Monday, 21 November 2011


Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Saturday (19 November 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 21 November 2011 with the title "Goodies from Russia".

Musicians from Eastern Europe have over the decades contributed significantly to the diversity of Singapore’s musical scene. The names of Feri Krempl, Pavel Prantl, Martina Maixnerova, Jiri Heger and Alexander Souptel immediately come to mind. It was however the fall of the Soviet Union which made the biggest impact, bringing this evening’s five Russian speaking virtuosos to our shores.

The delightfully varied programme had the intimacy of a private salon, despite being attended by a house filled to overflowing. The first half was a showcase for Tatarstani flautist Evgueni Brokmiller and Kazakh harpist Gulnara Mashurova, both musicians of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Their performance of Jean Michel Damase’s Variations on Early One Morning began with childlike simplicity before revelling in a flight of fantasy, where mildly spiced dissonances added to its attractiveness.

Earlier, Brokmiller had impressively opened the concert with Zybin’s flashy Allegro and later brought out the piquant melodies of Dutilleux’s Sonatine, while Mashurova lent a touch of boldness and finery to Fauré’s classic Impromptu. The biggest cheers went to soprano Natalia Kumkova from St Petersburg, a private singing teacher, whose vocal projection and mastery of coloratura held the greatest resonance.

Vladimir Vavilov’s Ave Maria, widely misattributed to Giulio Caccini, was given the due respect and gentility of the baroque aria antiche. It was in Mozart’s Alleluia (from Exsultate, Jubilate) and Henry Bishop’s Lo! Here The Gentle Lark where she unleashed the full gamut of dazzling devices. In all three songs, she was ably accompanied by a student string quartet, led by young Uzbek violinist Adelya Nartadjeva.

Double bassist Guennadi Mouzyka, the Principal from SSO, gave his ungainly instrument the sweetest of voices, bearing the soul in Lensky’s Aria from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and providing counter-melodies to Kumkova in Bottesini’s Tutto il mondo serra. The latter song sounds familiar because it is a vocal arrangement of Chopin’s Étude in C sharp minor.

The very popular Kumkova closed the formal programme with two haunting romances by Rachmaninov, Sing Not, O Lovely One (Op.4 No.4, based on a Georgian song) and the wordless Vocalise, partnered by her busy pianist husband Kerim Vergazov. As generous encores, the audience was transported to a Moscow cabaret where all five performers took their turns in a potpourri of Russian oldies but goodies. Moscow Nights, Dark Eyes… it was almost as good as being there yourself.

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