Thursday, 1 April 2010

OF MYTHS AND FOLKLORE by Singapore National Youth Orchestra / Review

Singapore National Youth Orchestra
LIM SOON LEE, Conductor
Esplanade Concert Hall
Tuesday (30 March 2010)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 April 2010.

Of the youth orchestras active in Singapore today, the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) is the oldest institution, with its roots going way back to the Singapore Children’s Orchestra of the 1940s and 50s conducted by Goh Soon Tioe and Paul Abisheganaden. Now under the auspices of the Ministry of Education’s Co-Curricular Activities Branch, it consistently produces the nation’s top young musicians.
The first concert of a well-planned orchestral season was ample proof of its reputation. Weber’s rousing Euryanthe Overture established the strings to be its strongest suit, with violins shaping the principal theme with clarity and coherence, while cellos and basses were resolute throughout. If brass had moments of iffy intonation, they were just warming up.

The concerto segment showcased 15-year-old SNYO cellist Li Zhu En in Tchaikovsky’s Variations On A Rococo Theme. Towering in physical stature and girth, this young man had the musical gifts to match. He confidently coaxed a full-bodied and rosy tone from the cello, and was nimble and sensitive to every facet of his demanding solo.

While the virtuosic cadenzas were tossed off quite effortlessly, the best parts were the slower bits. Here, deeply felt emotions alloyed to seamless beauty of the playing conveyed Tchaikovsky’s melancholy to truly heartwarming effect.

The big test came in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, a work where supposedly better ensembles have come to grief. Under Music Director Lim Soon Lee’s direction, the musical narrative of this first Romantic “programme symphony” was never allowed to waver. The ensemble coped admirably with the difficult scoring, rhythmic and dynamic shifts, carving out a solid if not totally note-perfect performance.

The solos were very well delivered, pride of place going to the solo clarinetist who played the Idée fixe (fixed idea, or recurring theme) in its different guises, and the conversation between cor anglais and oboe in Scene In The Fields. The final movements, March To The Scaffold and Dream Of A Witches Sabbath brought on the full artillery, and the brass section obliged with lusty fervour.

In a performance that was greater than the sum of its parts, all the young musicians shone without reservation. A strong SNYO can only auger well for the future of classical music here.

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