To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Japanese Association of Singapore, it was only appropriate that a Japanese artist, pianist Kazune Shimizu, be invited to grace the occasion, with a programme of popular concert pieces at the School of the Arts Concert Hall on Sunday.
The first half was devoted to two well-known Beethoven piano sonatas. Mastery of pedalling was the secret to conjuring the shimmering sound in the first movement of the Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor (Op. 27 No. 2), better known as the Moonlight Sonata. This was, of course, not Beethoven's description but that of the publisher Rellstab, who was intent on boosting musical sheet sales.
The pastoral second movement was crisply shaped, leading into the finale's maelstrom which remains one of Beethoven's most violent movements. Shimizu's crystal-clear articulation in its sweeping ascending arpeggios was matched by his big sonorous gestures, which goes to the heart of Beethoven. Unsurprisingly, this same physical and visceral approach was applied to his Sonata No. 23 in F minor (Op.57).
This is the mighty Appassionata Sonata (again, not nicknamed by the composer) where every chord was weighted like a pugilist's punch, with alternating moody, brooding and angry outbursts in equal measure.
Some respite was provided in the slow movement's variations, merely paved the way for the finale's furious study in perpetual motion. Shimizu, first-prize winner of the 1981 Marguerite Long International Piano Competition in Paris, poured every ounce of reserve into this passionate (hence the nickname) struggle, with the music and its fiery rhetoric coming out tops.
The second half was occupied by Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition. Concert-goers might be familiar with Ravel's Technicolor orchestration, but the Russian composer's original conception is not daubed in mere monochrome. There is much shade and nuance to be found by a creative soul and resourceful pianist. A bell-like resonance was announced in the opening Promenade, and that was the tread to be adopted in Shimizu's flavourful reading.
Each movement was well-characterised, from the grotesque Gnomus with knocked-knees, a soothing troubadour's song by The Old Castle, an elegant rather than fidgety Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks to the hawkish hagglings at the Marketplace In Limoges. Even in the sepulchral Catacombs and Among The Dead In The Dead Language, an acute sense of sonority and awareness of its infinite variety dominated the proceedings.
A fearless headlong dash through Baba Yaga's Hut On Fowl's Legs and the grand carillons of The Great Gate of Kiev all served to confirm this as a masterly reading, rather than a routine or serviceable one. The encore piece was also by a Russian. Tchaikovsky's lyrical salon favourite Valse Sentimentale was a delightful panacea for the ears after an evening's fill of pianistic passion.