Thursday, 31 October 2013

ALL MOZART CONCERT / Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Orchestra / Review

NAFA Orchestra
Lee Foundation Theatre
Tuesday (29 October 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 31 October 2013 with the title "Moving moments of Mozart".

Late Mozart was the subject of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Orchestra’s latest concert, which had an earlier planned performance of the Austrian composer’s Requiem Mass substituted with something lighter. The concert also had an interactive element in the participation of visiting American musicologist Robert Winter, who introduced each work with well-chosen words of authority and brimming enthusiasm.

The virtuoso clarinettist Anton Stadler was Mozart’s muse for the first two works. It was for him that Amadeus wrote the sublime Clarinet Concerto in A major, his final instrumental work. Singapore Symphony Orchestra clarinettist Tang Xiao Ping, also a NAFA faculty member, put a shine on the work with a show of natural and unforced virtuosity.

In the swifter outer movements, the tricky articulations were negotiated with the free-wheeling agility of an improvising jazzman. In many respects, that was the art of the instrumentalist in the 1790s, to ornament and embellish with freedom and creativity. The famous Adagio slow movement lingered but without excessive sentimentality. Its seamless aria-like quality is prescient of the bel canto operas which would occupy the next generation.

Tang remained centrestage to play the basset horn solo in the Confession Aria from Da Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus), Mozart’s final opera. That instrument is not a horn but the lower-ranged first cousin of the clarinet, with a deeper and mellow timbre. It was Mozart’s perfect foil with counter-melodies to mezzo-soprano Jessica Chen’s impassioned plaints of Non piu ii fiori (No More Flowers), which had many moving moments.

Mozart’s Symphony No.39 in E flat major, the least celebrated number of his final symphonic trilogy, closed the concert conducted by Lim Yau. After its emphatic opening chords, the slow introduction had a tentative start, with difficulties in intonation from several sections. With the onset of the Allegro, the ensemble was sparked to life and a well-oiled facility.

The NAFA Orchestra is a work in progress, but could be credited for its sensitivity in accompanying, as in the preceding concerto and aria, as well as discerning contrasts in dynamics and shades. This was evident in the grace and deportment of the slow movement, even if it sounded four-square in parts, and the rustic rumblings of the third movement’s Minuet.

The perpetual motion of the finale, based on the inventive repetition and development of a single motif, found the ensemble at its most mercurial. Winter mused about this symphony as a tribute to Mozart’s sometime teacher Haydn, with the chirpy humour and high spirits of the older composer shining through.

Mozart keeps the listener guessing when and how the work would close. With several false endings to fool the ear, he finally does so with an understated eloquence. The young orchestra understood its message well and duly delivered.  


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