Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra
Conservatory Concert Hall
21 February 2014)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 24 February 2014 with the title "Sublime pleasure with fireworks".
It is always a pleasure to see young orchestras tackle blockbusters of the repertoire, like the Conservatory Orchestra in Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben in recent years. However young musicians also need to learn doing the less glamourous work, such as accompanying soloists and playing short pieces. All this is part and parcel of a holistic education for an orchestral and ensemble player.
This concert with a Scandinavian slant began with two concertante works featuring two winners of the conservatory’s concerto competitions. First was bassoonist Liang Geng in Swedish composer Franz Berwald’s Concert Piece, a virtuoso work in the early Romantic vein of Carl Maria von Weber’s showpieces.
The soloist’s range was immediately put to the test in the opening bars, having to make leaps to both extremes of the instrument’s reach. Stunts of adroitness aside, Liang’s brought out a warm and full sound from the gentle giant of woodwinds, in a physically taxing piece which also had passages of true lyricism. A pleasant surprise was in the centre, where a series of variations on the popular song Home, Sweet Home held sway.
Loud cheers also greeted second soloist Shi Xiaoxuan who made Saint-Saens’s popular Third Violin Concerto very much her own. Having won 1st Prize in the Artist Category of the 2013 National Violin Competition, here was a joyous rerun. Her lush and often gorgeous tone on the 1729 Montagnana was a joy to behold, especially in the lilting Andantino slow movement, where interplay with the orchestra was both intimate and subtle.
When it came to unleashing the fireworks, there was no let-up in her delivery. This was tempered by an acute awareness of an inner pulse, adjusting ever so sensitively to the ebb and flow of the music’s dynamics. Such an instinctual approach is what makes a true musician.
The concert’s second half was devoted to all 8 short movements from both Peer Gynt Suites by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Guest conductor Joshua Kangming Tan, Associate Conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, had the orchestra perform the incidental music in the running sequence of Henrik Ibsen’s melodrama.
Chronologically this made a whole lot of sense, and the players were more than up to the task. There was plenty of drama in The Hall of the Mountain King, where the split-second timing was close to perfect. The muted string sonority in The Death of Aase was homogeneous and evoked much poignancy. The familiar Morning Mood, depicting sunrise over the
, could have been a
shade more ethereal. Sahara Desert
The Arabian Dance, more like a Nordic wedding dance with piccolos, and Anitra’s Dance leapt to life, and the best was reserved for the final number, Solvieg’s Song. The strings again were a singular pleasure in the main melody, and how that gently glided into a lilting lullaby. It is a rare concert that ends on a quiet note, but only one word can describe the feeling: sublime.