Monday, 11 March 2013

ENCHANTED... / School of the Arts / Review

School of the Arts
SOTA Concert Hall
Friday (8 March 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 11 March 2013 with the title "Spanning generations".

It is a rare event when two of Singapore’s outstanding pianists appear in the same concert but not playing together. Almost two decades separate Christina Tan and Lim Yan, but both bear testament to the burgeoning musical culture in Singapore over the years that made their achievements possible.

Tan belongs to the same generation as pianists like Shane Thio, Koh Joo Ann, Lena Ching and Victor Khor. She came to prominence after winning the 1986 Diners Club Pianist of the Year Competition, after a hair-raising performance of the finale from Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Lim, then 5 years old, would later in 2012 become the first Singapore to perform a Beethoven piano concerto cycle here.

Tan’s credentials as a chamber musician came to the fore in the first half of this concert. In Philippe Gaubert’s Three Watercolours, she lent a sensitive touch in accompanying flautist Jill Chen and cellist So Youn Park. The gentle music was closer to the Belle Époque spirit of Faure, although the piano’s shimmering textures regularly strayed into the realm of impressionism. The idyllic calm of the slow movement Autumn Evening soon livened into animated Spanish rhythms of the final Serenade

Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata in D major proved a thornier proposition. Chen brought out a soothing lyrical tone in this most congenial and non-percussive work. The perpetual motion of the tricky Presto however came close to collapse at one point, but the duo steadied itself immediately. If the rapturous finale sounded cautious rather than free-wheeling, it was because safety first was the prevailing concern.

After the intermission, Tan gave a rare solo performance of Canadian-Chinese composer Alexina Louie’s Music for Piano. Its four movements are a study of bell sounds and plangent tintinnabulation. An exquisite touch and deft pedalling brought out the contrasts, with Ravel-like sonorities in The Enchanted Bells, minimalist loops for Changes, fairy-tale echoes evoking nostalgia in Distant Memories, and true fortissimo in Once Upon A Time, when the Great Gate of Kiev of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition was recalled.

Tan dedicated her magnificent reading to the memory of the recently departed actress-director and theatre mentor Christina Sergeant.

Not to be forgotten, Lim Yan performed the demanding piano part of Brahms’s Viola Sonata in E flat major (Op.120 No.2) alongside guest violist Lim Chun. An autumnal work, the viola’s mellow utterances struck a beautiful compromise with the piano’s figurations, stoking the smouldering embers of Romanticism. This duo, first cousins by relation, was nigh inseparable as they expertly coaxed the passionate masterpiece to a glorious final fruition.

That the sizeable audience, filled by mostly students and young people, was ecstatic than merely enthusiastic, bodes well for the future of chamber music. Good music and performers deserve nothing less.

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