Tuesday, 17 July 2012

MUSIC FROM THE HEART / Robert Casteels and Friends / Review

Robert Casteels and Friends
Esplanade Recital Studio
Sunday (15 July 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 17 July 2012 with the title "Getting to the heart of the matter".

If there were one locally-based composer who is equally comfortable with traditional forms and use of new multi-media, that would be the Belgium-born Robert Casteels. Concerts of his music invariably involve voices, instruments and electronics, with each characterised by a single unifying theme.

Violinists Siew Yi Li and Chen Zhangyi in The Orator.

The evening's music was about relationships and a rather wider definition of love. It began with The Orator, a duet for violins prefaced by chants recorded from a Workers Party rally at the 2011 General Elections. One violinist played scales while the other had shorter and more sustained phrases, and later they switched roles. The work suggests the courting between a politician and his electorate audience, and how one needs and feeds off the other, and vice versa.

A similar arrangement existed for Chiaroscuro, a duet for two guitars where the concept of light, darkness and varying shades in between were explored. The texture of the music was light, often transparent and again both guitarists facing off exchanged their parts.

Gladwin Pantastico and Manuel Cabrera II on two guitars.

The most hauntingly beautiful music was heard in Mirror Of Sound, where flute players from three cultures communed in front of a piano which had its metal strings struck and scraped by pianist Albert Lin. While the Western flute, Indian flute and dizi (played by Roberto Alvarez, Raghavendran Rajasekaran and Chan Yongxue respectively) have different timbres, their sonorities reflected across a piano’s sound board became almost identical. All men are brothers, Casteels opines.

Pianist Albert Lin and three flautists in Mirror of Sound

His solo piano work Sui Yuan, played by Lin, was described as a falling drop of water and its ripple effect but in reverse. The music combined influences from John Cage’s art of randomness and Gyorgy Ligeti’s kinetic rhythms. This was followed by City Scape, four minutes of electronic sound, played on an empty stage accompanying projected images of Singapore’s urban landscape as viewed from some prism or kaleidoscope.      

The longest piece in the 75 minute concert was Music From The Heart, a cycle of eight song settings performed in their original language, and in most cases by a native speaker. All were duets with varied accompaniments, and the subject was love of different sorts. A slightly corny element was the recording of human heartbeats that led into each song, with cardiologists from National University Hospital duly acknowledged. 

A Happy End to Songs From The Heart.

Filipino tenor Edwin Cruz sang a song in Tagalog about a mother’s love accompanied by compatriot Manuel Cabrera II on guitar. Soprano Jeong Ae Ree breathed Winter Love in Korean, with her husband cellist Chan Wei Shing by her side. Masahiro Mita then waxed lyrical about the joys of sake to Bai Jiaxing’s counterpoint on percussion. And so all eight singers and eight instrumentalists were finally united in the finale called Happy End, conducted by the composer himself.

The music was not outwardly elated or joyous, but heed the words and reflect on the inner meanings, and one eventually gets to the heart of the matter.    

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