[THE STRAITS TIMES] SIX MUSICIANS, SIX CONCERTOS IN THE FINALS - REVIEW

Published on 10 December 2019

SPH Digital News / Copyright © 2019 Singapore Press Holdings

REVIEW / CONCERT ARTIST FINALS

The biennial National Piano and Violin Competition (NPVC) is Singapore's highest platform for finding talent in the two most popular Western classical instruments played here.

The competition has been run by the Singapore Symphony Group since 2017 and continues to deliver high standards in its four age categories.

The finals of the Artist category (young professionals and tertiary-level students) culminated in performances of six concertos with the NPVC Orchestra.

This ensemble was essentially a pared-down Singapore Symphony Orchestra led by British conductor Peter Stark, principal guest conductor of the Singapore National Youth Orchestra.

Last Saturday's evening belonged to the piano, opening with Zheng Mingen (China, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory) in Chopin's First Piano Concerto. Hers was a totally confident showing, filled with virtuosic flair in outer movements and arch-lyricism in the slow central Romanze, which served as a nocturne-like interlude.

There was much to admire in this eloquent and passionate performance that wore its 40-minute duration well.

Tew Jing Jong (Malaysia, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts) gave a crisply articulated account of Beethoven's diminutive Second Piano Concerto, one which fully understood classical proportions yet strained to break free of its constraints.

Emblematic of music's transition into the Romantic era, his reading exuded and balanced silky elegance and muscular grit to just the right degree.

Seth Tan Xun Yu (Singapore, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory) was up to the big-boned challenges of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto. He projected sound and song well, but suffered a memory lapse in the slow movement, becoming a bundle of nerves after that.

Despite rallying valiantly for the mercurial finale, there was a touch of hit and miss overall.

Tew was deservedly awarded the first prize by an international jury, while Zheng and Tan placed second and third respectively.

The Violin Artist Final took place on Sunday afternoon, when there were two different performances of Tchaikovsky's warhorse Violin Concerto, reflecting the soloists' different personalities.

Lau Joey (Singapore, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory) took a more visceral approach, with an impetus on the Russian's music to dance and make merry. Her tone was also rich and voluminous.

Animated and free-spirited, this also entailed a sense of risk-taking.

By comparison, Yuchen Zhang (China, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory) who followed reflected more on the music's cerebral qualities.

His playing could be exciting at times, but it was discipline and decorum that seemed paramount. While Lau is the more arresting of the two in a live performance, Zhang would be a safer bet in a recording studio.

No first prize was awarded in this category. Zhang won second place, while Lau shared third position with Tan Mun Hon, who performed Wieniawski's Second Violin Concerto with much spirit and lyricism.

That Tan is only 14, attending Tanjong Katong Secondary School and having lessons privately, is remarkable in itself.

Big futures await all six young musicians and this competition is merely a platform to identify and hopefully nuture them well.

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