Kam Ning and SSO take audience on a Mendelssohn sojourn | The Flying Inkpot
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64
MENDELSSOHN Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90 “Italian”
Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Jun Märkl, conductor
Kam Ning, violin
Thursday, 21 Oct 2021
Esplanade Concert Hall
Review by Derek Lim
The reopening of vaccinated travel lanes has seen the return of foreign artistes and a return to normalcy. Last week Kate Liu made her long-awaited return to Singapore; this week, Singaporean violinist Kam Ning, now on the faculty of the Yehudi Menuhin School UK, made hers with a performance of the Mendelssohn concerto.
After the famous, surging opening with brilliant double-stopped octaves, Kam gave a performance of the solo part that eschewed virtuosic display for musicality. Coaxing a silvery-sweet tone from her 1668 Nicolas Amati on loan from the Rin Collection, the technical difficulties of the concerto held no challenge for her, with impressive bow control and superb intonation, heard to best effect in the flawless first movement cadenza with its flying cross-string arpeggios.
Despite clearly enjoying herself as she smiled impishly and swayed to the music, interacting with the conductor gleefully, this sense of fun and mischief rarely surfaced amidst the technical polish. Instead, her approach was more chamber-music-like and controlled, with ample support from the SSO under German conductor Jun Märkl. This reaped dividends in the slow movement, with rapt, lovely phrasing of the song-like first theme, as if singing just for herself, with really lovely, quiet poetry. The later double-stopped passages, again perfectly rendered with quiet, unshowy musicality, were likewise passionate but never overwrought.
The Finale, sprinkled with Mendelssohnian fairy dust, was eagerly dispatched, though always comfortably so, with Märkl accompanying attentively. It was only in the final passages that she let rip a bit, bringing the concerto to its close.
The ‘Italian’ Symphony that followed was a mature performance of Mendelssohn’s youthful work, written after his 10-month sojourn over most of Italy. With a smaller orchestra than is usual, the SSO forces under Märkl traded bright-eyed youthful enthusiasm in the first movement for something a little more tempered, more Fiat coupe than Ferrari. Lovely woodwinds and soaring, leaping strings evoked Mendelssohn’s troubled musical depiction of ‘blue skies in A-major’ – bubbly and effervescent, but in the end perhaps more an aqua frizzante than heady prosecco,
As musical postcards, I felt that his middle movements were a tad under-characterized and could have had that much more colour and shade, despite some really good playing in the walking bass of the second movement and lovely horns in the Trio of the third. The finale, taken at a cracking tempo, with a fiery temperament to match, could have been whipped up more, but there was much to admire in the careful layering, transparent sound and the energetic SSO strings – drawing the symphony, and an enjoyable evening, to its close.