The encore makes or breaks the concert



Philip Fowke Piano Recital

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory

Orchestral Hall/Wednesday

The most anticipated moment of a concert can sometimes take place after the event, when the performer chooses to perform encores. Selecting what to play can make or break a recital, as veteran British concert pianist Philip Fowke explained in his hour-long lecture- recital at the conservatory.

This is a stratagem of performance psychology that may redeem a recital that had not gone as well as an artist had intended and often turns an indifferent audience into a far more positive one.

It is also the "art of the miniature", as short and rarely heard morsels of music, sometimes by little-known or forgotten pianist-composers, are served like after-dinner mints.

When was the last time anyone heard in performance Ignace Pade- rewski's Minuet In G Major? This used to be an extremely popular and regularly played piece, one which the pianist-turned-President of Poland resented for its sheer ubiquity. In Fowke's hands, it was a charming and unpretentious little gem that had its obligatory flashy bits.

Next came two Lyric Pieces by Edvard Grieg, the gently rocking rhythm and ravishing harmonies of Melodie (Op. 47 No. 3) contrasting with the flitting skittish swirls of Butterfly (Op. 43 No. 1).

Of a more barnstorming nature was Erno Dohnanyi's Rhapsody In C Major (Op. 11 No. 3), which delighted in big chords and that grandstanding melody at its centre.

Fowke also presented a couple of his own transcriptions.

From Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker, the Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy highlighted the celesta's tinkling sonority, one achieved with cunning pedal-work, and athletic romp that is the Trepak (Russian Dance).

The pianist's journey back in time also revealed his vintage, including mention of 78rpm shellac discs, piano rolls, player-pianos and a salute to two late pianist friends of his, Eileen Joyce and Shura Cherkassky, themselves legendary practitioners of the encore.

Ever obscure was the Waltz In A Major by the Ukrainian Mischa Levitzki, its salon appeal enhanced by highlighting hidden inner melodies magically voiced by the left thumb. This was balanced by Christian Sinding's solitary hit single, Rustle Of Spring, with gentle murmurs overshadowing its more virtuosic flourishes.

Pride of place went to two pieces by Billy Mayerl, sometimes known as the British Gershwin. Song Of The Fir Tree, based on a Swedish folksong, was first heard straight and later with a bluesy swing, as if transformed by a swig of Scotch. His signature tune Marigold exuded much lilting gaiety, with ragtime taking a teasing turn on The Strand.

Fowke's final two pieces are justly celebrated, Moszkowski's scintillating Etincelles (Sparks), a Horowitz favourite which is a study in staccato, and Chopin's familiar Heroic Polonaise (Op. 53). In the latter, how he managed to evince pathos and melancholy amid the thundering octaves made this reading a memorable one.

The perfect encore is one which makes one crave for more and Fowke had seriously whetted everybody's appetite.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2016, with the headline 'The encore makes or breaks the concert'. Print Edition | Subscribe