Sunday, 7 March 2010

SSO Concert: Notes of Triumph

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Friday (5 March 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 9 March 2010.

The final installment of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s Schumann symphony cycle began on a sour note in the opening bars of the German composer’s Second Symphony in C major (Op.61). The beginning was a fraction off being together and diffident brass could barely string together the work’s all-important recurring motif. As with slow introductions of this kind, when instruments have yet to fully warm up, it could only get better.

Fortunately it all gelled in the Allegro proper, which was delivered with the force of a whirlwind. Under the baton of Indonesian-American conductor Jahja Ling, the balance of the symphony turned out to be far more convincing than previously imagined. The Scherzo’s spirals in perpetual motion were so well spun as to draw premature applause from an otherwise well-behaved audience.

The slow movement heaved an atmospheric and long-breathed sigh, distinguished by excellent woodwind solos, leading to a triumphant finale that belied Schumann’s (left) fragile mental health. Allied to this tribute of indomitable Beethovenian will was also a love message, a quote from Beethoven’s song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To The Distant Beloved), which sang with an unbridled joy. As the heartwarming performance showed, this was without doubt Schumann’s greatest symphony.

The concert’s curtain-raiser was Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. Also known as Fingal’s Cave, the musical picture postcard received a sunny rather than wind-swept reading. Smoothness of strings balanced by brio in the brass made for a stirring outing, capped by well-judged climaxes.

The concerto segment spot-lighted conductor Ling’s young wife, the Taiwanese pianist Jessie Chang in Mozart’s congenial Piano Concerto No.17 in G major (K.453). Hers was a highly assured and tasteful solo performance, full of lightness in articulation and abundant ebullience. Not without good reason was the work dedicated to Mozart’s young lady student, a certain Babette von Ployer.

The slow movement showcased sterling work from solo oboe, flute and bassoon, gilding the piano’s ruminative musings. Even Mozart’s own pet starling was acquainted with the finale’s chirpy melody, with its lovely variations and comedic opera buffo-styled ending. Husband, wife and orchestra all came together for an enjoyable romp, providing a new definition to the concept of musical bliss.

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