Tuesday, 25 June 2013

YOUR SMILING FACE / re:mix / Review

Esplanade Recital Studio
Sunday (23 June 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 25 June 2013 with the title "Modern re:mix of vintage tunes".

It is little secret that the chic local string ensemble re:mix is the master of nostalgia. After all, its music director Foo Say Ming, artist advisor Phan Ming Yen and leader Lim Shue Churn belong to a generation pushing middle age, people who remember when RTS (Radio Television Singapore) programmes were in black and white and transmission closed on the stroke of midnight.  

Its programmes relish in old music and vintage movies. Your Smiling Face (Huan Yan) was an iconic 1970s Taiwanese romance film that starred Sibelle Hu, with music sung by Chyi Yu, beloved largely by Chinese-speakers of a certain age.  Do forgive a younger generation of Singaporeans brought up on Korean soaps and K-Pop, which rising young composer Chen Zhangyi belongs to.

Despite his youth, Chen is an old soul in disguise, or at least he sounds like that. His musical arrangements of the oldies songs, have a retro feel despite coming across as modern. The three part suite that opened the concert, comprising Everlasting Love (Bu Liao Qing), Sands of Sorrow and New Everlasting Love, resembled a pastiche of three–movement concerto grosso from the baroque.

Soloists who comprised pianist Beatrice Lin, violist Lim Chun and violinist Foo were set apart from the main body of strings. Their concertino roles included an opening flourish and cadenza on the piano and generous helpings of melodic interest. The ripieno strings were not just mere accompanists, but provided a richly textured and layered support over which the soloists were allowed to shine.

In the same vein was Drei Gesänge der Chyi Yu (Three Songs of Chyi Yu), a triptych based on the afore-mentioned movie. The first movement Walking in the Rain revelled in a Bachian fugue, while the central Olive Tree was a sort of pizzicato polka. In the finale Your Smiling Face, the Prelude from Bach’s Third Violin Partita was cleverly weaved as counterpoint into the main theme. Much more sophisticated and less contrived than those “Beatles Concertos” of old.

The final chunk of the 70-minute concert was the Singapore premiere of a chamber version of the indestructible Butterfly Lovers Concerto. Woodwinds, French horn, harp and piano were co-opted for this - love it or hate it - rather effective showpiece that draws upon the same tear-jerking emotions that had come before.

Its success was also due in large part of Foo’s passionate solo playing, that incorporated flying hair, foot stamping and animated bodily movements. His sensitive partnership with cellist Kenneth Lee in the Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai duets also provided touching moments. Although this was the seventh live performance of Butterfly Lovers to be heard within the last three months, its appeal does not seem to be waning in the least. Foo’s forthcoming CD recording with re:mix should be worth waiting for.         

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