Chopin celebrated

Recitals of Frederic Chopin's piano music are usually predictable; a pair of Nocturnes, a clutch of Etudes and Preludes, a Ballade or Scherzo to impress, capped by the indestructible Second or Third Sonatas.

Not so for Singapore-based Filipino pianist Albert Tiu, who presented an adventurous and varied programme of mostly short pieces built around the cult of the Polish pianist-composer.

There were 21 works by 12 composers, grouped in five suites, showcasing a wide breadth and depth of influence, not to mention Tiu's understated virtuosity and unfailing musicality.

Who was Chopin and who were his forebears? One clue lay in the opening number, the Fugue In F Minor (from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1) by Johann Sebastian Bach, possessed with a chromaticism way ahead of his time.

The first suite, cast entirely in the morose key of F minor, also included the first of Chopin's Trois Nouvelles Etudes and a most sinuous of Etudes - the Op. 25 No. 2 - which revealed a mastery of the right hand.

Grieg's little-known Hommage A Chopin and Liszt's tricky La Leggierezza completed the set with no little aplomb.

The lyricism of bel canto was the next influence, with three Nocturnes in E flat major. The first was by Irishman John Field, inventor of the "night piece", its simplicity then surpassed by Chopin's familiar warhorse (Op. 9 No. 2), now dressed up in filigree by Chopin student Mikuli and Tiu himself.



    Albert Tiu, Piano

    Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall/Last Thursday

More extended was Frenchman Gabriel Faure's Fourth Nocturne (Op. 36), an essay of sumptuous beauty that furthered the genre.

The third suite comprised five waltzes, all in F minor again. Chopin was the linchpin, his lilting exercise followed by Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, Debussy and Leopold Godowsky. The last was a later Polish pianist-composer paying tribute to the master, by craftily fashioning an earlier-heard Etude into a grand polyphonic waltz.

More was to come in the second half, with a trio of Venetian gondolier songs. Ironically, Mendelssohn's piece (from his Songs Without Words) had the darkest shade of the three. This and Liszt's Gondoliera (from Years Of Pilgrimage) bookended Chopin's late Barcarolle, arguably his greatest outpouring of love, which Tiu milked to the full.

The final suite was formed by mazurkas, the humble Polish peasant dance in three-quarter time. C sharp minor was the key, with Chopin's Op. 30 No. 4 (a favourite of Ukraine-born virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz's) leading the way. Tchaikovsky's hommage (Un Poco Di Chopin or A Little Chopin), Scriabin's rhythmic gem (Op. 3 No. 6) and Pole Karol Szymanowski's saucy morsel (Op. 50 No. 3) displayed more facets to this form, before another Chopin-Godowsky conflation ended the concert.

This final time, a Chopin Etude in E minor (Op. 25 No. 5) was transformed into a grandstanding Mazurka. That the appreciative audience comprised many piano teachers, music critics past and present, singers, rock musicians and general music-lovers spoke volumes. They all love Chopin and Albert Tiu.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2019, with the headline Chopin celebrated. Subscribe