Friday, 26 September 2014

LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP / Tang Tee Khoon & Friends / Review

Tang Tee Khoon (Violin) and Friends
Esplanade Recital Studio
Wednesday (24 September 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 26 September 2014 with the title "Chamber music treat from virtuosos".

Local musicians are the mainstay in Singapore’s active chamber music scene, but once in a while, it is good to have foreign musicians inject variety and diversity to the list of usual suspects. Singaporean violinist Tang Tee Khoon, presently based in London, has forged successful partnerships with British musicians and their performances here have never been less than sterling.

Her latest collaboration, with pianist Sam Haywood and cellist Matthew Huber, focused on the close interwoven lives of Felix Mendelssohn, Robert and Clara Schumann, and the young Johannes Brahms. Here was a meeting of the giants of musical Romanticism, which got the requisite response from a trio of young virtuosos they deserved.

The moment Huber’s 1685 Francesco Ruggieri cello sang the opening phrase in Schumann’s Three Fantasies Op.73, one knew it was going to be a musical treat. His use of gut strings ensured a mellowness of timbre that was simply gorgeous, and his singing tone rode through the music’s melting lyricism with rapturous fervour.

Haywood’s control of pedalling on the Steinway grand was close to perfection in the sometimes over-reverberant acoustics of the Recital Studio, and he blended ideally with both Huber and Tang, who performed Clara Schumann’s Three Romances Op.22. Her 1750 J.B. Guadagnini, on loan from the National Arts Council, shone prettily in the tender moments of these rarely-performed miniatures.

How Clara Schumann was able to maintain a semblance of hope and optimism in 1855, when her beloved husband was dying a slow death in an asylum for the insane, was testimony to her fortitude and dignity. Her spirit was buoyed by the presence of Brahms, who remained a close confidante till their deaths in the 1890s. All this was detailed in the helpful programme notes that accompanied the evening’s marvellous programme.

The main works on show were two of the greatest piano trios of the classical canon. Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No.1 in D minor is regularly played here, but rarely does one find a performance that radiated such warmth and true feeling as this evening’s outing. The overall balance was excellent, with both stringed instruments raising their stakes to meet the piano’s multitudes of notes.

The Scherzo flew on fairy-wings, and there was an audible gasp of delight from the audience as the music simply evaporated into the ether. The ardency and passion on display carried the outer movements which stormed and stressed, but there was never a moment of impetuousness or misplaced power.

Brahms’s Piano Trio No.1 in B major, in its revised version, provided even greater scope for expression and an emotional outlet. The broad opening melody, one of his most memorable, received a grandstanding treatment, contrasted with the Hungarian-inflected Scherzo, the slow movement’s longeurs and the finale’s breathless rush to the finish post. Performances like these leave listeners craving for more, and Tang with her friends will return in May next year with the late works of Franz Schubert, which should be an exciting prospect.        

Photographs by the kind permission of Tang Tee Khoon and Friends.

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