Violinist Kam Ning wins the audience over in her solo recital

REVIEW / CONCERT

SOUL MUSIC

Kam Ning (Violin), Nicholas Ong (Piano) Lee Foundation Theatre/Thursday

It has been said that classical music is beneficial for infants and babies in utero. Singaporean violinist Kam Ning obviously believes this, as she emerged for her solo recital in an advanced stage of pregnancy. She chatted amiably with the audience before each work and that immediately made everyone feel at home.

The title of her 75-minute recital, Soul Music, which was performed without intermission, pointed to the fact that every work was a feel-good piece, hence good for the soul.

J.S. Bach's music definitely fitted that description, and his Chaconne In D Minor (from Unaccompanied Violin Partita No.2) was as big as they come. Although she was performing on a modern instrument, she employed the period technique of minimising vibrato and carved out a lean and lithe sound for this classic.

Her intonation was impeccable throughout, and there was no stinting of dramatic impact in its build-up to a series of impressive climaxes. While Bach was serious, the next work, Sonata Representativa by baroque Bohemian violinist- composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, made light of the violin's mimicry of nature and farmyard animals. In eight continuous movements, a panoply of violinist tricks delighted listeners, including imitations of a nightingale's call, frogs croaking, henhouse noises and feline caterwauling.

A military march where guest cellist Leslie Tan's instrument was turned into a cannon with the nifty use of paper, accompanied by Nicholas Ong on harpsichord, completed the special effects.

Completely different was Estonian composer Arvo Part's Spiegel Im Spiegel (Mirror In A Mirror), a meditative minimalist work built upon a series of arpeggiated triads on the piano and long-breathed sighs from the violin. Time stood still in this heartrending performance which was dedicated by Kam in memory of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding prime minister.

Her idea of spirituality also took the form of her own improvisation of the Christian hymn Amazing Grace. In its variations, she employed the technique and idiom of bluegrass music and country fiddlers in a stupendous show of virtuosity that suggests Paganini making a trip to the Appalachians.

The concert closed with two gypsy-influenced pieces. Hungarian Jeno Hubay's Hejre Kati (Hello Katie) was slightly more traditional in the manner of gypsy rhapsodies, and if it sounded familiar, that was because its high-kicking final pages were also used by Brahms in one of his Hungarian Dances.

The outright showpiece was Ravel's Tzigane with its extended solo introduction and dizzying fast dance. Ong's sweeping piano part simulated the repeated notes of the cimbalom (Hungarian dulcimer), over which Kam's prestidigitation flew like the wind to a breathless close.

For her encore, cellist Tan returned to duet and duel in Mark O'Connor and Edgar Meyer's Limerock, another work-out of vertiginous country dancing which received prolonged applause.

One surmises that what is good for the heart is also good for the soul.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline 'Violinist Kam Ning wins the audience over in her solo recital'. Print Edition | Subscribe