Philip Chiu shows his poetic and his razzle-dazzle in music of Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Burge, Schubert and Liszt!​

Philip Chiu,;Photo credit: Music Toronto

Review by David Richards

​Toronto ON November 29th 2017


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Before last night’s concert at St. Lawrence Centre’s Jane Mallett Theatre, I had only heard Philip Chiu perform as a collaborative pianist on CBC radio broadcasts. Nevertheless, his recent accolades have made his name very familiar. In 2015, he was the first recipient of the Prix Goyer, Canada’s largest prize for an emerging artist in classical music valued at $125,000. Despite becoming one of the most sought-after chamber musicians in Canada, and having been a student at the Glenn Gould School ten years ago, last night’s performance was billed as his Toronto solo debut.

My first impression was how relaxed, humble and genuine Philip appeared to be. Speaking to the audience before the program began, he acknowledged those who made the event possible and thanked each individual in the audience for coming to hear him. He revealed that it made him nervous to realize that years ago as a student he had heard András Schiff performing Schubert on the same stage and concert series.

Last night’s program was well thought out, building from the sensitively poetic music of Maurice Ravel and John Burge, to the expressively sublime Sergei Rachmaninoff, to the virtuosic razzle-dazzle of Franz Schubert and Franz Liszt. Beginning with the Mother Goose Suite (Ma Mѐre l’Oye) of Ravel, Chiu created a fairy-tale’s light touch. His fingers glided over the keys. The birds of Tom Thumb’s forest were delightful. Sleeping Beauty waking from her slumber in the final movement exuded a loving spirit. The luminously delicate playing was transcendent.

Chiu continued with a poetic spirit in the Studies in Poetry No. 4: Loop (2009) by the Canadian composer John Burge. Here the perpetual motion of the inner parts carried some beautifully crafted melodies. Chiu made me want to hear more studies from the collection.

The first half of the program ended with three Sergei Rachmaninoff preludes, Op. 32, No.10, Op. 23, No. 4, and Op 23, No. 7. They took the audience from the grief inspired first, building in expressive range and pianistic demands through the other two. Chiu was careful not to let the music grow beyond the bounds of musicality, keeping a close ear to the transparency of both the melodic line and the inner voices.

The second half of the program was an outgrowth of the first half. Schubert’s Fantasy in C, D. 760 “Wandererfantasie” built through four movements tied together by the opening C Major chords and arpeggio. The electrifying arpeggios of the fourth movement leading into the fugue played out in octaves and more arpeggios made for a tumultuous ride to the finish.

The program ended with Deux Légends by Franz Liszt. It was last performed at a Music Toronto concert in 1982 by Alfred Brendel. I was taken by the charm of the programmatic music conveying St. François d’Assisi preaching to the birds in the first Légend. It was in the second, the depiction of St. François de Paul walking on water that took the concert to its climactic finish with wild waves and its triumph conclusion.

Philip Chiu is a name to be remembered, not just as a sensitive chamber musician and collaborative pianist. Last night’s gripping concert was indicative of a pianist with much to give as a solo artist. Let’s hope this Toronto debut marks the beginning of a long-term relationship with the city as a solo performer.

Next up on Music Toronto’s calendar will be a performance by the Gryphon Trio on December 7th at the Jane Mallett Theatre. Violist Jethro Marks will join the trio for Brahms’ Piano Quartet in A Major,
Op. 26.