Tuesday, 18 August 2015

PIANO CONCERTO FESTIVAL / ADDO Chamber Orchestra / Review

ADDO Chamber Orchestra
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Sunday (16 August 2015)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 August 2015 with the title "Momentous, but not without hiccups".

The Piano Concerto Festival, a project of The Performing Arts Company, is now into its second year, supported by the newly-formed ADDO Chamber Orchestra conducted by Clarence Tan. This annual event provides a platform for young Singaporean pianists, a godsend as opportunities to perform with an orchestra are very rare. Its first concert showcased contrasting piano concertos by Mozart and Prokofiev.

But first, an unusual prelude took the form of Mozart's concert aria Ch'io Mi Scordi Di Te? (You Ask That I Forget You?) K.505, sung by coloratura soprano Wendy Woon. Her emotive account, filled with pathos, was well supported by the orchestra, then came the substantial obbligato piano part from Leslie Theseira.

It is said that Mozart's piano concertos were inextricably linked to his operas, and here was a curious hybrid as if to prove the point. Theseira's pretty contribution was both ornamental as well as a foil for the singer, and at certain passages he blended as one with the orchestra. It was an excellent palate-cleanser for the proper concertos to come.

Mozart's Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor (K.491) was performed by Choon Hong Xiang, an irregular reading because of rawness of ensemble coupled with the pianist's diffidence. The opening tutti was marred by poor intonation from the woodwinds but it got better. Choon seemed overawed by the occasion, and despite neat and accurate fingerwork, his playing seldom projected beyond the orchestra's domain.

He came into his own in the 1st movement cadenza, which he had composed himself, a lost art revived with some ear-catching ideas. Only the second of two minor key piano concertos by Mozart, the work was to evoke high drama and tragedy. This almost came when Hong completely missed his entry cue in the finale, only joining in a few bars later. Fortunately, he and the ensemble kept their wits, and concluded the Theme and Variations movement together without further mishap.

Altogether more confident was Nicholas Ho who tackled Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto with fearless aplomb. Now studying in Indiana with American pianists Edward Auer and Andre Watts, he has matured far beyond the impetuous youth who was previously described in these pages as having an “obsession with speed and volume” and a “surfeit of feral instincts”.

All he did now was to play the notes Prokofiev had written, and the effect was electrifying. The free-wheeling 1st movement breezed through fairly easily, but the 2nd movement's Theme and Variations saw a brief desynchronisation between pianist and orchestra. A full second's rupture occurred in the rambunctious finale, but that was no fault of his. Shrugging off the blip, both parties grappled with the music's high octane content to finish on an intoxicating high. 

Always eventful and at times harrowing, the Piano Concerto Festival moves to Victoria Concert Hall on 3 September to survey the first two piano concertos of Tchaikovsky.

The Piano Concerto Festival was presented by The Performing Arts Company in celebration of Singapore's 50 years of independence.

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