Monday, 20 April 2009

Romantic Fantasy Worlds / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra
Wang Ya-Hui, Conductor
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (18 April 2009)

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

The Conservatory Orchestra performs four concerts in an academic year, the final one invariably held at the Esplanade, thus drawing its biggest audiences. Performing the technically most demanding works, it is also the culmination of a year’s efforts, lessons and rehearsals.

Pairing two widely differing giants of the Romantic period - Mendelssohn (left) and Berlioz - showcased the orchestra’s versatility. The innocent comedic turns in the former’s Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a study in finesse and control. The prodigious Overture, written when the composer was at an age younger than most of the performers, was distinguished by lightness and elfin charm.

This was repeated in the bubbly Scherzo and ensuing fast movements. The French horn and bassoon chorale of the Nocturne exhibited an enviable warmth and mellowness but inappropriate inter-movement applause probably distracted the trumpets as they went off-pitched momentarily in the opening of the familiar Wedding March.

Berlioz’s (left) highly ambitious Symphonie Fantastique provided a much stiffer challenge, and while revealing many fine qualities, exposed certain vulnerabilities. At the height of the first movement’s passions, there was a major desynchronisation that lasted the best part of two minutes – or what seems an eternity for the performers – before order was restored. In the second movement’s waltz, the pair of harps fluffed their lines in what should have been their golden moment.

Fortunately, the last three movements were the saving grace. The solo cor anglais and offstage oboe were excellent in the Scene In The Fields, as were the four timpanists as they evoked distant thunder. Blaring brass had a field day in the fatal March To The Scaffold, striking genuine terror before the final grotesqueries of the Witches’ Sabbath.

Individual instrumental prowess and taut ensemble were the keys to the final raucous romp that brought this stridently modern masterpiece (for 1830) to a triumphant end. Then something truly remarkable and unprecedented occurred: an instrumental erratum, as conductor Wang Ya-Hui (left) rallied the forces to replay the offending segments of the opening movement. This time it sounded close to perfection.

It was a courageous, ultimately honest and commendable gesture to set things straight. Now everybody can afford an undisturbed night’s sleep.

No comments: