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Cellist on cusp of greatness

05.27.08
Joshua Roman
The Straits Times (Singapore)

FOR some, a journey to Woodlands might seem too long a distance to contemplate, but a superb recital at Singapore's newest concert venue should make one think twice.

American Joshua Roman, who at the age of 22 became the youngest principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, is one artist worth making many long journeys for.

From the opening solo in Beethoven's Cello Sonata in A Major, Op. 69, one could sense an extraordinary musical talent at hand.  He produced a rich, cultured baritone voice from his cello, and with a plethora of contrasts and gradations between pianissimo and fortissimo.  The suppleness and ease of control he wielded ensured a singing line throughout, never an ugly sound or accent out of place.

His partner on the piano, Benjamin Loh, better known as one of Singapore's eminent piano pedagogues, was sensitive and responsive to each turn of phrase.  Together, their balance and judgment of the music's ebbs and flows came close to perfection.

The memory of this reviewer goes back to the 1990s, in the company of Mstislav Rostropovich and Lambert Orkis, to recall a reading this well honed.

The duo weathered the thorny challenges of Benjamin Britten's Cello Sonata with absolute command, making total sense of the dissonant idiom in the five movements.

In the Elegia, the cello laid bare the spiritual heart of the work, its lament rising above somber piano chords before conquering the grotesquerie of the Marcia and violent Moto perpetuo with complete aplomb.  In Brahms' First Cello Sonata, the divide between regular and part-time performer in the collaboration began to somewhat fray at the edges.

Although there were insecurities on the part of the pianist in the second and third movements, this did little to stem the flow of the music's Romantic swells and surges, yielding yet a performance of heart and spirit.

Two encores - Tchaikovsky's Valse Sentimentale and Popper's Dance of the Elves - further showcased Roman's versatility and free-flowing virtuosity,

Those who missed the excursion up north missed witnessing the Singapore debut of an artist on the cusp of greatness.