A major display of brilliance from violin and piano

The concert's title was a clever word play linking all three works in the programme.

While the centrepiece was Korngold's suite of four pieces drawn from his incidental music to a 1920 Viennese production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, the framing pieces were both in the key of A major, or A-Dur as it is in German notation.

It was not just linguistic cleverness on show here, but also musical cleverness from both the composers and performers.

This was an intelligently crafted programme of three masterpieces performed with highly distinguished musicianship.

The muscular pianism of Lim Yan was the driving force behind a powerful performance of Beethoven's so-called Kreutzer Sonata.

As Lim pointed out in his explanation before each piece, the nickname came about when the person whom the Sonata was originally dedicated to fell out with Beethoven over a woman, and the following person (the eponymous Kreutzer), whom the work was later dedicated to, declared the work unplayable.



    Lee Shi Mei (violin) and Lim Yan (piano)

    Esplanade Recital Studio/ Last Saturday

Lee Shi Mei certainly proved Kreutzer wrong, but without belittling her playing, it was Lim who spectacularly proved Beethoven right and his contribution commanded the most attention.

This, though, is very much a duo of equals and it was most cleverly shown off in the Korngold Suite.

Ingeniously distilled from over a dozen separate movements originally for a very strange ensemble (including harmonium, harp, piano and tenor), Korngold's own version for violin and piano keeps all the good tunes and manages to make them sound tailor-made for the violin-piano ensemble.

One of his hallmarks is a habit of ending movements with a nonchalantly throwaway gesture and it was in these that concertgoers saw just how perfectly attuned these two players were to each other.

Any violin and piano recital centred on the key of A major is almost duty-bound to include the Franck Sonata and this one did not disappoint.

But if this is music in danger of being over-played to the point of predictability, this was a performance which brought the excitement, passion, pathos and gentleness of the original back into focus.

Lim's powerful, virtuoso style of playing - which involved an amazing amount of facial and bodily movement along with lightning-quick fingers - made the turbulent second movement a showstopper.

And it was only by means of the trick of running straight into the reflective third movement that the audience was kept from bursting into spontaneous applause.

In that third movement, Lee ruminated lovingly over the recitative-like fragments of theme, revealing a most attractively subtle tone.

It all came to a head with a spectacular finale, celebratory and exciting all in one, and the true climax of a cleverly thought-out and superbly delivered recital.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2019, with the headline 'A major display of brilliance from violin and piano'. Print Edition | Subscribe