Monday, 3 March 2014

RHYTHMS & RHAPSODIES / Orchestra of the Music Makers / Review

Orchestra of the Music Makers
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (1 March 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 3 March 2014 with the title "Rhythms send pulses racing".

Now that the Familiar Favourites Concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra are a thing of the past, the mantle of entertaining young audiences in the concert hall has now been passed to the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) in its OMMProms. The third such concert, conducted by Chan Tze Law and centred on dance music, can safely be said to be its best to date.

The opener, Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance from the ballet Gayaneh, sent the pulses racing with timpani and xylophone going neck and neck at a furious pace. Despite its immense popularity, this lollipop remains fresh because of the energy and vitality of the playing. One marvelled not just at the accuracy accomplished at high speed, but also how the orchestra responded readily to the rapid decrescendo as the piece wound down.

Virtuosity of a more overt kind was also on display in four movements from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. There was might and muscle as the feuding Montagues and Capulets jostled for supremacy, tenderness from Friar Lawrence, raw passion for the Balcony Scene and best of all, the embodiment of violence in The Death of Tybalt.

Incorporating Mercutio’s boisterous dance, the mercurial string playing impressed but that soon gave way to the strident dissonance of the brass, as the concluding funeral procession stole the show. In reality, all the sections shone equally to make the showcase sound convincing.

All this was a mere prelude to the Singapore premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Variations for Cello and Orchestra, guest-starring the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s principal cellist Ng Pei Sian. Based on Paganini’s Caprice No.24 for violin solo, it was written for the musical-meister’s cellist brother Julian after losing a footballing wager.

Those familiar with Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody for piano and orchestra will appreciate this more extended work based on the same principles. However its eclectic borrowings from the worlds of jazz, pop, rock and film music, with shades of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, make this 35-minute long fantasy one firmly held tongue-in-cheek.

Ng and his amplified cello responded magnificently to its outlandish demands. As if to top Rachmaninov, there were three lyrical variations, including the melody later known as Unexpected Song, to luxuriate in. He was not alone, as the orchestra more than coped with the score’s rhythmic intricacies, idiomatic and stylistic quirks with great aplomb.

Look who's playing in the cellos.

Demanding an encore, the audience was rewarded when Ng joined the ranks of the orchestra as it rumbled to the exuberant Brazilian rhythms of Zequinha de Abreu’s Tico Tico no fuba. One year might seem just too long to wait for the next OMMProm.   

Photographs courtesy of the 
Orchestra of the Music Makers.

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