Saturday, 3 November 2012


NAFA Orchestra
Lee Foundation Theatre
Wednesday (31 October 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 3 November 2012 with the title "NAFA Orchestra at its best yet".

This reviewer has had the pleasure of witnessing the transformation and progress of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) Orchestra under its Music Director of just ten months, Lim Yau. This evening’s concert proved its most demanding concert to date, not just because of the range of repertoire performed but its sheer familiarity.

Almost all regular concert-goers know Chopin’s First Piano Concerto. Its orchestral part is not particularly gratifying, subjugated mostly to support the scintillating piano solo. Despite this, the orchestra helped set the tone in the opening Allegro Maestoso (Fast and majestically) tutti, ushering in the confident Chinese pianist Wan Jing Jing to shine.

Although she was not note-perfect, Wan gained in composure as the work progressed, crafting a dreamy cantabile in the slow movement and springing to life in the final rollicking Rondo. Her steadiness in rhythm and digital dexterity was well-matched by the orchestra’s unity and taut direction.

Arguably more difficult to accompany was Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, where dense orchestral textures are likely to overwhelm the singer. Fortunately Indonesian soprano Isyana Sarasvati possesses a bright and youthful voice, flexible and capable of scaling the higher registers with relative ease. Her intonation was close to pristine and German pronunciation more than acceptable.

However one wondered how someone this young could identify with the autumnal nature of these late songs, their world-weariness and death-laden undertones. In this respect, her contemplations on the ravages of ageing was less convincing, but will have the benefit of growing and maturing with this music in time to come. The violin solo in the third movement Beim Schlafengehen (Going to Sleep) was lovingly handled by concertmaster Wang Hao.        

The concert closed with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. Here the orchestra came into its own. The introduction and Friar Lawrence segment was taken very deliberately, almost achingly so, but with no detail out of place. This was in order to contrast with the furious feuding of the Montagues and Capulets that followed.

The love theme came through well, thanks to the violas and cor anglais, and the tumultuous music that ensued upped than ante and raised the overall temperature. With arms and hair flying, conductor Lim drove his charges, which included students, faculty, alumni and guests players, to an exhilarating climax and dramatic close. More will be heard from this group next year, when NAFA marks its 75th anniversary.

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