Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Chamber Players: Bach to Bach / Review

The Chamber Players
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Sunday (20 September 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 22 September 2009.

If a definitive history of Western classical musical performance in Singapore were written, The Chamber Players would at least merit a page or two, because it is the longest existing amateur chamber ensemble today. Formed about 30 years ago from remnants of the defunct Singapore Philharmonic Orchestra, it also united players from the Singapore Chamber Ensemble and old Singapore Youth Orchestra.

Today, it is a rejuvenated and dynamic young group, still playing without a conductor, but boosted by professional musicians in key positions. Having not performed for almost two years, one wondered how they would sound. Just three words: very much improved. The musicians have gotten better individually, and the general ensemble is cohesive and well focused. Weak, anaemic string sounds and hesitancy of co-ordination seem very much in the past.

The mostly-Bach programme began with the Second Orchestral Suite in B minor (BWV.1067) the closest thing Bach wrote to a flute concerto. With just ten string players and harpsichord, the ensemble ably supported flautist Mohamad Rasull (left), one of Singapore’s very few Malay Western classical musicians. His performance was a generous Hari Raya Puasa treat, full of verve and vibrancy, capped with an exuberant Badinerie, which displayed delightful touches of his own.

The two soloists in Bach’s Double Violin Concerto (BWV.1043), Seah Huan Yuh and Mathias Oestringer (left), were well matched but tended to keep their tone on a subdued side. Although both had independently different parts, they mostly breathed as one. The slow movement, in particular, had an aria-like seamlessness that was pleasing.

The full orchestra came together for Schubert’s light-hearted Fifth Symphony in B flat major. For a conductor-less group of nearly forty individuals, the togetherness was admirable. Relying mostly on subtle cues from concertmaster Seah Huan Yuh, a healthy full sonority was generated. The performance was very direct, fresh like the morning dew, and devoid of ego or idiosyncrasy.

There was however some instability in the Trio of the third movement’s Minuet, where a conductor’s guiding hand would have helped. No matter, as the finale hurtled swiftly and where some element of risk-taking was apparent, the Players came through with flying colours.

The Chamber Players’ policy of free concerts (with donations accepted at the door) is totally laudable, and one hopes they were as justly rewarded as the audience it entertained.

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