Concert review: Yao Xiao Yun piano recital ruined by unruly audience

REVIEW / CONCERT

BOUNDARIES

Yao Xiao Yun - Piano

Victoria Concert Hall/Sunday

"No Boundaries" or "Beyond Boundaries" was probably what Shanghai- born Singaporean pianist Yao Xiao Yun had in mind for the title of her piano recital, which covered the classical, Romantic and 20th-century eras as well as Chinese music.

Smart or fancy titles are just means for marketing; what matters most is the playing. The 2005 winner of the National Piano & Violin Competition (Artist Piano Category) still has what it takes and, if anything else, has matured over the years.

An iron-clad technique was called for in Scriabin's Sonata-Fantasie No. 2, which opened the concert. Perhaps she began a tad too deliberately, which made the first couple of minutes drag a little. However, that was to contrast with a more passionate section later, in which she brought out a wealth of sonority. Amid the fine filigree, the melodic interest was never lost. In the tempestuous second movement, she went for the jugular and the result was close to spectacular.

Similarly in Beethoven's Les Adieux Sonata (Op. 81a), she made it a point to emphasise the first three sets of notes, which was a heartfelt farewell to his patron, Archduke Rudolf, who had fled Vienna in the face of Napoleon's invading army. By omitting the repeats, the opportunity to hold steadfast to this statement had been lost.

This was made up for by a slow movement, representing the patron's absence, which could not have sounded more pained or forlorn. A joyous finale, expressing the ecstasy of a long-awaited return, capped another fine performance.

Yao's 13-year-old student Lin Chuanyin was offered a few minutes in the spotlight and she acquitted herself well with a scintillating reading of Wang Jianzhong's famous transcription of Liu Yang River, which simulates the guzheng in the sound of cascading falls and rippling water.

Yao returned with Wang's equally famous Bai Niao Chao Feng (Hundred Birds Paying Respect To The Phoenix), a brilliant mimicry of myriad bird songs.

The evening was marred by the most unruly audience to step into a concert hall here. Excessive coughing, dropping of objects, children fidgeting, inappropriate applause, eating, drinking and a brazen videotaping on a cellphone were among the indignities witnessed.

Undeterred, Yao made the best of her Chopin selection, bringing true cantabile to the D Flat Major Nocturne (Op. 27 No. 2) and the Andante Spianato before letting rip in the ensuing Grande Polonaise Brilliante (Op. 22) and E Flat Major Waltz (Op. 42).

To close was Debussy's L'Isle Joyeuse (The Joyous Island), a collaboration with the pianist's father, artist-calligrapher Yao Hai Cheng, whose 11m-long scroll painting on the same subject, displayed in the foyer, was the visual component.

Yao's performance of the Debussy showpiece was both attentive to detail and colourful. The obligatory encore was shared with Lin, as both pianists polished off Brahms' Fifth Hungarian Dance with no little panache.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2017, with the headline 'Sonorous expressions ruined by unruly audience'. Print Edition | Subscribe