Saturday, 13 February 2010

SSO Concert: Musical Journeys / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Thursday (11 February 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 February 2010.

It is no state secret that the Singapore Symphony Orchestra does not play enough music by Singaporean composers. A wrong was righted with the World Premiere of Kelly Tang Yap Ming’s Piano Concerto (1995). Chronologically, it is the first Singaporean piano concerto to be written, predating those by Bernard Tan (2001) and Leong Yoon Pin (2005).

Musically, it is also the most uncompromising, espousing the atonal idiom at its thorniest. Its three movements present the piano as both solo and ensemble instrument, sometimes so enmeshed in dense orchestral textures as to be inseparable. Pianist Lim Yan (who also premiered Leong’s concerto in 2006) overcame its stiffest challenges with much alacrity and sympathy, alternating adroitly between paroxysms of violence and lyrical asides.

Those seeking melodies would do well exploring Schoenberg and Lutoslawski instead. However Tang’s (above) pioneering effort, composed as a doctoral thesis, is no mere academic fodder. Like much of his eclectic output, it repays further listening.

The other Singaporean soloist was mezzo-soprano Rebecca Chellapah, who bared her soul in Mahler’s Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). She clearly has the emotional heft and agility to carry these weighty songs about love hoped for and lost. While the expressions were spot-on, projection beyond the orchestral forces, by no means overpowering, became an issue. At times, the strain at the highest vocal range became audible.

The SSO, directed by Resident Conductor Lim Yau, as always strived to be the perfect collaborator for the young soloists. On their own, the concert began with Weber’s Der Freisch├╝tz Overture, which was spun off with much spirit even if the opening French horn chorale was less than immaculate.

The third leg of the Schumann symphony cycle fell to his First Symphony in B flat major, also known as his Spring Symphony. It was a feisty affair, capturing the orchestra in rude health. The tempos were brisk all round, with the three fast movements delivered with an unapologetic directness and drive. Politeness and finery found no place here, instead raw emotions and freshness not unlike the awakening of a new season. Another fine demonstration that there can be no torpid Schumann, only vital Schumann.

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