LEE SHI MEI, Violin
ALBERT LIN, Piano
The Living Room @ The Arts House
Monday (4 May 2009)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 6 May 2009.
The Living With… series at The Living Room of the Old Parliament House provides young up and coming musicians and musical amateurs a platform to showcase their wares in front of a small but intimate audience. Taking place every first Monday of the month, rare gems of the repertoire and programming quirks are the norm rather than the exception.
Violinist Lee Shi Mei (arrowed left), 2nd Prizewinner of the Artist Category at the 2007 National Violin Competition, juxtaposed the familiar and the novel, with highly engaging results. Fritz Kreisler’s two contrasting old Viennese waltzes – Liebesleid and Liebesfreud – opened the recital with an air of gemütlichkeit, the state of being carefree. Amy Beach’s Romance – now a popular favourite – also extracted every drop of soaring lyricism from the 1785 Dall’Aglio violin, on loan from the Rin Collection.
Stark sobriety was provided in the World Premiere of Singaporean composer Tan Chan Boon’s Nocturno (composer pictured left), where the piano played an unvarying series of chords over which the violin sang mournfully. Written in memory of a deceased aunt, the music occupied a rarefied sphere of spirituality and minimalism reminding one of the spare music of Estonian mystic Arvo Pärt. Its forward glance into oblivion seemed to have one message: life is short, live it well.
That was well heeded as the concert lightened up once again, with Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs (Zigeunerweisen) a further opportunity to display a wealth of shades and responses. The bluesy segment was entertaining as it was well selected. William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost Rag, his single most popular work, had a languid lilt that was disarming. Pianist Albert Lin’s transcriptions of two Préludes by Ukrainian jazz sensation Nikolai Kapustin - another World Premiere – sounded fresh and spontaneous as to be improvised on the spot.
Much better known were Gershwin’s Three Preludes transcribed by Jascha Heifetz, rhythmically tricky numbers which came through winningly in Lee and Lin’s hands. As an encore, Mexican composer Manuel Ponce’s cloying Estrellita – lovingly crafted - piled on the calories. For the sweet-toothed, resistance is futile.