Beethoven in an informal and intimate setting

REVIEW / CONCERT

BEETHOVEN HEROIC YEARS

Tang Tee Khoon Grand Series

Victoria Concert Hall/Sunday

Singaporean violinist Tang Tee Khoon is a one-woman chamber music festival. The series of concerts which bears her name has reached its 10th edition, its curatorship distinguished by astute thematic programming and the involvement of classy international soloists.

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This year's first programme was headlined by Beethoven, highlighting his later middle-period compositions, marking a maturity definitively influenced by his deafness.

There were two parts to the programme. The first was an hour-long sharing recital, where about 75 listeners crammed the stage of Victoria Concert Hall to hear Italian pianist Luca Buratto and Taiwan- born violist Huang Hsin-yun speak and perform.

The session was informal and intimate, opening with the fiery Appassionata Sonata from Buratto's capable hands. It closed with the viola version of the D Major Cello Sonata (Op. 102 No. 2), which was relatively brief and finished with a fugue. Huang's viola had a deep, sonorous tone, but sometimes got submerged by the piano.

In between, both musicians mused about 20th-century Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti's free-spirited nature as a parallel to Beethoven's own trail-blazing streak.

Huang played a movement of Ligeti's Viola Sonata, using natural rather than tempered scales for an earthy folk-inflected sound. Buratto delivered the complete Book 3 of Ligeti's finger-twisting Etudes with unnerving ease.

The evening concert showcased three great Beethoven works dating from 1810 to 1811, performed in order of publication. The String Quartet In F Minor (Op. 95), carrying the title Serioso, was an epitome of clarity and tautness. The parts of Kim Min-Young (1st violin), Tang (2nd violin), Huang (viola) and Adrian Brendel (cello) were clearly discerned, whether in the unison, in the arresting opening or in the counterpoint of the slow movement's fugue.

Instrumental balance was excellent, as was interplay, and this spirit prevailed in the urgent and moody Scherzo before relaxing in the finale, where the fast-flowing narrative gave way to outright jollity in the comedic buffo-like coda, something that Mozart was wont to do.

Tang was joined by Buratto in Beethoven's 10th and last Violin Sonata In G Major (Op. 96). Contrasted with the tension-laden string quartet, the sonata was more congenial, with its four movements radiating mostly sunshine.

The mood was maintained through Tang's lively interpretation and Buratto's crisply minted fingerwork, culminating in the finale's playful set of variations.

Duo became trio when Brendel joined in for the great Archduke Piano Trio In B Flat Major (Op. 97), named after Beethoven's patron Archduke Rudolf of the Habsburg dynasty.

This was a performance of nobility, the broad first movement theme striding aristocratically, with Brendel's generous cello tone being a key factor.

There were pizzicatos and smiles in the Scherzo, where lightness reigned before a hymn-like theme introduced by piano was subjected to sublime variations in the third movement.

Within a bar's notice, the reverie turned into the Hungarian- flavoured finale, the infectious humour of which brought the evening's fare to a satisfying close.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2017, with the headline 'Beethoven in an informal and intimate setting'. Print Edition | Subscribe