Tuesday, 9 April 2013

VIRTUOSOS OF CHINESE MUSIC / Ding Yi Music Company / Review

Ding Yi Music Company
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (7 April 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 9 April 2013 with the title "Chinese masterclass".

Ding Yi Music Company is a young local Chinese instrumental ensemble that believes in pushing the boundaries of chamber music performance, and its concerts have been without exception well-attended. This Sunday afternoon concert was special because of the visiting soloists from China, younger counterparts to the Great Masters who graced the same stage last year.

They each performed solo as well as concertante works, providing much needed contrast to the two-and-a-half hour concert. Guzheng virtuoso Wang Zhong Shan was first up with own arrangement of Beijing opera number The Deep Night, a meditative work discreetly accompanied by Derek Koh on drum. This ancient plucked instrument dating over two millennia plays both the melody and provides its own accompaniment.

There were more dynamic shifts in Zhou Yu Guo’s Robe of Clouds, a guzheng concerto, where its melancholic beginning gave way to more passionate outbursts depicting the ill-fated love between the Tang emperor and concubine Yang Guifei. In Qiao Jin Wen’s rustic Han River Melody, Wang was accompanied by Yvonne Tay and Sophie Gay on two other guzhengs. In trios like this, there was to be no doubt who the master and students were.

Dizi exponent Wang Ci Heng played on several flutes of different pitch ranges. The alto reaches was explored in his Moon over the Vast Mountain, a nocturne-like work with a quasi-New Age sensibility, at parts coloured by the trickling sound of rain sticks simulating gentle breezes. In An Eagle’s Love by Liu Wen Jin, a higher pitched piccolo-like timbre allowed the music to soar unimpeded in this ethnic-flavoured rhapsody from the Central Asian province of Xinjiang.

The popular erhu was the speciality of Yu Hong Mei, who employed a delicious vibrato for the folksong A Flower. Played at full tilt, its portamenti or slides approximated that of the soprano voice, which gave it a warm glow above Yick Jue Ru’s yangqin accompaniment. Yu also presided on two of Chinese music’s most popular melodies.

Chen Gang’s Sun Shining on Tashkurgan, originally for violin, is his second most popular work after The Butterfly Lovers. Its exotic Central Asian melody makes its Chinese music’s equivalent of Ravel’s gypsy rhapsody Tzigane. Yu applied the same gay abandon in its riff- like passages and finished off with Huang Hai Huai’s Horse-Racing, a prestissimo study that rivals Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee.

All three soloists were united like a triple concerto in Gu Guan Ren’s Charms of Jiangnan, which featured each part in turn and in ensemble with a heady mix of disparate timbres. The “virtuosos” of the concert’s title did not just apply to the threesome, but also to the larger ensemble of Ding Yi, conducted by Music Director and Cultural Medallion recipient Tay Teow Kiat (above), which did itself proud in its sympathetic and vital supporting role.      

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