An exhibition of powerful, persuasive piano-playing



Louis Schwizgebel (piano)

Victoria Concert Hall


Swiss-Chinese pianist Louis Schwizgebel won second prize at the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition and was a 2013 to 2015 BBC New Generation Artist.

The breadth and depth of his programme, spanning works by Schubert to Debussy, was most impressive for a 31-year-old pianist who makes his Singapore International Piano Festival debut as a late stand-in for an indisposed Ingrid Fliter.

From the opening notes of the second of the Four Impromptus, D. 935 by Schubert, there was exceptional clarity in tone. He played with purposeful lines and wellconsidered phrasing, setting the tone for a highly polished performance.

As Schwizgebel proceeded with a selection of seven preludes by Chopin, a wider range of dynamics and technique emerged.

A sense of yearning could be heard in Prelude No. 4, and Prelude No. 17 (Raindrop) evoked thoughts of the recent weather seen in Singapore.

His playing was unpretentious, with a touch of rubato and good lyricism, although there was room for a tad more Polish passion.

The first half ended with Ondine from Gaspard De La Nuit by Ravel and L'isle Joyeuse by Debussy. Schwizgebel has ample technique for both pieces, which he delivered with ease, if not all the panache desired for French repertoire.

Schwizgebel's Ondine offered more than a hint that here was a pianist whose concept of timbre and piano technique encompassed an exceptionally wide palette.

Audiences in Singapore are fortunate to get to hear high-calibre performances of Pictures At An Exhibition on a regular basis, both as an orchestral showpiece and in its original solo piano form.

What more could a young, stand-in recitalist offer? But Schwizgebel had much to add and his performance will be fondly remembered.

The composer's colourful titles for each movement and his omission of precise metronome marks meant that the performer has the story, but not necessarily the instructions for performance.

From his opening notes, Schwizgebel pushed the piano and his playing to the limit.

As he worked his way through the exhibition, his imagination and apparently limitless piano technique revealed seldom-heard details of the work - the sudden and extreme contrasts in The Gnome, the myriad layers of voicing possible in The Old Castle, the weird and wonderful sounds to be heard in the Catacombs.

He gave each movement, every exhibit that the walker visited, much more than a fleeting glance.

Through his playing, it was easy to imagine the different characters of each child playing In The Tuileries Gardens, or the women gossiping at Limoge.

Walking through the gallery with Schwizgebel was more than a technical tour de force.

The music of Pictures At An Exhibition is largely literal - less ephemeral and emotive than the greatest piano works of Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann - but Schwizgebel gave the listener a vivid portrayal of great imagination.

This was an exhibition of powerful and persuasive piano-playing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2019, with the headline 'An exhibition of powerful, persuasive piano-playing'. Print Edition | Subscribe