

THE PRINCELY PIANO / LIM YAN Piano Recital / Review

LIM YAN Piano Recital
National Museum of Singapore
Friday (6 September)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 9 September 2013 with the title "Royal accession of the piano".

It has been a long while, in fact several years, that Young Artist Award winner Lim Yan has given a solo piano recital. The Music At An Exhibition concert series held alongside the Princely Treasures of Liechtenstein display at the National Museum was the perfect setting for his delightful 80-minute-long recital of mostly baroque keyboard music.

Using a Steinway grand piano instead of a harpsichord had its advantages. The music projects better in the dry acoustic of an exhibition hall, and a wider range of dynamics and nuances is afforded. Authenticity is perhaps not top of the list of priorities here, but the works performed had a nice symmetry about them.

A pair of Domenico Scarlatti Sonatas, composed as exercises for a Spanish princess, were tasty starters. Both were fast pieces, with a sparkling lightness that showcased fluency and impeccable staccato technique. Vigorous dances to strumming guitars and clicking castanets come to mind.

This was followed by two popular sets of variations. Handel’s The Harmonious Blacksmith, the final movement of one of his keyboard suites, was lightly ornamented, and with each variation grew in complexity before closing in a cascade of scales. Somewhat simpler was Mozart’s Variations of Ah, vous dirai-je, maman, also known as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

The familiar children’s tune was stated with an insouciant air, and every effort was made by Lim to colour the complexion of each variation that ensued. There was innocence, fluidity, pathos (with a switch to the minor key), reflection, under-stated virtuosity and finally bombast to close.

Lim’s approach to Johann Sebastian Bach, a composer he is not usually associated with, was revelatory. The two Prelude & Fugues he chose were deliberately contrasted. The D major (from Book Two of The Well-Tempered Clavier) was celebratory, with trumpeting fanfares and ceremonial pomp. The C sharp minor (Book One) was one deep in thought and contemplation, so profound was its utterance that the startling dissonance of its fugue seemed a mere sideshow.

The recital was completed with Bach’s Fifth Partita in G major. One of his most cheerful suites, Lim brought a wealth of character and colour to its sequence of antique dances. The dotted rhythm of the Sarabande was taken at a slightly fast clip, but the quaint darting fingers of the Tempo Di Minuetta was the usually-serious composer having some fun in expense of the unsuspecting. The fugal Gigue that ended the work was a culmination of counterpoint at its most joyous.

As an encore, Lim offered a third fast Scarlatti sonata, this time bringing on the full force and volume of an orchestra and marching band. The princely piano had ascended the throne to become a king. 


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