Friday, 31 October 2008

Singapore Sun Festival 2008 / UBS Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra : Review

UBS Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra
Thursday (23 October 2008)
Esplanade Concert Hall

This review appeared in The Straits Times on 27 October 2008.

One of the most gratifying hallmarks of international festival orchestras is the sight and sound of musicians from all over the world working together in harmony. If only politicians would do the same. The Swiss-based UBS Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra, led by its Music Director Gabor Takacs-Nagy (below), showcased musicians from 18 nations, from Armenia to Venezuela, and its delightfully well-balanced concert was an intimate affair from start to finish.

Beginning with Mozart and closing with Schubert had a beauty of symmetry that typified excellent programming. Litheness and warmth of strings opened Mozart’s early and little known Symphony No.27 in G Major (K.199), a short work from 1773 that radiated sunshine in three movements. Woodwinds and brass were discreet, and there was never an ugly or forced sound to be heard.

Schubert’s effable Symphony No.5 in B flat major of 1816 seemed like the natural progression of the symphonic movement even if the shy and self-conscious Austrian had not taken giant strides in that direction. Again, textures were light, limpid and always brimming with effervescent life. The rustic third movement Minuet could have come from Mozart’s pen himself.

Romantic music filled the intervening hour, with the highlight being American mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade’s appearance in Hector Berlioz’s song cycle Les Nuits d’Eté (Summer Nights). Her voice cast a radiant glow, one that gloriously filled the hall without any hint of strain. There was seamless and mesmerising beauty in the lines, as she celebrated the advent of springtime, portrayed a spectre of a withered rose or suggested a nocturnal presence within the pall of a cemetery.

The orchestra’s accompaniment under Hungarian conductor Gabor Takacs-Nagy’s ever-sensitive leadership was spot on, transparent and revealing much musical detail. The winds also distinguished themselves in the solos of Wagner’s tender Siegfried Idyll, the great German’s most important non-operatic work, one dedicated to his wife. This is truly an orchestra of virtuosos.

Encore time: two of Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes capped the evening’s musical feast with sprinkles of icing. Simply delicious.

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