Monday, 8 March 2010

Teng Ensemble in Concert / Review

Teng Ensemble in Concert
University Cultural Centre Dance Studio
Saturday (6 March 2010)

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

Attempts to marry the disparate sounds of Western and Chinese musical instruments are not new, and the results have been variable to say the least. The public d├ębut of Teng Ensemble, a self-styled Chinese instrumental collective, at the National University of Singapore’s Arts Festival was a laudable addition to this crossover phenomenon. It may be said that chamber music is the most fertile soil for such experiments to take place.

Helmed by the Beijing-trained Singaporean pipa player Samuel Wong (left), the nucleus of the group also included Yang Jiwei’s sheng, Benjamin Lim’s guitar and Gerald Teo’s cello. These were further augmented by voice, violin and piano to make up a seven-member group, which in all honesty resembled more like a garage band.

In the six pieces on show, the sheng’s penetrating timbre and Wilson Goh’s lustrous and wide-ranging vocals had the juiciest parts, carrying most of the melodic interest. There was only one work that featured all seven musicians, Dang Yuan Ren Chang Jiu by Liang Hong Zhi, with each instrumentalist taking turn in the accompaniment.

Aside from a few decorative passages, there was precious little for the sadly under-utilised violinist Chan Yoong Han. Pianist Shane Thio’s part were also often reduced to providing plodding chords and occasional arpeggios, with the exception of Justin Hegburg’s techno-inspired Confluence where he provided the main rhythmic thrust.

The music, whether Chinese (Benjamin Lim’s He), Malay (P. Ramlee’s Getaran Jiwa) or sung in Italian (Sherman Ko’s Equinox), was never less than tuneful. The opening work, resident composer and arranger Lim’s Chang Men Yuan, a lament based on a Li Bai poem, would also easily pass for an atmospheric soundtrack to a period Chinese epic.

Wong’s uninhibitedly enthusiastic introductions to an audience mostly seated on the studio floor added to the general informality of the event. Entertaining it certainly was. While some new ground is being broken in this genre, the Teng Ensemble is encouraged to scale more heights and further explore.

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