Monday, 9 January 2012

MAHLER 5 / Orchestra of the Music Makers / Review

Orchestra of the Music Makers
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (6 January 2012)

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 9 January 2011 with the title "Marvellous Mahler".

The first orchestral concert of the year was given not by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra but its young amateur counterpart, the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM). To be even more specific, the first notes to be heard came from the Combined Schools String Camp Orchestra, an even younger group mentored by members of OMM.

As Mahler was the theme carried over from last year’s centenary festivities, Mahler’s own arrangements of Bach’s orchestral music opened the show. There was something familiar yet strangely unfamiliar about the music. It was Bach for sure, a suite of popular movements from the Second and Third Orchestral Suites. However the elephantine scoring for massed strings, encumbered with pompous organ chords and timpani, made the music overblown and bloated.

It was however the fine string sound and expert pacing coaxed by conductor Chan Tze Law that saved the work. Emphatic yet subtle, they allowed flautist Cheryl Lim’s virtuosity to shine through the thick molasses for the Rondeau and Badinerie. The famous Air on G String was given a suitably luxuriant feel, but authenticity was probably the last thing on their minds.

Mahler’s Fifth Symphony was however the real thing. Nuttapong Veerapun’s superb trumpet solo commanded the stage for the funeral march, and soon the procession went underway. As with OMM’s earlier performances of Mahler’s First and Second Symphonies performances in 2010, this reading was characterised by force of will and an overall sweep that was totally captivating. There were bum notes here and there, committed in the heat of the moment, but that mattered little in the grand scheme of things.

The tumultuous second movement came like the whirlwind, with a shuddering force which contrasted wildly with the intoxicating Ländler country dance of the central third movement. In the latter, Alan Kartik’s French horn was a pillar of strength, holding sway steadfastly as the world revolved around its axis.

The much-vaunted Adagietto provided an oasis of beauty from strings and harp, and resisted the temptation of becoming sappy and sentimental. The finale, thick with intricate counterpoint, flagged a little in tempo but that provided an opportunity for much of the details usually glanced over to be better savoured. The final rush of adrenaline to its breathtaking conclusion was however one to be remembered. Is Singapore becoming a city of Mahler orchestras? Better believe it!

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