Thursday, 31 March 2011

Kam Ning and Friends / Review

A CHAMBER CONCERT WITH KAM NING AND FRIENDS / 4th Singapore Chamber Music Festival / Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall / Tuesday (29 March 2011)

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 31 March 2011 with the title "Perfect playing by Kam Ning & strings".

The name of violinist Kam Ning was the obvious draw for this chamber concert of string music. However the London-based Singaporean virtuoso, runner-up in the prestigious Queen Elisabeth International Violin Competition (2001), performed in just two works.

The first was the opening movement of Mozart’s Flute Quartet No.1 (above), spotlighting the fluid technique of flautist Duan Duoni, from the Conservatory’s Young Artist programme. Kam was happy to let the youngster take the lead in a work dedicated to one Ferdinand de Jean, a surgeon in the Dutch East India Company. That was the full extent of Kam’s violin involvement, as she played violist to Ng Yu Ying’s violin and Leslie Tan’s cello in Beethoven’s cheerful Serenade (Op.8), the programme’s major work. Its five movements were a joy to behold, if anything to witness the sheer chemistry between performers, who moved and breathed as one.

Eye contact was paramount as the trio maintained a cohesive unit throughout, traversing a vast array of moods and tempi. The third movement’s chameleon-like shifts in pace, from lament-like Adagio to quicksilver Allegro molto and back, were deftly handled. The humour displayed in the Alla Polacca was also clearly palpable, an exercise in Beethovenian wit.

The rest was a veritable showcase for the Rin Collection, one of the world’s great repositories of historical stringed instruments, performed by students of the Conservatory. For good reason is Yong Siew Toh hailed “Asia’s International Conservatory”. Two movements from Haydn’s quartets were performed, first by a foursome that included three Vietnamese players, and another led by an Uzbek violinist. One Beethoven movement featured four Chinese musicians, one each from Taiwan, China, Malaysia and Singapore. However the best of the Conservatory quartets was formed by two Australians, one American and Chinese, playing the first movement from Janacek’s Intimate Letters. They produced a mature sound, with accurate solo playing and rhythmic exuberance as to sound ready for a professional career.

The most touching rendition came from younger colleagues, students from the School of the Arts (SOTA, above) mentored by Leslie Tan, in Viktor Ullmann’s Third Quartet. Their mastery of the poignant and rarefied idiom from a Holocaust victim, filled with spiky dissonance and acerbic irony, was simply astonishing. The future of chamber music here looks plenty assured.

Kam Ning with the T'ang Quartet

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