A display of grand passion

Stirring violin playing by Tang Tee Khoon.
Stirring violin playing by Tang Tee Khoon.PHOTO: JAMES PHOTOGRAPHY, LONDON

The chevaliers of the title are not the knights of old who sang of love, but three Paris-based composers who, at the very end of their lives, wrote one violin sonata apiece. Two are elusive works, shrouded in a kind of faint mist which blunts the edges and creates an other-worldly feel.

Or, at least, that's the plan.

As it was, violinist Tang Tee Khoon gave a decidedly jagged account of the Debussy Sonata, prodding the fast notes along with a directness which did much to give the music an edgy feel, but did nothing to convey its subtle shades.



    Tang Tee Khoon - violin, Eliane Reyes - piano

    Esplanade Recital Studio/Last Friday

It was all too bright and focused and certainly it was a mistake to have the piano lid wide open as this projected every bit of action noise with frightening clarity. What was missing here was any sense of the elusive.

The Ravel Sonata began in much the same vein, but with the pseudo- banjo strumming of the jazz-infused second movement, Tang caught more of the spirit of the music and while it could have done with a bit more humour, it did begin to sound like real Ravel.

With the third movement, she was totally in her element, brilliantly tossing off spectacular virtuoso passagework in this breath-taking whirlwind of notes.

If the performance of these two French sonatas had lacked restraint, the third abandoned it wholesale. Which was just what was wanted. Franck's Sonata does things no other violin sonata would dream of doing and in their staggeringly powerful performance, Tang and Eliane Reyes immersed themselves totally in this heaving ocean of surging musical passion.

Perhaps because Reyes, like Franck, has been a Belgian exile in Paris, the pianist had this music flowing from her fingertips, coaxing out the pathos and unashamedly displaying the passion.

Her fluency and technical command at the keyboard, obvious in Debussy and Ravel, transformed itself in the Franck into an extraordinary display of musical intuitiveness. Such was the level of her control that even with the turbulent waters of the second movement, she never once seemed in danger of swamping Tang's equally stirring violin playing.

And when the audience burst into spontaneous applause at the end of the second movement, only the most curmudgeonly old musical snob could possibly have complained.

With the third and fourth movements, the two performers were clearly on a roll, with Tang producing an absolutely sumptuous tone from her matchless Guadagnini violin and Reyes sailing around her with a control of touch which brought more out of the piano than most pianists know exists.

It reached an exhilarating and unashamedly ecstatic conclusion which had the audience gasping for breath. This was not the chevaliers celebrating l'amour but indulging in La Grande Passione.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2015, with the headline 'A display of grand passion'. Print Edition | Subscribe