Tuesday, 19 March 2013


Singapore Symphony Orchestra
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Sunday (17 March 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 19 March 2013 with the title "Sunday fantasy with a Spanish theme".

Sunday afternoon is synonymous with chamber concerts by members of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. This concert had a difference: instead of the usual trios, quartets and quintets, it showcased orchestral works scaled down to chamber-sized forces, united by a Spanish theme.

Conducted by SSO Young Associate Conductor Darrell Ang, the concert began with three popular excerpts from Bizet’s opera Carmen orchestrated by Frenchman Marius Constant. Despite the small sized ensemble, the sound created by the few musicians sonorously filled the musician-friendly and reverberant hall.

Soloists entered and left centre-stage like characters of a drama, first violinists Jin Li, Karen Tan. Shao Tao Tao and Wu Man Yun for the lilting Habanera, then oboist Elaine Yeo (above) in the seductive Seguidilla, and finally clarinettist Tang Xiao Ping lighting up the swirling Bohemian Dance. Each fulfilled their parts with requisite aplomb, and the music came alive without singers.

The concert also featured a full length concerto, Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto para un Gentilhombre (Concerto for a Gentleman) in the version transcribed for flute by James Galway. Once one got used to not hearing a guitar, it was a pleasure to behold Italian flautist Andrea Griminelli in the solo role.

He brought out a very pleasing tone in this work that rehashes baroque dances by 17th century Spanish guitarist Gaspar Sanz in its five movements. Sounding both pastoral and florid by contrasts, he luxuriated in the virtuosic opportunities offered especially in the final movement’s cadenza, which brought on the cheers. His encore was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee, breathlessly completed in the space of a minute.

The dictum that Frenchmen wrote the best Spanish music was proved a fallacy in the last two works of the concert. Emmanuel Chabrier’s orchestrated Habanera was as sanitised as one could get, despite the lovely solo from oboist Rachel Walker. Compare this with the raw energy and verve that inhabited the suite from Manuel de Falla’s ballet El Amor Brujo (Love, The Magician), which probed the very heart of the Spanish psyche.

Supernatural goings-on in the love lives of villagers in this tableaux, culminating in such hot-blooded numbers as the Dance of Terror and the famously striding Ritual Fire Dance. This very colourful score quoted neither existing folk songs nor dances, instead featuring original melodies.

There were gratifying solo parts, with pianist Shane Thio’s sweeping glissandi up and down the keyboard, Guo Hao’s tender cello song, and leader Kong Zhao Hui’s love theme on the violin. The music ended all too soon, and after the concert’s very satisfying 75 minutes or so, the sun was still shining outside as a very early evening beckoned.   

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