Tuesday, 2 February 2016


Louis Page (Piano) et al
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Sunday (31 January 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 February 2016 with "A strenuous display of bravado". 

Four concerts took place last Sunday afternoon, but only one featured the piano concerto - not one but three concertos to be precise. The soloist was the young Sri Lankan-born American pianist Louis Page who presently resides in Singapore. Such an undertaking was a highly ambitious one, one fraught with innumerable pitfalls that would even daunt the most wily of veterans.

Page took the task at hand by the scruff of the neck, tackling two early Mozart piano concertos in the first half. Piano Concertos Nos.11 (F major, K.413) and 12 (A major, K.414) were a handful of  such works which Mozart wrote “a quattro”, which meant the pianist could be partnered by just four string players instead of an orchestra.

This was in essence chamber music at its purest, with the pianist being soloist as well as chamber musician. Page performed these with the lightest of touches, always aware of its varied nuances but often mincing his many notes into a fine puree. His string partners were ever-sensitive, supporting him to the hilt as would be expected from musicians far more experienced than him.

On first violin was none other than Russian-American Igor Yuzefovich (Concertmaster of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra), allied with violinist Boris Livschitz (Lithuania), violist Viacheslav Dinerchtein (Belarus-Switzerland) and cellist Aram Talalyan (Armenia), which certainly made for a cosmopolitan group.

Page got to the heart of the slow movements, and together they produced some truly exquisite moments. His chorale-like entry in K.414 was breathtaking, while Yuzefovich's solo accompanied by pizzicato strings in K.413 epitomised the grace of a Habsburg court.

In the busy outer movements, there appeared a spiritual disconnect between piano and strings. Both were conscientiously fulfilling their roles but where was that unspoken chemistry? In Mozart's own performances, he took the lead but Page exerted no such authority. Even his self-conscious bows at the end excluded acknowledging his partners. Were they merely accompanying ciphers?

This separation was more apparent in Chopin's First Piano Concerto, in a masterly arrangement by Robert Casteels which included a double-bass part played by Singaporean Brian Sim. Page played from a score and turned his own pages, which meant missing a chunk of notes whenever there was an awkward page-turn. In the febrile heat of the 1st movement's development, he missed several pages, and the band played on sans pianist.

Thankfully a page-turner was summoned for the 2nd and 3rd movements which helped somewhat. Like in the Mozart, the Romanze had sublime bits but the tempo soon flagged at its denouement. This erratic and unpredictable pacing proved disastrous in the fast Polish dance of the finale which soon fell apart at the seams in a litany of lapses.

By dint of quick wits and hard work, the ensemble recovered in time to finish more or less together. For their adventurous outing and strenuous display of bravado, the performers were greeted with nothing less than a standing ovation. 

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