Friday, 1 October 2010

A Woodwind Soirée @ YST / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Wednesday (29 September)

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 1 October 2010.

Compared with the piano and stringed instruments, woodwinds are underrated. However there is much fun afforded by watching wind players perform; their incessant activity, breath-control, besides the ritual of cleaning their instruments and emptying of spittle. Ultimately, it is their virtuosity that shines through.
The young musicians who performed Franz Danzi’s Quintet No.2, led by the excellent flautist Wang Shiqi, looked like they were enjoying themselves. Amid their tight ensemble, crisp notes rang out, displaying much good humour in the fast movements, while producing a warm reassuring timbre in the slower Andante.
Charles Gounod’s Petite Symphonie is supposedly well known, but how often is it heard here? A meatier work, with bassoons and French horns doubled, it had deeper bass notes but the overall tone was congenial and light-hearted. Its pastoral feel was underlined by folk-like themes and recurring passages of drones.

Again, the performance was exemplary by its sheer cohesiveness, with flautist Marcus Tay shining in the aria-like Andante Cantabile, and oboists Zhang Naiqian and Gao Ziqiao spot on in their difficult solos. In reality, all nine players were united in one satisfying whole.

Thirteen musicians came together for Mozart’s masterpiece Serenade in B flat major (K.361), better known as the Gran Partita. Of curiosity was its inclusion of two basset horns (left), a larger version of the clarinet with a curved metal bell and supported by a stick (like a cello). Led by conductor Chan Tze Law, its 45 minutes passed like mere fleeting moments.

The 1st movement’s slow introduction was taken confidently, and by the Allegro main body, the ensemble was energised and revved to full throttle. The famous Adagio, immortalised in the movie Amadeus, was lovingly shaded, with honours evenly shared by Xue Shunjie’s oboe, and Zhang Feng and Chen Danning on clarinets.

The dance movements had a jaunty lift and lilt in their step, and the Theme and Variations provided a gilded edge to its simple Minuet-like subject. The finale’s Molto Allegro galloped away with high spirits, capping an altogether pleasurable evening. The small audience that attended this free and non-ticketed event must have thought so too.

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