Outstanding piano concertos



Robert Casteels, conductor

Manasseh Meyer Concert Hall


The occasion was sold as the 50th anniversary of American pianist Tedd Joselson's concert debut, but this concert was more like an offshoot of the annual piano concerto festival organised by young Singaporean pianist Leslie Theseira.

Three piano concertos were performed by Joselson and two of his former students, almost constituting a concise history of the form. They were accompanied by the Addo Chamber Orchestra conducted by Robert Casteels.

The Baroque era was represented by J.S. Bach's Keyboard Concerto In A Major (BWV 1055), created at the infancy of the genre.

It is conceived for harpsichord and Theseira crafted a gentle, mincing timbre, which sounded initially like part of the orchestra (strings only), but soon developed a voice of its own. Not yet a vehicle of virtuosity, the concerto sounded pretty, with simple ornamentation and general understatement as its highlights.

The world premiere of Casteels' Piano Concerto came next, impressively articulated by Nicholas Ho.

Casteels said this was based on a much earlier solo piece, orchestrated and completed within just three days. Its gestation was more like three decades, with the free use of atonality and angry dissonances more commonly encountered in the 1980s.

Playing for some 15 minutes, both piano and orchestra (strings and winds) probed and ruminated over a plethora of thematic ideas, with the ostensible aim of finding its home key of E flat major. Eventful, inventive and quasi-improvisatory, there were alternating moments of serenity and violence, several false dawns and vocalisations of that elusive E flat by orchestral members.

The end finally came with an emphatic and abrupt succession of E flat major chords, closing with the pianist plucking an E flat string in the innards of the piano. Beethoven's Emperor this is not, but it is a worthy addition to the small canon of Singaporean piano concertos.

Joselson, a Singapore permanent resident, closed the concerto segment with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 In A Major (K. 488), a work he first performed as a teenager with the English Chamber Orchestra.

Concerto performances by Joselson are a rarity these days and this outing was a treat because he still possesses the wherewithal and authority to pull it off.

Confidence, fine control and sensitivity marked the first movement, culminating in Mozart's own cadenza. Although the orchestra sounded thin in parts, it supported the endeavour well. Joselson's solo sicilienne, which opened the slow movement, was a thing of beauty and this continued dream-like through its entire course.

The exultant finale literally caught fire in his mercurial fingers and the outcome was a thrilling adrenaline-filled affair. His was an unfaltering, no-holds-barred view, leaving one with no doubt of an undimmed prowess and artistry.

After the concertos, there were solo recitals by four of his students, which continued into the early evening. There was a lot of music, but it was Casteels' premiere and Joselson's Mozart that stood out.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'Outstanding piano concertos'. Print Edition | Subscribe