Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Songs Without Singers / Lim Yan Piano Recital: Review

LIM YAN Piano Recital
Sunday (9 November 2008)
Esplanade Recital Studio
This review was published in The Straits Times on 11 November 2008

After romping through the 24 Préludes of Rachmaninov in a sitting in July, it was only appropriate for young Singaporean pianist Lim Yan to showcase a more intimate and poetic side to his musicianship. Songs Without Singers was a play on the title of Felix Mendelssohn's beloved cycle Songs Without Words, the First Book (Op. 19) of which opened his recital.

Demonstrating that this music isn't just Victorian drawing room fodder, Lim coaxed a gamut of varied shades from the six pieces. A singing line was evident throughout, one where his silky sense of legato was put to good use. There were undercurrents of tension, and even a passionate Brahmsian sweep in the turbulent fifth piece that added to the pathos.

Edvard Grieg's Lyric Pieces were similarly inspired. Lim played twelve of these bonbons from two books (Op.43 and 54), colouring them with so vivid an imagination that one just forgot about the time. Amid the apparent simplicity were harmonies that piqued the ear, and Lim was an ever-resourceful guide to these little surprises and twists.

One could only guess the words to the sensuous Erotikon, a cryptic love message, while the two marches (Norwegian March and March of the Trolls) seemed to emanate from different worlds despite their Norwegian origins. The familiar Nocturne famously alluded to Grieg's evergreen Piano Concerto in A minor (Op.16), while Bell Ringing, a droll sequence of tolls and peals without an actual melody closed this set with the freshness of mountain dew.
Such a recital could not have done without the master tunesmith Franz Schubert himself. His Sonata in A major (D.664 or Op. 120) smiled with the warmth of a morning sun in its three movements. A more virtuosic edge was called for in the finale, which Lim delivered with great fluency despite an uncharacteristic momentary lapse, the only cloud in an otherwise solid reading.

Three transcriptions of Schubert Lieder concluded the evening. Rachmaninov's fussy filigree to Wohin? (Whither?), Liszt's fearsome doubled-handed octaves in Erlkönig (The Erl King) and Godowsky's oh-so-naughty contrapuntal conflations of Die Forelle (The Trout) all brought a smile. None more so to the vocalists in the audience, whose applause was rewarded with two more lovely songs without words - by Quilter-Hough (Now Sleeps The Crimson Petal) and Mendelssohn (Spring Song) - as encores. Simply delicious.

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