Friday, 7 September 2012

NAFA ORCHESTRA Concert Series / Review

NAFA Orchestra Concert Series
Lee Foundation Theatre, NAFA
Wednesday (5 September 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 7 September 2012 with the title "NAFA Orchestra buoyed by change".

Stranger things have happened, but long-time Singapore Symphony Orchestra former Resident Conductor Lim Yau has found himself appointed Head of Music of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts at the age of sixty. While others ponder retirement, academic life has just begun for this indefatigable maestro.

His first task was to transform the NAFA Orchestra from a work in progress to something more definitive. Within six short months, the signs have been most encouraging. If its performance of Brahms’s Second Symphony earlier this year had displayed sincerity and promise, this evening’s Beethoven Third Symphony “Eroica” was a show of true stature and conviction.

From the two emphatically punched-out chords on the outset, the opening movement emanated a nervous tension that was edgy and fully cognisant of Beethoven’s restless spirit. Well-paced and brimming with brio, there was no compromise in sound production, which was always full-bodied and radiated warmth even at the high cruising speed taken.

Betrayal by Napoleon Bonaparte of his republican principles (by crowning himself emperor) set the tone for the ensuing Funeral March. The hero of the symphony’s title had not just died but Beethoven’s ideals had instead been crushed. And so this march was not so much a tragic procession but a statement of defiance.  

The nobility of the playing was buoyed by Ukrainian student Vladyslav Shevchenko’s fine oboe solos which portrayed a solitary figure of pathos before morphing into the woodwinds’ swinging ringleader for the jocular Scherzo. Here the trio of French horns also distinguished themselves with their rousing rounds of whooping exuberance.

There were so many positives to draw from the symphony and an exhaustive list would be close to endless. The orchestra also played perceptive partner for violinist Foo Say Ming in Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Violin Concerto. The leader-director of hip string band re:mix opened with uncharacteristic reticence and restraint in the first movement, and the spirit flagged like vodka losing its potent zing.

Thankfully, the slow movement’s Canzonetta found Foo in his heart-on-sleeve lyrical best, and boosted by this, all the fetters fell for the fiery finale. By now, caution was rightly committed to the wind by all concerned and the Russian rambunctiousness restored for all its worth. The next NAFA Orchestra concert will be something worth waiting for.

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