Thursday, 3 April 2014

STIRRING STRINGS: A TRIBUTE TO FATHERS / T'ang Quartet with YST Strings / Review

T’ang Quartet with
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Strings
Conservatory Concert Hall
Tuesday (1 April 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 3 April 2014 with the title "Good music for a good cause".

This concert was held as a fundraiser for the Centre for Fathering, and several similarities may be made discerned between the nurturing of young musicians and the responsibilities of fatherhood. Both endeavours require time, effort and no little dedication, but the end results are equally rewarding: good music played beautifully and children who grow up to become exemplary adults.

The T’ang Quartet, ensemble in residence in the Conservatory, who anchored this all-strings chamber concert, may also be considered fathers in their mentoring roles. And how their “children” performed: with pride and confidence. After the obligatory speeches, the concert began with Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto.

Despite the small size of the ensemble, just four violins, two violas, three cellos, one bass and harpsichord, a robust sound with marvellous intonation was generated. Individual players were spot on responding to their cues and there were to be no passengers. An improvisatory passage on the harpsichord paved the way to the rapid-fire finale, where the virtuosity in managing the interweaving counterpoint was admirable.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Battaglia was a nifty piece of programme music that re-enacted scenes from a battle in eight short movements. In this spirited performance, sparks flew as a cellist simulated drumbeats with paper wedged under the strings, and exchanged cannon shots with T’ang Quartet cellist Leslie Tan by the use of violently percussive pizzicatos.

There were two well-known slow movements performed, the first being the Albinoni Adagio (now attributed to the scholar Remo Giazotto), with a lovely singing tone from the cellos and excellent solo playing by lead violinist Monique Lapins. The other was by Samuel Barber, perhaps the singular most famous piece of 20th century music. A rather prosaic opening was made up for by the ensemble’s ability to sustain tension like a coiled spring till close to breaking point.

On a more cheerful note, two fast movements from Grieg’s Holberg Suite were despatched with much grace and facility. The best was reserved for the final work, Gustav Holst’s St Paul Suite, composed for the school he was the music master of. Although a staple for amateur string ensembles, this humble work in four movements was made to sound like a masterpiece.

There was much vitality in the music based largely on English folk songs and dances. The opening Jig was taken with a sprightly lick, while the Ostinato revelled in the beauty of muted strings over a persistently busy bass rhythm. The alternating between slow and fast in the Intermezzo was expertly handled, while the Greensleeves melody sang abashedly in the finale’s breathless rush of counterpoint. For the record, over two hundred thousand dollars were raised for the charity, a shining example where good music is allied with a good cause. 

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