Concert review: In Theatrum, piano duo makes magic performing musical obscurities

The B-L Piano Duo comprises two former Singapore students who studied at London's Royal College of Music, Bertram Wee and Lynette Yeo.
The B-L Piano Duo comprises two former Singapore students who studied at London's Royal College of Music, Bertram Wee and Lynette Yeo.PHOTO: ARTSREPUBLIC.SG

Theatrum

The B-L Piano Duo

Esplanade Recital Studio

Monday (Aug 20)

The B-L Piano Duo comprises two former Singapore students who studied at London's Royal College of Music and last year won the Ensemble Category of the Royal Overseas League Competition. Their mission, according to their somewhat flowery biography, is "to play the creepiest, craziest music we can get our hands on".

For this concert, however, Bertram Wee and Lynette Yeo concentrated instead on another of their declared musical objectives - performing musical obscurities and contemporary works.

Certainly this was a programme of relative musical obscurities, and while four of the five works played were by living composers, all but one were actually written during the last century.

The exception was Darkening White by the 20-something Singaporean composer, Ernest Tay. Dating from 2015, this was apparently inspired by the writings of Sylvia Plath. While the evocation of clanging bells and various neuroses was powerfully conveyed in musical terms - and vividly executed by Wee and Yeo - Tay's writing suffered in comparison with some of the more established composers in the programme.

The most established of those was Michael Finnissy, whose Wild Flowers was a compelling and absorbing essay in piano tone and aural imagery. An abrupt and violent chord from Wee after prolonged quietness was startling enough, but the piece de resistance was an extraordinarily violent and explosive conclusion where both pianists hammered hell out of the bottom range of their instruments until the sound resembled an artillery barrage. It resounded long after the last notes had been physically released.

To counterbalance such awesome pianistic force, Salvatore Sciarrino's Sonata had both pianists fluttering around manically at the top range of their instruments. Such was the energy and physical effort required to sound the myriad glissandi here, both pianists were obliged to don white gloves. Beyond that, though, the piece had little to offer, and it overstayed its welcome by a good five minutes.

The concert's title was taken from the opening work, three movements from Kenneth Hesketh's Theatrum. Often sounding like a hotchpotch of late 20th-century gestures, the interest here lay more in the amazing spectacle of these two truly virtuoso players performing death-defying pianistic feats in tandem and with such apparent ease.

The extracts from Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe which closed the programme seemed less incongruous in performance than they looked on paper. Thanks to the unfettered virtuosity and remarkable synchronicity of the B-L Piano Duo, the full panoply of weird and wonderful orchestral (and choral) effects of Ravel's original score seemed to be magicked up by just two pianos. Perhaps the creepiest and craziest thing about this concert was the way in which two pianos transformed themselves into a vast orchestra.