SAMUEL TAN Violin Recital
Esplanade Recital Studio
Saturday (2 April 2016)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 4 April 2016 with the title "Violin gem is only 10".
A little known fact: Singaporeans have had a good track record in the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition. Way back in the 1990s, a first prize was awarded to Kam Ning, who went on to win 2nd prize at the even more prestigious Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition in 2001.
This year, Samuel Tan Yek Hee, a former Goh Soon Tioe Excellence Award laureate and youngest winner of Italy's Postacchini Competition, has the distinction of representing the nation at the Menuhin Competition to be held in England later this month.
His debut recital revealed a mastery of different styles and genres required in a competitor's repertoire. Beginning with the 1st movement of J.S.Bach's Violin Concerto in E major (BWV.1042), he displayed a sure-fingered assuredness that immediately asserted an unnerving control on his listeners. It was not just an uncanny technical achievement that astounded, but his deft ability to acutely alter his dynamics to suit the music, as with the contrasting subjects in the 1st movement of Grieg's Violin Sonata No.1.
His mature restraint in the slow and noble music of Enesco's Ballade was also admirable, and when the time came to let it rip, he did so with the most enviable of ease. The unaccompanied Wieniawski Etude-Caprice in A minor, which just about tops any of Paganini's Caprices, was a case in point.
In Sarasate's popular Gypsy Airs, the freedom in which he ornamented the first air suggested he could improvise at will, an art more often associated with concert veterans. All sweetness in the lyrical second air, this turned into instant fireworks on a snap in the riproaring final air.
Graduating to more hallowed territory, his limpid singing tone in the 1st movement of Beethoven's “Spring” Sonata (Op.24) reconfirmed that this was not some faceless play-by-numbers technician. Through all this, he was ably partnered by pianist Albert Lin, who did not allow himself to be overawed by the occasion.
Two string players, violinist Lee Huei Min and violist Marietta Ku, joined the party in two movements of Dvorak's folksy Terzetto (Op.74), where Tan showed he was able to take the lead and listen to his partners as well. Former child prodigy Lee, who is Tan's teacher, was all eyes on him and responding to all his non-verbal cues.
The final piece in the jigsaw was the entire Summer concerto from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, arguably the most tempestuous segment, and one exhibiting the greatest dynamic range. Tan was now accompanied by eight string players of the Wolfgang Ensemble, whose combined volume did little to faze him. Instead, his instinctual and elemental approach to the music easily rose above the throng with a jaw-dropping aplomb.
In the centenary year of Lord Menuhin's birth, Singapore can be proud to have contributed a worthy successor to his illustrious musical legacy. All the above suggests this experienced pair of ears was hailing and raving about some special teenage conservatory-trained talent. Wrong. Samuel Tan is just ten years old. Go figure that one out.