Monday, 28 March 2016


NORIKO OGAWA Piano Recital
Victoria Concert Hall
Saturday (26 March 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 March 2016 with the title "Piano playing that sparkles".

It has been 7 years since Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa last performed in Singapore, and 11 years since her solo recital in the 2005 Singapore International Piano Festival. She marked a welcome return to Victoria Concert Hall with a recital of familiar favourites.

Fireworks are not usually associated with Mozart's keyboard music, which were written for dainty and fragile instruments like the fortepiano. His audiences were more of the 18th century drawing room variety rather those in vast concert halls, who would have been startled by sounds of a modern Steinway grand. Ogawa made no concessions for supposed authenticity by projecting a robust but crystal-clear sonority in Mozart's Sonata in A major K.331.

The opening Theme and Variations movement was crisply and lusciously articulated. While the central movement came across less like a courtly Minuet than an elaborately decorative study, it was the popular Rondo Alla Turca that romped home with a irrepressible gusto. Many students race through it with dizzying fingers but few understand its martial strides as Ogawa did.

More acute in colouring and tonal shadings was Ogawa's interpretations of Debussy, for which she is rightly renowned. In Images (Book I), the shimmering ripples of Reflets Dans L'Eau (Reflections In The Water) were down to her velvety touch and excellent control of pedalling. How the stately Hommage A Rameau (Homage To Rameau) rose to an impassioned climax and well-placed accents in the vertiginous Mouvement (Movement) all made for an indelibly memorable outing.

The Debussy set closed with a true showpiece in L'Isle Joyeuse (The Happy Island), bacchanalian evocation of a famous Watteau painting of unbridled hedonism. Her prodigious fingerwork and enraptured senses became one in a multiply-hued brush-stroked canvas which brought the first half to a scintillating close.

Taking the fireworks theme to heart in the all-Chopin second half, it was a parade of popular hits beginning with the Minute Waltz Op.64 No.1. How often does one hear this trifle in concert, or played with such precision yet carefree abandon? This was followed by the Grande Valse Brillante in B flat major (Op.18), more super-charged glitter in three-quarter time.

A rare moment for quiet reflection took place in the nocturne-like Andante Spianato, with smooth legato singing lines. This was before trumpeting fanfares which led to the swashbuckling Grande Polonaise Brillante, where all stops were pulled to live up to its title. Ogawa's faultless pianism meant that nary a note was dropped and this imperious show continued into the final two warhorses.

The First Ballade Op.23 and Second Scherzo Op.31 are such regularly-heard pieces that they risk becoming hackneyed, but surely there were first-time listeners among the many young people who attended. They would have been treated to how these works ought to sound, for Ogawa's blend of passion and poetry with no punches pulled made them ring out eternally fresh.    

Prolonged applause yielded two encores. The Paganini-Liszt La Campanella brought out yet another facet of fireworks, and the sublime Schumann Traumerei to conclude was a signal it was close to bedtime.

Noriko Ogawa meets her former student,
the Kuala Lumpur-based pianist Tomonari Tsuchiya.
A meeting of old friends:
Noriko with violists Jiri Heger and Lionel Tan.
Boris Kraljevic, Jiri and the Pianomaniacs.

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