Monday, 27 March 2017


Chiao-Ying Chang 
& SSO Musicians
Victoria Concert Hall
Saturday (25 March 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 27 March 2017 with the title "Pure pleasure with an explosive finish".

Victoria Concert Hall presents chamber and instrumental concerts that have featured visiting soloists playing with Singapore Symphony Orchestra musicians, and this latest instalment provided nothing less than unalloyed pleasure. Taiwan-born pianist Chiao-Ying Chang (left), member of the Fournier Trio, holds the distinction of being the first Taiwanese pianist to be finalist in the prestigious Leeds International Piano Competition.

Her musicianship was immediately apparent in Mozart's Piano Trio in G major (K.564). She played with precise articulation and clear limpid lines in the leading theme, with Chikako Sasaki's violin and Peter Wilson's cello providing long-held single-note harmonies. That the piano leads so completely is why Mozart's piano trios are not as regularly performed as Beethoven's or Brahms'.

Although violin and cello played subsidiary roles, this performance encouraged parity as Chang allowed her partners' voices to be heard, and to become equals. The second movement's variations paraded with graceful allure, with a single variation in minor key to provide contrast. The chirpy finale was just as lovely, and one truly wonders why such music is neglected.

Also rarities are Miniatures by English composer Frank Bridge, best known as the young Benjamin Britten's teacher and mentor. Steeped in high Romanticism, three short pieces from Set Two shone with luscious harmonies, the kind that would later appear in jazz and popular music. The Romance was particularly beautiful, contrasted by a dance-like Intermezzo and completed with a mercurial Saltarello, an Italianate dance similar to a tarantella.

Here, Chang was joined by violinist Cao Can and cellist Wang Zihao, who were also excellent in their parts. Their effort fondly brings to mind the performance of Bridge's Phantasy Trio by the Music Group of London in the same venue in 1981. The pianist then was David Parkhouse, in whose memory Chang's Fournier Trio was conferred an award in 2013.

The major work of the evening was Schumann's Piano Quintet in E flat major (Op.44), performed with violinists Chan Yoong Han and Cindy Lee, violist Marietta Ku and cellist Ng Pei-Sian. The first movement's tempo direction Allegro Brillante was taken literally. That effulgence and effusiveness was to inform the tenor of this popular work.

There were many moments for tight interplay, such as when Ng's cello picked up the melody, to be answered swiftly by Ku's viola. The flow was so seamless to be absolutely gripping in three movements. Only in the slow 2nd movement, a funereal march, did the pace relent and with good reason. By the time of its second subject, it was all guns ablaze again.

The Scherzo was reason enough why musicians have to learn scales. These were gloriously surmounted, and both Trios that followed upped the ante, such to make one think the work had ended. The finale with a reprise of the work's opening theme and valedictory fugue was the true finish, an explosively charged affair that was very well received.

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