Wednesday 19 October 2022

FRENCH PIANO SERIES / Piano Island Festival / Review


Piano Island Festival

Victoria Concert Hall

Sunday to Wednesday 

(9-12 October 2022)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 19 October 2022 with the title "Crowd-pleasing pianists thrill audiences at trio of French piano recitals."


The Piano Island Festival is an independently run piano festival founded by Singaporean pianist and entrepreneur Wang Congyu which has had four editions since 2018, alternating between Singapore and Reunion Island. As a prelude to its fifth edition in December (to be held in Kuala Lumpur), a three-recital mini-festival involving French and French-schooled pianists provided an exciting foretaste of things to come.


Opening on Sunday evening was veteran French pianist Jean-Marc Luisada in a recital entitled Ce Soir Au Cinema (Tonight At The Cinema). Dedicated to his late parents who instilled in him a love for movies, the programme was a tribute to piano music used on the silver screen as directed by John Huston, Ingmar Bergman, Luchino Visconti and Woody Allen among others.


Luisada proved to be a raconteur par excellence with his preambles, and a master of piano colour and nuance. The Mozart Fantasy in D minor that opened was unabashed with outsized sonorities rather than the coy variety often encountered, and few expected the passion and angst coaxed from Brahms’ Three Intermezzi (Op.117) and the lugubrious Variations in D minor (Op.18b).


Finding climactic highs in Chopin’s wistful Mazurka in A minor (Op.17 No.4), he also blazed through the familiar Second Scherzo (Op.31) with caution thrown to the winds. In Alexandre Tharaud’s piano transcription of Mahler’s Adagietto (from the Fifth Symphony), the dynamic range was raised to the roof and Gershwin’s evergreen Rhapsody in Blue was a no-holds-barred affair not for the faint-hearted. Four generous encores of Joplin, Cosma, Chopin and Mozart kept the audience buzzing till late.      


Two of Luisada’s former students at the Ecole Normale in Paris completed the series. Homecoming pianist Wang Congyu’s recital revealed that he was no clone of Luisada but one with fiercely independent views. Chopin featured prominently, and his free-spirited approach may alarm purists such as taking liberties with rubato, pedalling and finding inner voices where there may be none.


Still it takes a thoughtful soul to link the Bach-Cortot Arioso (from Concerto BWV.1056) with Chopin’s Nocturne (Op.32 No.2), both in A flat major, or have the rapturous Nocturne (Op.48 No.1) lead into the First Ballade (Op.23), which find a common palette in C minor. His Three Mazurkas (Op.59) breathed genuine nostalgia and the familiar Nocturne (Op.9 No.2) was dressed with fine filigree in a rarely-played alternative version.


Although his Liszt Rigoletto Paraphrase or Chopin Waltz (Op.34 No.1) could be slapdash at times, there was no denying the wealth of rich, sonorous detail unleashed in two of American piano legend Earl Wild’s song transcriptions. Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and Gershwin’s Embraceable You were made to sound totally compelling.  


Japanese pianist Hayato Sumino, also known as Cateen in his Youtube videos, is already a media darling. His recital confirmed that a serious artist could also be seriously entertaining. Chopin’s Scherzo No.1 (Op.20) and Heroic Polonaise (Op.53) were idiomatic and straight as might be expected from a serious contender in last year’s Chopin International Piano Competition. Yet the suite of waltzes built around Chopin’s Waltz Op.18, including Alexis Weissenberg’s April In Paris and Cateen’s own Big Cat Waltz just oozed bluesy insouciance and Gallic charm.  


Liszt’s music dominated the second half, but coloured with Sumino’s jazz-inflected musings. The popular Liebestraum No.3 began like a gospel hymn but took a turn at the Blue Note Club. The late and spare Nuages Gris (Grey Clouds) provided a semblance of sobriety but it served as prelude to the most devilish performance of the Saint-Saens-Liszt Danse Macabre thought possible, just the right recipe for Halloween.


Finally in the famous Hungarian Rhapsody No.2, Sumino took on the fearsome improvisatory challenge of its cadenza ad libitum, conjuring up a mesmerising piece of wizardry that had the cheering audience eating out of his hands. Three encores later, a phenomenon of fan adulation from the 19th century was being relived, one we now know as Lisztomania.    





Scott Joplin Solace

Vladimir Cosma 

Promenade Sentimentale from Diva

Chopin Grand Valse Brillante Op.18

Mozart Movement from Le Petit Riens 


WANG CONGYU (11 October)

Chopin Nocturne Op.9 No.2 (Jan Ekier edition)

Chopin Waltz in D flat major, Op.64 No.1 

"Petit chien” (Minute Waltz)

Gershwin-Wild Embraceable You


HAYATO SUMINO (12 October)

Cateen I Got Rhythm Variations

Chopin Etude Op.25 No.11 “Winter Wind”

Cateen Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman Variations

No comments: