Trio hold their own

Violinist Lee Shi Mei and pianist Lim Yan were quick off the mark, when it came to Singapore's recital calendar, with a highly successful concert of Brahms' complete violin sonatas in early January this year.

Joined by Lin Juan on the cello in a programme of piano trios by Beethoven, Shostakovich and Schubert for this end of September concert, Lee and Lim continue to show that they are creditable musical front-runners.

Beethoven's variations for piano trio on the song Ich Bin Der Schneider Kakadu (I Am Kakadu The Tailor) from Wenzel Muller's 1794 comic opera Singspiel Die Schwestern Von Prag (The Sisters From Prague) served as an apt opener for the concert.

A sombre introductory section of over four minutes provided the trio a chance to warm the sinews and they were immediately impressive, with admirable balance and ensemble.

The light-hearted Kakadu theme eventually emerges, followed by 10 variations, all handled with little fuss, the members of the trio sounding very much at ease with one another. Lim peppered the performance with highly animated and characterful piano playing, blending seamlessly with violin and cello through the variations.



    Lim Yan (piano), Lee Shi Mei (violin), Lin Juan (cello)

    Esplanade Recital Studio


The Piano Trio No. 2 by Shostakovich was worlds away from Beethoven's variations, weighed down by the horrors of World War II, the Russian composer's grief over the sudden death of his musicologist friend Igor Sollertinsky, to whom he subsequently dedicated the trio, and his on-going repression under the Stalinist regime. This sense of struggle could be sensed in the bleak opening movement's muted harmonics on the cello, accompanied by a similarly morose violin, marred slightly by intonation challenges.

Lim captured the hues of the work completely, including the occasional sardonic irony typically hidden in Shostakovich's heavier works. The strings added to the colour, but were rather focused on the notes, leaving less room for the music to ebb and flow.

Schubert's Piano Trio No. 1 brims with the melodies and grace one treasures in his music. Listening to it, one would hardly guess that the Austrian composer was gravely ill while writing it and would be dead in less than a year at age 31. This was the strongest work performed by Lee, Lim and Lin, and the one that fully showed off their shared sense of musicianship. Whatever tension was present in the first half disappeared and the players sounded fully at home with one another and with the audience.

Lim remained the lynchpin in the Schubert trio, with Lin's generous tone and Lee's clear, unforced sound rounding off a balanced performance. Lim played with full commitment and focus all night, yet the strings were always able to hold their own - a sign of strong, mature piano trio playing.

With a solid programme and high-calibre performances, topped off by Lim's erudite commentaries preceding each piece, this strong concert bodes well for the future of intimate, chamber soirees by local musicians.

Lim's SG50 recital in July was played to a near-capacity Victoria Concert Hall. Sadly, the much smaller Esplanade Recital Studio was less than half full on this Wednesday evening. The piano trio is no poor cousin to the solo piano and it was a pity that not more were present to enjoy the great music on offer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2015, with the headline 'Trio hold their own'. Print Edition | Subscribe