Drama with mood and gorgeous sound



23rd Singapore International Piano Festival

Victoria Concert Hall/Sunday

The programme for the closing concert of this year's Singapore International Piano Festival would have been very close to the hearts of the legions of serious students of piano in Singapore, many of whom would have worked on all three pieces at some time.

French pianist Cedric Tiberghien brought fresh perspectives to the three works, with performances that should no doubt bring him back to Singapore in the not-too- distant future.

In the opening work, Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 14 In C Minor, he performed with pristine articulation and a perfectly judged timing and sense of scale - neither exaggerated nor restricted. His effortless fingering, thoughtful dynamic shading and the attention that he paid to the contrasting tensions of minor and major harmonies made this performance the most rewarding reading of a Mozart piano work in recent memory.

Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 21 In C Major (the "Waldstein") was a perfect choice to follow the Mozart. Tiberghien's tempo in the driving first movement was brisk, but his playing had an air of control and composure that heightened the drama. He deployed an even wider dynamic range, highlighting how Beethoven's writing pushed the limits of what was available from pianos of his time.

His slow second movement had an introspective bent - thoughtful but quietly powerful.

The final movement was a tour de force, with a relentless build-up to an explosive climax that pushed the capabilities of the beautifully prepared Steinway grand piano to the edge.

The dramatic and colourful interpretations of Mozart and Beethoven might have seemed a departure from norms, but Tiberghien's performances were never forced, musically impeccable, technically brilliant and wonderfully satisfying.

Before playing, he talked about how each key signature has its own colour and associated emotions, with special emphasis on C major, the scale "without the black keys on the keyboard" and its counterpart C minor.

The 24 Preludes Op. 28 by Frederic Chopin, spanning all the possible major and minor keys, thus provided all the room he could have wished for to explore pianistic colour and temperament.

Here, as in the first half, his playing was intense and probing, eschewing temptations to use these musical gems to simply entertain and dazzle. The slower movements had special depth and passion, although Preludes 7 and 13 verged on the overly sentimental.

The more virtuosic minor preludes 8, 10 and 24 were most memorable, conveying huge scale and drama.

It was a pity that the mood and gorgeous sound were interrupted several times by noise from restless children and concert programmes falling on the floor - an occurrence that has become commonplace at the Victoria Concert Hall.

Tiberghien's prodigious technique, thoughtful interpretations and his ability to convey colours and emotions lifted the three familiar works to their well deserved status as revered masterpieces for the piano and brought to a close another successful year for the Singapore International Piano Festival.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Drama with mood and gorgeous sound'. Print Edition | Subscribe