Concert Review: Shaun Choo's solo recital is musical ambrosia

Singaporean pianist Shaun Choo. -- PHOTO: GERALD CHIN
Singaporean pianist Shaun Choo. -- PHOTO: GERALD CHIN

We live in a country where every young musical talent is hyped as the next big thing, before they fade into oblivion.

Pianist Shaun Choo, 23, has been garnering accolades in competitions like it is going out of fashion, but this was his first solo recital in Singapore. His programme at the Esplanade Concert Hall last Saturday was welcome ambrosia for those grown weary of having their senses assaulted by flashy showpieces of little artistic value.

While the works he chose are probably standard fodder for conservatory pianists, one would be hard-pressed to imagine a student bringing the level of refinement and care he brought into his playing.

The entire first half was dedicated to the music of Chopin, and one was immediately thrown back to the golden era of great pianists such as Dinu Lipatti. Performances of Chopin's works are often littered with pornographic amounts of rubato or unnecessary flashes of virtuosity, but Choo's approach delved into the understated introversion of the frail composer. Has anyone ever heard the Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat Minor so gracefully sparkle, or the over-played Grande Valse Brillante Op. 18 made to sound like a courtly ballroom dance?

There was nary a misplaced accent and the manner in which he brought every note to life was almost unnatural. One could almost hear his thoughts speaking through the music, and in the popular Ballade No. 1 In G Minor, phrases were sculpted with the utmost caution. It was as if one was listening to Arthur Rubinstein, such was his ability to draw the listener into his world of music-making.

The elegance of the polonaise in Andante Spianato Et Grande Polonaise, where he made even fortissimo passages sound gentle, hinted of a maturity that shouldn't exist in a musician this young.

To say that Choo is not a virtuoso would be wrong, but the ease of his delivery of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne and Rachmaninoff's G Minor Prelude made one forget about how difficult these pieces are. While some might have appreciated a more robust approach, it was impossible to not appreciate the singing lyricism he elicited from even the most tricky passages.

It takes a confident artist to present his own compositions in a recital.Choo closed the recital with his original work, The Time Traveller's Sonata. It allowed the audience a glimpse into how he viewed music, and his fusion of melodious elements into virtuosic writing was a joy.

Hints of Hummel, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff could be heard throughout the work, and he even showed he was equally adept at jazz with a short freewheeling section that sounded totally improvised.His encores included two more of his own works.

Together Forever, which sounded like a cross between Mandarin pop and a hit Disney theme song, and Tango, where one was transported to the world of Piazzolla and Albeniz. Having performed for over two hours, it was apt that he sent the audience home with Liszt's transcription of Schumann's Widmung (Dedication).

The fickleness of the classical music industry makes it impossible to predict the career trajectory of pianists nowadays, but if Choo isn't performing in the biggest concert halls and with the top orchestras of the world in a few years, it would be the biggest injustice.