Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Philharmonic Winds in Concert: Review

LEONARD TAN, Conductor
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (7 December 2008)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 9 December 2008.

The Philharmonic Winds’ final concert with its Music Director, the rising young Singaporean conductor Leonard Tan (who leaves for the States for further studies next month), showcased the length and breadth of the wind orchestra repertoire as well as the orchestra’s versatility.

Leonard Tan is one of Singapore's
rising young conductors.

Beginning with Gordon Jacob’s William Byrd Suite, the well-disciplined ensemble made the Elizabethan pieces sound more than merely a collection of studies. It took some time for the young musicians to warm up and by the fourth piece The Mayden’s Song, a full well rounded sound was achieved. This and the final passacaglia, The Bells, built up to a massive climax.

American saxophonist Vincent Gnojek was the irresistible guest in Italian-American Paul Creston’s Saxophone Concerto, a highly accessible work modeled on the jazzy insouciant charms of Milhaud and Gershwin. His free-wheeling virtuosity, brilliantly capturing its flights of fancy and flashy cadenzas was inspiring, with the orchestra hurdling its multiple rhythmic pitfalls with much panache.

The evening’s tour de force belonged to its most dissonant work, Czech-American Karel Husa’s Music For Prague 1968, precipitated by the events of Prague Spring. Its anguish and anger came through with great trenchancy, if not poignancy. This was also helped by the conductor’s timely pre-performance illustrations. As a sonic encounter in the resplendent acoustics of Esplanade, this listener ventures the opinion that this performance even tops the 1980s account by the SSO at Victoria Concert Hall conducted by the composer himself (left).

Much lighter in mood was Herbert Owen Reed’s La Fiesta Mexicana, a 3-movement symphony on Mexican themes. One cannot pretend that this 23-minute work did not outlast its welcome given its repetitious development of limited material. However the band acquitted itself well with its committed account, especially in the raucous outer movements. Its riot of sound in the final Carnival, reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, augmented by more rah-rah circus music in the encore closed the concert on a rowdy high.

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