Monday, 14 March 2016

BEETHOVEN LAST YEARS / Tang Tee Khoon Grand Series / Review

Tang Tee Khoon Grand Series
Esplanade Recital Studio
Saturday (12 March 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 March 2016  with the title "Unveiling Beethoven's secrets".

Other than the regular airing of his Choral Symphony, Ludwig van Beethoven's late works are hardly ever performed in Singapore. His visionary musical ideas and profundity of thought make these utterances demanding for both performers and audiences alike. But trust Singaporean violinist Tang Tee Khoon to bring together musical colleagues from around the world and devote two concerts for this just cause.

Despite steep ticket prices, a full-house was achieved on the second night, which opened with Beethoven two Cello Sonatas Op.102. These are comparatively compact works which encompassed a wealth of emotion within economical time spans, and British cellist Colin Carr and American pianist Thomas Sauer were in the same wavelength throughout.

From the opening solo in the C major Sonata, the singing voice of Carr's cello shone out like an illuminating source. Never forced or strained, his warmth of tone was a distinguishing feature, and together with Sauer's steadfast and never overpowering partnership, the music soared through Allegro Vivace sections of both movements like a sabre through butter.

After the abrupt and dramatic start to the D major Sonata, the Adagio slow movement breathed with the long, heavy air of an elegy, which like most good things passed all too soon. The busy finale was balanced on a knife-edge with its fugue of scalic runs from both instruments. Like in his late piano sonatas, Beethoven's penchant for counterpoint was a conscious salute to Bach, and it was with this glorious fugal flourish that the first half concluded. 

Tang, who plays on the National Arts Council's 1750 J.B.Guadagnini violin, appeared in the second half with Yuki Kasai (2nd violin, Japan), Jessica Thompson (viola, USA) and Olivia Jeremias (cello, Germany) for Beethoven's String Quartet in E flat major Op. 127. Like his others works in the same key, the opening chord was robust and purposeful, and the chemistry between the four ladies in the stirring music became immediately palpable.

A fine balance was achieved between the foursome, and the quiet beginning of the sublime 2nd movement was a case in point. Each individual voice came in clearly and without clamour for limelight; cello, followed by viola, 2nd violin and 1st violin in that order. In the ensuing variations, it was Tang's exquisite solos and leadership that lit the way. Yet hers was an intimately wielded authority, to which the group responded with seeming telepathy and utmost musicality.

The light-hearted scherzo jaunted with the sprightliest of pizzicatos, before giving way to an even more animated central section. The finale which began in an unhurried pace again exhibited all the qualities that make great chamber music-making, with all four listening intently, reacting and gelling as one. As the tempo quickened towards its final pages, the more acutely these factors came into being.

The secrets of late Beethoven were laid bare and lapped up by the most attentive and receptive of audiences. The Tang Tee Khoon Grand Series returns in 2 and 4 December with the works of the young Beethoven, which should not be missed on the strength of this latest showing,

Cellist Colin Carr suggests what he would
play for Beethoven should he be living today.
All the musicians returned
for a lively post-concert chat.

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