REVIEW / CONCERT
NATIONAL PIANO & VIOLIN COMPETITION 2015
Artist Category Finals & Prizewinners' Concert
5 & 6 December 2015
Victoria Concert Hall
The National Arts Council has been running the National Piano & Violin Competition since the mid-1990s. This edition, which marks the council's final run, was co-organised with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and saw a major change.
Pre-selection of all competitors meant that there were fewer performers, 64 violinists and 91 pianists in total.
The final rounds for the Artist categories of both the violin and piano involved concerto performances with the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra conducted by Chan Tze Law.
Saturday evening was a violin extravaganza not unlike the final of the Singapore International Violin Competition held in January.
British-Malaysian violinist Liuyi Retallick, recent graduate of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, comfortably won first prize with an immaculate reading of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, characterised by a big and gorgeous tone from start to end.
She could have turned on the heat for a more exciting showing, but chose to play it safe, which was the secret of her success.
With no second prize awarded, third place went to Singaporean David Loke Kai-Yuan, now studying in Yale, who seemed to engage more in Mendelssohn's E Minor Violin Concerto. His totally musical reading was indelibly etched on his face, from painful grimace to sheer ecstasy, but was let down by momentary lapses of intonation.
Honorable mention went to Samuel Tan Yek Hee, all of 10 years old and performing for the first time with an orchestra.
A natural charmer on a 3/4-sized violin, he coped unusually well with the fireworks required for Wieniawski's Second Violin Concerto. All he needs is greater expressiveness, a better instrument and experience, which will no doubt come with time.
On Sunday afternoon, there were two performances of Schumann's Piano Concerto.
Singaporean Jared Liew Wei, student of the Salzburg Mozarteum, gave an exceptionally polished reading, one which made time to luxuriate in its harmonies and smell the flowers. Although he could have projected further and exerted his authority, it was a major surprise that his shining effort was not placed higher than third.
Singaporean Joan Lynette Tay, a long-time resident of New Zealand, provided a more assertive and tense view of the Romantic favourite, but struggled with getting all the notes in. A stumble towards the end resulted in only an honourable mention.
The last pianist, Josephine (who goes by just one name) from Indonesia, should have done much more for Saint-Saens' bubbly Second Piano Concerto. Her highly assured account was stolid rather than spectacular. The mercurial scherzo was surprisingly earthbound, like champagne without fizz, but her steady and secure tarantella finale earned second place from an international panel of jurors. The first prize went abegging for the first time since 2001.
The Prizewinners Concert saw performances from the top-placed musicians of all categories.
It was also the perfect showcase for Zechariah Goh Toh Chai, the Singapore composer commissioned for four set-pieces in the Senior and Artist Categories. His Ondeh Ondeh, Two Sketches For Violin, Quinquagenarian Celebration and Jubilation For Piano were varied in style, highly idiomatic and, not to mention virtuosic, confirming his place among Singapore's creative elite.
The coveted Goh Soon Tioe Outstanding Performer Award of $10,000 went to 16-year-old violinist Ronan Lim Ziming, who displayed astounding maturity and lyricism in Ondeh Ondeh, the first movement from Brahms' First Violin Sonata and Lutoslawski's coruscating Subito. A student of Lee Shi Mei, herself a major prizewinner in 2007, Lim is one performer for whom the sky's the limit. This competition just provides the wings.