Despite his slim figure, pianist Christopher Janwong McKiggan proved to be colossus, converting every piece into a virtuoso composition.
Further defying and deviating from the standard interpretation of Brahms and Beethoven in Sonatas No. 1 and No. 31, respectively, he made them distinctively and startlingly fresh, different and virtuosic.
McKiggan being immersed in contemporary music of the last 20 years, and highly acclaimed for his interpretation of it, the Brahms and Beethoven sonatas, in their rendition, oddly veered toward the contemporary in style and approach.
“Three Minds” by the internationally recognized Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen magnetized and enthralled the audience throughout its extensive length. McKiggan’s awesome skill—or wizardry, no less—delineated with utter fluency, fluidity and ease the work’s daunting challenges.
Extraordinary dexterity and dramatic expressiveness gave the ultimate impression of a composer’s tortured, tempestuous, terrifying mind through fortissimo runs of incredible swiftness, chords of overwhelming power, both constantly sweeping through the keyboard. Only the briefest, languid spell suggested a tranquil mind.
In varying degrees, Robert Besar’s “Pag Rag” and Karim Al-Zand’s “Paganini Reverie” left a similarly thunderous impression, their bravura passages deafening. The pianist’s body language eloquently reflected the vigorous end thrust of either work.
McKiggan gave brief and often amusing remarks before each number, proudly saying his first mentor was a Filipino, and introducing himself as “part Chinese, part Thai, part Scottish and part English” for which mixture he enjoys “cultural diversity.”
The finale, Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” based on a Russian legend, was composed for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. As arranged later by Agosti, its arresting, abruptly changing rhythms and drastic musical innovations would be a challenge to any choreographer’s talent and creativity, the pseudo-Oriental melodies remaining, nevertheless.
In a rather disguised and vague manner, the many episodes are depicted; for example, Prince Ivan confronted by the ogre Kastchei and his monsters, but saved by a magic feather from the Firebird; the death of Kastchei. Only the dance of the Princess bears faint lyrical strains.
McKiggan infused the sequences, his technique astonishingly brilliant, with tonal gradations, contrasting dynamics ranging from infinitely soft to clangorous, closing with the majestic splendor of Prince Ivan’s triumph.
The concert at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Little Theater must have had a late announcement; McKiggan deserved a much bigger audience! But the piano stalwart consistently garnered hearty, prolonged applause after each piece.