Concert review: Pianist Thomas Ang unfazed by rumbles from National Day Parade preview

Pianist Thomas Ang showed his skill during his recital, masterfully performing pieces despite the rumbles coming from the National Day Parade preview that was being held nearby. -- PHOTO: PATRICK ANG
Pianist Thomas Ang showed his skill during his recital, masterfully performing pieces despite the rumbles coming from the National Day Parade preview that was being held nearby. -- PHOTO: PATRICK ANG


Thomas Ang, Piano

Esplanade Recital Studio/Saturday

Pianists can consider themselves extremely fortunate, considering the vast amount of music written for the instrument. Despite this, only a small percentage of these works is ever performed.

Singaporean Thomas Ang has gained a reputation for being somewhat of a maverick, daring to venture beyond the tried and tested. While his fellow colleagues are diligently churning out Chopin and Rachmaninov etudes, his preference is for the more off-beat repertoire.

His latest recital showed there was more to this young pianist than just his interest in obscure works. The composers Sigfrid Karg-Elert and Hans Gal may appear more often in trivia than in concerts, but Ang masterfully characterised the post-romantic nature of their works and it was a pity that the unfamiliar programme could have kept audiences away.

Electing to open the evening with Brahms' Variations on a theme of Schumann Op 9, he set the bar high for himself with a breath-takingly profound performance. It is not often that the Steinway grand in the Esplanade Recital Studio spoke the way it did and Ang's infinite variety of touches and colour brought the work to life, perfectly evoking the extreme facets of Schumann's multiple personalities.

Even the intrusion of rumbles from the National Day Parade preview held close by did little to faze him as he tossed off pyrotechnics of his own in Leopold Godowsky's Pasacaglia on a theme from Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, which started with a hauntingly eerie baseline used throughout the work. The Polish composer has written some of the most deviantly treacherous works, but it proved to be a cakewalk for Ang as his transcendental technique handled the dazzling filligree with panache and more.

While lesser pianists would have been proud to simply pound out the notes, Ang took great care to note their purpose on the score.

Hexameron Op 97 by Karg-Elert and Hans Gal's 3 Little Pieces Op 65 brought out the pianist's artistry and more delicate nature.

The six contrasting pieces of the impressionistic Hexameron draws inspiration from composers such as Scriabin, Alkan and Debussy. Ang showed off his full range of emotions, drawing pictures of tranquillity in the Erotikon, a spirited march in Ritornell and the temperamental Ballade. Although technically less demanding than the Godowsky Pasacaglia, it nevertheless requires a pianist of the highest calibre to capture the essence of the work.

Unlike his more well-known contemporaries, Hans Gal embraced tonality and had no interest in the avant-garde and neo-classical movement that swept 20th-century classical music. The angular dissonances in the Humoresque reminded one of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, and Ang was fully alert to this.

His limitless imagination brought out some sparkling articulation in the light-hearted Scherzino, which contrasted well with the more pastoral Melody.

Showing that he is equally adept at music of all genres, he brought out the bubbly champagne in Kapustin's Andante Op 58 and dedicated a transcription of Richard Strauss' Allerseelen to his teacher Yap Chiu Yuen.

While he may not garner a rabid following that the likes of Lang Lang and Yuja Wang enjoy, he certainly makes a strong case to be named heir apparent to Marc-Andre Hamelin.

This concert was the latest in a series of recitals presented and sponsored by the Kris Foundation, whose founder Kris Tan was recently recognised with the Friend of the Arts award. More of the same, please.

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