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25th Singapore International Piano Festival: Dang Thai Son (Review)

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The Vietnamese pianist’s performance is a masterclass brought to life onstage.

Dang Thai Son first came to fame as the first prize winner at the 10th International Chopin Piano Competition in 1980. Since then, he’s gone on to play in over 40 countries with countless international orchestras, and can be considered a master in his own right.

It’s no wonder then that his masterclass sold out the previous night, and in his onstage performance on Sunday evening, showcased both variety and mastery over various composers. In each sequence, Dang was in complete control over every note and nuance, highlighting and introducing less well known composers such as Paderewski, choosing pieces that showed a lot of depth, as well as a range of moods and tones. Dang is obviously someone who knows how to create an atmosphere, and was able to ease audiences into the different pieces, all of which were intertwined in conversation with each other, and one cannot help but be mesmerised by every piece.

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It is in the Chopin numbers that Dang is completely in his own element however, one of the highlights of the evening. In Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp major, Op. 60, Dang showcases ownership over the piece in its glorious finish, nimbly playing the fast arpeggios towards the end to end the piece on a magnificent note. In contrast, his rendition of 12 German Dances, D. 790 was more of a narrative drama, with an interesting communication showcased between the melody and the bass of the piece.

Dang ended off the night with Liszt’s Réminiscences de Norma, S.394 (“Reminiscences of Bellini’s Norma”). Liszt was inspired by Bellini’s opera Norma, taking seven of its themes and weaving them in a slightly different order, focusing on creating a slow but showstopping opening and closing that can only be described as pure beauty. There is a sense of empathy that emanates from the piece, paying tribute to other composers, yet leaving his own signature from it, rife with clashing chords and 193 or so paraphrases and partitions, making this a difficult piece to pull off. For Dang to have perfectly executed it then, is testament to his skill as a pianist, with the left hand sometimes adding to the right hand melody, shifting from melody to aria, soft to rousing, before ending off in a devastating, dazzling finale.

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Dang is a master of the masterclass, agile with his fingers and emotive in his execution. This established pianist is one class act to follow, and a prime example of how much potential the winners of the International Chopin Piano Competition have and how far they can and will go to help the international piano ecosystem as they themselves grow into maestros in their own right.

Dang Thai Son played as part of the 25th Singapore International Piano Festival on 10th June at the Victoria Concert Hall. The Singapore International Piano Festival runs from the 7th to 13th June. For more programmes and performances at the festival, visit SSO

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