24th Singapore International Piano Festival

Spine-tingling pianistic mayhem



Victoria Concert Hall

Last Friday

The young Hong Kong-born pianist Wong Chiyan is a fast-rising name in the over-populated circus of 20somethings vying to be the piano world's "next big thing". His route is not by winning international piano competitions, which are frankly a dime a dozen now, but by the scholarship and specialisation of certain composers. In his case, Franz Liszt and Ferruccio Busoni have been targets of interest.

In a very well-crafted programme, he used Mozart as a start point, before branching into the transcendental pianism of Chopin, Liszt and Busoni. Almost Romantic in character, the Fantasy In C Minor (K.475) is Mozart's most modern- sounding piano work and it resonated like late Liszt in Wong's hands.

Heavy octaves, stark chords and amplification of dissonances rid the already austere work of any sentimentality, thus paving the way for his dissertation.

One wished that Chopin's popular Third Sonata In B Minor (Op.58) was not tarred with the same brush though. Taking an epic view and emphasising architecture over lyricism, his very nimble fingers easily conquered the masses of notes, but at the cost of the music's soft centre and inner warmth.

When the nocturne-like slow movement began to sound like a sermon, one wondered if Chopin was being disrespected. Worse, someone's digital watch alarm went off unchecked for almost a minute, signalling eight o'clock and all was not well. Wong carried on and at least got off without sounding as ponderous as Lang Lang's infamous recording.

The second half was most interesting, beginning with Italian pianist-composer Busoni's transmogrifications of Mozart's music. If the name of Busoni is appended to anyone else's, expect thick layers of contrapuntal dressing applied with shovels. Nach Mozart (After Mozart) and Giga, Bolero E Variazione were witty takes on short operatic excerpts and a little piano piece, performed with delicacy and charm.

Busoni's Second Sonatina was a wholly original work, but with a Mozartian inspiration, which Wong eloquently elaborated to the audience. This most dissonant and violent work, looking forward to a Schoenbergian future, was dispatched with fearless aplomb and uncompromising authority.

The concert closed with the Singaporean premiere of the Busoni- Wong edition of Liszt's Reminiscences De Don Juan, a fantasy on popular melodies from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. What could one expect from this quadruple transcription (Mozart-Liszt-Busoni- Wong) other than total pianistic mayhem?

Wong's no-holds-barred approach was totally appropriate, rendering the dead Commendatore's stentorian curse a truly malevolent edge that was jaw-dropping and spine-tingling. In quick succession came the duet La Ci Darem La Mano and ensuing variations, raising the temperature to a hellish fever pitch. He snipped off a variation or two, tightened the overall sprawl, added further decorative devices of his own, and the final outcome brought down the house.

His encore was quietly sublime for a change, the noble Andante from Book One of Busoni's Indianisches Tagebuch (Indian Diary).

This is how legends are made.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2017, with the headline Spine-tingling pianistic mayhem. Subscribe