Friday, 21 March 2014

RUSSIAN COLOURS / Tang Tee Khoon & Sam Haywood / Review

Esplanade Recital Studio
Wednesday (19 March 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 21 March 2014

Some items of historical significance may be classified as national treasures. One such treasure is a 1750 J.B.Guadagnini violin, purchased by an institutional benefactor and donated to the National Arts Council. Its exclusive use has been designated for Singaporean violinists making their mark in the international scene. Having previously toured the world with Siow Lee Chin, it now rests in the deserving hands of 30-year-old Tang Tee Khoon.

Tang is a living treasure of sorts herself. Having won the grand prize for all-round best musician at the 1993 National Music Competition at the age of 9, she has gone on to fulfil the vast potential predicted of her, as a chamber musician of the highest order. Her latest concert, one centred on Russian music, also showed she has matured beyond raw prodigious talent to something truly transcendent.

Despite her petite and slender built, she exuded a big and brawny tone on the violin, one capable of cutting through plangent piano textures and capaciously filling the hall. In Prokofiev’s Second Violin Sonata, she alternated between its bittersweet reminiscences and mercurial dervishes, so expertly and confidently without as much as breaking into a sweat.

Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d’un lieu cher (Memory of a Beloved Place), three pieces which progress from serious melancholy to salon lightness, she brought out the requisite shades and nuances truly defined by the concert’s title, Russian Colours. Through these, an unfailingly singing tone happily co-existed with an iron-clad technique and razor-keen responses.

British pianist Sam Haywood was much more than mere accompanist, a partner in true music-making whose crisp and clearly-defined fingering enhanced the entire aesthetic experience of chamber music. 

His solo segment offered two pleasant but short Preludes by Julius Isserlis, the Russian-Jewish grandfather of the renowned cellist Steven Isserlis (both seen left), which hail from the Slavic sound world of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. In the latter’s Preludes in G minor and B flat major (from Op.23), the same ones performed by Lang Lang in a solo recital seven years ago, Haywood showed himself to be a far more sensitive and superior musician.    

The concert closed with the duo indulging in the fantasy world of Stravinsky’s Divertimento, adapted from his ballet The Fairy’s Kiss after Hans Christian Andersen, which itself is a tribute to Tchaikovsky’s dance treats. Elements of the Russian’s neoclassical style mixed with Romantic lushness and modernistic gestures defined its four connected sections which flowed very pleasingly.

This was in large part due to the duo’s gift of musical storytelling, highlighting the music’s emotions peaks and troughs, while filling in the details with strong characterisations. The many virtuosic turns which pepper the score seemed like child’s play, thrilling and astonishing the listeners.

However one just wished that the audience did not behave like some 18th century mob, clapping inappropriately between pauses and short breathers, thus disrupting the music’s natural flow. Their sincere enthusiasm was rewarded with another Russian gem, more heart-on-sleeve emoting in Rachmaninov’s ethereally beautiful Vocalise 

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