Thursday, 20 November 2008

Varied Tellings / Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra Concert: Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra
WANG YA-HUI, Conductor
Conservatory Concert Hall
Saturday (15 November 2008)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 17 November 2008.

Following Singapore's only conservatory orchestra has always been a pleasure, especially with the knowledge that it serves as a nursery for professional outfits, such as the Singapore Symphony and Singapore Festival Orchestras. The wealth of talent and potential is enormous, and every concert is a reminder of that fact.

Rossini's popular William Tell Overture gave its players many opportunities to shine, opening with a cello quintet led by Elizabeth Tan, whose gorgeous tone set a perfect tenor for the evening. The central pastoral episode showcased more lovely solos - from the flute and cor anglais - before the final swashbuckling gallop that never fails to set pulses racing.

The orchestra then played able partner to pianist Albert Tiu (left) in Rachmaninov's Paganini Rhapsody. As proved on previous occasions, the Philippines-born Tiu is a virtuoso par excellence, one melding steel and satin with equal alacrity. Steel, because he packed the necessary power and punch to transcend the voluminous orchestra in much of this fearsome score, and satin in the sensitive manner he handled the famous 18th Variation, which was played as an encore as well. His second encore, the subtly taxing Earl Wild transcription of Rachmaninov's Vocalise also displayed this seamless long-breathed beauty.

A much smaller orchestra reappeared in the second half for Schubert's graceful little Fifth Symphony. Despite a sour woodwind entry on the outset, the performance was on a whole one of tautness, energy and unity of spirit. The well-disciplined ensemble was marshaled on tight but not suffocating leash by Wang Ya-Hui (left), who conducted without a baton. There were moments for the strings to soar, and they did so without reservation.

The slow movement was distinguished with warmth and breadth of feeling, which contrasted well with the earthy rumbles of the ensuing Minuet and quicksilver finale. There was always a kick in the step in the playing, and an enthusiasm always associated with young musicians. That final bit of polish and finesse will surely come; it is only a matter of time.

As a further show of single-mindedness, the strings sailed through Johann Strauss the Younger's Tritsch Tratsch Polka, this time without conductor. Look ma, no hands!

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