Monday 14 May 2012

SSO Concert: CARMINA BURANA / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (11 May 2012)

An edited (censored, rendered PG and PC) version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 14 May 2012 with the title "Lim Yau's big bang farewell".

Lim Yau’s farewell concert to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra after an eleven year spell as its Resident Conductor was typical of his programme building skills. Helming a concert of 20th century music juxtaposing the sacred with the profane, yin against yang, Apollonian versus Dionysian, he delivered a big bang, and the season’s longest and loudest sustained standing ovation.

Two 20th century icons: Igor Stravinsky & Carl Orff

The evening began with strings only for Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Apollon Musag├Ęte (1928), a work so subtle that its half-hour slipped by almost unnoticed and possibly unremembered. Not that the performance was unmemorable, because the orchestra’s strings delivered a smooth and silky account, sensitive to its shifts in rhythm and dynamics. It is just that post-Rite of Spring, Stravinsky’s propensity to shock and awe had diminished considerably.

Furthermore the virtues of Calliope, Polymnie and Terpsichore, three of Apollo’s muses, were no match for the vices of Blanziflor, Helena and the Abbot of Cockaigne. To say that this performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (1937), the first ever in Esplanade, simply rocked from start to finish, was an understatement.

Markus Eiche's hormones have been awakened with Son Jihye's appearance.

The libretto and translations of its 25 movements were not made available, largely due to the prohibitive costs of publication, but that was a small price to pay. The musical narrative just flowed naturally even without prior knowledge of the actual words. The opening chorus O Fortuna was delivered with great vehemence, each of the consonants spat out with relish and precision. In particular, the men’s chorus, with only 37 members, stood tall and unflinching at every turn, never fazed by the percussion-laden ensemble.

The highly theatrical trio of soloists was the strongest assembled for this work, led by moody German baritone Markus Eiche, whose every growl, grunt and grimace registered as palpably as his powerfully honed voice. He almost scared away American tenor John Zuckerman’s splendidly agonising roasted swan aria Olim lacus colueram into a cowering submission.

At last, consummation!

However every man can be mesmerised by a skirt, as Korean coloratura Son Jihye in a blood red gown was an instant head-turner. Her aria In Trutina and spectacular summiting of Dulcissimme, was good enough to make one soft in the knees (and stiffen elsewhere). The children’s choir was all innocence until its unfortunate premature ejaculation at the last run of the lusty chorus in Tempus est iocundum.

The final minutes were the very reasons why this concert hall exists in the first place, to deliver the ultimate masterclass in “live” sonic projection. Lim Yau and his charges gave what overpriced hi-fi systems can never achieve: a true sense of occasion, one which the audience lapped up and reciprocated with unapologetic fervour. Simply a great way to end the orchestral season.

A standing ovation for all.
(14 May 2012)

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