Saturday, 30 May 2015

TRANSCENDING THE ORDINARY / Tang Tee Khoon Grand Series / Review

Tang Tee Khoon, Violin et al
Esplanade Recital Studio
Thursday (28 May 2015)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 30 May 2015 with the title "Welcome a new string quartet of maidens".

When the National Arts Council's prized 1750 J.B.Guadagnini violin was loaned to young Singaporean violinist Tang Tee Khoon some six years ago, one of the conditions was that she performed it regularly here in concert. She has more than fulfilled that role of violin ambassador and now has her own line of recitals called the Tang Tee Khoon Grand Series, featuring guest musicians from around the world.

The first pair of concerts in this series was Transcending The Ordinary, focusing on the late chamber works of the Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828). The Viennese composer had lived in the looming shadow of Beethoven and was better known for his songs or lieder. Much of his later and more ambitious works where discovered and published after his premature death.

The works performed on the first evening date from 1824 to 1827, beginning with Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata in A minor, composed originally for the obsolete guitar-like instrument with frets called the arpeggione. Today's cellists claim it as their own, including the Briton Colin Carr who brought out all the singing qualities on his Goffriller cello. His tone was warm and sumptuous, seamlessly gliding between passages of absolute cantabile and blissful elation in its three movements.

Never producing a harsh tone too was pianist Sam Haywood whose support was close to perfection, and the stakes were upped in the Fantasy in C major for violin and piano. This is undoubtedly Schubert's most virtuosic work for these two instruments, from its hushed dreamy opening with pianissimo tremolos to soaring highs filled with octaves and running scales. Tang and her Guadagnini made their entrance, not so much as boldly but sensitively, fully aware of the music's innate poetry.

Playing for almost half an hour, the work traversed peaks and valleys, best exemplified in the central variations on the Schubert's lied Sei mir gegrusst (I Greet You) which had all the nuances one could hope for, before a reprise of the opening's reverie. The work closed on an exuberant high with the big strides of one of Schubert's most happy melodies.

For the second half, Tang was joined by violinist Yuki Kasai, violist Mariko Hara and cellist Olivia Jeremias, musicians all based in Germany, for Schubert's String Quartet in D minor, also known as “Death And The Maiden”. All the ladies are experienced chamber musicians, and one could tell by their immediacy in the way they launched into its dramatic first movement.       

A common sense of purpose united the foursome through the music's heightened tension, and this electricity never flagged in the work's 40 minutes. Even in the slow movement's variations on the chordal piano theme from the lied Der Tod Und Das M├Ądchen, the accompaniment provided for Kasai's pleading solos was sprightly and alert.

The brief and prickly Scherzo served as a prelude to the finale's furious tarantella rhythm. Here the unision playing in high tempos, far more tricky than it sounds, was delivered with stunning accuracy. There was to be no tiring as the quartet raced to a breathless finish, that was greeted by a near-capacity audience with loud acclaim. It was after the fact that this reviewer learnt that the four virtuosas were playing together in concert for the very first time.

A question remains: what should this very talented new string quartet be called? The name Tang Quartet has already been taken, so what about Schubert's Death And The Maidens? 

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