Tuesday, 18 July 2017

BOUNDARIES / YAO XIAO YUN Piano Recital / Review

YAO XIAO YUN Piano Recital
Victoria Concert Hall
Sunday (16 July 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 July 2017 with the title "Sonorous expressions ruined by unruly audience".

“No Boundaries” or “Beyond Boundaries” was probably what Shanghai-born Singaporean pianist Yao Xiao Yun had in mind for the title of her piano recital, which covered the classical, Romantic and 20th century eras of musical history as well as Chinese music.

Smart or fancy titles are just means for marketing, but what matters most is the playing. The 2005 1st prize-winner of the National Piano & Violin Competition (Artist Piano Category) still has what it takes, and if anything else, has also matured during the intervening years.

An iron-clad technique was called for in Scriabin's Sonata-Fantasie No.2 which opened the concert. Perhaps she began a tad too deliberately, which made the first couple of minutes drag a little. However that was to contrast with a more passionate later section, in which she brought out a wealth of sonority. Amid the fine filigree, the melodic interest was never lost. In the tempestuous 2nd movement, she went for the jugular and the result was close to spectacular.

Similarly in Beethoven's “Les Adieux” Sonata (Op.81a), she made it a point to emphasise the first three sets of notes, which was a heartfelt farewell to his patron Archduke Rudolf who had fled Vienna from Napoleon's invading army. By omitting the repeats, the opportunity to hold steadfast to this statement had been lost. 

This was made up by a slow movement, representing the patron's absence, which could not have sounded more pained or forlorn. A joyous finale, expressing the ecstasy of a long-awaited return, capped another fine performance.

Yao's 13-year-old student Lin Chuanyin was offered a few minutes under the spotlight, and she acquitted herself well with a scintillating reading of Wang Jianzhong's famous transcription of Liu Yang River, which simulates the guzheng in the sound of cascading falls and rippling water. Yao returned with Wang's equally famous Bai Niao Chao Feng (Hundred Birds Paying Respect To The Pheonix), a brilliant mimicry of myriad birdsongs.

This evening was marred by the most unruly audience ever to step into a concert hall here. Excessive coughing, dropping of objects, children fidgeting, inappropriate applause, eating, drinking and a brazen videotaping via cellphone were among the repertoire of indignities witnessed. In short, this is the kind of audience regularly encountered in mainland China.

Undeterred, Yao made the best of her Chopin selection, bringing true cantabile to the D flat major Nocturne (Op.27 No.2) and the Andante Spianato before letting rip in the ensuing Grande Polonaise Brilliante (Op.22) and E flat major Waltz (Op.42). To close was Debussy's L'Isle Joyeuse (The Joyous Island), a collaboration with the pianist's father artist-calligrapher Yao Hai Cheng whose 11-metre long scroll painting on the same subject (displayed in the foyer) being the visual component.

A detail and several vignettes from
Yao Hai Cheng's 11-metre long scroll painting,
with a visual and literary dimension added
to Debussy's L'Isle Joyeuse.
That's what they mean by "Beyond Boundaries".

Yao's performance of the Debussy showpiece was both attentive to detail and colourful. The obligatory encore was shared with Lin, as both pianists polished off Brahms' Fifth Hungarian Dance with no little panache.

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