Concert review: Goh Soon Tioe Centenary Award Winner's Recital By Alan Choo

The Living Room @ The Art House

Last Sunday

Goh Soon Tioe (1911-1982) is remembered as one of the great Singaporean musical pioneers, a renaissance man among musicians. He was a violinist, conductor, pedagogue, luthier and impresario, the likes of whom will never be encountered again in our present age of specialisation. The annual award in memory of his name identifies outstanding young Singaporean string players who embody the aspirations in his life's work.

The 2014 and third recipient of the Goh Soon Tioe Centenary Award is Alan Choo Su Ho, first-prize winner in the 2011 National Violin Competition, and the first Singapore-born violinist to garner that accolade since 2003. Presently a student at Baltimore's Peabody Institute, he is one of few local violinists to pursue baroque violin performance.

Appropriately his recital began with Telemann's Fantasia in F major, performed on a baroque violin. Playing on gut strings and using the shorter baroque bow, he produced a deep and mellow sonority in its four short and varied parts. Coloured with a life of its own, the dance-like spirit of each part movement leapt tantalisingly to the fore.

With the appetite for this sound world whetted, the balance of the 75-minute programme was, however, played on a modern violin and partnered by Lim Yan on the piano. Choo's versatility was immediately apparent as 20th century German composer Paul Hindemith's Sonata in E called for a different kind of approach.

Armed with near-perfect intonation, he brought an unusual lyricism to its astringent themes, with long-held phrases alternating with short bristling dissonances that characterised this spiky two-movement work. The neoclassicism of Hindemith's Back to Bach movement was to find a totally satisfying modern resonance here.

Romantic in spirit was Spaniard Sarasate's Caprice Basque, a virtuoso showpiece that highlighted awkward syncopations in its first half, and a hair-raising set of variations in the second. Choo's ability to marry melody in the bowing right hand with plucked accompaniment in the left hand was one of the many tricks that delighted the audience.

Cesar Franck's Sonata in A major was to complete the evening's fare. Both violinist and pianist were to take an epic view of the classic. While big gestures and crashing climaxes distinguished its course, it was the softer and more tender moments that made the contrasts stand out. And when the coruscating second movement came to its brilliant conclusion, premature applause was smartly averted when pianist Lim launched immediately into the third movement.

The familiar finale's canon was a demonstration of fine balance, with the violin following the piano's lead through the entire movement without getting into each other's path. The tension was firmly maintained but with a song-like sensibility throughout. The resultant applause was rewarded with an encore, a fast movement from one of French baroque composer Francoeur's sonatas. It is hoped that Alan Choo's next recital would be an all-baroque affair, another first for the Singapore music scene.