THE JOY OF PIANO / Review


THE JOY OF PIANO
ExxonMobil Campus Concerts
University Cultural Centre
Tuesday to Thursday (23-25 October 2012)

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 27 October 2012 with the title "Bask in a breathtaking piano landscape". 

The Joy of Piano, Singapore’s only free international piano festival, brought together three talented young pianists in challenging recital programmes that could rival the established Singapore International Piano Festival. They were united by having won top prizes at the Hong Kong International Piano Competition, organised by The Chopin Society of Hong Kong, as well as other major awards.

 


In the Russian Ilya Rashkovskiy, who opened the festival, one found an interpreter par excellence of Russian repertoire in the mould of legends Richter and Gilels. In Prokofiev’s Eighth Sonata, he negotiated a treacherous tightrope between bittersweet melancholy and lacerating violence with a cool steely resolve. In commanding control throughout, he also yielded poetry from Rachmaninov’s clangourous Second Sonata through its dense thickets of notes.

Breathtaking virtuosity aside, lyricism was breathed into Schubert’s desolate Impromptuin C minor and seemingly hackneyed Chopin began to resound anew. The Second Ballade and “Heroic” Polonaise could often be reduced to a mass of loud clichés, but the passion Rashkovskiy instilled into these warhorses both inspired and invigorated. His seamless legato singing line in the Nocturne in D flat major (Op.27 No.2) was also one to die for. 

 


Wednesday evening saw an equally trenchant response from Hong Kong’s Colleen Lee, an epitome of feminine grace whose lithe stature belied a big sound and enormous reserves. There was whimsy and fantasy to Schumann’s little Arabeske, while world-weariness coloured the Fantasy in C major, with a share of wrong notes in the treacherous second movement as if to prove the point.

Her overall vision and conception was never in doubt, volatile and excitable in Chopin’s Second Scherzo and displaying a kaleidoscopic range of moods and colours for the 24 short Préludes of Op.28. The journey was eventful and highly personal, one that revolved around the “Raindrop” Prélude, where time stood still for a full five minutes. The coruscating final number in D minor was the perfect a jolt to the senses, delivered with stunning panache.

 



On the final night, Italian Giuseppe Andaloro played what must have been the most unusual recital thought possible. Completely eschewing classical and romantic repertoire, baroque and 20thcentury music held sway. In Frescobaldi’s Partita on La Follia, harpsichord-like ornamentations on the Steinway grand astonished as well as delighted, while his view of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne traversed dynamic extremes, from tinkles of a music box to thunderous organ sonorities. 


The keyboard wizardry continued in the contemporary works, where impressionistic hues of Messiaen’s Préludes sat easily with the bald dissonances of Bartok’s Suite Op.14 and syncopations of Stravinsky’s Tangoand Ligeti’s Two Capriccios. Four of Kapustin’s free-wheeling Études, played with a fearless disregard of their complexities, brought down the house. The capacity audience, rewarded with two further encores, was clearly captivated and basking in the joy of outsized pianism

The Joy of Piano is part of the ExxonMobil Campus Concerts Series and was generously sponsored by The Chopin Society of Hong Kong. All photographs courtesy of NUS Centre for the Arts.