Tuesday, 7 June 2016


Reuben Meyer Concert Hall
Sunday (5 June 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 7 June 2016 with the title "Electrifying showcase of promising talent and technical prowess".

A new 420-seat concert hall was inaugurated at the Sir Manasseh Meyer International School in Sembawang with a piano recital by Belgian-American pianist Tedd Joselson, now a Singapore permanent resident. Sharing the stage and Steinway grand piano was 13-year-old Japanese protégé Keishiro Sawa, and the duo opened with Franz Schubert's Rondo in A major.

Product of the blissful Biedermeier period of Vienna's history, the work evoked grace and congeniality which came through lovingly. Sawa's primo role was delicately articulated in the treble notes, well balanced by Joselson's warmly-voiced secondo part, which offered the melody on many an occasion. It was gratifying to see and hear both teacher and student emerging as equals.

The balance of the first half was devoted to solos by Sawa. His prodigious fingers served Schubert's étude-like Impromptu in E flat major (Op.90 No.2) well and he mustered sufficient heft to overcome the bounding chords of Brahms' Ballade in G minor (Op.118 No.3). Dizzying running notes in two Chopin études were spun off with nonchalance despite several minor slips, but he could do with more charm and smiles in two of Chopin's 'easier' waltzes.

In the larger canvas of Chopin's Third Ballade, Sawa faced his biggest interpretive test. He was equal to its technical demands, and the ability to bring out inner voices was admirable for his youth. Here is a clearly promising talent who can go far, pursuing his art as a freshman in the School of the Arts.

The afternoon's highlight was Joselson's performance of Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition. The Russian nationalist composer's original score has often been criticised as being monochromatic, thereby inspiring efforts by many pianists to rewrite or “improve” on its pages. The Ukrainian-American pianist Vladimir Horowitz's own edition is the most outlandish and celebrated of these.

In 1997, Joselson gave his Victoria Concert Hall audience a whiff of Horowitz's decadence, and it was more of the same this time around. Keeping all of Mussorgsky's movements and original architecture intact, he added new layers to threadbare harmonies, amplifying each phrase and gesture, and doubling bass notes if necessary. The opening Promenade was briskly taken but now laden with a musty coat of incense.

Could the bow-legged scampering of Gnomus be rendered more grotesque than it actually is? Yes, but not all movements were subjected to that treatment, as some could have sounded over-fussy. Joselson's edition straddled comfortably between the original and Horowitz's excesses, and it worked even if there were mishits or missed notes.

More importantly, it was never going to be staid or boring, and the astonishing sequence leading from the sepulchral Catacombae, through Baba Yaga's Hut On Fowl's Legs to the final The Great Gate Of Kiev was one electrifying journey. As carillons feverishly built up to the deafening last chords, Joselson had the audience in his hands. The spontaneous standing ovation yielded two encores, two perky Marches for four hands by Beethoven, with Sawa once again by his side.  

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