Jeremy Chiew & Daniel Ong, Violas
with Lim Yan, Piano
Esplanade Recital Studio
Friday (6 May 2016)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 9 May 2016 with the title "Vivid sounds from viola duo".
The cause of the viola has found a new champion in Jeremy Chiew, who has done more than anyone today to promote the instrument in his chamber recitals. Let it never be said that the viola is only performed by “failed violinists”, because it is fiendishly difficult to perform well, hence the relative paucity of repertoire and its apparent lack of glamour on the concert stage.
The 70-minute long recital, presented by the Kris Foundation, opened with eight Duos by Bela Bartok, original for two violins but arranged for violas by his son Peter. Chiew was joined by junior Daniel Ong, principal violist of the Singapore National Youth Orchestra, who more than showed that he has been well mentored. Both have been students of the viola pedagogue Yeo Jan Wea.
These short pieces were written with pedagogy in mind, and get progressively more complex and technically challenging as they go. Most were based on folk songs and dances, and the duo was very well matched, taking turns on playing melody and providing accompaniment and counterpoint. Their chemistry in these engaging pieces was palpable, climaxing in the trickily syncopated Hungarian Dance (2) and Pillow Dance that closed the suite.
Next was Henri Vieuxtemps substantial Viola Sonata in B flat major Op.36, which saw Ong play the 1st movement and Chiew helming the 2nd and 3rd movements. Ong was a portrait of confidence in its slow but majestic opening, with a piano accompaniment that resembled that of Schubert's Ave Maria perfomed by Lim Yan.
Introspection soon grew into turbulence and agitation in its development, which also saw a commensurate expansion of the viola's vocal range. Chiew's part included a gentle Barcarolla (a gondolier's song) which also had a passionate side to it, before a playful dance-like finale upped the tempi and finished with a blaze of aplomb.
The final work was all of Chiew's to handle, Paul Hindemith's early Viola Sonata in F major (Op.11 No.4), which unlike his later and more astringent works was unusually lyrical. A Brahms-like autumnal feel inhabited its opening Fantasie, which was just the invitation to display a warm and ingratiating tone. The subsequent movements took the form of variations, providing more opportunities for an almost improvisational approach to its themes.
An obligatory fugato in the finale marked “mit bizarrer Plumpheit” or “with bizarre crudeness” was as droll and mock-serious as one could possibly get, and both Chiew and Lim played with straight faces and tongues firmly held in cheek. A splashy virtuosic close to the sonata was greeted with warm applause.
Chiew's encore was appropriated from the violinist's repertoire, Fritz Kreisler's short but demanding Praeludium & Allegro in the Style of Pugnani. With excellent intonation and articulation, Chiew made it sound as if it was originally meant for the viola. Violinists can have good reasons to be green with envy.