Brahms' long aching melodies

Husband-and-wife violinists Tan Wee-Hsin and Lillian Wang.
Husband-and-wife violinists Tan Wee-Hsin and Lillian Wang. PHOTO: TAN WEE-HSIN & LILLIAN WANG


TAPESTRY OF HOPE/ Tan Wee-Hsin, viola; Lillian Wang, violin; Azariah Tan, piano



Very Special Arts Singapore was started in 1993 to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and the arts, organising workshops and exhibitions for the special needs community.

So it was just as well that one of its unofficial artists in residence was 23-year-old pianist Azariah Tan, who has achieved much despite his degenerative hearing condition.

Partnering him for the evening was the husband-and-wife pair of violist Tan Wee-Hsin and violinist Lillian Wang from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

Duets written for the violin and viola may not be uncommon, but they were intended for more intimate settings rather than the concert hall. The instrument's similarity in range makes the music sound uncomfortably top-heavy, and it took every bit of the duo's artistry to bring Mozart's String Duo No. 1 In G Major, K. 423 to life.

Their impeccable partnership was a sight to behold - breathing as one and the seamless passing of phrasing from one instrument to another.

Wee-Hsin was alert to the limitations of the violin at the lower ranges and allowed Wang to build upon his sensitive accompaniment with some robust playing. While one might disagree with some liberal tempo changes, it was done to highlight the Mozartian chromatic harmony changes.

Wee-Hsin was joined by Azariah for Brahms' Viola Sonata No. 1, Op. 120. Originally written for the clarinet and later transcribed by the composer, it was typical Brahms - lush sonorities, evocatively colourful harmonies and long aching melodies.

With Wee-Hsin performing several passages in the original higher register, the restrictions of the viola were exposed in the opening two movements. In all fairness, the School of The Arts concert hall is not kind to orchestral instruments and the performers were tucked way back, probably to avoid the on-stage draught. It was due to Wee-Hsin's experience and keen sensitivity that the work shone despite its misgivings.

Pianist Azariah Tan was steady with the notoriously difficult piano writing, tossing off cascades of chords with subliminal shading and taking care not to overpower the viola.

Freshly re-imagined by Wang, Beethoven's famous Sonata In A Major, Op. 47 soared with an invi- gorating lightness. Azariah showed off his technical and musical abilities, as Wang delighted with her tone which seemed to effortlessly alternate between the sanguine and obscurity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2015, with the headline 'Brahms' long aching melodies'. Print Edition | Subscribe