Stellar rendition of the works of cello greats

REVIEW / CONCERT

VICTORIA MEMORIAL HALL 1930

Loke Hoe Kit Cello Recital

Victoria Concert Hall

Last Saturday

Cello recitals are rarities in the Singapore musical scene and rarer still is the unusual programme presented by young cellist Loke Hoe Kit and friends.

In Victoria Memorial Hall 1930, he references the year in which concerts were first held at this historical venue and his well-researched programme notes list luminaries who have performed here.

Among them were cello greats Gregor Piatigorsky, Emanuel Feuermann and Gaspar Cassado. His recital relived some of the works performed by them and added several local premieres of his own.

Receiving its Singapore premiere was Marcel Dupre's Sonata For Cello And Organ In A Minor, which could have presented balance problems for both instruments.

Thankfully, Loke's voluminous cello sound held its own against the chords and dissonances of the hall's Klais organ played on by Joanna Paul. The duo made the best of its acerbic idiom in its three movements while luxuriating in its lyrical moments.

From there, it was mostly easier listening, beginning with Richard Strauss' early Cello Sonata (which Feuermann played in 1934), with pianist Khor Shang Jin in partnership.

A wide range of emotions was on display, including restlessness and passion in its opening movement, followed by deeply felt sorrow in the elegiac slow movement.

Playfulness and a release of pent-up emotions concluded this work in a full-flush of unabashed Romanticism.

Loke, who performed the entire concert from memory, upped the ante in the Singapore premiere of the Second Cello Concerto by Victor Herbert, the Irish-American composer better known for his operettas, including Babes In Toyland.

There was no let-up in this virtuosic showpiece, from impetuousness to agitation to a brilliant conclusion which fully taxed cellist and pianist.

In between, Loke's song-like cello tone in the slow movement, filled with tenderness and longing, was a joy to listen to.

The practice of performing concertos with piano accompaniment (in the absence of an orchestra) was commonplace in recitals of the past and Khor served the demanding role of surrogate orchestra with much alertness and sensitivity.

More soulfulness abounded in Ernest Bloch's Prayer, which was heard from Piatigorsky here in 1956. Singing like a cantor in a synagogue, Loke's cello held sway in its all-too-brief duration, before closing with the Toccata attributed to Italian baroque composer Girolamo Frescobaldi in an "arrangement" by Cassado.

Its Romantic demeanour and the technique called for suggest far more Cassado than Frescobaldi.

Nonetheless, both Loke and Paul on organ tore through its baroque pretensions without apology, closing the concert on a resonant high.

Cassado and Feuermann, who both performed this work in Victoria Memorial Hall in 1953 and 1958; and 1934 respectively, would have found in fellow cellist Loke a kindred spirit.

The lovely encore, Bach's chorale prelude Ich Ruf' Zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ (I Call To You, Lord Jesus Christ), was merely the icing on a well-baked cake.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2017, with the headline 'Stellar rendition of the works of cello greats'. Print Edition | Subscribe