Saturday, 18 July 2015

LIM YAN Piano Recital / Review

LIM YAN Piano Recital
Victoria Concert Hall
Thursday (16 July 2015)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 July 2015 with the title "Tales from the keyboard".

It was almost exactly ten years ago when Lim Yan became the first Singaporean pianist to perform at the Singapore International Piano Festival, in the process inaugurating the ongoing Young Virtuoso Recital Series. Since then he has gone on to become the nation's most active collaborative pianist besides the first local to perform all of Beethoven's piano concertos in a cycle.

His latest piano recital, part of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's SG50 series of concerts at Victoria Concert Hall, revealed how he has matured during the intervening years. His was an example of excellent programming, involving works of related keys and forms, yet providing much-needed contrasts.

It opened with Beethoven's Sonata in E flat major (Op.27 No.1), designated “quasi una fantasia” as it departed from the standard sonata form, resembling a fantasy in freedom of expressing its themes and ideas. Immediately apparent was his richness of sound and clarity of articulation. Within the second movement's undercurrents of disquiet and the finale's perpetual motion, there was always utmost control. The sudden and unexpected reintroduction of the slow movement's theme near the end, sensitively handled, provided a gratifying touch of nostalgia.

Beethoven's Eroica Variations (Op.35), also in E flat major, was based on a quirky dance from his ballet The Creatures of Prometheus that later famously appears in the finale of his Eroica Symphony. Often overshadowed by the Diabelli Variations, it is still a demanding work, which found a sympathetic hearing from Lim. He understood well its built-in humour and discursive asides, including a fugue to spice things up.   

In between, he performed local composer Liong Kit Yeng's Roller Coaster Ride, an etude-like showpiece which like its title suggests, traverses tumultuous shifts of dynamics. From Messiaen-like chords to manic runs in the manner of Ligeti's studies, and strumming the insides of the piano a la Cowell and Crumb, the brief work had it all. It closed with sweeping glissandi up and down the keyboard and a jerking full stop.

Lim Yan with young
Singaporean composer Liong Kit Yeng.

Liszt's Sonata in B minor may be considered the ultimate fantasy for the piano. Its introduction and transformation of four simple themes through an Olympian half-hour's journey is the stuff of pianists' dreams and nightmares. Lim has lived with it for years, but this was his first public performance here. And he is only the third or fourth Singaporean to survey it within the last 30 years.

Such a landmark got the reading it deserved, as Lim was fully attuned to its complex structure and  successive series of emotional pinnacles and valleys, in short another roller coaster ride. Its cascading octaves, scintillating runs and chordal climaxes held no terrors for him, conquering each obstacle with fearless accuracy and no little finesse.

Far from being just technically adroit, Lim also found poetry amid the drama in its quiet spots and spiritual silences. There is no programme or back-story attached to this Romantic masterpiece, but Lim's musicianship was its best story-teller because whatever he plays, one cannot but be drawn in and totally absorbed.  

Prolonged applause drew an encore from the otherwise reticent Lim: Beethoven's little Bagatelle (Op.126 No.3) in E flat major. That, is perfect symmetry and eloquence for you.

Lim Yan with his students,
past and present.

No comments: