Paul Huang and Helen Huang in Singapore Recital Debut

Diametrically different and more traditional was the violin sonata programme by violinist Paul Huang and pianist Helen Huang, both American-Chinese of Taiwanese descent who are not related to each other.

Kudos to them for omitting the usual suspects of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, instead offering unexpected Romantic-era choices that had links with the past.

Coming from opposite ends of the Romantic period were Felix Mendelssohn’s Sonata In F Major (1838) and Ottorino Respighi’s Sonata In B Minor (1917), the contrasts of which were stark. The former sounded like an extension of Mozart’s idiom, formal in approach with a flowing lyricism, while the latter came close to brushing the impressionist palette.

Both works showcased Paul Huang’s beautifully burnished violin tone, blessed with clear and immaculate articulation. This was also a partnership of equals, where Helen Huang’s pianism was complementary in every step, perfectly projected rather than just providing mere accompaniment.
The finale of the Respighi, in the form of a passacaglia, a tightly-wound set of short variations, was a prime case of achieving an ideal union.

For the second half, Paul Huang opened with Eugene Ysaye’s unaccompanied Third Sonata or “Ballade” from Op.27 (1923), a work in a single movement. Its thorny and highly chromatic opening page posed no obstacles to his finely-honed technique, later letting rip on its fast and furiously virtuosic conclusion.

Camille Saint-Saens’ Sonata No. 1 In D Minor (1885) is underrated as a showpiece, but the duo showed what mileage could be derived from its superficially charming yet hazard- laden pages.

What could have sounded tiresome in lesser hands instead came alive with an outlandish display of string and keyboard callisthenics, before closing in a most thrilling tarantella. One goes back to 1994 for Itzhak Perlman’s performance of this same work at this same venue for similar superlatives.

Cheered on by a smallish but vociferous audience, the Huangs’ delightful encores of Londonderry Air (arranged by Fritz Kreisler) and Arthur Benjamin’s Jamaican Rumba (arranged by William Primrose) made for a perfect send-off.

This dynamic duo had deserved nothing less than a full-house.


Chang Tou LiangThe Straits Times