Monday, 10 October 2016

GRAND RUSSIAN / ALBERT TIU Piano Recital / Review

ALBERT TIU Piano Recital
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Friday (7 October 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 10 October 2016 with the title "Passionate rendition of Russian rarities".

What makes Russian Romantic music so attractive and compelling that a large audience was enticed to the Conservatory on a Friday evening to attend a recital comprising two piano sonatas which could rightly be considered rarities?

The names of Tchaikovsky (left) and Rachmaninov provided a clue, as both Russians composed tuneful works with emotions firmly emblazoned on their sleeves. Pathos and tragedy are writ large in their often overwrought scores such that listeners are put through a wringer and come out feeling a spiritual catharsis. Just like a good movie. Or maybe it was the name of Albert Tiu, surely the most adventurous and thematically sophisticated pianist in Singapore today.

It was really a bit of both, as he began his recital with Tchaikovsky's Grand Sonata in G major Op.37. Big chords dominated the opening movement, delivered with fearless panache but tempered by a Schumannesque lyricism which made contrasts all the more apparent. The shortcoming was not Tiu's but Tchaikovsky's, because the repetitious piece in four movements which ran past the half-hour mark seemed to go on a bit too long.

The perpetual movement in the 3rd movement's Scherzo provided a worthwhile diversion but that was too short-winded. It was left for the Finale to combine the extremes  - with more loud notes and prestidigitation – leading to a vertiginous climax before bringing down the house.

This Tchaikovsky-Rachmaninov tandem was strategic in other ways. Tchaikovsky was Rachmaninov's mentor and musical “father”. Both their grand sonatas were in the same key as the grand piano concertos they were yet to compose, as well as being written-out premonitions.

Rachmaninov's First Piano Sonata in D minor Op.28 that occupied the second half was even longer, but in Tiu's hands, that never became an issue. The brooding and ruminative opening predicted his Third Piano Concerto, and Tiu built up a strong case by drawing the listener into the unsettling heart of this very personal music.

The oft-quoted association of this symphonically conceived work with the Faust legend is apt, as its three movements seemed to reflect the conflicted personas of Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles. While the 1st movement struggled with turmoil and upheaval, the slow 2nd movement was a calming and tender portrait, while the finale was a devilish hell-for-leather ride into the abyss.

In each of these, Tiu's views were highly characterised in the gripping narrative, with each movement carved out with a granite-like assuredness and inexorability. There was hardly a dropped note let alone a moment's loss of concentration. There have only been three complete performances of this work in Singapore in living memory. Tiu gave two of these, including the local premiere in 2004. If anything, this last epic reading surpassed his first in terms of passion and volatility.     

Taking a break from barnstorming, his encore promised something totally different: Percy Grainger's Irish Tune From County Derry, popularly known as Danny Boy. After Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, it came like a blast of fresh air.


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