Glancing at the highly ambitious programme for the concert, What's On Your Mind? at the Esplanade Recital Studio on Tuesday, one wondered if it was a flute recital accompanied by piano or piano recital accompanied by a flute. Presented by young flautist Jasper Goh and pianist Tommy Peh, the repertoire showcased a myriad of styles from baroque to jazz to cater to the differing tastes of the audience.
Half shuffling onstage with a sheepish expression to cheers and applause from the audience, Peh launched into the opening prelude of Bach's Partita No. 5 In G Minor without properly settling down at the piano. At best, Peh managed to play all the notes. For the faster movements his tempo was erratic and unsteady, with no sense of pulse. The lines of running notes were also often uneven and hurried, as though he might trip and fall anytime. The slower movements he played with more restraint, yet had no sense of direction. The fiercely tempestuous and highly compressed Third Piano Sonata of Prokofiev which followed was mostly loud and heavy-handed, but remotely better than the Bach. The lower notes were often muddied with overtones, and those in the high register were sharp and jarring. For a smaller performance space such as the recital studio, it might have been better if the piano was at half lid rather than fully open.
The works Goh selected to perform were all by French composers, beginning with Jules Mouquet's neoclassical work La Flûte de Pan. When Peh reappeared to accompany Goh, it was as though a transformation had taken place backstage. The opening pastorale was played energetically yet elegantly, with long-limbed melodic lines. In the second movement which depicts Pan and the birds, flourishes of notes in the flute that portrayed birdsong were beautifully echoed by the piano. Peh proved to be a much better accompanist than soloist, complementing Goh's polished playing with much sensitivity and insight. The third movement was agile and playful, and Goh was immaculately precise and rhythmically stable in the rapid, staccatissimo double-tongued passages.
Pierre Sancan's subtle and evocative Sonatine For Flute And Piano was an atmospheric work with difficulties in both instrument parts. Goh was highly imaginative in his playing, and both flute and piano lines were often woven seamlessly together to create a fine balance in tone and sound.
The next two works for solo piano blurred the lines between classical and jazz, scored out on sheet music but performed as though improvising. Peh dedicated these to his late teachers, Mr Lim Shieh Yih and Mr Ong Lip Tat. Haze, by classically-trained jazz pianist Hiromi Uehara, was a quasi-impressionistic, semi-jazzy work which featured extemporisations and improvisations over a constant, almost hypnotic bass. Peh sat with his head bowed, very much like Keith Jarrett, and gave an intense and highly emotional performance. The Op. 41 Variations by Nikolai Kapustin were a little more light-hearted, jazzing up the famous bassoon solo which opens Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring in various virtuosic guises. Peh was clearly in his element, breezing through the technical challenges and animatedly bringing out the characters of each variation.
The closing work, Cesar Franck's monumental Sonata In A Major, only proved Goh's affinity for French music. Franck's masterful writing sees the violin and piano parts given equal treatment, working together to bring across the lush and complex melodies. Peh and Goh brought the recital to a glorious close, playing off each other in the charming and action-packed finale.
So after all that, what's on my mind? Perhaps a book by Proust, a madeleine and tea, and even more French music.