As part of the celebration of Singapore's 50th year of independence, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra has organised a series of eight concerts at the Victoria Concert Hall. It is thus fitting that the opening recital last Saturday featured two of the most recognisable musicians, Lynette Seah and Shane Thio.
Having served as co-concert mistress of the orchestra since its formation, Seah has become a household name and has been bestowed with the highest artistic honour, the Cultural Medallion in 2009, as well as being inducted into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame.
For decades, Thio has been the collaborative pianist of choice for musicians here and is easily distinguished by his bleached locks and un-tucked shirt.
Two sonatas from the Baroque era opened the recital, with Thio accompanying on the harpsichord, and the full range of Seah's playing was on prominent display, from her full-blooded tone to her heart-on-sleeves personality.
However, the problem with pairing the modern violin with a period instrument created a fistful of problems which the performers failed to overcome.
In Johann Sebastian Bach's Sonata No. 3 BWV 1016, which was intended as a work for three voices, the violin sang dutifully, especially in the famous third movement marked Adagio Ma Non Tanto, while the harpsichord with its limited dynamic capabilities struggled to impose in the lyrical subjects.
The harpsichord's temperament was at odds with the natural resonance of the violin, and the clash in timbre resulted in moments where it seemed they were in different keys. Their case was not helped by an uncharacteristically sloppy showing from Thio, with several wrong chords and untidy runs.
Arcangelo Corelli's Sonata In D Minor Op. 5 No. 12, a set of 23 variations based on the Iberian fertility dance La Folia, was one of the most popular works of the era. Being less contrapuntal than the Bach sonata, the duo delivered a more cohesive performance where Thio's pristine articulation was masterfully matched by Seah's robust virtuosity.
With the piano wheeled in for Cesar Franck's much loved Sonata In A Major, a much more polished partnership was on show for the second half of the programme. The work has always been seen as the litmus test for the pianist, but it was Seah who shone brightest with her truly world-class bow arm.
Although the opening movement had its moments of hesitant rhythmic control and over-pedalling from Thio, her sonorous vibrato and passionate exhibition embodied the composer's romanticism and made light work of the treacherous second movement which was let down by her seemingly ill-prepared partner.
The recitative in the third movement was full of heart-felt angst, which set up the perfect riposte for nostalgia in the canonic fourth movement.
The appreciative audience, which included colleagues from the orchestra, gave the duo a deserved applause and they duly obliged with Gluck's Melody from Orpheus as an encore.