Friday, 1 April 2011

MEMORY AND INVENTION / The Philharmonic Orchestra / Review

MEMORY & INVENTION / The Philharmonic Orchestra

Esplanade Recital Studio / Wednesday (30 March 2011)

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 1 April 2011 with the title "Stimulating Stravinsky".

If one were to chart the conducting activities of Lim Yau, one will notice his penchant for cycles involving specific composers. He was the first to bring complete symphony cycles of Brahms, Schumann and Sibelius into Esplanade with his Philharmonic Orchestra (TPO). Haydn and Shostakovich received their due, and his latest preoccupation is Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971).

Successful performances of The Soldier’s Tale (2009) and The Firebird (2010) was followed by this short but highly demanding programme of symphonic works. Strings opened accounts in the Concerto in D (1946), with concerto grosso inspirations that characterised Stravinsky’s neoclassical period. The complex rhythmic intricacies and subtleties almost proved too much for the ensemble in the unsettling initial pages, not helped by the hall’s dryish acoustics. They however settled down to the leisurely lilt in the central Arioso before getting into the groove of a constantly throbbing pulse for the final Rondo.

Woodwinds and brass fared better in the brief Symphonies Of Wind Instruments (revised 1947). Note the plural in the title; the work did not refer to “symphony” in the usual sense of the word, but rather a synthesis or “coming together of sounds”. Despite its astringent idiom, the players’ confidence was unwavering. Tricky counterpoint was comfortably overcome and the closing brass chorales warm and inviting. Twentieth century music can be a tough nut to crack, but TPO has always strived to reach out. In this instance, personable pre-performance preambles by Phua Ee Kia and well-written notes by Ruth Rodrigues helped considerably.

The closing work was the Symphony In Three Movements (1946), once a favourite of Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s Choo Hoey years. It is not often heard these days, so kudos go to Lim for resurrecting its thorny challenges. The rhythmic impulses and stormy upheavals were met head on by the combined forces, augmented by Nicholas Loh’s piano and Katryna Tan’s harp.

The latter two (above) added a percussive edge, colour and nuance to this dynamic score, which had vigorous punched out chords, tempestuous outbursts that occasionally approached the violence of The Rite Of Spring. The often abrupt changes in dynamics were well handled and the players coped admirably right up to its rousing final flourish.

One can look forward to more invigorating Stravinsky from Lim, with the Symphony Of Psalms (SSO and Chorus) on 15 April and the ballet Petrushka (TPO) on 15 September.

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