Momentous, but not without hiccups

The first concert showcased contrasting piano concertos by Mozart and Prokofiev.
The first concert showcased contrasting piano concertos by Mozart and Prokofiev.PHOTO: LEE GUO SHENG

REVIEW / CONCERT

PIANO CONCERTO FESTIVAL

Addo Chamber Orchestra

School Of The Arts Concert Hall

Last Sunday

The Piano Concerto Festival, a project of The Performing Arts Company, is in its second year, supported by the newly formed Addo Chamber Orchestra conducted by Clarence Tan.

This annual event provides a platform for young Singaporean pianists, a godsend as opportunities to perform with an orchestra are very rare. Its first concert showcased contrasting piano concertos by Mozart and Prokofiev.

But first, an unusual prelude took the form of Mozart's concert aria Ch'io Mi Scordi Di Te? (You Ask That I Forget You?) K.505, sung by coloratura soprano Wendy Woon. Her emotive account, filled with pathos, was well supported by the orchestra, then came the substantial obbligato piano part from Leslie Theseira.

It is said that Mozart's piano concertos were inextricably linked to his operas and here was a curious hybrid as if to prove the point. Theseira's pretty contribution was both ornamental as well as a foil for the singer, and in certain passages he blended as one with the orchestra. An excellent palate-cleanser for the proper concertos to come.

Mozart's Piano Concerto No.24 In C Minor (K.491) was performed by Choon Hong Xiang, an irregular reading because of the rawness of ensemble coupled with the pianist's diffidence.

The opening tutti was marred by poor intonation from the woodwinds, but it got better. Choon seemed overawed by the occasion, and despite neat and accurate fingerwork, his playing seldom projected beyond the orchestra's domain.

He came into his own in the first movement cadenza, which he had composed himself, a lost art revived with some ear-catching ideas.

Only the second of two minor key piano concertos by Mozart, the work was to evoke high drama and tragedy. This almost came when Choon completely missed his entry cue in the finale, only joining in a few bars later. Fortunately, he and the ensemble kept their wits, and concluded the Theme And Variations movement together without further mishap.

Altogether more confident was Nicholas Ho who tackled Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto with fearless aplomb. Now studying in Indiana with American pianists Edward Auer and Andre Watts, he has matured far beyond the impetuous youth who was previously described in these pages as having an "obsession with speed and volume" and a "surfeit of feral instincts".

All he did now was to play the notes Prokofiev had written, and the effect was electrifying. The free-wheeling first movement breezed through fairly easily, but the second movement's Theme And Variations saw a brief desynchronisation between pianist and orchestra.

A full second's rupture occurred in the rambunctious finale, but that was no fault of Ho's. Shrugging off the blip, both parties grappled with the music's high-octane content to finish on an intoxicating high.

Always eventful and at times harrowing, the Piano Concerto Festival moves to Victoria Concert Hall on Sept 3 to survey the first two piano concertos of Tchaikovsky.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline 'Momentous, but not without hiccups'. Print Edition | Subscribe