Friday, 11 February 2011

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Prize Winners Concert II / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra
Conservatory Concert Hall
Thursday (10 February 2011)

An edited version of this review was published
in The Straits Times on 12 February 2011
with the title "Absorbing concerto"

Part Two of Yong Siew Toh Conservatory’s annual concerto extravaganza proved to be every bit as absorbing as the first, held more than a week ago. Fresh from their Chinese New Year break, the young musicians of the Conservatory Orchestra performed with a renewed vigour. The deafening roar of brass heralded a confident performance of Wagner’s Overture to The Mastersingers of Nuremberg.

Led by student conductor Wong Kah Chun (left), its grandeur and pomposity were well captured. As the music and counterpoint got progressively denser, the band coped admirably with the young maestro providing a reassuring and ever-steady beat. Not bad considering an unruly mop of hair that threatened to obscure his field of vision.

The first soloist of the evening was Zhang Feng (left), a total natural in Weber’s Second Clarinet Concerto. His command of its highly acrobatic solo part was astounding, revelling in its athletic leaps and intricately florid passage works. He also has a well-rounded tone that sang fluidly in the slow movement and then bossed the finale’s animated Rondo Polonaise.

If there were a Most Impressive Soloist prize, he would be a strong candidate for it. The orchestra directed by its British Music Director Jason Lai (left) was a truly sensitive and supportive partner. Their task then escalated manifold for the final work on show – Shostakovich’s spiky and fiendishly tricky First Cello Concerto.

There were many areas where the performance could have foundered and collapsed completely, but that did not happen. The sharp musical exchanges that took place between cello soloist Xie Tian and the wind soloists – especially an overworked French horn – were taken at high risk, break neck speed. Not everything was clockwork, but the derring-do was most appreciated.

Xie (left) is one highly intense player, whose sweat and tears – not to mention plainly audible heavy breathing – added to the pathos of performance. The lyrical second movement and cadenza brought out the pain and angst in shovels, and throw in a rollicking finale with a hare-brained main subject, the tragicomic portrait becomes complete.

Thus concluded two highly satisfying evenings of music from some of the land’s most talented young musicians. For music as in other art forms, the quest for beauty, perfection and truth is an unending one. Their journey has just begun.

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