BRENDAN GOH Cello Recital
with KSENIIA VOKHMIANINA, Piano
Gallery, The Arts House
Sunday (4 October 2015)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 6 October 2015 with the title "Young cellist wows with richly layered offerings".
Fact: 16-year-old Brendan Goh is the youngest Singaporean cellist to have recorded his own CD album. Actually he has two CD recordings; the first was made when he was 12. After receiving a very favourable review from the prestigious British discophile journal Gramophone, his hour-long solo recital, part of the Homecoming Series in the Singapore International Festival of Music, demonstrated all this was not just hype.
Beginning with Luigi Boccherini's Cello Sonata in A major, the Vienna-based student displayed all the hallmarks of sound musicality and good teaching. He produced a clean, clear and lush sound on his 1844 J.B.Vuillaume cello, which just sang in the slow opening movement before flexing the musculature in the fast movement that followed.
He was just warming up, and soon the cellist's full armamentarium was on show for Russian cello virtuoso Carl Davidoff's Allegro De Concerto, the sort of showpiece that gains entry into conservatories and wins competition prizes. The apparent nonchalance and unfazed manner in which the lanky youth picked up tempo and threw off all its thorny challenges revealed that technique comes naturally to him.
The work that proved interpretatively the most difficult was also the longest. Brahms' Second Cello Sonata in F major (Op.99) is a supreme test even for cellists double or triple his age, but the manner in which he launched into its passionate pages suggested that he had little to fear from its vaunted reputation. It is such a work that one begins to reveal a maturity of thought and expression that comes beyond the notes.
Interpretations will grow with time and repeated performances, but the moment to savour its richly layered offerings is now. With Ukrainian pianist Kseniia Vokhmianina, who lives in Singapore but brought in as a last-minute collaborator, Goh forged an immediate chemistry that was palpable in its four movements.
The slow movement was languorous in its long breathed lines, with which Goh thoughtfully luxuriated before pulling all stops in the fiery third movement. More rehearsal time would have reaped further dividends but the present result was still hugely impressive as the work wound to an ecstatic conclusion.
Without milking the applause, which was tempting enough, Goh performed three encores. The final two saw a cameo appearance by his former teacher Qin Li-Wei, linking a Vivaldi slow movement with Viva La Vida (part of the repertoire of the group 2 Cellos), in a show of cameraderie between cellists and an obvious joie de vivre.
Have we just witnessed the debut of who might possibly become Singapore finest cellist?