Spellbound by youthful stars



Loh Jun Hong (violin) & Abigail Sin (piano)

Esplanade Recital Studio/ Last Saturday

The audience in Singapore is neither the most attentive nor the most sophisticated in the world of classical music and it is certainly not the best dressed.

But it must be about the most eager and enthusiastic and, if this concert was anything to go by, one of the youngest.

If the capacity audience in the Esplanade Recital Studio had an average age much above 20, I would be very surprised.

The average age hardly rose when Loh Jun Hong, 25, and Abigail Sin, 23, came out to perform.

Youthful they may be, but when it comes to understanding their audience and making good music, they are old hands and simply ooze maturity.

Kicking off their season of occasional chamber concerts under the banner More Than Music, they introduced each piece with a mixture of non-sophisticated language and factual detail, which caught the audience's attention and they held it through some pretty astounding playing.

In the divinely elegant Mozart C Major Violin Sonata movement, not one of the composer's most immediately accessible creations, you could have heard a pin drop, so absorbed was this audience.

With the short but powerfully atmospheric piano piece, The White Peacock, by the late 19th- century American composer Charles Griffes, it seemed as if the entire audience was holding its collective breath.

Perhaps the only error of judgment came with Sin apologising for including a 21st-century piece, suggesting music of our time is perceived as "irrelevant".

The Singapore audience is far more open-minded than that and, far from being perplexed or confused, it lapped it up with even more relish than it did the music of Mozart and Bach.

Of course, Sin's impeccable performance of Brett Dean's Homage To Brahms, a work written barely three years ago, was in itself so powerfully communicative that only the most obnoxious sophisticate might feel any sense of alienation. It got what was almost the most enthusiastic response of the evening.

Almost, but not quite.

That accolade went to Loh's spellbindingly virtuoso account of Ysaye's technically and musically forbidding third sonata for solo violin.

This was a breathtaking performance which had at least one enthusiastic member of the audience on his feet eagerly calling out for more.

More did come, after the interval, in the shape of Franck's classic Violin Sonata. It was captivatingly described and explained by the musicians themselves, but their performance was not without its flaws.

But what it lacked in sophistication, attention to detail and tidiness, it more than compensated for in earnestness and communicative zeal - helped along by some subtly changing stage lighting which cleverly reflected the character of each movement as described beforehand.

The audience expressed its admiration with genuine enthusiasm and was rewarded with an eagerly anticipated encore - Massenet's famous Meditation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline 'Spellbound by youthful stars'. Print Edition | Subscribe