Tuesday, 21 September 2010

10 YEARS YOUNG! / The Chamber Players / Review

The Chamber Players
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Sunday (19 September 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 21 September 2010.

Like a woman who understates her real age, The Chamber Players (TCP), a mostly-amateur ensemble actually dating back to the early 1980s, celebrated its 10th anniversary with a stirring concert. Its present incarnation, brainchild of engineer, lecturer and French horn player Mervin Beng, is an outfit that instills serious fun in music-making despite having lofty ambitions.

Czech composer Josef Suk’s Serenade for Strings is a rarely-heard work long championed by this group. Its ingratiatingly melodies, like the Serenade of his father-in-law Dvorak, benefited from the warm, lush timbre produced by the Players, and aided by the hall’s reverberant acoustics.

The gentle lilt, lament-like elegy and quicksilver flourishes in the ensuing movements were deftly handled, with the music’s spirit being chief beneficiary. Despite the odd raw edges, the ensemble showed it had definitely matured over the past decade.

A regular collaborator with TCP has been Malaysia-born pianist Dennis Lee (above). Conducting from the keyboard, he helmed a polished and sensitive performance of Beethoven’s sleek Second Piano Concerto in B flat major (Op.19). The earliest and most Mozartean of five numbered piano concertos, Lee balanced its light-footed countenance with nervous tension, keeping the music on a keen edge throughout.

The orchestra responded with gusto, supporting his every gesture and turn of phrase sympathetically. Never mind the raspberry at the Rondo’s end, it was the coming of minds in a laudable group effort that really counted.

As the first commissioned work by TCP, the World Premiere of Simple-X by Robert Casteels and Seah Huan Yuh could not have been more different. Simply it may be described as a concertante for piano, three iPads, electro-acoustics and strings. Casteels led this odd-looking ensemble from the piano, hammering out repeated chords and clusters, cueing 18 string players who crafted ostinatos of their own.

As Robert Casteels leads, T'ang Quartet's violist
Han Oh (extreme right) takes his turn on the iPad.
Seah Huan Yuh and his PC are in the foreground.

Groups of players would then leave their stands to fiddle with the iPads located forestage, conjuring a fairyland mélange of tingling tones. This sequence would go on until every player had done its bit, with Seah at his PC, controlling a variety of sound effects and white noise. Fantastical and dreamlike, whether deliberate or random, the work generated a warm response from an audience more accustomed to Mozart and Haydn.

Could new music be a new direction The Chamber Players are taking?

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