Monday, 30 May 2011

FAVOURITE CLASSICS / Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra / Review

FAVOURITE CLASSICS / Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra
SCO Singapore Conference Hall / Sunday (29 May 2011)

I am no masochist but I do enjoy concerts by the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra (BHSO), Singapore’s only community orchestra. Being an amateur musician myself, I will never turn a nose at fellow amateurs pursuing what they enjoy, the passion of music making. Even if it is not at the same hallowed levels as groups like the Orchestra of the Music Makers or Philharmonic Orchestra (the best “amateur” orchestras in Singapore), effort and enthusiasm is what counts, and the BHSO has it in good measure.

Its latest concert had the usual share of highs and lows. A smaller orchestra than usual turned up for heavyweights like the Prelude to Act I of Wagner’s Mastersingers of Nuremberg and Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony. No matter, it generated a big sound, largely due to an overachieving, blustery and sometimes wild brass section and rather decent woodwinds. The string sound was very thin at parts but carried the melodies efficiently. The ensemble struggled in the busy counterpoint in the Wagner but it all came together for the final apotheosis.

The Tchaikovsky was a very ambitious effort, which paid off to a fair degree. Bassoonist Peter Lendermann provided a very steady opening solo, thus setting the tone for the rest of the first movement. The big “Pathetique” melody came across rather ragged when heard for the first time, owing to the strings and brass not being on the same frame of mind, so to speak. It was clarinettist Chen Weiling’s confident solos that eased the nerves somewhat. For the explosive development, the brass brayed and snarled, providing the dramatic episode its full quotient of bite and angst.

The second movement’s waltz was neither the most effortless nor graceful, but it had a good sense of rhythm, well marshalled by conductor Yan Yin Wing. There was something ungainly about the Scherzo’s march to the abyss, but it gathered paced inexorably, its irresistible momentum being the true driving force. Through all this, one could hear the individual quotations of Beethoven’s Fate motif by the wind and brass instruments, as well as sense the underlying tension as the screw is being turned. There was the customary misplaced applause which led into the depressing finale. The vale of tears brought on by the themes of descending notes revealed the music’s heart-wrenching quality. The climax of this deeply felt performance was well deserving of the applause it was accorded.

In between the two imposing works was Mozart’s slender Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat major (K.595), his last. The opening tutti was taken at too leisurely a pace. Sounding very raw and sluggish, this provided the guest soloist Albert Lin little to work upon. Unable to exert himself and force the pace against the will of the ensemble, the first movement was mired down in treacle. However the crystalline quality of his playing, always alert to the music’s finer points, was the saving grace of the performance.

Thankfully, both the slow movement and Rondo finale saw the piano deliver the opening gambits. Only then did the music take shape and given the necessary lift. The graceful Andante was lightly and tastefully ornamented, while good humour and high spirits dominated the Rondo. The cadenzas were well-turned and the performance closed on a high.

Those who know Albert to be a barnstorming virtuoso also got to see this side in his encore, the outrageous Arcadi Volodos version of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca. Delivered with absolute bravura and panache, the concert had finally come to life.

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