Thursday, 14 September 2017


Yong Siew Toh Conservatory 
Orchestral Hall
Tuesday (12 September 2017)

The idea of pairing the piano music of Frederic Chopin and Alexander Scriabin is not new, having been previously showcased by Albert Tiu in recital and his brilliant recording Nocturnal Fantasies. In the recital by British pianist Anthony Hewitt (no relation to Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt), 12 Préludes (from Op.11) by the Russian Scriabin were juxtaposed with 16 Préludes (Op.28) by the Pole Chopin.

Scriabin was a devotee of Chopin and made no secret of it in his early piano works. Hence the “resemblance” half of this recital, which began with Scriabin's short and lyrical musings. Hewitt laced the selection with lots of rubato, sometimes stretching the tempos to the point of improvisation.

There was, however, colour and variety to the sequence, which sometimes bordered on violence in Scriabin's more intense and impetuous efforts. In the Chopin set, which also ran the gamut from C major to D minor, similar mood swings were experienced.

The astonishing transitions from the dark and turbulent Prélude No.14 (E flat minor), to the luminous clarity of No.15 “Raindrop” (D flat major) and relentless barnstorming No.16 (B flat minor) were starkly contrasted and trenchantly brought out. There were missed notes here and there, especially in running passages in pieces of both sets but that mattered little, as none of the playing came across as sounding bored.

The “remembrance” component fell to Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition, a suite of character pieces written in tribute to his late artist-architect friend Viktor Hartmann. Hewitt's performance was accompanied by a visual component, a series of paper cuts by Czech-British artist Klara Smith representing individual pieces of the tableaux.

Bydlo, the oxcart

Projected on a large screen behind the pianist, the stylised illustrations – intricately crafted with cobwebbed finery - resembled that of wayang kulit. A purist will decry that piano music does not need such extra-musical stimuli to express itself. However in this case, Smith's handiwork proved more imaginative and interesting than Hewitt's playing.

Marketplace at Limoges

His rather constricted tonal dynamics, which hovered mostly between mezzoforte and tripleforte, would have proved more tiresome without the visuals. Hesitations, mistakes and misreadings would have also been less acceptable in a conventional recital, hence the picture show was more boon than bane.

Baba Yag's Hut on Fowl's Legs

And even that was not perfect. The playing of Tuileries was accompanied by birds, while the Ballet Of Unhatched Chicks was represented by children playing in a park. In short, the two movements had simply been mixed up. In the closing Great Gate Of Kiev, the picture was prematurely faded, with a giant black screen in its place.

Here with subtlety no longer an issue, Hewitt's portrayal of the E flat major carillons was gloriously clangorous, drawing a prolonged and vociferous reception. The encore, also in E flat major, Schubert's Impromptu (Op.90 No.2), was gratefully accepted.   

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