Tuesday, 30 May 2017

BEETHOVEN HEROIC YEARS / Tang Tee Khoon Grand Series / Review

Tang Tee Khoon Grand Series
Victoria Concert Hall
Sunday (28 May 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 30 May 2017 with the title "Beethoven in an informal and intimate setting".

Singaporean violinist Tang Tee Khoon is a one-woman chamber music festival. The series of  concerts which bear her name has reached its 10th edition, its curatorship distinguished by astute thematic programming and the involvement of classy international soloists.

This year's first programme was headlined by Beethoven, highlighting his later “Middle period” compositions marking a maturity definitively influenced by his deafness. There were two parts to the programme. The first was an hour-long “Sharing Recital”, where about 75 listeners crammed the stage of Victoria Concert Hall to hear Italian pianist Luca Buratto and Taiwan-born violist Huang Hsin-Yun speak and perform.

The Sharing Recital in progress, as
Tang Tee Khoon (extreme right) looks on.

The session was informal and intimate, opening with the fiery Appassionata Sonata from Buratto's capable hands. It closed with the viola version of the D major Cello Sonata (Op.102 No.2), which was relative brief and finished with a fugue. Huang's viola had a deep sonorous tone but sometimes got submerged by the piano.

Beethoven, Ligeti, and Beatles, why not?

In between, both musicians mused about 20th century Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti's free-spirited nature as a parallel to Beethoven's own trail-blazing streak. Huang played a movement of Ligeti's Viola Sonata, using natural rather than tempered scales for an earthy folk-inflected sound. Buratto delivered the complete Book 3 of Ligeti's finger-twisting Etudes with unnerving ease.

The Evening Concert showcased three great Beethoven works dating from 1810 to 1811, performed in order of publication. The String Quartet in F minor (Op.95), carrying the title “Serioso”, was an epitome of clarity and tautness. The parts of Kim Min-Young (1st violin), Tang (2nd violin), Huang (viola) and Adrian Brendel (cello) were clearly discerned whether in the unison, as in the arresting opening, or in the counterpoint of the slow movement's fugue.

Instrumental balance was excellent as was interplay, and this spirit prevailed in the urgent and moody Scherzo before relaxing in the Finale, where the fast-flowing narrative gave way to outright jollity in the comedic buffo-like coda, something which Mozart was also wont to do.

Tang was joined by Buratto in Beethoven's tenth and last Violin Sonata in G major (Op.96). Contrasted with the tension-laden string quartet, the sonata was more congenial with its four movements radiating mostly sunshine. The mood was maintained through Tang's lively interpretation and Buratto's crisply minted fingerwork, culminating in the finale's playful set of variations.

Duo became trio when Brendel joined in for the great “ArchdukePiano Trio in B flat major (Op.97), named after Beethoven's patron Archduke Rudolf of the Habsburg dynasty. This was a performance of nobility, the broad 1st movement theme striding aristocratically with Brendel's generous cello tone being a key factor.

There were pizzicatos and smiles in the Scherzo, where lightness reigned before a hymn-like theme introduced by piano was subjected to sublime variations in the 3rd movement. Within a bar's notice, the reverie turned into the Hungarian-flavoured finale, the infectious humour of which brought the evening's fare to a satisfying close. 

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