Tuesday, 5 January 2010

MAHLER 1: MEMORIES OF YOUTH / Orchestra of the Music Makers / Review

Orchestra of the Music Makers
Victoria Concert Hall
Sunday (3 January 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 5 January 2010.

After a year of over-achieving, the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) has hit the ground running in the new decade. In what resembles a promising beginning to a Mahler symphony cycle, the young musicians put on a show of instrumental prowess that beggared belief.

The evening began in the manner which the Vienna Philharmonic closes its celebrated New Year Concerts, with Johann Strauss the Younger’s Blue Danube Waltz. Gossamer light tremolo strings ushered in the opening horn solo, which unfortunately did not have the mythical quality of sounding from afar. The brass chorale also lacked subtlety, making for a bumpy first half-minute. However as soon as the waltz rhythm got underway, it was plain sailing, even affording the luxury of several tantalising rubatos.

The Viennese theme continued with Mozart’s lovely Concerto in C major (K.299) for flute and harp. A work of exquisite craftsmanship rather than inspirational genius, it showcased two young ladies who were also members of OMM. Flautist Cheryl Lim was the more confident, projecting a tone of crystal-like clarity and seamlessness throughout. Harpist Laura Peh, a tender 16, had several awkward moments with wrong notes, but held her own with composure and grace. Together, the music alternated between lyrical beauty and scintillation, ably supported by the unobtrusive orchestra.

The test of the pudding was surely in Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony (composer left), nicknamed The Titan. Its opening pianissimo hum of nature was a feat of control from the strings, and woodwind solos also distinguished, notably clarinetist Vincent Goh’s cuckoo impressions. While the solo French horn had issues with flubbed passages, the massed group of eight horns was a force to behold.

It was this selfsame unity of spirit that galvanised the ensemble as a whole, rendering an invigorating performance that was greater than the sum of its disparate parts. The dance and funeral march of the middle movements were suitably earthy and raw, nuances that so coloured Mahler’s world of banalities, skillfully brought out by conductor Chan Tze Law.

If there were moments that simply blew one away, these would be the finale’s agonising “cry from the wounded heart”, a 20-minute journey from tragedy to final triumph. These youngsters, for whom nothing is impossible, certainly know the meaning of “titanic”.

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