25th Singapore International Piano Festival

Two halves blend harmoniously



Victoria Concert Hall

Last Friday

In its 25th year of existence, the Singapore International Piano Festival still throws up surprises in its line-up. Very often, the lesser-known pianists give the most interesting and satisfying recitals. Hungarian pianist Denes Varjon, better known for his chamber music collaborations, offered a marvellous programme with two different halves.

The first was filled with multiple short pieces, strung together like a pristine necklace. Among the pearls were Six Bagatelles (Op. 126) by Beethoven, disparate and variegated miniatures which sounded lovely in Varjon's hands. His silken touch, aided by generous pedalling, ensured there was never a less than glowing moment. The fourth Bagatelle, with a rustic central section recalling the drone of bagpipes, provided a clue to the next group of pieces.

Varjon's selection of 13 shorts from Bartok's For Children was played with charm and sensitivity. Although simple in form and thematic material, these draw mostly from folk music and dances, and filled with unexpected and piquant harmonies.

Similarly, his eight Improvisations On Hungarian Peasant Songs opened with unadorned melodies, and soon gained a life of their own with dissonances piling up progressively for a heady close.

In between these was a single extended work, the Elegy No. 2, which revealed Bartok to be the rightful successor to the late music of Franz Liszt, and the logical continuation of his idiom. Built up from a sequence of chromatic notes, this eight-minute-long work - both impressionist and modernist - was the multi-faceted gem-studded pendant of the necklace.

The second half was devoted to the music of the night. There are few works as terrifying as Ravel's Gaspard De La Nuit. The hushed opening tremolandos in Ondine could have been more evenly spread.

Two Chopin Nocturnes (Op. 27 No. 1 and Op. 70 No. 1) provided aural balm, contrasting the dark and smouldering with the melancholic and nostalgic.

The concluding work was Chopin's Scherzo No. 1 In B Minor with its crashing opening chords and tumultuous upheavals, but where is the night music? A soothing Polish lullaby Sleep, Little Jesus was its soft centre, played with much affection and tenderness.

There were two encores, first with Bartok's Three Hungarian Folksongs From The Csik District, an offshoot of the first half's bucolic revelry, and Of Foreign Lands And Peoples from Schumann's Kinderszenen (Scenes From Childhood). Simply delightful.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2018, with the headline Two halves blend harmoniously. Subscribe