Monday, 13 December 2010

SSO Concert: The Heavenly Life / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (11 December 2010)

This review waspublished in The Straits Times on 13 December 2010.

The last SSO subscription concert of the year presenting two contrasting works that shared a common feel of the sublime, of a quiet kind of virtuosity that did not need loud statements or emphatic gestures to be noticed.

In Francis Poulenc’s Gloria, the evocation of joy was one of subtle and understated ecstasy, tempered by a genuine fear of God and wry humour, an ironic candour to make it known. Its mock-pompous opening, with brass a blaring was not met with an outburst, instead a sturdy incantation of faith from the combined choruses.

Singing Latin with very clear diction, and accents and punctuations at the right spots, the 120-strong choir prepared by Lim Yau impressed, even dispatching the wrong note cadence in Laudamus Te with vehement gusto. Its evenness and reassuring warmth contrasted well with British soprano Katherine Broderick’s penetrating tone and beseeching poignancy in Domine Deus.

Poulenc’s brilliant writing, with seemingly trite themes transformed into liturgical gold, came across winningly. Achingly beautiful harmonies of the final Qui Sedes Ad Dexteram Patris resounded not with a shower of decibels, but a blissful but simmering cognisance of salvation. One could hear a pin drop for a full ten seconds before the ensuing applause.
The second work was Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, his lightest and least bombastic of eleven masterpieces. The gentle peal of sleighbells ushered in this most congenial and affable of works, led at a comfortable pace by SSO Principal Guest Conductor Okko Kamu. The strings were at their usual best, shaping each melody ever so lovingly, with woodwind and brass entries making their moments count but never sounding obtrusive.

With the basic pulse sturdily maintained, there was no chance of the music lagging. The second movement’s macabre little dance with concertmaster Alexander Souptel’s second violin tuned a tone higher was a sly nod to mortality itself. The glorious slow movement ambled along with such finesse and grace, until the reverie was shattered by the rings of an errant cellular phone, not once but thrice.

Such idiocy was a rude awakening that musical heaven on earth is transitory, a bubble about to burst. If one thought that Esplanade Concert Hall’s walls were impenetrable to radio waves, they are wrong. It was left for Broderick’s soothing portrayal of a child’s vision of heaven in the final movement to salved the nerves and spirit. Until the next Mahler symphony, that is.

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