PARTY OF FIVE / SSO Chamber Series
NAFA Lee Foundation Theatre / Sunday (17 April 2011)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 19 April 2011 with the title "Rousing, gripping party of five".
Ever since the closing of Victoria Concert Hall for renovations, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s Sunday afternoon chamber series has been staged in different mid-sized performance venues. The latest concert was at the auditorium of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, a spacious 380-seater with a wide and deep stage. Given the intimacy of chamber music, the distance between players and audience seemed daunting but with the right performers, projection of sound was not an issue. The five musicians on stage for each of the two quintets were seasoned veterans not afraid of making a big sound.
Beethoven’s early Quintet in E flat major for piano and winds (Op.16) saw the performers bunched up together facing each other rather than the audience. The unusual seating arrangement was however no impediment, with the opening unison sounding beefy but well-defined. The combo of oboist Carolyn Sonderegger, clarinettist Li Xin, bassoonist Christoph Wichert and hornist Jamie Hersch were suitably-matched, complimenting Albert Tiu’s fussy piano part.
A virtuoso vehicle for Beethoven’s own keyboard skills, Tiu lapped up the filigree with confidence and immaculacy, shading the song-like second movement beautifully before providing the rhythmic impetus for the jaunty hunting-horn inspired finale. All five romped across the finish line with much aplomb.
For Brahms’ Quintet in F minor for piano and strings (Op.34), the scoring was more closely integrated, as if in a symphonic work. Here the darker musical material and urgency of pacing made for greater dynamic and dramatics. From the outset, the tension created never flagged, with violinists Kwok Hae-Won and Lillian Wang, violist Tan Wee Hsin and cellist Chan Wei Shing holding sway.
Again, pianist Tiu’s mastery in a completely contrasting idiom was the glue holding the 40-minute masterpiece together. Melancholy and reflection in the slow movement gave way to the vehement march of the Scherzo, generating an unstoppable momentum for what must be the German composer’s most single-mindedly violent music. There was some iffy intonation at the beginning of the finale, but there was little time for mulling as the emotional catharsis went underway. All through to the most gripping of endings, the party of five remained a cohesive whole, defining what the joy of chamber music is all about.