Monday, 17 January 2011

Notes from the Balcony / T'ang Quartet and Boston Brass / Review

T’ang Quartet & Boston Brass
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (15 January 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times
on 17 January 2011 with the title
"Cool music from the Balcony"

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the tragedy of ill-fated love caught in a family feud, has spawned much good music over the centuries. That was the subject of this successful collaboration between Singapore’s Tang Quartet and USA’s Boston Brass which kept one transfixed and enraptured for almost two hours.

One poser was about the balance of ensemble: how do four string players stand up to five brass players? The solution was simple: the strings were amplified, while the well-arranged scores ensured that the two groups did not get in each other’s way, instead engaging in witty repartee. In climaxes, brass dominated, with percussion and piano added to the highly piquant mix.

Seven pieces from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet handily showcased this chemistry, from the playfulness of The Young Juliet, through the passionate Balcony Scene, to the choreographed violence of Tybalt’s Death and Montagues and Capulets. The give and take between strings and brass, whose apparent rivalry was humorously highlighted by the players themselves, was totally engaging.

Percussion, provided by students from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, played a big part in the exuberant Symphonic Dances from Bernstein’s musical West Side Story, which rumbled, mambo’d and swung with great energy and verve. Who but the ever-resourceful Lenny (Bernstein’s nickname) could fashion a full-blown fugue from the number Cool?

The excellent Boston Brass had moments on their own, opening the concert with Nino Rota’s brief Fanfare for the Prince from the Franco Zefferelli movie and selections from Soviet composer Dmitri Kabalevsky’s own Romeo and Juliet, tuneful enough music but almost a poor man’s Prokofiev.

T’ang Quartet sans brass tackled four of Elvis Costello’s Juliet Letters (arranged by the Brodsky Quartet) including a three-second long vocal debut in Romeo Seance. How were they as singers? It’s anyone’s guess as their efforts were submerged by audience laughter and applause.

There were no programme notes provided, but euphonium player Lance LaDuke and cellist Leslie Tan served as entertaining and very funny emcees. The single encore, the Puerto Rican-influenced America (West Side Story), sent all that attended home with a smile.

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