Delicious sounds at new piano festival

The week-long event included a competition for youth, masterclasses, as well as lectures and piano recitals by members of its international faculty.
The week-long event included a competition for youth, masterclasses, as well as lectures and piano recitals by members of its international faculty.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/PIANO ISLAND FESTIVAL

REVIEW / CONCERT

INTERNATIONAL PIANO ISLAND FESTIVAL

Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre

Tuesday and Thursday


A new piano festival has emerged in Singapore.

Founded by Singaporean pianist Wang Congyu, the week-long event included a competition for youth, masterclasses, as well as lectures and piano recitals by members of its international faculty.

There could not have been a more varied programme than Thursday night's offering by young Portuguese pianist Vasco Dantas.

Opening with Schumann's Scenes Of Childhood and closing with Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition, this was a recital of contrasts - from arch simplicity to a vivid play of exotic and, sometimes, disturbing visions.

He possesses the technique and endurance to master the sprawl of these canvasses, and the imagination and palette to colour and characterise each of the 28 short pieces within.

In between, Liszt student Vianna da Motta's delightfully rustic Portuguese Scenes and the fearsome Guido Agosti transcription of three movements from Stravinsky's The Firebird provided further delicious piques for the ears.

A standing ovation from the audience was a just result. Tagged on like encores were Gershwin's Three Preludes, teasing with rhythm and blues, and Dantas' improvisation on the hit song, I Got Rhythm, with motifs from Jingle Bells cheekily inserted.

Earlier in the evening, Michael Bulychev-Okser (Russia/the United States) held a lecture-recital that centred on the art of transcription.

The Bach-Busoni chorale prelude Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ, Glinka-Balakirev The Lark and Kreisler-Rachmaninov Liebesleid were familiar enough, but it was his selection of rarities that stood out.

Eduard Schutt's transcription of Brahms' Lullaby was a showpiece guaranteed to keep babies (and audiences) awake.

The lilt of Tirindelli-Liszt's Mazurka No. 2 was simply disarming, while Arensky-Siloti's At The Fountain shimmered brilliantly through the underlying melancholy.

Two Earl Wild etudes on Gershwin songs (Someone Like You and The Man I Love) and Rachmaninov's coruscating Floods Of Spring sealed a totally enjoyable virtuoso showcase.

Held on Tuesday evening was a four-hands recital by a Singapore-based husband-and-wife duo of Nicholas Ong (Malaysia) and Kim Bo Kyung (South Korea).

Debussy's graceful four-movement Petite Suite conjured visions of the Belle Epoque - from the gentle lilt of En Bateau (Sailing) to the final Ballet's exuberance.

These paradigms of gentility were soon trumped by the waltzing tritones and dancing skeletons of Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre, a witty celebration of things that go bump in the night.

On his own, Ong gave a scintillating reading of Schumann's Allegro In B Major (Op. 8), a rarity in recitals simply because it is so difficult to play.

The duo resumed in the second half with Six Morceaux (Op. 11) by Rachmaninov, varied short works that included a barcarolle, scherzo, waltz, romance, Russian song and tsarist anthem.

The interactive tension, delicate interplay and impeccable musicianship displayed are reasons why live performance will always be more exciting than any reproduced recording.

There will be competition performances and recitals till the closing evening on Monday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2018, with the headline 'Delicious sounds at new piano festival'. Print Edition | Subscribe