Monday, 2 May 2016


ADAM GYÖRGY Piano Recital
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (29 April 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 May 2016 with the title "Adam György saved devilish best for last".

Piano recitals at Esplanade Concert Hall are a relative rarity, as there are not many pianists who can attract a large audience for its voluminous capacity. Martha Argerich, Leif Ove Andsnes and Lang Lang will do just that. Although not a household name, Hungarian-born pianist Adam György, well known for his summer piano academies in his homeland and Bali, however drew a sizeable crowd for his 80-minute recital.

He opened with an original composition, entitled A Day In New York, which in its 21-minute duration described sanguine feelings about leaving his native Hungary and settling in the “Big Apple”. His style is highly tonal, written in the popular New Age, minimalistic manner geared towards easy listening. A couple of Hungarian folksongs, and possibly snatches of Ravel and Janacek, were quoted and the mood is one of benign and placid indolence, which he captured with a stylish nonchalance. 

Given the genteel manner of this sonata-fantasie which never raised the temperature beyond fever pitch, György might be forgiven for a similar approach to Liszt's mighty Sonata in B minor. One might even say that his performance was too polite. Where barnstorming through the demanding octave passages was de rigeuer for most, he chose to skate over these as undemonstratively as possible. Neither hitting bumps nor inducing goosebumps, safety first seemed to be the presiding objective.

The central chorale in F sharp major was luminously projected, suggesting Liszt's spirituality was not a closed book for him, and the tricky fugal section was artfully negotiated. The quiet final chords provided almost the perfect denouement until some imbecile's handphone or watch alarm had to go off at the worst possible moment. Compared with Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa's wild steroid-pumped account of the same work in the same venue last year, György's sounded like an even-tempered version on Prozac.

The rest of the programme comprised wholly of Liszt. His Rigoletto Paraphrase had probably seen better days, with the filigreed ornamentation gingerly rather than effortlessly conceived. His lightness of touch was far better suited for La Campanella, which rang with clarity and its wide right-hand leaps comfortably surmounted.

Similarly, the repeated notes and figurations for the right hand in the popular Second Hungarian Rhapsody posed little problems in an exciting performance that brought out the patented if hardly authentic Magyar swagger. There are few Liszt warhorses that do not generate some form of standing ovation, and so large segments of the audience obliged.

Clearly György was reserving himself and leaving the best for the last. The encore was his own conflation of the Mendelssohn-Liszt Wedding March from A Midsummer Night's Dream, combining the flittering Dance of the Elves with Vladimir Horowitz's insanely camp variations. Prompting a long line for autographs after the concert, that final piece of dare-devilry was alone worth the ticket of entry.

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