Schubert G major Sonata D894
Debussy Suite Bergamasque
Melvyn Tan at the BMS
by Philip Hammond
It’s early Saturday afternoon. Outside, it’s cold and grey. Inside the Great Hall at Queen’s University, Melvyn Tan adjusts his piano stool and sits surprisingly low at the piano. He is a last minute replacement for the advertised but indisposed artist.
Tan’s intimate interpretations of Schubert transform the atmosphere into one of warmth and colour with an invitingly soft, gentle melancholy. He reveals the subtlety of Schubert’s melodic genius, unerringly suffused and surrounded by the delicate pianistic transcriptions of Liszt. He captures the eloquent but delicate lyricism of Schubert’s rather sad G major Sonata D894, never overstating the rich fortes or understating the piercing pianos. There’s nothing harsh about his playing, nothing jarring or coarse.
Tan skirts perhaps on the edges of anaemia in his approach. Although he has a full scale Model D Steinway at his disposal, he judges his context neatly and succinctly and doesn’t give in to any hint of virtuosity or grandiosity. He draws us into a world of classical restraint through his attention to detail , through his understanding of the importance of shaping each phrase carefully and naturally.
In Debussy’s early Suite Bergamasque, Tan shows the composer’s links with another less rushed, less spectacle-based existence. This was no-nonsense playing, no gimmicks, no showing off, sympathetic but unsentimental.
Rather like the pianist himself – refined, delicate, rather slight – this concert presented its contents in a precise, engaging fashion. Tan’s enjoyable performance refreshed and affirmed rather than energised and invigorated.
An amount of drama confronted the BMS organisers this weekend with news that Saturday afternoon’s advertised piano recitalist, Nelson Goerner was ill and unable to come to Belfast. In the event, a remarkable replacement, Melvin Tan, was found and his performance was musically engaging and fascinatingly focussed. Playing from music, though hardly referring to it, he performed Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs, a Schubert sonata and the Debussy Suite Bergamasque. He has a way of making the piano sound like a completely different instrument, depending on what he‘s playing, and is clearly a listening as well as performing musician. The Schubert songs were beautifully projected and the Sonata in G Major wonderfully orchestrated. In a more relaxed vein, the Debussy was a warm study of light and shade, and Tan’s Viennese Schubert encore a perfect way to finish.