Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Chan Yoong Han, Violin & Shane Thio, Piano
Esplanade Recital Studio

Sunday (10 July 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 July with the title "Mosaic of sight and sound".

Esplanade’s Spectrum series of concerts has become Singapore’s de facto leader in showcasing contemporary and avant-garde music. Its events are well subscribed and attended by a young audience, mostly people in their twenties. The reason for popularity is understandable; intelligent and adventurous programming, supported by performers who are more often than not the nation’s best musicians.

The Tryst, bringing together Scottish, Dutch, Japanese and American new music, was no exception. This was essentially a violin and piano recital, augmented by voice, specifically the tenor Adrian Poon who also doubled as presenter. His was the reassuring soft cushion for the cutting edge instrumentals, opening with James MacMillan’s Scots Song (1991, left).

His multi-layered and expression-filled voice lit up the simple strophic song of love and parting, sparingly accompanied by Shane Thio’s piano. This ushered in Chan Yoong Han’s angular violin part in After The Tryst (1988), based on the same song, but deconstructed and improvised upon.

There was a mirror-like symmetry to Toru Takemitsu’s From Far Beyond Chrysanthemums and November Fog (1983, left), which began with his typically post-impressionist musings on the violin before giving way to the song The Encounter (1968). Sung in Japanese by Poon, its John Lennon-like leanings suggested that the late master was equally adept in J-pop.

In between, Dutch minimalist Louis Andriessen’s rather pretentious Disco (1982) attempted to put a beat to its portrayal of dismembered states of mind. There were long stretches of tiresome single-note hitting accompanied by long-held violin scrapes. Only Joyce Gan’s visuals and Michael Corbidge’s verses projected on a screen prevented a state of stupor in what may be described as dreary Saturday Night without the fever.

The most stunning performance fell to the longest work, John Adams’s Road Movies (1995, left). A three-movement violin sonata in all but name, complex motoric ostinatos dominated the outer movements titled Relaxed Groove and 40% Swing, in what the composer described as “travel music”.

This theme was accompanied by short films of European scenes taken from moving vehicles, adding to the restlessness of movement. While the slow movement Meditative ruminated on the blues, it was Chan and Thio’s rapier-sharp reflexes and rhythmic exactitude that stole the show, bringing the 70-minute mosaic of sound and sight to an impressive close.

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