ANDREAS HENKEL Piano Recital
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory
21 October 2015)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 23 October 2015 with the title "Virtuoso who kept calm and carried on".
Every so often, the Conservatory holds recitals by visiting musicians who may not be household names but the attendances at these concerts are invariably encouraging, because the artistry on show is generally excellent. A nearly-full Orchestral Hall greeted German pianist Andreas Henkel, who teaches at the Dresden Hochschüle, for his mostly Teutonic programme of piano music.
J.S.Bach's music for the clavier is contentious business. Should it be only played on harpsichord, the instrument of the day, or is piano permissible? Henkel showed that one have could have it both ways on the latter in the Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue.
For the running notes, he used minimal pedal and the fingerwork was crisp and limpid. In the slower chordal sections, pedal was applied generously but judiciously, and a sustained organ-like sonority resulted. In the complex fugue, clarity of voices ruled supreme and it was in many ways a very convincing performance.
In Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata (Op.53), Henkel's view was a model of restraint. Belying the Allegro con brio directive of the opening movement, he kept emotions in check through the succession of C major chords and subsequent development. His trajectory was a slow-to-boil long arc that traversed all three movements, with the contemplative slow movement finally giving way to the flowing lyricism of the finale.
Here he was given free rein to pile on the passion and volume, culminating in a series of right hand glissandi. These sleights of hand were achieved with much fluidity, and without the cheating like some pianists are wont to do. The late Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau took great pride in achieving this sound, and would have been pleased with Henkel, who was a student of his student.
The three Mendelssohn pieces that came after the interval were sheer delight. The Capriccio in A minor contrasted between slow and fast, and Henkel's technique held up well in the note-spinning that was in vogue for the early-Romantics. The Venetian Boat Song showcased a seamless cantabile in this lilting barcarolle, which then morphed to the light-fingered staccatos for the Song Without Words in F sharp minor.
Salon music made way for the out-and-out barnstormer that is Liszt's Spanish Rhapsody. Here Henkel pulled all the stops for a virtuosic but characteristically unshowy reading. As if fearing lapses into vulgarity à la Cziffra (or Lang Lang for today's tastes), he kept an even keel throughout, unruffled by its multitudes of flying notes, octaves and chords.
There is a spirituality to keeping calm and carrying on in the face of adversity, and he embodied all that. The unusual choice of encore, Henkel's own transcription of the gospel hymn Morning Has Broken, which would not feel out of place in a Sunday worship service, perhaps said it all.