Tuesday 11 June 2024



ASHLEY WASS Piano Recital 
MEI YI FOO Piano Recital 
30th Singapore 
International Piano Festival 
Victoria Concert Hall 
Saturday & Sunday (8 & 9 June 2024)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 11 June 2024 with the title "Singapore International Piano Festival closes with first-rate recitals".

One of the more absorbing aspects at the Singapore International Piano Festival is that listeners will find common thematic threads linking each of the recitals. The third evening with British pianist Ashley Wass had late Beethoven, variations and fugues, all encountered in previous evenings, conferring cohesion to the series as a whole. 

Beethoven’s Sonata No.30 in E major (Op.109) is perhaps the most Romantic of his final trilogy. Its music lends wider scope of interpretation while leaving behind classical era constraints. Wass made it sound like a work from the mid-19th century although it was actually composed in 1820. 

Contrasts between its opening mellowness and the second movement’s violence could not be more stark, but it was the finale’s chorale theme and variations which truly sung and shone in Wass’ masterly reading. It had nuance, colour and humour, not to mention a kaleidoscopic view of Beethoven’s emotional upheavals. 

Photo: Clive Choo

The choice of two Preludes and Fugues (Op.87) by Dmitri Shostakovich was a curious one but worked very well. No.4 (E minor) and No.24 (D minor) were two of his more monumental numbers, shorn of his usual anarchic levity, but Wass handled the mounting polyphony with great aplomb. 

One will not find a more dead-serious reading of Robert Schumann’s popular Kinderszenen (Scenes From Childhood), treated by Wass as a world-weary gaze into a distant past. No child’s play here, for the familiar Traumerei (Dreaming) rang with melancholy, Child Falling Asleep foresaw looming mortality, while The Poet Speaks became the reading of a last will and testament. 

Wass’ recital closed with a luminous account of Cesar Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, almost a summation of earlier themes, dressed up in rich organ-like sonorities. J.S.Bach would have been proud. Two gorgeously harmonised transcriptions by Percy Grainger as encores gave the evening a more cheery end. 

Photo: Clive Choo

The festival’s final recital was helmed by Malaysian pianist Mei Yi Foo in an uncompromisingly modern programme. Its eclectic mix of tonal and atonal 20th and 21st century works may appear forbidding and turn away concertgoers but in the right hands can be made to sound irresistible, which Foo emphatically proved. 

A childhood link with the previous evening’s recital came in Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite in Jacques Charlot’s transcription. Its innocence and simplicity came through with utter clarity, not least in the gamelan-like sonorities of Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas and the tenderly gauche waltz in Conversations of Beauty and the Beast. 

Korean composer Unsuk Chin’s Six Etudes found Foo was in super-virtuoso mode, nailing its unforgiving thickets of hypercharged notes with the most natural of ease. These treacherous finger-twisters were mirrored by Italian avant-gardeist Luciano Berio’s Six Encores, which had fewer notes but still fiendishly difficult, especially the flighty Luftklavier and scintillating Feuerklavier. 

How Mei Yi's scores
stacked up for her recital's second half

All these made Bela Bartok’s Out Of Doors, a five-movement suite with folksy rhythms, steely percussiveness and spectral night effects sound positively poetic and inviting. Foo closed her recital with the most physically demanding movement from Olivier Messiaen’s Twenty Looks of the Infant Jesus, The Look of the Spirit of Joy. Its nine minutes may modestly be described as an ultimate joyous orgy of sound. 

After four exhausting evenings of exquisite pianism, the Singapore International Piano Festival remains more vital and relevant than ever. Its inimitable varieties and synergies of artists and programming, educational and inspirational value, make it an invaluable institution that will hopefully endure for a long time to come. 


ASHLEY WASS (8 June 2024) 

FAURE-GRAINGER Apres un reve 
   Irish Tune from County Derry (Danny Boy

MEI YI FOO (9 June 2024) 

J.S.BACH Sarabande, Minuet I & II 
   from Partita No.1

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