Somewhat strangely, given his eminence in 18th century music scholarship, it was the late Stanley Sadie who, albeit inadvertently, introduced me to the music of Alexandre Tansman. As a jobbing reviewer on Musical Times under Sadie’s editorship, I was called into his office to be handed a copy of Album d’Amis by Tansman suggesting that it was “probably worth reviewing”. It was, and my brief review, albeit suggesting that the music “cannot shake off strong overtones of French Impressionism”, duly appeared in 1982. The composer’s name has stuck in my memory ever since, even if we rarely get a chance to hear his music. For the record, he was a Polish composer who lived from 1897 to 1986 and produced a very substantial amount of music for a staggering array of instruments and ensembles and in an equally staggering variety of genres; including numerous operas, ballets, nine symphonies, fistfuls of concerti, a surprisingly large number of various pieces in memory of his contemporaries (such as Falla and Stravinsky) and battalions of piano and chamber works, many sufficiently short and sufficiently playable to have become set pieces in examination syllabuses and competitions.
Such has been the fate of the Sonatina for bassoon and piano which, by virtue of it being a rare work of musical value for the instrument, probably gets passed through the hands of more bassoon students than anything else. Which is not to say that it is not a very fine piece and given a fine player can make a real impression on the audience. It certainly had a fine player – indeed an exceptionally fine one – in Liang Geng who performed it as the closing item in today’s student recital at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory in Singapore. Brilliantly (and there is no other word for it) partnered by Liu Jia, Liang strode through the piece’s three, concise and interlinked movements with a panache and sure-footedness which brought home just what a versatile and colourful instrument the bassoon can be when given the right conditions. This was bassoon playing of the very highest order supported by a most intelligent level of musicianship which brought out the full scope of Tansman’s well-crafted writing.
Liu Jia had also been involved in the first item of the concert, two movements from Mozart’s Violin Sonata in A. The violinist, Hong Mengqi, was a vision in deep, shimmering green, and there was a spring-lime freshness to her playing, full of vivacity and vigour. What a shame, though, she looked so miserable, unable even to muster the slightest whiff of a smile when she came back to take a well-deserved second bow. First year cellist, Chen Jia Yu, positively beamed at her audience as she tripped joyously through Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo Capriccioso, giving her accompanist, Low Shao Ying, more than a run for her money. Blest with the most flexible left hand action, Chen threw off Tchaikovsky’s capricious writing with great aplomb, making light work of its daunting technical demands. Perhaps a little more precision in the left hand might not have gone amiss, and one would hope that, if nothing else, a few years in the Conservatory will reveal to her the need to use the fluent virtuosity she undoubtedly possesses in the service of a stylistically aware interpretation rather than as an end in itself.
For pianist Melivia Citravani Raharjo, the technical demands of the 1st movement of Chopin’s F minor Concerto were no problem, and she flowed across the notes with consummate ease and poise, beautifully – indeed splendidly – supported by Anthony Hartono’s realisation of the orchestral reduction. Indeed, at times, one rather wished the roles had been reversed for, while Raharjo had no qualms with any aspect of the solo part, she does not have that assertiveness or innate feeling for style which would have elevated this performance from being an ideally balanced piano duet into a fair imitation of a solo concerto. Chopin’s writing is so thoroughly pianistic that, when it is condensed on to two hands at the piano, the orchestral score sounds perfectly idiomatic; and for the solo to emerge from this, there really needed to be a little more substance and character. That said, the concert once again yielded some outstanding music making from the up-coming generation of musical headline artists.