Wednesday, 18 April 2012

SSO Chamber Concert: Grand Sextet / Review

SSO Chamber Series
Conservatory Concert Hall
Sunday (15 April 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 April 2012 with the title "Sextet's glorious Glinka".

One of the best things about chamber concerts is the unusual repertoire that invariably crops up. The juxtaposition of works by contemporary German Tim Jansa, Romantic German Max Bruch and Russian nationalist Mikhail Glinka might seem like the oddest combination possible but the hour-long concert by members of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra came off with the flavours of a well-planned haute cuisine meal.

First, high and low woodwinds blended pleasingly in Jansa’s Three Miniatures (left) with Roberto Alvarez’s flute and Zhao Ying Xue’s bassoon solos, supposedly polar opposites, providing melodic interest while backed by Aya Sakou’s piano. In this short tonal appetiser, a pastoral Zen-like atmosphere gave way to a hive of busy activity before closing in relative tranquillity.

Next, the two instruments that occupied the alto register sang unabated in five of Bruch’s Eight Pieces for viola and clarinet (below). The selections played with a luscious fluidity by violist Jiang Han Song and clarinettist Li Xin (with Fu Xin on piano) alternated Brahmsian solemnity with Mendelssohnian light-heartedness so well that there was never a dull moment. The succession of minor key pieces but ending in sunny D major made the change in colour all the more welcome.

The programme’s main course was the titular Grand Sextet for piano and strings in E flat major by Glinka. The glorious fruition of his classical studies in Western Europe, this rarely-heard masterpiece had more in common with the congeniality of Schubert and Weber, the bel canto seamlessness of Donizetti and Bellini, than the home-spun Slavic earthiness of Kamarinskaya or Ruslan and Ludmilla.

And how the six players relished in its penchant for froth and filigree, not least pianist Albert Tiu whose ebullient part exhibited the kind of virtuosity required for the most taxing bits of both Chopin piano concertos. The strings themselves were in imperious form led by violinist Chan Yoong Han, with the melodies soaring from Ng Pei-Sian’s cello and then passed on to Guan Qi’s viola and the rest.

The nocturne-like slow movement provided several moments of calm before the ensemble raced off in the Mendelssohnian presto of the finale, which bubbled unabated like sparkling champagne. The players looked like they enjoyed that delicious bit of soufflé dessert and so did the audience, and that is how chamber concerts ought to be.

The Joy of Sextets (from L to R): Albert Tiu (Piano), Cindy Lee (Violin II), Ng Pei-Sian (Cello), Chan Yoong Han (Violin I), Guan Qi (Viola) & Yang Zheng Yi (Bass & SSO Chamber Series director).

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