Monday, 20 September 2010

SSO Concert: Ode to Ireland / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (17 September 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2o September 2010.

What on earth has Ireland to do with a concert of American and Russian music?

The extremely tenuous link was provided by Christopher Rouse’s Flute Concerto of 1993, which has movements that conjured up thoughts of lively jigs and Emerald Isle idylls (composer pictured below). That the first and fifth movements are titled Amhran, the Gaelic word for “song”, was also a clue. The flautist on the evening was not James Galway, but the American Mark Sparks, who has every reason to lay claim on Irish authenticity.

In the opening and closing soliloquies, he crafted such a creamy and gorgeous tone, one that oozed lyricism from every pore, accompanied by warm burnished strings. The palindromic nature of the work ensured that there were lots more besides. Dissonances and grotesqueries in the 2nd movement’s Alla Marcia and 4th movement’s Scherzo were overcome with an enviable nimbleness and athleticism.

Which left the glorious centerpiece, an elegy that juxtaposed a grand chorale with an anguished and violent twist, essentially a requiem to an innocent victim of a senseless murder. That the horrific act took place in Liverpool, the English city with strong Irish connections, could be another connection.

The purely orchestral works in the concert received marvelous performances. Bernstein’s Candide Overture bristled with sharp wit and hairpin reflexes while Rachmaninov’s tone poem Isle of the Dead brooded and meandered on its fatal journey down the River Styx. The feverish climax, whipped to an ecstatic frenzy by Music Director Shui Lan was well worth the wait.

The crowd-pleaser was probably Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture in its rarely performed version with chorus, and the sight of 120 singers in the gallery was an imposing sight. If only they sung as immaculately as they looked. The opening hymn Save Us, O Lord was almost taken literally; the unaccompanied entries were a mess, but the chorus did eventually settle.

And the musical Battle of Borodino (left) ensued in earnest, with La Marseillaise eventually trumped by God Save The Tsar. And when one expected the resounding roar of cannons (or at least an over-enthusiastic bass drum) in the height of struggle, dull thuds of the hammer (leftover from Mahler’s Sixth Symphony) were heard instead. It was a touch underwhelming for such a stirring conclusion but the audience loved it anyhow. Maybe 1812 is not performed often enough in these parts.

No comments: