Tuesday, 7 February 2017

NG PEI-SIAN AND NG PEI-JEE / Victoria Concert Hall Presents / Review

VCH Presents Series
Victoria Concert Hall
Friday (3 February 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 7 February 2017 with the title "Lively performance by twin brothers".

A full-house audience packed Victoria Concert Hall on a drizzly evening to witness a rare recital for two cellos, by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's Principal Cellist Ng Pei-Sian and his identical twin Pei-Jee.

The brothers were born in Sydney, shared the same teachers and schools in Australia and United Kingdom, and won numerous prizes before their individual careers diverged. Presently, the elder sib Pei-Jee is Co-Principal at the London Philharmonic Orchestra and member of the Fournier Trio.

Beginning with French baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Barriere's Sonata in G major, the chemistry was as immediate as expected. Their voices blended as one, interchanging roles of playing melody and providing accompaniment as freely as breathing air. Although the work was brief, with a short central aria and swift finale with rapidly repeated notes, their breezy way with the music served as the perfect prelude.

Slightly more complex was Handel's Trio Sonata in G minor, its alternating slow and fast 4-movement form with Shane Thio on harpsichord. Their interplay with give-and-take in the busy counterpoint of the fast movements was exemplary, with a show of deeper emotions in the slower preceding movements.

On either side of Handel were two unaccompanied Cello Suites by J.S.Bach. The programme booklet did not indicate who was to perform which work, and perhaps this was deliberate. As it turned out, Pei-Sian (above) – the slightly more flamboyant of the two – was assigned the Second Suite in D minor, opening with darker and more elegiac tones. Pei-Jee (below) played the cheerier and more familiar Third Suite in C major.

There was little to separate both cellists, bringing out gorgeous sonorities from their instruments besides displaying perfect articulation in the fast dance movements. Like a mirror image, both Sarabandes of both suites were hewn with burnished and deeply-breathed strokes. Pei-Sian had Menuets and his brother BourrĂ©es to “dance” to, but both finished off with fast rhythmic Gigues which were breathtaking to say the least.

The final piece was a total departure from the baroque, but nonetheless required similar razor-sharp reflexes and tricky coordination as the earlier works. Upping the ante was Uzbek-Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin's Phoenix Story, composed for the duo's 2007 concert tour of the Australian continent.

The dirge-like 1st movement Tears From Above opened with drone-like ostinatos from Pei-Jee over which Pei-Sian's melody unfolded with no little lyricism. The two later switched roles, and earlier contemplation gave way to an ever-rising emotional intensity. The fast 2nd movement, Courting The Dragon, was a fire-breathing and boisterous dance that worked its way to a thrilling end.

Having had little or no time to practise a duo encore, it was left for Pei-Sian to offer Bach's Prelude in G (from the First Cello Suite) while his brother gamely watched on. No matter, the audience was loud and vociferous in their ovation.

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