Monday, 30 May 2016

SCHUBERT: THE PIANO TRIOS / Kelvin Chan, Vladimir Choi & Brandon Voo / Review

Kelvin Chan (Piano),
Vladimir Choi (Violin) & 
Brandon Voo (Cello)
Esplanade Recital Studio
Saturday (28 May 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 30 May 2016 with the title "Newly-formed trio's baptism of fire".

Despite the popularity of Franz Schubert's chamber music in Singapore, his two piano trios have not been performed enough. Thus it was a rarity to encounter both works in a single concert, given by the newly formed trio of Singaporean pianist Kelvin Chan, Hong Kong-Canadian violinist Vladimir Choi and very active local cellist Brandon Voo.   

It was totally apt that Chan was listed first, as he was the de facto leader, who was also endowed with technically the most demanding parts. He was a rock-solid pillar, whose procession of piano octaves and chords mandated the complexion and pace of the notes, not to mention the regular flourishes of filigree called upon him.

That was how the B flat major Piano Trio (D. 898) opened, resolutely and tautly conducted. The exposition repeat was observed, thus doubling the pleasure, not least from Voo's cello, for which the juiciest melodies fell. The threesome was completed by Choi, whose initial diffidence in projection and intonation soon dissipated as the trio got warmed up.

There are few tunes that can match the slow movement's rocking cradle-song, which was milked for all its worth. The Scherzo that followed was a delightful exercise in staccato and crisp playing, and the Rondo finale with all its cheerful lightness and chirpiness, never lapsed into outright sentimentality.

The full-house audience applauded after every movement, however inappropriately, but this gave the players short breathers to re-tune and regroup. Imagine this to be a Viennese house concert during Schubert's day and these intrusions do not seem so bad after all. By the final chord, the trio had played close to 45 minutes.

The E flat major Piano Trio (D.929) after the intermission was to be an even longer work. Now totally acclimatised to the venue and audience, the trio coaxed a more nuanced and arguably better performance. The declamatory unison opening was delivered with great purpose and much poise, and the darker countenance of its musings more fully realised.

Even if the Andante con moto direction of the slow movement was taken a tad briskly, the engagement of the music's tragic quality felt wholly genuine. The tenseness evoked in its faster central section was also heightened to very good effect.

Like its counterpart in the earlier trio, the Scherzo also floated with the lightness of angel's wings. However the finale, easily the most difficult of all eight movements in both trios, threatened to make heavy weather. The treacherous repeated notes called for in all three parts were negotiated not without some effort, and Chan's beleaguered piano held steady to the very end.

After almost 50 minutes, the appreciation showered on the trio was requited with an encore, a lovely arrangement of what is possibly Schubert's most popular melody – the St√§ndchen (Serenade) from song-cycle Schwanengesang. More is to be expected from this trio after its baptism of fire.   

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