Thursday, 17 August 2017

BALLERINAS / Lin Hengyue & Wang Ji (Two Pianos) / Review



BALLERINAS
Lin Hengyue & Wang Ji (2 Pianos)
Esplanade Recital Studio
Tuesday (15 August 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 17 August 2017 with the title "High-spirited piano recital".

Recitals of music on two pianos are a rarity, and the sense of occasion is enhanced when it involves the debut of a new piano duo. Lin Hengyue and Wang Ji are alumni of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and their first recital together featured a sparkling selection of music from ballets, operas and dances.


Beginning with Busoni's transcription of Mozart's Magic Flute Overture, there was a hint of hesitancy in its slow ceremonial opening, thought to have been inspired by masonic rituals. However in the ebullient allegro filled with busy counterpoint, the ensemble quickly gelled, purring like a well-oiled engine. 

This good start paved the way to an even more demanding work, the eight movements of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite arranged by the late Cypriot piano virtuoso Nicolas Economou. The Miniature Overture was taken at a sprightly pace, with its fussy figurations clearly articulated. The March, however, was more problematic towards the end, where for a few moments the playing nearly came unstuck.


No matter how hard a piano tries, it could never fully imitate the celesta in the familiar Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The duo persevered, and the end effect was suitably buoyant, contrasted with the rambunctious Cossack dance of the Trepak. Even better was the Arabian Dance, with its steady pulsing rhythm over which ornamentations were lightly sprinkled, followed by the brief but relentless drumming of the Chinese Dance.


A series of harp-like arpeggios opened the Waltz of the Flowers, the longest dance of the set, which received a generous warm-hearted reading as one could have hoped for. Besides bleinding well together, both pianists had an innate feel for the waltz rhythm and the technical equipment to pull it off.

Lin Hengyue, who was the more confident
speaker of the duo, also served as the host.

Singaporean composers featured next. Both Low Shao Suan's Winterland and Low Shao Ying's Valse de Printemps (Waltz of Spring) were French-influenced; graceful, insouciant and tinged with touches of melancholy. This unabashedly melodious music, played with feeling and sensitivity, could easily pass as romantic film music.


The final work of the hour-long recital was also the most showily difficult, the Carmen Fantasy by the famous American duo of Anderson & Roe (Greg Anderson & Elizabeth Joy Roe). Skilfully stitching together highlights from Bizet's opera, it opened with a slow wistful introduction by Wang, followed by a virtuosic cadenza from Lin before the melodies flowed.


The lilting HabaƱera and its ensuing short variations served like a mini-climax, unsurprisingly triggering premature applause from the audience. Then the duo went on to emote in the Flower Song before polishing off the fast and furious Gypsy Dance. Going for broke and throwing caution to the wind was the best policy here, closing the highly enjoyable concert on a spirited high.   

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