Mix of the obscure and familiar



Thomas Ang Piano Recital/Singapore International Festival of Music/Gallery II, The Arts House/Tuesday

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 is tipped to be a virtuoso in the mould of the great French-Canadian pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin is Thomas Ang, who is studying at London's Royal Academy of Music.

To sell tickets, popular works had to be programmed, so Ang began with Chopin's Third Ballade and three Etudes from Op. 10.

One is not immediately drawn to his prodigious technique, but rather a directness of expression. 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 Bosendorfer 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 Hamelin and Leopold Godowsky. The psychedelic and acid-infused take by Hamelin was tempered by the more traditional contrapuntal fairground by 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 at standard repertoire. His Bach was particularly clear-headed and 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.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2016, with the headline 'Mix of the obscure and familiar'. Print Edition | Subscribe