Piano notes that sound like tinkling bells


HENRY WONG DOE/piano recital
Esplanade Recital Studio/Tuesday

There are many fine pianists giving concerts who are not household names just because they are not named Lang Lang. New Zealander Henry Wong Doe, Juilliard graduate and prize-winner in the Arthur Rubinstein, Busoni and Sydney International Piano Competitions, is among them. His debut recital in Singapore, which was not widely publicised, should have garnered a bigger audience.

He has an iron-clad technique that easily surmounted the most technically daunting pieces and is capable of bringing out myriad shades of the piano.

Beginning with Beethoven's brief Sonata In F Major (Op. 54) in two movements, he highlighted its stark contrasts with much purpose and care. The genteel minuet-like opening was upstaged by a procession of marching octaves. And a breathless perpetual motion blazed the way of its second movement without missing a step.

As if to change tact, his breezy account of Liszt's long-breathed Ricordanza (the ninth of 12 Transcendental Etudes) sounded almost improvised, its lyricism and singing tone enveloping the hall with a warm glow.

This was the perfect salve for the coruscating energy of Argentine Alberto Ginastera's First Sonata, three of its four movements being fast and brilliant expositions.

Raw power and pummelling brute force were delivered in spades in its opening movement, while the Presto Misterioso second movement ghosted like a chilly winter wind. There was a concession for quietude in the nocturnal slow movement before the finale coasted home with a percussive Bartokian violence, which brought out spontaneous applause.

Further indelible impressions were made in the second half with Eve de Castro-Robinson's This Liquid Drift Of Light from Landscape Preludes, an anthology of short pieces inspired by New Zealand geography. Impressionistic in character, its indolent portrayal of languid lapping waters resonated in the high registers of the piano like gently tinkling bells.

More bells came to the fore with Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition. From its imposing opening Promenade, Wong's reading stood out as a brisk and no-nonsense one.

One wished he could have taken more time to smell the roses, as The Old Castle sounded unsentimental, while the playful Tuileries was tarred with the same brush as the lumbering ox-cart Bydlo, which served as an early climax of sorts.

The Ballet Of Unhatched Chicks wanted for lightness, but Goldenberg & Schmuyle (Two Polish Jews) was suitably brutal in its characterisation.

When it came to fast and furious, Baba Yaga's Hut swooped down menacingly but at that high speed, some wrong notes were inevitable. However, all came to a heady end with the grand strides of The Great Gate Of Kiev, with its deafening tintinabulation of pealing carillons.

Wong's sole encore was a balm for the ears, Gareth Farr's The Horizon From Owhiro Bay (from Landscape Preludes) with its wind-swept climes bathed in pentatonic and gamelan-like tones. It made for a colourful conclusion to a flavoursome evening of piano music.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2015, with the headline 'Piano notes that sound like tinkling bells'. Print Edition | Subscribe