CHRISTMAS CONCERT 2019
Ensemble de la Belle Musique
Esplanade Recital Studio
Sunday (1 December 2019)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 4 December 2019 with the title "Ensemble de la Belle Musique's lively festive works".
Which group devoted to new music in Singapore consistently sells out for its concerts? That would be Ensemble de la Belle Musique (EBM), a chamber outfit devoted to discovering and performing new compositions that are tonal and tuneful.
Serialism and atonality are passé, and it takes talent to write a good melody. That was the take-home message of EBM’s third Christmas concert in three years. This evening, the 19-member ensemble conducted by Leonard Tan showcased ten world premieres of works built around the festive theme.
Opening the concert was This Way, Santa! by young Hong Kong composer William So. Like many of the other works, the seasonal feeling of happy anticipation was created by smartly using vibraphone chimes with woodwind and brass chorales. With the piano also playing a prominent part, a warm and fuzzy sensation of wellness was soon established.
Similarly, Snow Song by Dexter Yeo (Australia) also had the feel of wondrous film music, blending strings and winds harmoniously. Scored for wind quintet, Snowflake Waltz by Dmitry Stepanov (Russia) playfully depicted swirls of falling snow in his homeland, known for its short winter daylight hours.
Still on the subject of precipitation, Snowfall by Lynn Blake John (USA) was a most friendly impression of a blizzard thought possible. While brass heralded inclement weather ahead, strings created a frisson of chill that did not last too long. In contrast, Through Pines & Snow by Dave Dexter (UK) exhibited darker shades, coloured with a sobriety and melancholy that did not seem out of place.
Despite its rather formal title, Concerto for Viola and String Quintet by Darren Wirth (USA) was more like a scherzo movement from a larger work. Violist Jonathan Lee mastered its tricky solo part with the aplomb and energy that reflected the music’s joy and excitement. Also highly animated was Christmas Mischief With The Nisse by Kari Cruver Medina (USA), with the bassoon leading an impish dance of a Scandinavian elf that resembles a mini Santa Claus.
What about the three Singaporean composers represented in this concert? Low Shao Suan’s Sonatina Festivo was a three-movement work for flute and piano, with Andy Koh helming the virtuoso solo part that include lively dances and a slow movement reminiscent of Harry Potter movie music. A Christmas Lullaby by Yvonne Teo was an enchanting look at Christmas night after the celebrations have ended and champagne bottles emptied. Only a choir was missing in this wistful fantasy.
The work this pair of ears most liked to hear again was by the youngest composer of the ten, Lim Han Quan. His Christmas Prayer for just strings unfolded like some adagio movement from a Mahler or Bruckner symphony. Simply put, his was a sound world that was ethereal and otherworldly, imbued with a spiritual heft to move mountains.