Tuesday, 3 July 2012

BOTTOMS UP / re:mix / Review


Esplanade Recital Studio

Sunday (1 July 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 3 July 2012 with the title "Double bass doubly intriguing".

The latest offering by local maverick string group re:mix had nothing to do with drinking but rather the lowest pitched string instrument, the double bass. Seldom has this seemingly gauche member of the orchestra been cast so prominently in the spotlight, with Giovanni Bottesini’s Grand Duo Concertante for bass and violin being the opener of this concert.

Violinist Foo Say Ming and bassist Wang Xu in Bottesini.

First the members of re:mix trooped on stage vaguely resembling a circus of Elvis impersonators, and they opened with a lush string sound as big as their bouffants. It was left for leader Foo Say Ming on the violin and guest bassist Wang Xu to do the honours.

Bottesini was hailed as the Paganini of the bass, and that itself obligated Wang to jump through all sorts of hoops besides blending with Foo’s own acrobatics. The music was unremittingly tuneful, typically Italian bel canto in style. How the bass managed to sing long sequences of high notes with such grace and agility was testament to the art of the unlikely virtuoso.       

Chen Zhangyi conducted the World Premiere of his Double Concerto.

The other major work was Singaporean Chen Zhangyi’s Double Concerto for electric violin and bass guitar, receiving its world premiere conducted by the composer. The tandem of Foo and Wang were again in the thick of things, like the concertino component of a baroque concerto grosso. However this very interesting experiment fell short because the possibilities offered to such unusual instrumentation were not fully exploited.

Both soloists were positioned rather far apart from each other. And occupied with their own busy parts, there were scant opportunities for much interaction or chances to truly gel together. For the violin, it sometimes sounded like an exercise in amplified squeaking. A revision will have to beef up its overall dynamic range and boldly go for outlandish effect.

Foo directs Elvis.

In between the main courses was Kelly Tang’s arrangement of the Elvis hit Love Me Tender, where high strings relived Wagner’s Lohengrin while the cellos eased out the main melody. Naughty but nice. Perhaps more surprising was the final piece, Charmayn Chua’s treatment of the Queen standard Bohemian Rhapsody, sanitised and gentrified (think of Freddie Mercury in a tuxedo instead of a singlet) but spiced up with foot stamping from the players.   

Bohemian Rhapsody!

Why stop now with the rock and roll? The encore by Derek Lim was a tribute to the late Robin Gibb and already much missed Old School (home of re:mix for four years, soon to be demolished), with a breezy and groovy version of Emotion. It was supposedly a time for tears, but one suspects that many of the players and the audience of mostly children were much too young to remember anything.

The Bee Gees relived, with violinist Foo Say Ming, Matthias Oestringer and violist Lim Chun.

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