Sunday, 13 February 2011

CELEBRATIONS! 4th Singapore Chamber Music Festival / Review

4th Singapore Chamber Music Festival
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Saturday (12 February 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times
on 14 February 2011 with the title
"Classical camaraderie"

The 4th Singapore Chamber Music Festival has come on so surreptitiously that one easily confuses it with the event-packed Conservatory concert calendar. Its celebration concert featured Conservatory faculty, students and alumni performing alongside their counterparts from Baltimore’s Peabody Institute of Music.

A hugely enjoyable evening began with four lady students from the Conservatory String Quartet in Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade. There was nothing student-like about the performance, which besides being immaculate, radiated the warmth of its sunny string writing and spontaneous lilt. Their excellent deportment was also a source of pride.

Schubert’s popular “Trout” Quintet, named after his Lied Die Forelle (The Trout), was next. Here the playing was a little uneven, possibly from short of rehearsal time, but there was no denying the palpable camaraderie between musicians. The pianist was Bernard Lanskey, taking time off responsibilities as Conservatory Director, whose leadership also extended to turning pages for his string players.

Violinist Ye Lin and cellist Qin Li-Wei were all eyes, blending beautifully, while violist Jiang Hansong and bassist Yang Xun provided able support. Ye and Jiang, both alumni, are now Singapore Symphony Orchestra musicians. Initially tense, the playing soon settled to a comfortable congeniality, typical of “hausmusik” (literally “home music”) between friends, boosting the feel good factor by several pints.

Conservatory students yield nothing to their professional seniors. Evidence was the totally commanding performance of Debussy’s late Violin Sonata in G minor by Rose Hsien, with sensitive pianism from Akkra Yeunyonghattaporn. Besides a ravishing tone and spotless intonation, Hsien’s playing had depth, myriad shades and that elusive element of fantasy to fill volumes. She is clearly a star in the making.

The final work was the early Piano Quintet in C minor (Op.1) by Hungarian composer Ernö Dohnanyi, with an unmistakeable debt of influence to Brahms. That rich and dark texture, urgently voiced, was well brought out by the ensemble which featured three guests from Peabody, pianist Kuan Sheng-Yuan, violinist Luri Lee and cellist Michael Kannen.

Magyar spices indelibly flavoured the rhythmic Scherzo, while Fan Ran’s viola sang unabated in the opening for the nocturne-like slow movement, easily the work’s highlight. With violinist Zhao Yi completing the handful, the energetic finale pulsed ever so delightfully, despite the academician in Dohnanyi throwing in a fugue for good measure.

This festival continues for over a month, with more musical treasures lie awaiting.

The 4th Singapore Chamber Music Festival is organised by the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

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