Tuesday, 4 July 2017


with ROBERT CASTEELS, Conductor
Reuben Manasseh Meyer Concert Hall
Sunday (2 July 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 4 July 2017 with the title "Outstanding piano concertos".

The occasion was sold as the 50th anniversary of American pianist Tedd Joselson's concert debut, but this concert was more like an offshoot of the annual piano concerto festival organised by young Singaporean pianist Leslie Theseira. Three piano concertos were performed by Joselson and two of his former students, almost constituting a concise history of the form. They were accompanied by the ADDO Chamber Orchestra conducted by Robert Casteels.

The baroque era was represented by J.S.Bach's Keyboard Concerto in A major (BWV.1055), created at the infancy of the genre. Originally conceived for harpsichord, Theseira crafted a gentle, mincing timbre, which sounded initially like part of the orchestra (strings only) but soon developed a voice of its own. Not yet a vehicle of virtuosity, the concerto sounded pretty, with simple ornamentation and general understatement as its highlights.

The World Premiere of Robert Casteels' Piano Concerto came next, impressively articulated by Nicholas Ho. Casteels explained this was based on a much earlier solo piece, orchestrated and completed within just three days. Its gestation was more like three decades, with the free use of atonality and angry dissonances more commonly encountered in the 1980s.

Playing for some 15 minutes, both piano and orchestra (strings and winds) probed and ruminated over a plethora of thematic ideas, with the ostensible aim of finding its home key of E flat major. Eventful, inventive and quasi-improvisatory, there were alternating moments of serenity and violence, several false dawns and vocalisations of that elusive E flat by orchestral members.

The end finally came with an emphatic and abrupt succession of E flat major chords, closing with the pianist plucking an E flat string in the innards of the piano. Beethoven's Emperor this is not, but a worthy addition to the small canon of Singaporean piano concertos.

Tedd Joselson, now a Singapore permanent resident, closed the concerto segment with Mozart's Piano Concerto No.23 in A major (K.488), a work he first performed as a teenager with the English Chamber Orchestra. Concerto performances by Joselson are a rarity these days, but this outing was a treat because he still possesses that wherewithal and authority to pull it off.

Confidence, fine control and sensitivity marked the first movement, culminating with Mozart's own cadenza. Although the orchestra sounded thin in parts, it supported the endeavour well. Joselson's solo sicilienne which opened the slow movement was a thing of beauty, and this continued dream-like through its entire course.

The exultant finale literally caught fire in Joselson's mercurial fingers, and the outcome was a thrilling adrenaline-filled affair. His was an unfaltering, no-holds-barred view, leaving one with no doubt of an undimmed prowess and artistry.

After the concertos, there was solo recitals by four of Joselson's students which continued into the early evening. There was a lot of music, but as posterity goes, it was Casteels' premiere and Joselson's Mozart that stood out.  

Leslie Theseira and Nicholas Ho presented a
"birthday" ditty in honour of their teacher Tedd Joselson.

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