Low Shao Suan & Low Shao Ying
Victoria Concert Hall
8 January 2015)
An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 11 January 2016 with the title "Twins with the key to cheerful tunes".
There is a 1991 autobiography by the famous conductor-composer André Previn entitled No Minor Chords, so named because a
Hollywood director had insisted
that no films were to include minor chords or harmonies in its scores. This
title might also apply to this concert of instrumental music by local composers
Low Shao Suan and Low Shao Ying, twin sisters better known as the nation's most
celebrated piano duo.
Of the 22 short pieces performed, only two were cast in the minor key. That implies that much if not all of their showcased music was cheerful and optimistic in mood, which pretty much describes their personalities. Their musical idiom is tonal, melodious, uncomplicated and completely free of dissonances. This is rare given that most contemporary “serious” composers would rarely condescend to write a melody to save their lives.
The flute featured prominently, and Singapore Symphony Orchestra's principal flautist Jin Ta was busy on hand to put the polish on Suan's Springtime In Munich and By The Fireplace, and Ying's Intermezzo, as well as two further works for flute, oboe (with Audi Goh) and piano titled Dancing By The Stream and Sweet Dreams. Flowing lyricism was the abiding constant, and it was hard to dislike these sincere and unpretentious pieces in such feeling performances.
The work for the largest forces was Ying's The Ballet Dancer, a wistful number in G minor scored for piano quintet. Also unusually scored was her A Jolly Good Time, with its humourous take on Beethoven's Fifth Symphony for two bassoons (Daniel Aw and Yap Pei Ying) opening in whole tone intervals. Suan's After Midnight was the jazziest piece with David Wong's bass trombone singing the indolent and moody blues.
A string quartet formed by violinists Yew Shan and Yong Kailin, violist Jonathan Lee and cellist Noella Yan performed selected movements from Ying's On Vacation and Suan's Antiques, both suites of four pieces each. If one is permitted to play “guess the influence”, Ying's By The Fireplace relived the bittersweet innocence of Ennio Morricone's Cinema Paradiso music, while Suan's Rocking Chair was a Dvorak Slavonic Dance dressed in a sarong kebaya.
Each sister performed solos as well as accompanied various soloists in their own pieces. There were two piano duets, including Suan's Snowscapes, cast in a more reflective A minor, possessing the rhythmic pitter-patter of falling snow, and the closing work, a medley of Singapore songs arranged by both. These included Chan Mali Chan, Di Tanjong Katong and Dick Lee's ubiquitous Home, in the busy contrapuntal manner of Milhaud's Scaramouche.
The 90-minute concert, performed without an interval, closed with an encore for piano duet called Hide and Seek, a children's piece with series of scampering scales. Performing it this well and charming an audience was certainly no child's play.