Thursday, 9 April 2009

Living With... Lim Hui & Lim Yan

LIM HUI, Violin
LIM YAN, Piano
The Living Room, The Arts House
Monday (6 April 2009)

The 2003 edition of Singapore’s National Violin Competition, during the days before Chinese nationals swept all the prizes, yielded only one violinist in the grand finals of the Open Category. Young Singaporean Lim Hui – who performed Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1 - was an awkward, even painfully shy but totally musical personality, one for whom an injection of confidence would have been of immense help. She was awarded the 2nd prize with a 1st prize being withheld.

Fast forward some six years, this Eastman and Indiana graduate, currently teaching at the Nanyang Academy’s School of Young Talents, is a transformed being. No longer sporting a stooped posture and now looking the best part of a glamour puss, her stage presence has also been upped several notches.

Recitals in the Living With… Series at The Arts House usually showcase light, bite-sized pieces but here was a full-length concert with three substantial sonatas. Ironically the recital began with the encore, Glazunov’s Meditation, which established her as one with a firm yet warm tone and of utmost musicianship.

Beethoven’s Sonata in D major (Op.12 No.1) then offered her the opportunity to sink her teeth into something even more passionate, displaying typically Beethovenian grit and brio. The first movement was resolutely wrought, full of vigour, which contrasted nicely with the chorale-like slow movement’s Theme and Variations. Here both violinist and pianist (her first cousin Lim Yan) offered a wide range of colours and responses. The final Rondo also bubbled vivaciously to life.

Presenting an even greater challenge was Brahms’ Sonata No.1 in G major (Op.78), which was a progression from Beethoven’s aesthete. With Romantic gestures and aspirations coming to the fore, the ante was upped considerably. Lim Hui coped well with its more extreme range of emotions, from yearning nostalgia to passionate agitation. The volume of sound was similarly ratcheted upwards and vibrato widened, but there was no hint of hardness or harshness. The undertow of turbulence in outer movements (based on two earlier Op.59 Lied by Brahms), straddling between joy and sorrow, was marvelously captured.

Debussy’s sublime little Violin Sonata was one of six projected late works that aimed to express and celebrate French ideals in music, as opposed to well-worn Germanic ones. Whatever these may be, the piece with its more elusive themes, subtler material and variegated textures could have yielded far less than the notes played. Thankfully, both Lims were up to the task demanded, bringing much insight to its many shifts in dynamics. The performance was never showy for its own sake, but revealed Lim Hui as a considerable artist who has developed and matured beyond recognition. As for Lim Yan, he is now without doubt on his way to becoming Singapore’s finest and busiest collaborative pianist.

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