Monday, 20 April 2009

Alliance Française de Singapour 60th Anniversary Concert / Review

Alliance Française de Singapour
60th Anniversary Concert
AF Theatre
Friday (17 April 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 20 April 2009.

The 60th Anniversary Concert of Singapore’s Alliance Francaise turned out to be a light-hearted and enjoyable affair, a departure from the anticipated avant-garde from the land that gave the world Boulez, Barraque and Varese. French music did not feature exclusively, but the segments skillfully programmed by Belgian-Singaporean composer Robert Casteels reflected the cultural activities of the Francophile association.

The three lovely ladies of I-Sis Trio opened with the finale of Jacques Ibert’s Trio, its jazzy and frothy bustle contrasting with the reposeful Reverie by Debussy. Natasha Liu’s soulful cello sang in Fauré’s Apres un Reve, gently accompanied by Katryna Tan’s harp. Joined by violinist Cindy Yan, the threesome also celebrated movies and dance in Ennio Morricone’s Cinema Paradiso and Ernesto Lecuona’s Malagueña, again displaying diversity in rhythms and inspirations.

Trio became quartet with pianist Albert Lin’s participation in the World Premiere of Casteel’s Trois-vingts (composer pictured left), the title being an old-fashioned French way of expressing the number “sixty”. Its joie de espirit, encapsulated by a fanfare-like motif that sounded 60 times through its five minutes, smartly mirrored the Ibert and made a perfect bookend for the first half.

Pianist Lin (left) had the most notes to play, first in two food-inspired pieces from Rossini’s Sins of Old Age. Whoever thought that Dry Figs could sound this scintillating or that mere Almonds could conjure up such an insouciant waltz? The Italian opera-composer once boasted that he could set a laundry list to music, and nearly proved it here.

The concert’s tour de force was Lin’s mighty traversal of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition. Although not note-perfect, the way each piece was thoughtfully inflected and evocatively characterised revealed a keen mind and mature artist at work. The troubadour’s song in The Old Castle was beautifully coloured, while the pathetic quality of Schmuyle (the second of the two Russian Jews) was brilliantly captured.

That alone would have successfully closed the evening’s fare, but the added bonus was six Singapore songs – old and new, traditional and original – sung in English, Malay and Mandarin by a cappella group Vocaluptuous (left). Over-amplified and over-reverberant, many of the words were lost, but the six-member group crooned and entertained with great pizzazz. Only the cloth-eared and stone-hearted could have resisted this evening’s varied offerings.

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