Monday, 9 November 2009

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra: Tragedy to Majesty / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra
Wang Ya-Hui, Conductor
Conservatory Concert Hall
Saturday (7 November 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 9 November 2009.

Has there been a more apt title for a concert? Or a more astute piece of programming?

The route to glory helmed by Wang Ya-Hui (left) was an unusual one, beginning with the Singapore premiere of Italian avant-gardist Luciano Berio’s Requies, composed in memory of his ex-wife, the soprano Cathy Berberian. Its 15 minutes of reflection and contemplation was static yet chameleonic with its shifting timbres, harmonies and rhythms. Although reflecting Berberian’s amazing vocal range, the music while dissonant was strangely soothing, a restless soul finding final repose.

The performance was both sympathetic and cathartic, also a feat of instrumental cohesion. Much more conventional was Brahms’ Tragic Overture, with the orchestra in full voice. The declamatory opening two chords were marvellously delivered, and the song of the strings that followed evinced true pathos. The intensity and sheer sweep achieved in this reading suggests that convincing performances of the Brahms symphonies should not be too far off.

Two orchestral excerpts from Wagner’s Die Walk├╝re served as encores, including the high decibel Flight Of The Valkyries and Magic Fire Music. The latter saw the hall bathed in cherry red light, definitely a case of taking the title too literally rather than a fit of synaesthesia.

The majesty came in the second half with Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. To American pianist Thomas Hecht’s (pictured on banner) credit, he did not stop at that. The grandiloquent cadenza on the outset had a freedom which defined the rest of the performance. He did not merely interpret but lived Beethoven’s angst of deafness and despair, evidenced by the angry crashing chords, vehement octaves and paradoxically scintillating fingerwork.

Lovely strings set the B major nocturne of the slow movement in motion, and poetry reigned unabated before the life-affirming Rondo romp of the finale. As tragedy had inched towards majesty, pain had also transformed into pure joy. Although rough and ready in parts, the orchestral partnership was fully attuned with Hecht’s intentions which made for a riveting performance from start to end. Two solo encores, by Beethoven and Soler, sealed an enthralling journey from darkness to light.

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