Players shone under sterling leadership



Abigail Sin, piano

Andris Koh, cello

Chenna Lu, piano

Damien Kee, double bass

Jonathan Lee, viola

Leo Phillips, violin

Lim Chun, viola

Seah Huan Yuh, violin

The Arts House Chamber

Last Friday

This second concert of the inaugural Singapore International Festival of Music featured Viennese chamber music, performed by leading local musicians and helmed by London-born violinist Leo Phillips.

The "Emperor" String Quartet, the third of Joseph Haydn's Op. 76 string quartets, is among the best known string quartets in the world, in part because of the set of theme and variations on his melody Kaiserlied (Emperor's song), which today is best known as the melody to the German national anthem.

As with the other quartets in this set by Haydn, the writing is deceptively simple. While there is emphasis on the first violin part, every part is brutally exposed and crucial to the success of the piece.

Fortunately, Seah Huan Yuh (violin), Lim Chun (viola) and Andris Koh (cello) were extremely worthy partners to Phillips, who proved to be a superb leader for this quartet.

Phillips has a strong tone and chose tempos on the brisk side, but his fellow musicians matched his sound and rhythmic drive admirably. The third movement menuetto could have been a touch lighter, but the other movements felt spot on - balanced, stylish and full of conviction. The second movement Emperor variations, where one instrument takes the lead in each variation, was a particular triumph, where all players shone, and cellist Koh was outstanding.

Ludwig van Beethoven's Variations In G major on "See the conqu'ring hero comes" from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus for cello and piano was written for King Friedrich Wilhelm, who was a keen amateur cellist. The king must have been a formidable cellist, and the piano part, which includes a variation featuring only the piano, is substantial. There was solid playing from Andris Koh (cello) and Abigail Sin (piano), but the nature of the work made it feel a bit like a filler after Haydn's majestic quartet.

In his "Trout" Quintet, Franz Schubert has a double bass in place of a second violin. This gives the cello greater melodic scope, but poses a challenge of how to integrate an instrument that does not blend so naturally in a classical quintet. Phillips was sterling in his leadership once again, with the hardworking Koh once again shining on the cello part. Chenna Lu (piano), Jonathan Lee (viola) and Damien Kee (bass) made up the rest of the quintet. Their performance was most creditable, although balance and polish were not up to what was heard in the Haydn.

Once again, there was a set of variations, this time on Schubert's "Trout" theme. A light, bubbly movement, it was marred by intrusive air conditioning and the less than ideal piano in the hall.

The other movements were most successful, though - rhythmic and brimming with energy.

This quintet is considered one of the "happiest" classical music ever written and the performance certainly helped to bring this concert to a happy ending.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'Players shone under sterling leadership'. Print Edition | Subscribe