More Than Music
Esplanade Recital Studio
20 May 2015)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 22 May 2015 with the title "Tugging at Heart Strings with nostalgia".
More Than Music is an ongoing chamber music series founded by Singapore violinist Loh Jun Hong and pianist Abigail Sin, one which presents serious classics in a manner that is audience friendly and yet does not talk down to its listeners. Instead of making people squint at programme notes in small print under dim lighting, they instead spoke directly from the heart, sharing personal anecdotes and morsels of information about the music in their own unique way.
In this concert, they shared the spotlight with Malaysian cellist Elizabeth Tan, with whom they had partnered in concert during their student days at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. Loh also let the cat out of the bag that Tan was going to be a mother in a few months' time. With this revelation, Tan, accompanied by Sin on the piano, opened the concert with Dvorak's well-known Silent Woods.
Whether maternity has anything to do with good music-making is yet to be proven, but Tan immediately impressed with a gorgeously warm tone which filled the hall with a singing resonance. This gentle work with its flowing lyrical lines made a nice prelude to Loh's reading of Songs My Mother Taught Me, also by Dvorak, which tugged on the heart strings with yearning nostalgia.
The contrast between the two string players soon became apparent by their other choice of works. Tan's largesse in coaxing broad sonorities was furthered in three of Schumann's Pieces In Folk Style Op.102, which showcased rhythmic nimbleness with a penchant for big melodies. Loh displayed a keenness for pyrotechnics, and let in rip in Sarasate's Caprice Basque, which had the audience bedazzled with its fiendishly tricky variations.
Sin's own solos were a well-chosen set from Brahms's Six Pieces Op.118, two Intermezzos of agitation and brooding bookending a Romance which had its own delightful set of mini-variations. Despite her slight physical stature, she brought out the music's sense of struggle and eventual resolution well.
All three musicians were united for Mendelssohn's First Piano Trio in D minor, surely the most performed piano trio here in recent years. Its heady combination of memorable tunes and digital dexterity has groups literally queuing to luxuriate in its bourgeois Victorian charms. The private joke of performers, revealed to the audience, was that this was a piano concerto in disguise, with the pianist carrying the string players who hogged all the tuneful bits.
In reality, this trio of players was well-matched and well-balanced, with a slight edge to the pianist because of the hall's slightly boomy acoustics. Nevertheless, it was Tan who gratefully lapped up the first big melody but soon shared it with her partners. The chemistry was palpable, through the passionate climaxes to the slow movement's lovely cantabile which passed like a dreamy reverie.
There were some missed notes in the flitting Scherzo, but its over-supply of notes and brimming ebullience were never short of charm. The finale reprised the first movement's drama, and who could bet against the mother-to-be getting yet another choice melody to wallow in. The end result was a happy and successful delivery, with the audience applauding and cooing with delight. More Than Music plays again with a different programme next on 12 June, this time at Victoria Concert Hall.