Unusual musical choices lead to patchy performance



Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall/Wednesday

Russian-born Israeli violinist Shlomo Mintz is the Ong Teng Cheong Professor in Music at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory for the 2019/20 academic year.

Also Distinguished Artist-inResidence at last year's Singapore International Violin Competition, when he performed all six Eugene Ysaye Sonatas unaccompanied, his showcase this year was a chamber recital with faculty members of the Conservatory.

Unusually, the recital opened with Mintz on the viola, in two works which were not conceived for the instrument.

The first was Schubert's popular Arpeggione Sonata In A Minor, originally written for the arpeggione, an obsolete six-stringed bowed instrument with frets. Nowadays, it is always heard played on the cello.

Neither as deep nor mellow as the cello, the viola would struggle in comparison. Nevertheless, Mintz maintained a firm and throaty singing tone throughout its Biedermeier gentility.

However, the tempos adopted by him and accompanying pianist Ge Xiaozhe in the opening movement were so broad that there seemed little differentiation in dynamics continuing into the actual slow movement.


Leisurely to some and draggy to others, life seemed to be sucked out of the music. Moving from the early Romantic to the late Romantic, Brahms' Viola Sonata In E Flat Major (Op.120 No.2, originally for the clarinet), it gained some semblance of vitality, not least in the central Allegro Appassionato movement.

With fire in the belly, much credit went to Ge's rock-steady partnership, which did not stint on keyboard vigour.

Lighter music occupied the recital's second half, with Mintz playing the violin. Darius Milhaud's surrealist ballet Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit, crafted as a cinema-fantasy for violin and piano, was a weird choice.

The music was inspired by Brazilian dance rhythms, ragtime, cabaret and popular music hall idioms. It included the Frenchman's experiments with polytonality, meaning the instruments often played in different keys.

This sounded like a disaster, with excruciatingly off-pitch, approximate playing which became more embarrassing by the minute. Perhaps that was deliberate, given that the work's absurdist title, named after an actual 1920s Parisian nightclub, means "ox on the roof".

Thankfully, there was Astor Piazzolla's tango suite The Four Seasons Of Buenos Aires to save the day.

Here, Mintz was partnered with members from the Conservatory, namely Qian Zhou and He Shucong (violins), Zhang Manchin (viola), Ng Pei-Sian (cello) and Guennadi Mouzyka (double bass). They performed a string sextet arrangement by Fabian Bertero, shorter and less florid than the more often heard Leonid Desyatnikov version.

Here was a collective letting down of hair, with the infectiously rhythmic music being the tonic for the evening's mixed fare.

Mintz also seemed more in his element, wallowing in the high spirits and bittersweet asides.

Opening with celebratory Summer and closing with vibrant Spring, the performance was loudly and rapturously received, with fugal Winter being encored to even more cheers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2019, with the headline 'Unusual musical choices lead to patchy performance'. Print Edition | Subscribe