Thursday, 20 November 2008

Homecoming: Lee Chin & Friends / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Tuesday (18 November 2008 )
This review was published in The Straits Times on 20 November 2008.

It has been seven years since Singaporean violinist Siow Lee Chin last appeared in concert on our stages. (She was last heard performing Brahms' Violin Concerto with the Malaysian Philharmonic at the 2001 Singapore Arts Festival). In the interim, Singapore has gained a spanking new concert hall and a space-age conservatory, but it is gratifying to note that some things remain the same. Lee Chin, with her singing violin tone, disarming musicality and charm of the girl-next-door, is one of those things.
Her homecoming concert drew such a large throng at the Conservatory that hundreds without pre-assigned tickets had to be turned away. Was this a repeat of the Hello Kitty mania or Horowitz in Moscow? Thankfully it was mostly the latter, and Lee Chin's two-and-a-half hour concert had the audience lapping from her highly prized hands.

Yet it was not completely her show as the partners in concert were every bit deserving of the limelight. In Beethoven Piano Trio in B flat major (Op. 11, adapted from the Clarinet Trio), cellist Liwei Qin's sonorous utterances and Bernard Lanskey's big-hearted pianism (left) carried equal weight for a light-hearted opening act. Pianist Albert Tiu also covered multitudes of notes in Richard Strauss' Violin Sonata in E flat major with great aplomb, trading silky ornaments and resolute chords with Lee Chin's soaring melodic lines.

Even more sparks flew in the second half. Lee Chin's duo with Liwei Qin (left) in the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia ignited with absolute chemistry, and their take had the infectious spontaneity of a jam session. Albert Tiu returned as pianist-collaborator for the balance of the evening, beginning with the three-movement Suite for Violin and Piano by William Grant Still, the first important Afro-American classical composer.

The duo reveled in its Negro hymns, incessant syncopations, wicked blues notes and sexy slides, with Lee Chin's Guadagnini violin reaching heights of a full-throated soprano in the tender second piece, Mother and Child. There were also poignant moments aplenty in Amy Beach's Romance and the second of three encores, Estrellita by Manuel Ponce, especially after her announcement that she and her "little star", on loan from the National Arts Council, would soon be parted.

There was little time to be sentimental as out came the requisite fireworks in Wieniawski's Polonaise in D major (op.4) and the final encore Monti's Csardas, which sent the house into rapture. Welcome home, Lee Chin, and let us not wait another seven years for the next recital!

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