Tuesday, 18 May 2010

THE MAGIC OF BRAHMS / VCH Chamber Series / Review

Musicians from SSO
Victoria Concert Hall

Sunday (16 May 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 May 2010.

What exactly is the magic of Brahms? Subtler than Beethoven, more sophisticated than Bruckner, less hysterical than Mahler, Johannes Brahms’s (1833-1897) music reaps further rewards on repeated listening than any other. Thematically coherent and structurally sturdy, his melodies are memorable and less subject to imitation and parody.
The two-hour long chamber concert, the last in a series before Victoria Concert Hall’s imminent overhaul, juxtaposed Brahms’s works of youth and late maturity. The autumnal Clarinet Quintet in B minor (Op.115) breathed a mellowness that was introspective and calming. Over a string exposition, Li Xin’s clarinet floated commandingly, with a lustrous glow that radiated warmth on the outset.

In a show of quiet authority, it was encouraging to note this young graduate from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory’s first intake holding his own amongst the Singapore Symphony’s more experienced players. It was not a solo effort that counted, but the near-perfect balance achieved as a group of five musicians.

Long-breathed passages were a joy, keenly matched by the more mobile moments in the Scherzo and finale’s theme and variations. That the 35-minute work closed on a quiet and reposeful note was not a surprise; the older Brahms was not prone to severe dynamic upheavals.
Quite different was the early First Piano Quartet in G minor (Op.25), symphonic in scope and coloured with all sorts of possibilities. Darkness alternated with shafts of light, tension contrasted with release, and passion skirting on the impetuous. Lim Yan’s flashy piano part was virtuosic and soloistic, yet well integrated into the ensemble as a whole.

Despite coming close to 40 minutes, the music moved with urgency, supported by violinist Chan Yoong Han, cellist Yu Jing (both of whom featured in the two works) and violist Zhang Manchin. The ante was upped for the gypsy-flavoured Rondo, a rambunctious romp that nearly brought the house down.

There was a thoughtful encore, the Andante from the Third Piano Quartet (Op.60), dedicated in memory of Dr Goh Keng Swee (left), the orchestra’s forefather and patron of 31 years, who died earlier in the week. Beauty and poignancy could not have found a better medium in Brahms.

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