7TH LUCIEN WANG PIANO COMPETITION
Lee Foundation Theatre
It is to my discredit that I had missed attending the annual Lucien Wang Piano Competition for all these years, until this time around. The competition serves as a platform for piano students of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, and was named in memory of Lucien Wang, one of
most prominent piano teachers.
Lucien Wang (1909-2007), who was originally from
served as a vital link between generations of Singaporean pianists and the
French piano school. During the 1930s, she had studied with Alfred Cortot and
Nicholas Tcherepnin in Paris,
before settling in Singapore.
She was widowed when her husband was murdered by the Japanese during their
occupation of Singapore
in 1942. She devoted her entire life to the teaching of the piano and lived humbly in an apartment on Loke Yew Street,
off Armenian Street. Her
prominent students included the late Ong Lip Tat, and the very much alive
Benjamin Loh, Lim Jing Jing and many others.
There was very little publicity for this event, and the audience was a tiny one. I had hoped the organisers had written something about Lucien Wang in the programme leaflet, so as to initiate the listeners (and young pianists themselves) to the uncommonly rich heritage she had bestowed to
Also, piano students of all levels (including the NAFA School of Young Talents)
could have been invited or coerced to attend, which would have made it less of
a low key affair.
There were 14 candidates for this year’s competition, of which 5 were selected to perform in the final round. Each pianist had to play up to 20 minutes of solo repertoire, and was judged by a panel formed by Lim Yau (Dean of NAFA’s school of music) and Japanese concert pianist Noriko Ogawa.
The first to perform was Liu Qingqing who offered Schubert’s Sonata in A minor (D.537). She gave a technically accurate account of its three movements but kept within a rather limited dynamic range. Sounding brittle and clipped in her phrasing, the lack of aural allure and singing tone diminished the reading. The central movement in E major, which was later reworked in the finale of the great A major Sonata (D.959), came across as perfunctory. She sounded the best in the finale, which suggests a much better future performance is a real possibility.
The decision of Andren Koh to play pieces of Godowsky and Scriabin, both late Romantics, seemed unnecessarily narrow in the choice of repertoire. Nevertheless The Gardens of Buitenzorg from the former’s Java Suite was beautifully performed, with very well-phrased legato lines and excellent pedalling. The latter’s Fantasie Op.28 had colour and nuance, building up to a big chordal climax. Only a small lapse towards the end blotted his copybook somewhat.
Chio Jia Le gave the most varied and interesting programme but one wished he had been better prepared. Beethoven’s Sonata in F sharp major Op.78 is far more difficult than it sounds or its two short movements suggest. His articulation was good in parts but the phrasing was prosaic, and a major lapse in the second movement did this reading in. Brahms’s playful Capriccio in B minor (Op.76 No.2) was an absolutely wrong piece for him given his plodding and cheerless reading, but the Prokofiev Suggestion Diabolique (Op.4 No.4) was more of his kind of thing. By this time, one wondered what the point of it all was.
Soh Wei Qi gave a most spirited account of the 1st movement of Mozart’s Sonata in C minor (K.457), full of robust stürm und drang and symphonic bluster, a portrait of rude health. This big-boned playing continued into Chopin’s Scherzo No.1 in B minor (Op.20) where its crashing chords and prestidigitation were well served. He was unafraid of mixing it in, however the slow central section based on a Polish cradle song should have been sung in a less matter of fact manner.
Donald Law was the most confident of the five finalists and his playing showed it. The 1st movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat major (Op.110) revealed playing of real stature, a warm sound, singing tone and meticulously crafted filigree. This was likely the most satisfying performance of the whole evening. His view of Debussy’s La plus que lent, the “slower than slow” waltz, is still unformed. He has not decided how to spread his rubato about, and was not helped by a stilted approach and several unintentional blues notes. York Bowen’s Toccata provided the final tour de force, in a breathless reading that closed the evening on a real high.
|Donald Law receiving the First Prize|
certificate from Maestro Lim Yau.
Personally I would not have awarded a First Prize, in a hope that the young piano continue to better themselves through inspired study, industrious application, and that axiom on how to get to Carnegie Hall: Practise, Practise and Practise. The judges were in a generous mood, awarding 2nd prize to Andren Koh and 1st prize to Donald Law. Hopefully this will spur them (and the others) on to further artistic heights. I am certain the spirit of Lucien Wang would have looked on fondly and lovingly.
|Guest judge Noriko Ogawa spoke breifly|
and encouragingly to all the finalists.
|All the pianists, their teachers and judges.|