Monday, 10 October 2011

SSO Concert: Te Deum / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (7 October 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 10 October 2011 with the title "A visual and aural spectacle".

For guest conductor Claus Peter Flor’s second concert with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra within two weeks, French fare was on the cards. Better known for his interpretation of German and Central European repertoire, he brought much insight into works that were alike as chalk and cheese.

Sheer opulence and sensuousness coloured the opening work, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe Suite No.2. Is there a more evocative musical vision of dawn, with mellifluous birdsong on piccolo and flute, than this? The combined choir, clad in a rainbow of pastel shades, gave the proceedings an added gloss with wordless chants.

Paradise came to mind, with Jin Ta’s alluring flute solo in the Pantomime, so beautiful that one was sorry it had to end. The wallow then broke into an orgiastic final dance, with whoops of ecstatic joy from the chorus, bringing all to the edge of their seats.

No recording quite adequately prepares the listener to the visual and aural spectacle that is Berlioz’s Te Deum. The sight of a 170-strong chorus, with children’s choir perched high up on the wings, in stunning red gowns and formal outfits, was awe-inspiring in itself.

The massive opening orchestral chord, replied by Evelyn Lim’s magnificent issues from the pipe organ, for once unobstructed by the hall’s acoustic canopy, provided spine-tingling moments that were to recur throughout the performance. Size matters, according to the French composer who so loved giant ensembles, grandiloquent gestures and ear-shattering volume.

Despite that, both orchestra and chorus also delighted in the quieter and more circumspect minutes, such as the First Prayer (Dignare), where attention to enunciation and consonants was proof of genuine contrition. The sopranos had hairy moments with intonation in Tibi Omnes Angeli, but that mattered little in the grand scheme of things.

Australian tenor Steve Davislim, singing in the organ loft as if from heaven, provided a rich, sonorous bell-like clarity in the Second Prayer (Te Ergo Quaesumus). The sensitive exchanges between him and chorus were further proof that subtlety was also a hallmark here.

Men’s voices were impressive in the closing Judex Crederis, but was this a march of trepidation or one of triumph? As forces gathered, with trumpets, trombones and percussion fearlessly leading the throng, the entire chorus erupted into an apotheosis that could only indicate the latter. A tedium this Te Deum certainly was not. But when will we get to hear it again?

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