Beethoven with wit, freshness and sunshine

A glimpse of soloist Lim Yan leading re:sound from the keyboard.
A glimpse of soloist Lim Yan leading re:sound from the keyboard.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM RESOUND COLLECTIVE/FACEBOOK

REVIEW / CONCERT

LIM YAN PLAYS BEETHOVEN

Resound Collective, Lim Yan, Piano

Victoria Concert Hall

Wednesday

There is no generally accepted definition of a chamber orchestra - it seems that any group calling itself one can define the term.

For the Resound Collective, which describes itself as Singapore's first fully professional chamber orchestra, that definition comprises two elements.

First, it is not the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Second, it is somewhat smaller than the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

This was the first concert in its (admittedly short) history which dispensed with a conductor.

The logic seemed to be that as chamber music has no conductor, neither should a chamber orchestra.

But with three dozen players on stage, managing without a conductor was always going to be a tall order, especially for an ensemble that had played together in public only twice before.

It was left to violinist Seah Huan Yuh to lead the orchestra through the tricky pitfalls of Beethoven's Coriolan Overture.

The sound he got from them was fabulous. Oozing with the spirit and character of Beethoven, this was a gloriously robust and red-blooded performance. Seah led very much from the front, with the result that the music seemed to be ricocheting around the stage rather than coming out at the audience from a single conglomerate entity.

A party of nine wind players, a cellist and a double bass took the stage next for Dvorak's delicious Wind Serenade, a work brimming over with fine melodies and a wonderfully youthful vigour. For this, no single player seemed to be in overall command.

The musicians conveyed the melodies and the youthful vigour well, but matters of inner balance and coordinated phrasing seemed to be left to chance, and while the musical performance was spirited, the overall sound was lumpy.

Pianist Lim Yan took control in the final work, Beethoven's First Piano Concerto. Initially reticent in his direction of the ensemble, he gradually became more involved as the concerto proceeded and the result was a thoroughly stimulating and enervating performance, full of wit, freshness and musical sunshine.

Lim has that gift of making everything sound easy and natural, of looking completely in his element yet producing genuinely insightful interpretations.

Particularly impressive was his first movement cadenza, in which he struck the ideal balance between the international trend for cadenzas to wander wildly off-piste and the Singaporean taste for keeping them strait-laced.

A conductor might have handled the communal bowing at the end of the concert better.

Lim came back several times to take a bow and give an encore and was applauded enthusiastically by the orchestra, but the audience was denied the opportunity to applaud fully the orchestra's sterling efforts.

That aside, Lim Yan showed that, when good musicians take the stage, conductors are largely superfluous.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2017, with the headline 'Beethoven with wit, freshness and sunshine'. Print Edition | Subscribe