A FRENCH AFFAIR
The Boardwalk Theatre, Mandurah
BENJAMIN FOO (Piano)
Reviewed by Anne Hodgson
It is always a pleasant occasion when a young artist presents a concert in the home town. Benjamin Foo introduced himself to the Mandurah audience very much as a local lad and, with microphone in hand, spoke comfortably and amusingly about the short pieces which he performed, although the frequently used ‘song’ was not strictly descriptive, since Mr Foo is a pianist and not a tenor.
In the case of a public recital, when people are asked to pay for their tickets, the question of correct presentation must be a serious consideration, especially by a young artist who is in the process of establishing his reputation on the concert platform. A bad mistake was made when it was decided to put a microphone in the piano for the purposes of amplification. Not only was it unnecessary, and perhaps a bit of an insult to the architect of the Boardwalk Theatre, but it falsified the characteristic timbre of the piano and confused the textures of the various pieces. One hopes that in future recitals Mr Foo will allow the tones of the concert piano to sound unaided, otherwise whatever understanding he may have of the pieces which he performs will simply not become apparent.
There is nothing wrong with a concert of short pieces, and the title “A French Affair” was a good description of what was presented – well-known works mainly by Debussy and Ravel – but with a bit of Satie and Cecile Chaminade (not forgetting Beethoven and Mussorgsky) also included, the programme was fragmentary and lacked real cohesion. It would have been better if Mr Foo had performed the whole of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit instead of just the first movement, and the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is fine on a recording of popular favourites, but in the context of a recital, all three movements should be played.
As a performer Mr Foo displays a technique which is appropriate for the works which he presents, although there are sometimes lapses in memory, when interesting new melodic and harmonic moments occur. He has a powerful attack and, despite passages where the percussive nature of the piano is sometimes overplayed, he has good control of the thicker textures. The intricacies of difficult keyboard passages are also generally performed confidently and clearly. However, during the performance it was obvious that the question of how to deal with musical time is still somewhat unresolved in Mr Foo’s mind. Many of the works were too steadily measured; they did not display the temporal elasticity which is absolutely essential for pieces such as Debussy’s Clair de Lune. Satie’s Gymnopédies No.1 also lacked the delicacy of touch which is needed for the sparse texture of the piece, although that particular problem could have been caused by the microphone rather than by a failure of understanding on Mr Foo’s part.
As a presentation to an audience of friends the concert was successful, but one hopes that Mr Foo will not always chat so freely to his listeners. He tends towards a self-deprecatory delivery, and while that can be appealing it has very little to do with the pianist’s real concern which is to present music and not just to entertain.
COPYRIGHT © February 2003 Anne Hodgson