Paris-trained pianist Wang Congyu affected by attacks but still turns in charming recital

Singaporean pianist Wang Congyu.
Singaporean pianist Wang Congyu.PHOTO: STEINWAY GALLERY SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - It was with a heavy heart that young Singaporean pianist Wang Congyu, who spent the best years of his musical education in Paris, began his recital of the music of French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). A minute of silence was observed in memory of victims of Friday evening's terror attacks in Paris. With the audience at Alliance Francaise on Sunday still standing, he performed Arioso, Alfred Cortot's transcription of the slow movement from J.S. Bach's Keyboard Concerto (BWV.1056).

Clearly affected by the horrific turn of events, his pulse of the touching piece was unsteady, and this continued into Poulenc's popular Trois Mouvements Perpetuels. The perpetual motion of its title proved to be deceptively difficult to sustain, and the odd bit of rubato did not seem appropriate in this context.

It got better for the Trois Novellettes and Trois Intermezzi, works of more varied character. Wang provided the gentlest of touches for the Steinway grand wheeled in specially for this concert, and his liberal use of the sustaining pedal smoothed over the more angular edges. A little more incisiveness and elan would have helped, but still, he is incapable of any ugly sound.

Poulenc's piano music is light and airy, often accused of being frivolous and prone to fripperies, but is never dull. How Wang navigated through the 15 Improvisations, the longest work in the recital, was a testament to his music "story-telling" abilities. Every short piece is highly characterised in form, sentiment and mood, and here his variegated approach to each proved to be decisive.

The Seventh Improvisation achieved a high point in capturing Poulenc's carefree and melancholic personality. The Homage To Schubert (No. 12) was a delightful German dance in three-quarter time, while No. 13 and No. 15 (the latter a homage to chanteuse Edith Piaf) were showcases of lyrical-writing which Wang revelled in.

The five-minute Melancolie was Poulenc's longest single movement, yet within it was a microcosm of his seemingly contradictory personas, befitting his reputation of being a "rascal and saint". The programme, which follows Wang's debut CD recording titled Charme, closed with an arrangement of the chanson Les Chemins D'Amour (The Paths Of Love), which was shaped beautifully.

Wang generously performed three encores, the first being American pianist Earl Wild's Homage To Poulenc, in effect a J.S. Bach sarabande dressed up in Poulenc's perfumed harmonies. This was followed by an alternative version of Chopin's Nocturne in E flat major (Op. 9 No. 2), which has more difficult and filigreed right-hand ornamentations, and Debussy's First Arabesque.

This recital summed up in a word: charming.