Monday 25 August 2014

SHUXIANG, ESTHER & FRIENDS / Yang Shuxiang and Friends / Review

Yang Shuxiang, Violin et al
Esplanade Recital Studio
Saturday (23 August 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 25 August 2014 with the title "When locks fly and bow-hairs fray".

There exists a “golden generation” of young classical musicians in Singapore born in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Violinists feature prominently, and Yang Shuxiang, graduate from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory and now studying in Boston, is arguably the most flamboyant among them. His imposing stature, matinee idol hair and passionate response to music rather makes him stand out.

Musically he is equal to the best of them, and when these factors collude, sparks fly in concert as this outing soon proved. It however began sedately with the World Premiere of young Singaporean Phoon Yu’s Elegy for violin, piano and string quartet.

In Phoon Yu's Elegy, the composer (seated left)
also served as the pianist's page-turner.

The second-generation composer (son of the esteemed Phoon Yew Tien) proved to be a chip off the old block, with his highly coherent tonal work sustaining an air of sombre anguish through its 6 minutes. The plaint of the strings was contrasted with series of piano chords and the solo violin’s attempts to establish a melodic line, ending definitively with a strum on a piano bass string by the composer himself.

The atmosphere lightened with Brahms’s Violin Sonata No.2 in A major (Op.100), where Yang’s sumptuous and full-bodied tone soon took flight. The performance was distinguished with a fiery vehemence in the outer movements, contrasted with singingly lyrical asides through its course. The balance achieved with Hong Kong-born American pianist Esther Ning Yau, whose clarity of articulation and pedalling were exemplary, was also excellent.

For film composer Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy, which improves on the popular Sarasate warhorse, Yang took on a dramatic life and death stance from start to end. With locks flying and bow-hairs fraying, the level of intensity he achieved was frightening, and the frenzied ending saw him finishing a beat ahead of the piano.

The intermission was brief respite before the onslaught on the senses that was Ernest Chausson’s Concert for violin, piano and string quartet, the same forces that began the evening. Those who remember Yang’s impassioned take on the same composer’s Poeme at the President’s Young Performers Concert several years ago will take delight in tripling the dose of adrenaline here.

Cast symphonically in four movements and lasting almost three-quarters of an hour, Yang, Yau and the quartet formed by violinists Alan Choo and Gabriel Lee, violist Jeremy Chiew and cellist Cho Hang-Oh made every minute count. Interestingly, the arrangement of the musicians on stage made it appear that the work was scored for violinist and piano quintet.

The dominance of Yang as de facto leader was because he was the only player standing, thus becoming the focal point. His virtuosic flourishes and the floridly exuberant piano part were well supported by the quartet which traded every blow with equal trenchancy.

Seldom has the three note motif (D-A-E) of the bristling first movement been stated this emphatically, a portent of things to come. Even the laid-back rocking rhythm of the Sicilienne and dirge-like slow movement could not hold back the deluge of emotion that inundated the rapturous finale. This showing, greeted with a chorus of cheers,  just about eclipses the memory of past performances. But that is the essence of live music making, the secret of which is to play and live for “now”.

All photos by the kind permission of Yang Shuxiang and Friends.

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