Wednesday, 8 April 2009

SSO Casual Concert / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Darrell Ang, Conductor
Sunday (5 April 2009, 5pm)
Esplanade Concert Hall

This review was published in The Straits Times on 7 April 2009.

It has been customary over the decades for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra to delegate its outreach, outdoor and short concerts to a younger group of conductors. Lim Yau, Lan Shui (when he was a young guest conductor in the early 1990s), Bart Folse, Wang Ya-Hui and Chan Tze Law all had their turns in such diversions in the past. However rarely has an hour-long Casual Concert been as technically demanding for both orchestra and conductor as the one mastered by young Darrell Ang (below) this evening.

Beginning with the multi-layered complexities of Debussy’s Iberia (from Images), the orchestra delivered a highly disciplined and tautly marshaled account. While exhibiting typically Hispanic fervour in its raucous opening, it was in the tender slow middle segment Les Parfums de la nuit (The Fragance of the Night) where the orchestra’s greater strengths laid.

Its overall sultriness, sensuous and atmospheric murmurings were magnificently realised, none better portrayed in Rachel Walker’s haunting oboe solo. It was however in the restive final section (The Morning Of The Festival Day) where a certain cautiousness could have made way for an unbuttoned show of exuberance.

No reservations arose in Ang’s stupendous vision of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini. Its journey through Dante’s inferno was as harrowing as it was awe-inspiring; tongues of fire leapt as molten lava boiled over, with the ill-fated lovers clasped in a fatal final embrace. And then came the love music.

It is no exaggeration to assert that only Ang comes close to Music Director Lan Shui in extracting hot-blooded juices of passion from any torso of love music. On this occasion, his efforts were aided by clarinetist Li Xin’s wonderfully fulsome clarinet solo, which brought this over-sentimental music to new heights.

Between two pillars of orchestral masterpieces was a short concertante segment that featured former Menuhin protégé Jin Li (left) in Saint-Saen’s Havanaise. Any hint of reticence in Jin’s stage demeanor was immediately dispelled by his wide vibrato and the unabashed pyrotechnics he commanded. Music transforms lives and personalities, and in this case, it was clearly for the better.

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