Lows amid highs as pianist interprets varying styles



Henry Wong Doe (piano)/Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music/Orchestra Hall/Thursday

Born in New Zealand and currently teaching at Indiana University in the United States, Henry Wong Doe included in this recital a wide range of musical styles.

There was Haydn and Schumann, alongside Messiaen and Ginastera, and a living New Zealand composer, Gareth Farr.

Such diversity certainly raises the interest level for the audience, but not many pianists can get away with it.

There is inevitably going to be some lows alongside the highs.

One of the most obvious highs was the Ginastera Sonata No. 1.

Doe's strengths are his agile fingers and firm, often rigid, sense of pulse. With its bursts of extravagantly fiery display and profusion of Latin-American dance rhythms, this sonata suited his style of playing.

He had told the audience in his very welcome introductions to each piece that the Ginastera was a favourite - and it showed in an invigorating performance.

He did not say that one of his less favourite works was the Haydn E minor Sonata, but it certainly seemed that way.

Rattling through the three movements with almost indecent haste, and paying only lip service to concerns of style, these seemed to have been included in the programme as a sop to those who like to see a classical sonata in a piano recital. It certainly did nothing to enrich the overall experience.

A movement from one of Messiaen's Vingt Regards Sur L'Enfant-Jesus was high on technical assurance and dynamic power, but with its four-square sense of rhythm and pounding climaxes, it never really evoked the sense of spiritual ecstasy that this music is all about.

Similarly, while Doe gave a good impression of the waves beating against the shoreline in Farr's The Horizon From Owhiro Bay, these waves seemed to have been generated more by a wave machine than the complex winds and cross currents of the Cook Strait.

The principal work in the programme was Schumann's largescale Fantasie, which occupied the entire second half of the recital. Again, Doe had told us how much he liked the work, and it was selfevident in a performance which, at times, unbent sufficiently to cause the group of schoolgirls in the audience to abandon, albeit temporarily, their incessant texting.

The first two movements, fast and flashy, often led to a feeling of conflict between Doe's expressive intentions and his technical bravura, with accuracy as the unfortunate victim.

But in the extraordinarily affecting finale - a wonderful exhibition of sustained poise and depth of feeling - he produced from the piano a truly gorgeous tone and shaped the music with a sense of the lyric which was the recital's real high point.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2017, with the headline 'Lows amid highs as pianist interprets varying styles'. Print Edition | Subscribe