Tuesday, 17 February 2009

SSO Concert: Music for Valentine's Day / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
OKKO KAMU, Conductor
Saturday (14 February 2009)
Esplanade Concert Hall

This review was published in The Straits Times on 16 February 2009

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s much-loved Valentine’s Day concerts have traditionally highlighted forbidden love. Romeo and Juliet, Pelleas and Melisande, and the Butterfly Lovers all had their ill-fated romances fleshed out in music. This year’s offerings provided a wider spectrum of that thing called “love”.

“Lust” began the evening with Venusberg Music from Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser. Taking a detour from the Overture, bacchanalian delights ruled with whooping French horns and fluttering trumpets, and pulses set racing with each turn from Principal Guest Conductor Okko Kamu’s (left) baton. While the fast music thrilled, even greater satisfaction was to be found in its detumescence. Clarinettist Jerry Chae’s long-breathed solos supplied that fine glistening sheen that suggested Tannhauser’s carnal revelries were genuine, not faked.

“Narcissism” came next with Venezuelan wunderkind Sergio Tiempo’s (left) no-holds-barred view of Liszt’s First Piano Concerto. His prodigious fingers were equipped with the fastest and loudest octaves, befitting one of the wildest stallions from Martha Argerich’s stable of young virtuosi, but many of his artistic decisions – mostly self-indulgent - may be called into question. Seldom has the nocturne-like solo in the slow movement lurched with such motion sickness-inducing rubato, dotted with misplaced accents and agogic pauses, for example. At least he wasn’t boring.

The Prelude and Liebestod (Love and Death) from Wagner’s Tristan And Isolde, the best 17 minutes of the 4-hour long opera, was arguably the least successful outing. The transition between pieces could have been subtler and more seamless, while the rapturous climax, with a feverish Tristan ebbing within Isolde’s arms, sounding more polite than overwhelming.

More earthy pleasures in Ravel’s Suite No.2 from the mythic ballet Daphnis And Chloe were however captured spot on, from the erotic tittering of birdsong in Daybreak to the orgiastic dances that followed. Principal Flautist Jin Ta’s wonderfully fluent passages set the tone for a show of solo and ensemble excellence.

Perhaps the greatest love of all is the largesse and generosity of one who sets a loved one free; that of the aging Marschallin and her young lover Octavian in Richard Strauss’ opera Der Rosenkavalier. Its 25-minute long Symphonic Suite provided the icing on this year’s confections, as the orchestra journeyed from intoxicating champagne and perfumed harmonies, passionate declarations with concertmaster Alexander Souptel’s wistful solos, to the grand apotheosis of the Viennese waltz. And the house erupted with a roar of cheers.

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