Friday, 29 December 2017


Esplanade Concert Hall
Wednesday (27 December 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 29 December 2017 with the title "Pianist Melvyn Tan lights the way for series of concerts".

Singapore-born British pianist Melvyn Tan was the first performer of the Aureus Great Artist Series, an ambitious line-up of concerts organised by Aureus Academy, Singapore fastest growing private music education institution. His recital, entitled Dances and Mirrors, was a well-conceived programme built around the music of Maurice Ravel.

The short first half featured waltzes, opening with Weber's Invitation To The Dance. Its slow and courtly introduction depicts a gentleman politely addressing a lady, and her gracious acceptance, before leading to the ballroom floor. The entreaties were however broken by a bawling toddler who had to be carried out of the hall.

Unperturbed, Tan leapt brilliantly into the waltz proper, one that pulsed and heaved as one breathed. Far from being metronomic, Tan's dance delighted in liberal rubato, deliberately slowing down before gathering speed once more, giving the music both life and lilt. The over-arching climax and false ending had the audience applauding prematurely, before a return to the earlier pleasantries.

The eight short waltzes of Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales came next, modelled on Schubert's similarly titled groups of dances. A plethora of dynamic contrasts were brought out, highlighting many facets of these sparkling polished gems. Boisterous yet coy, brusque yet tender, Tan found them all and never once did he miss out on the vital and unceasing rhythm.

The longer second half saw the five impressionistic pieces of Ravel's Miroirs (Mirrors) separated into four suites. Within each group, works by Liszt and Scarlatti were imaginatively selected to mirror Ravel for a show of converging inspirations and diverging outcomes.

Some masochistic impulse must have possessed Tan to begin with Liszt's Feux Follets (Will-o'-the-wisp), arguable the keyboard repertoire's most merciless finger-twister. Although he came through relatively unscathed, the account came across as effortful. More comfortable he was with the flittering and flickering denizens of Ravel's Noctuelles, an evocative portrait of night moths, and the resounding echoes of Oiseaux Tristes, which sounded magical.

The watery realm was explored next in Liszt's Les jeux d'eau à la Villa d'Este, a gushy play of spouting fountains. There was a brief lapse of focus midway, but benediction was found at its spiritual close and the ensuing roar of waves in Ravel's Une barque sur l'ocean.

The third suite was the most unrelenting, with two Scarlatti sonatas simulating outsized sonorities of military parades (with drums and trumpets aplenty) and flamenco guitar. The nightmare of repeated notes in the D minor Sonata (K.141) was then mirrored in Ravel's Alborada del gracioso, the unfettered morning dance of a court jester. Here, the highly animated and demonstrative Tan became the jester himself.

Closing the recital were the pealing tones of Liszt's Bells Of Geneva and Ravel's The Valley Of Bells, which made for a sublime and quiet ending. Instead of playing an encore, Tan gave way for two of his youngest students, Aaron Oh and Asher Khoo, who impressed on four hands with the evening's final dance - a Johann Strauss polka. 

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