Saturday, 3 April 2010

BRAHMS TONIGHT! by The Philharmonic Orchestra / Review

The Philharmonic Orchestra
William Ledbetter, Presenter
Lim Yau, Conductor
Esplanade Concert Hall
Thursday (1 April 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 3 April 2010.

It speaks volumes of the classical music scene here that a semi-professional orchestra is taking the lead in musical education and audience development. It is not surprising since The Philharmonic Orchestra is led by Lim Yau, one of Singapore’s foremost music teachers.

His place is neither behind an academic desk, nor does he carry the title of doctor or professor, but on the podium he has educated and influenced thousands of minds. Young orchestral players, long-suffering singers and willing audiences have responded to his droll, no-nonsense approach to music.

A new page was turned with his initiation of the Composers Tonight! series of concerts, where a fun and interactive element accompanies the oh-so-serious classics. Aided by American actor-presenter William Ledbetter’s 45-minute illustrated introduction to Brahms’ First Symphony in C minor, this concept of “insight and sound” could not have been better led.

Ledbetter (left) is a personable and humourous communicator who eschews technical jargon, yet does not speak down to his audience. His simple explanations of complex issues such as sonata form were helpful, and got the audience to recognise themes within a movement through a series of hand actions.

All this would have been in vain if the performance of the work itself failed to click. However Lim drew a taut and utterly coherent performance, drawing a big sound from his smallish orchestra. The first movement’s introduction was intense, helmed by timpanist Yeow Ching Shiong’s steady and insistent beat, and the ensuing Allegro did not let up.

The ebb and flows were well judged, with slow movement providing an oasis from the tension even if concertmaster Kathleen Koh’s violin solo was not always on pitch. Excellent woodwinds contributed to the third movement’s easy jocularity, leading without a break into the glorious finale. Here French horns and trombones rose to the occasion, dispelling the dark clouds to usher in the symphony’s “big tune” and onward to a blazing close.

Further symphonies await this treatment – Beethoven’s Pastoral, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, Dvorak’s Ninth, Mahler’s First or Shostakovich’s Fifth. Can we hope for more?

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