Monday, 2 April 2018

EVOLUTION / GABRIEL LEE Violin Recital / Review

GABRIEL LEE Violin Recital
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory 
Orchestral Hall
Saturday (31 March 2018)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 April 2018 with the title "Enjoyable ride through violin's history".

In his 75-minute recital, Singaporean violinist Gabriel Lee gave a treatise on the history of the violin, performing on both baroque and modern violins. The first half belonged to the baroque. Both Arcangelo Corelli and Johann Paul von Westhoff pre-dated the giants J.S.Bach and Handel, and their sonatas he played did not conform to the usual four-movement form.

A sense of spontaneity pervaded Corelli's E major Sonata (Op.5 No.11), well expressed in the alternating slow and fast movements. As with period performance practice, very little vibrato was used by Lee and partner cellist Leslie Tan, with Mervyn Lee accompanying on harpsichord. Befitting one of the era's great violin virtuosos, a fast Gavotte completed the work, as if tacked on like an showy encore.

Westhoff's Sonata No.2 in A minor, also in 5 movements, sounded surprisingly modern for its time. The opening was marked by pointillist fragments from both violin and cello, before coalescing into busy counterpoint in the 2nd movement. The 3rd movement titled “Imitatione del liuto” saw Lee putting aside his bow and strumming the strings as if it were a lute. A similar timbre produced on the harpsichord (with mechanically plucked strings) gave the impression of a serenade for duet.

What are these people looking at?
Answer: the insides of a harpsichord

The classical era of Mozart and Beethoven was skipped, arriving instead at the late Romanticism of Ernest Chausson's Poéme. Here Lee played on a modern violin, luxuriating in the full flourish of vibrato which audiences are more accustomed to. After an extended piano introduction which Mervyn Lee delivered with requisite gravitas, Gabriel's solo entry was one of breathtaking intensity, grabbing listeners by the lapels without letting go.

This rhapsodic work dwelled in the deepest recesses of feeling and emotion, where Lee plumbed with a passion and concentration that was hard to surpass. Although tempered by a Franckian chorale that provided some respite, the music soared to a rapturous climax before receding gently.

The 20th century was represented by Penang-born Singaporean composer Kam Kee Yong, now residing in Canada. His short showpiece Cicada was described by Lee as Singapore's answer to Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble Bee. Delighting in its buzzing motifs and swooping slides, its eccentric bursts of energy provided a lively close to the recital proper.

If one wondered what a recorder placed on a chair was doing, it was part of Lee's encore act. This saw him play few bars of the violin, toot on the recorder and do a spot of beat-boxing. All these were recorded and layered by electronic means, controlled by a foot pedal and within seconds, he operated a virtual one-man-band. Here was a re-creation of a baroque passacaglia, over which he further improvised on his violin with snatches of Grieg, Tartini and more.

This 21st century “back to baroque” gesture drew the loudest cheers, and one suspects Bach and company would not have minded in the least.      

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