Tuesday, 26 March 2013

INTROSPECTION . REFLECTION / Guitar Ensemble of NUS / Review

Guitar Ensemble of NUS
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Sunday (24 March 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 26 March 2013 with the title "Light thoughts".

The annual concert by the Guitar Ensemble of National University of Singapore (GENUS) is a popular and well-attended affair. This is after all Singapore’s premier Niibori guitar orchestra, founded by Singapore’s “Father of the Guitar” Alex Abisheganaden in 1981. The 87-year old master was himself present to witness the two-hour long concert that showcased Singaporean, Japanese and Brazilian music.

The concert’s title was somewhat misleading, because much of the music played was light-hearted, Latin-flavoured and both, not leading one to deeper thoughts or questioning the status quo. The sole exception was Singaporean Gopal Balraj’s Impatience, receiving its world premiere conducted by Robert Casteels.

Scored for massed guitars, string quartet, percussion and voice, it ran a schizophrenic 13-minute course as a sort of melodrama, with Life Sciences PhD student and soprano Lim Yan Ting supplying the voice-over and lapsing into mellifluous song, as if in a Broadway musical.

The guitars supplied a walking bass, one similar to J.S.Bach’s famous Air (from Orchestral Suite No.3), with a persistent tick-tock rhythm in the background as a reminder of the passage of time. The tempo quickened as agitation built up, with the work ending just as well before the audience and performers ran out of - as one guesses - patience.

Gopal was making a legitimate statement, as was Yuudai Hatanaka in his Michinoku Guitar Concerto (above), the other major work of the concert. Composed as a reflection on Japan’s recovery from the 2011 earthquake-tsunami-radioactive fallout disaster, its single movement was decidedly short-winded with minimal angst on display. Jonathan Chiang’s solo on prime-guitar was leisurely and casual, contrasted with Ow Leong San’s flute interjections and the occasional use of guitar as percussion.

As a salute to Abisheganaden, his brief and rhythmic Danza Flamenca was aired, which was a nice foil to the samba of Thomas Brown’s Brazilian Street Dance. Smaller groups from the ensemble also showcased their wares, in quartet  (Hirokazu Sato’s Song of Clouds), quintet (Joao Pernambuco’s Po de Mico), sextet (Paulo Bellinati’s Baio de Gude) and octet (Keigo Fujii’s Shabondama Variations), all of which impressed with their musicality.

Soprano Lim, always a sparkling presence (above), added several degrees of sultry allure in the beautiful wordless Aria from Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No.5, and Abreu’s swinging Tico Tico no Fuba, sung in Portuguese. Not so much introspection or reflection in these numbers, but it mattered little as scholars and thinkers should be easily forgiven for being entertainers too.

Alex Abisheganaden exhorts the audience to buy the latest GENUS recording.

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