Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Jin Li & Ong Lip Tat Recital: Review

JIN LI, Violin
Victoria Concert Hall
Sunday (2 November 2008)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 4 November 2008

It was fascinating to wonder how two of Singapore's most talented and enigmatic musicians -violinist Jin Li and pianist Ong Lip Tat - would fare together in concert. The reality was not a marriage made in heaven. Plainly put, the partnership was less than the sum of both parts.

Mozart's violin sonatas were designated as "sonatas for piano with violin accompaniment". Thus the Sonata in C major (K.296) saw pianist in the dominant role, relishing the obviously more interesting part. Ong (pictured left)was a most tasteful protagonist, colouring the score with felicitous touches and savouring the bulk of the melodic lines. Meanwhile Jin was happy playing the bridesmaid, his small sound barely registering despite being more forwardly placed.

Some parity was restored in Cesar Franck's Sonata in A major, where Jin's violin began to soar without apology. It is no secret that the piano has the lion's share of the thrills and spills. Ong gratefully lapped up the opportunities, but was dogged with inaccuracies, some of which threatened to pull the ensemble apart. It was a credit that the duo finished together.

The second half of the recital belonged almost entirely to Jin Li, whose technical adroitness was never in doubt. In the hair-raising Paganini Moto Perpetuo and Tchaikovsky's joyous Waltz-Scherzo, his unerring control was breathtaking. On the more lyrical front, the transcription of a favourite Chopin Nocturne (Op.9 No.2) has some moments of wavering intonation but generally showcased a gorgeous legato line and a vertiginous little cadenza.

The World Premiere of Goh Toh Chai's Singapore Suite (composer pictured left), comprising three local songs, sounded under-rehearsed. These are not strictly transcriptions, but rather creative relooks at tunes like Lenggang Kangkong and Ikan Kekek, subjected to subtle harmonic and contrapuntal twists. These repay further listening, but in better performances.

The best outing was reserved for a rhapsodic Chinese showpiece by Chen Gang, one half of the combo that composed the Butterfly Lovers Concerto. Here the duo was happily in sync throughout, and one longed for this consistency. There were three encores, by Toselli (Serenata), Rimsky-Korsakov (Flight of the Bumble Bee) and Tchaikovsky (Melodie), which were vociferously received.
A few words about the audience: ail the worst traits of concert-going are returning. Latecoming, noisy children, a family that changes seats between pieces, people who rest their bare feet on the seats in front of them, and clapping inappropriately between movements, you name it. Don't people ever learn to be gracious? Perhaps it is time for yet another campaign on concert etiquette.

This concert was presented by Zechariah Music.

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