Thursday, 8 June 2017


Singapore Violin Festival
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Tuesday (6 June 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 8 June 2017 with the title "Thrilling youngsters".

There are too few weeks in a year, such that the 2nd Singapore Violin Festival had to be held exactly the same time as the 24th Singapore International Piano Festival. In any case, the violin festival (29 May to 6 June) was the longer event and there was no clash for its well-attended final gala concert.

Instead of performances from its star-studded teaching faculty, the audience witnessed a stunning line-up of young violinists. The famous French violinist-pedagogue Pierre Amoyal, a faculty member, emphasised that virtuosity for its own sake was not the raison d'etre of the festival, but rather the kind of all-rounded musicianship imparted by his own master, the great Jascha Heifetz.

The evening's first performance was both an ear and eye-opening. One might scarcely believe that someone as diminutive as Chloe Chua (Singapore) could craft the voluminous sound and super-accurate double-stopping in Wieniawski's unaccompanied Etude-Caprice (Op.18 No.2). Her natural and unforced technique, allied with a total lack of self-consciousness had to be seen to be believed.

More came in Saint-Saens' Rondo Capriccioso with Nurie Chung (South Korea), as a thoughtfully-phrased introduction soon gave way to a final flourish of fireworks. His compatriot Nakyung Kang gave a fully-nuanced reading of Hungarian Jeno Hubay's Carmen Fantasy, a darker and more episodic work than the famous Sarasate and Waxman versions. The level of maturity displayed thus far was astounding.

In playing the Adagio and Fugue from Bach's Sonata No.1 in G minor, Wendi Wang (China) had the unenviable task of coming so soon after Midori's masterly account of the same work just a week ago. Her lovely tone, clarity of expression and total composure however showed she had been well-tutored.

The most senior player was Shi Xiaoxuan (China), an alumnus of Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. Her handling of abrupt dynamic shifts in Lutoslawski's Subito was admirable, combining well with an equally adroit Ge Xiaozhe on piano. They even made this late 20th century work sound almost Romantic. 

Kim Donghyun (South Korea) is perhaps not yet fully ready to take on the rigours of Paganini's very familiar Caprice No.24 in A minor, but his work in progress still showed plenty of promise.

Arguably the best performance of the evening came from Jiang Yiying (China) in Wieniawski's Faust Fantasy, based on themes from Gounod's opera and the longest work on show. There were stretches of slow music in which her violin sang unabated, so beautifully that loud snoring was heard from the front rows of the auditorium. When it came to letting rip in the final waltz, she did so without further invitation.

The evening closed with Ysaye's fearsome arrangement of Saint-Saens' Etude in the Form of a Waltz, with Lisa Yasuda (Japan) overcoming with aplomb the tricky three-quarter rhythm with the help of pianist Evgeni Sinaisky.

Eight players in eight masterpieces. The future of violin-playing is literally in their hands. 

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