Wednesday, 8 July 2020

CD Review: EVOLUTION by DONALD LAW



EVOLUTION
DONALD LAW, Piano
KNS Classical A/085

Its been several years since a Singaporean pianist produced a recital disc, and Donald Law’s debut album is much welcome amid this Covid-19 pandemic. The award winning pianist who pursued studies at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and London’s Royal College of Music provides an hour-long chronological history of the piano sonata form. Beginning with the late Classical (Beethoven in 1821), following through to the Romantic era (Chopin, 1844), before closing in the early 20th century (Janacek, 1905), this an enthralling musical journey.

Law gives an idiomatic reading of Beethoven’s Sonata No.30 in A flat major (Op.110), the most formal member of his final sonata trilogy. Its lyricism is well-realised, as is the third movement’s sense of pathos. The contrapuntal lines of the fugal finale are delivered with utter clarity, and on this count, I am certain that he will be a convincing Bach player. Only in the folk-flavoured central fast movement does the fast Trio section comes across as being hemmed in by politeness and discipline.


Moving on to Chopin’s Third Sonata in B minor (Op.58), Law has a strong grip of the first movement’s narrative sweep, and omitting the exposition repeat helped. All through the work’s arch lyricism, there is an undercurrent of tragedy and vulnerability that pervades, and this is best heard in the Largo third movement. If there were any music to compliment the gaunt and haunted look of the consumptive Chopin’s famous daguerreotype of 1849, this would be it. Law shapes this with much sympathy and understated beauty. While the etude-like second movement could have been more mercurial, the finale’s Rondo romp is delivered with a sure-headed and often thrilling inexorability.     

Arguably the best performance comes in Leos Janacek’s two-movement Sonata 1.X.1905 (“From The Street”), prompted by the murder of a worker in a street demonstration. Besides covering all the notes, Law gets to the dark heart and soul of this disturbing work. From its brooding opening movement (Presentiment) through an arch-like progression to its violent climax (Death), the canvas is filled with myriad shades and nuances of grey amid stark black and white musical imagery. A third movement had been discarded by the composer, but this “unfinished” torso stands, like a life cruelly interrupted, a masterpiece completed by its bleak finality.

With this excellent recital disc, Donald Law announces himself as a true artist and major new voice in Singapore’s classical music scene.

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