Monday, 16 May 2011

STRING CLASSICS BY MIN HUI FEN / Ding Yi Music Company / Review


Ding Yi Music Company /School of the Arts Auditorium / Friday (13 May 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 16 May 2011 with the title "Erhu tour de force".

Ding Yi Music Company is a young Chinese instrumental ensemble just into its fifth year, and one beginning to make waves as an exciting and dynamic chamber group. A distinction of its prowess is the ability to attract top soloists in collaboration, and on this occasion their guest was Min Hui Fen, doyenne of erhu players and a legend in Chinese music circles.

The concert in the newly inaugurated auditorium at the School of the Arts began with the ensemble performing on its own, conducted by Quek Ling Kiong (left), who also acted as bilingual presenter. Liu Yuan’s Three Passages Of Jiang Xi was a suite in three movements, each displaying different aspects of instrumental colour. Two yangqins (box zither) were the focus in Spring, while strings dominated Nanci and Parting, the latter uniting three huqins of varying registers in conversation.

A somewhat confused audience was still settling into their unmarked seats when the show became Min’s one woman tour de force on the erhu. Her first piece was the sorrowful River Waters, accompanied by Yick Jue Ru’s yangqin. The erhu’s inimitable quality is to simulate the high human voice, with all its inflections and slurs.

Min produced a crystal-clear and intimate tone which resounded through the deep shoebox of the hall. It was not loud yet one that penetrated like a laser through fog. The distinctive portamenti were clearly articulated, like a Beijing opera singer in all her full-throated glory. Unpitched percussion then lent rhythm and cadence to the playful Jackdaws Frolicking In The Water, a Teochew song.

Folk melodies play a central role in Chinese music. For the Huang Mei tune Flower Guessing Song, Min’s former student Zhao Jian Hua (principal erhu in the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, left) and six ensemble erhus in unison were her able partners. Min and Zhao had their own duo together in the Jiangnan melody Three Six. Playing almost an octave apart, Zhao provided intimate counterpoint to Min’s plaintive song.

Zhao Jun Goes Out Of The Frontier and Grasshopper Teasing The Rooster, from Canton and Taiwan respectively, provided further display for Min’s instrumental virtuosity, accompanied by combinations of different timbres. The latter also afforded the erhu astonishing mimicry of a cockerel’s clarion call, a special effect later echoed in the neighing and whinnying of the popular encore, Horse Racing, which brought the house down.

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