Monday, 11 November 2013

SCOTTISH SYMPHONY / Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra
Conservatory Concert Hall
Saturday (9 November 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 11 November 2013 with the title "Behold the rugged Scottish musicscape".

It is no secret that this reviewer has expressed great admiration for the Conservatory Orchestra, with recent performances led by well-known international guest conductors that have impressed immensely. Under its own Music Director Jason Lai, the young musicians continued in that same trend of confidence and character.

In Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, it was hard to ignore the orchestra’s contribution, which went far beyond the role of mere accompanist. For the opening tutti, the sheer volume and quality of sound generated showed this was not going to be a routine performance.

The solo French horn stayed the course of its big solo instead of shying away, the assurance of which infected the clarinet and oboe solos that followed. It was then left for cellist Wang Zihao to exert his presence, doing so with vigour and much authority. He exuded an outsized tone that was wholly appropriate, yet supple enough to realise the lyrical and dynamic subtleties in the score.

The heartfelt meditation that was the slow movement, inspired by a love song, was well contrasted with the emphatic finale where Wang blended beautifully with concertmaster Chikako Sasaki’s violin. There was a nervous moment when Wang, while wiping off perspiration had the bow knocked off his grasp, resulting in a missed cue. Accidents can happen even in the best of times, but his brilliant solo encore more than made up for that incident.

The second half belonged to Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony, also known as the Scottish Symphony. Joined by five members of the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées from France who led as principals, the orchestra gave a breezy and totally enjoyable account of the musical travelogue. Like the earlier account of Schumann’s Second Symphony with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra a fortnight before, conductor Lai used a smaller-sized band and the results were equally persuasive.

The slow opening was anything but stodgy, and the music began to evoke the mists and mystique of distant legends. The rugged and rough-hewn landscapes took shape as clouds gathered and a tempest brewed. The storms and stresses of the first movement gave way to a free-wheeling Scherzo where clarinettist Lim Liang Hui was the leading light.

The solemn procession in the slow movement took its time building up to a massive climax, and having done so retired to a gentle calm. The pulsing rhythm of the martial finale, insistent but not bellicose, never let up and its transformation into a victorious apotheosis remains one of music’s more magical moments.  With the brass ablaze with the light of brilliant sunshine, this sounded like a crowning glory to a year of stellar musical achievements.   

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