Thursday, 16 February 2012

YST Concerto Competition Prizewinners Concert II / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra
Conservatory Concert Hall
Tuesday (14 February 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 16 February 2012 with the title "Tuba wins the night".

The second instalment of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory’s Concerto Competition Prizewinners Concert series juxtaposed the obscure with the popular. As providence would have it, the victorious instrument from the brass, wind and percussion competition turned out to be the unfashionable tuba. After all, how many tuba concertos can one think of, if any?

One accustomed to those Hoffnung cartoons of old will testify to the number of tuba jokes, about an instrument whose bell is wide enough to drown a cat, and an entire orchestra. Thai tubist Thunyawat Thangtrakul was to prove its detractors wrong with an emphatic performance of American James Woodward’s Concerto 2000. Its four movements are tonal, in an accessible idiom that finds favour with wind bands.

The faster movements showcased an unusually adroit technique, brimming with energy and exuberance. Complemented by equally responsive orchestral brass, it began to sound like film music. There was wry humour, with the second movement’s ungainly waltz being the foil to the slow movement’s impassioned soliloquy. The jazzy syncopations of the tricky finale, confidently but nimbly negotiated, brought the work to a breathless close.

It would seem that Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is overplayed. However it was a total pleasure to encounter it again in the hands of Uzbek violinist Adelya Nartadjieva, who was awarded Second Prize at the National Violin Competition with it last year. Here was not just a competent student performance, but one outstanding enough to grace the stages of the world’s great orchestras.

Playing on a 1895 Giovanni Cavani violin, her reading went beyond the mastery of mere notes, as she lived and breathed the music like some life affirming force. Pure passion allied with a generous tone and perfect intonation made the score come alive, and this was apparent from the opening measures. The fearsome cadenza, once deemed unplayable, was a study of searing intensity.

Despite some unsubtle wind and brass playing in the slow movement’s Canzonetta, the mood of melancholy was sealed by Nartadjieva’s gentle but heartfelt singing lines. All went for broke in the Cossack dance-inspired finale. Ripping off frayed bow hairs, her steely nerves unerringly stayed the course, with the clearly energised orchestra led by Jason Lai playing most alert and accommodating accompanists. It was simply breathtaking. For lovers of music, this was just about the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.

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