Sunday, 28 March 2010

Russian Revolution by Orchestra of the Music Makers / Review

Orchestra of the Music Makers
Chan Tze Law, Conductor
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory
Sunday (21 March 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 23 March 2010.

One abiding mission of a young orchestra is to build repertoire, and none has succeeded with such ambition and rapidity as the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM). Having lofty ideals of programming is one thing, but execution is another.

Despite the odds of not possessing luxuries of adequate rehearsal space and time, OMM’s all-Russian programme displayed the length, breadth and depth of it prowess. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo And Juliet Overture began on a very deliberate tempo, but this escalated with Montagues and Capulets feuding with requisite bloodlust. Then luscious strings ushered in the famous “love theme”, bringing a stirring climax to this musical adventure cum tragedy.

More drama ensued in Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, which saw busy Singaporean pianist Lim Yan (left) treat this warhorse not as a purely display piece but clearly thought-out essay pitting piano and orchestra. Excellent horns heralded its familiar opening fanfare, while Lim’s majestically punched out chords rang out his intent in a non-histrionic and unfussy manner.

With clarity in every phrase, the octave passages and treacherous 1st movement cadenza were delivered with immaculate aplomb. Orchestral support was big in gestures yet sensitive throughout. There were some rough patches for soloist and band alike, but none that so plagued and derailed Li Yundi’s infamous outing with the SSO last year. So is Lim Yan a better pianist and musician than Li Yundi? Unequivocally yes.

Arguably the best performance of the night was reserved for Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, a product of wartime privations. Its message of “the unquenchable spirit of man” reeks of Socialist Realist claptrap without disguising the well-crafted work it is. Lasting almost 45 minutes, conductor Chan Tze Law coaxed an admirable performance that eloquently brought out the Russian modernist’s appealing blend of deliberate cacophony and long-held melody.

With the spectre of tragedy ever looming, there was biting irony, dark humour and even unabashed sentimentality. What kept this behemoth going was its sheer pace, aided but excellent brass and the ever-dependable Vincent Goh on solo clarinet. With engines, pistons and turbines on overdrive, it seemed this exhausting performance would never run out of steam, such was the fervour and drive of the young musicians.

After two and a half hours, there was even time for an encore, Shostakovich’s genial Waltz from the Second Jazz Suite. Revelations, Russian or otherwise, never seem to cease with this group.

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