SHALL WE DANCE?
More Than Music Series
Esplanade Recital Studio
13 December 2014)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 15 December 2014 with the title "Slight hiccup but show engages".
Concerts of classical music can be all too serious affairs, so it is refreshing to see an enterprise that attempts to demystify what is considered to be a difficult genre. More Than Music, founded by violinist Loh Jun Hong and pianist Abigail Sin, is such a series to bring music to the masses, albeit in the stuffy confines of a concert hall.
They did the ecologically friendly thing by doing away with programme booklets and printed notes, relying instead on speaking directly to the audience. Sin did so with her polished, received pronounciation, and Loh in a somewhat affected quasi-American accent and slightly irreverent manner. More importantly, they were able to connect with their listeners.
Their guest for the evening was guitarist Kevin Loh, and the concert opened with the two Lohs in three pieces from Manuel de Falla’s Suite of Popular Spanish Songs & Dances. Immediately one is struck by Jun Hong’s easy and natural way with the violin, where the passage of melody and intonation come as freely and spontaneously as breathing.
Kevin was attentive and sensitive as accompanist and soon had his chance in the solo spotlight in two movements from Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Suite Populare Brasilienne. He explained that these were choros, song and dances played by streetside bands. Their improvisatory quality was disarming, and his immaculate technique ensured that the gentle and ever-constant lilt was never lost amid the notes.
There were no pieces to accommodate violin, guitar and piano as a group, so Sin was left to perform piano solos. Displaying much versatility, the former child prodigy was equally comfortable in the music of Bach, Gtiffes and Chopin. In Bach’s French Suite No.5, her ornamentations were tasteful and fingerwork prodigious, except for a short lapse of control in the coruscating final Gigue.
An acute sense of colour and nuance distinguished her performance of the Scherzo from American composer Charles Griffes’s Three Fantasy Pieces. Its bacchanalian revelry was well captured, contrasted with the earthier feel to the three Mazurkas Op.59 by Chopin. These are the Pole’s more mature utterances, and Sin was fully in tune with his nationalistic and nostalgic spirit.
Loh and Loh returned for three more dances by Brazilian Celso Machado, which possess jazzy and samba rhythms, with a more modern idiomatic twist. This was up-market lounge music, but played with an insouciant yet infectious quality that was hard to dislike.
Finally the gloves were off for Jun Hong, who joked that he was done with easy pieces, in Wieniawski’s Faust Fantasy. With themes from Gounod’s famous opera, he gave a short spiel on Goethe’s anti-hero and diabolical pacts before tearing away in the rip-roaring showpiece. It was going swimmingly until a desynchronisation between Loh and pianist Sin derailed the ride.
Ironic titters issued from the audience as the duo conferred, before finishing the work in a storm of applause. Guitarist Kevin then returned with a welcome encore, a sonatina movement by Torroba. There were many children among the listeners, but they were impeccably behaved throughout the two-hour concert. That is what happens when audiences are fully engaged by a performance. In that respect, More Than Music had more than succeeded brilliantly.