Monday, 15 November 2010

SSO Concert: Unsurpassed Beauty / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (12 November 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 15 November 2010.

It was eleven years ago when the Toronto-domiciled Singaporean composer Kam Kee Yong wrote a scathing letter to The Straits Times decrying the lack of support the national orchestra gave to local composers and musicians. In particular, he felt that his compositions and violinist daughter Kam Ning were being ignored.

Through the National Arts Council’s Cultural Medallion Grant, that bridge has been mended. The SSO performed an entire half-concert, about 40 minutes, of his music. No other local composer has enjoyed that honour since the performance of the late Tsao Chieh’s Singapore Suite in 2000.

The concert conducted by Darrell Ang began with Kam’s The River. No specifics were divulged, but the work bustled with urgent vitality, surging waters being the life-giver of civilisations. His idiom was accessible, gratifyingly tonal, with a scope that approximated biblical proportions and sound recalling the lush scores of Respighi. This could well be Singapore music’s version of Smetana’s Die Moldau.

Briefer was Fantasia of Insects, a furious symphonic scherzo which had a Central Asian flavour mixed in impressionist colours. Kam Ning was soloist in four concertante works, the first being Kuang Xiang Qu (Chinese Rhapsody), a virtuoso showpiece in the slow-fast format that had roots in the rhapsodies of Liszt, Bartok and Ravel’s gypsy fantasy Tzigane.
The Kams & Darrell Ang enjoy the applause.

Tang dynasty poets were the inspiration of The Surpassing Beauty (after Du Fu), A Tranquil Night (Li Bai) and The Old General (Wang Wei). The first two were lyrical nocturnes, where the violinist’s ability to sustain long seamless lines were testament to poetic sensibilities.

The latter was a symphonic poem with violin obbligato, alternating reflective moments with martial strides. Kam’s music found most sympathetic interpreters in Kam Junior and the SSO, a welcome gift for Singapore’s musical prodigal son.
The Kams were busily signing autographs during the interval.

The theme of nature continued into the second half, where Debussy’s languid Prelude to the Afternoon of the Fawn gave way to the virile vigour of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite No.2. In both works, Jin Ta’s flute was the star standout, crafting erotic sinuous lines that gave the music irresistible sensuousness. Conducting from memory, Ang allowed the Debussy to breathe, and then whipped the Ravel to a frenzied climax and tumultuous close.

Playing its first concert following a triumphant European tour, the Singaporean audience had a taste of what the fuss and rave reviews were all about.

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