Monday, 17 January 2011

SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA 32nd Anniversary Concert / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Lan Shui, Conductor
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (14 January 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times
on 17 January 2011 with the title
"SSO reaches for success".

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra makes a habit of featuring local soloists in anniversary concerts. On this occasion, SSO first violinists Chan Yoong Han and Foo Say Ming resisted programming a familiar concerto, instead going for the obscure. Their choice of Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu’s Concerto in D major for 2 violins was an inspired and enjoyable one.

Written for teenaged twins, the work resembled a concerto grosso from the baroque period. Joined at the hip like some musical Chang and Eng, the solos showcased close chemistry between Chan and Foo, two of the nation’s most active chamber musicians. Their violins sang and breathed as one through the 20-minute work.

The second movement married Bohemian folkdance with American barn dance in a quaint way, before launching uninterrupted into a kinetically charged finale which culminated in an elaborate cadenza, deftly handled by the duo, colourfully clad in batiks.

The second work was Mozart’s last piano concerto, No.27 in B flat major (K.595). From the doyen of Chinese pianists Fou Ts’ong, now 77, one expected musical insights rather than fireworks. Frail and stooped at the keyboard he might have been, but the true spirit of chamber music-making remained undimmed.

Operating within a narrow dynamic range which hardly ventured beyond forte, every phrase carried its weight in gold. He made one listen intently, never missing a beat nor glossing over details. Even if the cadenzas sounded effortful and enervating, the pulse of intent was never lost.

From his hands, the slow movement radiated simple yet graceful beauty. Many a young, hot-headed virtuoso can learn from this patrician of musicians. The audience accorded him a standing ovation, rightly deserved.

For the Brahms Second Symphony in D major that concluded the concert, comparisons with the last orchestra that performed it here – the Berlin Philharmonic – were inevitable. In terms of sheer passion, SSO concedes very little. Music Director Lan Shui held the reins tautly but allowed the music to breathe, as in much of the first two movements.

Strings were especially fine, and if there were quibbles, these would be in exposed wind and brass passages, and trombone chorales where intonation and balance were sometimes suspect. Rough edges exist but these should not cast a pall on the bucolic joy and sunshine exhibited for the last two movements.

One British critic has challenged the SSO to reach for greatness. Come another 32 years, that possibility could become reality.

The decoration on SSO's 32nd Anniversary cake.

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