Monday, 7 March 2011

SSO Concert: Fauré's Requiem / Review

FAURÉ’S REQUIEM
Singapore Symphony Orchestra & Choruses
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (5 March 2011)


This review was published in The Straits Times
on 7 March 2011 with the title
"An evening of two faces".

The most recent SSO concert was, as they say in sporting parlance, a game of two halves. Even if the two major works performed had simply nothing in common, each afforded its own pleasures to equal degree.

First was Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante (K.297b) in E flat major, which highlighted four orchestral principals in a starring role. Never mind if there are still niggling doubts as to its authorship, the music carried all the hallmarks of Mozart’s period charm – cheery melodies, pretty solos and absolute congeniality.

Oboist Rachel Walker, hornist Han Chang Chou, bassoonist Zhang Jin Min and clarinettist Ma Yue not only blended as one as an ensemble, but were colour coordinated as well. The three men had tucked in their breast-pockets handkerchiefs in the same rosy hue as Walker’s gown.

Clustering around conductor Shui Lan’s podium, it appeared as if they were playing for him rather than the audience. The sound projection seemed constrained rather than far forward, but there was no mistaking the lyrical quality achieved in the slow movement or the execution of brilliant passages in the finale’s jocular Theme and Variations.

The second half belonged to Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. Even if this was no fiery choral showpiece in the manner of Berlioz or Verdi, the combined choruses impressed with its restraint and mastery of nuances. Pianissimo entries were even and homogeneous, gently rising to momentary highs, as in the brief Hosanna in Excelsis and Dies Irae episodes and receding again.

This was a requiem of repose, of subtlety and suppleness triumphing over anger and angst. The fine counterpoint in O Domine Jesu Christe was realised with a mellowness and warmth, paving the way for baritone Georg Nigl’s burnished solo Hostias, which had both purity and clarity. He also provided an element of theatricality in a somewhat overcooked Libera Me. Soprano Jutta Koch was suitably beseeching and childlike in Pie Jesu, which lasted all but three minutes.

Lightness of textures reigned, with the Agnus Dei floating with a gravity-defying lilt. The sopranos brought out an ethereal quality, usually associated with celestial hosts for In Paradisum, aided by Evelyn Lim’s steady organ accompaniment. The ending was magical, and if this were a true vision of heaven, one expects plenty of converts tonight.

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