Concert Review: Go Fourth, Step by Step – Lim Yan (piano), Lee Shi Mei (violin), 23 Jan 2020

BEETHOVEN Violin Sonata No.10 in G major Op. 96
BRAHMS Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100
BRAHMS Three Intermezzi, Op. 117
SCHUMANN Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor, Op. 105

Lim Yan, piano
Lee Shi Mei, violin

Thursday, January 23, 2020
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music

Review by Jorim Sim

This delightful evening, featuring three German household-name composers, kicked off with pianist Lim Yan introducing the unifying melodic motif within the programme –  a leap of a perfect fourth, followed by two notes in stepwise motion – the basis for the concert’s title.

The first offering was Beethoven’s 10th Violin Sonata written in 1812, nine years after his last violin sonata. With a more mature harmonic language, Beethoven’s creative genius can be seen in his weaving in and out of various keys. Although violinist Lee Shi Mei gave a slightly tentative interpretation of the opening, the clouds of hesitation were scattered as she burst forth with a bright and brilliant tone in the second theme. Both experienced chamber musicians, Lim and Lee’s sensitivity showed through in the thoughtful exchange of melodic and accompaniment parts, neither overpowering the other. In the second movement Adagio, the spotlight was on the violin with Lee projecting a beautiful long melodic line, once again supported by Lim with carefully placed figurations on the off-beat.

The attacca into the Scherzo provided an interesting change in mood as Beethoven moved tonally from E-flat major to G minor. This was embraced by the duo, who opted for a more stately tempo, which built up steam heading into the lyrical and flowing trio section. The fourth movement variations was Lim’s turn to take the spotlight with great control over the technically demanding piano part, bringing the audience along on a journey over the contours in the melody, eventually arriving at its triumphant end.

In Brahms’ 2nd Violin Sonata, Lee sounded more comfortable and settled, drawing out a warm and sweet tone colour from her violin. The duo once again showed their musicality, bringing out the long lines encoded in Brahms’ harmonies. The Vivace sections of the second movement were where Lee let down her hair and went for a more daring tempo, which she tackled effortlessly, treating the audience to a lively interpretation of the movement. In the last movement, Lee returned to the mood of the first movement with a deep, broad sound, albeit at the cost of a tempo which could have been more flowy.

After the intermission, Lim returned to the stage alone to give the audience arguably the best piece of music for the night. Brahms’ Three Intermezzi Op. 117, composed five years before his death, are deeply intimate and pensive. Even though the First Intermezzo was written much like a lullaby, Lim engaged and drew the audience in with his nuanced and purposeful use of rubato. Brahms, notorious for his nefariously tricky piano writing, does not spare the pianist in the Second and Third Intermezzi, but Lim glided through with such ease and elegance that he had the audience holding their collective breaths until he had resolved the last chord and the piano strings had stopped ringing.

Lee re-joined Lim on stage for the final sonata of the night, Schumann’s First Violin Sonata. Here, Lee brought passion to the first movement (Marked Mit Leideischaftlich Ausdruck or With passionate expression) in spades, using a wide and controlled vibrato, supported by fantastic bow control to bring out the dynamic changes perfectly. The spirited finale showed off Lee’s impressive spiccato technique as the duo charged towards the end.

As an encore, the duo performed the first of Clara Schumann’s Three Romances for Violin and Piano. This bittersweet piece featured a quotation of Robert’s sonata which was heard before this – an intimate piece to round off a night of intimate music. Pulling off three heavy-weight violin sonatas with equal demands for both the violin and piano is challenging. However, Lim and Lee held their own and came together to not just bring music to the audience, but draw them in to be part of the music-making.

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