Monday, 6 January 2014


Lim Yan & Sim Yi Kai, 2 Pianos
Esplanade Recital Studio
Saturday (4 January 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 6 January 2014 with the title "Risk taking at two pianos". 

Established piano duos and 2-piano recitals are rare in Singapore. Even the celebrated local duo of Dennis Lee and Toh Chee Hung has not performed a 2-piano programme here for a fair number of years. Thus it was welcome to witness the debuts of Lim Yan and Sim Yi Kai in what appears to be the first of a projected series of 2-piano recitals.

Lim is already well known as a soloist and the pianist in the Take 5 piano quintet, while Sim has more quietly established himself as a sensitive collaborative pianist. A more strenuous or difficult programme could not have been chosen to kick-start their endeavours.

Rachmaninov’s very popular Second Suite (Op.17) more usually closes a concert rather than opens one. The duo could be forgiven for observing safety first, as its opening rush of loud chords often leads to calamitous asynchronies, largely avoided here while losing some of the music’s fluency.

The illusion of presto was skilfully conjured up in the Waltz, and that allowed its sentimental melody to shine without sounding hectic. The languorous Romance was lyrical enough but was at risk of unravelling, and the Tarantella finale was steady rather than scintillating.

It made for a tough beginning, but the duo got better in Ravel’s epoch-shattering La Valse. This fatal apotheosis of the Viennese waltz involved more risk taking, and that paid off handsomely when the effect of being dangerously off kilter was well simulated. Sweeping glissandi from both pianists completed the show. A safe and sanitised La Valse is not simply La Valse.

The best of the evening came in Brahms’s Sonata in F minor (Op.34b), which is familiar because it is better known in its later guise as his only Piano Quintet. Both pianists shared equal roles, and it was interesting to see how each reacted to this passionate music. Sim was the more physically expressive with his movements and gestures, while Lim was the more subdued, often sticking out his tongue à la Michael Jordan in full flight.

Together they brought out a muscular physicality and heft in the symphonically conceived work. Only in the slow movement was it contemplative and dreamy, with reserves to spare for the manic march of the scherzo, which saw volume and temperature rise to boiling point. The finale’s dissonant and hushed entrance provided a chill before all stops were pulled for the last assault. 

The explosive end was not one for faint hearts, with subtlety and gentility shown the door, but this seemed like the only way to go. More of the fascinating 2-piano repertoire is to be expected from this intrepid duo. 

Concert photographs by the kind permission of Lim Yan and Sim Yi Kai.

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