Captivating performance by husband and wife



Koh Jia Hwei (organ) and Lim Yan (piano)

Victoria Concert Hall


Concerts featuring an organ and piano duo are extremely rare. The sheer physical and sonic size of most concert hall organs means that, in a straight fight, the organ invariably delivers a knock-out blow in the first round.

However, the Klais organ in the Victoria Concert Hall is relatively small while the Steinway piano is pretty big and, with help from some inspired programming and two skilful players, this was a more equitably matched affair.

An unavoidable consequence of pairing these two instruments is a slight conflict in tuning, and with the organ perceptibly sliding out of tune as the concert progressed, by the time it reached the encore - Elgar's Salut d'Amour - the relationship had soured somewhat.

Tuning issues did not affect the main programme, however - not because they did not exist, but because the music was so captivating. Also, organist Koh Jia Hwei and pianist Lim Yan played with such compelling artistry that only the most astute ears would have picked up the small discrepancies in pitch.

Avoiding music specifically written for organ and piano - not a problem, since there is hardly any - they chose two substantial works scored for piano and harmonium, the organ's very much smaller and more intimate relation.

Cesar Franck's Prelude, Fugue And Variation is a mainstay of the organ repertory, but here it was presented in an arrangement for the two instruments by the composer himself.

He had taken the opportunity to throw in a handful of pianistic arpeggios, which Lim polished off with great aplomb (smothered, unfortunately, by some ill-timed applause). But otherwise the arrangement left the organ to pick out the endearing theme on a variety of stops while the piano provided the harmonic meat.

A complete novelty was Sigfrid Karg-Elert's Silhouetten. This was specifically written for harmonium and piano, so it hardly ever gets a public airing.

And that is to everyone's loss, for it comprises seven totally beguiling pieces. Full of colour, character and charm, each one is strongly reminiscent of Grieg, but longer and more ingeniously constructed than anything he wrote. Those who know Karg-Elert's style would have been surprised by the music's freshness and its uncomplicated harmonic language.

Being a husband-and-wife team, Koh and Lim had an innate understanding of what each other is doing and the result was a wonderfully fluid performance. Ever sensitive to balance issues, Lim took on an almost orchestral persona as he weaved around Koh's beautifully poised organ playing.

Not to be outdone, Koh's assistant also weaved around the performer, busily manipulating the organ stops and flicking pages backwards and forwards with great alacrity. She even took a bow and enthusiastically applauded the joint performance. It was mildly irritating, but did not detract from a concert that was inspiring and utterly delightful.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2017, with the headline 'Captivating performance by husband and wife'. Print Edition | Subscribe