Saturday, 25 January 2014

INTO THE WOODS! / Sen Trio / Review

Sen Trio
Esplanade Recital Studio
Thursday (23 January 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 24 January 2014 with the title "Lush sounds of chamber trio".

The debut of a new chamber group is an exciting event, especially when it is formed by passionate young people who desire to share and further the scope of their artistry. The Sen Trio is formed by harpist Bryan Lee, flautist Ke Yi-Chun and string player Lee Shi Mei, who performs on both viola and violin. Its name, the Chinese word and pictogram for “forest”, is formed by a trio of trees (the character “mu”), which also appears in their surnames.

Wooden would be the last adjective to describe their playing, which has warmth, fluency and an instinctive feel for the music. The delightful hour-long concert opened with the familiar strains from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake in a suite of five short movements.

This is mostly light music, but the gravity and drama inherent in the Russian composer’s musings was not quite captured in these simple, uncluttered transcriptions. The best came in the Fourth Scene or Pas de deux, where a scintillating harp cadenza was followed by a tender flute solo, and delicate counterpoint engaging both viola and flute.  

Next was the World Premiere of Singaporean composer Tan Chan Boon’s single-movement Quartet for Trio. The paradox in its title was that the string player has to play both the viola and violin. Lee did so with much skill and agility, and at one point alternating between the two instruments every bar. How she maintained composure and intonation so seamlessly was a marvel. Over tricky harp arpeggios, both flute and strings played out an impressionistic nocturne of ethereal calm.

Sen Trio with local composer Tan Chan Boon (extreme left).

Frenchman Theodore Dubois’s Terzettino provided a different kind of lyricism, one of Gallic elegance more aligned with the Belle Epoch musings of fellow compatriots Saint-Saens and Faure. This paved the way for Debussy’s late Trio of 1915, the seminal (and still greatest) work for the rarefied medium of viola, flute and harp.

How the varied tonal colours of the instruments blended in this masterpiece, Ke’s haunting and celestial wind contrasted by Lee’s dusky and earthy bowing. Harpist Lee’s gentle demeanour belied the virtuosity needed to create the dreamy, other-worldly soundscape through its three movements. The folk-like Pastorale ambled into a more fluid Interlude before erupting into the restless energy of the Finale.

The encore was Singaporean Kailin Yong’s Dondang Sayang, a short lilting piece of Nanyang flavour that played with Malay modes and scales, topped with an infectious Arab-influenced rhythm to close. After an inspiring debut, it is hoped that the Sen Trio will continue to mine the rich vein of unusual repertoire in further concerts.

Concert photographs by the kind permission of the Sen Trio.

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