Saturday, 15 March 2014

NAFA COMPOSITIONAL RECITAL / NAFA Chinese Chamber Ensemble / Review

NAFA Chinese Chamber Ensemble
Lee Foundation Theatre
Thursday (13 March 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 15 February 2014 with the title "Budding talent show promise".

Like the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory that trains young professional musicians to play in Singapore’s symphony orchestras, it is the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts which grooms instrumentalists for a career in ensembles like the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and Ding Yi Music Company. Similarly, the Academy also hones composers for contemporary Chinese music.

This hour-long concert mostly conducted by Quek Ling Kiong, Resident Conductor of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, provided a brief glimpse of the budding compositional talent for Chinese instrumental music here. The future does appear promising at the very least.

It began Zhou Tie’s Act Five, a quintet for erhu, bamboo flute, pipa, ruan and percussion. Resembling an ensemble that accompanies the stage, the group’s assignment was both dramatic and atonal, employing short fragments with the economy that recalled the Second Viennese School works of Anton Webern.

Ernest Thio’s Batu Belah for four huqins (two erhus, gaohu and zhonghu) and cello was based on a familiar Malay song. Operating on a rather narrow dynamic range, the work could have benefited from an expansion or development of the thematic material, and the performance from more accurate intonation.

The title of Lim Tee Heong’s study for solo zhonghu, Long Gou Shui (or Long Kao Chui in Hokkien), sounds far more eloquent in Chinese than the cumbersome English Swirling Waters in the Drain. Soloist Shunta Goh gave a sizzling performance of a perpetual motion that hovered between the repetitious Philip Glass and Bartok’s Solo Violin Sonata.

If the pieces for small ensemble were experimental in nature, the works for the full complement of players seemed more catered towards mass appeal and the genre of film music. Ng Chee Yao’s Ode of Affection employed all sections of the orchestra and played out like a romantic interlude from a movie.

James Goh’s Rain in a Season of Drought was sumptuously orchestrated, highlighting an lovely erhu solo and later a parade of percussion heralding a welcome precipitation. A drone, insistent beats from wooden temple block and strummed ruans provided the backdrop to melodies from the sheng and woodwinds in Ernest Thio’s Prayer.

The concert closed with the Erhu Rhapsody No.1 by Wang Jian Min, head of Chinese Music at the Shanghai Conservatory. Shunta Goh on erhu provided the requisite virtuosity for a work that typically began with a slow and meditative introduction, and then sprinting off breathlessly with the orchestra keeping up neck and neck to a brilliant conclusion.

1 comment:

Phyllis said...

Wow, nafa. Will you be attending their upcoming opera on 26th march? Would love to read your views on that :)