Thursday, 14 November 2013

CLAUDE'S PRISM / Roberto Alvarez, Katryna Tan & Chan Yoong Han / Review

Roberto Alvarez (Flute), 
Katryna Tan (Harp)
& Chan Yoong Han (Viola)
Esplanade Recital Studio
Tuesday (12 November 2013) 

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 November 2013 with the title "Trio explores colours of Debussy".

The medium for flute and harp is an age-old favourite, but throw in a viola, the sound palette changes quite dramatically. The lower pitched and husky timbre of the viola lends a darker hue to the ensemble, and what was bright and chirpy becomes more mellow and pensive. It is this unusual spectrum of shades that was explored in Claude’s Prism, a recital named after Claude Debussy’s pioneering sonata of 1915 for these instruments.

The concert by three of Singapore’s most intrepid chamber musicians began with Briton Arnold Bax’s Elegiac Sonata (1916). If anything, Bax outdoes Debussy in impressionist atmospherics, the pastoral character of this single movement evoking the rustic climes, airs and lore of Ireland. Languid and meditative, this set the tone for much of the evening.

Chan Yoong Han, hotshot violinist turned violist for the evening, then related how Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu appeared to him in a dream about the next piece, And Then I Knew ‘Twas Wind (1992). He learnt that its title came from a verse by Emily Dickinson, who lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, very near where Chan had first played the Debussy sonata. Very uncanny, but something deep within the subconscious was probably operating here.

The Takemitsu work, while being atonal for most part, had an unnerving lyricism about it. Shards resembling melodies wafted through the air. Roberto Alvarez’s shimmering flute enjoyed the plum bits, while Katryna Tan’s harp began to take on the character of plucked Japanese instruments. The ethereal beauty of the music had the same effect as a gentle caress of an autumn breeze on the face.

Frenchman Andre Jolivet’s Petite Suite (1941) was the most conventional work on the programme. Its five movements resembled antique dances, alternating between slow and fast, elegant and animated. Alvarez swapped his flute for a piccolo in the final number, a jaunty country dance with a strong ethnic flavour.

The grandfather of the flute trio genre, the Sonata by Debussy closed the concert. It was his original aim to espouse French qualities in the late group of sonatas, those of simplicity, transparency and a uniquely Gallic folk flavour. Its three movements, a calming Pastorale, an Interlude in the rhythm of a minuet, and the spirited Finale fervently captured all of these, with the tightly knit playing of the trio being the unifying feature.

The pastels of Claude’s Prism, having dispersed and enchanted, yielded a lovely encore. Reynaldo Hahn’s Romanesque showcased a silky evenness in unison playing of the melodic instruments, a further serving of unmitigated pleasure.   

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