Thursday 13 July 2017


Incursion Trio
Esplanade Recital Studio
Tuesday (11 July 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 July 2017 with the title "Thrills from a trio".

Some chamber groups have been established as local leaders of the chamber music genres which they perform. Already well-known are T'ang Quartet (string quartet) and Take Five (piano quintet), and more recently EDQ (wind quintet) has made its name.

Now meet Incursion Trio, comprising the husband-and-wife pair of Siew Yi Li (violin) and Beatrice Lin (piano), and its newest member Lin Juan (cello). On this concert's strength, one will expect it to become a force to reckon with, that is if the threesome gets to performs regularly enough.

The coupling of piano trios by Romantic Russian composers Piotr Tchaikovsky and Anton Arensky is not uncommon on CD recordings. In concert, however, this is a mountain to overcome for the musicians. The pianist never stops for a moment to rest. On this count, Beatrice Lin was a pillar of strength. Besides being spot-on technically, she had both power and projection, fueled by seemingly limitless reserves.

Here the piano becomes de facto leader, and it was easy for the Steinway grand to have totally dominated her string partners. Thankfully this was not the case, as both Siew and Lin Juan were just as resolute, possessed big tones and threw in their lot without reserve.

The opening to Arensky's First Piano Trio in D minor was delivered with such vividness and clarity that it was hard to mistake its nostalgia and melancholy. The skittish Scherzo proved more of a struggle; its tricky rhythms dogged the players and not all the jokes came off as slickly as planned.  

This was forgotten in the elegiac slow movement, achingly beautiful as it unabashedly bared its brooding Russian soul. The finale was a show of passion, its surge of adrenaline only stemmed by a return of the 1st movement's haunting theme. This sense of deja vu literally stops one's thoughts in its tracks, a highly effective plot device that was to be repeated in the Tchaikovsky.

Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in A minor, which plays for over 45 minutes, is one of the monuments of the trio repertoire. Composed in memory of piano virtuoso friend Nikolai Rubinstein, who had previously rejected his First Piano Concerto, Tchaikovsky was to ironically craft a work longer and even more taxing for the pianist.

The trio more than coped with its longeurs, especially the repetitious 1st movement which was delivered with seriousness, tinged with typically Tchaikovskyan sentimentality. Lin's opening cello plaint could not have been better rendered.

The 2nd movement's inventive Theme & Variations, another long movement, was so imaginatively coloured that time just flew past. There were variations in a style of a music box, a waltz, an elegy within an elegy, a mazurka, and culminating in an ever-busy fugue. The breathless last variation served as a long finale, and the 1st movement's theme returned, now as a plodding funeral march.

Surely performances of Rachmaninov's two piano trios cannot be far off from this excellent trio.

Two violinists: Siew Yi Li with his former teacher
Alexander Souptel, former Concertmaster
of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

Author's note: Interestingly, the first time I heard a live performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio was in 1992 at the Scriabin House-Museum in Moscow. The violinist on that occasion was none other than Alexander Souptel, before he joined the SSO in 1993. What goes around comes around.

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