Melvyn Tan proves he’s a pianist at the height of his powers at King’s place, plus October’s best classical concerts
The Piano Festival at Kings Place in London is an unashamedly old-fashioned and modest thing. It doesn’t set out to reinvent the piano, it just offers intelligently programmed concerts, nicely contrasted, played by pianists who are wonderful musicians but not fashionable. One of them, from the Russian pianist Ilya Itin, gave a fine demonstration of old-style Russian pianism. One felt the ground tremble in the tumultuous closing pages of Rachmaninov’s first sonata. But it was cast in the shade by the recital from Singapore-born pianist Melvyn Tan. He was certainly fashionable a few decades ago, when he became well-known as a performer of sprightly delicacy and grace on the Mozart-era piano or “fortepiano”. Since then, he’s returned to the modern piano, and has dipped in profile, perhaps as a result. His concert was a reminder of just how fickle and witless a thing fashion is, as it showed an artist who is clearly at the height of his power. It began with the shapely unaccompanied melody that launches Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, which Tan made as eloquent and lyrical as if it were played on a cello. The dance itself whirled by with a water-colour delicacy, and the piece that followed,Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales had a similar delicacy, but painted now in oils. The colours were richer, which gave the effect of an infinitely wider emotional palette – but still dreamlike in its lightness. By now, it seemed Tan was a poet of the piano who could muster every kind of sound except a straightforwardly big one. The next piece – L’Africaine, by South African composer Kevin Volans – blew that supposition out of the water. Tan had clearly been holding something reserve, so that Volans’s brilliantly conceived evocation of African music-making would jerk us out of dreaminess into reality. Here, Tan proved he had wrists of steel, in the hammered outbursts that burst like a shout of joy into the music’s incessant patterned weave. At other times, the onrush would suddenly pause to make way for a rhapsodic solo melody, shaped by Tan to suggest one musician stepping out from the collective to utter a brief prayer, before returning to anonymity. It was bright and fresh as a spring morning, and deeply moving. Afterwards, Tan’s superb performance of Miroirs returned us to Ravel’s dream-world, but after the dazzling sunlight of Volans’s piece it no longer seemed so seductive.