Wednesday, 14 September 2011

NAFA Orchestra / Review

Lee Foundation Theatre
Monday (12 September 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 September with the title "Unfinished, with great promise".

Some of the highlights of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ tie-in with London’s Royal College of Music are guest appearances by faculty members who are both well-heeled teachers and accomplished performers. The most recent visitor was Russian pianist Dina Parakhina, who gave masterclasses, performed a solo recital and concerto with the NAFA Orchestra.

To Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto in G minor, Parakhina brought out the qualities associated with the Russian school: a solid, big-boned technique allied with an emphasis on sonority. That worked particularly well for the salvoes of chords and octaves that greeted the first movement, tempered by nimble filigreed passages beloved by the early Romantics.

In these, her facility was admirable and so was the singing tone adopted in the slow movement. The furious prestidigitation of the finale was a mirror-image of the opening, but its relentless onslaught of notes soon proved wearisome after a few minutes.

One recalls the reading by Stephen Hough with the Singapore Symphony last year, full of humorous turns and delightful surprises, to realise what was missing here. Music-making is not just about conquering multitudes of notes, but making these sound vital and come really alive.

The NAFA Orchestra proved steady accompanists, never obtrusive but alert to the shifts of dynamics. This attention to detail had begun in the first work, Prelude to Act One of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. The first violins had unsteady early moments where coordination and intonation wavered, but they soon grew in confidence with the woodwinds’ entry, leading to a brassy climactic arch that was genuinely moving.

It was a statement of intent by Music Director Volker Hartung, in the last concert of his five-year tenure, to conclude with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. In a deeply breathed performance, low strings intoned the introduction and from the initial agitation emerged the broad main melody from the cellos, one resounding with much purity and directness as to be memorable.

The walking pace of the second movement, never dragged out as some performances might have, also revealed fine solos from the oboe, clarinet and flute. Writers have waxed lyrical about the “heavenly lengths” of his late works, and here was one to savour. The NAFA Orchestra may be an unfinished symphony, but the task of “completing” it by Hartung’s successor, whoever he or she may be, will be a much rewarding one.

No comments: