Concert review: Home-grown talents shine in saxophone, piano and violin

Saxophonist Samuel Phua in Night Of The Saxophone by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
Saxophonist Samuel Phua in Night Of The Saxophone by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.PHOTO: SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Violinist Yang Shuxiang and pianist Azariah Tan in a recital by the Kris Foundation.
Violinist Yang Shuxiang and pianist Azariah Tan in a recital by the Kris Foundation. PHOTO: KRIS FOUNDATION

Night Of The Saxophone

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Victoria Concert Hall, last Thursday (Aug 19)

Azariah Tan: Piano Recital

Esplanade Recital Studio, last Friday (Aug 20)

Yang Shuxiang: Violin Recital

Esplanade Recital Studio, last Saturday (Aug 21)

Whether now is a good time to be a young professional musician in Singapore is debatable. 

While competition for performance opportunities is stiff due to the sheer number of home-grown talents, the dearth of visiting overseas artistes has also meant that locals get a better chance to be heard. 

One thing is certain – many of Singapore’s young soloists are excellent and often comparable with those of international standing.

A shining example is saxophonist Samuel Phua, recent graduate from Finland’s Sibelius Academy, who performed the Saxophone Concerto of Russian composer Alexander Glazunov with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), led by music director Hans Graf. 

Not only did Phua have the requisite expertise to overcome the single-movement work’s technical hurdles, his alto saxophone’s creamy, smooth tone also oozed charm and seductiveness.

Whether in lyrical passages or young composer Jonathan Shin’s tricky cadenza specially written for this performance, Phua was spot on in his execution. 

As if further proof of prowess were needed, the encore of George Gershwin’s Promenade, arranged by SSO librarian Avik Chari, was stylish swagger personified.

The balance of the concert illustrated Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s genius in two contrasting serenades. Serenata Notturno and A Musical Joke were perfect examples of how to properly craft or ruin a composition respectively. 

The former was taken perfectly straight, while the latter played strictly for laughs, and one admits it takes true skill to deliberately make music sound bad.

On two consecutive evenings presented by the Kris Foundation, pianist Azariah Tan performed a solo recital and also partnered violinist Yang Shuxiang. 

In the recital, two early Romantic sonatas by Frederic Chopin and Franz Schubert were coupled to gripping effect. Both composers had led tragically short lives, prematurely curtailed by infectious diseases. 

In Frederic Chopin’s Third Sonata, Tan found the right balance of tortured self-reflection and outright passion, evidenced in the nocturne-like slow movement and tumultuous finale. 

Even better was his journey through Franz Schubert’s sprawling Sonata In A Major (D. 959), a slow burn that captured world-weariness in the most lyrical way possible. Through his fingers, Tan became a vivid storyteller.

Heart-on-sleeve expressiveness defined Yang in his account of three Austro-German violin sonatas.

The brief diversion that was Paul Hindemith’s Sonata (Op. 11 No. 1) was merely a prelude to Schubert’s Grand Duo In A Major (D. 574), the sheer congeniality and melodiousness of which could melt hearts. 

This was chamber music at its most intimate, the give and take between violinist and pianist being close to perfection.

And when one thought the passion quotient had been exhausted, then came Richard Strauss’ Violin Sonata, a concerto-like romp through the full gamut of emotions. 

Yang’s brawny string tone and faultless intonation, allied with natural showmanship, made his performance a truly memorable one.

The last three evenings proved that one does not need to leave these shores to witness great musical artistry.