British pianist Ronan O'Hora has performed around the world and is a teacher and mentor to Lim Yan, who begins his tenure as artistic director of the Singapore International Piano Festival this year.
O'Hora's programme featured some of the best-known works of Beethoven and Brahms, woven together by common threads of passion, angst and unrequited love.
He opened with Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8, better known as Pathetique, which he played with great tenderness and lyricism. After the solemn opening section, the movement becomes fast and vigorous. He turned on the energy, but it remained a measured reading. His exquisite tone and phrasing were heard in the second movement's singing lines.
There was the occasional missed note, but his attention to detail, voicing and phrasing was superb.
REVIEW / CONCERT
26TH SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL PIANO FESTIVAL: RONAN O'HORA
Victoria Concert Hall/Last Friday
It was only in the final movement Rondo that one missed some of the bravura that extroverted pianists bring to the sonata.
Brahms' Sonata No. 3, an early work, contains much emotion and pathos. O'Hora's tempos were broad, but the playing never became stodgy. His controlled touch and immaculate control of tempo made for satisfactory listening. The slower movements stood out for sensitivity, as did the sonata's second and fourth movements.
The recital's second half featured the composers' later works, starting with three pieces from Brahms' Six Pieces For Piano, Op. 118 - the intermezzi in A major and E-flat major, bookending the Ballade in G minor. This set is the composer's penultimate piano work, dedicated to his life-long love, Clara Schumann, wife of composer Robert Schumann, and melancholy abounds in the music.
O'Hora's warm, generously pedalled sound in the intermezzi was wonderful, but there was a price - clarity in the upper lines could have been better. The Ballade was a wonderful contrast, leading one to wish he had played all six pieces from the set.
Beethoven's Sonata No. 23 gave O'Hora the chance to fully exploit the tonal and dynamic range of the festival's Steinway grand piano.
Up to this point, his playing was thoughtful and introspective. As the second movement transitioned into the roller-coaster final movement, the tempo and intensity grew. It was as if darkness had finally lifted and the recital ended on a high.