Ray of Light
Kevin Loh (Guitar)
Clarisse Teo in recital
Clarisse Teo (Piano)
Esplanade Recital Studio
Aug 17, 7.30pm and Aug 21, 7.30pm
August is the month when music students overseas return home for their summer vacations, presenting concerts that are invariably impressive showcases of their artistic progress. The last week saw two such recitals from some of our brightest sparks.
Singapore's generational talent of the guitar, Kevin Loh, now an undergraduate at Cambridge University, surveyed the history of the classical guitar with varied works from the baroque to the 21st century.
Beginning with a transcription of J.S. Bach's Cello Suite No.6 in D major, he showed that this music sounded just as idiomatic on the guitar as the original instrument. Most notable was his natural, unforced manner with music-making, allied with faultless articulation, which made for a pleasurable experience. Besides being totally in tune with the rhythmic aspects of its antique dance movements, his selection of three of Spaniard Fernando Sor's Bagatelles also oozed charm and personality.
Young Singaporean composer Lim Kang Ning's Serenata del Caffe provided much-needed contrasts, its melancholy and introspection resembled an intimate conversation between two friends over coffee. Two of Schubert's Lieder (art songs) transcribed by Johann Kaspar Mertz were a demonstration of the art of cantabile, not least the famous Serenade from song-cycle Schwanengesang (Swan Song). Outright virtuosity came in two Sonatinas by the Briton Lennox Berkeley and Mexcian Manuel Ponce, which displayed a mastery of myriad styles and techniques. Loh capped these off with a rip-roaring encore in Antonio Carlos Jobim's Felicidade.
Just as impressive was the solo recital of rarities by pianist Clarisse Teo, presently pursuing a musical doctorate at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. How often has one attended a recital of sonatas by Russian composers Nikolai Medtner and Anatoly Alexandrov? Both were born in the 1880s and lived well into the age of modernity. Bastions of the conservativism, they shunned atonality and avant-gardeism, composing some 14 piano sonatas each.
Medtner's Sonata-Skazka in C minor combined Romantic era lyricism with surprising whimsicality, the term skazka being the Russian equivalent of fairy-tales. Alexandrov's Fourteenth and Third Sonatas were even more obscure, both receiving their Singapore premieres. Paradoxically, the later 1967 work sounded far more traditional - including a masterly set of variations - than the earlier single-movement piece of 1920. All three sonatas presented thorny technical and interpretive challenges, but Teo delivered with crispness and passionate aplomb.
Sandwiched in between these were Englishman Arnold Bax's Dream In Exile, a ruminative work of nostalgia serving as both a fantasy and lament, reflecting his love for the land of Ireland. More familiar was American Lowell Liebermann's Gargoyles, four short movements of musical grotesquerie that juxtaposed eerie calm with coruscating violence. Teo's confidently eclectic tastes extended also into her encores, Dane Rued Langgaard's impressionistic The Restless Wind from Gitanjali Hymns and Frenchman Francis Poulenc's rapturous Homage To Edith Piaf. No Chopin or no Rachmaninov in a piano recital? No worries.