Thursday 11 April 2024


Piano Recital 
Victoria Concert Hall 
Saturday (6 April 2024) 

Piano Recital 
Esplanade Recital Studio 
Tuesday (9 April 2024)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 12 April 2024 with the title "Lyrical readings of Romantic composers".

Piano music of the Romantic era was on the cards in two recitals given by visiting artists. Last Saturday evening saw young Hungarian pianist Zoltan Fejervari’s Singapore debut, presented by Altenburg Arts. The repertoire offered is well-represented on record but how often does one encounter these in recital? 

Photo: Ung Ruey Loon

Russian great Piotr Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons should have been called The Months, as its 12 pieces – from January to December – were commissioned by a subscription musical journal. He dutifully churned these out every four weeks, but Fejervari showed in sensitive and feeling performances this was no hack job. 

Although these were mostly salon-like miniatures crafted with amateurs in mind, he brought out longing and nostalgia, not least in March (Song of the Lark), June (Barcarolle) and October (Autumn Song). August (The Harvest) and November (Troika) posed considerable technical challenges but were whipped off with greatest of ease. 

Photo: Ung Ruey Loon

Johannes Brahms’ final Four Piano Pieces (Op.119) provided more profound utterances. The first two explored ambiguous tonalities looking ahead to 20th century modernism, where Fejervari found an implicit poetry, while the last two – a playful Intermezzo and heroic Rhapsody – reverted to virtuoso form. 

Photo: Ung Ruey Loon

Robert Schumann’s Humoreske (Op.20) is almost a rarity, comprising varied mood pieces tightly strung together. Lyricism, alternating with whimsical diversions, was his brand of “humour”, possessed with the unpredictability of not knowing what comes next. 

Despite such seemingly diffuse ideas, Fejervari’s masterly reading was one that sought fantasy, probed for truths but ultimately found beauty within. His quiet encores of Schumann’s Night Piece (Op.23 No.4) and Janacek’s Madonna of Frydek from On An Overgrown Path were just sublime. 

Photo: Ung Ruey Loon

A typical Kenneth Hamilton pose,
with gesticulating hands doing the talking.

Scottish pianist Kenneth Hamilton is a regular visitor here, his recitals being entertaining discourses on Romantic era and Golden Age pianism. Tuesday’s show juxtaposed divinity and devilry by alternating and contrasting works of close contemporaries Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt. 

Chopin is the musical goody-two-shoes. His Nocturne in E flat major (Op.55 No.2) unfolded like an operatic duet with intertwined voices. The Prelude in C sharp minor (Op.45) was an oasis of calm, and the Barcarolle (Op.60) as rapturous love song seemed to bear that notion out. Hamilton’s playing was vivid and luminous, unafraid to dig in with heartfelt emotions. 

Liszt is classical music’s bad boy, but was he really? The Scherzo and March (previously titled Wild Hunt) was unruliness personified, its brutish assault on the senses being calculated for maximal effect. Hamilton let fly without apology, with fistfuls of wrong notes part of the territory. Polish and politeness would simply not do here. 

The chaste and contrite Andante Lagrimoso, from Poetic And Religious Harmonies, saw profound sadness morphing into spiritual comfort. Far more nuanced than people give him credit for, more conflicting forces came to bear in Liszt’s Reminiscences de Robert le Diable, which grafted the transcription of Cavatine from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera with its riotous Infernal Dance

This Singapore premiere had it all, with gushing lyricism and lush harmonies devolving into the unadulterated vulgarity of unabashed note-spinning. With added passages and flourishes rendering the original even more brilliant, Hamilton took this musical circus act in his stride, closing with the kind of din intended to shock and enthrall. 

As before and now, how the audience loved it. Hamilton’s encores were both by Chopin, a fussily filigreed edition of the famous E flat major Nocturne (Op.9 No.2), and the Heroic Polonaise (Op.53) with far more raging octaves thrown into the mix. By now, the aesthetic divide between Chopin and Liszt had become irrevocably muddied.

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