There is always a buzz when violinist Ning Kam comes to perform in her hometown of Singapore. Kam Ning, as she is known here, has long been the island-state’s “princess of the violin”. Long before Chloe Chua’s world-beating heroics of 2018, Ning was the unanimous winner of the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition (Junior Section) in 1991, which paved the way to Second Prize at the 2001 Queen Elisabeth International Violin Competition in Brussels. Even motherhood has not stood in the way of her maintaining a career as an international soloist and chamber music artist par excellence.

Kam Ning
© Aloysius Lim | Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Joining the Singapore Symphony Orchestra directed by German conductor Jun Märkl in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, her appearance guaranteed two evenings that sold out the box office despite the ongoing pandemic. The outcome was as expected: a performance of much intimacy. She treated the concerto as ultimate chamber music, a collaboration between soloist and orchestra as equals. She did not attempt to eke out an outsized sonority, instead fitting snugly within the general ensemble like hand and glove. 

Those used to garishly overamplified violinists in the milieu of digital recordings on disc might quibble, but there was no denying her singing tone and immaculate phrasing all through the concerto’s three connected movements. When the orchestra fell silent, albeit briefly in the first movement’s cadenza, the full voice of her 1688 Nicolas Amati violin unapologetically came to the fore. The lyrical Andante, literally a “song without words”, was a thing of beauty before the mercurial finale pulled out the stops. There was a minor slip, but that did little to efface the sheer expression of joy till the concerto’s final cadence. The only disappointment was she did not offer a solo encore, but consolation comes in the fact that she will perform Haydn’s Violin Concerto no. 1 in C major with the Orchestra in a week’s time. 

This all-Mendelssohn concert concluded with the German composer’s "Italian" Symphony, conducted from memory by Märkl. The sunny climes of the Mediterranean were evoked with its ebullient opening, characterised by busily chattering woodwinds and an overall sweep that was disarming. With a dramatic tension that was keenly upheld, fine details were not lost despite the flighty pace adopted. The Andante con moto was by no means a traditional slow movement. It ambled along at a goodly canter as processions that are not funerals tend to do.

Jun Märkl conducts the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
© Aloysius Lim | Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Flowing strings would have been the crowning glory of the third movement, if not for the chorales from a pair of French horns, lovingly voiced by Gao Jian and Marc-Antoine Robillard, almost upstaging them. The finale’s Saltarello, the swiftly swirling Neapolitan dance not dissimilar to the tarantella, was taken at a furiously fast clip, bringing the concert entitled The Sound of Mendelssohn to a satisfying conclusion.