Thursday, 24 June 2010



Esplanade Concert Hall

Tuesday (22 June 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 24 June 2010.

Orchestras often present in concerts a half of serious classics followed by lighter fare after the interval. For its concert in aid of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, the Irish Chamber Orchestra brought out the bubbly from the word go.

The 18-member ensemble, fresh from a China tour, opened with Mozart’s popular Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. There is hardly music more familiar than this. Its performance – lightly textured and crisply articulated – made this old friend respond with the freshness of new acquaintance. Silky smooth strings distinguished the graceful Romance while the spirited Rondo flew on wings of Mercury.

The show was then set for Irish accordion-player Dermot Dunne to weave a spell of nimble mastery on an instrument unglamorously associated with oompah bands. Rested against the paunch and fingered on two keyboards, its sound production is not unlike the mighty pipe organ. Dunne turned it into a virtuoso vehicle fit for Paganini.

In little-known 19th century German Bernhard Molique’s Concerto in G minor, originally cast for the even less celebrated concertina, Dunne turned lead into gold. Although the music is unmemorable, like second hand Weber or Hummel, the mileage Dunne and the band wrung from its pages was astounding. The slow movement’s song without words, accompanied by muted strings, began to glimmer like precious Mendelssohn.

Music from the “Emerald Isle” came in Dunne’s own Shanghai Set, a medley of homespun Eire – jigs, reels and a pensive melody accompanied by a rustic drone. His short duet with bassist Malachy Robinson clearly delighted the audience.

The second half pairing of Antonio Vivaldi’s concertos and Argentine Astor Piazzolla’s tangos is not new, having been winningly tested by Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica. Highly rhythmic, incisive music and Piazzolla’s love affair with Bach’s music united these unseemly bedfellows.

The fugal opening of La Muerte (Death) and the aria-like simplicity of La Ressurreccion (Resurrection), beautifully voiced by leader Katherine Hunka’s sonorous violin, set the mood for pure passion. Dunne’s accordion returned for three more infectious tangos, and only pedants would quibble that he was not playing a bandoneon, Piazzolla’s own instrument.

The evening closed with two encores, including the obligatory Irish tearjerker Londonderry Air in a lovely arrangement, capping a four-leafed clover of an evening.

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