Thursday, 16 May 2013

FACULTY AND FRIENDS CONCERT II / School of the Arts / Review

School of the Arts
SOTA Concert Hall
Tuesday (14 May 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 16 May 2013 with the title "Yellow Pages with Caribbean beat".

The School of the Arts (SOTA) Concert Hall has truly become a boon for the performance of chamber music within the city. Time and again, its capacious yet intimate space allows for instrumental sounds to bloom, regardless of the size of the performing group, as it proved in this evening’s concert of 20th century music.

The evening began with two works for harpsichord and small ensemble. Despite the title, Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s 1926 Harpsichord Concerto is a virtuoso vehicle for all six instrumentalists, not just the keyboardist. Drawing inspiration from the baroque as well as Stravinsky’s spiky neoclassicism, violin (played by Chan Yoong Han), cello (Leslie Tan), flute (Roberto Alvarez), oboe (Audi Goh) and clarinet (Li Xin) all had vital parts to play in its piquant and kinetically charged short movements.

Project themselves they did, however it was in the expense of Yang Tien’s soft-focused and mellow-toned harpsichord, her complex figurations barely rising above the busy throng. The admixture of textures was somewhat better in Samuel Adler’s Acrostics, subtitled Four Games for Six Players (1985). The four movements played on varied timbres, colours and moods, afforded by the same combination of instruments and fuelled by an anarchic spirit of bantering fun. 

The second movement and its direction to play “with a great deal of charm” summed up the exercise. Pointillist and with short spurts of sound interjected at different intervals, its laugh-a-minute atmosphere then into dissipated into a droll, ghostly waltz. A second hearing of this unusual work could do wonders.

A grand piano was wheeled in place of the harpsichord for the second half, and close to perfect balance was restored. This is not a slur on the performers but rather because the piano’s plangent sound disperses into the air better than that of a dainty harpsichord’s.

Spaniard Salvador Brotons’s Mixed Sextet (1992) was as the title suggested. It pitted the sonorities of paired woodwinds with those of paired strings, against the percussed instruments – namely Lim Yan’s piano and Mark Suter’s marimba and three assorted drums. The music traversed a melange of styles, including a fugue and romantic gestures before its single movement escalated to a climatic close.

The final work was also the most entertaining. The American Michael Torke’s brand of minimalism in the three-movement Telephone Book (1995) incorporated popular styles and not a little humour. How else could his Yellow Pages be suffused with an infectious Caribbean or Latin American beat?

Blue Pages employed a syncopated bass clarinet as its beat, transporting listeners into a smoky Manhattan jazz club, while the perpetual motion of White Pages revelled in a succession of intoxicating riffs. Flashy and energetic, this clearly enthused reading from the five performers on stage - three of whom played the entire concert - was something to call (or text) home about.

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