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“Fantasie” – Melvyn Tan Live!

January 20, 2011

Event: Fantasie – Melvyn Tan Live!

Venue: Esplanade Concert Hall
Date: 19th Jan ’11

A Triumphant Return

The music and arts glitterati descended in droves upon the Esplanade Concert Hall tonight to witness what could possibly have been the most eagerly-anticipated piano recital involving a Singapore-born pianist in recent history.

You could easily make a case that Fantasie – the debut recital of renown pianist Melvyn Tan, was the hottest ticket in town.

One might be tempted to draw smart parallels between Fantasie and the legendary 1986 Horowitz comeback concert in Moscow, and although the magnitude of the two events simply cannot be compared, one should not ignore the cultural and social significance of Melvyn’s homecoming concert as well.

Indeed, much has made of Melvyn’s controversial fine of an undisclosed amount back in 2005 due his defaulting of National Service.

However, tonight was not a time for that.

Tonight was all about a man, a Steinway, and a hall full of expectant listeners.

There was a palpable sense of anticipation in the air minutes before the concert began, and you could tell that this was to be no ordinary recital.

The audience immediately burst into rapturous applause the moment Melvyn walked onto the stage, and his countenance revealed a slight sense of being overwhemled by the response he was being treated to.

The night’s programme consisted of Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Debussy’s Images (Book 1) and Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major and Sonata in B minor.

In the Schumann piece, Melvyn demonstrated the lyrical qualities of his playing.

This was further enforced in the impressionistic compositions of Debussy, which required a sense of dreaminess and smoothness of flow, all of which Melvyn displayed to full effect.

Melvyn’s technical chops were on full display in the Chopin pieces, which he duly saved for the second act, and impressed greatly with his lightning-quick octaves in the Polonaise-Fantaisie, and his crisp, delicate running notes in the Sonata.

If I had to characterise Melvyn’s playing, I would say that it is highly refined and possesses an exquisitely delicate touch, and it is in the lyrical and leggiero passages where he truly shines.

It would be somewhat redundant to merely say that Melvyn is technically proficient, as you don’t get to be a concert pianist of such stature without being technically proficient, but I would even go so far as to say that Melvyn is able to coax exceedingly beautiful tones out of the Steinway in a way that few pianists can.

His attention to detail, and to every slight nuance of sound that his fingers create, is what in my opinion makes his playing such a joy to behold.

Melvyn’s fondness for Chopin was yet again apparent in his choice of encore pieces – Chopin’s Etude No. 8 in F Major (Op. 10), Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 16 K. 545 (2nd Movement), and the Revolutionary Etude (Chopin) to tops things off.

In his introduction to his second encore piece (the Mozart Sonata), Melvyn explained that he had not played this piece since he was 8 years old, and the last time he performed it was in Singapore at the Victoria Theatre, and ended off by saying that even though it is a simple piece, “sometimes the simplest things are the most beautiful.”

After which, he duly sat by the piano and demonstrated to us all just what he meant by that statement…because under the direction of his skillful hands, he played a simple Andante movement so beautifully that it had the power to move one to tears.

I’m not exactly sure how the piece sounded like when Melvyn played it as an 8 year-old, but I was certain that the rendition I heard tonight was a rendition from a true master of the piano.

The final encore piece, Chopin’s familiar Revolutionary Etude, was delivered in a somewhat refined manner, as is consistent with Melvyn’s playing style, though one would have preferred if there was a bit more raw aggression to it.

No matter.

The night ended with thunderous applause and standing ovations in appreciation of one of the finest pianistic talents that has ever originated from our very own island.

The homecoming might have been more than 40 years in the making, but it was definitely well worth the wait.

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