Friday, 9 August 2013

EDQ! A Woodwind Quintet Recital / EDQ / Review

A Woodwind Quintet Recital
Esplanade Recital Studio
Wednesday (7 August 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 9 August 2013 with the title "Unfamiliar delights".

EDQ is an award-winning woodwind quintet formed by young professional musicians who were alumni of the Singapore National Youth Orchestra. Fresh from winning the contemporary music prize at the Henri Tomasi International Competition in Marseilles, its second public concert in Singapore was greeted by a full-house and a standing ovation.

Repertoire for woodwind quintet often involves different composers from those of standard chamber music programmes, usually peripheral figures unfamiliar to the public. Bohemian composer Anton Reicha (1770-1836), the acknowledged “Father of the woodwind quintet”, was a contemporary of Beethoven, but how many people know of his 24 quintets?   

The members of EDQ showed that his very well-crafted Quintet in D major (Op.91 No.3) was worth listening to because of its freshness and vitality. A slow introduction heralded a florid cadenza from flautist Jasper Goh, and the ensuing Allegro was launched with an energetic fervour. Veda Lin’s oboe and Goh provided the main melodic thrust in the four movements, well supported by their partners on lower pitched instruments.

Frenchman Jean Francaix (1912-1997) was a colleague of Olivier Messiaen but their music could not be more different. The former was the master of musical comedy, as his Wind Quintet No.1 (1948) proved. After a languorous opening, jazzy runs erupted in all directions, with side-splitting bellyaches from Alan Kartik’s French horn which almost stole the show. Neoclassical and mock-serious, this was music that spared no effort to entertain, and the performers reciprocated with every ounce of their wits.

Two works that utilised folk music followed after the interval. Hungarian Ferenc Farkas’s Serenade (1951) was short and pleasing, full of bucolic charm and Italianate warmth. The World Premiere of Singapore composer Zechariah Goh Toh Chai’s Four Taiwanese Aboriginal Songs (2013) was nothing short of a success. The way he dressed these simple melodies with unusual harmonies and counterpoint made them sound contemporary and relevant.

Opportunities were given for clarinettist Benjamin Wong and bassoonist Emerald Chee to bask in melody, while Goh briefly exchanged his flute for the piquant piccolo in the Dance of the Paiwan Tribe. The final Dance of the Beinan Tribe brought all five instrumentalists together for a grand tutti.

The final and longest work was the Sextet (1888) for piano and winds by the Austrian Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907), who knew Richard Strauss and was probably acquainted with Mahler. The first two movements breathed the same air as Brahms, the expansive themes rich with piano chords and figurations from guest artist Nicholas Loh. The music could have suffered from a surfeit of voices, but it was the clarity of articulation and individual mastery of each performer that saved the day.

As if effecting a change of heart, the music broke off from its shackles of convention with a jocular little Gavotte and finished with a sunny Tarantella in rapid triple rhythm. It was like the composer saying, “Enough of the serious stuff, and now let us have fun.” That spirit was clearly conveyed by the six musicians to all present, and the audience voted with its feet. Bravo all round.      

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