Monday 10 June 2024



JIN JU Piano Recital 
YEOL EUM SON Piano Recital 
30th Singapore 
International Piano Festival 
Victoria Concert Hall 
Thursday & Friday (6 & 7 June 2024)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 10 June 2024 with the title "Yeol Eum Son and Jin Ju shine at Singapore International Piano Festival".

With so many solo piano recitals featuring marquee artists by independent presenters taking place of late, one wonders whether the Singapore International Piano Festival (SIPF) is still relevant. Long regarded as Singapore’s premier piano event since its 1994 inauguration, has it lost its shine? 

Murmurings among some pianophiles have it that this year’s edition – its 30th - was lackluster, with supposedly a paucity of renowned soloists. Did Piotr Anderszewski and Dang Thai Song, well-known names, perform just recently at Victoria Concert Hall? Yes, but they were presented by Altenburg Arts, curated by former SIPF director Lionel Choi. 

Current director Lim Yan’s festival opened with Chinese pianist Jin Ju, a Tchaikovsky Competition laureate presently based in Italy. She may not be a “big name”, but is possessed with a big technique. Only the most confident of souls would begin a recital with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, a solid 50 minutes of continuous barnstorming. 

Photo: Nathaniel Lim

She immediately nailed her colours to the mast by playing around with publisher Anton Diabelli’s banal waltz theme, applying liberal rubato and exaggerating the left hand accompaniment. It was a way of saying, “this is going to be different”. The fast variations raced to see which was the swiftest while the slower variations were given a latitude that seemed almost improvisatory. A furious fugue and ironic minuet to close was proof of Beethoven’s maverick genius. 

Even better was to come with Frederic Chopin’s Third Sonata in B minor (Op.58). This was a full-blooded reading where the slow movement brooded on raw passion and the Rondo finale built upon boundless reserves of adrenaline. Seldom have Johannes Brahms’ Seven Fantasies (Op.116), late short pieces, resounded with more big-boned passion and heft. The evening concluded with five generous encores played to a smallish house. 

Jin Ju beckons her audience
to go home, after the fifth encore.

Korean pianist Yeol Eum Son, winner at multiple international competitions, was arguably the “biggest” name of four artists, hence a well-filled hall. A common theme of variations and Beethoven from the previous evening carried over with Georges Bizet’s Variations Chromatiques

The art of writing variations is abetted by an imaginative pianist who can bring out myriad nuances with a spirit of discovery and humour. With French eccentric Charles-Valentin Alkan’s Variations on a Theme by Steibelt and Carl Czerny’s Variations on a Theme by RodeLa Ricordanza” getting increasingly more florid by the minute, Son became the perfect guide. Her limpid articulation and immaculate pearly runs made these note-spinning potboilers worth listening to. 

Franz Liszt’s Ricordanza, the ninth of 12 Transcendental Etudes, was not so much a variation but a metamorphosis. Its transformation into a sublime tone poem was made complete with Son’s sense of poetry and silky-smooth arpeggios. 

Literally the
Hair-merklavier Sonata

The evening’s highlight was Beethoven’s monumental Sonata No.29 in B flat major (Op.106), better known as the Hammerklavier, also his longest sonata. Its four movements, running over 45 minutes, could sound like an inchoate mess, but Son’s account was admirable for her sense of architecture and adventure. 

Hers was a young artist’s reading of an ageing man’s rants and raves, capturing impetuosity and impatience to equal degree in its first two movements. When it came to gravitas, she delivered with dividends in the Adagio sostenuto, with brooding and restless rumination at its heart, before giving way to the fugue to end all fugues. A mightily impressive show all round. 


JIN JU (6 June 2024) 

CHOPIN Nocturne in E flat major, Op.55 No.2 
LISZT Transcendental Etude No.10 in F minor 
TCHAIKOVSKY October (Autumn Song
   from The Seasons
D.SCARLATTI Sonata in C major, K.159 “Chase” 
LI YING HAI 庆翻身 Qing Fan Shen 
   (Celebrating Freedom

YEOL EUM SON (7 June 2024) 

MOSZKOWSKI Etincelles, Op.36 No.6 
   (with Vladimir Horowitz ending)

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