Concert review: National Piano & Violin Competition showcases fresh young talents

National Piano & Violin Competition 2023

Victoria Concert Hall
Dec 2, 7.30pm

Artist Finals & Prize Winners’ Concert

Victoria Concert Hall
Dec 3, 3.30 & 7.30pm

The National Piano & Violin Competition (NPVC), Singapore’s premier music competitive musical platform, returned to live concerts after the pandemic had reduced its 2021 edition to just online performances.

The finals of the Artist categories also saw an upgrade from mere piano accompaniment with the return of concertos performed with the NPVC Orchestra (Singapore Symphony in all but name) conducted by Joshua Tan.

This made for two very satisfying concerts showcasing six musical talents in six concerto performances.

The piano finals held on Dec 2 was an all-Beethoven affair, opening with university undergraduate Long Jing Xuan in the Fourth Piano Concerto In G Major (Op.58). Technically and interpretively the most difficult concerto of five, it received a very musical reading despite him betraying nerves with some missed notes and the occasional brief desynchronisation with the orchestra.

Compensate he did, by projecting a big sonority which could sound overdone at times, and this also informed Conservatory student Lee Ann’s slightly more confident performance of the Third Piano Concerto In C Minor (Op.37). Here, some over-emphatic responses to certain phrases were equated with reliving the Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) of this urgent and dramatic work.

Their valiant efforts were, however, eclipsed by national serviceman Joshua Lau Jin Quan, a supreme figure of composure in the Second Piano Concerto In B Flat Major (Op.19).

Crispness of articulation, realisation of the music’s humour and unexpected but delightfully turned ornamentations made his reading the very definition of joie de vivre. The international jury of three awarded Lau with a deserved first prize, with Long and Lee sharing joint third places.

The violin artist finals on the afternoon of Dec 3 had the more impressive concerto performances, all from the Conservatory’s international students.

There were two readings of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto In D Minor, first by Ukrainian Datsiuk Leonid, who evoked a sense of mystery in its quiet opening followed by lots of pathos. There were minor intonation lapses and missed notes in the heat of the moment, but the music’s high-wire tension was maintained throughout.

The other Sibelius performance came from Sichuan native Zou Meng, who exuded a quiet confidence and then let rip with a searing intensity that surpassed the earlier reading. A big tone and perfect intonation certainly helped and this 20th-century concerto had seldom resounded with white-hot incandescence from the hands of students.

concert review: national piano & violin competition showcases fresh young talents

Violinist Zou Meng played Sibelius’ Violin Concerto In D Minor. PHOTO: CHRIS P. LIM

In between was Tchaikovsky’s popular Violin Concerto In D Major by Zou Zhang, and the audience could be excused for doing a double take as the Zous are identical twins. Whatever fireworks one could generate was replicated by the other, and it must have been a razor-thin decision separating the two.

Meng’s Sibelius was the denser and more compact work, which allowed his delivery the vital immediacy which just about topped Zhang’s sprawling Tchaikovsky. The violin jury placed Meng first, Zhang second and Datsiuk third – a fair decision.

concert review: national piano & violin competition showcases fresh young talents

Violinist Zou Zhang played Tchaikovsky’s popular Violin Concerto In D Major. PHOTO: CHRIS P. LIM

The prize-winners concert relived movements from the winning concertos partnered by the orchestra and also unveiled the set pieces commissioned for the Artist and Senior Categories.

Young composer Terrence Wong’s Life (for piano) and Death (for violin) – works recalling Arvo Part-like minimalism and Paganinian calisthenics – received glowing performances from Adrian Tang (Piano Senior) and Low Peng Guan (Violin Senior) respectively.

Not to be ignored were seriously good solo performances from the children of the Junior and Intermediate categories, whose prowess at their tender ages have consistently impressed juries over the decades.

The names of violinists Chua Suen Ern and Caleb Toh, as well as pianists Newman Tong and Ethan Peleg, may some day be as ubiquitous as NPVC’s most famous alumna: Chloe Chua.

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