Monday, 6 January 2014

BRAHMS & RACHMANINOV / Orchestra of the Music Makers / Review

Orchestra of the Music Makers
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Friday (3 January 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 6 January 2014 with the title "Stirring end by young musicians".

A concert programme of Brahms’s Violin Concerto and Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony may be staples in a professional symphony orchestra’s season, but for a youth orchestra which has just celebrated its fifth anniversary, it is more like a dream. But dreams are what the young musicians of the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) live on and thrive in.

The orchestra even has its own Principal Guest Conductor, the highly experienced British maestro Christopher Adey, who led this latest concert. One might not have guessed they were playing these works for the first time, for the maturity displayed spoke volumes.

Even if the opening to the Brahms sounded tentative, it was a matter of time before the orchestral tutti exerted itself and blossomed. Then it was left to young French violinist Amaury Coeyteux, Concertmaster of the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra, to arrestingly enter the spotlight.

He exuded a sleek and refined tone, robust yet not roughly-hewn, and incisive to make its indelible mark on the score. While exhibiting a wide range of dynamics, it was the sweetness in the singing passages that impressed most. This was capped by a sizzling laser-lit cadenza by Hungarian virtuoso Joseph Joachim to further his credentials.

Tay Kai Tze’s lovely oboe solo in the slow movement proved an equal partner, and the gypsy abandon displayed by soloist and all in Rondo finale brought the work to a rousing conclusion. Coeytaux’s blistering encore of The Furies from Ysaye’s Second Sonata was well chosen, as the medieval chant Dies Irae it obsesses upon was a prelude for things to come.

Rachmaninov’s last symphony, composed in exile, was a nostalgic throwback to the gushy emotions of the Romantic era. In that respect, the first movement’s big melody, first heard on the cellos, was disappointingly muted. The tempos adopted by conductor Adey were also too leisurely. While more experienced ensembles might have sustained the pace better, the overall effect was one of drag, which even the climactic development could not really overcome.

Things got much better in the central movement, when the brisk march-like interlude that takes place of a scherzo pepped things up considerably. There were also excellent solo-playing by concertmaster Edward Tan, flautist Cheryl Lim and Lee Chun Howe on cor anglais.

The finale, arguably the symphony’s weakest movement, arrived on a full head of steam. As if running out of ideas, a furious fugato was furnished, and this challenge was taken up by the orchestra with great fervour and relish. With the Dies Irae chant strongly hinted but not fully quoted, the work rode on its Russian roots to a stirring close. This highly demanding concert (more for its players than the audience) could not have had a better ending. 

Concert photographs by the kind permission of the Orchestra of the Music Makers.

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