Saturday, 30 January 2016

SOUL MUSIC / KAM NING Violin Recital / Review

KAM NING, Violin
Lee Foundation Theatre
Thursday (28 January 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 30 January 2016 with the title "Violinist Kam Ning wins audience over in her solo recital". 

It has been opined that classical music is beneficial for infants and babies in utero. Singaporean violinist Kam Ning obviously advocates the idea, as she emerged for her solo recital in an advanced stage of gravidity. She amiably chatted with the audience before each work and that immediately made everyone feel at home.

The title “Soul Music” of her 75-minute recital performed without intermission pointed to the fact that every work was a feel good piece, hence good for the soul. J.S.Bach's music definitely fit that description, and his Chaconne in D minor (from Unaccompanied Violin Partita No.2) was as big as they come. Although she was performing on a modern instrument, she employed the period technique of minimising vibrato and carved out a lean and lithe sound for this classic.

Her intonation was impeccable throughout, and there was no stinting of dramatic impact in its build-up to a series of impressive climaxes. While Bach was serious, the next work, Sonata Representativa by baroque Bohemian violinist-composer Heinrich Ignaz Biber, made light of the violin's mimicry of nature and farmyard animals.

In 8 continuous movements, a panoply of violinist tricks delighted its listeners, including imitations of a nightingale's call, frogs croaking, henhouse noises and feline caterwauling. A military march where guest cellist Leslie Tan's instrument was turned into a cannon with the nifty use of paper, accompanied by Nicholas Ong on harpsichord, completed the special effects.

Completely different was Estonian composer Arvo Part's Spiegel Im Spiegel (Mirror In A Mirror), a meditative minimalist work built upon a series of arpeggiated triads on the piano and long-breathed sighs from the violin. Time stood still in this heartrending performance which was dedicated by Kam in memory of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. A case of better late than never.

Her idea of spirituality also took the form of her own improvisation of the Christian hymn Amazing Grace. In its variations, she employed the technique and idiom of bluegrass music and country fiddlers in a stupendous show of virtuosity that suggests Paganini making a trip to the Appalachians.

The concert closed with two gypsy-influenced pieces. Hungarian Jeno Hubay's Hejre Kati (Hello Katie) was slightly more traditional in the manner of gypsy rhapsodies, and if it sounded familiar, that was because its highkicking final pages was also used by Brahms in one of his Hungarian Dances

The outright showpiece was Ravel's Tzigane with its extended solo introduction and dizzying fast dance. Ong's sweeping piano part simulated the repeated notes of the cimbalom (Hungarian dulcimer) over which Kam's prestidigitation flew like the wind to a breathless close.

For her encore, cellist Tan returned to duet and duel in Mark O'Connor and Edgar Meyer's Limerock, another work-out of vertiginous country dancing which received prolonged applause. One surmises that what is good for the heart is also good for the soul.

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