Monday, 16 April 2012

SSO Concert: Concierto Pastoral / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (13 April 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 16 April 2012 with the title "Evoking pangs of nostalgia".

It was a refreshing change for once to hear a concerto by Joaquin Rodrigo which is not his overplayed Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar. That singular pleasure was afforded by Singapore Symphony’s flute principal Jin Ta who gave a scintillating performance of the rarely heard Concierto Pastoral.

Composed for James Galway in 1978, its credentials as a virtuoso showpiece was immediately apparent with the flautist engaged in perpetual motion from the outset. It is not a great piece or half as memorable as the said guitar concerto, but credit Jin’s nimbleness and seemingly inexhaustible lung power to make his effort sound convincing.

As the title implied, there was rustic moments aplenty, with flute solo in conversation with and echoed endlessly by fellow orchestral woodwinds and brass in what sounded like Spanish yodelling tunes. The slow movement attempted to follow in the popular trend set by the Aranjuez and at least succeeded by evoking some genuine pangs of nostalgia.

The Spanish themed concert was led by the young Hong Kong conductor Perry So, which appeared far more demanding a task in reality than on paper. Rapsodie Espagnole by Ravel that opened was taken at such a slow, deliberate speed that it sounded almost dispiriting. The paradoxical effect was that orchestral details became so exposed that the players had to step up their game as not to sound sluggish. They just managed that, and in the MalagueƱa and Feria did some of the inner Mediterranean fire come alive.

The performance of Debussy’s Images, not an easy work to pull off, also needed prodding to get off the ground. Even more subtle than Ravel, its three movements could easily be bogged down by fineries that the thrust of the music is lost. In Gigues, Rachel Walker’s oboe – always perky and a thing of beauty – kept it interesting. It was also an astute move on So’s part to place Rondes de Printemps (Dances of Spring) next, as the subdued and low voltage account would have made for a damp squib ending.

So it was the familiar Iberia, sequentially the second piece, that closed the concert. The orchestra, already old hands having recorded it, gave it a good lick but when the chimes of festival day rang out their last, most of the audience had not realised the work had ended. It was one of those rare evenings where the whole was less than the sum of its parts.

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