Thursday, 8 February 2018


with Yong Siew Toh 
Conservatory Orchestra
Victoria Concert Hall
Monday & Tuesday (5 & 6 February 2018)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 8 February 2018 with the title "Talent galore at violin competition".

The 2nd Singapore International Violin Competition has reached its Finals round. Twenty-nine international competitors were whittled down to just six, each performing a violin concerto by Mozart with the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra conducted by the competition's Distinguished Artist-in-Residence, the Israeli violinist-conductor Shlomo Mintz.

Held over two evenings, there were four performances of the Third Violin Concerto in G major (K.216) and two of the Fourth Violin Concerto in D major (K.218).  Mozart's concertos are small-scaled early works that call for sensitivity and musicianship rather than mere outright display, and it was very interesting to see how these young virtuosos responded.

The petite physical stature of Chisa Kitagawa (Japan) did little to deter a highly confident showing of Concerto No.4, which projected an outsized sonority that was both incisive yet musical. Its cantabile lines were gracefully delineated, especially in the stately slow movement, and the outer movement cadenzas tastefully crafted to suite the Rococo style.

In contrast, the burly Sergei Dogadin (Russia) was more of a showman in Concerto No.3, totally comfortable with his sleights of hand. He skilfully kept emotional excesses in check except during the outsized cadenzas which sounded almost disproportionate. His was otherwise a highly nuanced performance with lots of character.

Closing the first evening was another Concerto No.3, from Laurel Gagnon (USA) who was a towering physical presence. Her violin looked puny in her hands but she made it sing with a naturalness that was both disarming and distinctive. Her show of delicacy and restraint was admirable, and so were the very idiomatic cadenzas as she proved that less was more.

Two Third Concertos bookended a Fourth Concerto on the second evening. Oleksandr Korniev (Ukraine) and Shi Xiaoxuan (China), both alumni of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, did their alma mater proud with rather different but equally valid showings in the G major concerto.

Korniev, attired in just plain shirtsleeves, was as cool as they come. He matched Dogadin's flair with a deep and penetrating sonority of his own, and had equally showy cadenzas on offer. Other than a momentary straying of intonation in the slow movement, there was little to dislike in his outing.

Shi struck an even finer balance in the same concerto. An epitome of grace and refinement, her slow movement was one to be savoured over and over. Lisa Yasuda (Japan), the youngest finalist at 19, put on a virtuosic twist to the D major concerto, standing out for its resoluteness and slickness when tenderness and warmth would have been preferred.  

The international jury of nine members voted to advance Kitagawa, Dogadin and Korniev to the Grand Final with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Joshua Tan. To be held on Thursday evening at Esplanade Concert Hall, the great concertos by Sibelius and Tchaikovsky await. A surfeit of violin pyrotechnics beckons.  

And the finalists are:
Chisa Kitagawa (Japan),
Sergei Dogadin (Russia) &
Oleksandr Korniev (Ukraine)

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