Friday, 30 August 2013

OMM TURNS 5! / Orchestra of the Music Makers / Review

Orchestra of the Music Makers
Esplanade Concert Hall
Wednesday (28 August 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 30 August 2013 with the title "Wagner without tears or boredom".

For its fifth anniversary concert, the Orchestra of the Music Makers turned to the two towering figures of 19th century and Romantic music – Richard Wagner and Ludwig van Beethoven. Having cut its teeth in Mahler symphonies and the film scores of John Williams, Wagner’s orchestral music seemed par for the course.

Yet there were many complexities and subtleties that lurked behind this eminently listenable music which the orchestra had to contend with. Despite these, the youngsters not only overcame, but excelled. Has the opening to the Prelude to Act One of Tristan and Isolde sounded so refined and homogeneous from the cellos and strings in general?

With the winds and brass raring to go as well, the result was each group trying to better the other. The feverish heights were whipped up to great effect by Music Director Chan Tze Law, whose masterly control from the podium was admirable. The lack of resolution at the end of the Prelude was deliberate, but German soprano Felicitas Fuchs’s steely control and sheer presence (in a blood red dress, no less) brought the opera’s final aria Liebestod (Love and Death) to a new heightened level of ecstasy.

Wagner worshipped the music of Beethoven, not for the formalities but his passion and impetuousness of expression. This was to be found, quite unusually, in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. The difference was pianist Melvyn Tan, who eschewed prettifying the music for its own sake. Seated a long distance from the piano, his long spidery arms delivered a performance that was more emphatic than congenial.

Let not his crystal clear utterance of the opening solo bars lull one into an easy listen. For him, this was music of struggle, battling the odds against the orchestra and the world. The cadenzas in both first and third movements spoke about defiance and anger.

Only in the slow movement were the roles reversed, with Tan’s gentle chords Orpheus-like taming the Furies of the brusque strings. The balance found with the pared-down orchestra was just right, and this reading gripped the listener and refused to let go. Tan’s encore of a Schubert Impromptu (Op.90 No.4) provided the only respite.   

Excerpts from Wagner’s Siegfried and Götterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods), the third and fourth operas of the Ring Cycle, completed the concert. Here was Wagner without tears, and with the boring bits left out. In the Prelude of Act 3 of Siegfried, the cellos found a wonderful bleakness, and there was a bit part for the thunder sheet, a metallic plate shaken and stirred.

Siegfried’s Rhine Journey soon became a joyous wallow, with the brass in top form. The solo French horn had a glorious fluff in his heroic outing but that little to dampen the overall spirits, which continued into the sombre Funeral Music and the Immolation Scene. Joined again by Fuchs, now in a greyish-green gown, here is the best music to be heard for the Wagner bicentenary in Singapore.

Her luscious voice transcended the orchestra, every phrase and syllable in German heard with great clarity as Valhalla came crashing to a fiery end. It was left for the orchestra to lap up the cheers and plaudits. For a young outfit, the OMM has outdone itself once again. What can one hope for its next five years?

Photographs by the kind permission of the Orchestra of the Music Makers.

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