Lee Foundation Theatre
8 November 2014)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 10 November 2014 with the title "When music meets fengshui".
Shanghai-born pianist Yao Xiao Yun, an alumnus of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, was the 1st Prize winner in the Artist Category of the National Piano Competition in 2005. She has gone on to distinguish herself as a teacher and performer. On the strength of this recital, she has lost none of her passion or fire that marked her out to be a special talent.
The evening began with two fast Scarlatti Sonatas, which allowed ample display of a crisply articulated technique that made light work of the rapid staccatos and running passages. The piano’s imitation of strummed guitars and clicking castanets could not have sounded more vivid.
Beethoven’s Sonata in D minor Op.31 No.2, nicknamed the Tempest, was taken at a very deliberate tempo in the first movement’s introduction. This aura of mystique served to heighten the main subject’s agitated outburst, however some accents were exaggerated to the point of sounding mannered. The slow movement plodded but relief came in the finale’s perpetual motion which ended so subtly that the audience was totally caught by surprise.
Romantic music was more of her forte. In Spanish composer Granados’s Requiebros (Flatteries) from the suite Goyescas, she laid on the rubato with a shovel and that helped the cause of the ardent suitor in the music’s amorous narrative. It was not difficult to fall for this Spanish nobleman’s indulgent and swooning gestures.
Even better was her account of Chopin’s Third Sonata in B minor Op.58, which helped her win the grand prix all those years ago.
Yao was born to play Chopin, as her grasp of
the Pole’s idiom was totally natural and instinctual. She caught the ebb and
flow of the music without resorting to her exact contemporary Lang Lang’s
self-regarding distortions. The ruminative slow movement was ideally judged and
the finale thrillingly rode on a crest of a tidal wave.
The descriptive music she performed was well-characterised, like the raucous birdsong and trills of Wang Jian Zhong’s A Hundred Birds Paying Respect To The Phoenix, before closing with an effervescent voyage in Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse. The latter was inspired by Watteau’s painting of bacchanalian revelry, and
Yao’s performance was accompanied by a
projection of an impressive 8-metre long scroll painting by her father Yao Hai
The colour scheme of the ink brush images of sea and rural scenes was determined by principles of the I-Ching and Chinese geomancy, which took into account the birthdates of composer, composition and pianist. As it is, this year marks the 110th anniversary of L’Isle Joyeuse, which is some cause for celebration, one supposes. When music meets feng shui, anything is possible.
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Yao Hai Cheng's 8-metre long scroll painting.