Sustenance for the soul delivered with deft finger work

Singapore-based Filipino pianist Albert Tiu dedicated the recital to Singapore's healthcare workers.
Singapore-based Filipino pianist Albert Tiu dedicated the recital to Singapore's healthcare workers.PHOTO: CHANG TOU LIANG/FACEBOOK

Singapore is slowly but surely coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic circuit breaker period.

In-person concerts have yet to commence, so online concerts have become a godsend.

The concerts presented by the National Gallery Singapore bring to mind London's National Gallery recitals organised by Dame Myra Hess during the Blitz years. Those were a morale-boosting salve for a populace under siege, albeit of a different kind.

Singapore-based Filipino pianist Albert Tiu's recital, dedicated to Singapore's healthcare workers, was conceived as a response to artworks by Liu Kang and Chia Yu Chian.

Playing on a Shigeru Kawai grand piano from his living room, Tiu opened with a short prelude, the Happy Birthday song in the style of a Chopin waltz.

Three of Liu's Studies Of A Nurse, simple pencil sketches, prefaced slow movements from famous piano concertos. In these, Tiu skilfully wove solo piano parts with orchestral accompaniment, creating a seamless performance.

The first of these came from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23, a melancholic aria in F sharp minor in the gentle rhythmic lilt of a sicilienne. Deeply reflective and almost tragic in countenance, the music tugged at the heartstrings.

The spirit of Mozart lingered in the slow movement from Frenchman Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto In G Major. It is an elegant slow waltz which one wished could go on forever. Its textures and harmonies gradually got complex to a point Tiu began simulating three hands at play.

The right hand's piano filigree, the left thumb's melodic line (singing a woodwind tune) in tandem with accompanying harmonies from the other fingers were an intricate and delicate juggling act.

It was also fascinating to view these sleights of hand from a video camera's overhead perspective.

Through all this, Tiu maintained utmost composure and poise, with nary a note nor beat out of place.

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Packing in even more notes was the slow movement of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto, the only major work dedicated to a psychiatrist. The Russian composer had recovered from depression and writer's block, having been rehabilitated by hypnotherapy and auto-suggestion, and this was his unforgettable gift in return.

Chia's painting The Treatment was the inspiration for this selection, which found glorious fruition in Tiu's hands. Its brooding and slow-building passion culminated in a rollicking cadenza and harmonious chords, signifying that even during the darkest hours, a cure was at hand and thus the impetus to carry on living.

The recital closed with a short encore, revelling in the ecstatic throes of the 18th Variation from Rachmaninov's Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini.

Amid the recent debate on an artist's value in society, one thing is certain. Artists provide beauty, nourishment and sustenance for the soul, constantly reminding people what being human is all about.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2020, with the headline 'Sustenance for the soul delivered with deft finger work'. Print Edition | Subscribe