Tales from the keyboard

Singapore pianist Lim Yan showed off his adroit musicianship at the recital, part of Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s SG50 series of concerts.
Singapore pianist Lim Yan showed off his adroit musicianship at the recital, part of Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s SG50 series of concerts. PHOTO: ST FILE

Lim Yan's latest recital shows how he has matured since he became the first local pianist to perform at International Piano Fest


Victoria Concert Hall/Thursday

It was 10 years ago when Lim Yan became the first Singaporean pianist to perform at the Singapore International Piano Festival, inaugurating the ongoing Young Virtuoso Recital Series. Since then, the 35-year-old has gone on to become the nation's most active collaborative pianist and the first local to perform all of Beethoven's piano concertos in a cycle.

His latest piano recital, part of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's SG50 series of concerts at Victoria Concert Hall, revealed how he has matured. His was an example of excellent programming, involving works of related keys and forms, yet providing much-needed contrasts. The concert opened with Beethoven's Sonata In E Flat Major (Op. 27 No. 1), designated "quasi una fantasia" as it departed from the standard sonata form, resembling a fantasy in freedom of expressing its themes.

Immediately apparent was his richness of sound and clarity of articulation. Between the second movement's undercurrents of disquiet and the finale's perpetual motion, there was always utmost control. The sudden and unexpected reintroduction of the slow movement's theme near the end, sensitively handled, provided a gratifying touch of nostalgia.

Beethoven's Eroica Variations (Op. 35), also in E flat major, was based on a quirky dance from his ballet The Creatures Of Prometheus. It is a demanding work which found a sympathetic hearing from Lim. He understood well its built-in humour and discursive asides, including a fugue to spice things up.

In between, he performed local composer Liong Kit Yeng's Roller Coaster, an etude-like showpiece which, like its title suggests, traverses tumultuous shifts of dynamics. From Messiaen-like chords to manic runs in the manner of Ligeti's studies and strumming the insides of the piano a la Cowell and Crumb, the brief work had it all. It closed with sweeping glissandi and a jerking full stop.

Liszt's Sonata In B minor may be considered the ultimate fantasy for the piano. Its introduction and transformation of four simple themes through an Olympian half-hour's journey is the stuff of pianists' dreams and nightmares.

Such a landmark got the reading it deserved, as Lim was fully attuned to its complex structure and successive series of emotional pinnacles and valleys - in short, another roller-coaster ride. Its cascading octaves, scintillating runs and chordal climaxes held no terrors for him, as he conquered each obstacle with fearless accuracy and no little finesse.

Far from being just technically adroit, Lim found poetry amid the drama in its quiet spots and spiritual silences. There is no programme or backstory attached to this Romantic masterpiece, but his musicianship was its best storyteller.

Prolonged applause drew an encore from the otherwise reticent Lim: Beethoven's little Bagatelle (Op. 126 No. 3) in E flat major. That, is perfect symmetry and eloquence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2015, with the headline 'Tales from the keyboard'. Print Edition | Subscribe