Concert review: Lively and engaging playing at More Than Music’s 10th anniversary gig

More Than Music celebrated its 10th anniversary with fellow musicians. PHOTO: CHANG TOU LIANG

10th Anniversary Concert

More Than Music & Friends
Esplanade Recital Studio
Last Sunday, 7.30pm

About 10 years ago, a violin and piano duo called More Than Music was formed by two young alumni of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, with their first concert presented by Kris Foundation.

It was the intention of violinist Loh Jun Hong and pianist Abigail Sin to present classical music as accessible and unstuffy without needing to dumb down. Their unqualified success led to concerts with more members of the musical community.

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, they invited fellow musicians to present all 10 of Beethoven’s violin sonatas in a series of digital concerts.

More Than Music’s 10th anniversary concert featured more musical partners, but it was Loh and Sin who opened with Brahms’ Scherzo In C Minor. Part of the four-movement F-A-E Sonata crafted by three composers for violinist Joseph Joachim, its recurrent motif of three short stabs and one long note was reminiscent of Beethoven’s famous Fate theme.

Its sheer insistence, placated by a swooning lyrical melody, provided cuts and thrusts of this short impactful movement. Both players were in one mind throughout, bonded by a chemistry developed over the past decade, making for an impressive opening.

Ironically, that would be the duo’s sole outing, with Sin joined by fellow conservatory colleague Albert Tiu in Rachmaninov’s Second Suite For Two Pianos (Op.17). Its inclusion also marked the 150th birth and 80th death anniversaries of the popular Russian composer.

The first movement’s Alla Marcia, with quick successions of chords, could have made for heavy weather, but their response was both crisp and devastatingly accurate.

Split-second razor reflexes ruled in the mercurial Waltz, dispatched with almost nonchalant ease, while the Romance simply oozed sensuality from every pore.

The finale’s swirling Tarantella could have been even more scintillating had they gone for broke. Cooler heads prevailed, but the outcome was still a satisfying one.

As the pianists retired, Loh was joined by violinist Yang Shuxiang, violists Zhang Manchin and Wang Dandan, and cellists Ng Pei-Sian and Jamshid Saydikarimov (the latter four all Singapore Symphony Orchestra musicians) for Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet In D Minor (Op.70), also known as Souvenir De Florence.

This has to be the usually morose Russian composer’s most cheerful and uplifting work, the music filled with Mediterranean sunshine and high spirits.

From the outset, all six musicians bathed the hall in a warm sonorous glow, with each and every part distinctly discerned. Passion was in full flow for the fast outer movements, balanced by playing of true finesse in the slower second movement.

Here, pizzicato strings laid the way for a love-in between Loh’s violin and Ng’s cello, their parts so closely intertwined as to delight the inner voyeur of every music-lover.

Most of all, it was the unbridled joy of music-making exhibited among friends which was the essence and lifeblood of chamber music. May we have many more years of More Than Music.

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