Virtuoso who kept calm and carried on

Piano Recital
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory

J.S.Bach's music for the clavier is contentious business. Should it be played only on the harpsichord, the instrument of the day, or is piano permissible? German pianist Andreas Henkel showed that one could have it both ways on the latter in the Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue.

For the running notes, he used minimal pedal and the fingerwork was crisp. In the slower chordal sections, pedal was applied generously but judiciously, and a sustained organ-like sonority resulted. In the complex fugue, clarity of voices ruled supreme and it was in many ways a convincing performance.

In Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata (Op. 53), Henkel's view was a model of restraint. Belying the Allegro Con Brio directive of the opening movement, he kept emotions in check through the succession of C major chords and subsequent development. His trajectory was a slow-to-boil long arc that traversed all three movements, with the contemplative slow movement finally giving way to the flowing lyricism of the finale.

Here he was given free rein to pile on the passion and volume, culminating in a series of right-hand glissandi. These sleights of hand were achieved with much fluidity, and without the cheating that some pianists are wont to do.

The three Mendelssohn pieces that came after the interval were sheer delight. The Capriccio In A Minor contrasted between slow and fast, and Henkel's technique held up well in the note-spinning that was in vogue for the early Romantics. The Venetian Boat Song showcased a seamless cantabile in this lilting barcarolle, which then morphed to the light-fingered staccatos for Song Without Words.

Salon music made way for the out-and-out barnstormer that is Liszt's Spanish Rhapsody. Henkel pulled out all the stops for a virtuosic but unshowy reading. As if fearing lapses into vulgarity, he kept an even keel throughout, unruffled by its flying notes, octaves and chords.

There is a spirituality to keeping calm and carrying on in the face of adversity, and he embodied all that. The unusual choice of encore, Henkel's own transcription of the gospel hymn Morning Has Broken, which would not feel out of place in a Sunday worship service, said it all.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2015, with the headline 'Virtuoso who kept calm and carried on'. Print Edition | Subscribe