Sunday, 27 December 2009

CLASSIQUES! EXTREME by Philharmonic Youth Winds / Review

Philharmonic Youth Winds
Victoria Concert Hall
Wednesday (23 December 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 25 December 2009.

The Philharmonic Youth Winds is the junior arm of The Philharmonic Winds, peopled by talented wind and brass players under the age of 25. Inspired by their more experienced colleagues, this group is also capable of making a big noise. Led by resident conductor Adrian Chiang, who is the Singapore Symphony’s acting Orchestral Manager, its concert curiously began light and closed heavy.

Tchaikovsky’s popular Marche Slav in an all-wind transcription served as rousing opener, the perfect foil for Johan de Meij’s Extreme Make-Over. The latter is a surreal metamorphosis of Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile, beginning with a saxophone quartet playing the melancholic melody straight and then subjected to a panoply of 20th century devices.

Almost too clever by half, it was an entertaining jaunt that included players blowing into fluid-filled bottles, Minimalist rhythmic chugging, moments out of The Rite of Spring, gamelan effects, the good old-fashioned oompah band routine before closing like a demented version of the 1812 Overture.

Chiang (left) kept a tight lid on the affair, ensuring that this laugh-a-minute spiel actually worked. In between was Mendelssohn’s affable Concert Piece No.2 (Op.114), which showcased duo clarinetists Desmond Chow and Liang Jiayi in fine form accompanied by a pared down ensemble.

James Barnes’ Third Symphony “The Tragic” was the final work, a substantial piece that channeled personal tragedy into a totally valid musical statement. Over timpani rhythms, a tuba solo reached out from the depths of despair, its heaving groan weighing on the anguished mind. The deft use of solo cor anglais and flute also ensured that the mood had the heft of a Shostakovich symphony.

The scherzo was built upon belligerent ostinatos, and despite its myriad variations, deliberately remained on a single plane throughout. Then the heavenly harp and tuned percussion ushered in the transformation from depression to hope, and with it a Lloyd Webberesque big tune and joyous finale. If truth be told, the first two movements of the symphony were of greater interest than its latter half.
However with concerts like these, downers are a no-no. So the youths followed its happy ending with two Christmas favourites by way of Leroy Anderson, and balloons rained on the screaming throng. Merry Christmas and goodwill to all.

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