Teen violinist with an astonishing maturity



Esplanade Recital Studio/Wednesday

Fifty years ago, the classical music scene in Singapore was spearheaded by Goh Soon Tioe (1911-1982), violinist, pedagogue, conductor and all-round music entrepreneur.

His name lives on in the award created in his memory, given to exceptional young Singaporean string players and administered by his daughters Vivien and Sylvia, and the Community Foundation of Singapore.

The recipient of this year's Goh Soon Tioe Centenary Award is teenager Mathea Goh Xinyi, a student of former child prodigy Lee Huei Min, whose 75-minute solo recital distinguished her as a major talent to watch in years to come. There was nothing student-like in her playing, only an astonishing maturity that has to be experienced to be believed.

She commenced her recital with Edvard Grieg's rarely heard Second Sonata, with an opening G minor chord that immediately showed she meant business. Its solidly drawn quality and the strong, vibrant tone she exuded would be sustained unflaggingly for the rest of her demanding programme.

In the dance-like faster section, her nimbleness and flexibility meant she could bring out the robust spirit of the Norwegian composer. The slow movement sang and flowed like one of Grieg's Lyric Pieces, with simplicity and not a little nostalgia, and the finale's folk-dance leapt from its black and white pages with fulsome colour and rhythmic vitality. Pianist Beatrice Lin was sensitive throughout, but every bit an equal partner in chamber music.

Arguably even more impressive was the segment for unaccompanied violin, when Goh was on her own in Bach's First Sonata In G Minor (BWV.1001) and Ysaye's Sonata No.3, also known as the Ballade. This resembled the opening rounds of any of the prestigious international violin competitions, where she will undoubtedly feature in years to come.

Her impeccable intonation in the Prelude (marked Grave) of the Bach would make players twice her age green with envy. The clarity and dexterity displayed in the Fugue and final Presto were again the result of that familiar adage, "Practise, practise, practise", if one were asked the way to Carnegie Hall.

The hair-raising technical difficulties in the Ysaye did little to faze her as she launched herself fearlessly into its thorny thickets and brambly bushes. That she came out victorious and unbruised was credit itself and this continued into Paganini's well-known Caprice No. 24. In these fearsome variations, she wisely chose to include Schumann's piano accompaniment (again played by Lin), which prevented her from being too exposed.

Together, the duo completed the recital with Ravel's swashbuckling Tzigane. The extended solo introduction gave Goh ample opportunity to rhapsodise in as free a manner as she chose and, when the piano joined in, the Magyar swagger was in full flow to its brilliant close.

A chorus of bravos ensued and Jascha Heifetz's transcription of Gershwin's Summertime showed that in the midst of all that bravura, there is a sensitive and musical soul of a virtuoso also waiting to come out.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2016, with the headline 'Teen violinist with an astonishing maturity'. Print Edition | Subscribe