Sunday, 10 July 2011

SSO Concert: President's Young Performers Concert / Review


Esplanade Concert Hall / Friday (8 July 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 11 July 2011 with the title "Young, hip and heady".

The President’s Young Performers Concert series has over the years showcased Singapore’s top young musicians with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Last Friday’s concert held some poignancy as it marked the final gala for President S.R.Nathan, who has been an unwavering supporter of local talent. He and Mrs Nathan never missed a concert, and always stayed through to the very end.

The performers who have graced this platform now reads like a Who’s Who of Singapore musical life. The three young men spotlighted in this concert have the potential of figuring on the world stage in years to come. Conductor Joshua Kangming Tan is presently Resident Conductor of Beijing’s National Centre of Performing Arts and his programme astutely combined the familiar with the obscure.

Samuel Barber’s Second Essay, a Singapore premiere, was the perfect starter. Not only were the woodwind solos fully warmed up, their sheer immediacy galvanised the orchestra as it emerged from languor to a heightened state of readiness. The culmination was a wonderful fugue, with the woodwinds leading the charge for an impressive climax and close.

The brass was no less exuberant in Sibelius’s Karelia Suite, with the two invigorating quick marches bookending the plaintive Ballade where Elaine Yeo’s gorgeously shaped cor anglais solo held court.

The first of two soloists was violinist Loh Jun Hong (above right), a most sensitive interpreter of Wieniawski’s Faust Fantasy. If he were a singer, he would be a lyric tenor with the most cultured and refined of voices, weaving yarns of silk in this less-than-subtle showpiece. There were some familiar tunes including Mephistopheles’ Song of the Golden Calf which caused the audience to applaud prematurely, long before the work ended.

The other soloist was pianist Azariah Tan (above left) in an effectively nuanced performance of Gershwin’s jazz-inspired Rhapsody in Blue. Not only did he blaze the keyboard with glittering written-out cadenzas, he also took time to savour the blues. The liberties adopted with tempos and grace notes teased and tantalised, but never crossed the line to sound contrived. A convincing jazzman he can be.

The concert ended exuberantly with the hustling and bustling of Gershwin’s An American in Paris. As before, conductor Tan expertly controlled a tight ship but one that luxuriated in heady rhythms and beat. If it was a guilty pleasure to observe his hips swaying Elvis-like with the music, there need not be any apologies.

Pianist Azariah Tan with his teacher Albert Tiu (right).

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