Piano playing that sparkles

Noriko Ogawa produced fireworks at her first performance here in seven years.
Noriko Ogawa produced fireworks at her first performance here in seven years.PHOTO: SATORU MITSUTA

Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa's concert of familiar favourites presented moments of passion and poetry

REVIEW / CONCERT

AN EVENING OF FIREWORKS

Noriko Ogawa

Victoria Concert Hall / Last Saturday

It has been seven years since Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa last performed here and 11 years since her solo recital at the 2005 Singapore International Piano Festival.

Her welcomed return was marked with a recital of familiar favourites.

Fireworks are not usually associated with Mozart's keyboard music, which were written for dainty and fragile instruments such as the fortepiano. His audiences were more the 18th-century drawing room variety than those in vast concert halls and they would have been startled by the sounds of a modern Steinway grand.

Ogawa, though, made no concessions for authenticity, projecting a robust but crystal-clear sonority in Mozart's Sonata in A major K.331.

The opening theme-and- variations movement was crisply and lusciously articulated while the central movement came across less like a courtly minuet than an elaborate, decorated study.

It was the popular Rondo Alla Turca that romped home with an irrepressible gusto. Many pianists race through it with dizzying fingers, but few understand its martial strides as Ogawa did.

More acute in colouring and tonal shadings was her interpretations of Debussy, for which she is known.

In Images (Book I), the shimmering ripples of Reflets Dans L'Eau (Reflections In The Water) were borne out by her velvety touch and excellent control of pedalling.

Similarly indelible were the build-up of the stately Hommage A Rameau (Homage To Rameau) to an impassioned climax and well-placed accents in the vertiginous Mouvement (Movement).

The Debussy set closed with a true showpiece in L'Isle Joyeuse (The Happy Island), an evocation of a famous Watteau painting depicting unbridled hedonism. Ogawa's prodigious fingerwork and enraptured senses became one in a multi-hued canvas, which brought the first half of the concert to a scintillating close.

Taking the fireworks theme to heart in the all-Chopin second half, it was a parade of popular hits, beginning with the Minute Waltz Op. 64 No.1. How often does one hear this trifle in concert or played with such precision yet carefree abandon?

It was followed by the Grande Valse Brillante in B flat major (Op. 18); more super-charged glitter in three-quarter time.

A rare moment for quiet reflection was found in the nocturne-like Andante Spianato, with smooth legato singing lines, before Ogawa pulled out all the stops for the swashbuckling Grande Polonaise Brillante to live up to its title. Her faultless pianism meant that nary a note was dropped and this imperious show continued into the final two warhorses.

The First Ballade Op. 23 and Second Scherzo Op. 31 are such frequently heard pieces that they risk sounding hackneyed. Yet Ogawa's blend of passion and poetry made them ring out fresh and for those who were hearing it for the first time - there were many young audience members - they were treated to a performance of how the two works ought to sound.

Prolonged applause yielded two encores. The Paganini-Liszt La Campanella brought another experience of fireworks while the sublime Schumann Traumerei (Dreaming) signalled that it was time for bed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Piano playing that sparkles'. Print Edition | Subscribe