BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto Cycle / Lim Yan and The Philharmonic Orchestra / Review



THE BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTOS
LIM YAN and The Philharmonic Orchestra
LIM YAU, Conductor
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Wednesday and Saturday (13 and 16 June 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 June 2012 with the title "Sizzling Beethoven moment".

It probably isn’t a great surprise that the honour of being the first Singaporean pianist to perform all five Beethoven piano concertos as a cycle here belongs to Lim Yan. He is, after all, the most active Singaporean pianist in the local scene, as well as the most consistent. These masterpieces, partnered by The Philharmonic Orchestra and veteran conductor Lim Yau, spanned over three evenings. Only an overseas vacation deprived this listener of attending the opening concert which presented the First and Fifth Concertos.


The second concert showcasing the contrasting Third and Fourth Concertos was a revelation of sorts. The ever-musical Lim was in fine form, not so much as a barnstorming virtuoso but rather a thinking person’s artist, one fully attuned to Beethoven’s passionate and often tumultuous brand of music-making. The tension and drama of the Third (Op.37),  in that passionate key of C minor, unfolded with much purpose but it was one that sizzled rather than erupting outright into flames.


Full-blown emotion was being kept in check, but to good effect. It was somewhat ironic that in the more genteel Fourth (G major, Op.58), the tension between soloist and orchestra, manifested by dynamic peaks and troughs, became more apparent. The epoch-making G major chord and opening gambit was wonderfully delivered, so clear and rapt that it set the tone and defined the performance as a whole.       

The final evening saw maximum contrasts applied to the slender Second Concerto in B flat major (Op.19, but chronologically earliest of the five), sprightly and spirited in the outer movements and gravitas in the sublime slow movement. True to Beethoven’s spirit of innovation and adventure, Lim contributed cadenzas of his own to these concertos.


These well thought-out musings played upon earlier themes and rhythmic motifs, sometimes transforming the original ideas but always surprising with harmonic twists and turns. Here, the lost art of improvisation in classical music has been revived with great aplomb.

A rare airing of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto (Op.56), essentially a concerto for piano trio, came as a bonus. This performance however exposed an imbalance of interplay between the soloists although it had lots of heart. Here pianist Lim dominated his partners, violinist Grace Lee and the under-projected cellist Lin Juan, who seemed discomfited by the substantial solo that occupied higher registers for most part.


The chamber-sized orchestra supported the whole enterprise with much sympathy and responsiveness. In the intimate setting of SOTA Concert Hall, the balance of sound came across with just enough reverberation to be close to ideal. The solo woodwinds, in particular, were a pleasure to behold when called upon.

The applause on both evenings was long and sustained. The enthusiastic but attentive audience knew it had witnessed history in the making.