This review was published in The Straits Times on 5 August 2010.
In ten short years, The Philharmonic Winds has established itself as the leading Singapore wind orchestra. Founded by Belgian-Singaporean conductor Robert Casteels, who programmed much new music including Singaporean compositions, the band continues this legacy under promising young conductor Leonard Tan.
Its 10th Anniversary Gala Concert, mostly conducted by Tan (left), was a showcase of the ensemble’s considerable prowess and achievement. The first half comprised music by composers not known for their wind music. Vaughan William’s Toccata Marziale (1924) opened the proceedings on a bustling state of pomp and ceremony.
Its brevity paved the way for the evening’s most interesting work, Frenchman Florent Schmitt’s Dionysiaques (1913). Its impressionist and sinuous opening recalling Debussy gave way to a bacchanalian frenzy, filled with jazzy, popular dancehall idioms. Further rehearsals would have yielded a better-focused performance, but there was no mistaking its fervour.
Percy Grainger’s The Power of Rome and The Christian Heart (1947) was unusually sober for one famed for catchy dance and folksong arrangements. Evelyn Lim’s pipe organ solo provided the resonance, contrasted with dark and heavy-laden vibes from the winds. Harp and piano issued other-worldly textures before it closed quizzically and open-ended.
More outwardly flashy was solo percussionist Yeow Ching Shiong (left) presiding on five timpanis in American Michael Daugherty’s Raise The Roof (1907). Attired in just shirtsleeves, his octopus-like handling of mallets, wire-brushes and bare hands was a tour de force as this extroverted music took on Latin and bossa-nova rhythms, leading to a brilliant final flourish.
One of the Winds’ regular guest conductors, Timothy Reynish (left) from Great Britain, took over the baton for his compatriot Frank Bridge’s The Pageant of London (1911) Comprising two marches book-ending a suite of renaissance dances, the band ably conjured up the might of old England, one last hurrah before the sun set on the Empire.
Arguably the best performance on the evening was reserved for the least original work, Franco Cesarani’s Poema Alpestre (Alpine Poem, 1999), conducted by Tan. At least the Swiss composer acknowledged his inspiration - Richard Strauss’ 50-minute long An Alpine Symphony. This 25-minute tone poem sounded like poor man’s Strauss, from his imitation of nebulous misty vistas, pastoral interludes, use of bucolic cowbells and the requisite snowstorm.
Granted that many of these young musicians will never get to perform the Strauss, they nevertheless carved out a performance that lacked nothing in passion and commitment. Long may that continue.