The renovated Victoria Concert Hall is a natural fit for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's chamber music concerts, and if Sunday afternoon's concert led by artist-in-residence Lin Cho-Liang was anything to go by, the hall will be hosting many more exceptional chamber music in the years to come.
Lin's brief introduction to the music was useful in providing background information to the programme, in particular, the two major works, Prokofiev's Sonata For Two Violins and Brahms' String Sextet No. 2, both of which are among the most acclaimed works in their respective genres.
The concert opened with a piece for an eclectic ensemble of four violins and double bass - an arrangement of excerpts from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni by Julian Milone. Its title, Don Giovanni's Lustige Streiche (Don Giovanni's Merry Pranks), is itself a play on Richard Strauss' work of a similar name, and this pastiche needs to be delivered with a dose of wit and melodrama. Lin did so with panache, although his co-musicians seemed a little reticent to stand out like operatic divas.
Russian-born American concertmaster of the orchestra Igor Yuzefovich would have certainly been at home with the Prokofiev Sonata For Two Violins, and he and Lin played as though they have been stage partners for much longer than a weekend. The four alternating slow and fast movements bring the violinists through a journey of adventurous lyricism and driving aggression. The pair were well balanced in sound and both handled Prokofiev's technically demanding writing with ease, with Yuzefovich sounding more polite and restrained, while Lin played with greater incisiveness.
In the second half, Lin partnered another five orchestra members - Chan Yoong Han (violin), Tan Wee-Hsin and Marietta Ku (violas), and Ng Pei-Sian and Wu Dai Dai (cellos) - in Brahms' String Sextet No. 2. With a performance time of almost 40 minutes, the piece was written as an adoration of Agathe von Siebold, whose hand in marriage he had recently turned down, and contains some of Brahms' most wistful, heartfelt music.
Once again, Lin provided strong leadership, especially in the first movement when the players were still adjusting to each other. By the second movement scherzo, everyone had gained full traction and the lively dance in the trio section of the second movement had some real kick to it. From this point, the group played with a palpable freedom, right through to the work's sunny finale.
Every player had substantial solo and supporting parts through the sextet, and the manner in which they partnered each other was remarkable. Lin is a consummate chamber musician and should be well pleased with the maturity of the performance of the Brahms sextet and how he brought out the best from his fellow musicians.