Pianist dazzles with drama and emotion

A delectable concert from French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
A delectable concert from French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. PHOTO: DECCA-KASSKARA

For the past three decades, French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet has been performing at the highest level around the world, not just in solo recitals, concertos and chamber collaborations, but also in award-winning film scores and jazz albums.

The visiting artist at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music presented a sumptuous solo recital in two parts on Tuesday evening.

He opened with German composer Robert Schumann's Kin- derszenen (Scenes From Childhood), which is likely to be familiar to young pianists. The composer had originally titled this set of 12 miniatures reminiscing about childhood, Light Pieces.

By no means does that title lessen their importance in the concert repertoire, as all are little musical gems, calling for fleet fingering and the deftest touch.

  • REVIEW / RECITAL

  • JEAN-YVES THIBAUDET

    Jean-Yves Thibaudet - piano

    Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music Concert Hall/Tuesday

Well-known for his poetic expressiveness, Thibaudet had a non- plussed approach and lack of airs that made for a delightfully refreshing reading.

Completed just three years earlier, Schumann's Piano Sonata No. 1 could not have been more contrasting in structure and style.

Consumed at that time by his infatuation with Clara Wieck whom he would later marry, and brimming with ideas for his first piano sonata, the work has long, dramatic first and fourth movements that each develop in complex, bewildering ways - almost faster than listeners are able to grasp.

Thibaudet's performance of this sonata was a total contrast to that of Kinderszenen, displaying dazzling technique and passion, albeit peppered with the odd missed note.

The final movement was most impressive, with an emphatic introduction followed by successive waves of drama and emotion.

The second half of the concert was like a French impressionist's reflection of the first. Opening with Maurice Ravel's Pavane Pour Une Enfant Defunte (Pavane For A Deceased Princess), the change in tone colour that Thibaudet conjured was remarkable - the piano producing a more diffuse, ethereal timbre.

The Pavane was followed without interruption by Miroirs (Mirrors), a set of five movements that Ravel wrote in honour of Les Apaches or "hooligans", a band of outlying artists of which Ravel was a member. With movements including Night Moths and Sad Birds, the work abounds with technical and interpretative challenges.

Thibaudet brought forth images of the night, wild seas, bells tolling and other scenes. This work is the longest of Ravel's compositions for solo piano and yet it seemed to flash by .

Thibaudet added to the mystique of the piece by playing the fiery Spanish- influenced Alborada Del Gracioso (Jester's Morning Serenade) as the final movement, after Ravel's chosen finale, the tranquil and introspective Les Vallee Des Cloches (The Valley Of Bells). This might have been to avoid premature applause, but it felt like a compromise of the composer's intent.

These days, the music of Schumann and Ravel is more often heard here in the form of concertos, orchestral and chamber works. It was a great pleasure to hear their major solo piano works in a recital, played with such distinction by Thibaudet, who imbued each half of the concert with its own character.

If pressed, I would give the edge to the two Schumann pieces, but that would be splitting hairs, as the whole concert was delectable.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015, with the headline 'Pianist dazzles with drama and emotion'. Print Edition | Subscribe