Monday, 13 June 2011

I MUSICI 60th Anniversary Concert / Review

School of the Arts Concert Hall / Saturday (11 June 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 June 2011 with the title "Film themes on ancient instruments".

What a pleasure it is to attend a concert at the new concert hall of the School of the Arts at Dhoby Ghaut. It is an intimate space with an illusion of a vast expanse, where the sound of instruments fills with a gratifying glow and vividness. It was exactly what the crack Italian string ensemble I Musici (literally “The Musicians”) deserved, as it had to cope with lousy acoustics in an Orchard Road hotel on its last visit almost 20 years ago.

I Musici performs on historical instruments, including Amati violins and the odd Guarneri viola, whose cumulative ages amount to a staggering thirty thousand years. However the ensemble does not preach period performance practice, thus playing with a lush and lusty vibrato without apology.

A foretaste came with Luis Bacalov’s Concerto Grosso, written for its 60th anniversary. A neo-Baroque work brought up-to-date with lightly sprinkled dissonances and surfeit of emotional devices, it included a most sentimental of slow movements. Leader and violin soloist Antonio Anselmi milked it for all its worth.

Entitled I Musici’s Oscars, the concert continued with film music. Ennio Morricone’s Suite rehashed melodies from four movies, including Once Upon a Time in America and The Mission, where violinist Marco Serino’s Amati sang with an even and refined cantabile. Roberto Granci’s I Love Cinema medley painlessly strung together 13 film themes, including Moon River (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Schindler’s List, Cinema Paradiso and The Godfather before closing with a trio of marches from The Magnificent Seven, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars.

I Musici’s signature piece The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi had to appear sometime. With over 25 million records sold worldwide, it had something personal and valid to say although this performance may not be one to retire to every night. Leader Anselmi was not the most subtle of soloists. His in-your-face manner came across as aggressive at times, but at least he could never be called boring or routine.

The ensemble responded to his entreaties with typical gusto, demonstrated lightness in Spring and Autumn while weathering the storms and stresses of Summer and Winter with much liveliness. The greeting “Grazia mille” (“A thousand thanks”) and three encores, more Vivaldi (Allegro from Concerto "Alla Rustica"), Rossini (Bolero) and Mascagni (Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana), rewarded the enthusiastic ovations for it was an evening to remember.

I Musici in Singapore was presented by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

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