Melvyn Tan at Spitalfields Music Festival

Spitalfields’ Festival runs until the 26th June.  An astounding collection of events are offered from classical to modern pop, all passionately performed by artists and musicians both local and international.

Jack Richard reviews  pianist Melvyn Tan‘s performance at Shoreditch Church last Thursday.

Tan’s program brought together music ranging from the 16th to 20th centuries, yet maintaining such a sense of unity and direction  that Rameau and Messaien seemed like natural bedfellows.

The recital started with Rameau, the composer who provided the framework for the recital, and one of his most popular keyboard suites,’ Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin: suite in A major/A minor’. The piece is more frequently performed on harpsichord and, although a modern grand piano has greater expressive potential,  I was initially worried as Tan began almost as if it was early Debussy, with heavy use of the pedal destroying the delicacy of the work. Once the piece got going (and perhaps Tan had become more accustomed to the acoustics of the building) the performance started to exhibit true baroque character and Tan expertly paid attention to the structure of the entire suite as well as the individual movements, ensuring the momentum built suitably so that the final movement was nothing short of intoxicating.

Shoreditch Church was an unexpectedly good venue for the performance, with clearer acoustics than are often found in older buildings. The simple, expansive interior no doubt contributed to the clarity of sound.

In terms of programme order, it was wise to play the Messaien: ‘Three preludes’,  second, as of all the programmed works, they were the most challenging and the most removed from the Rameau. The influence of Debussy on the pieces is constantly evident and it was interesting to hear the works played before Debussy in the concert. Tan handled these not-immediately accessible works well, effectively shaping the phrases and maximising their emotive potential.

The third set of pieces were a selection from contemporary composer Julian Grant’s ‘Shivereens’, performed in the presence of the composer. They were a pleasant surprise: brave enough to have tonal elements and  full of invention and wit. They were wonderfully performed by Tan whose relationship with the composer gave the performance an extra air of authenticity.

Finally a selection from Debussy’s ‘Images pour piano, book 1’ made for a fitting ending to the recital. Interestingly, these were the only works Tan played from memory and the performances, in keeping with the recital, were well-judged and communicative.

The summer festival runs annually throughout June with concerts taking place around the Shoreditch and Spitalfields area.   It provides a wonderful opportunity to hear world class performances for a low price and  the opportunity to support a project that continues to have a positive effect on the area the whole year round. ‘Spitalfields Music’, also runs 200 music workshops  throughout the year with people in the borough, and endeavours to make at least 50% of the tickets to their concerts available for £5 or less.

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