Sunday, 7 January 2018


The Inspiring Trio
Esplanade Recital Studio
Friday (5 January 2018)

If you wish to get a glimpse of the future of piano playing in Singapore, you could do worse than to attend a concert by students of Singapore’s most effective and inspiring piano teachers. The School of Young Talents at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts is an obvious start-point, but The Musique Loft (an alliance of music teachers based in Singapore’s east coast district founded by Winnie Tay and Angelyn Aw) has much to offer as well.  If one considers that the likes of Azariah Tan and Clarence Lee (Winnie’s former prodigies) and Serene Koh (Angelyn’s star pupil) arose from their respective studios, performance of their current students will need to be taken seriously.

This concert by The Inspiring Trio – Chen Jing, Toby Tan and Jessie Meng - three students of Winnie Tay, in support of The Business Times Budding Artist Fund may have important implications for the future. Dr Andrew Freris, President of the Chopin Society of Hong Kong, once referred to child prodigies as “real artists who happen to be really young”. Hence there is evidence that something serious and exciting is going on in those studios.

Chen Jing (8 years old) was the first to perform. Close your eyes, and you would not imagine Brahms’ Intermezzo in A major (Op.118 No.2), late Brahms to be certain, being played by someone this young. Her warm, cushioned sound was a balm to the ears, and she was also able to bring out the inner voice of the swifter central section. In two of Chopin’s waltzes (Op.64 No.2 and Op.18), an innate feel of rubato was evident, allied by a silken touch and limpid fingerwork. This was an excellent opener to the recital.

Toby Tan (9 years old, but almost a head shorter) put his prodigious finger to work in Debussy’s Arabesque No.1, Chopin’s posthumous Nocturne in C sharp minor and Schubert’s vertiginous Impromptu in E flat major (Op.90 No.2). The repetitive nature of the last seemed a tad unrelenting, and the reading could do with more charm. However there were no reservations in Toby’s original composition Sorrow of Love, a pop and New Age influenced piece which showed development of ideas, culminating with a stormy central interlude with a short cadenza to boot.

Jessie Meng (10 years old) was recently awarded 1st prize at the Singapore National Piano & Violin Competition (Intermediate category), and her performances showed exactly why. I cannot imagine Balakirev’s transcription of Glinka’s The Lark being played any better. Her shaping of its melancholic melody, colouring of the accompaniment, capped by virtuosic ornamentations made this a dream performance. Her view of Chopin’s Scherzo No.2, a new work for her, was less formed. There were wrong and missed notes for sure, but there was no denying her passion.

And that was only the first half (entitled The Affectionate). The second half programme, The Exhilaration, saw changes in outfits for all three pianists. Chen Jing emerged to have a heartfelt account of the 1st movement Mozart’s Sonata in F major (K.332). At once, the realisation that she does not play to the metronome but breathes the music with all its myriad dynamic changes showed she is a thinking artist. What was there not to like in a selection from Shostakovich Dances of the Dolls (innocence, irony and droll humour are not alien to her) and the note-spinning of Wang Yu Shi’s Sunflower

Toby Tan, now attired in a three-piece suit and spiffy hat, looks the born entertainer in his playing of Astor Piazzolla’s Street Tango, Gershwin’s Prelude No.1 and I Got Rhythm. In all of these, he displays an assurance, swing and pizzazz which adults would be envious of. This was topped by Fazil Say’s Alla Turca Jazz, a ragtime version of Mozart’s popular rondo, which was a charmer through and through.

Jessie Meng returned with the meat of her programme, which began with the 1st movement of Mozart’s Sonata in C major (K.330). This was a very assured reading, and it got even better with the 1st movement of Dmitri Kabalevsky’s Sonata No.3, a work once championed by Vladimir Horowitz. She took its alternating dissonances and lyricism in her stride, which all but suggests that she is ready to tackle the early Prokofiev sonatas. The barnstorming ended with the tempestuous final movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  

The Inspiring Trio, as the threesome is called, gave an encore composed by Toby Tan called Magical Music Box. It was not so much a tinkling musical box miniature but more of a rumbling and punchy barn dance with musical boxing along the way – very entertaining and a surefire way to close the concert proper.

This concert was in aid of The Business Times Budding Arts Fund, and one of its previous beneficiaries, a vocal group called Harmonix formed by four rather self-conscious teenagers, performed two pop songs Don’t Stop Believing and You Raise Me Up. They were more of an incidental side show in an evening dominated by three quite incredible children.

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