Tuesday, 14 February 2012


Esplanade Recital Studio
Sunday (12 February 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 February 2012 with the title "A starlet's singing violin".

What a responsibility it is to be hailed as a “star of tomorrow”. Such is the hype that surrounds prodigious talents who just happen to be more capably endowed then their peers at one point of time. The plain truth is many prodigies do not fulfil their potential, while many stars were never prodigies during their tender years.

These two hours of music-making was a showcase for the Talent Makers Academy of Petaling Jaya (Selangor) and its director, the Malaysian pedagogue Lai Mei Kuen who handily hawked her wares and methods as the effusive emcee. The concert began on a kitschy note with four violinists playing the Chinese New Year melody Xing Chun Le in deadpan unison (below). Not a good start.

Some of the starlets were not yet ready for their ambitious showpieces. One 13-year-old girl seemed so overawed by two movements of Cesar Franck’s Violin Sonata that not a smidgen of emotion was raised. One’s attention began to drift to pianist Low Shao Ying’s sensitive but busy part which revealed so much more nuance and colour. An older boy accurately got through the notes of Chopin’s First Ballade but the conception was stodgy and laboured. He is now studying actuarial science, good choice.

It got better. On the violin, 13-year-old Anthony Goon’s view of Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs had attitude and swagger to transcend its callisthenics. From the keyboard, John Lee’s confident manner in two contrasting Rachmaninov Preludes was reassuring; the coruscating B flat major number (Op.23 No.2) was actually better played than Lang Lang’s self-indulgent account here in 2007. Then 8-year-old flautist Ong Yi Ting (above) charmed the house with a Moszkowski Spanish Dance, so natural and unforced that it was simply irresistible.

If there were a bona fide star in the making, that would be 19-year-old violinist James Dong (above), who now studies at the Sydney Conservatorium. The moment he raised his bow to Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantella, one could sense a single-mindedness to make the violin sing. The instrument just became an extension of his soul.

The inclusion of a movement from Schubert’s B Flat Major Trio (Op.99) was an excellent one, where Dong blended seamlessly with cellist Loh Hsiao Shan and pianist Lee, a much needed respite from the high-flying pyrotechnics. While Dong had the most exposure with a Ysaye sonata movement, Bazzini’s notorious Dance Of The Goblins and Monti’s riproaring Csardas as encore, the quietest moments held the greatest resonance. His Massenet Meditation from Tha├»s, with its outpouring of melody, was one to die for.

A Schubert trio movement from three young musical talents.

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