Fireworks at first concert by Melvyn Tan and T'ang Quartet

Review

BRAHMS PIANO QUINTET / Melvyn Tan & T’ang Quartet / Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert / Hall / Tuesday

An almost full hall witnessed a bit of history taking place at this free concert: the first collaboration between Singapore's pre-eminent pianist Melvyn Tan and the land's best-known chamber group, the T'ang Quartet.

In the F Minor Piano Quintet by Johannes Brahms, sparks flew, but that was only part of the story.

The quartet - comprising violinists Ng Yu Ying and Ang Chek Meng, violist Lionel Tan and cellist Leslie Tan - have always held a love for Czech music.

This was in large part due to their former-teacher and mentor, now-retired Singapore Symphony Orchestra principal violist Jiri Heger.

In Czech composer Leos Janacek's First String Quartet, also known as the Kreutzer Sonata after Tolstoy's novella, the foursome got to the heart of its rather elusive idiom. Unusual in that it comprises four slow movements, its darkly shaded pages bared an inner soul of intimacy and seething disquiet, for which violence seemed the only resolution.

The playing was ardent and vigorous, yet tempered with myriad nuances that reflected emotional turmoil.

Thematic motifs were short and pithy, often repeated to poignant effect, while passages of wiry sul ponticello, an unnerving device created by bowing near the bridge, added to the underlying tension. Even as the music built to a heightened crescendo, its ending was paradoxically quiet, a consummation of the work's conflicts and contradictions.

Eschewing the customary intermission, the concert continued directly into the Brahms quintet.

With pianist and string players of one mind, the performance was an intensely musical one. The balance of sound was close to ideal, with the work's understated instrumental virtuosity firmly placed to one side.

The serious opening movement brooded and then growled in its development section, contrasted with the oasis of serenity in the Andante slow movement, which blossomed to a lifeaffirming climax.

Then, the fireworks erupted in the Scherzo's syncopated march, which for the benefit of listeners was repeated in the score with an increased vehemence.

Between this was a contrasting trio of heroic proportions, with which the five players lapped up in all its pompous swagger.

The finale opened with some of the German composer's darkest and most chilling music, and if there is a more dramatic portrayal, this pair of ears has yet to experience it. The work's rollicking close also provided the thrill and frisson that epitomised the best of chamber music.

The applause was long and loud, so Tan and the quartet encored the latter half of the Scherzo.

The second round was just as satisfying as the first.


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

Become a fan on Facebook