Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Singapore International Festival of Music
Gallery II, The Arts House
Sunday (16 October 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 October 2016 with the title "Passion was all that counted".

It is not a coincidence that a number of foreign-born pianists have chosen to make Singapore their home. Thomas Hecht and Tedd Joselson (USA), Albert Tiu (Philippines), Boris Kraljevic (Montenegro) and Yao Xiao Yun (China) have all contributed to our rich musical scene here. The name of young Ukrainian pianist Kseniia Vokhmianina, who studied at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and now a faculty member of the School of The Arts, should also be added to this list.

Her hour-long recital at the Singapore International Festival of Music was a testament to exceptional teaching and artistry of the highest order. Beginning with the First Book of Preludes by Claude Debussy, she revealed a wide range of colours, shades and nuances from an instrument which the composer described as “a box of hammers and strings”.

Well-judged pedalling was the key to Dancers Of Delphi, which conjured an air of grace and poise. Misty hues in Sails, swirling eddies of Wind On The Plains, a mystical aura that enveloped Sounds And Scents Mingle In The Evening Air, and utter desolation in Footprints In The Snow, all pointed to an acute sense of feeling different moods and styles. Debussy's evocative titles in French had been added to each of these pieces after they had been completed.

A comprehensive technique is sine qua non for the 12 pieces, and there was no shying away from the pummelling force required for What The West Wind Saw or huge sonorous chords that surmounted The Sunken Cathedral. All these were supplied in abundance by Vokhmianina, not to mention the simplicity of Girl With The Flaxen Hair, and rhythmic subtleties in Interrupted Serenade, Dance Of Puck and the jazzy swagger of Minstrels.

Singaporean composer and Cultural Medallion recipient Kelly Tang's Elegy (2015) came in complete contrast from the earlier fare. It is the slow central movement from his Piano Concerto In Three Movements, composed for the SG50 celebrations and first performed by Lang Lang at the National Stadium.

Written in memory of the nation's founding first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, it was a heartfelt tribute that included some bluesy harmonies a la Keith Jarrett and the curious inclusion of the Fate motif from Rachmaninov's First Symphony. Perhaps the latter was an acknowledgement that from failure (as the symphony's disastrous premiere was) sometimes comes a destiny of hope.

The recital concluded with Alexander Scriabin's single-movement Fifth Sonata, also known as “Poem Of Ecstasy”. Its rumbling opening bars and volcanic eruptions are startling, and Vokhmianina delivered this with true vigour and conviction.

Rarely has a work seen the piano's keys being caressed and yet brutalised within the same page. For a while, she played safe with its orgiastic outpourings when a more unfettered approach would have been preferred. However when push came to shove, she let it rip and a few missed notes were the result. No matter, passion was what counted most and there was no shortage of it.    

With her piano guru Boris Kraljevic.
With Singaporean composer Kelly Tang.

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