Thursday 20 October 2016


THOMAS ANG Piano Recital
Singapore International Festival of Music
Gallery II, The Arts House
Tuesday (18 October 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 20 October 2016 with the title "Mix of obscure and familiar". 

One important aspect of this year's Singapore International Festival of Music is its focus on some of the nation's most talented young musicians. One who has been tipped to be a future super-virtuoso in the mould of the great French-Canadian pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin is Thomas Ang, presently studying in London's Royal Academy of Music.

His piano recital was an eclectic mix of familiar and obscure work, the sort that find their way to the Rarities of Piano Music Festival at Schloss vor Husum in Germany. To sell tickets, popular works had to be programmed, so Ang began with Chopin's Third Ballade and three Études from Op.10.

One is not immediately drawn to his prodigious technique, but rather a directness of expression. He does not gild the lily, allowing instead for music speak for itself. The Ballade was crafted with care and good taste, building up to a passionate climax. The studies were tossed off like putty in his fingers, their brilliance on the Bösendorfer grand coming off as over-glaring in the reverberant hall.

The last of these was the Black Key Etude (Op.10 No.5), which was the subject of two further studies by the afore-mentioned Hamelin and Leopold Godowsky. The psychedelic and acid-infused take of the former was tampered by the more traditional contrapuntal fairground that was the latter. Ang swallowed these challenges whole, and followed up with the staple of all virtuosos worth their salt, Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit.

This triptych of tone poems is considered one of the most fearsome in the entire piano literature. The watery realm of Ondine and the bow-legged scampering of Scarbo were brushed off with splashy colour and manic ferocity but it was the slow movement, Le Gibet (The Gallows) which held the most fascination. Ang's take was slower than usual, but the repetitive tolling B flat octave of a distant church bell was totally hypnotic.

The second half opened with Bach's Prelude & Fugue in F sharp minor (Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2), where Ang demonstrated he was equally adept in standard repertoire. His Bach was particularly clear-headed and transparently illuminated.

Rarities took over with two Singapore premieres, of Russian pianist-composer Samuil Feinberg's song The Dream (in Ang's own transcription) and the Second Sonata. Dissonant and piquant harmonies dominated both works, the latter being a thorny single movement of volatile and elusive emotions, heavily influenced by the mystically-inclined Scriabin.

As a palate cleanser, two short movements from Tchaikovsky's Children's Album revealed a more tender side. Rachmaninov's transcription of Tchaikovsky's Lullaby, filled with smouldering melancholy and surprising harmonic twists, and Ang's transcription of Tchaikovsky's song When The Day Dawns completed the highly satisfying two-hour recital.

That last piece and his encore, an original transcription of a Schubert Lied (Lachen und Weinen), showed Ang to be following the footsteps of another legendary Golden Age pianist, the late great Earl Wild.  

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