Pianist Artur Schnabel used to encourage his students to stretch toward expressive heights with the slogan "Safety last!" At the National Gallery last night the young Malaysian pianist Margaret Hee-Leng Tan proved herself his disciple in spirit with a daring musicality rare in these days of the note-perfect artist.
Not that the notes should be other than perfect. Schnabel's dictum assumed technical security, and Tan certainly had powerful skils at her command. What set her apart was the totality of her expressive commitment. This immerison meant that an occasional wrong note slipped in when Tan was intent on pursuing an expressive line. Obviously, if she thought about it, she could make every note right all the time, but the gloriously inspired quality of her playing might suffer.
Tan has a big tone and a big technique to match her bold style. Her confident, virile playing of the opening Bach Capricco generated anticipation of the excitement to come, and she did not disappoint her listeners. Her Chopin was marked by elegance of gesture and sound. She infused Prokofiev's second sonata with glowing lyricism.
Tan's passionate playing teeters on the edge of control, as a few rhythmically erratic moments in an intense Beethoven performance revealed. However, if time tempers that passion she could develop into one of the great pianists.