Tuesday, 21 February 2012

VIVE LA FRANCE / Orchestra of the Music Makers / Review

Orchestra of the Music Makers
Sunday (19 February 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 21 February 2012 with the title "Prom night of mixed fortunes".

After scaling the peaks of symphonies by Mahler, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, one might have thought that the Orchestra of the Music Makers would find the performance of lollipops an easier option. Not so. In fact, short and popular works are so familiar and over-exposed that the task of perfecting and making them sound fresh poses even more new challenges.

Such was the struggle the orchestra faced in its “Familiar Favourites” concert known as an OMM Prom. Almost every child who has seen Walt Disney’s animated classic Fantasia will recognise Dukas’s Sorceror’s Apprentice, music which accompanied the antics of a certain mouse. The playing lacked the sureness and finesse of earlier outings, and it was only during the march of the broomsticks – led by the bassoons - that the music gained true momentum.

Similarly, the Oriental Dance from Holst’s Beni Mora, inspired by French Algeria, sounded tentative and anaemic, diminishing the exoticism it was trying to portray. Things got better in Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre, when concertmaster Davin Ang’s violin took charge as dancing skeletons leapt from their crypts. Even then, he could have been more audacious for added effect.

Fauré’s Pavane provided some respite from the virtuoso fare, and Kelly Loh’s lovely flute solo was a standout. Conductor Chan Tze Law then vacated the podium, to be replaced by percussionist Benjamin Boo’s snare drum solo for Ravel’s repetitious classic Boléro.

He was rock steady, keeping strict beat throughout while various wind and brass solos did their bits in the sinuous melody. These were unfortunately variable in levels of confidence, and in the absence of a true conductor, the gradual crescendo proved to be a laboured rather than thrilling one.

The subterranean and murky beginning of Ravel’s La Valse saw the ensemble in sixes and sevens, but as the waltz beat became established, the music began to take wing. By this time, the young musicians had played some 70 minutes without a break. Although ragged in parts, there was true voltage as the Frenchman’s deconstruction of the Viennese waltz lurched to a tumultuous close.

As if to atone for earlier inadequacies, both encores – the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty and Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana – were beautifully crafted. The mixed fortunes of this outing should hopefully not deter the young orchestra from attempting more Proms. The audience of families and young people clearly appreciated the effort, and time is still on their side.

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