Qin Li-Wei & Ning Feng
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Tuesday (29 January 2013)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 31 January 2013 with the title "Feast ahead of chamber music fest".
It is one more day till the official opening of the Singapore Chamber Music Festival at the Conservatory, but no one would have guessed or bothered given the hive of musical activity this evening in the company of cellist Qin Li-Wei and violinist Ning Feng. Their duo recital, a rare occurrence in Singapore for this instrumental combination, was more than just a meeting of mighty musical minds.
It was a feast. The first half alone lasted some 55 minutes, showcasing the two most intense and musically exhausting works in the repertoire. Zoltan Kodaly’s Duo and Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for violin and make for challenging and concentrated listening, but the rewards were bounteous. Both works used pentatonic themes, and given the inflections and nuances that resembled Oriental music, seemed to suit the two Chinese virtuosos to a tee.
It was the interplay between the violin’s higher-pitched impassioned cry and the cello’s deeper and mellow sigh that impressed the most. Though possessing separate voices, they breathed and moved in one accord; one part singing the melody and the other providing the accompaniment. Within a split second, they exchanged roles, so seamlessly and effortlessly that one took the treacherous thorns and myriad intricacies in the score almost for granted.
In the Lent slow movement of the Ravel, the voices were so densely intertwined in its prayer-like countenance that it was nigh impossible to extricate the two penitents. This innate chemistry then diffused into the wild dance-like finales, bristling with not so much gypsy elan, but exuding a raw and lusty earthiness. This performance of the Kodaly has completely effaced memories of the version by Pinchas and Amanda Zukerman at the Singapore Sun Festival in 2007.
If the first half was decidedly hard core, the second half was positively congenial. Feng and Qin were joined by pianist Albert Tiu, with true singing qualities brought forth in Mendelssohn’s First Piano Trio in D minor. Far from being totally relaxed, the threesome was made to work hard to bring out the Victorian niceties and filigree. Tiu’s scintillating fingers stood out in the extremely tricky yet delicate role, elevating the pretty and precious into some higher plane.
At the music’s stirring conclusion, deafening cheers from the clearly enthused audience was rewarded with further confectionary, a bite-sized titbit by Shostakovich. The plentiful riches of the chamber music festival had begun one day early.