Passionate rendition of Russian rarities

Pianist Albert Tiu.
Pianist Albert Tiu. PHOTO: ST FILE

REVIEW / CONCERT

GRAND RUSSIAN

Albert Tiu Piano Recital

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall

Last Friday

What makes Russian Romantic music so attractive and compelling that a large audience was enticed to the Conservatory on a Friday evening to attend a recital comprising two piano sonatas which could rightly be considered rarities?

The names of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov provided a clue, as both Russians composed tuneful works with emotions firmly emblazoned on their sleeves.

Pathos and tragedy are writ large in their often overwrought scores, such that listeners are put through a wringer and come out feeling a spiritual catharsis.

Or maybe it was the name of Albert Tiu, surely the most adventurous and thematically sophisticated pianist in Singapore today.

It was really a bit of both, as he began his recital with Tchaikovsky's Grand Sonata In G Major Op. 37.

Big chords dominated the opening movement, delivered with fearless panache, but tempered by a Schumannesque lyricism which made the contrasts all the more apparent.

The shortcoming was not Tiu's, but Tchaikovsky's, because the repetitious piece seemed to go on a bit too long.

The perpetual movement in the third movement's Scherzo provided a worthwhile diversion, but that was too short.

It was left to the finale to combine the extremes - with more loud notes and prestidigitation - leading to a vertiginous climax before bringing down the house.

Rachmaninov's First Piano Sonata In D Minor Op. 28 that occupied the second half was even longer, but in Tiu's hands, that never became an issue.

The brooding and ruminative opening predicted his Third Piano Concerto and Tiu built up a strong case by drawing the listener into the unsettling heart of this very personal music.

The oft-quoted association of this symphonically conceived work with the legend of Faust is apt, as its three movements seemed to reflect the conflicted personas of Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles.

While the first movement struggled with turmoil and upheaval, the slow second movement was a calming and tender portrait, while the finale was a devilish ride into an abyss.

There have been only three complete performances of this work in Singapore in living memory. Tiu gave two of these, including the local premiere in 2004.

If anything, this last epic reading surpassed his first in terms of passion and volatility.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2016, with the headline 'Passionate rendition of Russian rarities'. Print Edition | Subscribe